I’ve been touring around so much lately, I haven’t had a chance to do write about something very important to me. My middle grade fantasy series, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, is finally back in print. Huzzah!
These goofy books have quite the devoted following, and over the years one of the number one questions I got was when the series would return. We had a problem with the previous publisher—well, multiple problems. In the end we parted ways, and the intrepid publisher of my epic fantasy books (and The Rithmatist), Tor Books, came to the rescue, offering to do quality reissues.
It took us a long time, because I wanted to do these books right this time. When I first published the books, I didn’t have the experience in the industry that I do now. And a lot went wrong, both on my part and on the publisher’s part, in bringing them to the world.
The first two reissued books are already out in stores right now. The next two are coming soon, with the brand-new, previously unreleased fifth book in September! I’d appreciate you giving them a look. You’ll most likely find them in the young readers section of your bookstore. (These are ostensibly targeted a little younger than The Rithmatist, which you should find in the YA section.)
If you’ve never given the books a shot, I’ll provide a pitch for you below. If you already enjoy the Alcatraz books, you can skip that and go right to the What’s New in These Editions section below that.
These books are ridiculous in an awesome way.
I started the first one because I needed a break from the Mistborn series. You see, my intent was to write Mistborn straight through as a trilogy. I wanted the final one completed before the first one had to be done with editing.
This was super ambitious of me to try, and while I pulled it off, I did need a distraction between books. A palate cleanser. (This was the first place where I realized I’m much more effective as a writer if I take periodic breaks to try something new, refreshing myself for the writing process.)
In this case, I needed something freeform, loose, and fun. I started with a brainstorming session, trying to pull together the best—but most screwy—ideas that I could. Things that I thought were very fun, but which would never work in a more traditional fantasy novel.
What I did in brainstorming reminds me a lot of how an improv comedy troupe comes up with jokes—toss a bunch of props in a bag, shake them up, and then start pulling them out and see what you can do with them. The first novel was a pure joy of discovery writing, with me juggling multiple elements in an attempt to hit all the points I’d set up for myself. It was so much fun, I did another one between the next two epic fantasy books I wrote.
Because of this, these books are very different from my other books. They’re comedies, for one thing, with a sarcastic narrator who makes fun of the writing process. You get a lot of (hopefully entertaining) commentary from the narrator on what makes books work, along with a lot of the hallmarks of my writing—done in a new way.
For example, everyone in Alcatraz’s family has talents—being able to arrive late to appointments, or being really, really bad at dancing. Both of these become super powers, in a Sanderson-esque magic system, but with a strange twist. When I’m asked who the books are for, I really feel that the perfect target is 10–14-year-old kids who are too smart for their own good, and who like a healthy dose of sarcasm. But if you’ve got an inner child with that kind of sensibility, you might like them too.
Either way, have a look at the samples, and see if it’s something that would appeal to you.
I’ve never, ever been satisfied with the covers of the Alcatraz books.
The original American covers were misfires. Though I like the illustrator, the direction the publisher had him take for the books just never worked. They were a busy CG and photography mashup that ended up looking like a collage.
However, I understand their difficulty in trying to figure out how to capture these books. Publishers around the world have tried all kinds of tactics, and none have ever really clicked. The problem is that the books are an epic adventure comedy mix, and that’s hard to convey without looking silly. Many countries take one of two approaches. Either they just put abstract symbols on the cover, kind of avoiding the issue, or they try to make them look like Brandon Sanderson epic fantasy novels—which I think is unfair. Readers need to know going into these books that they’re intended to be lighthearted.
That’s why I like Tor’s take on these so much, painted by Scott Brundage. The following images are, for the first time, covers that capture the feel of the books. Explosive, fun, but also decidedly strange. After we got the first few sketches, I knew we were heading somewhere incredible.
Getting good covers was a primary goal for these reissues, but there was more we wanted to do. These books practically scream for interior illustrations. So we contacted Hailey Lazo, an illustrator who had done some Alcatraz fanart we liked online. She sent us some sketches and we fell in love with them, immediately hiring her for the project.
Each of these books is packed with drawings of characters, places, scenes. Many of them are little inserts rather than full page spreads—and they match the tone of the books perfectly. If you have the old editions, you might want to consider an upgrade.
We needed one last piece to make these editions special. In the first book, Alcatraz comes across a map of the world—one that stuns him, as it contains new continents he’d never heard of. Nothing evokes just how bizarre all this is more than seeing it laid out in visual form as a world map, and so it was time to call in Isaac (cartographer for Mistborn and the Stormlight books, among others) to give us his best Alcatraz map.
It has been printed in full color on the inside of the jackets. That’s right—your hardcover book jacket doubles as a poster map of the world. I love this idea, and I would like to try it out for future books like in the Stormlight series. It seems pretty handy to be able to pull off the jacket, set it out, and use the map for reference while reading.
This is only on the print edition, and only on the hardcovers, so give them a look! Many of the stores where I went on tour (listed below) had copies in stock, and they might even have some signed ones left!
Anyway, thank you so much for supporting this quirky little series over the years. It’s back because of your enthusiasm. You wouldn’t let it die, and these beautiful new editions are your (and my) reward.