Updated: Jun 30, 2020
I'm so glad you're here (YES YOU!) because I'm super excited to share an EXCLUSIVE** interview with the amazing Alexandra Overy about her 2021 debut YA fantasy, THESE FEATHERED FLAMES.
**Okay, I'll level with you, she's like my bestie and I'm totally exploiting our friendship for the sake of blog readership. BUT not only is she brilliant and the coolest of friends, but she has written an amazingly fantastic story that will leave you with the book hangover you've been chasing.
These Feathered Flames (Inkyard, 20/4/21) is a fantasy retelling of the Russian folktale “The Firebird” about two powerful sisters, one destined to be Queen and one destined to be Firebird. There's political intrigue, magic, beautiful dresses, rideable bears, sapphic romance, and the prose. Let me tell you about the prose, my friend (if you've read more than one blog post, we're totally friends! You can't escape now!) Basically its 448 pages of perhaps the BEST YA fantasy debuting in 2021. And that ending. OMG. (Feel free to slide into my twitter DMs if you need a shoulder to sob on at the end. I'm here for you, remember, we're friends now!)
But back to that magnificent prose I was talking about. Alexandra's writing is brilliant. It's lyrical and it pulls you along so that you don't even realize just how immersed in the story you are until someone like bangs a pot in the kitchen and you realize you are indeed NOT in the Queendom of Tóurin watching this story unfold.
"The paddock led to a small cottage, surrounded by more soft crocuses. Their purple seeped out from the house like a bruise. The building’s thatched roof had clearly been recently repaired, and the gray stone was all but consumed by creeping moss. The stench of magic grew with each step Asya took. Wateroses lay scattered on the ground, interspersed with dried rosemary sprigs. The too-sweet scent, cut through with the burn of magic, made her stomach turn."
Is that not just magical and beautiful? But it has this sinister undercurrent and it just makes me so giddy. I love reading Alexandra's stories and getting to be a CP because it means I get to fangirl about her writing BEFORE ANYONE ELSE!
Let's just take a moment to give a starry-eyed gaze to this gorgeous cover by Marisa Aragón Ware and Art Director Kathleen Oudit. Look at the details! The colours! That tagline!
I can stare at this forever and I can't wait until I have a physical copy in my hands because the spine is gonna be gorgeous and the end pages, and there's a map! I love fantasy maps!
Now that we're in a happy place having read that charming excerpt and basked in the fiery glory of that cover, let's dive into this interview!
Why are queer stories so important to teens in today's world?
Queer stories are always so important, especially in a teen space because as readers teens need to be able to see themselves in stories - to see that queer characters can be the hero just as much as the cis-straight-white-male chosen ones. I think having these books makes such a big difference for teens in terms of being able to understand and see themselves.
Do you remember the first queer story you read? What was it? Did it help you to realize your own identity?
So I didn’t realise this until I read this question...but I have no idea what the first queer story I read was!? I grew up in the UK, where we never had very much YA fantasy - not to mention any fantasy with queer characters - and I was really a fantasy reader, so it probably wasn’t at least until I was in college.
Some books that definitely helped me understand my own identity more recently are Red, White, & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston, because it meant a lot reading about a character who came to understand his own sexuality only in his 20’s, and In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan, because it really unpacks queerness in a fantasy setting in such an original way. I also have to mention Girls of Paper and Fire, by Natasha Ngan because reading that incredibly powerful story of survival while two queer girls fall in love really made me rethink what I was “allowed” to do in fantasy - by which I mean, it gave me the confidence to write the stories of my heart, with queer girls getting to have adventures, coming to terms with trauma, and working out who they are in fantasy worlds.
What are your top 3 favorite queer novels that you think everyone should read?
I’ve mentioned some of them already, so I’ll say three different ones!
This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. It’s a beautifully lyrical novella about two rival secret agents in an eternal time war. It’s got amazing Killing Eve vibes, perfect f/f enemies to lovers and ridiculously gorgeous prose.
Scavenge the Stars, by Tara Sim, which is a really fast-paced, fun fantasy retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo with such vibrant characters and really great banter. I love how the world is so casually queer-norm, and the range of identities that are explored in it - all while Sim weaves a really fascinating mystery.
The Prince and the Dresssmaker, by Jen Wang. This one’s a historical graphic novel about a prince who finds his identity through going out at night in secret to wear dresses. Not only is the art style really lovely, but it’s such a beautiful story of coming to understand yourself and the friends who stand beside you.
What queer elements can readers look forward to in These Feathered Flames?
The main queer element comes with one of the sisters, whose love interest is also a woman. I loved writing them because it was all the enemies-to-lovers angst of my dreams, but gay!
I tried to create a world where queer identities are very much “the norm,” so a lot of the background characters and world building elements also incorporate that - like non-binary Saints and sapphic ballroom couples.
You recently finished watching Season 5 of She-ra. No spoilers (because, alas, I have not yet watched!), but give us your overall thoughts and reactions via emoji.
(I am both nervous and excited to watch this! 😬😬😬)
You have so many writing strengths, including in depth world building that makes the world feel so very real. How much time do you devote to world building before you start writing or do you just make it up as you go?
You’re too nice, but thank you! I really love world building, which probably comes from my background in history, and I always spend quite a lot of time delving into that before I write and often before I even have plot or characters. The world informs so much of that for me that I find it too hard to do anything without all those details established. Though, of course, I do change things as I go and often will reach a point and realise I missed something important...
If you could give your younger writer self advice, what would it be?
Believe in your stories. I spent a lot of time hiding the things I really liked or being afraid to write the stories in my head because they might be too weird or too niche, or I thought no one else would want to read them. But when I finally leaned into those things I loved, I not only enjoyed writing so much more, but started to have more success with it too.
What is your favorite trope when reading and/or when writing?
This is a hard question, but I’m going to go with enemies to lovers. I just love the high emotion and tension, plus all the wonderful opportunities it gives for betrayal and banter.
Perhaps the most important and controversial question in this interview (and a point of contention in our friendship): Why do you put chocolate chips in cookies? (because lets face it, do they REALLY belong there???)
Because I'm a rational human being.
Ally, we're gonna have to have a talk about this...but for the sake of our readers, I'm gonna stay on topic.
If you could have one piece of merchandise be created based on These Feathered Flames, what would it be?
To be very specific, I’d love the silver claws Izaveta wears near the end of the book. She wears them for Saints’ Night, in honour of Saint Lyoza, the girl who grew claws. I think they’d be so much fun to wear!
Also a Mishka plushie, of course. (Which you did make a reality for me Katie, thank you!)
(remember those rideable bears I mentioned? Mishka is one of them and he is the CUTEST and also, I too want the silver claws. My wallet and I are ready for all the These Feathered Flames merchandise)
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
Okay, this might take away my credibility as a rational human, but I could actually get rid of either of those easily. I tend to write without anything around me because I’m way too easily distracted, and once I’m in the process of writing I get so consumed with it that I wouldn’t notice music or snacks even if they were there.
What one piece of advice do you have for writers who want to be published?
Write what you love and don't give up. The world needs your stories.
Do you have a favorite chapter or scene in TFF that you are super excited for readers to experience? No spoilers, but can you give us the chapter number and maybe a few teaser emojis?
Ooh this is a hard choice. I’m going to say either chapter 21 or chapter 57
Chapter 21: ⚔️😍🔥
Chapter 57: 🔥🔥🔥❤️💔💔
(Look, she's not wrong. Those chapters...my feelz are reacting just from memory)
So who's excited to read These Feathered Flames?
Excellent, since we're friends, I've got you covered:
First: Add it on Goodreads!
Second: If you don't think you can wait until April 20th of 2021 (because really, who can?) head on over to Netgalley and try your luck at requesting an e-ARC of These Feathered Flames.
Third: You can pre-order a signed copy! Yes, that's right, you can own a copy that rockstar Alexandra Overy has touched and personally signed. Head on over to the Ripped Bodice's website and get your order in! (I have it on VERY good authority that the the pre-order swag for These Feathered Flames is amazing, so get those pre-orders in and hang on to your receipts!)
Are you still with me? EXCELLENT
Because I am giving away a pre-order of These Feathered Flames from the Ripped Bodice. Go back to the tweet that led you here, like it, retweet it, follow Alexandra, and leave a comment with a bear emoji! (You can also say hi or scream about how excited you are for this book or your opinion on whether or not chocolate chips belong in cookies...just leave a comment!)
ALERT! THANKS TO @APerryTweets GENEROSITY, I WILL BE DRAWING TWO WINNERS FOR A SIGNED-PRE-ORDER! So get those Bear emojis in the comments!!!
Sadly, I must limit my giveaway to residents of the US due to shipping costs.
Winner will be drawn on July 20th!
As always, thanks for reading! If you're looking to buy any of the fantabulous books Alexandra mentioned above, click on the title to access my Bookshop page or visit your favorite local indie!
If you'd like to be a guest blogger or be interviewed, please reach out by leaving a comment or sending me a DM on twitter!