Author Interview: Alec Nevala-Lee, Author of THE ICON THIEF

Below find a Q&A with author Alec Nevala-Lee, who is celebrating the release of his thriller, THE ICON THIEF, (Signet, March 2012). In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls THE ICON THIEF an “cerebral, exciting debut.” It’s his first book, and I always enjoy spotlight up-and-coming authors on my GLA Blog. Read on to learn more…

GIVEAWAY: Alec is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: BlueZebra won.)



What’s the book about?

An ambitious young art analyst, a British investigator, and a Russian thief are caught in a murderous race to solve the mystery behind an enigmatic masterpiece by the artist Marcel Duchamp. It’s a conspiracy thriller set in the New York art world.

Where do you write from?

My wife and I just bought our first house in Oak Park, Illinois, and I work mostly at home. However, The Icon Thief was primarily researched and written in New York.

What were you writing (and getting published, if applicable) before breaking out with this book?

I spent several years as an associate at an investment firm in Manhattan before leaving to focus on writing. My first novel was a 225,000-word epic set in India, still unpublished, which I’m hoping to rework one day in a somewhat more manageable form. Before the release of The Icon Thief, I’d also published a fair amount of short fiction, mostly in the magazine Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

What was the time frame for writing this book? 

I’d wanted to write a novel about the New York art world for a long time, and I had done the first round of research several years earlier, while still working at my old job. After I began writing The Icon Thief in earnest, the first draft took about a year to finish, followed by another year of revisions. Halfway through the process, the stock market crashed, forcing me to rethink much of my research on art investing—and ultimately to revise the novel to take place in the summer before the financial crisis.

How did you find your agent?

When I first came to New York, I roomed for a year in Queens with two fellow members of my college literary magazine, one of whom was working with my future agent, David Halpern at the Robbins Office, although I didn’t query David until much later. (By then, I had actually spent a year revising my first novel with another agent, but we parted ways without going out to publishers—and rightly so, I might add.)



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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I was interested to discover that much of the editorial process has largely been outsourced to agents, with the publishing houses themselves more concerned with the business of packaging and selling books. In my own case, I spent more than a year revising the novel with my agent, while the subsequent rewrites with my editor—a very smart and capable guy—took only a few weeks.

I was also surprised when my editor asked if I could turn the novel into a series. Originally, I’d conceived The Icon Thief as a self-contained story, but I ended up signing a deal for a sequel as well, and I’m currently writing a third and final installment. In retrospect, I can see that it makes a lot of sense from a publisher’s perspective—it allows you to build an audience—and I’ve been grateful for the chance to spend more time with these characters. But it has definitely taken my work in some unexpected directions.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

Although my first novel was never published, it taught me a lot of important things: how to outline, how to crank out the necessary number of pages each day, and especially how to cut. As a result, I’d like to think that I’ve acquired some good habits, and I’m very disciplined when it comes to deadlines and revisions. This came in handy when I ended up with nine months to deliver a sequel to The Icon Thief, which had taken more than two years to write.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I wouldn’t have gone out with a draft of a debut novel that was 225,000 words long. I would have made sure that I saw eye to eye with my first agent before spending a year on rewrites. And I would have started much sooner.

Did you have a platform in place?  On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

I blog every day at I write mostly about the creative process, with occasional excursions into movies, literature, and pop culture, and I was recently surprised to discover that I’ve produced well over a book’s worth of material over the past year and a half.


What’s next?

My second novel, City of Exiles, will be released on December 4. I’m about halfway through the third book, currently titled The Scythian, which I’m scheduled to deliver in six months for publication in 2013.

GIVEAWAY: Alec is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: BlueZebra won.)


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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45 thoughts on “Author Interview: Alec Nevala-Lee, Author of THE ICON THIEF

  1. Rufina

    Thans for the well wishes Alec about the wedding. My 12 year son who has ADHD has me writing a short story for him right now. He finds it hard at school with the books they make him read. He is more interested in stories of natural disasters and how people survive them. News stories are too factual to keep his interest for long so he asked me to write a story for him about his favorite natural disaster right now, tsunamis. Its a lot of reasearch and slow going but if it keeps him interested in reading, it’ll be well worth the effort I’m making.

  2. Doropatent

    I love reading stories set in worlds within worlds I know little about. It’s a two-fer–good story, learn interesting information. Congratulations, and I’ll look forward to reading your book.

  3. winterchocolate66

    Congratulations Alec,

    I am so happy to have found an author that has worked so diligently to get passed the days where full-time employment and full-time writing. I have that same never give up character. Your comment about knowing when to stop research was right on the nose.

  4. Alec Nevala-Lee

    Thanks, everyone!

    Andrew: And if you don’t win a copy, and your library doesn’t have the book, what are you going to do then? 🙂

    In response to your question, I’ve found that one of the hardest things about research is knowing when to stop. For me, a month of general reading and a few more weeks of detailed research seem to be enough to at least get started, postponing the rest until later. (In my experience, many unresolved research questions have a way of taking care of themselves.)

    Rufina: Congratulations on the wedding!

  5. Rufina

    Congrats Alec! I’ve been writing myself from a very young age but haven’t been published yet. I only write short stories and poetry though. I have entered contests with my poetry and gotten honorable mentions but that’s about it. I’ve been planning to download your book to my Kobo for sometime now but with my upcoming wedding, I don’t even have time to read the 10 I have left on my Kobo that I haven’t read yet.

  6. Graelyn

    I’m glad to see that agents and publishers are encouraging writers to produce series instead of stand alone works. At one time, the advice to new writers was to present the first novel as a stand alone work and only mention the sequel later.

    I look forward to reading your book.

  7. queerbec

    Alex: Congratulations on your great accomplishment and your two follow-ups! Have you found that the research takes up about as much time as it does to ultimately write the novel, and no matter how much you prepare, you end up spending about a quarter of your time while writing continuing to do research, as the minute details need to be filled in accurately and in some cases the vagaries of the real world interfere and require you to add a location, adapt to a newly-publicized historical event, etc.?

    I’d love to read the book–hope my local library will carry it if I don’t win a copy. Thanks, Andrew

  8. Alec Nevala-Lee

    Silverlore: For the most part, I’ve managed to avoid writer’s block in the only way I know how: by knowing exactly what I’m going to write before I sit down each morning. If I didn’t have a detailed outline—which these days is more like a stealth first draft—I’d be totally lost.

  9. Alec Nevala-Lee

    Thanks, everyone!

    Larry: I read all the comments I get! And I’d love to see you on the blog sometime.

    Zephyrsaerie: For one thing, I blog first thing in the morning, when I’m still relatively fresh. At this point, it’s just a matter of habit—I’ve blogged every day for close to a year and a half, to the point where it feels strange not to post something. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my readers and commenters.

  10. Dot0711

    Congratulations on your novel, Alec! As an aspiring writer, I completely enjoyed your article and the information you shared with us. Thank you for including your blog address – I’d love to read your blog and see what additional information and tips you have to offer for writers (plus, any information on your future novel(s)).

    Besides being an aspiring writer, I’m also an avid reader and would thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of reading your novel, “The Icon Thief”. Thank you for your time and hope to hear good news about the contest! Thanks again for all the writing information/tips above! 😉

  11. Zephyrsaerie

    Congratulations on publication of your novel, Alec. I’m especially impressed with your consistent output on your blog. While I’m pretty disciplined with my writing projects, my blog’s more of an inspirational venue. By the end of a long day in the chair, escape velocity hits and I’m out of here. How do you do it?

  12. sldwyer

    It takes a true professional to put away that first novel and begin again on something new. (I also had a rather large book my first shot out and did a lot of trimming to tighten the story.) The hard earned lessons we take away from those trial and error days constructs all our future writing.

    Kudos to you for such an exciting story – The Icon thief. Best of luck.


  13. wmyrral

    Hi Alec,

    Do you read all these comments? I hope so. My friend, best selling author Debbie Macomber, not only reads every comment about her books, but answers every one personally. I thought that a busy author like her would either outsource the task or use a one-answer-fits-all autoresponder. That is, until after a few posts from her convinced me she was personally responding. We became good friends.

    I hope you and I might become friends. I, too, have just published my first book, but have one waiting in the wings that is probably too long. I will need to trim the fat or make it a series.

    I wish you great success on your present book. I’d love to review it for you, but will buy it in any event.

    Larry Winebrenner.novelist
    The Case of the Locked Drawer
    Visit me on

  14. Alec Nevala-Lee

    Thanks for the great comments! I’m touched by all your kind thoughts, and hope you’ll check out the book, even if you don’t win the free copy here. 🙂

    Shajen, in response to your question: I love writing both science fiction and suspense, and for a number of reasons, I think my strengths are best suited for short fiction in the first case and novels in the second. (It was also partially an accident of timing: my first, unpublished novel had some technothriller elements, and it’s certainly a genre that I’d want to explore in the future.)

    Bapost: I hope I can get you off the fence!

  15. onlythisischris

    I’m a true New Yorker and was fortunate enough to experience a realm of it’s subcultural art scene. I’ve recently relocated to a rural area, and I love to wax nostalgic when it comes to a well told story set in my old stomping grounds. I’m anticipating a good read. Thanks for the opportunity to receive a free copy!

  16. kuzucrim

    I love how you said that “Although my first novel was not published, it taught me alot of things.”

    As a young writer still in school I really like reading evidence that people have learned from things that haven’t won or been published. I’ve only attended a few writing competitions but I always love reading the comments or editing some judges or webstie commenters do for me, I think it really helps up learn.

    Cutting off useless detail is such a pain! I wonder how all these authors on the shelves do it! I always end up with useless joke-dialogues filling like a page and a half and as the author it is hard to delete things that the readers would find useless or unimportant.

    I would love to read your books coming out- finding a good book is really hard recently!

  17. rmiller

    Congratulations. How excited you must be to be published. I absolutely love this genre. I can’t read them fast enough. The setting and characters have hooked me. I can’t wait for it to come out!

  18. bapost

    The book sounds great! I’ve picked it up several times at the book store but have resisted as my “to be read” pile is wobbling precariously over head. I love a series and the premise is terrific. Resistance may be futile… 🙂

  19. shajen

    Okay, I’m curious about the short fiction. Why SF/F for short stories and mainstream for the novel? Is there not much market for mainstream short stories? Or was The Icon Thief a book of the heart that just didn’t happen to be SF/F?

  20. mattkrol

    Congratulations on the novel! And its wonderful to hear about your journey to this point. I feel like I’m at the stage you were with your 225,000 word novel … I’m in the process of trying to find an agent for my 138,000 word novel as well.

    I can’t wait for the novel to come out, it sounds like The Thomas Crown Affair, but on steroids!

    Congrats again!

  21. Tammy Denton

    Great and informative interview. I’ve learned a lot and will be following you on FB and Twitter. I’m also going to be reading your blog. I want to learn as much as possible about the craft of writing. My first short story, Macchiato Memoirs, was published at Every Day Fiction on April 15th. I was so thrilled with that feat that I can’t even imagine the euphoria that will come when I get my book published.

  22. B.P.Elkins

    Nice interview, sounds like an intresting background for Mr. Nevala- Lee. Perhaps he will become the next Frolie? …No one knows who that is. I hope this comment gets picked just for that purpose.

  23. Lina Moder

    Thanks so much for sharing your insight with us!

    And what an incredible topic, the New York Art world – I’m sure it’s an awesome thriller – the cover is great as well.

    Thanks so much!

    linamoder at gmail dot com


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