‘Captive Assassins’: Steamboat 13-year-old releases first novel

Steamboat Springs 13-year-old Mackenzie Ostrowski released her first novel, “Captive Assassins,” in August.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mackenzie Ostrowski’s inner author first emerged in fifth grade, when she and a friend decided to write short stories for the friend’s younger brother, and even after the friend changed schools, Ostrowski continued writing.

At the start of Mackenzie’s seventh-grade year, she started a new project: one involving the mysterious death of the heroine’s grandfather, a secret society based on Jupiter’s smallest Galilean moon Europa and a sinister plan by Europa’s president.

“A few chapters into it, I fell in love with it,” said Mackenzie, whos is now 13 and in eighth grade. She moved to Steamboat Springs from Aurora last summer. “I wanted to make something bigger out of it.” 

So she did. Mackenzie’s 258-page novel, “Captive Assassins,” is now available in hardcover, paperback and as an e-book. 

“Captive Assassins” is dystopian science fiction, based in modern times and inspired in part by books such as Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” George Orwell’s “1984” and Veronica Roth’s “Divergent.” 

“I wanted this to be something that makes the reader question things,” Mackenzie said. 

Writing the book was stressful, Mackenzie noted, but support from friends and family was invaluable.

“There were a few times during the process where I felt like, ‘Oh man, I’m too young to take on a project like this,’” she said. “But I’m really glad I didn’t give up, because this has been amazing.” 

Mackenzie Ostrowski’s tips and philosophies for writing a book

• Perseverance and focus are key; procrastination is the last thing you need.
• Keep pushing. I knew if I took a break day, then I’d think, “That was really nice, let’s do that again.”
• A good story needs a problem. A reader doesn’t have a reason to read unless there’s a need for a solution.
• Never write something that you wouldn’t read — never, ever, ever, ever.
• If your brain doesn’t enjoy something that you’re writing about, it’s not going to be as good as if you were writing passionately.
• (Writing a book is) hard. It’s very hard. There were so many setbacks and roadblocks that I wasn’t expecting — push through them.
• If it’s too hard, give yourself a break but don’t slack off. Give it your all.
• It’s all worth it in the end.
• Believe in yourself.

Mackenzie, hesitant to try to work with a publisher who might not take her then-12-year-old self seriously, decided to go the self-publishing route and was assisted by a friend of her mother’s who served as editor. 

“When I got (the manuscript) back, there was so much writing — Xs, marks, extra dialogue, suggestions — everywhere,” Mackenzie said. “It made me happy to be able to build on what I have and improve.”

She credits her editor with doing “a fantastic job.”

Mackenzie’s side of the editing process took a week and a half of her summer vacation. She’d wake up at 5 a.m. and work through 11 p.m. or midnight, only stopping to eat and see a friend for an hour or two.

“I knew if I took a break day, I’d think, ‘Oh, that was really nice, let’s do that again,’” Mackenzie recalled. 

“There were times I hated it, but it’s something that matters to me, really, more than most other things,” she said. “So I looked at my goals and my inspiration and kept going at it.” 

Along the way, Mackenzie found herself reflecting on her life of being a writer and a reader. 

“When I was younger and I found a typo in a book, I’d think, ‘They’re an author — they should know,’” Mackenzie said. “But after going through the process, I’ve learned that there are things that are easy to miss when you’ve looked at the same page 600 times.”

She also had a lot to learn about self-publishing — everything from figuring out page size to using a bank account. 

When the manuscript was polished and finally ready to send to print, technology had other plans. The cover design wouldn’t upload, and the entire body of text kept deleting itself. But tinkering around with the process and enlisting help did the trick. The book was finally finished. 

“It definitely is scary (to not be able to go back and change the text anymore),” Mackenzie said. “At the same time, I’m glad I’ve got it done. The first day I got the email that (the book) was ready to be ordered, it felt so unreal that it was almost hard to be excited.”

On Amazon, the book is available in paperback for $14.95 and on Kindle for $9.49. Off the Beaten Path is planning to stock the book and also plans to host a book signing with Mackenzie in the upcoming months. 

At school, many of Mackenzie’s friends and teachers have questions about her book. Some friends come to her for help with their own storylines.

“It’s a cool accomplishment, but I don’t want this to be a major definition of my personality and how people view me,” she said. “I want it to be something cool to share. I don’t want people to have a negative view of me for it or think I must think I’m so great.” 

Tucked into the story of “Captive Assassins” is also a letter, addressed directly to you, “Dear reader.”

“I want anyone who’s reading this to know that you’re never too young or too old to do anything,” Mackenzie said of the letter. “It’s so important to know that you really can do anything you set your mind to.” 

Even with “Captive Assassins” completed and selling, Mackenzie has no plans to take a sabbatical from her work anytime soon. 

“As I was getting closer to the end (of writing ‘Captive Assassins’), I realized that the story I wanted to tell was so long and there was so much complexity that I didn’t want to cram it into one book,” she said. So “Captive Assassins” will be the first of a trilogy. Mackenzie has a vision of what she wants the second book to be. She’s been spending her free time drawing up its outline, charts, graphs and character analyses, and she’s writing a chapter per day. 

Having gone through the self-publishing process already, Mackenzie thinks the second time around will be much more efficient. She’s optimistic that book two will be out by late May 2020. 

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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