New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She has authored several published books in multiple genres as well as short fiction, essays, and poetry appearing in over ten anthologies and numerous speculative fiction magazines.. Her debut YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, will be published by HMH (Harcourt Books) this spring.
SFFWRTCHT: I see that you’re quite enamored with folk and fairy tales. Where did this love start?
Alethea Kontis: My father read to me every night when I was a baby (until age three, when I read to him and he fell asleep). I loved fairy and folk tales the best, which were written like my father told stories around the dinner table (“told”, not “shown”–ha!). This love resulted in the gift of many books from many friends and relatives, including a giant, unexpurgated Grimm and Andersen collection from my Memere when I was nine. I gobbled it up from cover to cover, and my life has been magical ever since.
SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?
Alethea Kontis: I once sat down and made a list of my 21 Most Influential Books (http://aletheakontis.com/2009/06/my-21-most-influential-books/) — only two of these (Jovah’s Angel and Me Talk Pretty One Day) were books I read after graduating high school. And there were just so many beyond this list: Edward Eager, Roald Dahl, Lloyd Alexander, Vivian Alcock, Catherine Dexter…if my childhood imagination knew no bounds, it was because the kingdom of source material was SO VAST.
Alethea Kontis: I had always enjoyed writing assignments in school (I still have quite a few of them), but it wasn’t until a poetry unit in the fifth grade that I looked at the words on the page and knew I was meant to be a writer. I was ten years old.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study writing in school? How did you learn your craft?
Alethea Kontis: I was a math and science geek. I made the worst grades in English. And as I was not encouraged by my parents to study writing in college, the only formal “craft” training I have is Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp in 2003, and the fabulous monthly meetings held by my local RWA chapter (Washington Romance Writers). Beyond that, I’m pretty much self-taught. I read a TON, and I wrote stories with my friends and for my friends, like a game we used to play. I’m so very glad were only had five television stations and no computers until my last years of high school. My life might have been very different.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write until your first sale? What was that?
Alethea Kontis: I was published a while before I got paid for it. Robert Bly (Secrets of a Freelance Writer) says that if you want to make a career out of writing, you need to start writing, even if it’s for no pay at all. A neighborhood newsletter, a church circular, something, anything. This will teach you to write to topic, concisely, to deadline, and for a particular editor–exceptionally good advice for me. I had a friend who was writing movie reviews for a local TN free press (The Rutherford Reader) that was mostly classified ads, and I asked him if they would be interested in book reviews. I had a word limit and a deadline every two weeks. I kept the job until 2005, when I got a gig writing about my life in books and the publishing industry for a monthly column in Apex Magazine. AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First was published in 2006.
SFFWRTCHT: What aspect of Enchanted came first? Characters? Plot? Setting? Was a particular fairy tale involved from the beginning?
Alethea Kontis: In the summer of 2005, the Codex Writers (my online writers group) held a fairy tale short story contest. After a great deal of discussion, we decided that the stories had to be inspired by at least one of four “seeds”: “Fundevogel,” “The Princess and the Pea,” the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I was inspired by all of these things, as well as all the other suggestions that hadn’t made it on the list (like “Monday’s Child is Fair of Face). It was a novel’s worth of ideas, but I managed to edit it down into a 10,000-word story. “Sunday” won third place in the contest (only because Tom Pendergrass and Luc Reid tied for second) and was published in Realms of Fantasy in the fall of 2006. Enchanted is…well…the director’s cut of “Sunday.”
SFFWRTCHT: Do you identify with any of the characters in “Enchanted”?
Alethea Kontis: In so many ways, I am all the characters in Enchanted–they are drawn from my experiences. It all started with Sunday herself, though. I, too, was born a Sunday’s Child, with a storytelling father and an exasperated mother.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you do any pre-writing for “Enchanted”? Did you outline?
Alethea Kontis: I suppose “Sunday” would be considered the pre-writing for the novel. Just over halfway through the novel, I did make a sheet with bullet points for the last chapters, to make sure I was addressing what needed to be addressed, tying up what loose ends I needed to, pulling through any recurring imagery, and leaving myself a window through which I could write more sequels.
SFFWRTCHT: Was there anything you had to research for “Enchanted”?
Alethea Kontis: Beyond the fairy tales, I did do a bit of research on medieval European clothing, so that I could speak intelligently about the dresses the Woodcutter sisters wear to the ball. Luckily I was at Sherrilyn Kenyon’s cabin while writing that chapter–Sherri has done extensive research and written many stories about that time period. She was a great help with the styles and fabrics and sociological implications of such, and she had some lovely reference material on hand I was able to refer to. Enchanted does not have a specific time period, and I wanted to make sure that I did not include a particular late-model style of dress that would pin the tale down on a timeline.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
Alethea Kontis: While I had a full time day job, I wrote after work and on the weekends. After I moved from TN, I had the great opportunity to live as a full time writer for a year. It was marvelous. I would go to the gym and write and work and blog and get everything out of the way before Joe and the girls came home from work and school. Thanks to the horrid economy I now have two part-time day jobs, and I’m back to writing when I can (and when I’m not completely exhausted). I do love my job at the bookstore and I treasure my kids in the afterschool program, but I do look forward to the day when I can go back to writing full time.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist?
Alethea Kontis: Microsoft Word and silence are my friends, when I’m not going old school and writing with a pen. Crazy, right? I have notebooks everywhere.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Alethea Kontis: Make a cup of tea, sit my butt down, shut up, and write.
SFFWRTCHT: How are the challenges of long form different for you than the challenges of a short story?
Alethea Kontis: Long form requires more sitting. Writing short form distracts me from writing long form, but I still love the format and can’t help myself.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play, if any, in your process as a professional author?
Alethea Kontis: Because I didn’t have any formal teaching, I learned to write and submit all on my own. I appreciate getting feedback, but for me the most important feedback is that of the editor. Oh, I’ll get a second and third opinion if I’ve made a mess of a story, but so far those stories have all been tossed into the trunk as “unfixable.”
SFFWRTCHT: What advice would you give an up and coming writer?
Alethea Kontis: Never stop reading. Never stop learning. Most of all, shut up and write.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any other novels or projects? Do any involve fairy tales?
Alethea Kontis: I’m currently working on the sequel to Enchanted (tentatively called “Saturday”). I’m also working on a short story about the greatest serial killer of the fairy tale world: Fitcher (also known as Bluebeard).
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve written many stories across the spectrum of speculative fiction. Do you have any favorites (besides Enchanted)? Are there any that readers can access online?
Alethea Kontis: My favorites are the fairy tale-themed stories because I am so familiar with that world, and it’s a real challenge for me to write something new and fresh and interesting. “Sunday,” you guys know about. “Blood and Water” (online at IGMS) is my retelling of “The Little Mermaid” with vampire mermaids and pirates. “Sweetheart Come,” (Werewolves and Shapeshifters, ed. John Skipp) based on the Nick Cave song, is a Tam Lin sort of tale about enchanted wolves. “Hero Worship” (online at Enchanted Conversations) is the fangirl obsession Red Riding Hood develops with Jack Woodcutter, post wolf. My very favorite, “The Unicorn Hunter,” (Demons, ed. John Skipp) is the story of what really happened to Snow White in the woods, and discusses the origin of the iron shoes she later makes her mother dance in. I loved this story so much that its characters wove themselves into the Enchanted world, and I’m excited that I get to write about them again!
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
Alethea Kontis: Brilliance Audio just bought the rights to do Enchanted as an audiobook, and I am SUPER excited about this! The sequel to Enchanted is my biggest project right now, and there are a few essays and short stories for anthologies that I shouldn’t really tell you about until I make the deadlines. There’s a super sekrit project with Eisner Award-winning artist J.K. Lee that I can’t tell you about or the publisher will shoot me. And for the AlphaOops fans out there: an AlphaOops Christmas book manuscript does exist, but Candlewick has not set a date for it yet. If you’d like to hurry them along, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
To hear Enchanted in Audio,
To read our review of Enchanted, click here.
Michelle Ristuccia writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of Star Trek, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com