Writer Wednesday – Princess Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis (that’s A-le-thee-ah con-tis for those in the know – you can say it with her on her website www.aletheakontis.com) is my favorite princess.  I first met her at con a few years ago, and her personality caught me right away.  She’s one of those people who can light up a room with happiness, and not in an overly cheesy way.  Her books range from The Wonderland Alphabet (check out our review on it) to the Alpha Oops series (The Day That Z Went First and H is for Halloween) to Young Adult and more.  So put on your tiara (guys, too!) and settle in to learn about Alethea Kontis.

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Author. Princess. Geek. Former nerd.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
My first best friend was a tree. My favorite fairy tales are “The Goose Girl” and “Snow White and Rose Red.” I make the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleep with a teddy bear named Charlie. (The Fairy Godboyfriend doesn’t mind.)

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I grew up in a family of storytellers. I started writing (mostly poetry) when I was about eight years old. When I branched out into short stories, I began writing “new fairy tales” per my mother’s request. I’ve been reading and writing fairy tales my whole life. “Making old stories new,” as Samuel Johnson says.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Right this minute I am currently waiting on editorial input for Hero (the sequel to Enchanted), so I’m working on a “Trixter” novella, making notes about Beloved (book three), and chatting to my new friend about a Big Fat Sekrit Project. (Like authors are wont to do.)

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Thanks to a childhood eidetic memory and a father who read to me ever night, I was reading the TV Guide by the time I was three. I don’t actually remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read. I was voracious. My mother quickly learned to abuse the library system and scour yard sales to feed my hungry brain. So my earliest book memories are of long trips to the library, summer reading programs, and library book sales in every small town we happened to be driving through at the time.

What are your three favorite books?
Because I indulged so much as a child, my favorite books are the ones from that time. There are far too many to pick three–when I have time I like to review them on Goodreads, especially the obscure ones. You can also find a list of My 21 Most Influential Books on my website.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I used to read books like some people smoked cigarettes. Unfortunately, when one starts writing, the reading is the first thing to go. I miss it. I took the book reviewing gig at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show so that I would be forced to read something every month. Also, I will drop everything when a new Jude Deveraux book is released. Guilty pleasure.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…go into this lovely meditative state where my breathing slows and the world around me completely disappears.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
In 2006, I had Sharon Shinn sign my worn copy of Jovah’s Angel: “To Alethea–Have fun reading this…again.”

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely. I still blame Kitti and Kay for the first three George R. R. Martin books.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do it every other month at IGMS, and I used to do it every day when I worked at the bookstore. Especially The Princess Bride. (See? Like I just did.)

What do you look for in a good book?
Anything but first person present tense. Ugh, that sets my teeth on edge.

Why do you write?
As Victoria Page replies in The Red Shoes: “Why do you want to live?” I don’t know why. I just do.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
In college, I studied to be a Marine Chemist. I have always been fascinated by inorganic chemistry and the hydrothermal vents. I have some small regrets that my life path took me away from that.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The magic in the world around us. (It’s there if you know how to look for it.)

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That Butt in Chair is the biggest obstacle holding me back from Meg Cabot-type fame.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I’m lucky: writing as part of my life has always been understood. Always. From the time I was in grade school. Because of that, I’ve had less of an adjustment period than some authors do when they suddenly stop calling their parents and start speaking in word count.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think all stereotypes are true for some authors, and that nothing applies to everyone. Does that make sense? The only universal truth is Putting One’s Butt in One’s Chair.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Putting One’s Butt in One’s Chair.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
The biggest writing mistake I’ve ever made has been not writing. That’s always a mistake, no matter how you slice it. The rest of the mistakes I made I learned from, just like everything else in life.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Being asked to collaborate on a Neil Gaiman/Joss Whedon joint effort.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I honestly don’t think of myself as having fans–I have friends. Like I always say: Strangers are just best friends I haven’t met yet.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
Um…. “nothing”? Little surprises me at this point. I have a pretty extraordinary life.

Anything else we should know?
I am extremely proud of having just won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for my novel Enchanted. I’ve also been having a BLAST touring Comic Cons up and down the east coast with my lovely and talented friend Janet K. Lee to support our collaboration The Wonderland Alphabet, our book for adults to read and babies to eat. If you love subversive poetry and adore Wonderland like I do, you’re going to want to own this one (whether you have kids or not)!

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Book Review – Wonderland Alphabet by Alethea Kontis [and a double Alpha Oops Halloween BONUS!]

Title: The Wonderland Alphabet
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Janet K. Lee
Format: Board Book
Written: 2012
Published: 2012

In the theme of Alice in Wonderland, Alethea Kontis has brought us the most adorable alphabet poem ever.  Janet K Lee’s  illustrations are amazing.  And the layout is incredible.  And there’s nothing about this I don’t like (except, maybe that our alphabet only has 26 letters…perhaps she could redo this with the Khmer alphabet, which is 74 letters long?) Have I gushed enough?

From thieves that run off with parts of letters to grins without cats and playing cards willing to deal the queen’s punishments (see what I did there?), there is nothing about this book that I dislike.  The colors are perfect, the artwork is gorgeous, and the rhyme has no sign of that sickening cutesy that children’s books so often suffer from.  In fact, I think this is truely a book designed for an adult to *want* to read to their children.  Or their cats, cause, you know, I don’t have kids.

I checked it out at the store and did something I don’t often do – bought it at its full cover retail price.  For me.

So the down-low on this book?  Buy it.  Find somewhere that you can display it.  Revisit it once in a while.  Love it, cherish it, share it.  This book would also make a great gift – for a new baby or an Alice fan, or someone who you want to remind to never grow up too fast.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, Five out of Five Pages.

Since it’s Halloween this week, I wanted to give y’all a little bit of an extra treat. (Also, I don’t want my blog toilet papered.)  Reviews of Alethea’s other children’s books!

Title: AlphaOops – The Day That Z Went First
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2006
Published: 2006

Title: AlphaOops – H is for Halloween
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2010
Published: 2010

I’ve known about these books for a while now, and it took me a bit to finally get around to looking into them.  I got H is for Halloween off a used book site, and it promptly became the book that sits on my hearth to round out my Halloween decorations this year.  They’re just that awesome.

In “The Day Z Went First” Z is tired of being stuck 26th in line and wants his turn at leading the parade.  The letters quickly decide that Z has a point, and A steps aside and lets them go backwards – Z Y X W P… um, P?  Yeah, so the rest of the letters get a little upset too, because, well, the letters in the middle are going to always be in the middle, and what if you don’t want to be next to the same letter all the time (or, even worse, what if you do and they won’t cooperate!?). H refuses to go anywhere other than where she should be.  Z starts getting testy, because really, all he wants is the alphabet to be over and with everyone all over the place, nothing’s getting done.  Then some of the letters decide they should stand for more than one thing, V tries for a second turn… One of the letters even gets stuck in the bathroom and has to be tacked on just before A, who steals the show in a most amazing way (see what I did there?!).

In “H is for Halloween” the same sort of chaos ensues.  It’s time to start the alphabet, but A isn’t ready, so they push H out in front because H has top billing.  The best thing about this book is that it’s not your typical letters and words.  In fact, there’s actually a page where J can’t always be a Jack-o-lantern.  While everything is going relatively smoothly at first, there’s a bit of a problem – you see, after K is for Kracken and P is for Pirate…  poor B has to change his costume because he’s dressed as a Buccaneer.     After Y is a Yeti, B has to give up on Bigfoot.  And what about X, who can’t be hardly anything?  (Serendipity! S has an idea!)

There are so many things I want to say about these books, but I don’t want to give everything away.  I like that this is a book about whether or not you can think outside the box instead of following the established order of things.  I mean does it really matter if G and H stick together or not if all 26 letters still make their appearances?

I think these books are great, and I really hope that she eventually makes her way through the whole series.

I’m giving both of them five out of five pages.

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