Our guest this week is a princess. OK, she's a writer too, but when I've met Alethea Kontis, she's always been sporting a tiara with an aplomb that would probably make real royals jealous and seems entirely natural on her. She's written all sorts of things -- from kids books to essays to horror. But I'll let her explain that.
WN: Your most recent book out is "AlphaOops: H is for Halloween," a sequel to the "AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First." What inspired you to do two alphabet books for kids?
ALETHEA: An Orson Scott Card lecture and a random train of thought inspired the original AlphaOops story. A friend of mine liked it and sent it to a friend of hers. It was just a fun story; I had no idea of it being a publishable book. But when the head editor of Candlewick Press calls you, speaking so quickly that she chokes up, and begs to publish your book, YOU SAY YES.
WN: You describe yourself as a "genre-chick." What do you mean by that and how has "genre" work influenced you as a writer?
ALETHEA: I was not familiar with the term "genre" until I started working in publishing. As a bookseller and librarian, I was taught to shelve by category. The categories most of my favorite books came from were: romance, fantasy, and mystery. When I started working in book wholesale, I became the go-to girl for questions like: "How do you tell a Nora Roberts original book from a reprint?" and "Have you ever heard of 'Sam Raimi?'" and "What's the deal with this Kevin J. Anderson guy?" Almost everybody else Had Literary Degrees and Read James Joyce. I had a degree in Chemistry and read comics. So [artist] Janet Lee and I dubbed ourselves "The Genre Chicks."
My goal as an author is to write books my twelve-year-old self would have loved, cherished, cried over, finished in one day, and read again. I want to be Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones and Lloyd Alexander and Ellen Raskin and Meredith Ann Pierce.
WN: You have also written essays from your life and collaborated with Sherrilyn Kenyon on the Dark-Hunter Companion. What interests you in such diverse types of writing?
ALETHEA: I have always written. Between the ages of eight and twenty-five, I was a poet. I started my first novel in the seventh grade. I wrote short stories all through high school and college. I was filling up journals long before anyone conceived of the word "blog." I wrote to entertain myself and my friends, and I dreamed about having a novel published one day based on the fairy tales I'd loved as a child.
Actually being published in all these forms--picture books, essay books, science fiction anthologies, romance-novel companions--involved a lot of "being in the right place at the right time" and seizing opportunities. When someone offered me something, I said "YES!" and then figured out a way to make it happen. I swear...I published five books and hit the New York Times list solely on luck and hard work. My first novel (Sunday) will finally be published in spring of 2012. Only then will I feel like a Real Writer.
WN again: Through a e-mail mix-up, Alethea sent me the first 7,000 words of the sequel to Sunday, called, of course, Saturday, and I read them. I am now wanting it to be 2012 so the first one comes out and I can read them for real.)
WN: What was the best piece of writing advice you've ever received and how did it help you?
ALETHEA: As previously mentioned, I got my degree in Chemistry. I was really good at math and really terrible at English, so I didn't have any formal writing instruction until my friend Brandi got me to apply for Orson Scott Card's Literary Writing Bootcamp in 2003...and I got in. It was a week-long experience: two twelve-hour days of intense class work (with homework), 24-hours to write a short story, and then three days of reading and critiquing everyone's stories in a round-table discussion.
On Friday night, when the class was almost over, we all went to dinner. Over dessert, Scott Card was ruminating outloud about the possibility of hosting a year-long novel-writing workshop. I expressed my interest in the workshop. He stopped talking, looked me dead in the face, and said, "Why? Just write the novel."
I think about that moment a lot: every time I distract myself from my work, or get overwhelmed with anxiety, or think I need another workshop or further instruction. I say to myself, "Shut up, Alethea. Just write the novel."
WN: What books have really captured your attention lately?
ALETHEA: Once upon a time I read books like most people smoke cigarettes, but the more I wrote the less I read. I took on the job as book reviewer for Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show so that would be forced to read at least two books a month in the science fiction and fantasy genre. And I'm so very glad I did.
I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. Catching Fire kept the momentum of the first book, and (contrary to popular belief) I thought Mockingjay was a perfect finish. (It wasn't about what boy she ended up with, people. It was about Katniss.) I enjoyed Tamora Pierce's Terrier and Bloodhound books -- she's come a long way in all her years as a writer, and I'm happy to have matured right along with her.
I also found myself caught up in Robin McKinley's Pegasus. She's probably my favorite author of all time, but I've been disappointed in her last few books. Pegasus is a return to her former glory. I can't wait for the second installment. I hope it's about 10,000 pages long. Oh! And I just finished Howard A. Jones' The Desert of Souls. I loved that book so much that I emailed the author when I was finished to gush about it. If you like Arabian Nights, or even the thought of Arabian Nights, you will ADORE this book.
WN: What's next for you as a writer?
ALETHEA: The best story I've ever written is coming out this year--it's called "The Unicorn Hunter"--but I'm not allowed to tell you when or where or with whom yet. Other than that, I'm just writing more novels. And jumping at whatever other opportunity knocks on my door. Knowing me, it could be anything!