Author Interview: Alethea Kontis on Hero

One of my favorite books I read this year was Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. The book came out while I was still working in a bookstore and, though I didn’t get to read it as soon as I’d have liked, I was quite taken with the cover and the premise. So much so that I hand sold the book to anyone who would stand still. Then I read it and loved it. Then I found that Alethea was absolutely delightful on Twitter. THEN I found out the book was the first in a series AND I got to meet Alethea at BEA 2013 where she was signing arcs. Needless to say it was all very exciting and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Hero (the second book in the Woodcutter Sisters series). For more info about the blog tour and to see the other stops check out: http://prismbooktours.blogspot.no/2013/09/hero-by-alethea-kontis-on-fairy-tale.html

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Alethea Kontis (AK): I can pinpoint the birth of my writing career to when I was eight years old. That year my grandmother gave me a doorstop copy of Unexpurgated Tales of Grimm & Andersen, I got my first real, paid, TV acting job, and Romancing the Stone was the blockbuster movie that summer. I was already writing poetry, but suddenly I wanted to be Joan Wilder more than anything in the world.

I was a good student–I’ve always liked learning things–but my parents frowned on the idea of my being an English major. So I got a degree in Chemistry real quick, left college not long after my 20th birthday, and went to work in a bookstore. I haven’t left the publishing industry since. I’ve been a bookseller, a librarian, an editor, a copyeditor, a reviewer, a columnist, an interviewer, a small press publisher, and a book buyer for a major wholesaler. Oh — and an author. I can’t just do one thing. I HAVE TO LEARN IT ALL.

MP: Hero is the second book in a series. It’s preceded by Enchanted. What was the inspiration for this series? When you started, did you know the story of the Woodcutter family would encompass four books?

AK: The plan is for the Woodcutter Sisters Series to encompass 7 books — one about each sister. That’s always been my original plan. The publisher’s plan was for Enchanted to be a solo book. But I pulled out all the stops doing my own publicity and the book got some pretty rave reviews, and dontcha know it, they asked me to write two more books! This seems to be how publishing goes nowadays — everyone plays it close to the vest. Mama Woodcutter would be proud.

The inspiration for the series was the original novelette “Sunday” which I wrote for a fairy tale contest in my writers group. As the idea got bigger and bigger in my head, I had to promise myself that I would write the novel in order to edit out key points for the short story. AND I DID!

MP: What was the inspiration for Hero specifically?

AK: I was reading by the age of three and was quite the avid reader by age five. One of my favorite books was Petronella, a feminist retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ “Master Maid,” written by Jay Williams and illustrated by Friso Henstra. I always envisioned Saturday as a Petronella-type character: a girl who was meant to be a boy, but was just as tough and clever. Saturday’s story is definitely a nod to my heroes Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

MP: Obviously these books nod to a lot of fairy tales throughout. Were any books or stories especially helpful in your writing?

AK: One of my favorite books in my personal library is an Annotated Mother Goose, and I recently purchased the Annotated Brothers Grimm. I have many versions of the Grimms’ tales, of course, and Andersen’s. I’ve also been reading back through the Lang fairy books, taking obsessive notes on place names, character names, food, animals, and objects. I’m sure the inside of my head looks like one of those serial killer rooms on TV…man, I wish I could collage a room like that without getting locked in a padded cell.

MP: Working off the last question, both Enchanted and Hero have some great settings in the story. Did any actual locations help to inspire Arilland? Or the Wood? Or even the Top of the World?

AK: I’m so glad you asked! In one of my favorite books (The Princess Bride), the author (William Goldman) says that the story takes place “before Europe, but after Paris.” That’s my setting for the Woodcutters–a Once Upon a Time land where I can recognize the French influence in certain words and character names without ever naming “France” as a country. I want to be able to pull in all sorts of cultures and folk/fairy/magic tale influences while still obfuscating with author handwavium.

MP: One thing readers learn fairly early is that the Woodcutter sisters are all very unique. Was one sister more similar to you than others? Did you have a favorite sister to write about?

I was born on a Sunday, and like Sunday, I’ve always hated that nursery rhyme about the days of the week. But Sunday makes her own adventure, as I have made mine. Despite that, of course, there is quite a bit of all of me in each of the sisters. It’s as if they all live in my head at the same time…like in Tanya Huff’s The Last Wizard. My favorite sister is always the one I’m writing at the time.

Personally, I CAN’T WAIT to write Monday’s story…but that might be because it’s the awesome culmination of the series. It also scares me the most, because I’m definitely not ready for my time in this fairy tale world to be over. Not in the slightest.

MP: In the Woodcutter family, each child received a special name day gift. If you had a fairy godmother, what would you hope to receive as your name day gift? Is there anything you’d really want to avoid receiving?

AK: Everything happens for a reason and all gifts are useful, so I’d definitely never turn anything away–especially if it was something intrinsically liked to who I was destined to be. I’d certainly love Sunday’s neverending journal. I have a bazillion notebooks. I would save SO MUCH space and money.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

AK: Right now I’m working on BELOVED (Friday’s story), which will release in the fall of 2014. I’m also working with a friend at a small press to release a collection of my non-fairy tale short stories called WILD AND WONDERFUL, DARK AND DREAMING.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

AK: NEVER STOP. Never stop writing, never stop learning, and never stop putting yourself out there. Opportunity is out there, but it’s a lot of hard work finding it. And then you have to find the next one. And the next one. It’s tough. Really tough. But you can do it!

Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.

You can see more about Alethea and her books on her website.

You can also read my reviews of Enchanted and Hero here on the blog!

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