Miss Print (MP): Dearest is the third book in your Woodcutter Sisters series and follows Friday. What was the inspiration for this story?
Alethea Kontis (AK): The Woodcutter Sisters novels always start, like perfume, with a “base note” fairy tale. For Enchanted, this was “The Frog King” (aka “Iron Hans”). For Hero, this was “Petronella” (aka “Master Maid). For Dearest, this was “The Wild Swans” (aka “The Six Swans”).
I also knew that this would probably be the most romantic volume of the whole series, as it’s about Friday, the “loving and giving” sister. What I didn’t expect was for it also to be one of the funniest…and the most heart-wrenching.
MP: In addition to the expected nods to traditional fairy tales, this book references some familiar mythology as well. What prompted you to bring myths and other non-fairy tale inspiration into the mix? How did you decide which source material to reference in this installment?
AK: Once I start with my “base note” fairy tale, it’s time to fill in some blanks. Go back and read any of the Grimms’ tales—you’ll inevitably end up with some questions, as the stories tend to gloss over details. How did the main character get from Point A to Point B? How did the bad guy come into possession of that particular magic object?
As I write the Woodcutters series, I simply (ha!) fill in blanks like this with other fairy stories. For example: At the beginning of Dearest, Friday is washed ashore in Arilland after her sister conjures a magic ocean. I needed to get her to the castle, so I had Conrad (from “The Goose Girl”) find her, as he was already on his way to the castle. When she gets there, Friday is sent to tend the children (instead of geese), and one night stumbles upon seven mysterious young men in the highest tower…who have a connection to the herb girl that was introduced in Enchanted and named after Rapunzel…
I can’t tell you much more than that because SPOILERS! Discovering all the fairy tale references is part of the fun! The more well-versed a reader is in fairy tales and classic fantasy, the more hidden treasures there are to discover.
Putting all these unlikely things together and then letting them all play out is SO MUCH FUN. I imagine the writers of Once Upon a Time must also experience this level of evil-genius-like glee.
MP: While all of the Woodcutters are very special, Friday is a bit different from her siblings in that she is quite content with her lot in life. Unlike Sunday and Saturday, Friday doesn’t start her story wanting to change much about her life. How did you go about channeling that level of contentment in Friday’s voice?
AK: Oh, yes, I’ve already gotten flack from reviewers because Friday is an optimist who isn’t damaged enough. It’s hard for me to be sorry about this because so far, her adventure is my favorite.
I had a very privileged childhood: I grew up in a beautiful brick house on a lake in a subdivision that Norman Rockwell could have painted about, and there were children aplenty. (I was the instigator of many adventures with my bands of child misfits.) I acted on stage and television. I loved school. I never went to funerals because no one I loved ever died.
Even as a young writer, I was aware of this pie-in-the-sky existence. I worried that because I didn’t have a horrible childhood, my writing would never be good enough. Now…was my life really perfect? Of course not. I was a teenager. I have yet to meet the teenager with a perfect life.
Friday’s character pulls greatly from that part of my childhood, and hopefully speaks to other young people who may feel as I did. It is okay to be an optimist. It is okay to appreciate the life you have, while still striving to make it better by helping others. Everyone else might think you have a perfect life, but things will come along—as they always do—to screw it up. How you deal with those things is up to you. In Dearest, I dealt with them as Friday would have, with her brightness and love.
MP: This book overlaps with the beginning of Hero (which goes on to follow Saturday’s adventures at the Top of the World) but instead stays in Arilland for the most part to follow Friday and some of the other Woodcutters. Did you always know the sisters’ different adventures would cover the same span of time?
AK: Always? No. I have always known the End game, the “base note” fairy tales of each book and the order in which I wanted to tell them, but I was not aware at the beginning that Hero and Dearest would be parallel novels.
I wasn’t sure I had the ability to tell a parallel story until that first ball in Enchanted. When Sunday first walks into the ball, she is dealing with her own emotional baggage. Similarly, Prince Rumbold is going through his own story arc. Both chapters held vital information to the plot, and I could not reveal everything I needed from only one character’s POV…so I wrote each character’s story as a separate chapter, ending them both at the same point, when the two characters meet on the dance floor for the first time. AND IT WORKED.
Hero and Dearest work together on the same lever, just a larger scale. Saturday spends most of Hero as a prisoner in the White Mountains—if I had continued chronologically on from that story, there would simply have been too many questions. Not the least of which was: What did happen to Arilland when Saturday called the ocean?
The Brothers Grimm may have had the freedom to gloss over those details, but in good conscience, I could not. And I’m so glad I didn’t!
MP: Tristan and Friday are an interesting pair. Obviously, we’ve known Friday since the beginning of this series. When did you known Tristan would be the male narrator of Dearest?
AK: Sometime around 11:47am on February 10, 2013.
Okay, maybe not exactly then…but darn close. I knew that Friday would fall in love with one of Elisa’s swan brothers. That was about it until my fellow Mermaid Carlene Love Flores asked a bunch of us to contribute to a Valentine’s day post on The Waterworld Mermaids about our fictional heroes. A bunch of us had just been talking about the celebrity crushes we had in high school—I had a ton, but none bigger than Jonathan Brandis. I Googled a picture of him for the post…and suddenly Tristan’s character sprung into my head, fully formed. In fact, all of the swan brothers were born that day—you can find them all on my Dearest (the book was still called Beloved then) board on Pinterest.
MP: Is there any character in this story that you’re especially excited for readers to meet?
AK: YES. Oh my gosh, yes. There are at least four of them. I think this is one of the reason I love Dearest so much—because it introduces these characters that are PIVOTAL to the rest of the series. But if I tell you anything about them it will ruin the surprise! So I will simply say that Conrad is particularly awesome. And not just because he comes from my favorite fairy tale.
In fact, there is a missing chapter from Dearest, written from Conrad’s point of view, that the publisher asked me to cut from the book. I think I might have to make that available in an e-version. Unfortunately, I can’t just make it free, because it contains MASSIVE spoilers. I’m very anti-spoiler.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
AK: I can tell you about three upcoming projects—all of which I hope to have out in the next six months. The first is the worldwide release of Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome, another one of my collaborations with Janet K. Lee. It was born as an illustrated Twitter serial, and we managed a limited print run of 50 before deciding that printer wasn’t cost-effective. Happily, we are releasing that VERY SOON.
Second, there is a Woodcutter tie-in novella called Trixter, yet another parallel story that tracks Trix through his adventures after Saturday calls the ocean. Trixter will release shortly after Dearest, and I’ve planned several more installments in “The Trix Adventures.”
Thirdly, I am writing a series of contemporary romance novellas (warning: there will be sex) set in a small town in Florida called Sand Point–very much like the one I moved to this summer. I wrote the first draft of the first novella in only 13 days, and it was SO MUCH FUN. Even better, all the books in the Sand Point Series will be titled after Adam Ezra Group songs, by use with special permission from the band. I am so excited!!
2015 is going to ROCK. :-)
Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.