Writing is a Magical Business


Alethea Kontis pic 11-13 Small Alethea Kontis

Confession: I wasn’t the best English student in the world. I was good at math. I majored in Chemistry. For this reason, I did not have my very first true creative writing class until Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp in 2003. I was 27.

Not that I had ever really stopped writing, of course…those of us so cursed by the Fates never lose the compulsion to tell a great tale. I still played around, sending weekly poems to my pen pals and journaling like crazy. I had a few novel ideas–including the one I write mostly while bored in Physics–and a bunch of short stories–including the one I wrote while bored in Inorganic Chem. I also had a screenplay and outline for a Movies for Dummies book that I wrote while…you guessed it…bored at my movie theatre job.

Thanks to my storytelling parents I was an avid reader by the age of five and, thanks to my Assistant Manager position at the Moves at Polo, I saw pretty much every single film that released between 1991 and 1998. I had a great mind for story, a fabulous ear for dialogue, and I knew every cliché in the book.

At least, I thought I did.

Who knew that describing your character in a mirror was a typical lazy-author cheat? Who knew that the majority of Chosen Ones have green eyes? Who knew that you shouldn’t have two main characters whose names rhyme…or start with the same letter…and that the first letter that pops into your mind is usually “A”, because we’re trained to think alphabetically?

From manuscript format to MacGuffins…my brains were on the verge of leaking out my ears as I tried to soak in every word of that class. I took a lot of notes that week. Some things I can still reference on the internet. But one cliché in particular stuck with me: “Just because they tell you to write what you know doesn’t mean you should make your main character a writer.”

This rule was mostly brought about as a result of Stephen King (Shining, Misery) and Ray Bradbury (Death is a Lonely Business, Graveyard for Lunatics), who wrote Author Main Characters and did them well. But those main characters were MEN. How about Female Author Main Character? One in particular changed my life in 1984, proving to a young, impressionable Alethea that she could have the writing and the adventure and the guy and everything else her heart desired.

That woman was Joan Wilder.

Shortly after returning from Boot Camp, a fellow camper (Eric James Stone) helped me set up a Blogger account, and I started keeping my journal online, for all the world to see. In part, it was (and still is) an ongoing letter to my Mom, telling her about my life and letting her know that I was okay (because of her three daughters I am the least likely to pick up the phone). I started to look for the magic in my own life, stories I could tell that would amuse her.

And then the stories started to find me. I got one book contract, and then another. I made friends with a bestselling romance author and an SF Grand Dame. Rainbows started falling out of the sky. My best friend got pregnant. My grandmother got dementia. I fell in love with a man from the other side of the ocean and flew halfway across the world to meet him. I kept adventuring and keeping logs of my travels, living vicariously for my coworkers who felt stuck in their small town.

Within the space of a few years, my world completely changed. And when I looked back, I realized that I had a story–a story about a frumpy, scared girl who chooses the brave path and realizes that her life is a thousand times more amazing than she ever imagined, full of magic and misery and everything in between.

AletheaCoverApril2014I called the story BEAUTY & DYNAMITE, but I might have just as easily called it BECOMING JOAN WILDER.

Call me a cliché if you will, but it’s my life. It can’t be written any other way. So many women want to “live the fairy tale,” but I’m here to tell you: it’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs. But sunshine and puppy dogs still exist. Some things are meant to be.

And some things are just meant to be great stories.  


Bio: New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, including The Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her YA fairy tale novel,Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012, was nominated for both the Andre Norton Award and the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea now lives in Northern Virginia with her Fairy Godfamily. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.

YouTube (featuring “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants”)

YouTube 2  More Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants

Books: Hero (second in the Woodcutter Sisters series) and Wild & Wishful, Dark & Dreaming (short story collection), both released on October 2013. Upcoming: Revised & Extended edition of Beauty & Dynamite (out of print essay collection) in April, and Book Three of Woodcutter Sisters in Fall 2014.


7 comments to Writing is a Magical Business

  • I was always the opposite. I loved the written word and I always excelled at it in school. I started reading even before kindergarten. I started writing adventures and characters when I began playing D&D in the late 70s. And then Star Wars came along and blew my mind. I wanted to make stories like that. But it wasn’t until high school that I actually started trying with zeal. As far as math went…we hatessess it! We hatessess it like Bagginssess! Mathss BURNSSESS!!

  • Great to see you here, Lee. And a lovely post. Writing was always my strength as a student, and it was always what I enjoyed most. My feelings about math were pretty similar to Daniel’s. But I got away from fiction long enough to get my Ph.D., in large part because writing didn’t seem like a practical career choice to my parents or to me. It still doesn’t seem like a practical career choice, but I guess somewhere along the way that became less of a concern. Because while it may be short on pragmatism, it’s what I love to do, and the value of that can’t be measured in any practical equation.

  • Ken

    Welcome back Althea!!

    Similar to David, writing was always what I looked forward to as a student. Math and the sciences were interesting in so far as the ideas they sparked. Water boils at lower and lower temperatures as pressure decreases…meh, ok, hey…does that mean that I could theoretically boil ICE?? Wow, what would that look like, etc? And so it went. Science writing was the worst. Experiment reports…ugh the ultimate in TELL, don’t SHOW.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Okay, at this point I need to chime in for those on the hard sciences squad. I’m fortunate that I’ve always been good at math, and now I’ve got a job I love working as a Scientific Programmer for an observatory. I love languages and language (dabbled in 3 diff. foreign languages in undergrad), and from my perspective math, programming languages, english, and foreign languages all fall into that category in one way or another. The goal is always to express ourselves, efficiently and elegantly as much as possible. All of these languages hold the keys to different stories; they are the tools through which we express and explore those stories.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Sorry, I forgot to add the sheepish hand-raise for green-eyed characters. Thank you, Alethea, for the reminder about how much there is to *learn* when it comes to writing, and what an excellent journey it can be! 😀

  • I was good at words in school. Too good for my own good, I think. I got through 9th grade English without actually having to attend 9th grade English. The first week of school, the teacher caught me writing poetry. After that, so long as I turned in a poem or story each week, I didn’t have to attend. It cost me later, as the 9th grade is when they teach you the definitions and uses of things like adverbs, prepositions, and such. Who knew? When I heard there were rules for those things (College Comp), I had to go look ’em up!
    I liked the sciences, too. Loved learning how living things work and then realizing that mechanical things are just our poor imitations of those living things. There’re some stories in that line of thought, I tell ya!
    Math? Well, I can balance a checkbook or a business ledger, didn’t realize there was “a formula for that” until after I’d built bookcases and barns, and took trig. Decided I could do without any more than the basic necessities of calculus, got my BS in Computer Science and did a stint at writing code for airplanes (and a few stories about airplanes).
    Somewhere in all of that I joined the AF and fixed planes, got married, had three kids, bred and trained horses, got divorced, and wrote. I even sold a few stories with green eyed, red headed heroines! 🙂
    I blame my Mom. She read to me and then encouraged me to read to her – when I was 3. I stared school at 4 and read more. And more. I explored exotic places in the past and the future and in the lands where giants walk and animals talk. And when I can’t read a good story, I make one up.

  • Thank you all for stopping by — three cheers for math and green eyes and encouraging moms!

    I love sharing the story of my writing journey, mostly because I love hearing everyone else’s stories in return! xox