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.
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.
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.