20 Minutes with Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis
Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis – author of “Enchanted” (recently listed on Kirkus Reviews among the “Best Teen Books of 2012“), the award-winning “Alpha-Oops” series, and so much more – is a passionate and informed storyteller. Her diverse background includes, among other things, a love and respect for the theater and of the rich heritage of folklore and fairy tales, both of which informs her work and infuses it with authenticity and magic. Justin Macumber (co-host and founder of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast) joins me in a rousing 20(ish) minutes as Alethea waxes rhapsodic on the allure of fairy tales, who she writes for, her revision and editing process, and much more. The Fairy Queen is in the house people… woot! (and come back for more writerly goodness in Alethea’s Workshop Episode)

PROMO: Protecting Project Pulp podcast (part of the District of Wonders Network)

Showcase Episode: 20 Minutes with Alethea Kontis

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

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Episode Breakdown

01:08 – Alethea’s Fairy Tale Intro


07:20 – Why do you think the world has developed such an appetite for fairy tales lately?

  • 08:10 – Everything goes in cycles. Vampires… they leave, they come back. Fairy tales… they leave they come back
  • 08:20 – Every writing teacher is going to tell you to write what you love. Even if it’s not popular now, by the time your craft has caught up with the zeitgeist, it’ll be popular again
  • 08:40 – Also, I think social networking is – in a way – virtually bringing back the oral tradition. Fairy tales were the blogs of Germany and the Dutch and the Italians of back then


09:30 – What do you think is your greatest asset as a writer, and what do you do to nurture it?

  • 09:55 – My greatest strength is the performance side of the things
  • 10:10 – The acting and the writing came together back when I was eighteen and made me who I am
  • 10:20 – When I approach my writing, I’m thinking “What is my motivation” for this character?
  • 10:35 – Every single character, I put myself in their head as though I was going to go on stage and play them as a character
  • 10:40 – You have to really connect with those people before you start spouting words, but then when the words come, they’re so natural because that’s just who the character is
  • 10:50 – Dialog has always been my strength, description has always been a challenge
  • 11:20 – Someone said “Three sentences should be enough to describe anything”
  • 11:35 – I think of poetry… or Twitter
  • 11:45 – You need to do that to move the story along. If you dwell in the beauty of everything, everything gets lost in the forest
  • 15:05 – However, I’m revising the sequel to “Enchanted” and I wish I had over written it so it would be easier to edit
  • 15:15 – “Enchanted” was originally about 107K and it ended up about 74K… it is so easy to cut, than it is to cut and have to write 20K more words


15:50 – PROMO: Protecting Project Pulp podcast (part of the District of Wonders Network)


17:20 – What did you find in your first draft that you need to fix time and again?

  • 17:55 – It was less of me finding it myself than it was the three-page edit letter from my editor
  • 18:10 – It was really just me talking just to hear myself talk, and I needed to clear up things and make things simpler
  • 18:25 – I also have a tendency to have a cast of thousands… I love to talk about people
  • 18:5 – I have to make it logical, but I also have to have to keep it simple
  • 19:00 – Ultimately it has to be a novel story about a girl and a boy falling in love, the end
  • 19:15 – I can’t get sidetracked


19:20 – What will you do differently with the third book in the series

  • 19:30 – It really IS a learning process
  • 19:35 – I was forced to blow through the zero-draft of “Hero” in about two or three months
  • 19:45 – My goal is to make the third novel (“Beloved”) my NaNoWriMo project
  • 20:00 – That way I’ll have a year to go back to it and look at it and stew about it


20:45 – Are you a believer of writing as a group activity?

  • 21:30 – I think there are pros and cons to it
  • 21:35 – I tried that with The Codex Writers
  • 21:55 – Within that group, you learn which people are keeping your voice and which ones are trying to completely re-write your story as they would write it
  • 22:15 – Recognizing that is difficult, as is accepting it and responding to it
  • 22:25 – Mary Robinette Kowal is amazing at this… holding readings and posting her novel as she writes it, getting feedback as she goes
  • 23:00 – I wish I could be at a place like that
  • 23:10 – I think it IS valuable


23:35 – What are your personal favorites among some of the contemporary takes on fairy tales?

  • 25:10 – I wrote an article for the Huffington Post that never made to press
  • 25:55 – While writing the article it occurred to me that “Pan’s Labyrinth” was a perfect retelling of “The Little Match Girl”
  • 26:45 – The protagonist creates this entire to world to get away from a horrible world and in the end you’re left to decide whether it was real of if she “died” by surrendering to the horror
  • 27:15 – For Disney re-tellings, I have to give the award to “The Little Mermaid”
  • 27:25 – I order to re-tell that story and make it a happy ending, they had to do some major work. I think they did an amazing job


27:55 – Do you write to a “person” or composite that you try to appeal to?

  • 28:55 – Absolutely, I write for the 12-year old Alethea who was absolutely consumed by books
  • 29:25 – When I’m writing and the words aren’t coming, I think of sitting in front of my family and consider how I would tell the story to them


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Comments (2)

Great episode, I will mention that while Mary Robinette Kowal is great at workshopping stories, when she is using beta-readers, or beta-listeners, she typically does not want suggestions unless she specifically asks for them. What she is looking for from beta readers is: What bores you, What confuses you, What you don’t believe, Things you think are cool.

That’s true — these are the things Orson Scott Card taught us to react to in stories when we attended his Literary Boot Camp (me in 2003, Mary in 2004).

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