Alethea Kontis

When Tinker Met Bell – An Interview with Alethea Kontis

I wrote a blurb for one of Alethea Kontis‘ books a while back. As I recall, it said simply, “Alethea Kontis is fairy tales.” Having met her, I’m 99% sure she’s a genuine fairy princess slumming in the human world. I mean, just look at this video of her reading from When Tinker Met Bell.

Cover: When Tinker Met BellWhich brings us to the point of this post: she has a new book out this week called When Tinker Met Bell [Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks]. A book that brings together fairies and goblins. Unlike my own attempt at bringing these two species together, Alethea’s goblins don’t end up eating the fairies. Here’s the official summary:

Bellamy Merriweather Larousse isn’t like the other fairies at Harmswood Academy, with her giant wings and their magical dust. “Southern Bell” works as a barista at The Hallowed Bean to help pay her tuition and remains active on the cheering squad, despite her insistence on associating with the unpopular crowd. Every day is sunny in Bellamy’s world and every cloud has a silver lining. The only way to upset Bell’s stalwart optimism is to threaten one of her misfit friends…or try to take one of them from her.

Unbeknownst to everyone–including him–outcast Ranulf “Tinker” Tinkerton is about to be named heir to the throne of the Goblin King, making him ruler of his fellow Lost Boys and the labyrinthine city they inhabit. Now that the time has come for Tinker to leave Harmswood behind, will he be brave enough to share his feelings for Bellamy? It’s no secret that he’s held a torch for her since the fourth grade, but no matter how long they’ve been friends, goblins will always be allergic to fairies.

Or will they?

I invited Alethea to answer a few questions about the story…

When I was writing my goblin books, I considered trying to write a romantic plot thread. It…didn’t work. At all. How did you manage to make goblin romance work?

You and I are so very similarly minded…and yet backwards! You wrote goblins before princesses—I wrote fairy tales and ended up falling in love with goblins. I suspect the way I managed to make a goblin romance work is also because I came at it from the opposite end.

I knew two things when I started writing this book: That it would be a humorous romance (like all the Nocturne Falls books), and that the title would be When Tinker Met Bell. “Bell” was Bellamy Larousse, my optimistic cheerleader fairy barista. Tinker needed to be her opposite, of course…to me that meant goblins. And yet, despite their many differences, Tinker and Bell still manage to be the best of friends.

When Tinker Met Bell ended up being a little When Harry Met Sally, a little Romeo and Juliet, and a little Labyrinth, with a lot of my high school experience thrown in. Because of that, it may very well be my favorite book I’ve ever written (just don’t tell the Woodcutters!).

Why do you think goblins get such a bad rap?

In my goblin mythology, it is orphaned boys (mostly humans) that become goblins. Incorporating Peter Pan’s Lost Boys threw me down a fascinating rabbit hole of research that led to the Lost Boys of the Sudan and Spain. But I also did traditional “fairy tale” goblin research. Hans Christian Andersen has two goblin tales of note, “The Goblin and the Grocer” and “The Goblin and the Woman.” I have a complete HCA in my library, translated from the Danish by a man from Denmark (Erik C. Haugaard). I was surprised to find that, in this translation, the stories were “The Pixy and the Grocer” and “The Pixy and the Gardner’s Wife.”

This variation on the word made me consider the very question you’re asking. I think “goblin” or “hobgoblin” was particularly used to refer to a pixie/sprite who was mischievous/bad/greedy in nature. There are fine lines when trying to define the fae—most are impish and tricksy and will cause trouble if they don’t get their bowl of milk at the end of the day. But “goblin” does seem to always be used as a pejorative term. That bothered me quite a bit, on behalf of goblinkind.

I’d like to explore this more in the Goblin City novel I plan on writing soon… It’s up to authors like you and me to set the record straight!

How much of Bellamy’s personality and background are based on your own experience as a fairy princess?

I’m very glad that you asked this question, for it gives me the opportunity to confess: I am not the original Princess! My Obi-Wan Kenobi is Dr. Casey Cothran, Associate Professor of English at Winthrop University…and my editor.

Casey and I met when we were eleven, in the summer right before seventh grade. She was a tiny blonde cheerleader, a bright ball of sunshine beloved by everyone. I was a washed up former child actress with no friends—a poetry-loving closet-Goth. And yet, Casey and I were kindred spirits from that first moment. We were both avid readers of fantasy, loved the same books and movies, and we both dreamed of one day being writers. One of my very first novels was an epic fantasy starring a young girl named Princess Casey (I was Llogan, the Queen of Thieves). Without Casey’s optimistic influence, I might have succumbed to the darkness. I had some particularly difficult teenage years. I honestly don’t know if I would have survived without her.

I have gone by many other names in my life. I was a sprite named Crescent. I was the Queen of Thieves. I was the Goddess of Most Things. I was a Fairy-Godmother-In-Training who earned her wings and grew into a Fairy Godmother For Real. “Princess Alethea” originated almost a decade ago as a joke on a name tag at a childhood friend’s rehearsal dinner, and then a handle on Livejournal. But the nickname spread like wildfire across the genres, and even into my own family. It seemed that the world needed a true Princess, and I knew exactly how to fill that role. Because I had been raised by one.

Everything I know about being optimistic, inspirational, loving, selfless, and kind, I learned from Casey. She is 100% Bellamy Larousse, complete with Southern accent and everything. I am…everyone else in the misfit D&D party: Natalie, Hubble, and Tinker. Even Sam. But definitely Tinker. In so many ways, When Tinker Met Bell is our story.

What’s your favorite thing you had to cut from this book?

Right around Chapter Nine, I could feel that something was wrong, so I sent the book to Casey. She read it and emailed me back to say, “Can you really quick write an entirely new book about two characters named Tinker and Bell? Because this book is too good and you need to keep it for yourself.”

On the one hand, that’s a fantastic comment to hear. On the other, I am not a fast writer, and deadlines were looming. The revision of those nine chapters was incredibly difficult for me to do. I had to cut a lot of worldbuilding, and one of my favorite characters. The only reason it didn’t break my heart completely was that I promised myself that after I finished my third Nocturne Falls book (Besphinxed, January), I would go back and write a Goblin City book that included all the storylines I had to omit.

I hesitate to tell you anything because I hate spoilers, but I will tell you a little about Crook, because he was my favorite character that I had to cut. Crook is a young goblin, one of the Lost Boys. He has two club feet, an affliction that might have been corrected had he not been given up on as a baby. He also has an affinity for slight-of-hand tricks, and imagination the size of the moon. Crook somehow figures out how to manipulate the massive store of magic that lies beneath the Goblin City—a talent that, until then, only ever belonged to the Goblin King. And…that’s all I can tell you right now!

Finally, and most importantly: are there any fire-spiders?

I am happy to report that there are NO fire spiders in this adventure. But it does contain a Midwinter Masquerade, a magic mirror, and a wayward troll named Crunch. You are going to LOVE Crunch!

Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis

I have an autographed copy of Alethea Kontis‘ book Enchanted [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Why? Because I’m just that lucky, that’s why! The problem is that most of my pleasure reading has taken a back seat to research and work on the books I need to write, so I haven’t been able to actually read it. And then Alethea posted about the audio book of Enchanted being available, and I snatched it up. The timing was perfect, giving me something to listen to on the way to and from GenCon.

Here’s the official synopsis:

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

There’s a lot I liked about this story. Kontis blends elements from many different fairy tales into a new story. You’ve got pieces from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, The Princess and The Frog, and more. But Enchanted isn’t a fairy tale retelling. It’s its own story, one that could imaginably evolve into those familiar tales over generations.

Sunday Woodcutter and Prince Rumbold are the two main characters, both engaging and sympathetic, but the broader cast of characters was delightful as well. The Woodcutter sisters are great, each one strong and interesting, with her own voice and backstory. Trix, the Woodcutters’ changeling son, was just plain fun. Rumbold’s companions were equally engaging, and part of the book’s fun was simply watching these wonderful characters interact with one another.

The size of the cast meant I had a little trouble trying to keep track of everything on occasion, but it wasn’t a major problem. There were pieces of the story that felt like Kontis was trying a little too hard to make the different stories and backstories fit together. But again, this was just a minor bump, and nothing that threw me out of the story.

One of the best parts of the story is how well Kontis captures the feel of fairy tales, the dangers and the heroics and the characters who are simultaneously larger-than-life and also very human.

I also have to say that Katherine Kellgren did a marvelous job as the reader for the audio book.

Book two of the Woodcutter family’s story, Hero [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], comes out on October 1, and tells the story of Sunday’s axe-wielding sister Saturday. I’m looking forward to it. And it looks like a third book, Beloved, will be coming out in October of next year.

If you enjoy fairy tale mash-ups with wonderful female characters and action and romance and more, I definitely recommend you check this one out.

You can read an excerpt of Enchanted at Bookbrowse.

Guest Post: Alethea Kontis, 21st Century Princess

My thanks to all three of my awesome guest bloggers this week! I hope you’ve all enjoyed the posts.

It seemed appropriate to wrap up the week with a guest post by the princess herself, bestselling author Alethea Kontis. She and I share a ToC in the fairy tale anthology Happily Ever After, and she has a Snow White story coming out in John Skipp’s Demons anthology this October. Her novel Enchanted will be out in the spring of next year. Find her on LiveJournal and Twitter.

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 Confessions of a Twenty-First Century Princess
By Alethea Kontis

Once upon a time, I was born. I lived in a cottage by the forest in the green mountains of the far north—home of Big Snows and Long Winters and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. The cottage had electricity but little in the way of technology; whatever advancements we had were chiefly employed in the kitchen. My elder sister and brother’s father had fallen down a rabbit hole (as the children of wild aborigines are wont to do) long ago, but my parents were both my little sister’s and mine. In one way or another we were all related by blood, which is really all that matters.

Like many girls, I did not know I was a princess then. How silly I was, but then, princesses often are. My eldest sister was the most beautiful girl in the land and my little sister followed in her very fashionable footsteps. My brother was a hunter. I was a gypsy. I wore layers of skirts tied with sashes and ran wild in the forest under my brother’s watchful eye, climbing trees and making mudpies and playing pretend with the snake children. In the spring I picked Black-Eyed Susans. In the summer I lay in the field and counted the leaves on clover. In the fall I picked blackberries for pancakes and pies. The dark juices always stained my mouth and hands, betraying that as much had gone into my stomach as the basket.

I grew older and the winters grew harder, and finally my parents relented and moved south to the land of Wilting Summers and Strange Dialects and Sweet Tea. My sister and brother stayed behind in the mountains. I was the oldest child now, and it was up to me to seek my fortune in the world.

I did a terrible job of it.

Instead of living my own adventures, I lost myself in the worlds of others’ making. I packed away the skirts and locked myself away in the tower room and lamented the fact that there was no magic in the world. I believed in the Fairy Tale, truly believed, but as much as I believed I knew equally as much that there was nothing here for me. In some other world I Went on Grand Journeys and Traveled the World and Found True Love, but not in this life. I was despondent. Apathetic. I had nothing to live for. The sun that rose every morning mocked my existence. In rebellion, I began to write my own fairy tales.

And then a funny thing happened. Suddenly, there was magic in my life.

It wasn’t exactly the same magic that the Fairy Tales spoke about, with their flying men and talking animals. This was a subtle magic, and I had to learn how to look for it. It was a song or a smile, a rainbow or a penny found. The more I looked for it the more I found it…and the more I found it, the less subtle it became.

Even locked away in a tower, I found myself surrounded by witches and madmen. I had Great Love, followed by Greater Tragedy. I started wearing skirts again. I began to Travel the World. I met Amazing People of Different Cultures. I bought a sword. I was even crowned by a Queen.

But I was a princess long before that. I had just never admitted it.

You listen to me right now, you, person who is reading this blog wondering why some strange girl is prattling on about silly things like princesses where Jim normally posts nice sane and helpful things about writing. Are you listening? Good. Because I am about to tell you a secret: There is magic in this world. Magic. Capital M. Not kidding. If you’re not seeing it, then you’re not looking hard enough….but if you plan to look for it, then you better be prepared for what you’re about to find. Once you’ve seen the magic, it’s seen you too. There’s no turning back. And it grows. I would not be surprised by a flying man or a talking animal now, not one bit.

You plan on opening The Snow Queen’s Shadow this week and losing yourself in the magical world Jim’s created of snowflakes and mirrors and arrows and death. Just remember, in the back of your mind, that there is more to it than fiction, and Jim knows it.

I have already slipped between those covers and reacquainted myself with Snow and her adventures (bwahahaha). What you might see is a gorgeous, rich world you wish you could live in. What I have seen are friends I haven’t spoken to in far too long who still love me enough to remind me that I am a legendary princess of the kick-ass variety. Once a princess, always a princess. I have looked into the mirror, and the mirror has looked into me.

There is no turning back.

Jim C. Hines