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Archive for May, 2013

Alethea-Lumos-2-682x1024 Alethea Kontis, Author of “Enchanted”

TRI: Tell us about Alethea Kontis, the woman and the writer.   i.e., where are you originally from, how did you get started in writing, etc.

Alethea: I was born in South Burlington, Vermont. My half-French, half-Greek family of storytellers gave me the name “Alethea”, which means “Truth.” The curse of this beautiful name (other than the obvious) is that for some reason no one can pronounce it or spell it correctly.

My father read to me every night when I was a baby, so I was reading at a very early age. I was an avid reader by the time I was five, and I began writing when I was around 8…mostly for class assignments. My Greek Grandmother gave me a blank book that I vowed to fill with poetry and my French Grandmother gave me a giant tome of unexpurgated Grimm & Andersen Fairy Tales.

I submitted writing all the time to contests and magazines: everything from TV Guide to the box of Cracker Jacks. I kept all my rejections in a shoebox, and when they depressed me, I would throw them all out and start again. When I was bored, I would sit on my mother’s feet and ask her what to write. One day, she told me to write her a new fairy tale. I could not think of a better lifelong goal.

So by the age of twelve, I was fairly committed to a career as a writer. I had big plans to grow up and be Joan Wilder. Still working on that.

TRI: Do you have philosophy for your writing career or life?

Alethea: Other than “Shut Up and Write,” my biggest philosophy is “Every stranger is a best friend I haven’t met yet.” Like Sherrilyn Kenyon always told me, you make your fans one at a time. I’ve learned from experience just how true this is.

TRI: I like that…What drives you to write?

Alethea: I want to write books just like the ones I loved when I was a kid, reading my way through the juvenile section of the library. Someday I want to mean to someone what Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley and Dianna Wynne Jones and Meredith Ann Pierce and Lloyd Alexander all meant to me.

TRI: How much of your writing is driven, influenced by your readers?

Alethea: At the moment, very little. Even though I’ve been hard at this for almost a decade, I am still effectively at the beginning of my career, telling the stories in my head that need to be told. As I grow and interact with my fans and they become part of my life experience, I’m sure that will definitely inform and affect my writing. It will be interesting to see how.

TRI: Is there something that you would like to share that your readers or peers do not know about you?

Alethea: Goodness, I’m such an open book that there’s little people don’t know about me…you can find anything these days if you have the patience to look for it. Things the romance folks might not know: I have a teddy bear named Charlie, my first best friend was a tree, and I never played at being a princess when I was a kid. I much preferred dressing as a gypsy and running through the fields speaking in a British accent that drove my little sister crazy. The only Princess I ever pretended to be was Princess Leia, when I played Star Wars with Danny. I didn’t come into my princesshood until I was 30.

TRI: Very cute…Who is your favorite fantasy writer? What draws you to this writer?

Alethea: I could no sooner pick a favorite star in the heavens! But the book I buy extra copies of to give to friends is William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. It is a brilliant masterpiece of storytelling, and if you’ve only seen the film then you have no idea what you’re missing. Just read Chapter One. I promise. You won’t regret it.

TRI: I think I shall…We know that authors love all of their creations, but is there one of yours that is your ultimate favorite? Why?

Alethea: Right now, my favorite is a story called “The Unicorn Hunter”, which is still available to read free online (http://www.scribd.com/doc/70431258/The-Unicorn-Hunter). It is the story of what really happened to Snow White, between the time she left the huntsman in the woods and the time she found the dwarfs. It’s such a beautiful bittersweet tale of love and friendship…I cried when I finished writing it, because I lamented those characters being on the paper now, instead of in my head.

But worry not, for they will return in the Enchanted universe…oh yes, they will.

TRI: Tell me more about Enchanted. I read excerpts from it and felt as if I was reading a song.

Alethea: I admit: I had way too much fun writing Enchanted. It was the story I’d been waiting to tell all my life, in the way only I could tell it. What I didn’t realize back when I was 12 and writing fairy tales was that in order to tell a fairy tale properly, I had to live one first. I’ve gone from being the engineer’s daughter in the house at the edge of the Wood to being a princess, and the long, hard road in between has been fraught with magic and monsters.

Enchanted takes the premise that all the fairy tales we know came from one family: the Woodcutters. They have seven daughters: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, who has a magical little book in which the things she writes come true. She shares her writing one day with a frog in the Enchanted Wood who becomes her friend. And when her kiss finally does work, the frog turns into a prince…one her family has long despised. So he goes back to the palace and decides to hold three balls and invite all the eligible ladies in the land…a subversive effort to get Sunday to fall in love with him as a man.

But other evils are afoot, and many other fairy tales are hiding in the woodwork. Enchanted really was a five-year labor of love. I’ve listened to the audio-book three or four times now, and I still sometimes can’t believe I wrote it.

TRI: Tell us about discipline in your writing career?

Alethea: On a perfect day, I run four miles and write at least 1000 words before Joe and the girls come home from work and school. Not every day is the perfect day. Thus the “Shut up and write!” post-it on my monitor.

TRI: As a writer do you feel you have come full circle?

Alethea: Not in the slightest! I feel more like I’ve spent ten years preparing and Gandalf has finally knocked on the door of my Hobbit hole to take me off on The Grand Adventure.

TRI: Any words of wisdom for newbies?

Alethea: Never stop writing. No, it never gets any easier. So just shut up and write. *hugs*

TRI: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.

Alethea: Thank you!!

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author photo 1Dear Readers,

I am  pleased to welcome Ms. Anne Cleeland, author of the soon to be released, Tainted Angel (June 2013), Murder in Thrall: An Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard Mystery (July 2013), and Daughter of the God-King (November 2013).

Ms. Cleeland holds a degree in English from UCLA as well as a degree in law from Pepperdine University, and is a member of the California State Bar.  She writes historical fiction set in the Regency period as well as contemporary mysteries set in New Scotland Yard.  A member of the Historical Novel Society and Mystery Writers of America, Ms. Cleeland lives in California and has four children.

So without further ado, here is Anne Cleeland to talk to us about historical writing and their accuracies or lack thereof.

TRI: Welcome, Anne. I am so pleased to have you here and look forward to your thoughts on writing historical novels and the importance of accuracy, regardless of the period in which one’s story is being told.

AC: Thank you so much Lina for both the welcome and introduction. And the opportunity to talk about a topic dear to most historical writers: accuracy.

I have a Regency adventure series debuting in June, and I’ve attended a few panels on the knotty problem of how accurate you should be when writing historicals—particularly because Regency readers tend to be very knowledgeable—so for those of you who read or write historical novels, I thought I’d pass along what I’ve gleaned.  I would also like to give away a copy of the first novel of my series, Tainted Angel.

In the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, neither Elizabeth Bennett nor Mr. Darcy wear gloves to the formal Netherfield ball—an omission which would have been unheard of at the time.

In Downton Abbey, one of the streets in the town has a double yellow line–not exactly Edwardian.

The movie Braveheart tells us that the future Edward III was the product of a liaison between William Wallace and Isabella of France.  The problem is, Wallace was executed seven years before Edward was born, and Isabella of France was nine at the time Wallace was executed.

Are the stories any less compelling? The answer probably depends on your perspective.  If you are a history buff, these anachronisms may completely ruin the story for you, while someone with a more cursory knowledge of the period may not even notice, let alone mind such liberties.  The trick to writing a story from an earlier time period is to find the right balance between dry-as-dust history and an engaging story, and how accurate you need to be, I think, depends on your target readership.

If, for example, you are writing “hot” Regencies, strict accuracy is necessarily abandoned unless you write about the demi-monde, because nice young ladies didn’t fool around (and were definitely never given an opportunity, even if they were so inclined.)   Along the same lines, nice young ladies didn’t pursue their dream of running an orphanage, painting for profit, or scheming to rescue their ne’er-do-well brother after he fell into the clutches of the moneylenders. Instead, they’d have been chaperoned within an inch of their lives until they were handed over to a husband with the correct pedigree.

Since this is not a very interesting storyline, the question is not whether to take liberties with historical accuracy, it is how much liberty to take. My own rule of thumb is to never write anything that would “jolt” the average reader out of the story’s time frame—not the average history professor, just the average reader.

Here are some things to ask yourself:

(1)  Have you tied yourself down to a certain year? Is there a commonly-known historic event in your story?  If so, it is probably necessary to be a little more careful in your accuracy, which is actually a lot easier than you think, thanks to Google and Wikipedia. Is the War of 1812 going on? Then there would have been no visitors from America. Were there gas stoves, yet?  Did beds have bedsprings?  And be especially careful about weapons—the gun people are sticklers.

(2)  Does the history overwhelm the fiction?  There is always a temptation to include all your bright, shiny, hard-earned research and bog the story down. Does the reader really need to know how the candles were made, or the ingredients in negus punch?

(3) What will you do about language?  Do you use the period’s awkward phrasing and now-outdated words, or do you update the language so the story moves along more easily? Do you use cant or slang phrases? My rule of thumb is to use period phrases and words, but only where the meaning is clear from the context—there’s nothing more wooden than having a character explain what she meant.

(4) What will you do about societal strictures and sex? Courtship usually went according to a strict format—will you ignore this, or incorporate it into the story? One of the reasons we are drawn to Jane Austen’s stories is because the context sets up an immediate tension—there were strict rules about interaction between the sexes.  Will you incorporate it into the story to create an external conflict, or will you inject modern manners into the past?

(5) In writing Young Adult, extra caution is probably needed because the younger readers may not have an understanding of the actual history, and might take whatever you say at face value.

(6)  Finally, will you confess any liberties you take with historical accuracy in an author’s note?  Again, this probably depends on what your readership is expecting. If they are expecting a loose rendition of history, there is probably no need. If you are crafting a detailed work of historical fiction, then they will expect an equally detailed author’s note.  I’ve used an author’s note only once, so far, and it was because I’d taken liberties with the historical timeline.  There’s no fudging the timeline, so I felt I had to confess.

How much accuracy do you like to see from your favorite Regencies? Can you think of any other examples where an anachronism “jolted” you out of the story?

*****

This definitely gives us food for thought on some of the do’s and don’ts of writing a historical. I hope you enjoyed the piece. Ms. Cleeland will be back to talk to us about “The Saucy Housemaids and Ne’er-do-well Brothers: the use of secondary characters in Regency Fiction” so please stay tuned.

Sincerely,

…Miguelina

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