Daily Dragon: So, I am here with—now first off this came up in conversation with Eugie Foster and myself—how do you pronounce your first name?
Alethea Kontis: Ah-LEE-thee-uh.
DD: So, for the record, Eugie was right.
AK: Yes, and anyone who watches Kung Fu is correct because Jodie Foster played a little girl named “Alethea” Ingram in the third episode of Kung Fu, and that is where I get my name.
DD: That‘s fantastic.
AK: True geek. To the core.
DD: How did that come about?
AK: My mother married a Greek man, and she loved the name. In the episode they explained that Alethea means “truth,” and she’s a young girl who is in a certain situation and is actually debating telling the truth about something she saw. It’s very important, a theme of the show. My mother thought that was a beautiful theme and a beautiful name, so [she] went with it.
DD: Speaking of children: Alpha Oops. You’ve done two of them now.
AK: Yes. H is for Halloween just came out. We’re very excited. Alpha Oops: H is for Halloween.
DD: Yes, they’re about the letters getting mixed up. Can you please explain it for people who aren’t familiar with it?
AK: [The letter] Z is just tired. He ‘s last all the time. And anyone who’s name is a letter XYZ appreciates that one day Z just stands up for himself, makes picket signs, breaks into the front, and says “Wait, we’re doing something different.” Then all the letters in the middle go “Ho…‘cause if we go backwards we’re still stuck in the middle, so we want to do something different, too!” So, it’s just chaos, and it becomes just children and chaos. And it goes into asking permission and moving along and taking turns.
DD: I assume it’s doing well because you have another one that just came out.
AK: H is for Halloween, I wanted to dedicate it to Dragon*Con. Honestly, it‘s my love for the stage and costumes, and where better to celebrate both than at Dragon*Con? But I had a math teacher pass away right before the book went to publication. He taught me two years of Calculus, and the entire school just loved this man. He’s a legend. I dedicated the book to him because great teachers are hard to find. [The book] was a fluke, and the second one was an even lovelier fluke, and if a goblin and the creek don’t rise…
DD: Is there a third book in the works?
AK: There ‘s nothing in a contract, but I’ve got some ideas.
DD: Anything you want to share about it?
AK: There is a teaser at the end of the second book.
DD: Besides writing children’s books, you’re an editor, you’ve worked for Ingrams, and you’ve written a lot of short stories.
AK: I worked. This is the problem about Dragon*Con. When you send in your bio ahead of time, you have to live a year before you show up at Dragon*Con, and you’ve moved, and you’ve had to quit your job, you’re divorced, you have four kids…
DD: Where did you move, and what are you doing now?
AK: I now live in Virginia, just outside DC, working as a writer full-time but looking for a part-time job as I get settled.
DD: Have you looked for part time jobs as a writer?
AK: My parents suggested that a long time ago. We’ll see. [I’ve got] some lovely things in the boiler that I can’t really talk about right now, but they have the word “novel” in the title.
DD: Can you tell us about your recent short story, “God of Last Moments,” in the anthology Dark Faith from Apex Books? What inspired you to write it?
AK: The idea for the story came about in two parts. I was having Thanksgiving with Mike Lee, also a guest here, a writer, and his family, and he took his mother home after dinner. He came back with this sort of stunned look on his face. We were like, “What just happened?” And he said he had driven his mother past this famous singer’s house. [Mike Lee’s] father passed away some time ago—he was a police officer—and this singer died in a plane crash. Mike’s father was one of the first on the scene. Mike’s mother was reminiscing and said, “Yes, I think we still have his thumb up in the attic.”
AK: A piece of this famous person.
DD: And it’s just in the attic?
AK: Sure. The writer in anyone jumps on that and goes “Why? What for? Why would you? And…?” So from that, we bantered some things back and forth, and I yelled “Dibs!” first, so, I won. And the thought was that the reason someone would keep such a keepsake is that if they held on to it and had a certain power, they could relive this person’s last moments. So that’s where the genesis for the story actually came from.
DD: According your website, you’ve published 22 short stories. The other thing that you’ve done recently that’s very interesting is the Elemental anthology.
AK: That wasn’t recent. That was…2006? If you think about the tsunami and all the hurricanes and earthquakes and volcanoes that have happened since then, people say, “Tsunami? When’s that?”
DD: How successful was the anthology? Were you able to generate a lot of donations?
AK: I never got an official number. The first number I heard was that we raised $6000—a respectable advance for any author who’s starting out. And that was several years ago. It’s still available and has never stopped being a benefit, and all proceeds still go to Save the Children.
DD: And it’s not like they stop needing help.
AK: Absolutely, it’s like the Red Cross. They don’t stop needing blood.
DD: I see the double bow and arrow tattoo on your arm to promote your new book, The Dark-Hunter Companion. Is the tattoo real or a temporary?
AK: It’s a temporary. The temporaries are so detailed, and I’m just a chicken. I can’t commit.
DD: What can you tell me about the book?
AK: Technically I co-wrote the book. I started out the layers, the foundations. I set up how the book was to be organized, all the different chapters. There’s a chapter on all the sections and all the different classifications of her characters. And then there’s a section on Greece and Greek mythology and customs, and a section on a tour of New Orleans. I had never been to New Orleans, so I had to do a complete armchair traveler.
I set the focus and the basis. I put [in] everything and the kitchen sink, and Sherrilyn took out some stuff for things that she didn’t want to reveal that were spoilers. And, put some spoilers in, for things she wanted to hide. Every collaboration is different. Some I do a chapter and hand it to you, and you do a chapter and hand it to me. Each collaboration is different. This one was a layered collaboration. I wrote it. Then she wrote it. She took it apart and fixed it.
DD: What is one thing you’re most proud of in that project?
AK: I’d have to say the tour of New Orleans really was good for me as a writer because I learned [how to] research. I mean, you’ve got Google, you’ve got Wikipedia. You know how to do some research. But this made me research for an actual goal. I went to New Orleans after the book came out. It was such a surreal experience to be in a place I knew everything about and I had never been, but I knew that was the French Quarter, and I knew this was Sanctuary…it was very strange.
So in writing stories after that, I knew where to find the material. I did a story set in the Pacific Northwest, in Astoria, where The Goonies was filmed, and I looked up the maps and found the highways. I wanted that level of detail. I wanted someone from Astoria to say “She knows what highway was here and who lives here and what’s been filmed here and the characteristics of the landscape.” So, I feel I helped myself with that chapter as a writer. That one surprised me.
DD: How are you enjoying hanging out with Sherrilyn Kenyon here at Dragon*Con?
AK: I’ve seen her for about five seconds, barring the hour with Sherrilyn Kenyon yesterday. We’ll have to see that later to see if I fidgeted or did anything strange, which I usually do. I never get to see her anymore. Have you seen her list of things? We passed each other when she was setting up her booth on Friday.
DD: She was in the parade.
AK: Yes, but I didn’t get to talk to her during the parade. She had a car this year, and I was walking behind her.
DD: There was a gentlemen in the car with her, and he would stand up and turn around and ladies would shout something. What were they shouting? What was that about?
AK: Acheron. Acheron is…I hesitate to say her main character, but a major player in the Dark Hunter universe.
DD: What is he? An Appolonian? A Demon?
AK: Ah…see…many layers. Like an onion. Like cake. Cake has layers. Everybody likes cake. Delving in the secrets of Acheron [made] the book was three inches thick. We signed at a fabulous midnight signing at the Parthenon in Nashville, and we signed at Dragon*Con until three o’clock in the morning. They kicked us out of the Parthenon and we signed on the steps. We didn’t leave until everyone had a signed book. It was wonderful. So, Acheron is a major player.
DD: If there’s one thing that you want people to encounter to learn who you are as an author, what is that one thing?
AK: Like, if there was one story? One something? Hm…I’m gonna pick one, and as soon as I walk out of the room I’m going to change my mind and say, “Gosh, I should’ve picked something else.” The one that is very dear to my heart and mind—and it’s a free story and you can find on-line at a place called “The Story Station”—is a story called “The Monster and Mrs. Blake,” that I originally wrote for James Maxey, for a podcast to be read aloud. The project fell through and it got trunked, and Story station said, “We want stories like Goonie.” And I said, “Oh, my gosh, I have the perfect thing.” It’s about a boy who is eleven and he has a monster under his bed. And his mother, strangely enough, knows how to deal with monsters a little too well. So it’s a really fun story and you can find it free online.
DD: Thank you for speaking with us.
Joseph McDermott writes for the video game industry by day, at Xaviant Software. At night, he writes fictions. His novels include Last Dragon, which was #6 on Amazon.com's Year's Best SF/F of 2008, shortlisted for a Crawford Prize, and on Locus Magazine's Recommended Reading List for Debuts. Maze, his second novel, will be out in 2011, from Apex Books, along with Never Knew Another from Nightshade Books. If you see him scampering about the convention, offer him Peanut M&Ms, iced coffee, and high fives (because he is awesome!).