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Secret Agent Buyers


Stephanie and I didn’t *plan* on dressing alike today…but since we did, we figured we’d have a bit of fun with it.

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The Author Goddess and I

My interview with Author Goddess and partner-in-crime Sherrilyn Kenyon is now live at Subterranean Press Online. Check it out HERE!

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A Day in My Life

You guys want the scoop on the Secret Inner Workings of the Ingram Buyer?

I was asked by C. E. Murphy to Guest Blog at Magical Words about just that…and lo and behold, Ingram approved it.

Enjoy!!
http://magicalwords.net/2008/04/25/really-i-mean-it/guest-blog-alethea-kontis/

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Genre Chick Interview: Stephan Pastis

Who wouldn’t want to know more about a man who visits you every day and hangs out in your kitchen? This month, I cozied happily up to Stephan Pastis, fellow Greek and supertalented creator of the irreverently hilarious comic strip Pearls Before Swine.

I had the hardest time trying to find a conference room in which to interview Stephan–it’s what I get for scheduling an interview on Monday morning. I finally found an empty closet with a phone jack in which to make my call. And I’m very glad I did; Stephan is just as cool as you’d imagine him to be. We talked about everything from Greek mafia hits to Garrison Keillor to Bucky Katt to Stanley Kubrick, and we decided exactly who Spartacus was.

And then I remembered to press record.

Warning: A few crocodiles were harmed during the recording of this interview. But it’s okay, because we un-died them afterwards.

*******************

Alethea Kontis: What’s the first thing that pops up when you press “play” on your iPod?

Stephan Pastis: It’s the Bob Dylan album Time Out of Mind. But if you go by which artist is the most played, it’s probably U2.

AK: You’ve mentioned a passion for Hemingway in other interviews you’ve done–what are some of your other favorite contemporary authors?

SP: Historians like Robert Caro, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough…when I do find an author, I tend to pick up absolutely everything he or she has written and immerse myself in the author’s work. I just did that with Stanley Kubrick, actually–I watched something like 13 Stanley Kubrick films back to back.

This year, my goals are to read up on Roman history, Mayan history, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and I want to cover architecture. I know nothing about architecture.

AK: Is there a reason you don’t have characters named “Dog” and “Cat,” or did you make some sort of secret pact with Darby Conley?

SP: Dogs and cats are two animals that have been historically too covered on the comics page, so I have to sort of watch that. That said, I do have a new character who is a dog on a leash that I’m really warming up to, and in the next few months there will be a cat who is a very interesting character.

AK: When you sit down to write your strips, do you find that art imitates life, or that life imitates art?

SP: I do the strip in such a way that it’s not a one-to-one relationship. I don’t see something and it goes into the strip; I sort of let the subconscious run free and what comes out comes out. You know that zone you get in when you’re in the car on a six-hour drive, and suddenly you wonder where the last four hours went? That’s the zone I’m usually in when I’m writing. I make up these scenarios and put them down. Afterwards, things tend to happen in real life that seem to reflect that. And since I write the strip about eight months in advance, by the time it runs everybody thinks that I wrote it after the event…when it’s usually the other way around.

AK: Do you still have the cartoons you drew as a kid?

SP: I do. For some reason, most of those cartoons were based on television commercials.  There’s one in particular I remember about the Fruit of the Loom dying in the hamper.

AK: Does picture book star Danny Donkey have a publisher yet?

SP: That would be great, wouldn’t it? People have asked me about that one, and if there would be an Angry Bob book. They couldn’t be by me, of course–they would have to be by Rat. Maybe I’ll compile “Rat’s Complete Writings” someday.

AK: How many times has Crocodile Bob died?

SP: Well, Angry Bob has died 19 times. I know that because there are nineteen strips–they are all numbered. I call them “Author One” and “Author Two.” I think the last one is “Author Nineteen.” The Crocs, oh boy, that’s a harder question. I don’t track them and I should. There have probably been about 50 to 60 croc deaths. They’ve died an awful lot. I know Larry died a few times, too. I just conveniently keep going. I don’t even bother to un-die them. I make no pretense about having any sort of continuity in my strip.

AK: Now, Larry, he’s the one with the wife, right?

SP: There’s definitely a family–I have to ask my son this sometimes because I forget their names–but I think his wife’s name is Patty and his son’s name is Junior. Where they live I don’t really know…somehow they’re next door to Zebra, and the Fraternity of Crocs is next to Zebra and I don’t think they’re in the same house. The Lions are on the other side of Zebra, and now he has Hyenas, so the whole thing’s all mixed up.

AK: Zebra really does live in a bad neighborhood, doesn’t he? Croc Speak is the best, though…the favorite phrase going around here is: “You shut mouf, woomun!”

SP: (laughs) That’s a popular line. I used to hear “Hullo, zeeba neighba,” but now I hear “You shut mouf,” or “Peese shut mouf.” I like when they say “Peese.”

AK: Since I’m recording this, could *you* please say something in Crocodile Speak?

SP: See, I don’t talk like other people hear it. When I do it, I always ruin it for other people. I say, “Hullo, zeeba neighba. Leesen…” and hear something like Russian, but I know that’s not how other people hear it and I end up spoiling it for everybody.

AK: You’ve never accidentally said, “You shut mouf, woomun!” to your wife, have you?

SP: Oh, wow. Wouldn’t that be something? I don’t think she would be my wife anymore. I do talk Croc to my kids…it’s probably pretty annoying for them. I don’t think they listen to me.

AK: Is there a reason you chose crocodiles over alligators? Do they live in the Southern Hemisphere?

SP: That’s a good question. Why didn’t I make them alligators? I know crocodiles are bigger, so they’re theoretically more menacing…which makes these guys all the more lame.

“Croc” is just a good sound. A lot of it is based on sound. It’s all rhythm. If you’ve ever watched a stand-up comic–especially the old guys who were really good at it–if they were going along and it came close to the punch line and they said the wrong word and then restated it, the joke was ruined. If it’s just a joke, the word doesn’t matter, but it has the same effect as a pianist hitting the wrong note. You cannot recapture the song. Once you have people in your rhythm, they will find stuff funny even if it isn’t necessarily so.

Sometimes people will ask me to put their name in the strip, but the real reason I don’t is because usually rhythmically it doesn’t fit. “Bob” is such a great word. It’s short, it’s funny, it’s a stupid verb, it’s a whole bunch of things. Anything that’s palindromic or repeated syllables: Fifi, Gigi…those are funny. I don’t know why.

AK: Do you have a lot of storytellers in your family? (Being Greek I can’t imagine you don’t…)

SP: Oh yeah, there are relatives who definitely like to tell stories. No writers, though; I don’t know where I came from. Milkman, maybe.

AK: With all the morbid humor, do you have an undertaker in the family?

SP: Wait let me think about that a sec…no. But you know, coming from a huge family you go to tons of funerals. I’ve been a pall bearer maybe 10 times. And when I’m bored waiting in the wings I talk to the undertakers. They are really creepy. I remember one who took great pride in how well he applied makeup. That scared the $%#* out of me. That’s just wrong.

AK: How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to write comic strips?

SP: They weren’t worried because I had the law thing going–I had done school and grad school and had the degree. It was a side thing I did once I already had done everything. If I had said it to them when I was a junior in high school, I think it probably would have worried my mom, at least. But because of the way I did it, what’s the worst that could happen? I could just go back to being a lawyer.

AK: In some way, shape, or form, do any of your characters reflect anyone in real life?

SP: Ummm…er…ew…yes. Rat is clearly me. He’s the most natural voice for me by far. If I had my way, I would do only Rat strips. You would not want to spend a whole weekend with me. I would annoy you. Pig is me, but he’s also [my wife] Staci to some extent, like the interplay I see sometimes reflects our conversations. Goat is definitely me: smarter, quieter, wants to stay away from everybody. The Zebra and Crocs are nobody. The Duck is me insofar as I hate my neighbors.

If the characters are going to be believable, they all have to be you. Sparky told me that once. I didn’t really understand what he meant then, but now I do. Otherwise, you don’t have a real good grasp on them. Really, you don’t know anyone like you do yourself.

I cannot write from the female perspective; I can’t do it convincingly. They turn out very one-dimensional. I admire writers that can switch genders. It’s an amazing thing. I’m hoping my relationship with my daughter changes that. I think she changes how I interact with females. I think she’s changed me, so I think she might be reflected eventually in a character.

AK: Good for her! So…what is the meanest thing Rat has ever done?

SP: Tearing Cathy’s head off and sticking it in a closet and declaring that her strip had become funnier since she could no longer speak. If I could take something back, it would be that, because I now know her and I feel extra bad.

AK: Do you ever “okay it” before you do a parody of another strip?

SP: I do now, only because I know almost everyone. Bil Keane is actually writing the intro to my next book.

AK: Do you feel impeded by today’s political correctness?

SP: Oh yeah. Other than Hi and Lois, there’s not a single cartoonist who won’t tell you that. It impedes you like crazy. If not for that, I would say “sucks” and “screwed” all the time. I could have references to sex or drugs. It’s like playing a piano and they only give you the black keys. I want to have South Park or Family Guy‘s rules. I got to go to the Family Guy studio one time, and I was looking through the storyboards. Every joke I saw I thought: “This would end my career, this would end my career, THIS would end my career…”

AK: Perhaps when you retire you can go out with a bang. Why is it that comic strip writers (Gary Larson, Bill Watterson) tend to suddenly retire?

SP: My theory on that is that it’s akin to novel writing. There is a natural length a novel should be. There’s a reason you don’t see 4,000-page novels. There’s a natural arc that even the best writers have to close up at some point. It’s about the 15-year mark. Peanuts and Doonesbury went a little beyond that, but by and large there seems to be something magical about the 15-year mark. The secret is to really expand your set of characters, which is something both Sparky and Trudeau did.

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Pop

Kevin J. Anderson’s got this popcorn theory of publishing success he’ll share with you, if you can stop him long enough to ask him about it (preferably with a decent microbrew in hand).

He says: there are two ways to make popcorn. You can put one kernel in the kettle, put a little bit of oil on it and a little bit of salt, and coax it until it evolves into the perfect *pop*. Then you put your next kernel in, and start again.

OR, you dump a huge bag of kernels in and a few cups of oil, and just let it explode. Some kernels pop; some don’t. But you get to watch your movie a heckuva lot sooner.

Me, I’m in this second camp, mostly by default. I have an addictive personality. Obsessive, even. When it’s not an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s socially acceptable. Envied, even. I am a workaholic. I live life. I seize the adventure with both hands and hang on with enthusiasm. I believe in total immersion. I’ve got seventeen projects going on at any given time. You want popcorn? I have a warehouse out back.

But yeah.
I also have drums full of the ones that didn’t pop.

What Kevin doesn’t mention is that you feel every one of those duds. Every disappointment. It’s personal. And yeah, it doesn’t kill us and it makes us stronger and it’s just the battle not the war and blah blah blah and we shed a tear and we move on.

A cup full of those misfits has enough emotional energy to fuel a small star, to call down lightning, to punch a hole in time large enough to crawl through.

But there’s too little time in the day as it is.

When I’m in that moment, that indulgent, self-pitying failurefied moment, I’m lucky enough to have a father that sends me the following message, with a picture attached. I remember this day. I was what, maybe fifteen?

Dad’s email read: “As a first step in her plan for world domination, Alethea Kontis becomes proficient firing the 5.56 mm Squad Automatic Weapon.”

Whatever doesn’t kill you…hands you an M249.
Self-pity class dismissed.

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Beauty & Dynamite!

Hooray!! It’s time to celebrate! Beauty & Dynamite is now up for preorder!
It will be released on June 1, 2008.
Preorder Beauty & Dynamite from Apex Books here — only $15.95!
Check out this gorgeous cover!

“Alethea Kontis has already more than proven herself as both a fiction writer and editor, but this collection of non-fiction pieces shows her to be an essayist of the first order; funny, angry, insightful, and eloquent, Alethea’s essays are what all non-fiction should be: a feast for the mind and the soul. Beauty & Dynamite , indeed.”

–Five-time Bram Stoker Award winner Gary A. Braunbeck, author of Mr. Hands and Coffin County

“Alethea’s essays are a delight. Warm, witty, and wise, they never fail to bring a smile to my face.”

–Tim Waggoner, author of Pandora Drive and Darkness Wakes

Preorder Beauty & Dynamite from Apex Books here — only $15.95!

Tim and Gary are classy gentlemen, aren’t they? I admire them to pieces, and it made me swoon that they said such nice things about my essays (and were sure to reinforce the fact that they meant it)! And inside Beauty & Dynamite there are even more fabulous people sa ying fabulous things about me (some of them true…and some of them not-so-true).

But that’s not enough. The essays in Beauty & Dynamite are about my wild and crazy and magical and heartbreaking life, to which ALL of you have contributed. You are my inspiration! I want you to be part of the excitement!

So, if you have ever read ANY of my essays — on my blog, or in Apex — and would like to give me your blurb, I would love to have it! Jason has agreed to put them all in a “randomized quote rotator” on the Apex website, so you will be able to see all of them!

Send your blurb to me at alethea@apexdigest.com. (Warning: if it’s more than 100 words, I might edit it.) Be casual! Be funny! Be candid! Be honest! (But be nice…you know the rules about putting bad things out into the world.)

And keep checking back at the Apex Books Company website to see the ! new quot es!

I will be at NY Comic Con in a few weeks — you can find me at Sherrilyn Kenyon’s booth, signing copies of the Dark-Hunter Companion and handing out exclusive bookmarks for Beauty & Dynamite!

For those who haven’t seen them on MySpace, here’s what they say on the back (you might recognize the snippet from “Making Dynamite” in Apex Digest issue #12):

I am Alice, and Beauty & Dynamite is a doorway to my Wonderland.

It is a collage of magic and misery–collected tales of life, love, and one girl’s coming of age in the publishing industry.
Welcome.

Brush off the Looking Glass. Sit back. Have a spot of tea. Move down one and make room for the Doormouse. Ignore the smiling cat. If you buy the book, enjoy it. If you don’t spend the day indulging in something else that’s just for you. You deserve it.

Be happy.

Have fun.

Say “Screw it.”

I did.

After all, no one’s going to read this anyway…right?

–Alethea Kontis,
New York Times bestselling author

Preorder Beauty & Dynamite from Apex Books here — only $15.95!

Beauty & Dynamite
has between its gorgeous covers:

* All my essays published in Apex Digest

* other essays and blogs, published and unpublished

* some poetry snippets (oh yeah!)

* interior art (and we’re talking every single page) by Daniele Serra and Judi Davidson (cover pic by Dee Clingman)

* introduction by Brian Keene

* afterward by Jason Sizemore

* Contributing fiction, non-fiction, and everything in between from: Casey A. Cothran, John Ringo, Scott M. Roberts, James Maxey, Tom Pendergrass, Tom Piccirilli, Dan, Ben, Ellen and Jackie Gamber, Chesya Burke, Maurice Broaddus, Edmund R. Schubert, Gray Rinehart, Ken Scholes….and my lovely Nana, Helen Kontis.

Jason said it’s hands down the oddest thing Apex has ever published. And one of the most stunningly beautiful.

I am so excited!!!

Remember — send me your blurbs, and please spread the word!

May you all step in interesting stories,
xox
~Alethea

Preorder Beauty & Dynamite from Apex Books here — only $15.95!

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Anything But Foolish

Today is Anne McCaffrey‘s birthday, everyone! The Mistress of Pern is 82 years young today. Woohoo!!

Like the rest of the SF world, Mark Newton and I were discussing Arthur C. Clarke over the Ides of March. Not just because he meant so much to the genre, or the world, or our careers, but because each time the world witnessed the passing of an SF Giant, the rest of us authors were left to realize that *we* were the next SF Giants. We thirtysomethings (or late twentysomethings, or early fortysomethings) are the Next Generation. But what have we done? Are we ready to wear this mantle?

No pressure.

The signs are there: Pat Rothfuss and Naomi Novik are taking the world by storm. Jay Lake is his own hurricane. Ken Scholes is being launched as the next Robert Jordan. Mary Robinette Kowal and Scott Lynch will be duking it out at the Hugos over the John W. Campbell Award, and I don’t know whom to put my money on.

And me? I’ve been handed a torch carried by two of the most powerful women in speculative fiction. A torch that, in this world, looks remarkably like a book. And two women, as it happens, whose names also begin with A.

Mom calls Andre Norton one of my guardian angels. I think she would have approved. Those few years of correspondence with her meant so much to me. And the few times I was invited to her library, High Hallack, I was honored. There was a time when I was afraid to visit her because I knew she would see right through me and know I was a fraud. Perhaps she did see right through me.

Only she saw something else.

The last time I saw Miss Andre was after the sale of her library to fund the prestigious Andre Norton Award. I had completely missed the public sale, but when I called she told me there were still many quality books left, and that I was welcome to drop by and go through them. I would have been just as happy donating a check, but no writer worth her salt is going to pass up books, for heaven’s sake. Especially when they might actually be helpful.

You see, every writer has a little library of their own. And almost every writer dreams of having a library so large that other writers would come and visit them to work in it. Miss Andre had that library. And, having been a librarian myself with my own misfit author friends, I shared that dream. Perhaps magic from the books that had been living in her library would rub off on my own personal collection, and I would be able to soak in it forever.

But at the time, the magic wasn’t in the books. It was in Miss Andre herself. When I arrived, she helpfully presented me with a cherry red library cart…and then took the role of my own personal shopper.

It was amazing.

I bought four huge boxes of books — most of which because she told me to and not because they looked like they’d be immediately useful. I didn’t care; I would have time to flip through them all later and decide for myself. I bought whatever she had left on the Victorian age, and various and sundry other ones about World Mysteries and Superstitions. She didn’t have anything left on costumes, but she unearthed a beautiful, huge stack of paper dolls that she swore would do just the trick in a pinch. And she made me an incredible deal. Too good of a deal. But as a poor little nobody fraud of an author, I was in no position to argue.

The books made it home and most of them stayed in their boxes for lack of shelf space. And then they got buried under other books, and other boxes. And then, after Miss Andre passed away, it was just too painful to think about going through them.

Fast forward to last summer and the Great Book Purge of 2007. I desperately needed a home office and something to distract me from my chronically absent fiancé. I have no idea how many hours I spent surrounded by piles and piles of books, making a maze from which I wasn’t entirely sure I could escape…even if I wanted to.

Eventually, I unearthed the Andre Norton boxes.

Now, I’m a practical woman. I certainly hope that I’ll be as lucky as Miss Anne and have another 50 great years. But even if I read every single moment of every single day until then, I doubt I’d be able to make it through the entirety of my current library. It’s just impossible. Literally, literarily, impossible. Some things just had to go.

But I couldn’t get rid of Miss Andre’s books. Not a one. It was still too painful. They still meant too much. I sat there with a book in my lap: Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis. I couldn’t remember if it was one Miss Andre had placed on my cart, or one I had picked out myself — undoubtedly the former. “Lee,” I said to myself, “you know you are never going to read this book. Sure, it’s vintage 1930’s, but you’re about to get married. You aren’t even going to live alone. Put it in the give away box. Now! Do it!”

But I couldn’t.
I just couldn’t.

I sat there for a very long time, my brain yelling orders and my body stubbornly, sentimentally refusing.

Fine. FINE. I was going to keep the book. But if I was going to keep the book, the least I could do was open it up and read some. I gingerly lifted the front cover. That’s when I saw the inscription.

“A talisman for Andre–
May it bring you what it brought me.
Anne”

Oh.
My.
God.

Most writers are introverts — it takes one to know one. And being one, you know what a small circle of true friends you have, and how that circle grows and matures right along with you. New friends become old friends sooner than you think. They are yours forever, if you want them to be.

There was only one person “Anne” could be. But I checked against my signed Dragonriders of Pern just to be sure.

My family does not use the word “talisman” lightly. I knew what it meant to be holding that book in my hands. I knew what it meant for that talisman to have made the journey it did — from Anne to Andre to Alethea. I knew what it took to be a strong, successful woman in this industry, what sharks swam these waters, and what sacrifices had to be made.

I knew what it was like to live alone, and I didn‘t like it.
But I knew.
I knew he wasn’t coming back.

I read a good chunk of Live Alone and Like It, cross-legged on the carpet, surrounded by books. I kept having to remember that when Marjorie referred to the “nineties,” she meant the 1890s. My favorite line was from the chapter on liquor, and what every single woman should have in order to make the basic, most common drinks. “Only worse than a woman who puts marshmallows in her salad,” says Marjorie, “is the woman who messes around with fancy cocktails.”

After about an hour, I was consumed by the desire to share the knowledge my good fortune, my treasure, my talisman. I wanted my friends to experience this feeling of discovery and symbolic importance. I went directly to Codex and posted on the boards there. Everyone was excited and awed and happy for me. I called my mother, who laughed and said that Murphy and Miss Andre had sent me a sign, and that I should pay attention. I should remember that I was destined for great things…and I had better start acting like it.

The next day, Jenny added to the thread on Codex with a link to Publisher’s Lunch. It had just been announced that the rights to Marjorie Hillis’s classic Live Alone and Like It had been reacquired by Little Brown.

The very day after I found the book.
There’s coincidence, and there are signs.
Gotta say, I’m with Mom on this one.

Fast forward to yesterday. Nicole came by my office with a small pink galley in her hand. “You are going to love this book,” she said.

I took it from her, glanced at the title, and smiled. I had been living alone for almost a year now, and thanks to my family and friends I was finally, truly learning to love it. “I already have this,” I said. “Did I not tell you the story?”

Nicole sat down, because she knew it would be a good story. And it is a good story, a story about some very special women that deserves retelling on this very special day. I’m so glad she reminded me.

I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence.

Happy birthday, Miss Anne.
Thank you.
For everything.

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