RSS

Choreographing the BEST SURPRISE EVER

Today on the Waterworld Mermaids, I tell the whole story of how a podcast with my 11-year-old Fairy Goddaughter turned into the surprise of a lifetime!

Click here to find out!

Congrats, Princess Allie!!! We love you! xox

WPA 5-30-16

No Comments | Tags: , , , , , ,

I Wrote a Book About Refugees and No One Noticed

Alethea Kontis on Twitter

Dear Twitter: I lied.

Sotos "Sam" KontisThis morning, on social media, I admitted to being the White Privileged American granddaughter of a refugee twice over. My papou’s mother fled (with four small children) to Greece from the Catastrophe of Smyrna. Papou himself later fled to America* after the Nazi occupation of Greece. He served in both the Greek Merchant Marines and the US Army**. As he died before I was born, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, but I am proud to be his legacy.

After stating my dismay over the state of the world with regard to the current refugee situation, I announced that that was all I had to say on the subject, and then I went for a walk.

During that walk I realized just how much more I had to say.

Because I wrote a book about refugees, and no one noticed.

“Well… there had to be at least ONE really dull Woodcutter sister.”
–Auggie, Goodreads (on Dearest)

Dearest (Woodcutter Sisters, Book Three)On the surface, Dearest is a young adult fantasy retelling of “The Wild Swans” (literally on the surface: just look at the cover!) starring the Mary-Suest of all white-girl Mary Sues, Friday Woodcutter.

What Dearest is really about: Friday Woodcutter is the half-fey, half-human child of a mother who cursed her daughter by naming her because “Friday’s Child is loving and giving.” Friday is a gifted seamstress with a heart as big as the moon. As a poor woodcutter’s daughter compelled to fall in love with everyone she meets, she spends her days at the church, sewing clothes for orphans. She uses the scraps to make patchwork skirts for herself. They are a symbol of her love, generosity, and selflessness.

When her sister Saturday breaks the world in Hero*** and calls the ocean inland, hundreds of families are displaced. Friday, who was also caught in the maelstrom, is rescued and wakes up back at the palace in Arilland. The king and queen have welcomed all the refugees into their kingdom. While it is a burden and a huge adjustment to their way of life, the monarchs take charge in a responsible manner. Based on Friday’s previous experience with orphans, the queen gives Friday the task of overseeing the children while the adults deal with the Very Adult Business of how to manage the sudden influx in population.

Dearest has elements of “The White Swans” and “The Goose Girl,” but the plot is also heavily based on an Armenian folktale (released in picture book form by Robert San Souci and Raul Colón as A Weave of Words). In this folktale, a poor weaver’s daughter turns down a prince’s offer of marriage because he is lazy, illiterate, and has no trade. The prince gets off his duff and learns to both read and weave, gaining the daughter’s trust and her hand in marriage. In return, the prince (now king) teaches his wife (now queen) how to wield a sword and lead an army.

The king is later captured by a malicious dev. He tells the dev he is a weaver, and proves it by weaving a cloth. He tells the dev it is worth a hundred pieces of gold, and that if he sells it to the queen, she will buy it. In the cloth, the king has woven a secret message. When the queen receives it, she picks up a sword and leads the army to rescue her husband.

No spoilers, I promise: Just know that when I wrote the scene in Dearest where the Patchwork Army presents itself to Friday, I wept.

Due to the underwhelming performance of my series based on Circumstances Beyond my Control, my fancy NY publisher did not renew my contract for any subsequent Woodcutter books after Dearest. (Worry not, the rest of the Books of Arilland will still be published.)

Unsurprisingly, Dearest did not have much of a marketing budget. As a result, most of the reviews you will find online concentrate only on my “goody two-shoes” heroine and the reviewer’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of the dozens of fairy tales referenced in the text.

To the best of my knowledge, NO ONE has mentioned the GLARINGLY ENORMOUS plot point about refugees. As Dearest was based on European fairy tales, Armenian folklore, and my own personal family history, I felt it was about time this was brought to everyone’s attention.

Patchwork PrincessMy great grandmother, Theodosia Kontaridis (née Komnenos), was the direct descendant of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos (his life was written into a 15-volume saga called the Alexiad). In September of 1922, when the Greeks and Armenians were forced out of the city of Smyrna (now Izmir), Theodosia’s husband was taken from her and killed on a death march. She was “allowed” to flee from her home with her sister, her wheelchair-bound mother, and her four small children. When they finally landed in Greece, after a harrowing adventure, Theodosia did what all smart refugee widows did in that era: she found a similarly widowed Greek man with one child and married him.

The story of Theodosia’s flight is my family’s very own fairy tale. A few years ago, I wrote a picture book manuscript based on it called “Thea Maria’s Bag of Hope.” That manuscript remains unpublished. (Perhaps if I called her “Princess Maria” instead, it would garner more publisher attention.) I’ve thought about traveling back to Izmir, to the place where my family once lived, but according to my father (who made the trip several years ago) there is nothing left to see.

My grandfather died before I was born, and I was too young to care about my own history before my great-aunts and uncle passed away as well. (Uncle Xanthos was a famous dollmaker and loved that I was born the year of the US bicentennial, so we usually talked about those things instead.) What Papou Stories I know were told to me by my Nana and my father, both consummate storytellers.

One of my favorites is the story about Papou’s first job in America. His brother-in-law (Uncle Jim, who spoke English) introduced him to a man at a shipping company in Pittsburgh. The man was desperate for engineers with my grandfather’s level of skill, because so many of his men were off fighting in WWII. But the man was concerned because my grandfather spoke no English. Uncle Jim translated this for Papou. “Tell him,” my grandfather responded in Greek, “that the machines don’t know. The machines don’t care.”

Faith in PatchworkHe got the job.

My family survived Great Fires and Nazi Occupations. I am here because of them. I am the descendant of refugees. I wrote a book about refugees. I am proud of my book. I am proud of my family. I am proud of myself. The patchwork skirts I wear for my appearances mean so much more to me than just a character’s costume.

And the world should know these things.

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

*Papou came to America illegally, which became a moot point after he served in the US armed forces, and is even more of a moot point now that he’s passed away.
**He actually meant to be in the Navy, but his English was horrible. He turned left instead of right and ended up in the Army. He still eventually ended up working as an engineer on ships…but that’s another story.
*** Hero (Book 2 of the Woodcutter Sisters series), a.k.a. “I Wrote a Book About Gender Roles and Cross-Dressing and No One Noticed”
Comments Off on I Wrote a Book About Refugees and No One Noticed | Tags: , , , , ,

Alethea and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Magical Day

SunflowerThis is the thing I’ve been putting off…the thing that I must write before my brain can move on to the rest of my incredibly aggressive to-do list. I haven’t wanted to…heck, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything. We’ve all been stumbling around the house, grief-sick and exhausted, like there are weights on every limb of our bodies we just can’t shift. Spending this time with my big sister in Vermont at the birth of Fall has been a balm for both of us, allowing us to postpone our lives in all their inevitableness.

I’ve been writing this story in my head for the last eleven days, waiting for the universe to give me the strength–or the circumstances–to make the words real. Gods know I don’t want the rest of it to be.

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

Saturday, September 6, 2014
Josh’s Funeral
(
Also Known As: Alethea and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Magical Day)

I knew I was crazy. I had made the conscious decision to err on the side of insanity the minute I announced my intention to perform Josh’s eulogy. Dad worried the most on behalf of my mental state: having previously attempted to deliver the eulogy at his beloved Uncle Arch’s funeral many years ago, my father–the charismatic public speaker like whom I aspire to be–broke down so hard he was almost unable to speak.

Be it laughter or tears, we Kontises are an emotional bunch, it is no secret. But I had received the call about Josh roughly ten minutes before my hour-long panel with Sherrilyn Kenyon at Dragon Con. I cried right up until I stepped onto that stage, at which point I switched into Performance Mode and the show went on until the dealers room closed that night. If I could do that, then surely I could deliver a simple eulogy, right? Right?

It was the thought of Josh that fueled my stubborn inspiration–Josh and my sister Cherie, his mother. I needed to do this for them. Josh wasn’t quite twenty-four when Memere died last winter. He felt her death strongly–we all did–but Josh was always more sensitive when it came to the passing of a loved one. Even still, there had been much laughter in that funeral home, in no small part due to Josh. That’s just what our family does. We remember and celebrate each other.

Soteria and I wore tiaras to Memere’s funeral. I performed both readings at the church in a floor-length gold duster and stripey socks, with a purple silk flower in my hair. Josh had wholeheartedly approved, and shared Soteria’s hidden flask in our grandmother’s honor.

Mom walked in on me applying my face paint the morning of Josh’s funeral. She took a long look at my corset, glitter, silk flowers and tiara. “Good,” she said. “I’m glad you’re doing that.”

Memere would have understood my not being able to give her eulogy. She would have been totally okay with Dad and I leaving that job to the priest. But having been through that, I knew I couldn’t leave Josh’s farewell to some Catholic guy who–let’s face it–didn’t know anything about Josh at all.

Josh’s eulogy had to be irreverent. Blasphemous. Funny. It had to be delivered by a glittering fairy princess whose faith was born more of incense and candlelight than consecration and confession. Something in that ceremony needed to be about Josh, not Jesus. I needed that. My sisters and brother needed that. I was presumptuous enough to assume this same desire was shared by all whom Josh left behind.

“Are we going to laugh or cry?” Mom asked when I finished writing my essay.
“Both,” I said. “But I’m prepared for anything. I’m prepared for nothing at all. If I can get even one laugh out of this, I’ll consider it a success.”
“Be careful,” Dad counseled. “Making people laugh at a funeral is virtually impossible.”

I didn’t sleep much the night before. None of us did. We hadn’t slept well since the news. In the very early morning of August 31, Josh had come home from a raucous night out with the boys, gone to sleep, and never woken up.

I checked the Sleep Tracker app on my phone: I’d had a raucous night, too, as one does at Dragon Con. I didn’t go to bed until after 3am. By all accounts, Josh had been asleep by 2:30. That night, I outpartied my nephew.

I’m not sure any of us will sleep well again.

I may have forced myself to take a couple bites of protein bar that morning…maybe not…I don’t remember. What I do remember is looking at the clock. Five hours, and this will all be over. Three hours, and this will all be over. One hour, and this will all be over.

Performance anxiety kept the emotions at bay. The eulogy came first in the service, which was tough. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to keep it together afterward. It’s not like I had done this before. Also, I had a limit of five minutes. The priest had been adamant. He pulled me aside to remind me of this before the service, and I’d showed him the pages. My essay was a little over 600 words. In my experience that translated to four and a half minutes at most, undoubtedly less…barring a total emotional breakdown.

“It’s not up to me,” he said, “this is mandated by the diocese.”

On the plane from Florida the night before, I’d had a waking-dream about Josh’s other grandmother who passed away in 2010. My family is lousy with fortune tellers and vision dreamers–I am not one of them. I don’t dream of dead people; they leave me and my psycho psyche alone (maybe because they know I’d blog about it). I knew Sito was gone, but in my airplane-meditative state I suddenly looked forward to seeing her at her house after the funeral. She found me in the front room full of knick-knacks, most of which I’d helped unpack when the Jarvis family had moved in. She wore a yellow and orange flowered muumuu (though royal blue was her usual color). This larger-than-life force of nature opened her arms and hugged me and told me that the eulogy was perfect.

So I listened to this stern priest tell me these Rules of the Catholic Church, but inside I was thinking, “If Lucille Jarvis gave her blessing to this eulogy, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to stop it now, dude.”

Besides, Victoria had already promised to body-check the priest if he so much as looked like he was approaching the pulpit before I was finished.

Finally, the church bells chimed eleven. Four of Josh’s friends carried the ark containing the urn, and we followed behind. I slid in on the end of the second-row pew, behind Cherie and Billy (my brother-in-law) and next to Victoria and Danny (Billy’s brother). I tried not to crush my giant Monsters Inc box of tissues beneath my trembling fingers. After an incredibly short amount of time, the priest called my name and invited me up to deliver the eulogy.

I stood up and stepped forward, though I had no idea where to go. I paused, and the priest indicated a podium way behind the altar, almost in the back of the church, so far away from my family that I could barely see them. Certainly I wouldn’t be able to hear them. But as long as they heard me, I supposed it didn’t matter. I set my box of tissues on the podium and unfolded my essay, now covered with colorful editorial scribbles.

“Hello,” I said into the microphone, because you always say something inane into the microphone to make sure it’s working. It was working.

“I was going to start by asking forgiveness for this,” I said, indicating the crucifix hanging above the altar between me and the other mourners. “I figure this is the best place to do that. So here goes. The title of my essay is, ‘Dammit, Josh.'”

If anyone chuckled at the title, I didn’t hear them. It was okay. I went on. There might have been a sound after the line about Billy picking his nose…but if not, that was okay, too. I went on. I spoke slowly and carefully, constantly shutting down my emotions so that I could concentrate on every word. And when I got to “…a Nashville strip club…” the entire church burst out laughing. I know, because I heard them, all the way in the back.

Score.

I almost lost it before the last paragraph, but that worked too. I pointed up to the ceiling and said, “Dammit, Josh,” then took a deep breath and delivered my last lines without so much as a hitch. Sito had been right. It was perfect.

The hardest part was the silence. There is no clapping or cheering at a funeral. I stood there for a moment, almost wishing the priest had been on hand to escort me from the podium. But it was just me up there. I had put myself on that stage; I could exit the same way. I let my hand brush the wood of the ark before sinking back down into the corner of my designated pew.

If I met Cherie’s eyes, I don’t remember it. I may have touched Billy’s shoulder…I don’t really remember that either. No one hugged me or said anything, which was good. I stared at the top of my tissue box, frozen in time, careful to let nothing damage my calm while I built my emotional guard back up. And then Danny reached out to squeeze my hand.

We did not look at each other. We didn’t need to. My sister and Danny’s brother had been together most of our natural lives–I was five and Danny was seven when Cherie and Billy tied the knot thirty-three years ago. We might not have stayed super-close over the years, but that didn’t change the fact that we’d known each other forever. Right then, I needed that hand–that connection with my family–no more, and no less. Danny let go, and I went back to clutching my tissue box for the remainder of the ceremony.

I performed a reading after that as well. I stumbled over a word. Didn’t matter which one.

If I cried again, I don’t remember it.

I performed the requisite Catholic calisthenics–sitting, standing, kneeling, standing, sitting–and didn’t touch another person until the “Peace be with you” bit. (I may have been raised Greek Orthodox, but I attended mass with Memere enough times to remember the basics.) I hugged Cherie and Billy, Danny and Victoria, my brother West.

When I faced forward again, I saw that the priest had come to shake hands with Alana (my niece, Josh’s sister), Cherie and Billy. To each of them he said, “Peace be with you.” Then he met my eyes, sort of pointed and waggled his finger, said nothing, and turned away.

Alana and I looked at each other with wide eyes. What was that? Cherie said later that he’d done the same thing to Diane–Danny and Billy’s sister–because she had also performed a reading. Alana and I got a different vibe entirely–more of a cross between a scolding and a futile prayer for my immortal soul. I was both amused by and totally fine with that.

The priest lit incense and walked around the ark and urn. Still no tears. I remember going through dozens of tissues during Memere’s funeral–shouldn’t I have been bawling right now? I just didn’t feel like it. In fact, I mostly felt like laughing my butt off. Josh would have found so much of this whole thing ridiculous.

When the priest spoke of angels meeting Josh and escorting him to heaven, I thought, “I at least hope they look like Victoria’s Secret angels.” I bit my lips together and swallowed hard to prevent that particular round of church giggles.

And then it was over. I filed out behind everyone else–all these people arm in arm with someone to cling to. I took a quick step forward and took Caleb’s elbow. Poor Caleb…almost sixteen and having to go through all of this. He’d lived with Josh most of his life–Josh had only left home a few months ago for this new job in Tennessee. I snuggled into Caleb’s shoulder, thoroughly covering his black suit in glitter.

Victoria helped out with that, too.

We all went back to Sito’s house on Lake Champlain–we kids called it “camp” back before there was a huge house there–where Billy’s Lebanese family laid out quite a spread, including kibbeh (both cooked and raw) and spanakopita, provided by our godfather Nectar.

Mom and Dad and I had transported a bunch of the flowers in our rental car, and some friends helped us carry them into the house. As I moved to shut the trunk, I noticed that a white rosebud had fallen out of an arrangement–the stem was short enough, so I stuck it into my hair amidst the silk petals there. I have no idea what it looked like. I didn’t care.

I didn’t eat anything. I didn’t speak much more. I just felt sort of floaty and numb. I went into the backyard and sat in a chair by the water, looking out over the lake where I’d spent so many of my summers. Summers before Josh. People came by to thank me for the eulogy. Lots of people.

I sat there until it started raining, then moved inside and hid in corners where I didn’t have to talk. I found a good spot in the kitchen–good until the trash needed to be emptied and the drawer behind me ransacked for a spatula with which to serve the cake. At that point, Danny led me out to the garage, where his brothers and father escorted departing guests to their cars beneath borrowed umbrellas. The fresh air was nice. The not talking was better.

Somehow, I made it back into the kitchen, sitting at the table where my little sister ate her way through an entire bowl of movie popcorn and Mom sipped at her contraband tequila. “Are your friends in that band still playing today?” Mom asked. “You should go. Take Caleb and Cole. I bet they’d love to go with you.”

See…the universe does this thing to me where horrible things happen in the best way possible. When I got the call about Josh there was still another day of Dragon Con left, but it was my last day of scheduled panels. Mom didn’t want me driving home to Florida through the night, but that was okay too. I was surrounded by friends, some of whom had been holding me together since Christmas, when the universe started using me as a punching bag and significant pieces of my life had begun flying apart. I was in a cocoon of unconditional love, and free to leave first thing in the morning.

My little sister, as it happens, was just finishing up a job in New York. Instead of flying back to Charleston, I told her to just go straight to Burlington–she’d end up having to connect through New York anyway, in the long run. Our brother West just so happened to be visiting my parents for Labor Day weekend, so none of them were alone when they got the news. Mom, Dad, West and I caught a flight to Burlington–a straight shot from the little airport in Sanford–and arrived just in time for the visitation.

On top of all that, I had checked to see if my friends in the Adam Ezra Group were playing in the area that weekend. I hadn’t seen them since my birthday–crazy, brief, traumatic event that it was–and they rarely played in Florida. After the move, I wondered if I would ever see them again.

Not only were the Adam Ezra Group playing in New England that weekend, they were playing in Burlington…the afternoon of the funeral…at a festival open to all ages…in a park that was literally down the street from the house on the lake.

I had bought two tickets, but I wasn’t sure I should go…or that anyone would want to come with me. Mom made that decision for me. She rounded up Caleb and Cole and West, and we all went to the concert in the rain.

Is the concert still on? I texted to Adam.
yup! Very wet. u doing ok?
I’m coming to see you. Bringing my brother & nephews.

It took us forever to find a parking space, but we managed it. We walked around the fence to the covered table set up for ticket sales–I felt terrible for the organizers and the poor girls volunteering at this cold, wet table. The Spreading Light festival has its roots in mental health and suicide awareness, a cause about which I feel especially strong, and this weather was tanking their attendance.

My fingers shook as I dug through my tiny little purse searching for the ticket receipt–I kept pulling out the eulogy and the reading. The tent was dripping rain down my back and I was completely soaked, not that I felt much of anything. Finally, I yanked everything out of the purse and set it on the table. “Sorry,” I told the girls. “We just came from a funeral. The receipt is in here somewhere. I’m just a little out of it.” They sweetly expressed their condolences as I handed over the receipt and paid for Caleb and Cole. They offered us all trash bags as makeshift ponchos.

The boys took the “ponchos” and left me the umbrella. The four of us made quite the spectacle as I passed out wristbands and helped the boys fashion their trash bags into suitable concert wear. In the end, everyone was laughing. That’s just what our family does.

We walked out onto the grass before the band shell–the opening band was still playing. I handed the umbrella to Caleb and asked the boys to wait a moment…then I walked over to where Turtle was talking to some people beneath another umbrella. I quietly stood before him with a smile until he noticed me.

“Oh my god,” he said, “you’re here.” And he swept me up into a giant bear hug.

That.
That is when I cried.

I introduced Turtle to the boys…and then Corinna…and then Josh Gold, who each found me to share love and hugs. I kept an eye out for Adam, but I knew their set would be starting soon, so I didn’t really expect to see him. There would be time enough afterward. West and Cole and Caleb and I took our places in the rainy grass, front and center.

There was a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me,” said the girl from the ticket table. “We wanted to give you this because we know you’re having a hard day.” She handed me a beautiful sunflower. I thanked her graciously and threaded it through my purse loop so it wouldn’t get smashed. Adam launched into the first song and I started the set with a smile.

I did cry again, though, a couple of times. The first was during the spoken word portion of “Burn Brightly,” which Adam alters to fit each performance, so the song is always unique. He said a lot of kind words about the Spreading Light festival, and all the Vermonters out in the audience dancing barefoot in the rain, and when he spoke about illness and suicide and the loved ones we’ve lost…well, yeah, I lost it a little bit.

I covered my mouth with my hand–Corinna and I had been smiling at each other most of the set, and I didn’t want her to see me break down while she was performing. One of the dancers saw me, though, a barefoot woman with short hair and a bright green shirt.

“Can I give you a hug?” she asked. I opened my arms.
“Thank you,” I said into her hair, and then she went back to dancing.
I looked up to see Corinna smiling brightly at me again…and I smiled back.

The second time I cried was when Adam dedicated a song to us. Adam’s dedicated a lot of songs to me in the years we’ve known each other. It’s never the same thing–at Dragon Con last year it was “Half a Hero.” On my birthday it was “Taking Off.” This time it was “The Toast.”

And this time, I wasn’t the only one crying.

None of the band had ever met my nephew, but they could not have played a more perfect song to his memory. I hugged Caleb and wept, but I knew it was okay. I saw Cole wipe his eyes and West blow his nose. What I didn’t realize at the time was that West had recorded the whole song on his mp3 player. He played it back for Cherie the next morning at breakfast and I cried all over again. West said that when the song ended, two seagulls came soaring over the band shell and executed a crossover maneuver worthy of the Blue Angels. I’m sorry I missed it…but I’m glad he didn’t.

Directly after “The Toast,” the band played a censored version of “The Devil Came Up to Boston,” which had everyone laughing again. I love that song. Josh would have loved it, too.

It was a long set, which made me happy–I only hoped my boys were enjoying it as well. It had stopped raining, and we had all dried up considerably, but they’d had the same long day I had. Asking them to stand up for two hours in the cold to listen to a band they’d never heard of before…for some people, that would have been asking too much.

A silly thought, in hindsight. The people who love me are extraordinary, so much more than “some people.”

As they’ve done in the past, Adam and the rest of the band came out of the band shell to play the last two songs on the grass with us, acoustic style. They did this in DC, the first time I ever saw them, and they bowled me over by playing a cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” They played that song again, here, for the finale, and invited everyone on the grass to sing along. Caleb and Cole were too young to know the words, but West and I sang right along with the crowd.

I’ve been to a lot of Adam Ezra concerts. This crowd had the best singers I’ve ever heard. We were a choir of strangers, repeatedly petitioning the heavens to take us home, to the place we belonged.

I stood right beside Adam during the acoustic set. He didn’t look at me and I didn’t approach him–he was in Performance Mode, and I was not about to burst that bubble. Whether or not he heard me singing, he knew I was there.

After the last address to the crowd, after the last thank you, the moment the set was officially over and done with, Adam looked right at me…and winked.

Adam and the band then headed directly to the merchandise table. I turned back to my boys, cautiously awaiting their reaction.

“That was way better than church,” said Cole.

Love that kid. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

West was blown away as well and gratefully so–his last concert experience had been with Josh. And as it turned out, this show was Caleb’s first concert ever. Talk about the Cool Aunt Award. I promised that I would buy them all CDs and took them up to the merchandise table (once the substantial line had died down a bit) to meet the band all over again. I shamelessly collected another round of hugs…including my long-awaited promised one from Adam.

I stood patiently until Adam bid a new fan farewell, and then I jumped into his arms. I don’t remember what it was he said then, but I remember that it made me laugh out loud.

“Figures,” I said. “Hugging Turtle makes me cry, and you make me laugh.”

But then, that’s just what our family does.

There was no one left at the house on Lake Champlain by the time we returned, so Cole drove us all back to Morrisville. We talked about the band and told lots of stories. Cole popped his new CD into the player. I sat back in the seat and looked at my sunflower, still beautiful and unsmashed, and I thought about just how frightful and amazing this day had been. I remembered the rosebud in my hair–undoubtedly limp and wilted now–and I reached up to pull it out. Turns out, it wasn’t dead at all.

It had bloomed.

Despite the cold and the rain and everything else, it had bloomed.

5 Comments | Tags: , , , ,

Dammit, Josh

My eulogy for Josh, posted by special request from my family.
[Author’s Note: I made sure to apologize to Jesus in advance.]

Dammit, Josh

It’s a phrase that everyone in this room has said at least once in the last 25 years. I yelled it quite frequently throughout the writing of this essay.
And I cried every time.

Joshua Jarvis… would all be disappointed in us right now. No one stuck a fake mustache on the urn at the viewing. No one slipped a whoopee cushion under Cherie’s butt when she sat down in that pew. And Billy has not picked his nose with anything in this church…that I know of.

Technically, Josh was my nephew…but that word implies a certain distance. I am, in fact, closer in age to Josh than my own big sister. There should be a different word for what Josh was to me…what he was to us all…something that means grandson, nephew, cousin, friend…but also Brother.

Josh was a brother to everyone, the brat who enjoyed potty humor and cute girls and having as much fun as humanly possible. Josh was the boy who shaved his head to raise money for St. Jude’s hospital. He was the kid who wore seventeen gold chains into the Burger King before he had any idea who Mr. T was. He was the charmer who could get girls on the other side of the world to dance for him. He was the young man who was not too proud to throw up in the bushes and cry on his yia yia’s shoulder while his sister underwent a lifesaving surgery.

Even as a little kid, Josh had a big heart. It took his body a couple of decades to expand to a proportional volume, a size that provided Josh with the ability to give some of the best bear hugs on the planet. And inside that big heart was a tender and sensitive soul. For someone so young, Josh experienced his share of tragedy — beginning with the death of his friend Hunter while he was still a teen.

Perhaps Hunter’s passing impressed upon Josh the importance of living life–all of it–as hard as he could…stupid mistakes and all. In his too short life, Josh had experiences that some people only dream of (and we all have that picture of him with Seth Rogan to prove it). If this family knows one thing, it’s how to be loud…and Josh lived with the volume turned to eleven.

Several years ago, when I was at a writing retreat in TN and Josh was at school in KY, he sent me a message suggesting that we “go on an adventure.” Now…we were in very different places at the time, both mentally and physically…and I declined the invitation. As you can imagine, I’ve thought a lot about that moment this past week. If I *had* accepted Josh’s offer, what kind of adventure would we have had? I can just see us now…in a Nashville strip club. Josh is stuffing g-strings with dollar bills and I’m making sure all the dancers are covered in adequate amounts of glitter.

Regardless of whether or not that adventure actually happened, I’m treasuring that mental image all the same.

I can still hear Josh’s voice on Mom & Dad’s answering machine, boasting about selling two cars in one day. There was excitement in that voice. Happiness. Every day I worried a little less about Josh — he was on his own adventure now, living his life to the fullest.

Joshua George Jarvis. The boy born on St. Patrick’s Day. Our good luck charm, who will henceforth remind us every day that we should Eat, Drink, and Be Merry. Love with Bear Hugs. Go on adventures. Dance in glitter and g-strings. Laugh out loud. Party with all our hearts…and live with the volume turned up to 11.

(Dammit, Josh…)

Josh and Mom (his Yia Yia)

5 Comments | Tags: , , ,

Joshua George Jarvis (1989-2014)

From the Burlington Free Press:

Miss you, Josh. JOSHUA GEORGE JARVIS – MORRISVILLE – Joshua Jarvis passed away unexpectedly in Tennessee on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014.
Josh’s life began on March 17, 1989. He was the youngest of three children to loving parents, William and Cherie Jarvis. Prankster Josh spent his childhood with a smile on his face and laughter in his heart, surrounded by friends and family. He attended Flynn Elementary, Hunt Middle School, and graduated from People’s Academy in Morrisville in 2007. He continued on to obtain duel degrees in Computer Graphic Design and Dynamic Web Development at Sullivan College of Technology and Design in 2010.
At the age of 10, Josh worked for the family business at Jarvis Cinema Corp, Bijou Cineplex 4 in Morrisville. By age 25, he decided to take a new direction in his life and worked alongside his Uncle Richard Jarvis at Williams Marketing in Franklin, Tenn. Josh enjoyed the many pleasures of life – food, music, movies, laughter, and his favorite time of day: 4:20.
Josh is survived by his parents, William and Cherie Jarvis; brother, William Jarvis II, his partner, Tamarra and daughter, Chloe; sister and brother-in-law, Alana and Jason McLane and children, Alexa and Dylan McLane (to whom he was the most proud uncle); brother, Caleb Jarvis; grandfather, Merrill G. Jarvis (Gido); grandparents, George and Marcy Kontis (Yia Yia and Papou); and uncles and aunts, Merrill Jarvis III and his partner, Madana Makhani, Richard and Cheryl Jarvis, Diane Jarvis, Daniel and Victoria Jarvis, West Kontis, Alethea Kontis, Soteria Kontis and Charles Nadolski. There are two very special people we would like to mention, Alex Smith, his high school sweetheart whom he loved dearly, and Pakorn Pinyo, who spent the last few months getting to know Josh personally.
Josh was predeceased by three very important people in his life, grandmother, Lucille Barrett Jarvis (Sito); great-grandmother, Madeleine DeRonde (Gram); and his childhood best friend, Hunter Dandrige. Space does not permit mentioning the names of his countless and treasured family members and friends. Josh could light up a room with his laughter. If you were a friend of his, you knew what fun was. In his life he was always looking for a good time, and we are certain he still is.
Visiting hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, at the Ready Funeral & Cremation Service South Chapel, 261 Shelburne Road, Burlington. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Saint Mark’s Church, 1251 North Ave., Burlington. Burial will be later at the convenience of the family. To send online condolences to the family please visit www.readyfuneral.com. In lieu of flowers, you may send donations in Josh’s name to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
1 Comment | Tags:

S. O. C. K. S.

I get it from my mother.

You know, that thing we do as writers, where a word like “concinnity” gets stuck in your head, and when you’re reading through the manuscript six months later, the copy editor has wondered why anyone would use concinnity once, never mind thirteen times in one chapter.

My first live, on-air TV interview was seven minutes long. I used the word “absolutely” thirteen times.

Yeah, a lot of authors do it…but I’m smart enough to admit that I come by it honestly. Genetically.

It is what it is.

I’m not a huge fan of the saying: “It is what it is.” Not sure why…probably because I’m a dreamer by trade who earns a living things that are not. Things aren’t what they seem all the time, and contrarywise. But it’s vernacular now, and as a student of language–not just English–I can respect the phrase’s right to exist.

Lately, though, Mom’s taken to saying, “It is what it is. S. O. C. K. S.”

I had NO idea what she meant by this–I figured it was some meme she saw on Facebook, or some family story I hadn’t heard yet, or an acronym from the latest, greatest self-help guru. I didn’t worry about it…I knew I’d hear the story at some point.

This evening, we had a guest for dinner. While cleaning up, Mom and the guest were discussing something that made the phrase appropriate. “It is what it is,” said Mom. “S. O. C. K. S.” After a pause, she said to the guest, “That’s Spanish, you know.”

I was taken aback. It IS Spanish, of course! Eso si que es…which means exactly that: It is what it is. I speak conversational Spanish, and French, and less Greek, and even less Romanian…but it had never occurred to me that Mom might be speaking Spanish. I felt rather foolish.

“It’s easy to remember,” Mom continued, “because it’s spelled just like ‘socks.'”

I resisted the urge to laugh out loud, lest Mom think it was at her expense. She had been spelling out S. O. C. K. S. And that’s exactly what I had been hearing. She wasn’t speaking Spanish, not really, and never had been.

My ear for languages? I get that from my father.

Eso si que es.

No Comments | Tags: , ,

In Which The Brute Squad Saves The Princess

A few months ago, I got a very sad letter. It was from Candlewick Press, informing me that my very first picture book, AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, would be going out of print in hardcover.

My life has been pretty horrible since December, but I’ve managed to hold it together. This time, I totally lost it. I called my mother and cried like a child had died. She asked me how many were left–50, 60, I don’t remember–and she volunteered to pitch in and help me purchase the rest of them.

Of course, I wanted to give my friends a chance to have their copies too, so I posted about it online to let people know. Happily, there was a pretty good response. I gave it a couple of days before I emailed the publisher…I didn’t want to risk them changing the status of the book before the people I loved had a chance to get a copy.

I offered to purchase whatever was left. The response I got humbled me down to my toes. “I’m happy to say, there are actually no copies left in the warehouse. Some large orders have come in since we sent you that low stock letter. It looks like AlphaOops will be up for reprint consideration at the next meeting.”

You want to talk about over the moon? I WAS OVER THE MOON, BABY.

I didn’t want to say anything until it was official…I received the books in the mail yesterday. Two brand-spanking-new copies of AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, in its SIXTH PRINTING.

AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First...for the sixth time!

That’s right…YOU made it happen — all of you! — and I can’t thank you enough. Seriously. Thank you for keeping my book alive. You have given me hope in a year where everything seems to be falling apart around my ears. Little by little, I begin to have faith that my world can be rebuilt. Like Mom says, anything can be remodeled, as long as the bones are good.

And let me tell you what, you have made me one happy Book Mama, folks. I can’t even tell you how happy. I am so humbled and SO INCREDIBLY HONORED by your love and support. I always will be.

Happy Book Mama, Alethea Kontis

Now, if you want a new project, feel free to start sending emails to Candlewick Press to let them know that you’d really love to see that AlphaOops Christmas book…maybe if we’re really good this year, Santa will make all our wishes come true!

Love you guys. You’re the best. I mean it.

xox Alethea

5 Comments | Tags: , , , ,

In Which I Have a Problem With Reality

Over at the Waterworld Mermaids today, I discuss my present issue with Reality.

I do encourage you to pop on by. I could really use the advice.

Click here to read “The Harsh Light of Day.”

No Comments | Tags: , , , , ,

No Thank YOU!

An author doesn’t just write a book. An author writes a story, gives it to her editor, and her editor comes back with a page (or three) of editorial comments that need to be dealt with. The author revises. The editor comes back again (on track changes, if you’re lucky) for more fixes. The author revises. Then a copyeditor comes through to fix things, which goes to the editor, which then gets passed to the author for review. Then a proofreader comes through to fix more things, which goes to the editor, which then gets passed to the author for review.

It is not rare, in the course of getting a novel to publication, that the author (and editor) reads the same book six times. And yet still, after all that, there will inevitably be one or two mistakes in the finished book. To err is human, and I am 100% human (despite the overwhelming fairy tendencies).

So when that gorgeous box of finished books shows up at an author’s door, she revels in it. Smells it. Dances with it. Takes a picture and posts it all over the intarwebs. And then she takes the jacket off and really gives the book that one, final, too-late-to-fix-this-time inspection and hopefully doesn’t find anything.

And that’s exactly what I found! Nothing. Right where the Acknowledgements were supposed to be.

Oops.

Here’s the thing — Enchanted was a five-year labor of love, and in that time, I had a lot of people to thank. My editor cut it way down and then begrudgingly printed it in 2-point font on the very last page of the book…but I was so glad it was there. (Others were not — reviewers have gone so far as to give me crap about my acknowledgements. I promise not to chuckle when *they* get musicked off the stage at the Oscars for going on too long.)

Because of this, I was hesitant to write acknowledgements for Hero. I was also reluctant because I knew I would have to address the death of my maternal grandmother this year, to whom the book is dedicated.  The dedication was written while she was still alive.

Ah, publishing.

As we got nearer the end of the process, my editor contacted me and told me that there would be extra pages in the back of the book, if I’d like to put a bio and write some acknowledgements. I was even welcome to go on at length this time. Ha!

So I wrote them. And I cried. And I sent them in. And my editor was touched. And then somewhere between then and publication, they fell through the cracks.

These things do happen.

In the twenty-first century, however, there are a few things we can do about this. First off, the acknowledgements will be included in the second printing of Hero, thus officially making the first printing a collector’s item. (How ’bout them apples?) The acknowledgements will also be included in the e-book versions of Hero (along with a couple of other minor corrections–NO, I will not tell you what they are or you will only see the blemish). And, because I have the power to do so, I can publish the acknowledgements here–complete with links and pictures–so nothing is lost.

On top of that, now I have several blank pages in the back of my new book in which to doodle pretty things if I have time. BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE. *grin*

So that’s the story of the Hero snafu. Not so bad, in the grand scheme of things. And now, without further ado, I bring to you:

 

Acknowledgements - Alethea Kontis

Publishing is an interesting exercise in time compression and expansion. For instance, it took me almost five years to write Enchanted, but it took many of you less than a day to read it. Similarly, in between writing the dedication for Hero and the writing of these acknowledgments, my beloved grandmother, Madeleine DeRonde, passed away.Madeleine DeRonde

Much like Peregrine’s father, Memere suffered from Alzheimer’s disease—a terrible, horrible thing that sneaks up on you too gradually to notice until it’s too late. By the time my first book was published in 2006, Memere no longer remembered who I was. I still love her with all my heart and miss her every day. I know she would be proud of my silly, shiny books; I only regret not being able to share them with her in this life. So I am here to tell you all right now: Thank those heroes in your life, every single one, as soon and as often as you can.

I would first like to thank the female athletes of the London 2012 Summer Olympics and my sword-wielding angel Lillie Rainey for being personal inspirations for Saturday. Thanks also go out to the staff of Luray Caverns in Virginia—I would not have been able to write about the Top of the World without you!

Big hugs to everyone who made my 2012 Summer Book Tour a reality—I am lucky to have so many friends that I consider family, and I’m honored to be the recipient of your support. Thanks once again to Adam, Turtle, and Josh of the Adam Ezra Group for seeing me off in style, and my undying love to Drew and Laura Williams, Edmund and Terry Schubert, Casey Cothran and Todd Muldrew, Soteria Kontis and Charles Nadolski, Vicki and David Castrucci, Cris Garrick, J. P. and Wendy Stephens, Darra Cothran and Bob Gahagan, Tillman and Laurie Smoot, Cherie Priest, Ken and Marilyn Harrison, David B. Coe, J. T. and Randy Ellison, and Chuck and Lillie Rainey for opening their homes to me as I went about my travels.

Janet Lee, whom I will always admire—thank you and Mike for letting me be your Comic-Con buddy. Thank you to all the members of my convention families, new and old—I would never be able to live without you. And thanks to my dearest Heather Brewer, Kate Baker, Mary Rodgers, and Leanna Renee Hieber for keeping my soul intact during dark times.

Huge mountains of gratitude also go to my crack team at Harcourt—especially Reka Simonsen and Jennifer Groves—for understanding my subversive sense of humor and putting up with all my emails. Nor could I have done all this without Deborah Warren, the best Fairy Godagent a princess could ask for, and Katherine Kellgren, who brought my characters to life in such a way that I fell in love with them all over again.

Last but not least I must thank the members of my very large family. Memere would be happy knowing that she brought together not only a plethora of cousins and friends I might otherwise have never met, but also the four Kontis siblings: Cherie, West, Soteria, and me. I hope the planets align again sooner than seven years from now. And to Joe, Kassidy, and Ariell—my Fairy Godfamily—thank you for keeping my feet tied to the ground while I reach for the stars. You are my heart, and I love you all more than these humble words can say.

The Kontis Siblings -- West, Soteria, Cherie & Alethea

No Comments | Tags: , , ,

Letter to My Child, Alethea

Yes, Sweetheart, I AM your biggest fan (don’t tell Dad!)

When you were little and they told us you were a gifted child we were so worried that we would somehow let you down as parents. It’s hard enough knowing what to do with a normal child but a gifted one?? What they didn’t tell us was that we need not worry. You would eventually learn to deal with life in your own special way. You would see the good in all things and make magic out of mayhem. Your mind would be able to create fantasy worlds full of love that you would put down on paper and share with the world.

Every time I read your blog or one of your stories I’m amazed at your talent. I am thrilled at your love of life and how you make every moment count for something. You have become a beautiful woman both inside and out. You have much to share with the world and you have found your medium, the written word.

I AM very proud of you. I am proud to say, “THAT’S MY DAUGHTER, PRINCESS ALETHEA!”

We were with you at the Nebulas. We found the live feed on the internet and were not surprised to find you front and center of the camera where you have always been most comfortable. Dad could not remain quiet but had to send you a text. We wanted you to know that we were with you. We will always be with you.

Much love, forever and ever until the end of time,
MOM

2 Comments | Tags: , , , ,