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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

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Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

Happy 40th wedding anniversary to my esteemed parents, George and Marcy Kontis! *big hugs*

And Happy Chinese New Year!
2013 is the Year of the Black Snake.
Gong Xi Fa Ca!

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A Loving Tribute

I can’t add all of the Dark-Hunter role players on Facebook to my friends list and I don’t have the time to play with them as much as I’d like, but the DH Origins folks have always been wonderful to me and treat me like family.

When I woke up to the usual 3am insomnia this morning, I had a present waiting for me from the Simi in the form of this beautiful slideshow video in honor of my grandmother. I’m so very touched I don’t know what to say…besides Thank You, Simi. With all my heart.

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Cherie as Saturday

Because when your sister’s velour track suit matches your book cover, this needs to happen.

Hero Final CoverCherie as Saturday

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The Happy and Beautiful Life of Madeleine DeRonde

[WARNING: Mom, don’t read this until you’re ready. Print it out. Save it for later. Or don’t read it at all–I’d completely understand. But this is something I needed to do. I love you. Xox Lee]

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Madeleine DeRondeLight up, light up
As if we had a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I’ll be right beside you, dear
–Snow Patrol, Run

I have never liked saying goodbye to people I love. I handle it a lot better now that I’m an adult, though still not quite enough to get through airport security without TSA asking me if I’m all right.

When I was a little girl, every departure was a tragedy. I could never keep it together and always dissolved into tears, as if my heart were breaking into a million pieces and the glue was turning right out of the driveway, heading into the sunset.

Mom would always tell me, “But if they don’t leave, they can’t come back.” Even at four years old I knew this was a bunch of illogical crap. The universe chooses its misery at random. No one can ever promise otherwise. Wouldn’t not leaving at all just be happier for everyone?

I brought this up when I arrived in Vermont on Sunday, after a nine-hour drive full of music and tears and snow and dark, empty roads. “Oh, honey,” Mom replied, “you would just get so upset…we didn’t know what else to say.” And then we cried and laughed and cried again and held Memere’s hands while her fever spiked for the umpteenth time.

I was raised in a very matriarchal household–both my grandfathers died before I was born, so Memere (Madeleine DeRonde) and Nana (Helen E. Kontis) have always been a very big part of my life. I am lucky enough to be namesake to both of them: it may say only “Alethea Madeleine Kontis” on my birth certificate, but since “Alethea” is not a saint, I was baptized “Eleni” (Helen) in the Greek church.

Memere's Old House on Barnes Rd.Nana and Memere: two amazingly opposite ends of the grandmother spectrum. Memere lived in a stone house on a mountain in Montpelier, VT; Nana lived in a duplex in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (and still does!). Memere had retired from her government job and never worked in my lifetime; Nana retired from her retail job only just last year. Nana was always prim and proper and dressed to the nines; beyond having her hair curled just so, Memere favored flowing shirts and elastic waistbands. Nana taught us how to take our tea and eat eggs with the Queen of England; Memere took us to pick strawberries and ate Bugles with ranch dip while we watched the Miss USA pageant. Nana sang songs straight from a British nursery; Memere warbled Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney. Nana expected little girls to wear dresses and ribbons in their hair; Memere expected us to look for elephants when she farted. Two of my most prized possessions are a locket Nana gave me with a picture of my grandfather and father in it, and a Who Framed Roger Rabbit beach towel that Memere received when she subscribed to The Disney Channel, just for me.

Hero is dedicated to both of my grandmothers, for obvious reasons.

Alethea loves GramWhen I was six, my best friend was the tree in front of our house in South Burlington. I spent most of my days doing headstands or climbing trees or naming snakes or searching for four-leaf clovers. Despite loving my grandmothers equally, it’s not hard to imagine that I preferred homemade virgin strawberry daiquiris over Easter dresses. Mom said that every time Memere came to visit, she’d have to sit down before I saw her so that she wouldn’t topple over from the force with which I threw myself into her arms. And every time Memere drove away, I sobbed as if part of my world had died.

Looking back now, I wonder if somehow, deep down in that genius brain of childhood innocence, I knew Memere would leave first.

When Mom & Dad & Soteria & I moved to South Carolina, Memere would stay with us every winter (when she wasn’t visiting Uncle Richie in Arizona). I realize now that this was for monetary reasons: Memere rented her house on the hill to the Vermont legislature during those times and didn’t have to pay for heat during the long Vermont winters. All my grade school friends remember Memere, or “Gram”, as we often called her. She was in residence for many Christmases and Chinese New Years. She looked after my sister and me while Mom & Dad took vacations in Europe. We cooked a lot and ate a lot and watched a lot of television. She even took us to movies.

The last Christmas I spent with Memere was in Tennessee–I was going through a bit of a nervous breakdown at the time and was miserable to be around. She and I went to see You’ve Got Mail in an attempt to snap me out of my funk. I still watch that movie every December.

Easter 2005 CollageThe last Thanksgiving I spent with Memere was after my parents had moved to Knoxville–I recorded her saying a little something for the video I made for Mom & Dad’s 30th wedding anniversary. The Alzheimer’s hadn’t quite come to fruition then. I am so glad I made that video.

In two days, my parents will celebrate their 40th.

The last Easter I spent with Memere was here in Vermont in 2005–I wrote about it in Beauty & Dynamite. We took a lot of pictures that day. I remember Soteria sneaking Memere a bourbon. The last conversation I remember having with her was when I mentioned our French Canadian heritage through her Gagne parents. She corrected me by saying, “We are not Canadian. We are French.”

That was also the last time all four Kontis siblings were together: Cherie, West, Alethea & Soteria. It was West and I who drove Memere back to the nursing home. She didn’t want to go straight there–nor did we–so we took her on a detour up to the old house on the hill and the sign for DeRonde Road. West and I couldn’t look at each other on the way back to Cherie’s house–the only one more emotional than me is my brother, though Soteria takes a very close third.

I’m not sure which of us cried more at the funeral. Not that it makes a difference. I managed to keep it together long enough to perform both readings at the church service–Soteria and I used to put on elaborate, choreographed musicals for Memere’s Ladies Home Dem group, so it was only fitting that I stand up and perform for my grandmother one last time in my tiara, stripey socks and glittery gold duster, with a fat purple flower in my hair.

I only wish I’d been able to give her eulogy, but there is a limit to even my seemingly boundless talents.

Since I could not speak it aloud in church, I decided to write my eulogy instead. (Thankfully, writing and weeping are not mutually exclusive or I would never be able to finish a book.)

I keep thinking back to How I Met Your Mother, the episode where Marshall’s father passes away suddenly, and Marshall spends the entire time desperately trying to recall the last thing his father said to him so that he can give his eulogy. Memere did not pass away suddenly–the Alzheimer’s didn’t let Lee & Sam & Gram 2011her. Soteria and I last visited her in the summer of 2011, when we were in Vermont for my niece’s wedding. She had lost most of her speech by then, finishing her half-formed sentences with a melodic “do-do-do-do.” We played Rosemary Clooney for her. Charles and Soteria danced in the room. I knelt by her wheelchair and smiled up at her. She looked down at me and said things like, “Happy…do-do-do-do” and “Beautiful…do-do-do-do.” She probably thought I was my mother, if she thought anything at all. Soteria and I took turns weeping in her bathroom.

The nurses told us when we were done to wheel Memere down the hall into the atrium for snack. This seemed to distress Memere. She kept whispering “I’m afraid,” because the atrium now was and would always be a strange place to her. Soteria and I told her not to be afraid and reminded her that we loved her…and then forced ourselves to go.

Thanks to Alzheimer’s, the last words I remember Memere saying were, “I’m afraid.” This has haunted me ever since, catching me off-guard at random times and shooting me instantly into deep depression. So when I found out things were bad and Mom had jumped on a plane to Montpelier, I packed my suitcase and hopped in the car, no question. My grandmother was afraid. In her last moments, I would damn well make sure she knew she was not alone.

This time she was leaving and not coming back, no matter what my mother said. I would be devastated. But I would be there.

All the conventioning and book touring I’ve done in the past seven years paid off–this consummate road-tripper only stopped three times: once to sign books for a Girl Scout party I’d be missing (thank you, Lesley), once to refuel, and once to pee & update Soteria before heading into the frozen, winding wilds of Vermont. I arrived a little after 7:00pm.
The Ravens were already winning the Superbowl.

Mom, Cherie, Alethea & Memere, 2013Eventually, Dad went back to the hotel to take some cold medicine and finish watching the game. Mom and Cherie and I stayed to laugh and cry and tell stories and hold her hand and kiss her cheek and put cold cloths on her forehead. We let her know it would be okay to go into the light. She just kept hanging on. The nurses blamed it on the giggling–who would want to leave a room filled with such laughter? I helped hold Memere’s hands while Cherie did her nails. I summoned up a Rosemary Clooney station on Pandora and Mom set my phone on her pillow so that she’d be sure to hear the music. “Sway” was the first song that played. By “Fly Me to the Moon,” her breathing got rough, and by “Night and Day,” she was gone.

I don’t know If Memere was ever conscious during those last four hours, but there were times I could swear she was looking at me as I sat on the bed beside her, so I remembered to smile. Even if I was crying, I wanted to make sure she saw me smile. Alzheimer’s made Memere forget her whole life, but she never forgot how to smile. I heard her voice in my head saying, “Happy…do-do-do-do” and “Beautiful…do-do-do-do.” For while “I’m afraid” might have been the last words I remember her saying, “Happy” and “Beautiful” were the last words she said to me.

“Happy” and “Beautiful.”
These will be the words I remember.

“Happy” and “Beautiful.”
Two words that perfectly describe the life of my beloved grandmother, Madeleine DeRonde.

Alethea & Memere, Jan 1976

You’ve got to give a little, take a little
And let your poor heart break a little
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love

You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little
Until the clouds roll by a little
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love
–Benny Goodman, The Glory of Love

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Madeleine DeRonde (November 7, 1927-February 3, 2013)

Chinese New YearGram2Madeleine DeRonde passed peacefully surrounded by loved ones on February 3rd 2013. Madeleine was born at home in Montpelier during the Great Flood of 1927 to Emile and Augustine Gagne. She spent the entirety of her life in Montpelier, attending St. Michael’s Catholic School and St. Augustine’s Church. She was also a member of the Catholic Daughters of America, the Montpelier Emblem Club #369, and the Ladies Home Dem.

At sixteen, she took her first job at the Woolworth’s five-and-dime. By twenty-five, she was a single mother of five, a waitress at The Lobster Pot, and a lab technician at the US Department of Agriculture, helping to make Vermont a brucellosis-free state. She later married Philip DeRonde, owner of DeRonde Plastics. After his passing, Madeleine became a land developer; the road bordering their property in East Montpelier still bears the DeRonde name.

Madeleine was an avid gardener and needlepoint enthusiast. She enjoyed the many pleasures of life: food, dancing, and music of all kinds. Above all, she loved spending time with her extensive family.

Madeleine is predeceased by her husband, Philip DeRonde; two sisters, Marie Law and Trudy Miccolo; and two brothers, Merrill Gagne and Gerard Gagne. She is survived by three sisters: Jeannine Wood, Lucille Collins, and guardian angel Pauline Goodrich. She is lovingly remembered by her five children: John Feddersen Jr., Tom Feddersen and his wife Linda, Marcy Kontis and her husband George, Richard Feddersen and his wife Patti, and Fred Feddersen…as well as fourteen grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren, four great-great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and extended family.

She will be dearly missed by all who knew her, for to know her was to love her.

Visiting hours will be from 9:00-10:30 am on February 6th at Guare & Sons Funeral Home, 30 School Street, Montpelier. The funeral will take place at 11:00 am.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions may be made to The Sister of the Lamb of God: 2063 Wyandotte Ave, Owensboro, KY 42310.

Alethea & Memere

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10 Things You Can Do On My Birthday

Hero by Alethea KontisToday is 1-11, the day we celebrate PRINCESS ALETHEA’S MAGICAL BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA! I do hope you have marvelous things planned for today. I do!

If you don’t have some marvelous things planned, here are ten suggestions for how I would love you to spend MY FRABJOUS DAY.

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If you have a few extra dollars:
1.) Order some of my books. All the links are here. Already own the complete Princess Alethea library? Consider purchasing some extras for baby showers and children’s birthdays…or for your local school library. (If you order them from here, I will even sign & personalize them for you.)

2.) Are you a fan of Peter David? You should be. Buy a few of his books and help Peter and his family defray the cost medical bills caused by a stroke he had over the holidays.

3.) Are you a fan of Jay Lake? You should be. Click here and find out all the various fun ways you can help Jay cover the cost of genome sequencing for Jay’s cancer.

If you haven’t got a penny to spare:
1.) Write a fabulous five-star review of one (or all) of my books on Amazon, B&N, Audible, or Goodreads.

2.) Go “like” or “tag” a bunch of my books on Amazon, etc.

3.) Go review or like or tag five of your favorite authors.

4.) Go visit the website of five of your favorite authors. If they have blogs, leave a nice comment.

5.) Write a letter today, snail mail or email. Make it personal. Fan letters count.

6.) Call someone you love today.

7.) Take a picture of you or your child with one of my books and I’ll put in in my Family Album.

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Much love to you all — I hope you have a wonderful, shiny day! xox

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Rainbow Sun

I meant to post this the other day, when I accompanied FGB into DC to help him with some work. I was looking out the window for a street sign and the sky took my breath away. There was a full, perfect rainbow all around the sun.

Rainbow Sun

I thought this a fitting magical image with which to wish my father a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY today!

Love you, Dad. xox

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SCBWI Sandy Hill Book Drive

"You Have a Gift for Words," Said Grumble.Hello, friends & family–

I am working on behalf of SCBWI in the mid-Atlantic Region to collect traditionally published picture books for the Sandy Hill Elementary School Book Drive. If you have any picture books to donate, please send me an email (akontis at gmail) and I’ll give you the address where you can send them. Thank you all in advance…and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
xox

(PS — yes, you are welcome to purchase new books from Amazon and have them shipped straight to the Mid-Atlantic coordinator, but that person is not me. Drop me a line and I’ll get you her address.)

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Princess Monday

Happy Monday, everyone!

This is a very special Monday, as it’s also the birthday of my beautiful older sister Cherie, the inspiration for Monday Woodcutter.

People always ask authors if any of their characters are based on real people. As a general rule, the characters in books are always based on some facet of the author him/herself. But sometimes, in some ways, life just fits in FAR TOO PERFECTLY.

Monday’s Child is fair of face. That’s what the poem says. In Enchanted, Monday Woodcutter is the eldest of the Woodcutter sisters, a beautiful girl who marries a dark prince and leaves her family when she is still quite young. She has some fey blood, which she inherited from her mother, and so she ages slower than normal humans.

My sister Cherie was once runner-up for Miss Vermont. (I’ve seen the winner from that year–she wasn’t prettier.) Through the years she has been Bo Derek and Farrah Fawcett, but always my big sister. She got married when I was six years old, to the dark and handsome man of Lebanese descent that she dated all through high school. Very soon after that my parents left Vermont, moving my younger sister (Soteria) and me away to South Carolina. We visited every summer, but it wasn’t the same.

People laugh when we refer to Cherie as “The Beautiful Sister.” Soteria and I merely shrug because IT’S TRUE. And not just because she’s blond.

I will not tell you how old my eldest sister is today, because it doesn’t matter. Thanks to the fey blood we’ve all received via our mother, Cherie hasn’t aged a day. But I will tell you this:

She was born on a Monday.

Happy birthday, dearest Cherie. You always have been, and always will be, the fairest of us all. xox

 

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