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Sarah Interviews Princess Alethea

I was recently contacted by a high school student named Sarah K, asking for my answers on a survey she was doing for her English class…she had chosen “authors” as her demographic.

I was so intrigued by her questions that I asked if I could post them here, and she said yes. Thanks, Sarah!

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Taking Care of Business, original film posterName: Alethea Kontis
Age: 38
Race: French Canadian/Greek American
Gender: Female

What qualities do you consistently put into the protagonists of your novels? Why?
All of my protagonists have a weakness. (This weakness is usually a weakness I have as well.) In the course of the story, they are challenged and forced–at some point–to overcome this weakness.
Nobody wants to read about perfect characters! I want to read about characters like me. We might not have the same color hair or eyes or skin, but maybe she’s scared of crowds or he’s done some terrible things in his past that he regrets…and through that porthole I become that character I’m reading. I want that to happen to my readers, too.

How has being an author changed you?
I have always been a writer–I have been writing creative things down and submitting them for publication since the age of eight. Being an author as a career is a different story entirely. I have become a loud, colorful celebrity, the freak I wish I had met when I was twelve so that I knew being like this–painting my face and dyeing my hair blue and waking up with glitter on my pillow–was a valid life choice. When I was a teen, I was quiet and frumpy and hid in the corners, watching and collecting misfits. Now I jump into whatever situation scares me and live my life in such a way that I will always be able to tell great stories.

How does love in the real world compare to fictional love?
A wise man told me once: “The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” There are different kinds of love, and different kinds of pain, and the more you live, the more you discover. I’m still a work in progress.

If you truly had the power to change anything about the world, where would you start?
I would give everyone in the world a huge injection of self-confidence and a good night’s sleep. I honestly think this is the solution to World Peace.

What is the difference between reality and perception?
When I was a teen, one of the movie posters on the ceiling above my bed was Taking Care of Business. It had James Belushi surfing on the roof of a fancy car and the tagline: “You are who you pretend to be.” As a child actress, this line always spoke to me and, when I was brave enough, I lived the life I wanted instead of the life I felt that had been forced upon me. Bad things happen to everyone. Good things happen too. THAT is reality. Perception is what you choose to do with that.

What is truth?
That’s an easy one: ME! Truth is my first name. “Alethea” means “truth” in Greek. I was named after a character Jodie Foster played in an episode of the TV show Kung Fu — a little girl that bravely chose not to tell a lie. Trust me, it’s as much of a curse as it is a blessing!

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Smile Therapy

Having a big sister who married into the Movie Moghul family of Burlington, Vermont means that I’ve had almost unlimited access to free movie posters for the last thirty years. They covered my room growing up — all over my walls (Die Hard II, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade) and, much to my mother’s chagrin, all over my ceiling. I saw them every time I laid back to dream: Crybaby, Sidekicks (RIP Jonathan Brandis), Enemies A Love Story, Pure Luck, Twins, and Taking Care of Business. I hadn’t actually seen all of the films, but I loved the poster art. What drew me to Taking Care of Business was the tagline: You are who you pretend to be. It just had this amazing ring of truth about it.

In my twenties, after I moved to Tennessee, I started watching that show Ally McBeal, where Peter MacNicol’s character introduced the concept of “Smile Therapy.” It’s a real thing — studies have shown that if you force yourself to stand up straight and smile like an idiot, you’ll actually feel happier. Happy is as happy does, essentially. MacNicol had great fun with this on the show…but who says life can’t imitate art?

When I started girling-up — wearing dresses and makeup and acting the princess that I am today — I first thought about it as a costume. It was easier that way. I pretended going to work was like going to a convention — something I did all the time. I never hesitated a moment to walk out in four-inch corset boots or full Neil-Gaiman’s-Death makeup…how different was a skirt and some eyeliner?

I remember the first time I effectively took Smile Therapy on the road — it was the very first Hypericon. I was in the throes of exhaustion and only days from taking myself to the doctor (a rare occurrence, to be sure). In my bag I brought two sets of clothes: one set to wear if I just felt more horrible than horrible, and one set if I decided to be cute and act the part.

The jeans and t-shirts never saw the light of day, and I had one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

Several years later, at the same convention, I remember riding down to the lobby in the elevator on Sunday morning in my maroon halter-top dress and having someone ask me where I found the energy to be so consistently cute and amazing. That’s not to say that I never crashed — oh, I did and still do (especially after Dragon*Con) — but I just put on the attitude with the outfit. Call it Method Acting or Smile Therapy or whatever you will…it certainly does the job.

This all occurred to me last night, at part one-of-two of the Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers concert last night. (Last night they performed the Glassjaw Boxer album; tonight is The Bear.) Happily, one of my favorite songs is on Glassjaw Boxer — it’s called “In Front Of The World.” Stephen wrote the song for his little brother before he went off to college to impart some worldly wisdom (which, Stephen told us last night, his brother summarily ignored). The song starts out:

Well, it’s hard to live in front of the world.
There’s only so much that you can pretend.
Write down what it is you’re thinking.
Take each day as it comes.
You never know what’s hanging ‘round the bend…

I’ve been feeling a bit in the doldrums lately — I’ve had nothing but major changes in my life for almost nine months now, and the hits still keep on coming. Nothing particularly impossible, and plenty to look forward to, but every step has been pretty darned life-altering. Some days I feel like I’m drowning in a state of exhaustion from which I’ll never surface. Like last night, for instance. I broke out the big guns — curled hair, cute dress, Alice in Wonderland shoes. I ignored the rude people behind us who talked to their kids through most of the show (thank you for leaving before the encores), and when we were allowed to get up out of our seats and dance, I be-bopped my little heart out and sang (when I knew the words) with my Fairy Goddaughters until my voice got husky.

I felt cute and wonderful (and very warm) all night long, and I had a great time. But when Stephen sang the first verse of that song, the pathetic little me underneath all the Smile Armor perked her ears up and listened. It is hard to live in front of the world and, coincidentally, I keep an ongoing list of things I need to do beside me at all times. The only thing keeping me from marking things off that list is me (and timing the DMV so I don’t have to renew my car tags until August).

If I can put on the smile and go to a concert, I can certainly wake up in the morning, put on that same smile, and get my ass to work. I’m not one of those folks who “needs to be inspired” or “needs to find my Muse” — the Muse is in the momentum. But nothing started is nothing finished, and the less I get finished, the longer this pseudo-depression might last. You guys know me enough to know I’m not a big fan of that apathetic crap. I’m more of a “take each day as it comes” kind of girl. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Tomorrow there’s a Kontis-Mitchell family reunion (the Greek side). I haven’t been to one of our reunions (when they’ve occurred) in five or six years. I now live close enough to attend. It’s been so long since I’ve lived so close to family…I miss them all immensely. I can’t wait to see them all. But that’s tomorrow. For now, the sun’s rising, and today has come. We’ll take this one first. Happy Friday to you all. Smiles on, everybody!

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