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The Spirograph Obsession

My fellow Coedxian, author Elaine Isaak, sent me a tweet yesterday asking about my “recent obsession with Spirograph.” I thought perhaps this deserved a better-than-140-character explanation.

It was Memere who had the Spirograph at her house — we might have owned one, but I don’t ever remember playing with it at home. Only ever at Memere’s house.

There were a few activites particular to Memere’s: Strawberry picking and making fresh daiquiris from the fruits of our labor (virgin daiquiris, of course–it wasn’t en vogue to call them “smoothies” back then). Eating Bugles with ranch dip and watching the Miss America Pageant. Sneaking into the blue room and thieving candies out of the pretty dishes there and not getting caught. Sledding down the mountainside backyard. And walking to the Morse Farm Sugar Shack, of course.

Memere (or “Gram,” as we often call her) eventually had a pool installed in the back yard, but by then we were too old to summer in Vermont anymore. No, what Soteria and I loved as girls was the large bureau in the guest bedroom whose drawers were full of games and toys and pens and paper. One of those “games” was Spirograph.

Soteria and I, both artisically-minded young girls (as most young girls are, though ours never wore off) would spend HOURS bent over circles and cams with pens of all colors, desperately attempting to recreate the gorgeous designs in the booklet. As with most art projects, Spirograph took a steady and careful hand, and huge amounts of patience. Eventually that patience would wear thin, or it would be time for dinner, and the projects would be packed up in the box and filed away in th drawer to be met again on another vacation.

I wonder what happened to all those games and things when Memere sold her house and moved to the condo. I hope whatever child got it treasured the magic in those ovoid bits of plastic (if not out myriad attempts at achieving perfection).

Every so often, a conversationĀ  about the Spirograph pops up between Soteria and me–especially now that Memere is in hospice with Alzheimers and we try to remember older, better, more lucid times. Inevitably, Soteria’s in the shop and I’m at work, and the idea never gets scribbled down on paper as a quirky Christmas gift item. And so it goes, for months and years.

So yesterday, when I saw someone post a picture of the Spirograph on Fecebook, it was a simple enough thing to repost. And then, as happens with social networking, it exploded. Everyone shared links and memories. My friend Mandi even shared some Spirographing she’d done with her niece!

I thought it would be a fun game to give swag away to anyone who comes to me at a signing orĀ  convention appearance and gives me a spirograph cam or circle. I’d love to have a huge collection I can bring back to the Afterschool program next year!

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Writing on This Deck Would Never Get Old

I certainly can’t complain about the scenery. Or the peace and quiet.

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Wedding Day

Today’s the day! Wish me luck with the family and the insanity. And wish my niece Alana luck–she’s the one getting herself into this.

Heading out to Morrisville this morning–not sure if I will have phone & internet service or not. But I will have a black raspberry creamy and a trip to the Bijou, for sure.

Have a great Saturday, everyone! Xox

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In Which the Princess Comes Home

I am in Vermont this weekend for my niece’s wedding. It is good to be home again in my green mountains where the air just smells better than the rest of the world.

Of course, it’s still a wedding. Which means drama. I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

In the meantime, please enjoy the guest blog post I did today for Jim C. Hines! Alethea Kontis, 21st Century Princess: http://bit.ly/pO3HOp

Once a princess, always a princess…

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Inglorious Moments

I got out of my Meeting Marathon at work last night just in time to hightail it to the lovely Malco theatre we have here in Smyrna, Tennessee. I missed all the trailers, but I didn’t miss a second of Inglorious Basterds.

Quentin Tarantino is the movie geek’s movie geek. I was raised at the movie theatre (literally, as my big sister dated the son of the local movie mogul — they now own The Bijou in Morrisville VT), dated a film student in college (earning me my first credit on IMDB), and managed a movie theatre of my own (the Movies at Polo in Columbia, SC – 1991-1998), so I definitely qualify for Movie Geek status. While I’m not big into violence, I fully appreciate Tarantino’s dialogue and sense of drama. So when I heard Inglorious Basterds was phenomenal, I dropped everything and saw it immediately.

The film was indeed amazing. Christoph Waltz steals the show. That’s all the review I’m going to give. Go see it or not; you may love it or hate it — that’s not for me to decide. But the best part of my movie-watching experience is something you won’t get anywhere else…and that’s what I’m here to share with you.

The film is set in Nazi-occupied France and most of the dialogue is either French or German (I’d guess about 75% of the film is subtitled). Accents are a minor deal — there is mention more than once of a character’s accent betraying their origin.

Now, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’re familiar with the horrendously awesome accent of Brad Pitt’s character Aldo "The Apache" Raine. Early in the film he mentions that he hails from the Smokies — I placed his accent as mountain region North Carolina and didn’t think anything else about it. (Troy aside, Brad Pitt is fairy wonderful at accents — his performance in Snatch being one of my favorites.) Closer to the end of the film, he mentions he’s from a small town in East Tennessee. (The name of which eludes me now — shout out if you know it.) The 10 or 15 of us watching in Smyrna giggled at the prospect, but one incredulous woman in the back exclaimed, in an honest-to-god Tennessee accent: "YER KIDDIN‘!"

Everybody in the theatre cracked up. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.

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PS: This is what the world outside looked like when I left the theatre. I felt like I had walked right into a painting. We have really had the most amazing skies this summer.

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Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!!!

I have declared today Only Good News Day. Next up in our series of happiness:

My most excellent parents were married 36 years ago today in a Greek Orthodox church in Vermont, with my father still drunk on ouzo from the night before (thank my godfather for that one). The legend became just one of the many amazing stories my family tells as we live our interesting life.

Two months and two days after their marriage, Mom & Dad sat down to watch the new episode of Kung Fu. It starred a young Jodie Foster playing a little girl named Alethea Ingram…and fate waved her magic wand.

Dad’s caught up in work (and a big fishing trip) this week, and can’t be with Mom for their anniversary, so she’s coming to visit me. Hooray! And we shall celebrate.

Love you guys!!! xoxox


I’ve told Mom she can quit looking like me aaaaany day now.

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The Godfather

As some of you may not know, my esteemed Godfather is Nectar Rorris, founder and former owner of the world famous Nectar’s Restaurant in Burlington, Vermont where the band Phish got their big break. In honor of that–and in honor of The Best French Fries With Gravy in the World–Phish named their fifth studio album "A Picture of Nectar." The man’s face on the orange is, indeed, my godfather — the man who introduced my parents…and got my father so drunk on ouzo the night before his wedding that he had to leave the service three times to be sick.


The spinning sign was made a historical monument so that it could
remain standing after a downtown sign ordinance was passed.

Several years ago, Burlington declared January 27th to be Nectar Rorris Day. (You see what I have to live up to!?!)  In honor of this special occasion, I urge you to have some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cabot cheese, and maple syrup. (Hopefully not all at the same time.)

I hope you all have a groovy day!

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Anxiety Says What?


Anxiety dreams are born with us; they grow and evolve with us and take on many different shades. What scared us then doesn’t scare us now, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s not so much fear as it is general preoccupation, some deep-seeded nagging thing we’ve shoved to the bottom of our mental priority list for so long that its found a back door through our subconscious.

This month ten years ago, the two dreams duking it out over King of the Brain were the Evacuation Dream, and the Vermont Dream. In the Evacuation Dream, I was for some reason (fire, mafia, pitchfork-bearing mob) forced to leave my apartment/bedroom and had to immediately decide what was most important in my life and how I was going to carry it. (The only item that made the cut every time was my teddy bear, Charlie.) I had most of these directly before and after I moved from South Carolina to Tennessee…it’s not hard to figure out what sparked those.

The Vermont Dream had been haunting me for rather longer — in it, I was always trying to get to Burlington. Sometimes I was already in Burlington and trying to get to Nectar’s (my godfather’s restaurant) and couldn’t get there. Sometimes I even got there, but never saw Nectar. Whatever the goal, it was always unfulfilled, and it was always Vermont.

I was born in South Burlington, lived at 700 Spear Street for six amazing years, and I will always consider Vermont my Home. When I was a kid, we’d go back to visit ever summer. As an adult, I had gone to Morrisville to help my sister and brother open the Bijou 4 in the summer of 1994…and then didn’t return for almost six years. When I did, I stopped having the dreams.

Last night was a variation on the Vermont Dream…of sorts. It’s only been a couple of years now since I’ve visited but I still miss it–a few weeks ago Cherie sent me a postcard of all the leaves in full autumn color. I pinned it to the middle of my bulletin board over the phone so I could see it every morning when I woke up.

So last night I was on my way to weekend in Vermont. I arrived at the airport because I knew I had a flight leaving and wanted to check the time. (As I was walking to the counter I heard Nick Mamatas in my head chiding me for not just calling first, but I really do prefer doing things in person.) And good thing I did — my flight was scheduled to leave at 11am, connecting through Kensington (both one of my publishers and a district inLondon; the former made more sense for a connecting flight to Burlington). It was just after 10am, and our plane had twelve planes taking off in front of it. I was right on time.

Only…I didn’t have any luggage. That’s right: no bag, no clothes, no toiletries, just the shirt on my back and the keys to my car. No cell phone either, which actually bothered me more than the lack of clothes. In fact, the lack of luggage didn’t bother me at all. I could just buy a few things when I got there. And really, Cherie had the internet on her home computer — I could drop a quick email to my friends mentioning my lack of phone, and Cherie’s contact information.

A plane was disembarking at the time, and who should get off but my lovely, award-winning friend Mary Robinette Kowal (who runs into everyone while traveling). Though for some reason she had chosen to use a thick layer of pearlescent white makeup on her face that morning, making her already fair skin look lifeless and dead. She remembered that I was going to Vermont, and sat with me while I told her my ridiculous story. I imagine she’s used to the Crazy Antics of Lee by now…and so am I.

That’s the point, wasn’t it? Sure, I missed my phone and felt silly about having no clothes, but in the grand scheme of things it really didn’t matter. Life threw insanity at me — dream-level insanity — and I didn’t scoff. I didn’t worry. I was a little annoyed, sure, but it made a great story. And, most importantly, I was still catching that plane to Vermont.

I love that "the usual" in my life is dream-level insanity. I love that I revel in the ridiculous for the completely selfish opportunity of turning it into a story. I love that no matter how out-of-reach I happen to be, I will always find my friends with me. Most of all, I love that a dream which should have been a nightmare only left me feeling better about myself in the morning. I do not scare; I adapt, and steal.

Well, okay. Mary’s dead-face makeup did scare me quite a bit.
*shiver*
But I’m sure I can use that in a story some day too.

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Genre Chick Interview: Luc Reid

This month, Genre Chick Alethea Kontis gets past the nerd gate of subculture slang and learns to grok everything from Basic Faire Accent to Ciazarn. Our professor today is Luc Reid, award-winning author of the chunky, entertaining reference book Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures.

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Alethea Kontis: How long did it take to write Talk the Talk?

Luc Reid: I spent a very busy 10 months writing Talk the Talk. Some days, I lived, breathed, ate, and dreamed subculture slang, and since I worked on only one subculture at a time, it was a strange kind of immersion in one fresh take on one world after another. I think my friends noticed mostly that I started using weird words and phrases, excitedly pointing out social nerd gates and telling them to keep the shiny side up.

AK: How did you write it?

LR: I wrote the book the same way I do everything: with a database. I have to say I love to find ways to organize information. Of course, I knew I’d need to eventually alphabetize and note synonyms and cross-reference and index the book, so I decided to take the most organized approach I could and built myself a database system for it. I built up the terms one at a time on one computer screen, working from reams of electronic notes on another computer screen. I think without the database, I would have been buried in information. Actually, even with the database, I was buried in information. In terms of gathering the information, I read books and talked with people in the different subcultures I was covering, but the real whoosh generator was the Internet. Web sites for different subcultures, discussion groups… 10 years ago– even five years ago–it wouldn’t have been possible to write this book in such a short amount of time.

AK: Why did you write it?

LR: I wrote Talk the Talk for primarily selfish reasons. I love experiencing things that are new or strange or that give me a different perspective. Digging into these subcultures, I got to experience 65 different vantage points on life, or at least parts of life. And of course as I learned about these things, I wanted to share the information, because when I really get interested in something, the only way to shut me up is to put me at a keyboard. These are the reasons I was so enthusiastic about writing the book in the first place.

In practical terms, it happened this way: my agent, the lovely and talented Nadia Cornier, was having lunch with an editor from Writer’s Digest Books. The editor mentioned that they were looking for “weird reference books” for writers, and the phrase “weird reference books” seems to have immediately brought me to Nadia’s mind. For those who know me, this won’t be surprising.

She asked me if I had an idea to pitch, and the next thing I knew, I was on the show.

AK: Are you, or have you ever been, a member of any of these subcultures?

LR: Oh, absolutely: I’m a coder (meaning a programmer), and I webify things for a living when I’m not writing books. Although I don’t have much experience with cons (science fiction conventions), I’ve loved Science Fiction and Fantasy for years, so I grok fen. I’ve bagged a few peaks (hiking), ridden some hydraulics (rafting), hacked and slashed through dungeon crawls (in role-playing games), gone dry while off book (acting), celebrated the odd Sabbat (with witches and pagans), and once helped found a consensus-based intentional community (with other sustainability advocates). Actually, now that I look at it, I’m surprised by how many of these subcultures I really belong to–and I’ve probably missed a couple.

AK: Did you go undercover for any of these sections?

LR: Well, there was this one incident when I was trying to finish up the skydivers section and the beekeepers section at the same time and …

Actually, no. The research was fascinating in terms of information, but not in terms of methods. Even for sections like the one on prostitution, it was largely conducted through e-mail (thanks, Norma Jean!) and on the Web. Most of the subcultures couldn’t be researched well in books because their slang isn’t often written, but I did find some key pieces of the puzzle for both the con artists section and the politicos section at the library.

AK: As a writer, what are your favorite/most used reference books?

LR: Well, I have a great thesaurus that’s organized dictionary-style, called The Synonym Finder, by J.I. Rodale. Even with the online thesauruses that are available, I’m much more likely to find the exact right word in that book than anywhere else. I have a 40-year-old rhyming dictionary that begins with some awful advice about writing poetry and then provides a tremendous means of getting verse to work. I don’t need it often, but when I do, it’s a major boon. I also have a deep and abiding love for the Oxford English DIctionary although I don’t yet own it, so in a pinch I rely on my local library.

Apart from that, most of my reference books have been replaced by the Internet, especially by Google Earth, Wikipedia, and Google’s “define:” feature. As an information addict, the Internet satisfies a deeply felt need for me, which is to know absolutely everything, right now. I’m doing my best to add to the amount of information on the Web, too. I’ve started populating the Talk the Talk Web site, www.subculturetalk.com, with information that didn’t fit into the book, and am launching a set of subculture forums there.

AK: What were some of the most interesting things you found? Surprising? Scariest?

LR: I was surprised at how much more interesting language was in smaller subcultures than in larger ones. The larger subcultures had a huge number of terms, but those terms tended to be for more usual concepts, sometimes a lot of them for the same idea. For instance, drug users may be hopped up, wasted, blasted, loaded; however, smaller, quirkier subcultures had terms for concepts I’d never thought of before. I’ve already mentioned one of my favorites, “nerd gate,” which is an obstacle just difficult enough to filter out people who aren’t serious about what they’re doing. In professional wrestling, there’s the word “smark,” which can either mean someone who thinks they know what’s real in pro wrestling but doesn’t, or someone who does know what’s real in pro wrestling, but pretends not to.

And then there are the terms that help convey the mindset of the subculture with great economy. For instance, puppeteers talk about “wiggling the dollies,” which is so uncomplimentary that it immediately gave me a feeling of what it’s like to work in an art form that often gets lumped in the same category as making balloon animals. Model rocketeers have great, evocative terms for rocket malfunctions, like “power prang” and “land shark,” that convey a sense of being able to take joy even when things go wrong–especially if they go spectacularly wrong. Well, that list goes on and on. Actually, despite the fact that my editor had to go to bat for me to get approval for the book to be longer than immediately planned, I cut back mercilessly on the material I had developed for the book, just to squeeze it into the available space. The up side of this was that I was able to concentrate on only the most compelling terms.

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