Alethea Kontis, Princess of the World

I was born an old soul, hyperaware of my own mortality and convinced that true happiness was possibly the hardest thing in the world for anyone to achieve. My earliest memory is me, at four, sitting on the toilet in our small house in Vermont, staring at the 70’s era burgundy and orange wallpaper and thinking, “Great. This is probably going to be my earliest memory.”

I took my time deciding what it was I wanted to be when I grew up because it wasn’t just a passing flight of fancy for me, it was an honest-to-god career decision. The first thing I knew was that I could never be a doctor or veterinarian, because I was too emotionally sensitive to handle the death of a patient. (As a result, I considered “playing doctor” and books about horses a complete and utter waste of my childhood.)

I dabbled in acting at North Springs Elementary school-thanks to our amazing music teacher with an amazing vision, Linda Hall. I had my first part in a major production when I was six-going-on-seven. I played Marcie in “We’re all Stars, Charlie Brown,” and I sang a duet with Pig Pen. Acting was fun. A bit scary…but fun. That was certainly a possibility.

At the ripe old age of eight, I was assigned to write a poem for my 4th grade ALERT unit. It was an octet in almost perfect rhyming verse entitled “Friendship.” I looked at the lines in my notebook, scrawled in my young, round hand, and the world just clicked. I KNEW that I wanted to be a writer.

I wrote and wrote and wrote…stories, poems, greeting cards, pamphlets on why you shouldn’t do drugs…all kinds of stuff. Anything. Everywhere. I read every book I could get my hands on. But I only ever did passably well in English. I never placed in the story competitions in school. I never got into Governor’s School for the Arts.

Ironically enough, my brand of crap was still constantly sought after by friends and family. So I kept on writing for their amusement…and mine.

I was approached after a performance of “Showboat” at a local community theatre by someone from South Carolina Educational Television. They wanted me to come in and read for a part…which I did…and I was hired to star in an earth-loving PBS miniseries called “Pass it Along.”

I told my parents, if the writing thing didn’t pan out, I could always be an actress.

They were speechless. Writing and acting were not careers, they said. They were hobbies. At which point I informed them that I wanted to be a professional hobbyist. It did not go over well.

Since I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted with my life, I decided to do what I was good at. (Trouble was, I was good at a lot of things.) So I took my time having a blast with my friends in high school, spent as little time as possible in college, and graduated with a degree in Chemistry.

Right after that, my father called in a favor to a friend who worked at South Carolina Electric and Gas and I went one afternoon to look at their labs. I took one step into the clean, white-walled rooms full of neat people in white lab coats and thought: I wonder how long it would take before I snuck in at night and painted the walls rainbow colors…

I went out the next day and got a job at the bookstore in the mall.

I’ve had other kinds of jobs over the past ten years – many of them at the same time – but I’ve never strayed too far from books. I followed my parents to Tennessee and got a job at the Smyrna Public Library. And right before I drained my savings account dry as a result of living for a year and a half below the poverty level, I lucked out and got a job as a buyer at Ingram Book Company. I still did copyediting, book reviews and interviews – anything I could get my hands on. I kept writing, because I loved it.

As a hobby, of course.

There are two checks framed in my library at home. One was the check I received when I was eight for my work on “Pass it Along.” The second I received eighteen years later from Candlewick Press — the first half of the advance for my picture book AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First. I think my degree is at the bottom of a box in the attic. I take a perverse sort of pleasure in the fact that I never earned a dime as a scientist.

The interesting side to my lack of formal education in the arts is that I have no concept of boundaries. Nothing is impossible. Anything goes. I don’t just think outside the box, I sit outside the box and use it as an ashtray. I want to do everything. And I’m working on it.

What is on the horizon for me? Well, I might care if I were interested in the horizon. My happiness lies in finding out what’s beyond it.