A is for Princess: An Interview

I met Alethea Kontis (who I hereby nominate to play one of the princesses if they make Jim Hines’ books into movies) almost a year and a half ago. I’ve maybe spent two hours, total, in her presence. She is also one of the most awesome people I’ve ever met. (You have no idea how much being in her “Year of Steves” made my day…)

Today marks the release of the second AlphaOops book – AlphaOops: H is for Halloween. (The first one, you might remember, is AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First.) Oh, sure, you’ve probably already seen her Big Idea post on Whatever, but you know you want to know more, right?

(You do.  If you ever get the chance to meet Alethea, you will always want to know more.  I am not joking.  Go read  Beauty & Dynamite, and you’ll get the smallest taste of what I mean.)

What’s the story of H is for Halloween?

Previously, on AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, Z decided to stage a coup (on stage) and start the alphabet backwards…until revolutionary P jumped in to represent the oft-forgotten middle of the pack. More wackiness ensued until A’s finale…who had so much time to prepare she stole the show.

In H is for Halloween, A is more prepared to present things outside the box–especially when it’s curtain call and she’s still in her dressing room. “Halloween” does begin with only one letter…if H gets top billing, A points out, it should be her show. And so begins the race for the alphabet players to show off their costumes. What will X choose? Who gets an encore? Who gets denied the spotlight? And will B be able to find a costume someone else hasn’t thought of first? Find out in this thrilling sequel!

(okay, so maybe I’ve watched a bit too much TV lately.)

What led you to write the Alpha-Oops books?

When I was young and bored one day (circa 1988), my mother told me to write her a new fairy tale. It was my first taste of taking something already established and putting my own spin on it. At Orson Scott Card’s Boot Camp in 2003, Scott pointed out to us that writers under pressure often come up with character names that start with A, because that’s how our brain files things. In my continuing effort to be weird and different, I decided I should train my brain to think differently. Starting with Z was too obvious and alternative. What about P? And who asked the alphabet what order it wanted to be in anyway?

The first page sprang perfectly into my mind, much like Athena springing fully-formed from Zeus’s head. Eight hours later, I had a story.

Do you have a favorite children’s book?

I’m pretty sure I learned my alphabet in the womb. I don’t actually remember a time when I couldn’t read. I was a book junkie by the age of five. I have a TON of favorite children’s books — many of which I’m making an effort to remember and review in a section of my blog called “Books On the Bed.” Especially the great obscure stuff few people remember, like Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, They Call Me Boober Fraggle, Nunga Punga and the Booch, and Ellen Raskin’s The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.

My favorite “read-aloud” book I always bring with me to appearances and often read in conjunction with AlphaOops, if time allows. It’s called The Monster at the End of This Book. Yes, the one with Grover. Grover was always cooler than Elmo. And this book is the best read-aloud EVER. If you don’t get a request for an encore, you’re not reading it right.

What’s it like working on this book (do you know the artist, etc)?

Working on a children’s picture book was like nothing I could imagine. I had to learn a whole new skill set. I’ve heard that it’s a lot like writing comic books, actually, which is cool–who doesn’t want to write comics??

I’ve still never met Bob Kolar in person. The publisher didn’t even give me his email address until the book was in print. But Candlewick knew he was the man for the job right away, and I didn’t question them. Thank goodness. The man is a GOD. Have you seen this book?

Here’s how it went down: Candlewick (the editor, art director, etc.) took my manuscript and gave it to Bob. He came back with “sketches” (that looked so much like a finished book I almost fainted). After Candlewick put in their two cents, the sketches came to me. I returned my edits and thoughts — which Candlewick edited further before they got back to Bob. (I was always gushingly complimentary of Bob’s work, but until he got the email from the Princess’s mouth, he was never really sure if it was genuine.) And so on and so on it went, for roughly a year, until there were no more edits to make.

As long as everyone is okay with the Publisher being the Power That Is in this equation, it works swimmingly. It also avoids personal conflicts between the artist and the author (which has been known to happen).

Did you already have this idea when you wrote the first one?

I did not. But a few pages/gags were firmly in my mind. I knew that B was going to have trouble finding a unique costume, I knew that X was going to need some help, and I knew that the jack-o’lantern was going to be jilted by J (J picked Jack in the first book).

The most difficult part was sitting down, writing out the alphabet, and deciding what each letter was going to stand for (dress up as). The original manuscript also included a few jokes that referred back to the original book, but the publisher decided that it was important for H is for Halloween to stand on its own. Having spent a year or so on the editing process with them (picture books take a long time!), I wholeheartedly agree.

If you could be any superhero, who would you be & why? (I always ask that one).

I always ask this question in my interviews too. Since I am a superhero (The Incredible Whirlwind of Beauty & Dynamite), what I really want is the ultimate superpower — power over gravity. Think about it — gravity aversely affects us all. We grow old. We can’t fly. Our clothes have wrinkles. Our hair won’t stay curly (or won’t stay straight). Our shoes wear out, and we have flat feet and bad backs. I could fix ALL of this! I’m just waiting for it to kick in. Come on, evolution…

What superpowers do I already have? I’m glad you asked. Most notably is my contagious enthusiasm. (The flip side of this is contagious sadness…beware. Keep me happy.) More subtly is something my family calls “The Greek Foot”: whenever I walk into a restaurant, no matter what time of day or how empty it is, within ten minutes there is a line. (Dad is still trying to figure out a way to market this particular trait.) Oh, and I make the best baklava. Seriously. Like, ever.

Go pick up your copy of AlphaOops: H is for Halloween and AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First today!

2 thoughts on “A is for Princess: An Interview

  1. "The greatest gift that a student can give to a master is to surpass that master's skill." Alethea DOES make the BEST baklava!

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