I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to participate in the Dearest blog tour, hosted by Prism Book Tours. I had the pleasure of meeting Alethea Kontis, author of this book and the rest of the novels in the Woodcutter Sisters series, at BookCon last year, and I can honestly say that she’s just as sweet as she is talented. She’s known as Princess Alethea to her fans, and it’s easy to see why; in addition to the glittering face paint and sparkling tiara that she often wears, there’s a genuine kindness and generosity to Alethea that bring to mind the graceful, charming princesses found in fairy tales.
Alethea was kind enough to do an interview with me, talking about the fairy tales that inspired Dearest, describing the challenges of putting her own spin on a familiar story, and sharing her advice on how to retain a spirit of optimism in a crazy world. When you’re done reading the interview, make sure to check out the rest of the stops on the Dearest tour and enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win signed copies of the first three books in the Woodcutter Sisters series!
Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?
Interview with Alethea Kontis
Thanks so much for joining us today, Alethea! Tell us about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?
I am the three things I always put in my bios: Princess. Fairy Godmother. Geek. I am a nerd who likes to dress in costume, and I find magic everywhere that I go. It’s a beautiful life–my goal is to put even more wonderful things out into the universe.
Summarize Dearest in one sentence.
A generous seamstress with a heart as big as the moon finds destiny and adventure in a cursed flock of swans hiding at the top of her sister’s palace.
Dearest is based in part on “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Andersen and “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm. How are both of these tales referenced in Dearest?
I reread “The Wild Swans” again before I started writing Dearest — it’s amazing how much detail that story goes into. Elisa has 11 brothers who are cursed into swans by a wicked sorceress stepmother who quickly turns the king’s heart against his children. She also tries to curse Elisa, but her heart is so pure that the sorceress is forced to make Elisa physically ugly to serve her purpose. Elisa encounters an old woman in the forest who tells her exactly how to break the curse–she must weave eleven shirts from the nettles that grow in the graveyard, and she must not speak a word while she’s doing this–if she did, her brothers would die. In the meantime, she’s discovered by another king and taken to be his wife. But the archbishop sees her lurking in graveyards, condemns her as a witch, and condemned her to burn at the stake. As she is being marched to her execution, she throws 10.5 shirts over her brothers (for that’s all she’s had time to make) and they turn back into her brothers, though the youngest still has a wing instead of an arm.
Elisa was introduced in Enchanted as a mousy orphan girl named Rampion (another word for “Rapunzel”). The cook thinks Rampion is mute, but it’s because of the curse. Rampion cannot figure out how to weave shirts out of nettles…she’s tried before and failed miserably. Who better than Friday, the seamstress-sister of the Woodcutter clan, to help her out? I loved how everything just fell into place, once I started retelling “The Wild Swans” in Arilland. As for the shirts and the brothers becoming human again…well, you’ll just have to read Dearest to find out how that turns out in my version.
“The Goose Girl”…goodness, I could go on about that one forever. Suffice it to say that I stole Conrad straight from “The Goose Girl” (Conrad makes his first appearance in Hero), and he’s one of my very favorite characters in this series. There’s also an element of wind magic in “The Goose Girl” that I wove into Dearest, which makes all sorts of sense when one is working with swans.
You’ve said that “The Goose Girl” is your favorite fairy tale. What draws you to this story in particular? (Note: If you’re not familiar with the story of “The Goose Girl,” Alethea provides an entertaining summary in this Fairy Tale Rant. She also does a rant of “The Wild Swans” that I recommend as well!)
I love that the princess in this story is not just a princess, she’s also the daughter of a sorceress. I love that Falada (the talking horse) doesn’t die after the evil maid has her head cut off, and she speaks to the princess every morning as she goes to tend the geese. I love that the princess keeps her word, despite the fact that she could probably out the evil maid in a second. I love that Conrad is a clever boy who can see magic and has no qualms about walking right up to the king and telling him something is fishy. I love that when the equally-clever king finds out about the maid switching places with the princess, he asks the maid at dinner how she would deal with a similar betrayal and she unwittingly decides her own (pretty nasty) fate.
I have loved many fairy tales over the years, and I am appreciating more of them now that I am older and using them as essentially the history of my book series…but “The Goose Girl” will always be my favorite.
What is the most challenging aspect of blending well-known fairy tales with a story of your own? How do you choose which elements of the original tale to include and which to omit?
I suppose the most challenging part is knowing that I can’t remember all of every single one of the Grimm and Andersen and Lang fairy tales (which is one of the reasons I started Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants on YouTube). But when I think of how the Woodcutter family might have shaped the fairy tales we know and love today–it’s kind of like telling Fairy Tale Origin Stories, but with my own characters, in my own world. I use as much of the “base note” fairy tale as I can (in Dearest‘s case, “The Wild Swans”) and the things I’m forced to leave out (like Falada) I can always use later, in some other way. There are so many common elements across so many fairy stories…it’s fascinating how they all just sort of come together.
Some of today’s most beloved fairy tales have been around for centuries. What is it that has allowed them to stand the test of time?
Oh my, that’s a question for someone much older and wiser than me. Jack Zipes and J. R. R. Tolkien and even Andrew Lang himself have all attempted to answer this question. Commercially, fairy tale ventures have always been successful because of their familiarity. But what fairy stories have really stood the test of time in the 21st century? Most kids today only know Disney, not the written tales, and nursery rhymes are sung less and less at children’s bedsides. Even more complicating are the Disney “retellings” like Cinderella and Maleficent, which use the Disney fairy tale as the origin story, and not Grimm or Perrault at all. I worry for the fate of a planet that knows no true Grimm fairy tales–I hope my series encourages readers to seek them out.
Have other authors’ fairy tale retellings influenced your own writing in any way?
Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Deerskin are two of the most amazing retellings of all time. Those books let me know that it was possible to retell a fairy tale in a spectacular and engaging way. Similarly, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones played with fairy tale tropes in such a way that I knew I wanted to do the same.
Friday, the protagonist in Dearest, maintains a spirit of grace, kindness, and optimism in the face of all kinds of obstacles, including floods and curses. What do you think the secret is to maintaining this kind of positivity and grace in the real world?
I became an optimist as a teenager because of two things: my best friend Casey, and Voltaire. Casey was (and still is) a tiny blonde with a sunny disposition that even the darkest night can not dispel. She was a friend to everyone and the epitome of happiness–in all of my stories, she was First Princess. I was far more jaded back then, a shadow to her light. And then we read Candide in Mr. Stafford’s AP European History class, and I had a whole new perspective on optimism. Instead of siding with Voltaire, I sided with Casey. If my life is what I make it, then I choose to be a being of light. It is difficult these days, especially when optimists are a dying breed, but I hold out hope for a brighter future. (Which is pretty much what we do anyway, by definition.)
In Enchanted, the first book in the Woodcutter Sisters series, Prince Rumbold is turned into a frog, and in Dearest, Tristan and his brothers are cursed to spend their days as swans. If you had to pass your days in the form of an animal, which animal would you prefer to be and why?
In college, my major was Chemistry, with a concentration in Marine Science…possibly because one of my favorite books as a kid was Deep Wizardry, in the So You Want to Be a Wizard series by Diane Duane. In that book, the children get transformed into sea creatures and have to take part in a very important ritual to save the ocean. So…the chance to be anything with fins that gets to swim around in this magical world right here on our planet that we still know so little about? Count me in.
In addition to the Woodcutter Sisters series and your other novels, you’ve also written picture books, short stories, essays, and poems. Which form do you find the easiest to write? The hardest?
Writing is rarely easy. Every single book or short story or poem or essay requires a significant amount of Butt in Chair. Once I force myself to sit down and do my homework, however, I remember just how much I love school.
You were a student of well-known authors Andre Norton and Orson Scott Card. What’s the most important lesson you learned from them?
They taught me that authors are just people too. This may seem like such a silly lesson to learn, but the pedestal we often place authors on is incredibly high. These amazing people taught me that the only difference between us was simply an unprecedented amount of that aforementioned Butt in Chair. Miss Andre invited me to come back and work in her library. Scott looked at me and said, “Just write the book.” Such simple things…but moments that prodded me to start this amazing journey.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve come to the decision that the New York publishing machine takes too much time to turn, so I’m conquering the world of self-publishing. It’s time for me to take all these ideas–and all those years of working behind the scenes in the publishing industry (almost 20 years!)–and put them to work.
In the next six months, I will be publishing Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome (another illustrated collaboration with artist Janet K. Lee), Trixter (a Woodcutter novella), and a trilogy of short contemporary romance novels set in a small beach town in central Florida. I’m very excited about all of them!
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Alethea! It’s been great getting to know you better!
About Alethea Kontis
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a fairy godmother, and a geek. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, and ranting about fairy tales on YouTube.
Her published works include: The Wonderland Alphabet(with Janet K. Lee), Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome (with Janet K. Lee), the AlphaOops series (with Bob Kolar), the Woodcutter Sisters fairy tale series, andThe Dark-Hunter Companion (with Sherrilyn Kenyon). Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines.
Her YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012 and the Garden State Teen Book Award i 2015. Enchanted was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award.
Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives and writes in Florida, on the Space Coast. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie. You can find Princess Alethea online at: www.aletheakontis.com.
Want to meet Alethea in person? Check out her Road Tour HERE!
Enter here for an opportunity to win autographed copies of Enchanted, Hero, and Dearest!