the Little Red Reviewer

alethea-lumos-2New York Times and USA Today 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 YA novels have won two Gelett Burgess Awards, and she’s twice been nominated for the Andre Norton award. She’s the author of  Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, the AlphaOops series, the ongoing Arilland Fairy Tale series, and her short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Shimmer Magazine, Shroud Magazine, and various anthologies.

Alethea’s newest novel is Haven, Kansas.  She was kind enough to let me in on all the behind the scenes secrets of how this accidentally humorous and on-purpose scary horror novel came about,  her Traveling Sideshow,  how she scored such beautiful cover art for this newest novel, and more. Learn more about Alethea at her website AletheaKontis.com, her Patreon site, or follow her on twitter @AletheaKontis.

And Alethea? If you’d like to place your next novel in Hell, here you go. While she’s brainstorming on that plot, let’s the rest of us enjoy this fantastic interview!

Little Red Reviewer: Haven, Kansas is first and foremost a horror story, but it’s also very humorous! Did you set out from the start to include funny lines, or did they just grow with the story as you were writing? What’s the trick to successfully mixing humor and horror?

Alethea Kontis: I’ve been writing regularly—and submitting for publication—since I was eight years old. Due to a genius-level aptitude for math and science (because: irony), I did not take a formal class on fiction writing until I was 27 (Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp). One of the things I learned in that class was, “Humor sells. But it is almost impossible to write, and write well, so just don’t do it.” So I didn’t do it. I didn’t even try. I wrote dialogue I felt was real, and true to my characters, and I moved on.

haven-kansasAnd then I started hearing back from readers. I mean, beyond the AlphaOops books, because they were supposed to be funny….but like, I remember one of the first reviewers for Dearest said how it was the most romantic and funniest novel I had ever written, and I was shocked. Really? Romantic, yes, but I didn’t write it to be funny! I just created a world that included seven brothers who talked smack to each other, like every bunch of guys I’ve ever hung out with. I felt much the same way when I started getting feedback about the humor in Haven, Kansas. Humor and horror? Who does that? But I’m one of those crazy people who will cry all the way up to a funeral and then almost burst out laughing in the middle of the ceremony. Humor and hurt and fear and love…they’re all feelings—true feelings—that we all feel, whether we have control over them or not.

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nos4a2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

published 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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Let’s get the crux of this novel out of the way right away:  Charles Manx is one creepy motherfucker.  Driving across the country in his Rolls Royce, he promises to take good little boys and girls to Christmasland where they will always be happy and every day is Christmas morning. Manx’s henchman Bing gets to take care of the mothers.

And then there’s Victoria McQueen. She is hella awesome. And unusually talented at finding lost things.  She can hop on her bike, travel across a rickety magical bridge, and find herself wherever she needs to be to find the lost item.  Her parents are half convinced she’s been stealing trinkets all this time and “magically” finding them as a way to get attention.  One day she hops on her bike angry, looking to find some trouble. She finds Charlie Manx instead.

At seventeen years old, Vic becomes the only child to ever escape Charlie Manx. She hopped on her bicycle in Massachusetts, and was found terrified and babbling days later in Colorado. Knowing  no one would ever believe her story about a magical bridge, she lied to the authorities and said she’d spent two days locked in the trunk of Manx’s car.

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Did you know the Apex Magazine Subscription drive is going on right now?  More subscribers means more fiction for you, and a higher pay rate for the authors who create all that amazing fiction.

To send some happy attention towards the Apex Mag subscription drive, here’s an Apex Magazine crossword.   85% of the answers to the crossword can be found at the Apex Magazine back issue site,  15% can be found on the Apex Publications site, and 15% are just random words I used to make the puzzle (mostly) work.  Put an answer or two in the comments and I’ll enter you in my international give away for a subscription to Apex Mag.  You can read the magazine on your kindle, nook, smartphone, tablet, and probably some other gizmos I’m not even aware of.

 

 

apex-crossword(click to embiggen)

 

Rules for the Apex Magazine 1 year subscription give away:

  1. you need to reside on planet earth
  2. you need to be interested in short fiction that is surreal, shocking, and unexpected
  3. you need to put an answer to one of the crossword clues in the comments. You need to comment that you’d like to be entered into the give away. Putting a puzzle clue answer in the comments is cool too, but not required to enter.

I’ll randomly choose a winner from the comments on November 7th.  When commenting, please leave your e-mail, twitter, or some method by which I can read you.

ready? GO!

Across
1. March Bear story
5. Author ____ Pletsch
8. Poem by John Yu Brascum

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As many of you know, I’m a non-fiction contributor at Apex Magazine. I  interview authors, and occasionally do some other fun stuff. If you’re a spec fic reader who is always looking for something a little weird, a little different, something unexpected, Apex Magazine is for you!  Jason and Lesley get this incredible magazine out the (digital) door every month, jam packed with surreal and atmospheric fiction, speculative poetry, author and artist interviews, and essays.  But that’s not enough for Jason and Lesley. No, they want to bring you more fiction! more poetry! more non-fiction!  For the next 2 weeks, the Apex Subscription drive aims to do just that:  gaining more subscribers means more people will enjoy this magazine every month, which means funding for more Apex awesomeness.  But why don’t I let Jason and Lesley tell you more? And why don’t we do that while surrounded by gorgeous Apex cover art?

oh, and by the way, there is something really awesome (and a little crazy) coming later this week. It involves you putting your thinking caps on, and me giving away a subscription to Apex.

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Andrea: First things first. How did you each get involved with Apex Magazine? What are your responsibilities at the magazine?

Jason Sizemore: I’m the creator, owner, editor-in-chief, and He Who Writes the Checks. I started Apex in response to an early midlife crisis. Here I am, truly in midlife, and I’m still doing it.

Lesley Conner: I’d been working on the book side of Apex Publications for a few years when Cameron Salisbury decided to step down as the managing editor of Apex Magazine. Jason had recently stepped back into the editor-in-chief role and we already knew that we work really well together. He asked me if I’d be interested in filling the vacancy, and I immediately said yes.

As for what I do … a little of everything. Except write checks! That is all Jason!

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Andrea: What goals are you hoping to reach with this subscription drive?

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darwiniaDarwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

published 1998

where I got it: purchased used

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In spring of 1912, something so incredible happened, many people believed it to be a  divine miracle. That march, a circle of land enclosing Western Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and some of North Africa disappeared, and was instantaneously replaced with . . .  something new. The land was still there, but all the people, cities, buildings, animals, technology, everything was gone, replaced by strange new plants and animals. It was as if evolution had gone down a slightly different path countless eons ago. Rivers were in slightly different places, mountain ranges not exactly as they had been.  What was once Europe has now become Darwinia.

 

This world would never have a World War, the Titanic would never leave port, The Russian Revolution and Spanish Flu would never happen. Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes a novel called “Lost Kingdom of Darwinia”.  Alternate history indeed.  Scientists, biologists, naturalists and frontiersmen across the planet become nearly obsessed with the new world.  New species to categorize, a whole new frontier to explore and dominate.

 

Guilford Law was twelve years old when the “miracle” occurred. Now in his twenties, he and his family travel to what was once London where he has been hired on as a photographer for a scientific expedition. London is now a frontier town, population a few hundred.  The expedition starts out well enough, with the scientists arguing about the plants and animals they find that have obviously been around longer than the land has been like this. They find trees with decades worth of rings,  animals and insects that have evolved through countless generations, giant midden heaps around insect hives, the evolved skulls of predators.  If this new world has only existed for eight years, where did all the plants and creatures do their evolving?  As this line of inquiry gets more and more fascinating, the expedition hits some bad luck, and Law barely makes it back to London alive.  (I’d thought the expedition was going to be the main plot of the book, I couldn’t have been more wrong!) And don’t even get me started on the strange dreams the expedition members have, and what else they find in the jungle.

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the-starlit-woodThe Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

published Oct 18, 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Saga!)

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I grew up with the standard mix of fairy tales that most American kids in the 80s were probably familiar with – Jack in the Beanstalk, The Pied Piper, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, The Red Shoes, Hansel and Gretel,  and more. They were a part of my childhood, in everything from Disney movies to bedtime stories. Most of these stories were cautionary tales: be a good/obedient/quiet  child, otherwise something bad will happen to you. In a handful of the stories the child was good and obedient, but their parent wasn’t, so the child paid the price. Moral of the story? Being a child is garbage, you better grow up as fast as possible.

Playing with fairy tales is fun, it always has been. Turning them on their side, fracturing them, giving them a modern take, taking them apart and putting them back together again. I’m not sure who has more fun in this situation – the author retelling a fairy tale, or the reader who gets to enjoy the finished product. The original stories were always so sparse, so light on the details. What happened before the story started? What happened after it ended? Did the person really deserve what they got? Maybe the witch had a really crappy childhood, maybe the little girl really hated her grandma, maybe “magic beans” means something different, maybe Rumplestiltskin was just really socially awkward. And don’t even get me started on the Pied Piper of Hamlin (Thanks Cooney!).

The Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien joins a fine literary tradition of inviting authors to give an old story a new twist. While I was reading this book, my husband asked me if it was like one of it’s famous predecessors, Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Datlow and Windling, and I said this new one was a far more modern take. Granted, it’s been years since I read Snow White, Blood Red, but I don’t remember quite as much recreational drug use, post-human characters, 3-d printing, or humor. Yes, some of the stories in The Starlit Wood are laugh out loud funny, but others are just as horrifying, disturbing, and cautionary as the original tales. The sheer variety of types of stories and styles of storytelling in The Starlit Wood sets this anthology apart from others in the same vein. It’s as if the editors told their authors “I trust you. Now go do your crazy magic”. And the authors did their magic, and suddenly witches became caretakers and advocates, giants became not-so-godly post-humans, parents forced their losses on to others, children told themselves stories to escape their own awful childhoods, stories intertwined and diverged and then and found each other again, fortunes were made, and some people even got a happy ending. If the original tales were cautionary, these new ones are about throwing caution to the wind.

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I’ve really struggled with the blog in the last year. Fewer posts, fewer book reviews.  You’ve noticed.

and NO, this is NOT a “I’m retiring as a blogger!” post. Although it is a very long, rambling post.

This is a post about how I figured out why I was struggling with the blog. It’s easy to know what’s going on. A little harder to know why something is going on.

Here’s the what:

I’d read a book, I’d enjoy the book, I’d have plans to write a review.  I’d sit down at my computer, or sit to write some notes longhand, and nothing would happen.  I’d have thoughts about the book, I’d have things I wanted to say, but I absolutely did not care about saying those things. I was completely apathetic. I’d play candy crush for hours, watch cartoons, bingewatch whatever on Netflix, read cooking blogs. Three hours later, it’s the middle of the night, and I haven’t started a book review, or put together interview questions, or comment on anyone else’s blog, or anything. And I didn’t care.

Ya’ll know the spoon theory?  It’s where you have a finite amount of “spoons” to spend on physical and mental energy expenditures. Stressful activities take more spoons. If you have chronic pain, you’ll use a lot of spoons just to get dressed in the morning. The phrase “I haven’t got the spoons” is a polite way of saying participating in whatever activity will cause you to go into an energy deficit, and because #selfcare, it’s best if you don’t schedule that activity.  When it came to blogging, I was out of spoons.  When it came to a lot of things in my life, I was out of spoons.

I know what I write on this blog doesn’t matter. I know none of this counts as “writing” or as anything, really.  But in my mind, I put a lot of energy into this.  I like pretty metaphors, ornamented sentences. I like to write book reviews and other articles that I am proud of.  It’s not art, by a long shot, but I am creating something out of nothing. for the purposes of this particular blog post, let’s call what I do here art.  And art requires mental energy. or at least it does for me.

So, where were all my spoons going?  And was there any way to get them back? And thus, we get to the why.

My first thought was maybe I was depressed.  But I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel tired, I had very very few of the checklist things you find on those “do you suffer from depression?” internet quizzes.  What I did have was  anger and frustration, and heightened anxiety because I felt I couldn’t control the anger. I wasn’t depressed, I was Angry with a capital A.

I was angry at things in my life that were frustrating me. Things that made me feel helpless. Things that made me feel like I was bashing my head against a wall. Things I had no control over.  Those things aren’t going to be going away anytime soon, but here’s the thing the anger and anxiety was blinding me to:  I am in full control of how I respond to them.

I heard a great news story on NPR the other day, unfortunately I missed the beginning. It was a woman police officer talking about a time earlier in her career when she had lost control of a situation, it escalated, and the motorist she had pulled over spent the night in jail, and for about 15 minutes she felt like “she’d shown him!”.  But then she said that the moment he made her angry, she had lost control of the situation. And as a police officer, she should never have lost control, she should never have gotten angry, that it was her anger that allowed the situation to escalate. Had she not gotten angry at things this man had said to her, she simply would have kept calm and written him a ticket, and they both would have gone on their way and no one would have ended up in jail that night.

Anger and anxiety did nothing for me but eat my spoons. It took and took and took, and gave me nothing. Because I was so angry, I didn’t have spoons left for art.  Anger and frustration and the resulting anxiety was like a curtain that fell in front of me. I kept thinking if I just tried to create art on that curtain, everything would be fine. What I didn’t realize was the art was behind the curtain. My anger was keeping me from the bloggy art stuff that has brought me so much joy and satisfaction for the last six years.

at last, we come to moment of clarity:

I can have anger or I can have art.

I can realize that I am in control of how I respond to frustrating situations, or I can allow those situations to control me.  Thoughtlessly spending spoons on anger means there are barely any spoons left for art.

 

And you know what?  I’d much rather have art.

 

It’s been about two weeks since I had this little epiphany, and while those frustrating things in my life are still there,  they’ve become noticeably less bothersome.  And when they do reach the bothersome level? I’ll just reread this post, and know that I am in control of them, and not the other way around.

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.