Friday, February 22, 2008

Safe till St. Patrick's Day

I'd like to welcome today's guest blogger Alethea Kontis! Alethea's a real renaissance woman in the world of publishing. She's sold short stories to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show and Realms of fantasy, she's a contributing editor at Apex magazine, small press publisher of Nyx books, author of children's book Alpha Oops: the day Z went first, and, most recently, NYT best selling writer of The Dark Hunter Companion.

She might be a little away from keyboard today, but make her feel welcome so she'll have some Title Magic love when she gets back!

Safe till St. Patrick's Day
by Alethea Kontis
February 22, 2008

"Everybody, it seems to me
Just wants to be
Just like you and me…"
~John Mayer, St. Patrick's Day

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Your life is what you make it. Be careful what you wish for. We've heard these sayings all our lives, and they all boil down to the same universal truth: perception means everything.

I was four when Mom fought the system and got me into Kindergarten. She went to the ends of the earth, her bored daughter in tow, attacking psychologists who refused to believe that her child was performing above her age level. When they finally decided she wasn't full of crap (as I was reading the TV Guide), they let me into school. It wasn't long before I was spending more time in a fourth-grade science class than I did with Mrs. Murray.

My father loves to tell the story of one Parents' Day, when a precocious young five- or six-year old approached him and announced, "Alethea can spell words I don't even know."

It was no secret: I loved school.
Of course, it helped that I had some pretty great teachers. (Mr. Stafford, Mr. Oberly, Mrs. Bowers, Mr. Hendrick…)

I started writing poetry in the second grade. In the third grade, my Aunt Theda taught me algebra and anatomy (she was premed at Duke and needed a study partner). In fourth grade, I learned the International Sign Language alphabet and used it to send secret messages to my friends. When I took French, I filled up the front and backs of test papers writing scenes using all my vocabulary words. I shaded the thirteen colonies with the flags of the states, and the class voted to give me extra credit. I passed notes in Spanish class…in Spanish. I memorized Shakespeare, and Poe, and Byron, and Carroll, and anyone else in the Literature book who lived in a pretty how town. My junior year, I alphabetized the periodic table of the elements and used THAT to send secret messages.

There are words for kids who love school. Nerd. Geek. Freak. Teacher's Pet. Loser. And there were people who made my life hell because of it.

When you're thirteen and your mother tells you that the kids only treat you the way they do because they're jealous…like hell you believe her. There is obviously something wrong with you, you're no good to anybody and never will be, and no one will ever love you. You let the jabs and whispered insults and cold shoulders get under your skin, and you wish you were dead. You shut yourself in your room and cry every day when you come home from school. You're the most miserable person on the planet and no one understands you.

And that's exactly what they want.

What your mother doesn't tell you when you're thirteen is that the rest of your life is just like high school all over again.

Do what you love and the money will follow. That one's true too, but it's really, REALLY (did I say really?) hard to get there. It's work--hard, unforgiving work--but you do it because you love it, you eat sleep and breathe it, and you can't imagine your life without it. It's an obsession. It runs in your veins.

Cut me and I bleed the publishing industry.

There comes a time in a writer's life when the veil falls away and the romance is gone. When you're slogging through the middle of a project you MUST FINISH because you have things like bills and deadlines hanging over your head. It's the last thing you want to do when you get up in the morning, but you have no choice. Then you finish the project, turn it in to the editor, and move on to the next thing. By the time it actually hits the shelves it's a bittersweet reunion, because you've long since been passionate about something else.

I live in a different world, a world of deadlines and word counts and time travel, a world where everyone I meet and everything I do is inevitably part of my next story. I write my own life, and it's a fantastic adventure.

Of course, it helps that I've had some really great teachers. (Andre Norton, Orson Scott Card, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson…)

I can't tell you the exact day that I woke up and realized I was on the other side of the Looking Glass…it just happened. And what I saw when I looked back to the Real World was that all those Green People were still there thinking I was some untouchable, ethereal being, and hating me for being happy. I wanted to climb on my soapbox and yell at them, remind them that I was still human. I lost friends and missed family just like everyone else. Last year I was stripped of my privacy and my innocence, was abused and mistreated by crazy cultists, got passed up for promotion, and had my heart broken into a million pieces. I have a laundry list of depressing events, proof enough that I have a right to be just as miserable as all of them.

Suddenly I realized: making me miserable only made them powerful.

Why would I want to lose the magic that makes me ME?

You know, sometimes the grass is just greener. But it's greener because some beautiful man with a passion spends all the time he's not scaling cliffs working to make the world a nicer place to live in. He digs and tills and plants and tends, over seasons and years, and eventually that love shines like an immortal beacon from the top of windswept hills. His garden has every right to be greener, and we should all celebrate him for it.

More importantly, he should celebrate himself.

Do what you love, and the Green People will follow. It's high school all over again. But you can't let that stop you. Ever. You are fabulous. Remember that. The curse of the Green People is that they get to be themselves and wear their misery for the rest of their lives.

You and I only have to wear green on St. Patrick's Day.

I was emailing a friend from high school earlier and telling him about my week. His response was: Who are you? And whose life are you leading?

It's still just me, I told him. But this is my life now. My crazy, happy, beautiful, green, magic and miserable life.

It's no secret. I love writing.

There are words for people like that: New York Times Bestselling Author.


Princess Alethea said...

Never let it be said that my parents never read my are some corrections this morning from Dad.

I love my parents. (And I miss that Speak & Spell.)


One small correction: The scene was you at 4 years old in a preschool program at Champlain college. Your "teacher" was a college freshman who was practice teaching in your class. She saw me one day when I came to pick you up and told me you could spell words she didn't even know. Thanks again, in part, to your daily workouts with the "speak and spell".

My other one is us in NY City--at a museum where they had painted huge
letters on the wall. You raced down the hallway at 2yrs hollering out (correctly) every letter as you whizzed by each. Two old Jewish guys sitting on a bench watched and one of them said to me: " Ya really got a smart one there."

No kiddin!


Tracey H. Kitts said...

I love it! And I can certainly relate:) Here's to only having to wear green once a year:)

Mel Hiers said...

We're so glad to have you here, Alethea! And what a fantastic essay.

"But it's greener because some beautiful man with a passion spends all the time he's not scaling cliffs working to make the world a nicer place to live in."

I love this bit. It's a good reminder that our lives and careers are good because we make it so.

Meg Stout said...

I don't know what I bleed when you cut me, but it isn't green.

Fun essay. Love you.

Savanna Kougar said...

Althea, your dad is great. I can so relate to a lot of what you spoke about. Truth is, I just went underground with my intelligence level when I was in school, since it was obvious 'smart' kids weren't liked, and the other kids wouldn't play with you. Plus, there was a box of expectations the school system wanted you to live in, that I didn't want to be trapped in...and, well, high school, after the short skirt incident, I got out, went on to college later.
Congratulations on all your success, and for ain't all that easy. And you're more than welcome to be here, play with us, where you'll be appreciated and valued for who you are.
Happy early St. Patrick's day, and you don't have to wear green if you don't want to. Although, I will confess I have a fondness for emerald, peridot, jade and forest shades of green. Ahh, and then there's spring green...

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I really enjoyed your blog! I'm a firm believer in doing what I love and letting the money follow on its own. :)

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Throught provoking blog, Alethea.

I totally agree we find happiness when we do what we love.

I had the opposite problem at school. I have dyslexia and didn't learn to read until I was eight. I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I couldn't read like my friends.

Mona Risk said...

What a great blog, Althea.

I was also a nerd in school, top of my class, shy and always in my books. But when I started working I made a huge effort to change myself and become assertive. People who knew me since childhood couldn't believe my transformation and probably never realized what effort was needed to maintain my new fa├žade.

Susan Macatee said...

Great blog, Alethea!

I can relate to being a nerd in school. Always had my nose in book and lived mostly in my head.

Now, years later I get to make up fantastic love stories and write then down. And people will actually read them.

And I'm definitely not doing this for the money!

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Alethea,
I'm probably late--going to miss you getting this--but my daughter had a swim meet all weekend and I'm just now getting to a computer. Thanks for guest blogging! It was gorgeous! The funny thing is, I've been a professor so long and in grad school before that, surrounded by nerds, I've forgotten there was a time in my life when being a nerd wasn't a GOOD thing.
Wear it like you own it!