The Big Idea: Alethea Kontis

As any author will tell you, second novels are often even more challenging than first ones — they have special challenges, particularly in the production stage. Alethea Kontis is here to tell you her about her second novel experience with Hero, and it’s definitely an interesting one. The good news is: Second novels still happen!


My Big Idea for Hero was originally called “Saturday.” (Because Enchanted was originally entitled “Sunday.”)  It was a giant, 20-chapter outline on poster board, with notes. After we sold Enchanted, I typed it up, sent it to my editor, and waited for the money trucks to arrive. All that came back was an email.

They didn’t like the idea. In fact, they didn’t like the idea so much that they saw Enchanted as a stand-alone novel, and I should really just stop trying to pitch them books for the rest of the Woodcutter sisters.

I didn’t want to stop, but why would I write a book that had no hope of being published? So I didn’t. And then Enchanted came along.

Two weeks after the launch and about four days into my fan-funded book tour, I got another email. “Hey, remember how you were going to write books about all the other sisters? You should really do that. BTW, we know you won’t be home until mid-June, but Book 2 is due in October. And we still hate the outline. Have a nice day!”

Every author wonders if they’ll be able to hack it in a trial by fire. Well, this author knows she’s got what it takes. I wrote that manuscript in three months, and when they didn’t like that, I took the fourth month to rewrite the whole thing. But I did it, against all odds, and what came out was magic.

Ironically, this is exactly what Hero is all about.

There’s a fairy tale I grew up with–a picture book by Jay Williams and Friso Henstra called Petronella. It’s a feminist retelling of the Grimms’ tale “Master Maid,” which just so happens to be one of my editor’s favorite stories.

Petronella is the daughter of King Peter and Queen Blossom, youngest of three boys. Even though she isn’t a boy she’s still raised as one, and she is expected to seek her own fortune. She finds out about a prince that’s been captured by a wizard and sets out to save him. She completes all the tasks the wizard gives her and escapes with the prince. The wizard follows. She tries to thwart him, but still he gives chase. When she finally captures him and asks why, the wizard says, “Because you’re clever and I’m in love with you.” In the end (spoiler), Petronella ditches the lazy prince and marries the wizard.

Needless to say, that not exactly how the Grimms’ story ends…but many of the elements remain the same.

Where Sunday Woodcutter was a slightly agoraphobic introvert writer who fell in love with a frog, her older sister Saturday is a tall girl with bright eyes, a magic ax, and a strong work ethic, who can’t tell a story to save her life. She’s annoyed that all of her other siblings possess fey magic, and thinks that because she doesn’t, she’ll never have an adventure of her own.

Fate, of course, proves her wrong. A blind witch mistakes her for her infamous brother Jack, kidnaps her, and traps her in an icy cave at the Top of the World. The witch’s daughter lives there too…only it’s really a man named Peregrine cursed by the real witch’s daughter into taking her place.

Yup — this is a book where the girl wears trousers and the boy wears a skirt, there’s an evil witch and a scary dragon and everyone’s a hero.

I only wish they’d put Peregrine on the cover.


Hero: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt (via Google Preview). Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter

11 Comments on “The Big Idea: Alethea Kontis”

  1. Well, heck, this sonds awesome. As the father of three daughters, I’m always slightly saddened by the number of YA books that seem to focus on half-werewolf/half-angel/half-mathprofessor boyfriends. This looks like the kind of book I can get behind. But I have to hurry, because my girls aren’t asking me about books these days – they’re just going into the library and FINDING THEM FOR THEMSELVES! Kids, huh? I blame the parents…..

    Thanks to Alethea for a very enlightening recounting of her experience.

  2. Yay! *hugs Damian’s daughters*

    So…I was actually mistaken — “Master Maid” isn’t Grimm, it’s from Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book. I was reminded of this while doing research for today’s fairy tale video rant (in which I also discuss Petronella). OOPSIE! Fairy Tale Scholars, please forgive my confusion!

    If you’re interested in checking out the rant (and seeing Petronella in the flesh) it’s here:


  3. Woohoo! I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I heard it was coming out. Alethea Kontis is just one more author I first heard of here and was quickly added to my “must read everything” list.

    That list is way too long now. Curse you, John Scalzi!!!

  4. Yay, I’ve been waiting for this and read it yesterday. I had a blast.

    “I only wish they’d put Peregrine on the cover.”

    Saturday is going to punch them for putting her in that dress. Or maybe it’s a stunt double.

  5. What a small world, I got here by way of researching WordPress and found an article about Alethea Kontis. We have mutual friends from IBG as we both were employed there once. I remember her book signing of AlphaOops! An amazing person indeed!

  6. Hi, Sheri!
    That book signing of AlphaOops was my FIRST US signing ever…and to standing room only! It was SO intimidating. But still one of my favorite memories. I’m so glad you were a part of it! xox

  7. One of my favorite memories of Gordy Dickson was a monolog on the lack of a female version of the word “hero” (“heroine” certainly isn’t it!). His own example was Pilar from For Whom the Bell tolls.

  8. I look forward to reading this book! Why is your non-princess holding that sword so awkwardly, instead of her familiar axe? Or even a battle-axe would be better balancedd.

    I knew it didn’t sound like Grimm! I can’t stand most of their stories, but I love all the Colored Fairy Books, and your source-story sounded really familiar.

    Blue Fairy Book, a goldmine of story ideas…

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