This is the first of many interviews conducted at the Nebula Awards
Alethea is the author of Enchanted, a Young Adult fairytale that was nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I can't begin to tell you how nice Alethea was to me during the weekend. I'm a little shy but I knew that I could count on Alethea, at any gathering, to draw me into a conversation and make me feel welcome and included.
She did, however, turn down my not at all creepy request to have her move into my house and pick out clothes for me every day. As you can see from the photo, Alethea dresses quite fabulously. Words to live by from Alethea: “I wear tiaras because they are awesome, and so am I!”
In this interview, we talk about Alethea's upcoming book, her tips for losing an award, her relationship with her fellow nominees, and her mentor, Andre Norton.
The one thing we don't talk about is Enchanted, the book that was nominated for the Andre Norton award. However, we did talk about Enchanted earlier during the Nebula Awards Weekend. Alethea says she loves Enchanted because she loves how layered it is. She encourages readers to read it slowly.
She also has this question for those readers who have read the book: “Would Sunday have fallen in love with Grumble if she hadn't written it down?”
Alethea: Hero is a very different story than Enchanted. It's less dense; it has fewer layers. It's a little Hansel and Gretel, and a little Master Maid, which I originally read as Petronella, the 1970s retelling. I like this feminist retelling of that version. So, Hero is very Petronella.
Carrie: Hero carries the subtitle: “Does romance have to be part of the adventure?” So I have to ask – is romance part of the adventure?
Alethea: Yes! It was easy to get romance into Enchanted, because that was very much part of the plot. Hero was harder, because it was so swashbuckling, and she's such a tomboy, that's not how she thinks. Being in her head, it was not like, “Oh, I like this boy”. It was more “Where do I get this sword, and how do I kill this witch”. So the romance didn't come so easily.
Carrie: Did you feel pressure to include romance? Was there ever a point where you thought, “Well, maybe this story doesn't need it?”
Alethea: I didn't feel pressured to have romance in it. I always wanted to have romance in it. I enjoy happy endings, or the promise that they are going to be together beyond the end. It doesn't necessarily have to end with them walking hand and hand into the sunset, but I want there to be the promise of that.
On the topic of the Andre Norton Award:
Alethea: I'm going to write a blog entry for Waterworld Mermaids, and the title is going to be “How To Lose an Award Without Losing Your Mind”. [The winner was E. C. Myers, for Fair Coin.]
Carrie: So, what are your tips?
Alethea: Well, first you pump yourself up and you're all excited, and then you realize that you have to be OK with losing no matter what happens.
But I really think that the key this year, and this weekend in particular, was that all of us as nominees really bonded. There were so many nominees! Twelve! So, after we figured out who was going to be here, and what who wasn't, it almost kind of became us against them, because we at least hope that whoever wins is one of us, which included me, Eugene [E.E. Myers], Leah [Leah Bobet], Sarah [Sarah Beth Durst], and Jenn [Jenn Reese]. And then, when it was one of us, that was just…it was OK that the rest of us lost. It was still an amazing weekend.
Everybody says, you're not supposed to say, “And the winner is…” You're supposed to say, “And the award goes to…” No one is a winner or a loser. We are all winners. But the award can only go to one person. So I was surprised that they went through the whole ceremony saying, “And the winner is”.
There was some pushback from some of the folks in the genre because when the ballot came out, there were so many of us, and we were congratulating everyone, and some folks were thinking, “Don't you think this is a little weird, and a little inclusive, and you're all just voting for each other?” And I thought, “Well, I suppose you could think of it that way”, but if you think about these societies of people who have grown up together in the genre, you see these groups that rise together as groups, because they challenge each other, and they push each other, and they promote each other. It makes sense that once one of them starts hitting the ballot that the other ones will also begin to hit the ballot. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's just a trend of things that happen in waves. I was exceptionally proud that I knew so many people on the ballot.
On Andre Norton:
Alethea: It's especially an honor to be nominated because I knew Andre [Norton]. She lived a couple of miles away from me in Tennessee. I didn't want to go visit her, because I was a little nobody, and I thought she would open her door and see right through me, and be all, “Get off my lawn!” But a friend of mine said, “She has no idea what she means to this industry. You need to go see her.”
I wrote her a letter, which turns out that was the perfect thing. She was very heavy on correspondence. She sent a card for every holiday, including Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year. We corresponded quite a bit, even though we only lived a couple of miles from each other. Because, you know, it was the last few years of her life, and she couldn't get around very well, and I didn't want to bother her or force her to stay up or be active if she didn't want to.
But, I did go to the library a few times, and the last time was when she sold off the library. When I went there, I bought $600 worth of books. We were going through all the research stuff, and she was pulling them off and putting them in my cart, because she knew I would end up using them for research, and for writing. She gave me a bunch of paper dolls, because those are helpful for costume design and description.
I didn't open the boxes for years later, and finally I was cleaning up this room full of books, and I looked at the boxes, and I said to myself, “You are never going to read all these books. Go through them, give away the ones you're not going to use – come on!” So I'm sitting there with a book in my lap, and the title is, Live Alone and Like It, by Marjorie Hillis. It's from 1920. When am I ever going to read this? But I couldn't put it in the give away pile. I just couldn't do it. So I thought, “Well, OK, if you're going to keep it, you need to read it”. So I open the book, and in the front, it says, “A talisman for Andre. May it bring you what it brought me. Anne”.
And I went to my Dragon Riders of Pern, and I checked Anne McCaffrey's signature. And it was a book, for Andre Norton, signed by Anne McCaffrey. And I'm holding this in my lap, and I'm thinking, “I can't give any of these books away, ever!”
Carrie: Who are your favorite authors?
Alethea: Authors who have helped me personally…Andre Norton, Orson Scott Card, Sherrilyn Kenyon, definitely. John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal! Mary Kowal is like my big sister who does everything better than I do. We grew up together as writers, but she's always three steps ahead of me.
In Shades of Milk and Honey, she wrote me in! There's a book that is given to Jane, and the author of the book that is given to Jane, is Alethea Harrison. And Harrison is Mary's maiden name. So she literally wrote me as her sister.
Thank you to Alethea for the interview. More interviews from the Nebula Awards are coming soon, so stay tuned!