Alethea Kontis: Five Things I Learned Writing When Tinker Met Bell
Everybody knows that goblins and fairies can’t be friends. But that never stopped Tinker and Bell.
Bellamy Merriweather Larousse isn’t like the other fairies at Harmswood Academy, with her giant wings and their magical dust. “Southern Bell” works as a barista at The Hallowed Bean to help pay her tuition and remains active on the cheering squad, despite her insistence on associating with the unpopular crowd. Every day is sunny in Bellamy’s world and every cloud has a silver lining. The only way to upset Bell’s stalwart optimism is to threaten one of her misfit friends…or try to take one of them from her.
Unbeknownst to everyone–including him–outcast Ranulf “Tinker” Tinkerton is about to be named heir to the throne of the Goblin King, making him ruler of his fellow Lost Boys and the labyrinthine city they inhabit. Now that the time has come for Tinker to leave Harmswood behind, will he be brave enough to share his feelings for Bellamy? It’s no secret that he’s held a torch for her since the fourth grade, but no matter how long they’ve been friends, goblins will always be allergic to fairies.
Or will they?
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IT IS POSSIBLE TO WRITE A BOOK WHEN ALL YOU HAVE IS A TITLE.
I met R.L. “Bob” Stine at a conference in San Diego in January and fell in love with him almost instantly. He’s that unassuming uncle everyone has at their family reunion, only everything that comes out of his mouth is smart and hilarious. I woke up at some ungodly hour of the morning to hear him deliver his breakfast keynote, sat in the front row, and took notes.
Bob Stine is the first author I’ve ever met who comes up with a title before even thinking about the rest of the story. (Say Cheese and Die being one of the most notable.) Once he’s settled on a title, he outlines the whole book. Only then does he sit down to write. How about that?
This was exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it. Until then, I had been quite nervous that all I knew about my second Nocturne Falls book was that I wanted the title to be When Tinker Met Bell.
But one has to start somewhere, and there are certainly worse authors to emulate than Bob Stine. So I brazenly wrote down the title. Then I did the author thing. You know, the thing where we annoyingly ask questions about EVERYTHING.
Bell, the heroine, would be Bellamy Larousse, my cheerleader fairy barista best friend from the first book. What about her hero? Tinker would be…Ranulf Tinkerton, a goblin. But goblins and fairies can’t be friends. Why? Because goblins are allergic to fairies. Great. Now I’ve gone from Harry and Sally to Romeo and Juliet. How am I supposed to make a romantic comedy out of that? Well, I’ll…crown Tinker heir to the throne of the Goblin King! Why? Because the Goblin King is immune to fairies…
Before I knew it, I was on Chapter Nine. But I could tell something was off, so I sent it to my editor. Turns out the problem was:
IT IS POSSIBLE TO WRITE A BOOK THAT IS TOO GOOD.
After reading those first nine chapters, Casey sent me an email. “Can you quickly come up with an entirely new story starring two characters named Tinker and Bell? Because this book is too good. You need to keep it for yourself.”
Unfortunately for both of us, I am not a fast writer.
The thing about writing in someone else’s Intellectual Property—even when authors are given as much free rein as Kristen allows us—you still have to remember that you’re writing for a particular audience. The Nocturne Falls audience wants comedy, sweet romance (read: no sex), and a paranormal twist. They don’t necessarily want a funny and romantic sweeping fantasy epic.
See…what I had ultimately done was build a goblin mythology that solved the Labyrinth problem. There are decades worth of discussions online about why Jareth is so hot and the goblins are so not. Pretty sure none of those theories used Peter Pan’s Lost Boys to answer the question. But answering the logic problems in fairy tales with other fairy tales is what I’ve spent the last decade or so doing, so that’s what I did.
Lest you think I’m patting myself on the back, that first nine-chapter revision (roughly 35,000 words) was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do since I was asked to rewrite Hero back in 2012. I had to cut characters, motivations, touching scenes, and an incredible amount of worldbuilding. But I promised myself, and Casey, and I’ll promise all of you right now—I am going to go back and write that goblin book.
And I definitely want to keep my friends happy because:
FRIENDSOURCING CAN BE THE BEST THING EVER.
Frank Baum began all of his Oz books with a letter to his readers. He let them know how much their enthusiasm motivated him. Readers young and old asked questions, suggested plot lines, and sometimes “ordered” him to write certain books. How much of these got incorporated into Oz, I’m sure no one could say.
I have thousands of incredibly intelligent friends on Facebook: authors, artists, librarians, lawyers, forensic scientists…the works. So when my writing grinds to a halt because I needed the names of, say, a few extra goblins, I just ask Facebook. Because you KNOW that’s totally what L. Frank Baum would do!
These have become some of my favorite threads of all time.
Yes, there are always jokers—I delete the unhelpful comments—but I have huge lists now of names for shops, towns, witches, goblins, trolls, princes and princesses. I even have a list of drink names that might appear on the menu of a Halloween-themed coffee shop…and some of those names made it onto the cover of this book!
I don’t do this every time: Ranulf Tinkerton just popped into my head one morning. Maker Deng and Quin Merchero were carefully selected after hours of researching the Lost Boys of the Sudan and Spain. Dean Momori Zuru was born after several more hours of research on tanuki legends.
But sometimes a writer doesn’t want to spend hours. She just needs a seed. A spark. Suddenly, not only am I inspired by my amazing community, but they are also now part of my story. And magic, I always say, is better when shared.
At which point I was forced to admit:
MAYBE DATING THE DM WASN’T SO BAD AFTER ALL.
For years I have been telling young girls to “never date the DM.”
See, I acted in—or worked tech for—every single play in high school. There was a subset of us Drama Freaks who got together every once in a while to play D&D. The DM eventually became my boyfriend.
There are many problems with dating the DM, most of them revolving around the fact that you both know too much. You know how much work went into creating that campaign, because you were probably present for a good chunk of that. And he knows how to push your buttons if you try and use any of that information to your party’s benefit. You’ll be having some seriously awesome side adventure with an NPC…right before you’re handicapped so you can’t communicate valuable information to your fellow travelers.
Yeah. It’s possible I’m still bitter about the spell that magically removed my tongue. Then again, he’s probably still annoyed that Patrick and Casey remembered the sign language alphabet Mrs. Harris taught us in the fourth grade. I’m definitely still pissed about him killing off my Queen of Thieves. One day, I will write the novel in which she lives forever.
But for this book, I really just wanted to write a scene where a goblin, a kobold, a were-sloth and his human sister all play D&D in a small town coffee shop. Not only was it totally subversive, it instantly branded them as the super-smart, overly-dramatic, tightly-knit outcasts. I KNEW these kids. It was like coming home.
So…FINE. I now must confess to the world: Dating the DM in high school maybe wasn’t so bad after all. I just didn’t realize how long it would take me to learn that.
But it took me even longer to discover:
WHY CASEY SMILES.
Yes, the Casey that is my editor is the same Casey who played D&D with me all those years ago. We met the summer before seventh grade. We were eleven. We loved all the same books and movies, and we both dreamed of being writers. Casey was my first writing partner. Many of my stories—then and now—have characters based on her. She was my Minna, my Erin, my Sunday Woodcutter. She is my Bellamy.
She was also my Obi-Wan Kenobi. I may be known in genre circles for being the brash, glittery, optimistic princess, but I learned all that from Casey.
Casey and I may have been as inseparable as Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, but back then, I was the moon to her sun. I was the dark to her light. (There’s a reason Sister Light, Sister Dark is my favorite Jane Yolen book.) She was a cheerleader, beloved by all, and I was a Poe-loving closet-Goth. People were often astonished that we were best friends.
Without Casey, and the optimism she taught me to incorporate into my own life, I’m not sure I would have survived my teenage years.
I have always given Casey credit for making me the Princess I am today. But until I sat down and asked myself one of those annoying writer questions—Why is Bellamy so optimistic?—it never occurred to me to ask Casey why she always was the way she is.
Thirty years and I never asked this question.
God, I was a shitty friend.
The answer was as simple as I expected it to be, but even more tragic. I knew Casey’s father had died when she was a little girl, but I had no idea how many close family members died horrible, unexpected deaths in that decade before we met. Casey’s off-the-charts optimism was her way of coping with life’s inevitable sadness.
Little did Young Casey know that her optimism would one day inspire another girl, a girl who lived to be a woman with a subversively magical life, who has written almost twenty books contributing to the delinquency…er…optimism of minors all around the world.
Wise Uncle Iroh said, “If you look for the light, you can often find it.” My light is, and has always been, Casey.
And thanks to When Tinker Met Bell, now I know why.
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Alethea Kontis is a princess, author, fairy godmother, and geek. Author of over nineteen books and contributor to over twenty-five more, her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at DragonCon, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives at: patreon.com/princessalethea