I Wrote a Book About Refugees and No One Noticed

Alethea Kontis on Twitter

Dear Twitter: I lied.

Sotos "Sam" KontisThis morning, on social media, I admitted to being the White Privileged American granddaughter of a refugee twice over. My papou’s mother fled (with four small children) to Greece from the Catastrophe of Smyrna. Papou himself later fled to America* after the Nazi occupation of Greece. He served in both the Greek Merchant Marines and the US Army**. As he died before I was born, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, but I am proud to be his legacy.

After stating my dismay over the state of the world with regard to the current refugee situation, I announced that that was all I had to say on the subject, and then I went for a walk.

During that walk I realized just how much more I had to say.

Because I wrote a book about refugees, and no one noticed.

“Well… there had to be at least ONE really dull Woodcutter sister.”
–Auggie, Goodreads (on Dearest)

Dearest (Woodcutter Sisters, Book Three)On the surface, Dearest is a young adult fantasy retelling of “The Wild Swans” (literally on the surface: just look at the cover!) starring the Mary-Suest of all white-girl Mary Sues, Friday Woodcutter.

What Dearest is really about: Friday Woodcutter is the half-fey, half-human child of a mother who cursed her daughter by naming her because “Friday’s Child is loving and giving.” Friday is a gifted seamstress with a heart as big as the moon. As a poor woodcutter’s daughter compelled to fall in love with everyone she meets, she spends her days at the church, sewing clothes for orphans. She uses the scraps to make patchwork skirts for herself. They are a symbol of her love, generosity, and selflessness.

When her sister Saturday breaks the world in Hero*** and calls the ocean inland, hundreds of families are displaced. Friday, who was also caught in the maelstrom, is rescued and wakes up back at the palace in Arilland. The king and queen have welcomed all the refugees into their kingdom. While it is a burden and a huge adjustment to their way of life, the monarchs take charge in a responsible manner. Based on Friday’s previous experience with orphans, the queen gives Friday the task of overseeing the children while the adults deal with the Very Adult Business of how to manage the sudden influx in population.

Dearest has elements of “The White Swans” and “The Goose Girl,” but the plot is also heavily based on an Armenian folktale (released in picture book form by Robert San Souci and Raul Colón as A Weave of Words). In this folktale, a poor weaver’s daughter turns down a prince’s offer of marriage because he is lazy, illiterate, and has no trade. The prince gets off his duff and learns to both read and weave, gaining the daughter’s trust and her hand in marriage. In return, the prince (now king) teaches his wife (now queen) how to wield a sword and lead an army.

The king is later captured by a malicious dev. He tells the dev he is a weaver, and proves it by weaving a cloth. He tells the dev it is worth a hundred pieces of gold, and that if he sells it to the queen, she will buy it. In the cloth, the king has woven a secret message. When the queen receives it, she picks up a sword and leads the army to rescue her husband.

No spoilers, I promise: Just know that when I wrote the scene in Dearest where the Patchwork Army presents itself to Friday, I wept.

Due to the underwhelming performance of my series based on Circumstances Beyond my Control, my fancy NY publisher did not renew my contract for any subsequent Woodcutter books after Dearest. (Worry not, the rest of the Books of Arilland will still be published.)

Unsurprisingly, Dearest did not have much of a marketing budget. As a result, most of the reviews you will find online concentrate only on my “goody two-shoes” heroine and the reviewer’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of the dozens of fairy tales referenced in the text.

To the best of my knowledge, NO ONE has mentioned the GLARINGLY ENORMOUS plot point about refugees. As Dearest was based on European fairy tales, Armenian folklore, and my own personal family history, I felt it was about time this was brought to everyone’s attention.

Patchwork PrincessMy great grandmother, Theodosia Kontaridis (née Komnenos), was the direct descendant of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos (his life was written into a 15-volume saga called the Alexiad). In September of 1922, when the Greeks and Armenians were forced out of the city of Smyrna (now Izmir), Theodosia’s husband was taken from her and killed on a death march. She was “allowed” to flee from her home with her sister, her wheelchair-bound mother, and her four small children. When they finally landed in Greece, after a harrowing adventure, Theodosia did what all smart refugee widows did in that era: she found a similarly widowed Greek man with one child and married him.

The story of Theodosia’s flight is my family’s very own fairy tale. A few years ago, I wrote a picture book manuscript based on it called “Thea Maria’s Bag of Hope.” That manuscript remains unpublished. (Perhaps if I called her “Princess Maria” instead, it would garner more publisher attention.) I’ve thought about traveling back to Izmir, to the place where my family once lived, but according to my father (who made the trip several years ago) there is nothing left to see.

My grandfather died before I was born, and I was too young to care about my own history before my great-aunts and uncle passed away as well. (Uncle Xanthos was a famous dollmaker and loved that I was born the year of the US bicentennial, so we usually talked about those things instead.) What Papou Stories I know were told to me by my Nana and my father, both consummate storytellers.

One of my favorites is the story about Papou’s first job in America. His brother-in-law (Uncle Jim, who spoke English) introduced him to a man at a shipping company in Pittsburgh. The man was desperate for engineers with my grandfather’s level of skill, because so many of his men were off fighting in WWII. But the man was concerned because my grandfather spoke no English. Uncle Jim translated this for Papou. “Tell him,” my grandfather responded in Greek, “that the machines don’t know. The machines don’t care.”

Faith in PatchworkHe got the job.

My family survived Great Fires and Nazi Occupations. I am here because of them. I am the descendant of refugees. I wrote a book about refugees. I am proud of my book. I am proud of my family. I am proud of myself. The patchwork skirts I wear for my appearances mean so much more to me than just a character’s costume.

And the world should know these things.


*Papou came to America illegally, which became a moot point after he served in the US armed forces, and is even more of a moot point now that he’s passed away.
**He actually meant to be in the Navy, but his English was horrible. He turned left instead of right and ended up in the Army. He still eventually ended up working as an engineer on ships…but that’s another story.
*** Hero (Book 2 of the Woodcutter Sisters series), a.k.a. “I Wrote a Book About Gender Roles and Cross-Dressing and No One Noticed”

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I Wrote a Book About Refugees and No One Noticed

Support my Thunderclap!

Hello, everyone! I’m trying out something new: a Thunderclap campaign to get the word out about the Storenvy sale this Black Friday, where signed copies of of both TRIXTER and TALES OF ARILLAND will be 30% off!

Here’s the widget (which I hope works…)

And here’s the link just in case you don’t see the widget: http://thndr.me/IWXnHG

Please click to support me — and THANK YOU!! xox

Thunderclap Black Friday

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Support my Thunderclap!

Publishing News

This week’s publishing news and industry blogs post covers 11/7-11/19/15.

Publishing News

The Anderson family has come a step closer to acquiring all the shares of Books-A-Million.

Audiobooks.com creates a self-publishing service for audiobooks, rather like Smashwords’ service in that it distributes to multiple retailers and distributors.

Amazon and Apple are under an anti-trust investigation in Germany. (Link has sound)

HarperCollins starts a new digital-first imprint that accepts unagented manuscripts.

Industry Blogs

Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware talks about the dangers of arbitration clauses, and what to look for in them, and clauses you can probably get to mitigate them versus what you can’t.

Agent Nephele Tempest talks about the advantages of having a writing community, and how to find one.

Agent Janet Reid answers questions and gives advice.  Writing a non-fiction book that has its main relevance within a couple of years, and wondering if you should be querying now before the book is done? (Yes. Different rules for non-fiction, and timeliness is a thing.) A writer friend has died, and you wonder if you should notify query-ees, and also if it’s possible to get the piece posthumously published. (An e-mail is polite, and not very likely.) She also shares inept book promo–and explains what’s inept about it. And while you’re out, how about how to query badly?

Agent Kristin Nelson gives an agent’s perspective on how to succeed at NaNoWriMo. She also explains her #1 reason for passing even when the writing is good.

On the Editor’s Blog, some tough love about your favorite, clever first-draft lines–like it or not, there’s no sacred cow in writing; sometimes you just have suck it up and cut that line you thought you liked during rewrites.

On QueryTracker, why truth is important in fiction.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch reminds us why it’s important to have contact information available and make it possible to get in touch with you.

Wondering about the brick and mortar Amazon Books store? Amazon Books VP doesn’t plan to sell products other than books there; she explains how books will be chosen and displayed; and yes, they’re hoping for more brick and mortars in the future. (I bet you’ll probably see books from the Amazon Editors’ Best Books lists among those selected.)

For a collection of NaNoWriMo tips, check out GalleyCat’s Resources page.

What other publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

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Publishing News

Order "Premeditations" from Folded Word

PREMEDITATIONS, my chapbook of 7 flash science fiction and fantasy stories,
is now available for preorder from Folded Word!


With these compulsively readable stories, Michelle Ristuccia creates a new genre in PREMEDITATIONS. This chapbook achieves a fresh look at our times, seeming to simplify while posing new questions about all we accept as reality — much as fairy tales and sci fi must have when first told. Ristuccia reveals forbidden texts, such as the complete “Articles of Faith” concerning cookies: tenets that are funny and a little sad, that cut to the core of our many belief systems. She dares tell first-person, true-life accounts of encounters with stick figures that become threatening; with a father who has a dangerous, rejuvenating secret; with immature non-human beings that in no way resemble anything we’ve come to expect. Whether humanoid, android, or otherwise sentient, PREMEDITATIONS is a must read.


  • FREE shipping US, $2 elsewhere
  • same rate for all options below
  • pre-orders will ship on or before 15 December 2015
PREMEDITATIONS releases December 15th, so get in your preorders now!

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Order “Premeditations” from Folded Word


AK BooksWhat could be a more perfect gift this holiday than one of Alethea Kontis’s beautiful books, signed & personalized by Princess Alethea herself?

Signed & Personalized Books are now available on my Storenvy page, directly from my personal inventory.

Titles include: Enchanted, Hero, Dearest, Trixter, Tales of Arilland, AlphaOops, and The Wonderland Alphabet

I even have a few of the original Apex editions of Beauty & Dynamite — for serious collectors only.


Available throughout the holidays…or while supplies last…so act fast!

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Guest post – Swimming Upstream: Telling the Story that Doesn’t Sell

I have a guest post for you! I’ve known Tee Morris (and his amazing wife, Philippa Ballantine) for many years, and have been blessed to have their support and wisdom at my fingertips whenever I needed it. So today, I’d like to share the thoughts of the Yodas I’ve had access to since the earliest days of my writing career. I recently posed a question that I think a lot of authors have asked themselves (or been asked by others): What makes you keep writing certain books when you’re made to question whether or not they’ll succeed?

Tee brings up some excellent points to consider here, so if you’re debating whether or not to write the thing you want to write, do keep reading.  -SH


The book market is a funny thing as it is really hard to tell what will go gangbusters and what trends will fizzle out after a few rounds. I’ve been paying close attention to trends as I am attempting to write a title to market, a strategy some writers try when they want a “break out” title in order to make their name more marketable. What kind of trends are out there now?

Off the top of my head…

  • a woman discovering a portal between her own world and another point in history
  • main characters waking up with no memories, in the heart of some labyrinth
  • a young girl or boy discovers a world of supernatural creatures coexisting alongside the real world

I’m not saying the writers who dive into these trends are phoning it in and cashing out. These are trends that writers are told by agents (and publishers) “This is what’s selling…” which could have been a contributing factor behind so much erotica attempting to go mainstream after the success of 50 Shades of Grey.

If you’re curious, I’m attempting to write a solo novel, an urban fantasy.

Before you think the market done with urban fantasy, attend any science fiction or romance writing convention and you might find yourself attending the same panel I did. Out of the six authors on this panel, five were writing urban fantasy. I was the only steampunk author.

That, my friends, is what you would call a trend.

But the reason the first draft of my urban fantasy isn’t done yet is because of steampunk, that genre regarded as a giant question mark by publishers and agents. Based on its popularity online and at science fiction events, you would think the market would be dominated by steampunk titles; but those on the shelves haven’t seemed to find the breakthrough mainstream audience that dystopia, space opera, or urban fantasy has. So while the market doesn’t seem to know exactly how it feels about this Victorian Past-That-Never-Was, I know how I feel about it, which is why I continue to write it.


The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising (click to get it on Amazon)

Here’s where being a writer becomes complicated. You need to write what is hot, and publishers want to be producing what is hot because that equates to book sales and big numbers. From a business perspective, that makes sense. Then we get to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, the steampunk series that my wife Pip Ballantine and I write together. Currently, we are hosting a Kickstarter for the fifth book in the series, a book we are independently producing. We’ve fielded the question—a valid one—as to why this series is worth funding as it’s had not one but two publishers undertake it; and neither have an interest in publishing any new books? Why not move on?

Well, we did want to move on. With this story.

Trends have shown to the contrary of steampunk’s appeal; but alongside readers and reviews expressing their love for our alternate 19th century, our Colonial Pepperpot and Dashing Archivist provide the real drive behind these adventures. Pip and I knew long before we began writing The Diamond Conspiracy that their story would end with Book Six. We wanted to keep going beyond Phantom Protocol, beyond Whiterock, and beyond Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  We sat down with our respective ideas for two chapters, and it did not take us long to kick off the fifth book. By the time we reached the sixth chapter, we were working on the details behind our Kickstarter.

If I listened to the publishers and followed the trends, the smart money would be in finishing that urban fantasy. I genuinely love working with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, though, and that is a powerful motivator to write in it. Is this the smartest strategy? That could be debated. Readers can tell when writers are merely “returning to the well,” and it is an easy trap to fall into if the series you’re working on is easy to write. With the Ministry, it goes deeper than comfort. It’s a belief. It’s a sincere love with this particular world, its machinations, and the people within it.

I have more to do in this universe, so the urban fantasy can wait.

And with that, I’m putting the kettle on. Hope you like cucumber sandwiches.


tee_headshot-squareTee Morris has been writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and non-fiction for over a decade. He writes the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with his wife, Pip Ballantine. The series and its short fiction podcast, Tales from the Archives, has won several awards including the 2014 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Anthology Podcast, the 2011 Airship Award for Best Steampunk Literature, and RT Reviews’ Choice Awards for Best Steampunk of 2014.

Tee and Pip also host The Shared Desk, a podcast covering collaboration and other aspects of a writer’s lifestyle. Explore the works of Tee Morris, and his occasional geek rants, at TeeMorris.com.

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Guest post – Swimming Upstream: Telling the Story that Doesn’t Sell

Publishing Industry news

This week’s Publishing News and Industry Blogs post covers 10/23/15-11/6.

Publishing News

Amazon opens its first physical bookstore.

The American Booksellers Association’s online platform IndieBound releases a buy button to see if it increases sales.

The Dear Author lawsuit filed by Ellora’s Cave has been settled.

A court case about whether three JD Salinger books, now public domain in the US, can be licensed overseas has been moved to the home state of the current Salinger heir.  The Salinger Literary Trust makes the argument that the longer copyright protection in the other countries can be upheld; the publisher seeking to license the translations makes the argument that the shortest copyright protection should be used. Both arguments are based on the Berne Convention.

Apple asks the Supreme Court to overturn the verdict on the e-book price-fixing case. The Supreme Court has not yet decided to take the case.

Industry Blogs

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, how take your villain from mustache-twirling trope to fully-fleshed, worthwhile villains.  Or even the villain your readers will love (to hate).

Have you ever wondered how the QueryTracker database is kept current? QT reveals.

Which, as agent Jessica Faust points out, is very important for agency databases–be sure to check the agent’s website before sending anything out. And if you’re disappointed that it’s taking a while for an agent to reply to you, you should probably glad she’s waiting until she’s hungry for a new client instead just wanting to clear out the inbox. She also shares a compilation of the top 10 worst pieces of query advice.

Agent Janet Reid offers advice and and answers questions. If you’re trying to find an agent for book 2, how much of book 1 should you mention in the query? (None; you’re querying book 2. Do say that book 1 is published, and whether or not the publisher has dibs on the series.) You’ve queried personal connections and have heard nothing; does this mean your book is bad? (No. Now go query someone else.)


An infographic  from Stop Procrastinating looks at a survey of NaNoWriMo writers.

GalleyCat collects their tips for NaNoWriMo from previous years.

What other major publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

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Publishing Industry news