Alethea Kontis: Under the influence of 'Andre' Norton

by: Joyce Lamb - USA Today - May 17, 2013



Alethea Kontis made a big splash with her YA Enchanted, but the biggest splash is the most personal of all …

Alethea: This year, my young adult fairy-tale novel Enchanted made no less than three YALSA lists. The audio book was nominated for an Audie Award in the teen category. And it's currently up against 11 other contenders for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

It's this last one that's been giving me anxiety attacks since May 1.

A decade from now, young readers may not be familiar with what a pioneer Alice Mary "Andre" Norton was in science fiction and fantasy. They won't know how much ground she broke not only in young adult literature, but also for women writing in the genre. Her name will simply be the title of an award, a seal on a book, a feather in some ambitious YA writer's cap.

But right now, there are still people who remember her as a friend and a mentor, a sly inspiration and a brilliant librarian.

I am one of these people.

I was almost too chicken to meet her. She and I lived in the same small town in middle Tennessee — the local paper would do a feature on her every so often and I would think to myself, "Alethea, if that woman dies before you have a chance to meet her, you are going to regret it all your life."

But I never went. Her home and private library, High Hallack, was only about 2 miles from my house. I had even driven past it a time or two, but I was too afraid to pull into the driveway, too afraid to knock on the door and introduce myself. I'd done my research online — authors had to APPLY to visit High Hallack. I wasn't even a real author yet. I'd been to one literary boot camp and published book reviews in the local free press. Miss Andre would take one look at me, see me for the impostor that I was, and kick me right off her front porch.

It took a former Army interrogator (aka SF author David Drake) to make me see what an idiot I was being. He ordered me to visit her. And so I wrote her a letter, in scratchy handwriting on plain, unlined paper, before I lost my nerve.

That letter resulted in a wonderful friendship in both correspondence and in person. I was invited to High Hallack, despite my questionable credentials, and after a two-hour personal tour while we sat on wheeled chairs and scooted through every section, Miss Andre invited me back. I would bring her catalogs of new books, and she would give me tips on writing resources and best practices. (Paper dolls are great for period costume research, and your first paragraph should always address who, what, when, where and why, just like in journalism.)

She might have been a groundbreaking writer in the science-fiction genre, but Miss Andre didn't care about that. At heart, she was just a librarian. And my friend.

I was there when she sold off High Hallack, piece by piece, to fund the very first Andre Norton Award in 2005. This time the private tour involved a red library cart, as she handpicked books off her shelves for me to add to my own personal collection. (I got the paper dolls, too.) I bought four huge boxes of books and vowed to myself that someday, I would win this award. I would make Miss Andre proud of me.

That was the last time I ever saw her.

Andre Norton passed away in the spring of 2005. We corresponded right up until the month before she died. I tell myself that she read my last letter, and that she went to the Great Beyond knowing I was on my way to becoming a Real Writer ... at least, one she wouldn't kick off her porch. I miss her, still.

The Andre Norton Award will be announced in San Jose during the Nebula Award Ceremony, the evening of May 18 (7 p.m. PT). I'll be there wearing my tiara and best princess gown (and the gold leopard pin worn by Miss Andre Herself that Sherrilyn Kenyon bought for me at a charity auction ... for luck). And scared to my toes though I might be, I will survive this night.

Because, whether Enchanted wins the award or not, I know Miss Andre is proud of me.


To find out more about Alethea and her books, visit



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