After Happily Ever After: Editrix and Author Alisha Costanzo Talks Secret Agents and Creative Impulses

After Happily Ever Cover by Dean Samed, banner by Rohit Sawant

If you haven’t heard about the After Happily Ever After anthology, this interview series is a front row seat into the creative minds of the authors who have re-envisioned the fairy tale world beyond the final credits. However, as we reach the close of the series, we now have the opportunity to turn our attention to the guiding forces behind the anthology — the editors themselves!

Welcome author and editrix Alisha Costanzo to the blog!

Costanzo Author Pic
Editrix and author, Alisha Costanzo

How did you begin your writing journey?

Honestly, I always have a hard time pin-pointing a beginning, and I wonder if other authors feel the same way. I’ll start here. I had sixty-seven imaginary friends before I started public school. My mother made me a cocoon in the far corner of the living room to hide and read Goosebumps books when I was eight. I had a shelf in my closet full of binders with over a hundred fanfiction stories when I was twelve. I finished my first full short story when I was fourteen, in which I killed off my protagonist. I started my first draft of my first novel when I was sixteen. I wrote ten drafts of that novel and could probably tweak it until the end of time. Really, I don’t know when it started, I was in the middle before I knew I’d begun. Total cheesy reference to a vlog version of Pride & Prejudice there. Don’t mind my geek showing.

You’re quite accomplished with an MFA from University of Central Oklahoma, where you also teach. You’re an author, editor, and publisher at Transmundane Press. Can you share with us how you’ve moved from this creative background to wear other hats, particularly as a publisher? What new challenges have you faced in that arena?

It’s funny. As long as I’ve wanted to be a writer, I’ve wanted to be a publisher. I remember filling up notebooks and binders with research on magazines and publishers and modeling agencies that I schlepped through on the internet. And I’m talking the 1999 internet, not the fancy 2016 internet. I wanted to write, take photography for, and publish my own magazine.

Well, obviously, that didn’t pan out when I was fifteen. It did, however, push me in some interesting directions when I attended college. I’m not one of those normal college graduates. I’ve only missed a year of school since I was four. The year between my undergrad and graduate work. The math says I’ve been in school for twenty-seven years. I still have homework. Always. (Okay, I’m tangeting, let’s rein in this dragon.) I started as a photo major, moved to an accounting and marketing double major, then PR and advertising. Then communication studies and rhetoric. Then English writing. Along the way, I also got a business minor and a plethora of obscure classes on my transcripts. I spent ten years as a college student and have earned three degrees amongst my 256 credit hours.

During that time, I’ve worked for online publishers as a line-editor, a tutor, a TA, and a secretary at a funeral home where I wrote hundreds of obituaries and edited plenty of newsletters/ads.

Once my MFA was safe on my shelf, I rebelled against everything—well, not everything—my degree taught me about what qualified as real fiction. I love genre fiction and vampires and weird creatures or outrageous worlds, and I love clean language and character, more often found in literary fiction if I’m honest. So, as my goal stated on my application to graduate school, I was going to find a way to lift genre fiction to comparable levels as literary fiction.

And that’s what our goal is as a publisher, Anthony’s and mine. And I have no doubts that school is what narrowed me down to this path.

That…and I might have a bit of a control freak problem…

My biggest fault, really. I struggle with not imposing my voice on the stories I edit. I struggle balancing time between publishing—editing and marketing and project creation, writing, and teaching—you know, besides having a personal life and family, so I really need to let others do some of the work and be okay with it. I’m getting better at it. A work in progress.

Wow, can you tell I’m a novel writer?

You and your co-editor and co-publisher, Anthony S. Buoni, were instrumental in putting this project together. Can you tell us the experience of sorting through subs from the perspective of an editor? 

Anthony and I had similar reactions to this project when the call for submissions seemed to sky rocket overnight, especially when we received stories from award winners and other professional editors. I was simply stunned. I actually asked my husband, “Why do they want me to publish them?” And I was bluntly reminded that I am an adult and an authority in my field, whether I felt like one or not.

Sorting through the subs needed a system. In comes Anthony, creating a list in excel where we could keep our decisions in order—a serious life saver for me. I admit, reading was 120 submissions was strenuous, but I found myself surprised by how many I wanted.

As many who have worked with me are aware, I am not afraid to dig my fingers into a story and rip out some organs if need be. Not the vital ones, I’m not a murderer. Okay, that’s a lie, I totally am. So I wasn’t merely looking for stories that were complete and ready for publication, although some were quite close. I believe in being a mentor and working with authors who want to keep growing.

Deciding who we invest our time into is a bit of a gamble. We can only predict so much off of a cover letter and a story. It’s hard to tell which authors are going to put in the work and which ones will fight our aesthetic. Again, I’m working on being more flexible and allowing authors to maintain control of their stories.

I have trouble saying what exactly makes the decision for me as an editor. I spent a lot of time debating and going back and forth between yeses and no’s for some stories. So I left what I could up to my intuition and how the story made me feel. It might merely come down to voice.

When I reached out to you about interviews, you mentioned your contribution to the anthology, a “007 version of Snow White and Cinderella infiltrating the kingdom as undercover agents.” I was quite titillated by that concept! How does a writer draw a connection between espionage thriller to fairy tale? Do tell us how this happened.

Oh boy. Sometimes, I’m not quite sure how my brain works. It likely has something to do with the ten years of a liberal arts curriculum and learning how to make connections across subjects.

The more fun version, and the simpler one, was that I watched my first 007 movie at my Uncle John and Aunt Karin’s house over the summer. Side note, I stay a week with them every year, and they’re amazing. I already knew that I wanted undercover agents infiltrating the Charming kingdom. This was the actual inspiration for the anthology as a whole as you might have seen it in the call for submissions.

When I saw Daniel Craig as James Bond, my story clicked, and I started playing with fairy tale gadgets in my notebook. Enchanted DEW drops, electrified scarves, a sleeping serum. I had no plot, at least not one as action-packed as the 007 brand, and I do love action. New to the series, I researched the tropes and found myself able to reap valuable bits for satire. From there, I was rolling in a familiar direction, listening to my husband rant about conspiracy theories, and my plot was formed around vaccines, the Zika virus, chem-trails, and GMOs. And my favorite part is the acronyms, like the DWARVES, which stands for the Dangerous Wee Assassins of the Royal Villain Eradication Society.

You also teach at the University of Central Oklahoma. You’re a busy woman! Is there any secret you can share with us about how you stay fresh for creative work, when you’re engaged in creative work of some type for long hours every day?

I have a few tricks up my sleeve, but they’re not likely much in the way of innovation. I work out regularly. I work off stress by cooking or baking. I watch TV with my husband. I read a book to remind myself why I love writing and how much I love reading.

Honestly, I have stories inside me that will send me on a long, slippery slope to the insane asylum if I didn’t give them their own place in the world.

Writing itself rejuvenates me. It’s my form of meditation. Not that it doesn’t suck sometimes, but inevitably, when I sit to my own story I’ll get somewhere—sometimes fifty words, sometimes five hundred, and sometimes, a couple thousand. As long as I keep going back, my creativity won’t let me down.

Can you share details about your next project?

Ooo, my next project.

Wow. I have a lot of them on deck.

The closest to finished is out to a few alpha readers and should be published in February/March. Blood Phoenix: Imprinted is the third book in Ria’s story. It’s a satirical vampire/phoenix novel with some really strange characters, like Mindless who predicts the future and the past using ratios. Or my seven-foot-tall Scandinavian leprechaun, Boden, that a great number of my readers have dubbed grade A book-boyfriend material.

This part of the saga connects Boden and Ria all the more, challenges Ria’s new status as a vampire and her humanity by sending her to hunt and kill a group of shifter wolves, and brings to head a three-book-long rivalry with a fellow vampire, resulting in beheadings, magical implosions, and some serious scars.

I have another novel awaiting editing about a mermaid-unicorn hybrid and a vampire-lion. It takes place in the same general world as my other novels but is set in Egypt. I love how it creates a larger view of how the characters’ actions in my existing books effects characters on the other side of the world.

Other than the novel I’m drafting—and seriously, twenty other projects on deck that have some type of substantial notes—Anthony and I are throwing out ideas for our next anthology call. Think fire.

Alisha Costanzo is from a Syracuse suburb. She earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Central Oklahoma, where she currently teaches English. She’s the author of BLOOD PHOENIX: REBIRTH, BLOOD PHOENIX: CLAIMED, and LOVING RED, and co-editor of DISTORTED and UNDERWATER; her new anthology, AFTER THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, is undergoing serious edits for its 2016 release. Her new novel, BLOOD PHOENIX: IMPRINTED, is set for release in 2017. In the meantime, she will continue to corrupt young minds, rant about the government, and daydream about her all around nasty creatures.

You can keep up with Alisha at her website.

Keep an eye on Transmundane Press’s Amazon or main site to stay in the loop on all things After Happily Ever After!


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