Good afternoon, creeps! Welcome to the first stop on the SECRETS book tour. Joining me today (after a few technical difficulties) is author Darcia Helle to talk a bit about herself and her book.
Interview with Darcia Helle
Tell us a bit about yourself:
This question always makes me feel like I’m filling out a bio on a dating site, except I’m married so that would be awkward. I have two sons, a gorgeous granddaughter, three dogs, a cat, a partridge and a pear tree. Okay, I don’t have the partridge or the pear tree, though I’d like to have the tree. Despite spending the first 35 years of my life in Massachusetts, I never adapted to fall or winter. Temperatures below 75 degrees are for polar bears. I don’t like to cook or wear shoes. I believe no one’s day should begin before 10 a.m. And I’m very much a peacenik, making it all the more ironic that I really like to write gruesome murder scenes.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first book when I was 4 of 5. It was a ghost story, complete with pictures. At the time, I could draw one-dimensional ghosts and stick figures. My artistic talent has not improved, so I have never attempted another picture book.
What is a typical day in your life like?
A typical day for me is largely imaginary. In my head, I kill people, fall in love, get divorced, drive super expensive sports cars, seek revenge, talk to ghosts, and find all sorts of gruesome uses for a pair of pliers.
My real life is really quite dull. I’m mostly housebound, due to complications from chronic, advanced Lyme disease. I’ve never been a morning person, so I park myself at my desk with a cup of tea, music, and either Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes I go wild and have both open at the same time. I spend much of my day working on content for my blog, writing, researching, and reading. My dogs decide when I’ve been planted in my seat too long. The two boys – Oliver and Sammy – are active and love to be outside. Sometimes they’re happy to chase each other around the backyard on their own, and other times they feel I should take part, or at least cheer them on from the sidelines. Kaylee, my little girl, is always content to lie beside me wherever I am.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate. My life is typically peaceful and drama-free.
My husband tells me my answer to this question changes daily, and he’s probably right. I have 437 songs on my iTunes ‘Favorites’ list. I think we all have different favorites to fit the mood we’re in. The one song that has been my favorite since the first day I heard it, regardless of my mood, is Drift Away by Dobie Gray. Something about that song always makes me stop, listen, and smile. I love the groove to the beat, and the lyrics fit the way I feel about music.
Give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll, and drift away…
My favorite band is, always has been, and always will be Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant’s voice still gives me chills. This is a band I play only when I’m paying attention, because Zeppelin can never be relegated to background music. My favorite Zeppelin song is Kashmir. Or maybe it’s Since I’ve Been Loving You. Or Black Dog. Or I’m Gonna Crawl.
Anyway, you see my problem here. J
What’s worse for you: a bad amazon review, or a bad review from a fellow author?
Wow. Both really suck. Ultimately, the answer depends on who each person is. If the author is someone whose work I enjoy and respect, a bad review from him/her would be excruciatingly painful. On the other hand, if the author is someone whose writing I find mediocre for some reason, I wouldn’t be as offended by a bad review.
With general Amazon reviews from readers I don’t know, how much a bad review bothers me depends on the content of that review. If someone merely says, “A waste of money”, with no explanation, I don’t give it much thought. If the reviewer takes the time to state what he/she didn’t like, even if I don’t agree, it always stings.
I try to keep my perspective. Not everyone is going to love or even like my writing, and that often has little to do with my storytelling skills. Some readers don’t like certain plots, or characters traits. I’ve had bad reviews on Enemies and Playmates because I didn’t put enough sex in the book. One reader gave me a bad review because my main character drank soft drinks instead of alcohol at various points in the story. (That review was so silly it made me giggle.) Even the greatest writers get bad reviews. Reviews are nothing more than one person’s opinion, and, if I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that everyone has their own opinion.
Still, I prefer deliriously positive 5-star reviews, if anyone cares to help me out. J
Any awards we should know about?
I won my fourth grade spelling bee. Does that count?
I know awards can be important, and many authors pursue them. I don’t. All the awards I’m aware of that indie authors are eligible for require the author to pay an entry fee. I know the fee is supposed to cover the judges’ time and all the expenses, but I’m not a big fan of the process.
I’m also not a fan of Emmy and Grammy Awards, but you didn’t ask my opinion on that.
When choosing reading material, what factors are important to you?
With fiction, the most important factor is believable, intriguing characters. I have to want to follow this new person into this new world. Characters that feel wooden, are too predictable, or that aren’t fully developed are the biggest reason I’ll lose interest.
Nonfiction is, of course, a totally different experience with different criteria. I read a lot of nonfiction and have a wide range of interests. The most important factor with any nonfiction, for me, is that the writer finds a way to engage his/her readers. I don’t want a list of statistics and endless facts. I don’t want to feel I’m being force-fed information, as I did with most of those horrible textbooks from my high school years. I want to slip inside whatever topic I’m reading about in a way that allows me to learn something while still thinking for myself and reaching my own conclusions.
Your inspiration – is it from your imagination or from personal experience?
I find it impossible to untangle the two. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and I think imagination is only sparked by random, real experiences. Even authors who write fantasy have to draw on something in their life for inspiration, whether consciously or not. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
With most of my novels and short stories, I can pinpoint the initial inspiration. For example, Into The Light originated from a conversation with my father. He’d had a dream about a homicide detective who solved all his cases by talking to ghosts. He was telling me about it, because he thought it would be a great concept for a book. I agreed, but had no immediate thoughts about what to do with it. A couple of months later, Max popped into my head fully formed with a story to tell.
The Cutting Edge is my biggest self-indulgence. That story revolves around a hairstylist working in a small town salon. I was also a stylist in a small town salon for about 15 years. I set the story in that same town I lived and worked in. Most of the clients, conversations and incidents are thinly veiled reality. I like to say I changed the names and minor details to protect the innocent and hide the guilty. However, Skye, the main character, is in no way autobiographical, aside from the fact that I occasionally shared her murderous fantasies.
The inspiration for Secrets came from repressed memory stories that were big in the news, though I didn’t make that connection until after I’d written the book. I actually wrote the original draft for this book about twenty years ago. A few years before that repressed memories were a huge issue, particularly in the New England area where I lived. The concept fascinated me. I often wondered if it was possible to make yourself forget traumatic events, and what it would be like to have all those memories return. As with Into The Light, one day Samantha popped into my head and the Prologue for Secrets wrote itself. To be honest, most of that book wrote itself. At times, I felt like I was nothing more than a conduit between the characters and the typewriter. (This was pre-computer world for me.)
That first draft of Secrets was quite dark. I never even tried to get it published traditionally. I put the printed pages in a manuscript box, and that’s where it stayed until last year, when I decided to revive and revise the story.
I don’t usually set out to add bits of my personal experiences into my books. They happen organically, as I filter the characters through my understanding of the world.
If given the opportunity to meet one of your characters in real life, which would it be and why?
I’d love to hang out with Skye from The Cutting Edge. She’s free-spirited and a little crazy in a fun way. We share some of the same interests, but also have a lot of differences in our personalities. She’s far more outspoken than I am, and more of an extravert. I think she’d be the type of person others are drawn to, the type who is easily the life of the party without being loud and obnoxious.
Give us your opinion: Editors – are they friends or enemies?
The right editor is absolutely a best friend. Even the most gifted author, with the best education and understanding of language, can’t self-edit properly. For one thing, the brain simply doesn’t see those silly little mistakes in our own work. When I read someone else’s work, I can easily pick out ‘form’ instead of ‘from’, missing commas, or the word ‘steak’ instead of ‘stake’. With my own work, I often miss those things. By the time I get to the edit stage, I’ve worked on a story for months, if not years. I know what the words are supposed to say and my brain skips over the mistakes. This is true of everyone, which is one reason editors are so valuable.
Another reason is that we authors are fully absorbed in our story. We know who the characters are, what their motives are, where the story is going and how it will end. Because we’re inside that story, it’s hard for us to be impartial. Maybe a character’s motives aren’t as clear as we’d thought. Or there could be a gaping hole in the plot that we didn’t see, because we were focused on a different aspect of the story. Editors’ viewpoints are vital in these instances.
An author and his/her editor have a special relationship. Not everyone is a good fit. The author needs an editor whose opinion he/she trusts. The editor preferably will work with authors whose writing he/she enjoys. Just like any relationship, they each need to voice their expectations. With the right match, an author can only get better.
I’m fortunate to have an editor who is supportive, has great instincts, and is truly a friend. His name is Bob Helle. Despite sharing the last name, we are not, that I know of, related. (Though I would love for Bob to be a family member!) Bob can be found on his brand new website: http://anovelapproachtoediting.wordpress.com/
Plotter of Pantser? Is there an advantage to either?
I’m a Pantser all the way. That seems to be my approach to all of life, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. (Though it does keep life interesting!)
I’ve never written from a plot outline, so I can’t say from experience what the advantages are of one method over the other. I only know what comes naturally to me. My characters tell me their stories. Sometimes I have an idea where they’re going, other times I don’t. Occasionally I’ve tried to direct things, which has been disastrous. The best part of the process for me is the journey into the unknown.
I have a lot of respect for writers who sit down and formulate specific plans for their novel, with outlines for each chapter, character charts, etc. To me, that’s work. It’s something I would have been forced to do in English Composition classes.
At times, I wish I had more of a plan, or any plan at all, particularly with the Michael Sykora series I’m writing. I find series writing is much harder without plotting in advance, because the characters are already created and I can’t rely as heavily on them to lead me down a new path. But that’s not who I am as a writer. I can start with a general idea, a single concept. The rest has to unfold along the way.
How do you go about researching your stories?
Google is an author’s best friend! Before Google, research was such a cumbersome project. We had to go to libraries, search through microfilm and use that dreaded Dewey Decimal System to find books that might have the information we needed. I can’t even imagine going back to that.
Most of the time, a Google search and the right websites will provide the information I need. I have shelves full of research books for things like various poisons and basic forensics. I’m also fortunate to have a network of friends who graciously answer my random questions.
What comes first, the plot, the characters, or the setting?
Characters always come first for me. I’m very much character-driven in both my reading preferences and my own writing. If the characters aren’t interesting, if they don’t come alive, then it doesn’t matter to me how good the plot is. On the flip side, when the characters captivate me, I’ll follow them anywhere the plot wanders.
When I have a story idea, it goes absolutely nowhere until the right character enters my head. I’m not sure how that happens. My best explanation is I have hundreds of people living in the shadows of my mind, and each pops out when the need arises. It’s an interesting process for me. Sometimes I know right away what that character’s basic story is, as with Into The Light and Secrets. Other times, like with my novel Hit List, a character pops into my head and leads me blindly down a path, and I’m just as surprised as readers are by what happens.
Who is in control when you write, you or your characters?
I have no more control over my characters than I have over the national debt. On the few occasions I’ve attempted to control their behavior, they have planted their feet firmly on the ground and shown me without doubt who is in charge.
What inspires you to write?
I’m inspired to write by the need to maintain some level of sanity. If I didn’t write their stories, all these characters in my head would surely drive me crazy. There’d be no room left in my mind for me.
When you write, is it with or without visual/audio stimulation (tv, music, etc.)?
I need relative silence to create. The dogs barking or other ‘white noise’ doesn’t bother me. The TV irritates me and music distracts me.
I guess I don’t like background noise in my life in general terms, as well as specifically when I write. I’m not a big TV person to begin with. When it’s on, it’s because I want to watch a specific program and that program is getting my full attention. My husband is the opposite, and would have the TV on just for background noise. Fortunately, he’s at work all week and spends a lot of time in the garage on weekends. J
While I love music, and have what some might call an obsessive need to collect it, listening is a conscious and absorbing activity. I couldn’t put something on with lyrics while I write, because I’d be listening to the story of the song and getting that mixed in with the story I’m trying to write. Even music without lyrics is distracting for me. Music absolutely affects my mood and would, therefore, affect the mood of the characters and story. Each song has a different feel, and puts me in a different place.
Now if only I could get the phone to stop ringing when I’m mid-scene and fully absorbed in the character…
What’s the weather like where you are today?
Today is sunny and unusually hot for February, even by Florida standards. I have all my windows and sliders open, the dogs are crashed on their beds beside my desk, and my son is complaining because I won’t turn the air conditioner on.
If you could live in any period throughout history, which would it be and why?
I’d like to be in San Francisco from the late fifties through late sixties. The culture during that period holds particular fascination for me. Poets and novelists were cult heroes, and I mean that in the positive sense rather than the creepy kind of cult Manson and his followers had going on. Literature was respected, creativity encouraged. Poetry was recited on stage and acted out on the streets. In the early days of the ‘hippie’ scene, there were peace-ins and groups like The Diggers worked to eliminate hunger with no selfish motives or profit.
That’s also the period when rock music exploded onto the scene. New sounds were experimented with. Groups like Pink Floyd brought us psychedelic rock. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix brought Blues to the mainstream. And, of course, Woodstock happened. I would have loved to experience that.
Be honest…which are better: Boxers or Briefs?
I don’t wear either, so I can’t answer this from the perspective of comfort. From a visual perspective, I prefer the combined design of boxer briefs.
Give us one dirty, little secret about yourself.
I love to eavesdrop on private conversations between strangers. The snippets I overhear provide endless inspiration for characters and stories.
“Secrets” – Darcia Helle
Samantha’s monsters aren’t under the bed; they’re the people she calls Mom and Dad.
She makes it out alive, her sanity barely intact.
She creates a new past that fools everyone, including herself.
A life filled with love and security teeters on its base of lies.
When it all comes crumbling down, will Samantha make it out alive?
About Darcia Helle
Darcia Helle lives in a fictional world with a husband who is sometimes real. Their house is ruled by spoiled dogs and cats and the occasional dust bunny.
Suspense, random blood splatter and mismatched socks consume Darcia’s days. She writes because the characters trespassing through her mind leave her no alternative. Only then are the voices free to haunt someone else’s mind.
Join Darcia in her fictional world: http://www.QuietFuryBooks.com
The characters await you.
There’s also a Rafflecopter giveaway!