Today we are honored to present this interview with amazing author Darcia Helle. Like me Darcia is an escapee from the frozen wasteland we affectionately call New England.
What does Darcia Helle’s writing process look like?
My writing process often looks like me staring off into space, daydreaming. Much of my ‘writing’ is done in my head, silently, while I listen to characters’ voices, and learn who they are and what they want. I don’t outline, and I have few preconceptions of what a given story will be. Most of the time, I start with a voice, a character. I don’t know what will happen from one scene to the next. I follow the stream of thoughts. When I get stuck, I stop and listen. I look like I’m doing absolutely nothing, but this is the busiest and most complicated part of my writing process.
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
I wish I could write in the shower, because that’s when I have the best ideas! But, no, I don’t have any habits I’d consider strange, though I have inadvertently trained myself with specific habits. I can now only properly transfer my disordered thoughts into ordered writing when my fingers are on a keyboard. Now and then I try using a pen and paper, but I either wind up with a jumbled mess or I hit a stone wall after a few sentences. Put my fingers on a keyboard, and all the voices give me the creative flow I need.
My editing process is reversed. When I’ve finished the first draft, I need to print it all out. I have to do the first read-through and edit with the pages and a pen in hand. After that, I transfer all edits to the Word file, and do another read-through/edit on the computer.
Is there one book you have written that is your favorite? Which of your characters is your favorite? And which is the biggest trouble maker for you?
Picking a favorite book would be like picking a favorite child. I love them all for different reasons. The same with my characters. They all live in my mind and feel like a part of me.
The biggest troublemaker for me was probably Max, from Into The Light. He was also one of my easiest POV characters to write, though only after I gave up trying to make him into something he wasn’t. I’d originally intended for him to be a secondary character, with Joe Cavelli (the PI in the story) as the lead. I had a different direction in mind for the story. But Max would have none of that. He had a story to tell, and he was determined to tell it his own way.
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
I’m inspired by every single author and every single book I read.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Names, for me, are vital. They have to feel right for the character. That, of course, is completely subjective. The image I hold in my mind of a certain name is often quite different from the image another person holds. The important thing is that a name has to work for the writer’s image of the character. It goes along with how we see that person in our minds, from their ethnicity to their clothing style to the personality quirks. If the name Alan makes me think of a high school bully I knew, I’m not going to use that name for the good guy lead character in one of my books. Hopefully, if I do my job correctly, the reader won’t have a problem getting past any preconceptions that name might hold for him/her.
My characters often come to me with a first name. That might sound strange to readers, but I honestly don’t have a lot to do with the people who pop into my head. They come with a personality and intent. It only makes sense that they also come with a name!
Last names are sometimes a challenge for me. I’ve never cared much about last names in my personal life, which I suppose translates to my writing life. Occasionally, a character will come to me fully named. That was true of Max Paddington and Joe Cavelli (Into The Light), Lucianna Martel (Hit List), and Jesse Ryder (Enemies and Playmates). Others I struggled to get right. Michael Sykora (Michael Sykora Novels) got his last name while I was watching hockey, as did Maria Milan (Killing Instinct). A few of my characters had their last names pulled out of a phone book, as I closed my eyes, opened the book, and stabbed my finger down on a random name. A few others received their last name courtesy of my husband.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a reader I didn’t know. She’d read Enemies and Playmates, and wanted to tell me how much she loved the book. She said she was out shopping, and she swore she saw Jesse and Lauren (the two lead characters) walking through the parking lot, holding hands. For the characters to be that vivid to her, and to have stayed with her in a way that caused her to think of them when she saw another couple, is truly the best compliment I could ever receive. My writing is very much character-driven, and her e-mail made me feel like I’d passed those characters out into the world. That compliment will stay with me forever.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would Darcia Helle do for a living?
If I didn’t like to write, I’d be a different person entirely. Given that, I have no idea what I’d be doing because I wouldn’t be me.
Are you a plotter or a pantster? (Write by the seat of your pants)
I’m a total pantster. I don’t outline. Typically I only have a vague sense of the plot. I start with a character’s voice. I spend a lot of time listening to that voice, getting to know the character. And I simply follow that voice wherever it leads me. I’m sometimes as surprised as readers are by what happens in the story.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I don’t obsessively read reviews, like some authors do. I used to, when I first started out, and I quickly found this too much of a distraction. The good ones would lift my mood for a few hours. The bad ones would leave me upset for days. Funny how one unkind word can so easily undo all the positive.
I’ve learned to put these things in perspective. Not everyone will love or even like my writing. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Providing a negative review has some substance, I accept it and perhaps learn from it. What bothers me are the generic reviews – I hated this book. What a waste of money. What did you hate and why? Also irritating are the reviews from people who shouldn’t have read the book to begin with. Most of my books, with one exception, are dark suspense. I’m always a bit perturbed when a bad review starts out with, “I’m not a fan of suspense…” Then why did you read the book?
What really offends me, and not just with my own books, is the current wave of reviews from the language police. These reviewers hand out 1-star reviews to all books with strong language. I don’t understand why it’s okay to read about gruesome murders, but only if the killers and the cops don’t curse. Bad people – and even good people – say ‘bad’ words. Writers shouldn’t be bashed because a character’s voice is honest. This upsets me so much that I wrote a rant on the topic:
Back to your question. I do occasionally check my reviews, read some of them, and generally make sure the overall vibe is good. (Which I take to mean I’m doing something right!) I don’t respond to reviews on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. I do respond to any and all readers who e-mail me directly.
My advice for dealing with the bad is to check your ego at the door. People will dislike your writing for a variety of reasons. I’m far more suspicious of a book with all 5-star ratings. Take a look at your own favorite books or books by giants like Stephen King of James Patterson. They all have some bad reviews. So you’re in good company.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Promotion and marketing are by far my least favorite part.
Darcia I have to agree with you on the promotion and marketing part. With that is there one subject Darcia Helle would never write about as an author? What is it?
Interesting question. I don’t think there is. I’ve tackled a few controversial topics already. For me, it’s not a matter of refusing to write about a topic, but more the issue of how I would approach that topic. I would never write anything with the intent of promoting any sort of prejudice or narrow-minded view. My hope is always to show that there is more than a clear cut right and wrong. People are murky, a mixture of good, bad, and indifferent. People are not born bad. And I don’t know a single person that is 100% good and altruistic. Things happen that shape and mold personalities and behavior. My goal, regardless of subject, is to glimpse into those dark corners and show readers what I see.
I know you are an animal lover, and have participated in rescuing unwanted and or stray animals. Could you tell us about some of them?
I love talking about my furkids! I need to be careful here, because I could go on for days.
I’ve had dogs and cats all my life. As an adult, I’ve adopted all my animals from rescues or shelters. This is something I feel strongly about. While I have no issue with qualified breeders, I personally wouldn’t buy a dog or cat when there are so many that are desperate for a home. Most importantly, I would absolutely never buy a dog from a pet store. These are almost always supplied by puppy mills, which are appalling ‘businesses’. I have the perfect example of this type of business, and the way they care for their ‘property’.
Last month, we lost our little Chihuahua to sudden, acute, congestive heart failure. Her name was Kaylee, and she was a loving, trusting, happy little girl.
Just the fact that she was alive was a miracle. The fact that she thrived, that she trusted my husband and me, and that she was gentle and sweet is, to me, astounding. You see, Kaylee was a puppy mill rescue. She was one of more than 150 dogs confiscated from a local puppy mill back in 2007. The dogs were in such poor health that more than half of them had to be immediately euthanized.
Kaylee was right on the line between life and death. We adopted her from the rescue in June of 2007, about one month after the raid on the puppy mill. She’d had some veterinary treatment by then, and was being cared for by a foster family. The day we brought her home, she weighed just shy of 4 pounds. She was a skeleton with fur. She did not know how to chew hard food, because her diet had consisted mostly of bread soaked in water. She did not know how to walk properly, because she’d always been confined to a small cage. She looked a bit like a baby deer, staggering about our living room. (Her spine never fully straightened, giving her a kind of camel hump appearance.) Her ears were so badly encrusted that she could barely hear. One eye had been severely scratched and never treated, so it didn’t produce tears and required constant treatment. She’d just finished nursing a litter of puppies that had been sent off to pet stores. We don’t know how many litters she’d had in her short life. She was, at that time, approximately three years old. Left at the puppy mill, she would not have lived another six months. She was, to them, nothing more than a puppy factory, easily replaced.
In those early months, Kaylee required a lot of care. We had lots of vet appointments. There was eye ointment, ear wash, and antibiotics. She was skittish. She’d never walked on grass, and it scared her. She’d tremble horribly when it rained or stormed. You see, Kaylee had spent her first years in a cage, stacked on top of other cages, out on the porch of a home. She’d never lived inside. Never left her cage. She’d never known a gentle, human touch.
Despite all that, Kaylee thrived. She soon learned to walk normally. Then suddenly she was happily running alongside our older dog, Sidney. She doubled in weight, to a healthy 8 pounds. (And soon a slightly chunky 8-3/4 pounds!) Her resilience inspired me. On my difficult days, when my own chronic health problems got me down, she’d look at me with her big happy eyes, as if to tell me it would be okay. She’d made it, and so could I. She was a little shining light, and I miss her terribly.
That is so inspirational Darcia, I personally detest the way animals are treated by some. I am so glad that Kaylee was able to know love and kindness during her life. So so many other animals never do..It breaks my heart…
Darcia what is your latest book? How many books have you written prior?
My last novel is called Killing Instinct. It’s the third book in my Michael Sykora Series, though it can be read as a stand-alone. This is dark suspense, centered on hired killers.
I currently have nine novels published, one collection of short stories that is solely mine, and stories included in the first two books in the Mind’s Eye Series.
What is Darcia Helle working on now? What is your next project?
I’m working on formatting the ebook and print book for Triptychs, the third book in the Mind’s Eye Series. This is a collection of short stories inspired by photographs. Each author is given random photos, and we then write stories based on what we see. Triptych includes ten authors, two poets, and two photographers. I’ve contributed two stories for this collection. This book will be released toward the end of March, or possibly early April.
I’m also trying to finish my next novel, which is probably best described as supernatural suspense. (Not vampires or werewolves.) My goal had been for a spring release, but I’m way behind. Now I’m hoping for midsummer.
The following are some Crazy Questions That No One Ever Asks Authors. Well that is except for me!
What is your biggest fear?
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. No, that was FDR’s answer. My biggest fear is spiders. They’re evil. Being buried alive might be second to sitting in a room full of spiders.
If you could have any accents from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
Australia. Their accent is so much sexier than my New England accent.
What was Darcia Helle like as a child? Your favorite toy?
I was a quiet child. Total introvert. (Still am!) Hated anything with ruffles or the color pink. Loved books, music, my dolls, and my dogs. I don’t remember having a favorite toy. I’m sure I must have, at some point, though I have no memory of a strong attachment to anything specific. At around the age of 8, my mother gave me all her 45s. (For the younger readers, those are small vinyl records with one song on each side.) That was probably my favorite possession for years. (I still have them.)
Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?
Yes and yes. My dreams are vivid. I don’t sleep well, and much of my sleep time is spent in a sort of suspended state between sleeping and waking. Consequently, they often feel more like daydreams – or even real life experiences – and the details stay with me for a long time. I’ve had both recurring dreams and recurring nightmares. One recurring dream lasted about 20 years. Sometimes I’d have that dream a few times a week, then not again for months. The dream involved a house, along with a past, present, future type of experience. The mind is a strange thing!
Thank you Darcia for the glimpse into your world. I am including links for my readers to find out more about you, and to purchase your books.
Facebook (personal page):
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