I read that reading is your security blanket. Is that why you began writing?
I began to write because I come from a Southern family of gothic storytellers. Supper at our houses was always a macabre affair—and I’m not only referring to the blood-red aspic. When I went to college, Mama wrote me everyday – in letter format. Remember P.O. boxes? Well, everyday inside my little box, was a true story relayed by Mama. The best of the best: on my sister’s first day of high school, a student chased a teacher down the un-air-conditioned hot Alabama public school hallway with a butcher knife. So in regards to my love of writing stories, Mama started it!
After your first experience with the publishing world and with so many years passing, what made you decide to return? I'd like to add that we are thrilled you're back.
Thanks so much, it’s great to be back. Lord knows, I tried to come back over and over – not once in the years I’ve been out of print did I stop writing - but nobody wanted to publish the books I wrote that currently reside in my desk drawer. As you can tell by The Turning and my daily website vlogs I am a bit of an odd swan.
Your current delight, The Turning: What Curiosity Kills, is about a teenage girl whose awkward stage is a little more than just your run-of-the-mill puberty burst. She grows hair...cat hair. Where did you come up with that?
I had a dream that I woke up with a cat face. To quote Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads, I asked my dream self, “Well, how did I get here?”
I love how you refer to it as her awkward stage. It makes it so personal, especially to young adults her age. Can you explain a little more how you threaded that connection through the book.
Unlike supernatural shape-shifting fiction I’ve read, I wanted the turning to come over Mary slowly – the tortuous way puberty does. So in addition to pimples and A-cups, she got narcolepsy and hot flashes.
I've seen the phrase 'Inner Kitty' used often by you. In the book, there are two worlds of cats: domestics and stray. How important was that world building to this story?
The world Mary lives in is a very real one: New York City. But there is an underworld that’s not as invisible as you’d think. Domestics live among us – in our homes, they sleep in our beds. Strays rule the streets. They might be in hiding, but they are always underfoot. Theirs is a class battle. A lifestyle battle. A difference of opinion that goes back as far as you can remember. Enemies = conflict. Conflict is the heart of any good story.
Do you have a method to your world building?
Honestly, I play that old campfire game – where one person starts a story, then the person beside them continues, and the story goes around and around the campfire circle. I ask what you ask when you pass the campfire story along: “And then what happens?” The difference is that I alone answer the question every single time.
You refer to the word Luddite often, and even dedicated a special tab for it on your website. Could you elaborate?
I’m not a big fan of technology. I refuse to own a cell phone. Up until my publication this month, I never tweeted, blogged, Face-booked, what have you. My publishers insisted that online social networking was how book promotion is done today. So I decided to vlog about what I know: my love of old ways (circa 1986). Visit my Diary of a Luddite and I’ll show you the joys of a typewriter and a brag book and how to keep Mick Jagger’s pants on.
You primarily vlog on your website. I think that's so different and fantastic. Why did you choose that outlet?
Thanks so much! The vlogs really chose me. I made the first entry about how to use a rotary phone and got such a good response, I stuck with it. I like the vlogs because I don’t film my face. Like writing, I have found a bit of anonymity in my art – and that’s what the short videos feel like: a new way to express myself (and it really is the “real” me).
Helen has some fantastic vlogs, but this ONE is hilarious. I fell in love with it.
Any advice for writers out there that you'd like to share from your experience?
Failure is liberating.
I'm known for asking a wacky question now and again. If you could choose, what type of cat would you be?
I would be a stray cat on the island of Santorini in Greece. Greece, as a country, is overrun with stray cats, who prowl freely and live among the people like they own the place.
It has been my pleasure, Helen. You are a wonderful lady and an inspiration. You sure have inspired me to keep chasing my dream, and one day I'll be walking hand and hand where you are now. Best of luck to you always and don't be a stranger. Can't wait to see what you come up with next.
Alleywalkers, feel free to contact Helen, follower her on TWITTER, visit her SITE, and of course buy her awesome books!! Click any of the links included above. Sher~ OUT!