Q&A With Author Darcia Helle

by Vincent Salera 02 Jul 2015

Your book, The Cutting Edge, where a hairstylist can’t stop fantasizing about killing her clients is certainly not your typical novel, where did you get the inspiration to write The Cutting Edge?

This book is completely self-indulgent. I was a hairstylist for 15 years and worked in a small town salon. In fact, I set this novel in the same small town I lived and worked in. Almost all of the activity in the salon is based on real conversations and incidents with real clients. I changed the names and minor details to protect the innocent and hide the guilty.

I recently did a blog post on this, sharing some of the scenes from the book and the reality behind them.

You can find that here: http://quietfurybooks.com/blog/she-said-what-the-reality-of-my-fictional-characters/

What inspired you to pen your first novel?

Good question. I wish I had an answer! Writing isn’t something I ever thought about. I just always did it. When I was very young, I wrote silly little picture book stories. As I got older, I moved on to poetry, short stories and essays. I always had an overactive imagination and spent a lot of time in my own head. I’m fascinated by sociology, human behavior, each person’s unique response to a situation.

Enemies and Playmates, my first published novel, was a product of all that. I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing a novel. A vivid scene – the first scene in the book – haunted me. I could see the characters there. I wanted to know who they were and what their story was. So I sat down and wrote that scene. Then another. Before I knew it, I had a finished novel.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

I don’t use a formula and I don’t outline. A plot concept might be marinating in the back of my mind. Maybe a snippet of lyrics or a conversation with someone sparks a story idea. But that doesn’t go anywhere for me until a character emerges, and that’s something I can’t force. To be honest, I’m not sure where the characters come from. I’d love to take full credit and tell you I sit down and create them with specific intentions. I don’t though. They come to me, quite literally pop into my head, and have a story to tell. Typically, I only have a vague idea of where the story is going. I sort of become the characters as I write. I follow them and the story unfolds. Every so often, I think I’m smarter than they are. I try to direct the story. That is inevitably a failure. They balk at me, stamp their feet, tell me I’m not paying attention to who they are. And they are right. I can’t fit them into the mold of a pre-planned plot. In the end, I’m often every bit as surprised as my readers are.

How would you increase literacy?

One of the simplest ways to start would be to wipe out the must-read book list U.S. schools follow. Most kids have no interest in Classics. Heck, I don’t even want to read the Classics! And those summer must-read lists are almost always awful. My older son would read a dozen books over the summer, but not one of them would be on the list from his school. (And he actually loves Shakespeare, if that tells you anything.) If we want our kids to pick up a book, we have to make reading fun again. It shouldn’t feel like a punishment.

Beyond that, the answer becomes more complicated. The solutions then need to be tailored more to the needs of the specific problems. For instance, in areas of the world where girls are not taught to read, the problem is more one of cultural difference than literacy in general.

What story do you enjoy reading over and over again?

There are many I probably would enjoy reading again, though I never do. My to-read list is crazy long. I’ll never have time to read all the books that catch my interest, but I’m doing my best to read as many as possible.

Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?

Advice is always a difficult thing for me to dispense. What works for me might not work for someone else. Some important basics include connecting with authors whose writing you like. Networking is not just about selling your work. It’s more about surrounding yourself with people who love the craft as much as you do, and learning from one another’s experiences. Another point, which might seem obvious, is to read a lot within your chosen genre. I’m astounded by authors who tell me they don’t have time to read. These are inevitably the same authors whose writing I find has an amateur quality, with no growth from one piece of writing to the next. Reading books by authors we wish to emulate (not copy) has a way of teaching us what works – and what doesn’t.

If you were given the power to become invisible for one day, what would you do?

This is hard. There’s not much I want to do that requires invisibility. I’d probably wander freely throughout a bunch of homes. The writer in me would like to see how people live when no one is watching.

If heaven exists, what is the first thing you would like to hear from God when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Oh, my. I would like to hear him tell me why. Why are innocent, helpless babies being abused and murdered, with no one to love and protect them? Why are good people starving, while selfish billionaires spend $5,000 on a hamburger? I’d want to know what purpose all this injustice has served.

If you could relive one of the happiest days of your life, what would it be?

One of my happiest days was when I finally met my (now) husband in person. We’d been pen pals for three years before meeting in Reno, Nevada. He rented a car and we did a lot of off-road exploring. That entire vacation was truly magical, in the way that new love always is for the people involved. We didn’t do anything extravagant. We both love to explore, which is what we did. The best part was that we were together, with no distractions or responsibilities beyond what to do each day.

That being said, the philosophical part of me wonders if it’s even possible to repeat that kind of happiness. Unless we have a time machine and go back to relive that day, the repeat would feel different. And if we did have the time machine, we wouldn’t be reliving that day as much as going back to the day we choose. So I suppose I’ll skip the time machine and continue on ahead, enjoying the moments as the come.

What ice cream flavor would you invent?

Back home in Massachusetts (I’m now in Florida), there is a dairy farm called Peaceful Meadows that makes and sells their own ice cream. They had a flavor called Black Raspberry that was thick, creamy, and oh so yummy! I’ve since seen plain raspberry in other places, but it’s never as good. The flavor isn’t as intense, and it usually contains pieces of raspberries that muddy up the creaminess. So maybe I’d steal Peaceful Farm’s recipe. I also wish mocha was more widely available. As for a new flavor, I really don’t know. I prefer my ice cream plain, without lots of added stuff. I love chai lattes, iced or hot, so maybe I’d try inventing chai ice cream.

Any exciting news/hints about your upcoming projects?

I’m working on a novel that will probably be the first in a new series. This book started as straight-up psychological suspense, but the main character decided he had some secrets to share. From there, the idea for a new series took shape. The book is rooted in the dark suspense I lean toward, but also has a paranormal angle. There are no vampires or werewolves. The paranormal aspect is, I hope, believable and keeps the characters very much human.

I’m also getting ready to release Perspectives, the second book in the Mind’s Eye Series. This is a collaboration between multiple authors and two photographers. Each piece of writing is inspired by a photograph. We have, of course, included the photographs at the start of each story, so that readers can see the same photo we saw and then take the journey along with us. This project has been a lot of fun. I was initially surprised at how much of a challenge it is to write a story based on a photo you know nothing about. The creative process is very different this way. We’ve received great feedback, and we’re already at work on the third book in this series.

DarciaHelle

What do you do to unwind and relax?

I write! When I’m writing fiction, I go to another place. Stepping into someone else’s life is a totally liberating experience. Writing allows me to forget who and where I am. Reading is another favorite pastime I find relaxing. Apart from these things, the best way for me to relax is to get lost in music and/or spend time playing with my dogs.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

The obvious answer here is the ability to suck a reader into the story. Believability is vital. Yes, it’s fiction, but the story has to feel real to the reader. Even fantasy and science fiction need an element of believability in order for the reader to fully immerse him-/herself in the story. For me personally, as a reader and a writer, everything hinges on the characters. They have to feel and behave like real people. Some stories have amazing plots but wooden characters. I don’t want to feel like the characters are chess pieces, put there only to move the plot along. I don’t want to question their believability, because then I question everything about the story. I want to get lost in the emotion. I want to feel the passion. If I can connect in this way to a character, good or bad, I will follow her anywhere she leads.

What are the ingredients of a blockbuster story?

Wow. I wish I knew! I don’t often agree with what the mainstream publishing world labels as “blockbuster”, so I might not be the right person to ask this question of. But I’ll do my best to share my perspective on this. As a reader, I first have to connect with the characters. Whether they are good guys, bad guys, or a mixture of both, they need to make me care about who they are and what they’re doing. Strong, well-developed characters, to me, are the essential ingredient for any great story. The characters need to feel real, with multi-dimensions and all the quirks that come with being human. This can actually be harder to achieve than creating a dynamic plot. The characters should drive the plot, or at least it should feel that way.

As a writer, I have yet to see one of my books achieve blockbuster status, so again I am probably not the best person to answer this question. But I can say that, when readers contact me about my books, it’s almost always my characters they talk about. I’m often asked to bring certain characters back for sequels because they are loved and missed.

I think that the biggest impact a book makes comes from readers connecting with the characters. Once that happens, a writer can take a reader anywhere and the trip will be memorable.

Now the pessimistic part of me says the ingredients for a blockbuster are: a modicum of talent, a whole lot of drive to succeed, and the right connections.

Vincent Salera

Founder CEO/CCO @ World's Best Story™ amplifier of creativity & fun!