I find it hard to believe that if you’ve been anywhere close to my portion of the Blogosphere lately, you will have been able to go without some kind of encounter with the Dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat. Helena is the beautiful and wonderful covert masquerade, who recently came out in dramatic style as author, creator, and all-round-wordsmith, Ken. I was hooked from the very first post of Helena’s that I read, and have stuck like a burr to this elegant, incredible piece of word-art, until Ken gave in and let me be friends fo’ real.
Lovelies, it is my absolute honour to present, for your reading pleasure, THE DILETTANTE, who has a sequel to the widely-acclaimed ‘Memoirs of a Dilettante, Vol. 1’ coming out soon, and alongside it, a Shakespearean play – Penelope, Countess of Arcadia (as someone who has been blessed with a sneak peek, I can definitely tell you YOU WANT THIS PLAY IN YOUR LIFE AND ON YOUR BOOKSHELF!).
*wafts in, nonchalant and feeling fairly confident after the resounding success of last week’s Slip of the Lit, that she knows what she’s doing and will be able to pull off another author interview without mucking it up*
SO, welcome very much to A Slip of the Lit, Kelena…Hen…holycrap! *facepalm* Sorry, yaknow what, I’m just going to do as I always do, and call you ‘cherie’, because you ARE dear to me, and it reminds me of that Parisian balcony where the elegance of your writing first took me.
We’ve covered (at length, at Sisterwives) your Big Reveal as the author behind Helena Hann-Basquiat – how’s that going?
Why, what are people saying? To be honest, I think the person who has been affected the most is me. So many people don’t know, the majority doesn’t care (in the way that it doesn’t make a difference to them) and nobody has said anything terrible to me, so all my fears were for nothing, I suppose. I have, however, found myself under a bit of writer’s block when it comes to Helena. Not that I don’t have stories to tell, just that I just can’t seem to get into the right headspace.
What’s been the most surprising thing about stepping out from behind the mask?
There have been probably about a half-dozen people who were only superficially connected to me that have expressed a greater level of comfort now that they’ve met the person behind the mask. I’ve never been fantastic at relationships, so I guess I just never saw that coming.
I wonder if that made it easier to live as a masquerade. What was your reason for ‘living’ her?
So many reasons. The years leading up to me becoming Helena were quite difficult. I had been dealing with severe depression, and after a failed foray into publishing – I had a very short-lived literary magazine – I decided to give up. I spent the next two years drugged and numb on anti-depressants that destroyed my personality. After a while, I became more depressed due to the quality of life I found myself in. I wanted to feel like myself again, but I didn’t. A friend suggested I start writing again, only for myself. The idea of Helena seemed like fun. I could write as a character and nobody would ever suspect it was me. The writing would speak for itself. I didn’t expect to actually live her, though — that came later, when people started interacting with me.
I’m glad they did – when I read ‘Memoirs. Vol. 1’ it was much more believable for me (even though I knew that Helena wasn’t ‘real’) and made the book a much more engaged experience, having interacted with her first. What first made you realise that you wanted to turn your writing into a paying concern?
Well, I’ve self-published before, but never did anything with it. No, that’s not true — I sold it to family and friends, as so many writers do. As Helena, I wanted to prove something — I wanted to know that my writing was worth something to strangers. Isn’t that odd, that we crave the validation of strangers?
I don’t think it’s all that odd – strangers are an objective sounding-board for our success, in a way. It’s easy to discredit (to an extent) the positive feedback from friends-and-relations because we know they have a vested interest in our emotional (and fiscal) wellbeing – they’ve been on the ‘journey’ with us, and want to see us succeed.
Thinking of success, investment and long heritage, what is your earliest memory of writing or storytelling?
I’ve been telling stories and writing for as long as I can remember. I have picture books somewhere of stories I wrote when I was six or seven.
Would you say you have any strong literary influences? Who? How do they impact your style?
I fell in love with horror at a very early age. I was reading Stephen King when I was about twelve or so. I think the thing that makes his writing great is not what happens in the worlds he creates, but what is going on inside the minds of his characters. I know that I often get inside the minds of my characters and share their inner monologues. Nick Hornby and Chuck Palahniuk really helped give me confidence in my writing style — I’d been accustomed to a certain type of strictly regulated prose, and then I discovered them and realized that you could write in a conversational tone without losing any of the art of writing.
One thing I personally love about your writing (as Helena) is the way you break the fourth wall and address your reader directly. How did that mechanism come about?
Also, I talk. A lot. So much. I get running my mouth, and I think I’m so fucking clever, that I’ll sometimes “write” dialogue for whoever I’m talking to. Most of the time it’s in my head, but sometimes I’ll talk for them. It’s obnoxious, I assure you. As a literary device, I use it to remind the audience that they are there. Sounds strange, but an audience has to be involved or invested in the writing to make it special. And so I’m not just telling a story — I’m telling you a story, and I welcome your feedback — even if I’ve written your feedback for you.
Time to prove yourself – write something to Make Us Feel!
He’d been following me for three blocks now, I was sure of it. I first caught sight of him when I left the bookstore, and did he think I didn’t notice him ducking my backward glance over my shoulder?
I quickened my pace to match my heartbeat, my breath billowing out in front of my in frosty plumes like smoke signals.
S.O.S…. S.O.S… S.O.S…
I turned quickly and saw him there, closer, gaining on me. I didn’t recognize him — did I?
I clenched my fists and felt my knuckles pop and crackle in the freezing cold. My voice rose in my throat but would not come – – all the spit in my mouth had dried up, leaving me incapable of anything but the weakest cry.
I turned a corner, hoping to lose him, and moved quicker — not quite a run, nothing that panicked — but as I cast a quick look behind me, I saw his face turn the corner behind me, matching my pace. He pushed past other pedestrians, intent on reaching me. Up ahead, I spotted my salvation in the form of a familiar green logo.
I ducked into the Starbucks, that mermaid or siren or whatever she was inviting me to security. I walked up to the counter and ordered a Venti Americano out of habit, though caffeine was likely the last thing I needed. I refused to turn around when I heard the door open behind me, instead trying vainly to smile at the young blonde barista who was asking me for payment.
I reached into my purse for my wallet when I heard a voice behind me.
“Excuse me, Miss,” a man’s voice said, and I whirled around defensively, only to find myself staring at the bookstore clerk holding out my wallet. “You left this behind.”
Ohhhhh BAZINGA! I’m glad it didn’t end worse. You have a real knack of capturing that emotional intensity, cherie. Bravo. I really enjoy that. What do you find most exciting about your writing?
I like that anything can happen when I’m writing. There are times when I’ve started writing merely as a stream of consciousness exercise, just trying to prime the pump, and the next thing you know, I’ve got the start of something wonderful.
Likewise, there is unpredictability to my writing that should delight a reader who is used to the same old thing. But it is the characters that I think people will fall in love with. Helena is like a tarnished angel with broken wings and a crooked halo, and Penny is a loveable spitfire urchin. People say that they feel a kinship with them, and that makes me very happy.
I know that *I* do, cherie. You write them most beautifully, but I also enjoy my friendship with the chap responsible for those awesome characters. So what can we do to best support YOU from now until the release date?
Like I said — I’m not in this to sell books to my friends. I have a small but loyal following of readers. If you could all tell one or two friends about the book; send them by the blog to read the tale so far, and encourage them to check out the Pubslush page. I’ve only got to the end of March to reach my marketing goal.
I’d not likely buy a book by the cover, or sight unseen, so I really count on the recommendations of friends and by giving people a taste.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE