Today’s interview is with Sandra de Helen. Welcome to the blog. Tell us something about yourself.
I grew up in mid-Missouri in the 1950s. I’ve lived in several states including Alaska, Texas, and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I lived in Portland, Oregon for 35 years before I moved to Southern California last year. I’ve retired from the day job, and I supplement my income by editing, teaching, and writing. I’ve been an out lesbian for forty years, and most of my writing includes diverse characters including LGBTQQIA and people of color.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?
As soon as I knew there were books by living authors, I realized I too could write a book. I think I was eight. I won my first writing contest for an essay when I was twelve. I had a poem published when I was fourteen. The essay was something like “Why I Love America,” and the poem was about abortion, which was illegal at the time.
What is something you cannot live without?
I suppose technically I could live without the internet, but I don’t want to. I love today’s technology, and have been an early adapter forever. I first bought an electric typewriter, then a word processor, and got my first Mac in 1989. Today I use a Mac Air.
Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?
The first book I wrote was a 600-page memoir. In it I tried to tell every story I could remember from age twelve to sixteen. I wrote the 600 pages in six weeks, by hand or on typewriter, and I cried nearly every day. Putting all those painful and shameful stories on paper released me in a way that years of therapy hadn’t. I was able to look at the experiences in ways I hadn’t considered. I was no longer a victim, but the master of my life.
What sort of research do you do for your novels?
I read books, I search online, I contact experts in the pertinent field, and I use my imagination.
If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?
I have a mystery series featuring a female Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and I have a lesbian thriller in which the serial killer kills only men. (Shocking, I know. Most books are about helpless females being tortured and killed by men.)
Do you have a special place where you write?
I write in my living room in my old Eames lounge chair with my feet up and my lapdesk holding my laptop.
Are you a plot driven or character driven writer? Why?
My fiction is character driven, but I pay attention to the plot. I tend to write tight and not long. I have a story that I show through the actions of my characters.
Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer? Why?
I write from a loose outline. I use the Save the Cat! template created by screenwriter Blake Snyder. That allows me to have a road map and keeps me from getting lost. It’s flexible enough that I have lots of room for discovery. For example, in the book I’m writing now (Valley of Fear, another Shirley Combs and Mary Watson mystery), I’ve reached number five on the template, and all it says is “Debate. Should she try to replicate what is lost? Or to build something new?” And I’m supposed to write thirty pages exploring that question.
What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?
The Shirley Combs series is in the first person, as Dr. Mary Watson narrates, just as the original Doctor Watson narrated the Sherlock Holmes adventures. My thriller is in the third person. I like them equally.
I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?
I spent six weeks — in winter — in the mountains of Oregon, where I could have frozen to death, but didn’t. I was in a cabin with no radio, no television, no car, and an old wood stove for heat. We got a couple of feet of snow, the temperatures dropped below zero, the water pipes froze, and I was there alone. No telephone either. I took plenty of food with me, a few reams of typing paper, writing paper, pens, a dictionary and thesaurus. I didn’t do much reading while I was there because I had set myself a goal of 100 pages per week. I brought a few crime novels, all by Ruth Rendell or P. D. James.
Talk about your books individually.
My first novel was The Hounding, which is Book One in the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson mystery series. The second is The Illustrious Client, Book Two, and the most recent published book is Till Darkness Comes, my lesbian thriller.
What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?
Satisfied, entertained, ready for the next book.
What influenced your decision to self-publish?
I was first published by Fiction Works in e-book format in 1999. It was too early for e-books, and the company went out of business. When the rights to The Hounding were returned to me, I decided to try self-publishing through Amazon. By the time I finished the second in the series, I decided to start my own indie publishing business and continue to self-publish through IngramSpark. By then I had learned a lot about publishing, marketing, and creating my own brand, so I’ve continued.
What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?
People who are able to sell books get a better return from self-publishing than from publishing. I’m sure that isn’t true for the big name authors who are with big publishing houses, but they still have to market, and they have less control over their products and their time.
Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?
I don’t think they’re missing out on anything. Again for top tier established authors I’m sure there are perks I don’t have access to.
Who designed your book cover/s?
Beverly Standish at Digital Elf Studios.
Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?
Yes, I do. But one person working by herself is not likely to achieve that level. I hire a book designer, I hire a cover designer, I hire an editor, as well as a copy editor. I’ve had enough experience now that I have developed a program to ensure my manuscript is as clean and tight as it can be. I have worked diligently to remove all typos and grammatical errors from my books, going so far as to republish them if a reader finds an error. In fact, in January 2017 I will offer my method in an online course called No More Typos!
Till Darkness Comes:
Barnes & Noble Nook: http://bit.ly/TDCNook
The Illustrious Client:
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1Usz8Em
Tanum (Norway): http://bit.ly/1XNueEt
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1spt32C
Tanum (Norway): http://bit.ly/1RKyOMP