In acknowledgement and appreciation of everyone who wrote us to say they’d like to see a review of HelenKay Dimon’s debut, When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys, we offer you instead an interview with HelenKay. Here at PBR we are committed to reviewing with journalistic integrity and part of that coda is: don’t review your friends. Does it happen elsewhere? Sure. But, we really believe in integrity and this just seemed like a no-no. People weren’t exactly lining up to agree to review HelenKay’s book on PBR. Probably had something to do with being afraid of her.
Oh, and HelenKay hears enough of Wendy’s opinions during the book writing process without having to bear them for the world to see.
W: I just finished reading Hardhats and Silk Stockings. It’s charming and light, humorous without resorting to farce (a rarity in the genre), but the best part, really, was seeing your name at the top of every page. You’re living the dream. How does it feel?
HK: Thank you for the compliments. Really, I must admit that seeing my name on a cover was the best part for me, too. A dream come true. Holding the cover flat for When Good things Happen To Bad Boys, the anthology which includes my debut, Hardhats and Silk Stockings, had me smiling for days (okay, to be honest, I’ve smiled for about six straight weeks over this). My hands actually shook when I unpacked the box and ran my finger over the print the first time. Every single time I look at the cover, that smile comes racing back. Then seeing the actual book, looking at it on the trade paperback table at Barnes & Noble sitting there with all those other new releases, sent those butterflies dancing in my stomach. Who am I kidding? Sent those butterflies fluttering through my whole body.
W: Those butterflies had a long incubation time, didn’t they? Not just through the wait to see Whit and Hannah’s story on bookshelves, but from the moment you targeted publication as a goal. Where did this begin for you? Have you always written, created?
HK: Many authors have a Been-Writing-Since-I-Could-Walk story. I’m not one of them. I’ve always loved reading and enjoyed what I can only refer to as doodling – calling it writing would be insulting, maybe even blasphemous, to good books everywhere. I’d have ideas and jot them down in notebooks. Plots and characters would pop into my head. Putting it all down on paper, focusing in enough to actually create pages of something comprehensible, took much longer. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I tried to write a book the first time because I read a romance novel and thought “how hard can that be” then started typing. That epiphany occurred sometime in 1999. Yeah, naïve, uniformed, blissfully ignorant – all of those describe my first motivation and my first attempt.
Somehow I turned all those doodles into 300 pages of completely unpublishable babble. The heroine’s name changed twice (maybe three times) from beginning to end. A suspense element appeared about 40 pages from the end of the book. Every cliché you can think of was in there. But, somehow I wrote those 300 pages. Something terrible and mostly unreadable, yes, but I got the bug. In October 2003 I realized an editor couldn’t purchase one of my books if I never actually submitted one (see previous comment on being naïve and blissfully ignorant). So, I got off my butt and started writing. Really writing. I vowed to keep working and start submitting. About eighteen months later, in May 2005, I got The Call.
W: Did Whit and Hannah begin as doodles?
HK: Hardhats and Silk Stockings started with an idea: take a basically good guy and have him do something naughty and out of character. Once I had the outline for Whit – smart, good family, all the advantages – the harder task was to create the perfect heroine. By perfect I mean perfect for Whit. Seemed to me the best way to torture a guy for whom everything came easy was to give him a woman who refused to fall for his charm. In other words, the goal was to make Whit work for her. Hannah is a little tough and a bit rough around the edges. With her, an opposite-attract story (one of my favorites) was born.
The room? Yeah, I can’t really explain that part. It just kind of came to me…
W: We’ll get back to that room in a second, but first, let’s talk about your writing process. Do you always begin with a story idea and an arc versus beginning with a character?
HK: The only thing scarier than my first horrific attempt at a book is the process I’ve used to write all of them so far. Every story has started with a spark of an idea. Usually this is a scene or a fragment of a scene. Little more than a kernel, really. From there I write a chapter or two, go back and look at the characters, play the “what if” game and try to figure out who these people are. After all that, I revise the initial chapters and start jotting down notes in these little notebooks to keep everything straight in my head. Then comes the writing. And more writing. I am a pure pantser. I don’t outline. I don’t have pages of plot to wade through. I don’t know the end when I am at the beginning. It’s a challenge.
W: How do you think your preferences as a reader have affected the stories you’re choosing to tell? Which type of book do you prefer to read, character driven or plot driven?
HK: Even though it sounds flip, the bottom line is that I write what I like to read. There is a tendency to chase the market. If paranormals are hot, people write them. If something else is the “in” thing, writers jump on that. While I understand the write-what-everyone-is-buying theory in terms of a shrinking market, I’m not a fan. It just seems that the author-work disconnect shows.
I enjoy sexy stories with a touch of humor and sometimes a bit of suspense. So, that’s what I’ve written. Both plot-driven and character-driven books work for me. In fact, I love a book that combines both with a rich and compelling plot as well as vibrant and full characters. I’m not sure where that puts me in the plot versus character debate. I probably would say I can tolerate a weaker plot in favor of strong (in the sense of well-rounded and real) and believable characters. But, man, give me both and I’m hooked.
W: OK, now let’s get back to “The room.” The room, of course, is the secret sex room that Whit lures Hannah into. That room is the sort of plot device we romance readers love, but did you wonder what sort of response the non-romance readers in your life (your husband, your family, your co-workers) would have to, not just the room, but the fact that you’re writing the type of romance that includes that room?
HK: I worried what everyone would think about that room.
Actually, that’s not true. At first I didn’t think about the room or the type of romance I was writing at all. The idea popped into my head – a straight-laced guy who decides he has the perfect remedy to thaw the resistance of the woman he finds attractive. After I wrote the beginning and went back to review the first few chapters I experienced a few moments of wondering if the scenario worked or if readers would think Whit’s actions crossed the line into icky territory. The goal was to balance his bad boy actions with an otherwise pretty decent guy. Making him suffer some fallout from his actions later in the book didn’t hurt either.
In a more global sense, the room sets up a hotter romance. In my mind, Hardhats and Silk Stockings stays squarely in the romance genre and doesn’t hop over into erotica. Others may feel differently since the room does give the book a certain edge. The “gee, what will my attorney colleagues and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania parents think” idea did linger in my mind after I finished the book. But, I made the decision to write what I enjoy and not what will make the people I know the most comfortable. This has resulted in some “you write smut” jokes now and then, but most people – and especially my family and husband – have been very supportive. Which is good, since I plan to keep writing the books I want to write.
W: Do you think the books you’ll want to write will always be romance?
HK: Hmmm. Good question. I have a bit of a weakness for mysteries and suspense. There’s an idea or two kicking around in my head for romantic suspense that is more suspense than romance. I know. I almost hate to admit that. But, for now, I’m thrilled about where I am and have plenty of romance ideas to keep me busy and happy.
W: What is your next book and when can we all rush out and buy it?
HK: My anthology Viva Las Bad Boys! comes out in August 2006. The loosely connected novellas take place at an exclusive Las Vegas casino during a blackout. The tag line for the book is: “Welcome to Vegas’s hottest spot—the Berkley Hotel and Casino—where a trio of bad boys are more than happy to put the “sin” in Sin City…” I love that and am very excited to see what readers think about those Bad Boys. After Viva, my first single title romance, complete with a Kauai setting and that touch of suspense, is set for a July 2007 release.
W: Thanks HelenKay.
HK: Thank you!
You can visit HelenKay here and purchase this book here and here.