Happy Halloween! While everyone is dealing with costumes, everything in the universe being pumpkin-flavored, and little kids hyped up on candy, I got to interview Helene Dunbar, whose debut book deals with some genuinely scary stuff like loss and PTSD.
Her YA contemporary debut THESE GENTLE WOUNDS will be released May 8th, 2014 by Flux. 😀
What do you do in the wake of a life-altering tragedy? Survive.
After a horrible family tragedy, Gordie moves in with his half-brother Kevin’s family. It is an ideal arrangement, because Kevin is his safe haven and the only person who can deal with Gordie’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
But just as the fifteen-year-old’s life is becoming normal—star goalie of the high school hockey team, interest from an attractive girl—Gordie’s biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there’s no hiding from the grief and guilt, nothing to stop him from falling into a horrible tailspin. The only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.
Helene Dunbar (Nashville, TN) usually writes features about fiddles and accordions, but she’s also written about court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She’s lived in two countries, six states, and currently holes up in Nashville with her husband, two cats, and the world’s friendliest golden retriever.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your debut book?
I used to do a lot of freelance writing for an educational publisher. For one, I had to write about the Susan Smith case. Smith is currently serving life in prison after killing her children in 1995 by strapping them into her car and driving them into the river. In January of 2010, I’d just finished a different manuscript and saw a news piece on a mother in New York State who did the same thing, only one of the children survived. I started wondering what sort of life that surviving child would have and it eventually became a manuscript.
How did you come up with your title? Were there any you considered first?
My working title was IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, but I’ve never claimed to be a title writer and I was thrilled when my publisher wanted to change it. The final title was my editor Brian Farrey’s creation and I love it. It brings out a whole different issue within the text and reflects how people often deal with the issue of mental health, as if people should be able to easily move on from psychological scars.
What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?
The research for this book was heartbreaking. I spent many, many (many!) hours in PTSD forums reading the posts of survivors of childhood abuse. That type of abuse has been shown to change developing brain chemistry in kids. It’s very profound and the resilience of some of these posters amazed me
Also, my mother died from illness when I was a teenager so some of Gordie’s sense of loss mirrors my own even though the circumstances are drastically different.
Is there anything that helps you get into the writing zone – music, for example?
I’m an obsessive playlist maker. It isn’t so much about lyrics — although there is one song that really became a sort of anthem for TGW while I was writing – but about sound. There is a lot of swirling music on this playlist because for me, Gordie’s thoughts are always spinning around and around. I think I was always half-way dizzy when I was writing it.
Intensity. I sometimes find that a lot of “adult” fiction is very much about the writer more than the characters and I want to be sucked into the lives of the characters and really feel what they’re feeling.
Was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up on your writing dream?
Yup. I haven’t really been writing fiction that long, although I’ve always written journalistic pieces. I started as kind of a bet with some writer friends who kept telling me I could write fiction while I kept telling them that I couldn’t. TGW was the second of my books to go out on submission, CRASH, due out from FLUX in 2015 was the first. I was determined that if they didn’t sell and the next manuscript (which I’m embarrassingly in love with) didn’t sell, that I was going to pack it in and get back to journalism. Fiction is really a 24/7 process for me, so it’s a huge investment just to entertain myself.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?
1. I’ve had amazing writing partners who aren’t afraid to argue with me. My books are a million times better for their input and tenacity.
2. READ. I’ve been known to read a book that I love 4 or 5 times in a row to study why something works and why it doesn’t.
3. Be nice. No one is trying to stand in your way, we all want a world filled with good books and it usually isn’t an either/or situation.
Can you say anything about your next project/s?
Crash (FLUX) 2015 is about a boy who receives his (female) best friend’s heart in a transplant and thinks he’s hearing her voice and feeling her emotions. I also have a contemporary manuscript I’m polishing and a magic realism that I’m writing.