Wednesday, November 9, 2011

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, HELEN HEMPHILL

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, HELEN HEMPHILL

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Hello Helen, after reading your bio I have to say it was so beautifully written I found myself enthralled from the beginning. I have yet to read your books but I can tell I'm going to enjoy them immensely. My first question for you is, can you remember the first story you ever wrote and what it was about?

I'm not one of those writers who knew when I was five that I was going to be a writer. I had no idea that I wanted to write until much, much later--after I turned 40! The first story I wrote was about a little girl in Southern Kentucky. That story ended up being my novel Runaround, but the story was much different from what eventually turned into the novel. The story was really just a riff on the Southern voice of my mother's childhood stories, but thirty drafts later it was a novel about two sisters and their relationship. Much of that novel really is autobiographical in a way--a fictional account of my relationship with my sister told within the framework of my mother's experiences growing up in Kentucky.

You did a lot of acting in high school, being a writer did you find it easy to transport yourself into that world and the setting for the production you were in at the time?

My acting training has been tremendously helpful in my writing. It's easy to visualize scenes and how they will play out in a novel. I find I have this constant "movie" of a novel running in my mind while I'm writing.

You mention your interpretations of poetry at forensic tournaments. How easy was it for you to read in front of a lot of people? I can't imagine with the way I was in high school having the courage to do that!

I'm pretty comfortable doing readings for audiences, and a great deal of that comes from my early high school training in speech and drama. Probably more of it comes from my 22 years in corporate public relations. In fact, I think really all of the skills I've learned in life have helped me as a writer and as an author. It's sometimes hard to figure out the balance between the private person that is the nature of a writer and the public persona that is the requirement of the author. My high school forensic work certainly helped me, but it's also been a culmination of all my life experiences.

I have a habit of losing myself in books a lot, and at times growing up I viewed them as my best friends. You mention that you were fond of reading as well, did you feel the same?

Yes I did. As a child and a teen, I often used reading and books as my ultimate escape--from my sister and from my parents. I still can get lost completely in the pages of a good story. Recently, while traveling, I almost missed a flight, and I was sitting right at the gate engrossed in a book!

I love how you describe yourself as a "word artist" when was it you first realized this was the perfect description for yourself?

I have always loved words and the powerful images words convey. Being a "word artist" just seemed the natural progression of how I view my craft as a writer. I'm a visual person so it goes back to seeing stories in my mind.

Who are some of your favorite inspirations in the writing world past and present?

I love story, so I'm inspired by storytellers of all kinds. As for children's and young adult writers, I'm a huge fan of Katherine Paterson for the depth of her stories, M.T. Anderson for his imagination and humor, and Kathi Appelt for the beauty of her poetic language. But the truth is, I'm a fan of any writer who tells a good story!

If you had to choose one book that you have read either past or present that was your most favorite or left the strongest impression on you what would it be and why?

There are two books. As a child I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I probably read the book thirty times and wanted to be Kit Tyler so much that I asked my mother to call me Kit. In the last few years it been The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Every time I read that book, I really am haunted by the last line of the novel. It's a story that is funny, and heartbreaking, and breathtaking. I'm not surprised that it's on The New York Times bestsellers list year after year.

Tell us about your works and what we can expect from you in the near future.

I'm just finished a draft of a mystery called The Direction of Fit. I thought writing a genre novel would be easier, but it's been hard. I have so much respect for mystery writers! I'm working on revisions for that novel now.

Who are some of your most important supporters where your writing is concerned?

Always it's my dear family, particularly my husband Neil who tolerates my crazy obsession with stories. But it's also the amazing friends I have made in the children's and YA writing community. It's wonderful to have friendships with people who are passionate about books and who are such generous, giving souls. I feel very grateful.

Do you have any advice you'd like to give to other aspiring authors?

Writing is hard, but keep doing the work. Learn your craft and strive to get better with each story. And, of course, always remember to celebrate the journey!

Thank you so much Helen for your time doing this interview and for allowing us this wonderful chance. I hope to have the pleasure again in the very near future.


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