My Characters Blow S*#t Up So I Don’t Have To
By HelenKay Dimon
With a title like that you might be concerned about where this article is going. Understandable, but don’t worry. This is about how writing allows me to work through my fears and more than a little bit of my anger. And swear. A lot. Actually, not as much as I want to because a book can’t be all profanity, or so my editor insists.
I write contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Thanks to the latter, I spend a lot of time researching things like, “how to blow up a helicopter” and “how does a grenade launcher work” and “how fast would it take a three-story brick building to burn down” and other assorted topics that probably would be of concern to my loved ones if I weren’t a fiction writer. One time my need to know how someone who lived off the grid in a frigid environment might fashion a homemade hot water heater led me into a sucking void of doomsday prepper information. It took me longer than it should have to find the answer because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why people living off the grid had blogs. Seems like an inconsistency to me. Still, their desire to spread the word worked to my advantage.
The answer, by the way, is coffee pot.
In addition to blowing things up, staging car chases and fights, rescuing fictional characters from burning buildings and blocking shoot-outs, I use my writing to work out other issues. Specifically, things that scare the bejesus out of me. I once wrote a contemporary romance about a female Himalayan climber whose career was cut short by HAPE (high-altitude pulmonary edema). This is my nightmare. Not HAPE because there is no way I can get that while sitting in my living room…I don’t think (but I should look that up to make sure)…I mean the idea of climbing anything. Step ladders make me dizzy. Like, heart-pounding, need-to-hurl dizzy.
The hero in the story – Lean On Me – is deathly afraid of heights. Truly a hero I can relate to. He falls in love with a woman who thinks hiking around 28,000 feet in the air is a good time. Falling in love is a mysterious and odd thing, right? But with that hero I could work through my general feelings about height (not a fan) and provide some insight into how that character might handle having to climb anything (not well) and what he would do (vomit).
I also have an uneasy relationship with open water. Not water in general, per se. I love to swim and actually taught swimming lessons and was a lifeguard when I was young. I’m talking about large bodies of cloudy water where I can’t see what’s slithering around me. This was not always an issue for me. It popped up at a pretty bad time — in Fiji. On my honeymoon. While I was actually in the water. I blame the resort guy who told me the deadliest snake in the world lived in Fiji and swam right there in the same water I was standing in, along with the sharks who tended to hang around right off shore because people dumped food waste into the water. In hindsight I’m thinking he was not the best PR guy for this resort.
I did feel better when I wrote about a heroine who hated the water. Like, she could not understand why anyone would leave the safety of the shore to wander into water. Naturally, this heroine in The Enforcer lived and worked next to a marina. At one point in the book I even dropped her into the water. As you do. That book has been out for a year but I’m still working through the water issue. I’m currently writing about a heroine who is convinced she will die by being eaten by a shark. She, of course, lives on an island.
By this point in the article you might think my real problem is that I hate to be out of control. That’s fair. Very accurate, actually. You might also think I enjoy torturing my characters. Also fair…to a point. It’s really more like I enjoy giving them real fears and flaws. Real people are afraid of things – spiders (I get it), commitment (one I don’t have) and mushy white food (apparently this is a thing). The fears are real. They cause an anxiety and can be paralyzing. They force people to do things and acts in ways they might not otherwise act. In other words, they are really good fodder for creating fictional characters.
As I get older I’m sure I’ll develop even more fears. Readers can expect that I will inflict those fears on my characters because I’m mean like that. But I also promise to blow up stuff every now and then just to even things out. Count on it.
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About the Author
HelenKay Dimon is a divorce lawyer turned full-time author of over forty romance novels and novellas. Her bestselling and award-winning books have been showcased in numerous venues, including the Washington Post and Cosmo. She is an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award winner and four-time RITA® Finalist in romantic suspense.
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