NUT AND BOLTS:
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
-My name is Tamar Hela and I am a junior high teacher in California. I think that pretty much speaks for how crazy I must be to deal with crazy kids every day =) I love reading some of my stories to my students and they tell me that they love hearing them (but maybe they’re just trying to get good grades). Along with teaching, I’m also a student and that keeps my brain active. Though I HATE writing research papers, it’s great practice for improving my writing skills.
-Besides writing, I love to work out, swim, paint, sing and knit. I guess I consider myself a “Renaissance Woman” and I like having varied hobbies to keep myself entertained. I also volunteer once a month at a Sicilian Men’s Club (NOT what it sounds like) called “Sons of Sicily”. I’m a volunteer waitress and have been part of this gig for the past ten years. What’s not to love about free food and crazy Sicilian men proposing marriage every month?
Where you born writing or was there an “ah ha” moment when you knew that writing is what you were meant to do?
-I began to love writing creatively around the age of 10. I would often daydream in class, thinking of some place or character I made up. I loved having any writing assignments where I could be creative and write about whatever I chose. My fourth grade teacher once told my mom that I was too much of a daydreamer but had the potential to be a published author someday. The only thing I took to heart was the published writer part. Since then, I’ve always made up rhymes or short stories until I had a vivid dream about magical animals two years ago. When I woke up, I had this strong urge to write about what I saw and make a story out of it. I asked advice of my dad—who is a word genius—and he gave me some great feedback. That’s when I began writing my current novel-in-progress. The thoughts began to flow and a creative author was no longer caged.
Where are you at in your process?
-This is my first novel. I’m about five chapters in…maybe a little less than half finished. I plan on finishing the novel by the summer’s end of THIS year. (And hopefully I make good on my plan!)
Who is your favorite author or what are your favorite books? =)
-Some of my favorite authors: C.S. Lewis, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jane Austen, Stephen R. Lawhead
-Some favorite books: Pride and Prejudice, The Great Divorce, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, The Count of Monte Cristo, Howl’s Moving Castle, Harry Potter series, The Pendragon Trilogy, The Princess Diaries
RAVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO:
Tell us about your current projects.
-The novel I’m currently writing is about seven teenagers who become involved in a parallel world that is overcome by an evil force. They are part of a redemption prophecy that the world (Cantelia) has been waiting for. Each book in the series focuses on a specific character and shows how that character grows and matures—a sort of coming-of-age, if you will.
-I’ve been developing ideas and notes for the other books in the series. I plan on having 8 total. I’ve even written a prologue for the second book.
-I’m dabbling in some poetry (and submitting some poetry for contests) and I write short stories from time to time about various subjects, etc. I try to write in several genres to stretch my capacities as a writer.
Why do you write your specific genre? Have you ever thought about dabbling in others?
-I mostly write about adventure, fantasy and some sci-fi because that’s the genre I’m in love with. When I read a book or watch a movie, my goal is to escape from reality via the story. I hate dramas and “real” stories—especially where characters struggle so much at the expense of real life choices gone bad. I know it sounds awful, but it stresses me out! Life has enough worries of its own so I don’t need to read about the worries of someone else—fictional or otherwise. When I write, I want to take my readers on a journey into a world they’ve never seen before. I want them to be attached to my characters—to love them—and enjoy the ride of a lifetime.
-I have written short drama genre stories. Most have a cynical outlook, but end happily. If I write something more raw or real, I always try to end it happily. I’m a sucker, what can I say? There is another novel in the works that I’m still writing notes for. It’s a historical fiction about 15th-16th Century Pirates and there’s a romance aspect. We’ll see how that one turns out…
THE ART OF WRITING:
Are you a pantser (fly by the seat of your pants) or planner?
-I’m actually a bit of both. As a teacher, I’ve learned how to plan for many unforeseen things BUT have also learned how to think on my toes, because children are often unpredictable. Planning helps me have a clear focus on the end result, but I utilize the “just go with it” mentality when filling in the blanks. I may plan and write general outlines and notes, but when it comes to the specific details, I let my ideas flow and just write away.
How do you write?
-I like to write at night time when my family is asleep. I enjoy the solitude and my creative brain seems to awaken late in the evening. I usually write from my bed and I sometimes listen to music. When I have a particular scene or image in my head, I like to create a playlist on my iTunes library to match my mood to what I’m writing or have written.
-Once in a while, I do get inspired at my favorite coffee shop. I have an incredible gift of being able to tune everything out and focus on what’s right in front of me. Perhaps this gift came after eight years of dealing with yelling children…perhaps…
THE JOYS OF RAISING A CHARACTER
How do your characters come to life?
-Usually I have dreamt about a character OR I base them off people I know in real life. As they develop, I do see them in my mind. After all, I DO have to befriend them or they won’t play nice with me. The darker characters are harder for me because I’m such a sun-shiny person BUT I’m getting better. I guess if I am revolted by them myself, I’m doing a pretty good job of developing him or her. Funny thing…I sometimes am inspired by the SIMS computer game as I make Sims on there. It helps me visualize or design a character’s appearance.
-Since my characters are all in development, I know that they are fictional and they are not permanent to me…yet. However, one of my main characters (who is based off a younger me)—she’s really getting to me and I’m developing an emotional attachment to her.
Which one of your characters remind you the most of you?
-One character in my story, a girl who narrates the first book, reminds me of myself a lot. I think it’s easier to begin character development when you write in a character who is similar to you—especially if you know yourself well. However, my character is also more brave than I was at her age and I’m letting her “tell” me what she wants to do and say. She is a little more abrasive, strong and kind than I ever will be. I like that about her and that’s what sets she and I apart.
Do you have any characters that are based on any of your friends?
-Of course! My friends are all interesting people, so how could I NOT base characters off them? I find it easier to develop a character if you have a “real life base”. I take liberty with the development but I appreciate having a mental image beforehand as I write about my new “friends”.
Do your characters like to listen to you, their creator, or do they like to pull all the strings and write you into corners?
-The characters that are the most behaved are those who fit in the “box”. They’re usually predictable and sometimes cliché but they bring a level of comfort and familiarity for a writer like myself. Some characters, especially the unfamiliar ones, can pull me into many different directions, but I am good at controlling them—so far. I think that as I continue to write, I will (hopefully) be given a run for my money by some of them.
BELIEVE ME IT’S REAL EVEN IF IT IS FICTION
World building is an art form, even if you book isn’t science fiction or paranormal. How do you make your world believable?
-Well, that’s just it—I don’t focus on making my world believable. My goal is to get the reader to just like being in my world. It’s like trying to get someone to jump in cold water. Of course they’re not going to believe that you love being in cold water for the heck of you. You just want them to know that being together and swimming around is fun. If they don’t jump in, they’re missing out on something. If I can get my readers to jump in and have fun, I feel that my world will become believable. I already believe it and if they like me and like my writing, they’ll develop some faith too.
LET’S TALK FAVORITES (we promise not to tell)
Do you have a favorite line that you have written? (Give us a little insight as to why that line was important)
-I do! Here it is: “He tore off his wet shirt, all David Hasselhoff-ish, and jumped into the crashing waves, swimming like a…well, like a merman, I guess.” The line itself isn’t “important”, so much as it just cracks me up. I was being indulgent by including a shout out to Baywatch (a former favorite of mine) and the merman part reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Zoolander =)
Do you have a favorite novel you have written or perhaps a short piece?
-I have a short piece that is titled “Haselito y Gretalita”. It’s a “Spanglish” rendition of Hansel and Gretel but with tortillas and flan instead of bread crumbs and candy. I used the piece to teach creative writing to some students last summer.
Just for fun, what is your favorite color, food, or animal?
-Favorite color: rainbow. Seriously. I love ALL the colors! As an artist, I use the brightest and most varied colors I can. My favorite food is the fajita bowl at Chipotle. And my favorite animal is a bear. I collected stuffed bears when I was younger.
Where do you get your ideas?
-Honestly, most of my ideas come from dreaming—both day and night dreaming. I do have a book where I write down my dreams as I remember them. It provides great inspiration. Sometimes I am wise enough to type more than the idea and create a storyline. Some of my stories are personal experiences—I’ve lived a very interesting and crazy life thus far—but most come from out of the blue. Like when you have an insane dream and wake up and think “where the crap did that come from?!” That’s basically what I think every other day upon reentering reality.
What keeps you going?
-What keeps me going is the fact that I’d like to capitalize on my ideas! Haha…seriously, I just love being creative and if I can share that with the world, then I’m on board to do what needs to be done to make it happen.
Who do you go to for support when you’re feeling miserable about your book (come on we all have this moment)?
-One of my good friends, Jessica, is a fan of my writing. She loves reading anything new that I’ve written and she gives me great ideas for creepy material. Whenever I throw ideas off around her, she always has something encouraging to say.
Is there a song that represents you or your journey? A poem? A book?
-I can resonate with the final installment book of the Princess Diaries: Forever Princess. Though the character Mia is way more clumsy, awkward and frazzled than I (I think!) she is trying to finish and publish a novel of her own and faces many challenges along the way. It’s encouraging and entertaining to see her perspective on rejection and I hope that like her, I’ll be able to have my work published just because people like it.
Do you love it or hate it?
-I’m an editing freak! I am in no way perfect as an editor, but I do tend to catch just about every mistake or typo all writers make. It makes me cringe when something is communicated improperly. I think I have OCD. One of my big problems as a writer is that I sometimes “over edit” and focus too much on the editing rather than progressing the actual story.
How many drafts do you go through before you feel like it is done?
-For now, just a few. I’m continually editing, so my story is constantly evolving. There’s no set draft—just a freshly edited copy of current material.
Do others help you?
-Sometimes they do. I usually need more help with ideas or rough patches in my story rather than mechanics or grammar or spelling. I usually have a good idea of where I’m going and how to do it but sometimes need an objective opinion.
What is the hardest part about editing?
-Probably re-reading from beginning to end. I am such a freak about having everything right that I will go back to the beginning just to edit. I think I need professional counseling…
What is your process like?
I start at the beginning and definitely plow through. It helps me stay consistent in thought and I think that being chronological about it keeps me on track. I don’t always have the brain capacity to start from anywhere I’d like.
MORE ABOUT YOU:
Talk about some of the emotions you went through (or are going through) that you have experienced.
-The largest emotions have been a sense of being overwhelmed or discouraged. I have to constantly work on pushing those negative feelings aside and cling to happy thoughts—that I CAN and WILL be successful in my endeavors.
Do you tend to laugh and cry when your characters do?
-Almost…I’m getting there. I want to be so emotionally tied to the story that I do those things. When I get to that point, then I’ll feel that my story is really believable and a success.
How do you deal with writers block?
-I go to my favorite coffee shop and distract myself with Facebook for a while. Then I get back to my notes and write when my head is cleared.
Do you ever surprise yourself when you write?
-Yes. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised that I wrote something cohesive and creative. I can sometimes doubt my capabilities until I walk away from a project for a while then come back and read it, only to be astounded that I wrote whatever it was. Those are the best days—when you can surprise yourself in a good way.
What have you learned about yourself through your writing?
-I’ve learned that I was born to write and I cannot suppress the gift I’ve been given. I’ve also learned that I’m a lot tougher than I thought.
Is writing a novel easier or more difficult than you thought?
-Both, I think. It’s sometimes easier when your head is in the game and your creative juices are flowing. It’s harder when you have writer’s block or become too obsessed with one particular point and feel that you can’t move on to anything else until it’s out of the way.
What strengths do you have that make you the next great author?
-I’m great at PR. I would love to go on tour and sign books and just meet tons of people. I also have a ton of real-life business experience, so I know that I would be able to make wise decisions about my career and future. To quote Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”
What weaknesses do have that make you human? (Yes, we all know that we know you are superman, but no one would appreciate him if kryptonite wouldn’t bring him down to size)
-Well, I cry when I watch Finding Nemo. I get emotional just like anyone else. Though I have enormous amounts of patience and tolerance, I sometimes lose my cool. My muscles don’t pop out of thin air—I do have to work out every week. I’m a sucker for red velvet cake and I’m lactose intolerant. I also have to remind myself that just because I can do and learn many things, I’m more efficient if I do less things and do them well.
What is one piece of advice that you have received that you thought was good?
-Be yourself. All the time.
What advice do you have for others that are considering joining you on this rocky path?
-Grow some thick skin if you have a problem with rejection. Be careful who you listen to but don’t completely shut people out. Read lots and lots of books. Take time for yourself and surround yourself with encouraging people who care and can challenge you too.
Where do you see yourself in one year?
-Finished with my undergrad, taking a break from teaching, relaxing in an Italian Villa, and answering fan mail for my newly published book.
How about 5?
-Traveling extensively, touring for my books and teaching college part time.
Tell us where and how we find you. Twitter, face book, blogs, websites, etc.
-Linked in: www.linkedin.com/tamarhela
BOOKS OR SITES THAT YOU HAVE FOUND HELPFUL:
-Stephanie Meyer actually has some good advice about publishing, etc., on her website for the Twilight series. I also have checked out “Publishing for Dummies” and have yet to research others. That’s on my “to-do” list for the summer.