Interview 2014 – Mercedes Helnwein (English version)

interview litteraire

Ritual question to start my interviews, can you define you in three words, just three? 

tea milk sugar.

mercedes_helnwein_1« The potential hazards of Hester Day » is your first novel. Could you, in your own words, make us a pitch of it?

The Potential Hazards of Hester day is basically a story about the claustrophobia of a small life and trying to escape it. Hester Day just graduated from high school and this is really where life threatens to eat her up completely. This is where the path to banality starts. She doesn’t really think logically or realistically half the time, and so she creates a plan to sabotage her life. Only, her idea of sabotaging her life is far weirder than any normal teenage rebellion.

Hester Day is one of the most stunning and atypical characters I’ve read for some years. This young girl surely has a strong personality!

Thank you! I first wrote about her in a short story. It was about a girl lost in her own family. I think her grandma tried to stab her with a fork at one point and at the end she falls off the roof of her house and it ends with a hospital scene or something. It was much more violent and bizarre, but at the same time the character of Hester was pretty much solidified there.

The girl in the story lacked the teenage angst that she should have had under normal circumstances and this made her much more interesting to me. She was oddly thick-skinned. Innocent and at the same time she had a heightened awareness and could see through the façade of civilized existence.

Original cover

The Potential Hazards of Hester Day

French cover

hester_day

This novel casts a light on a teenager, nevertheless this story can clearly be read by a large public, be it young or older…

Yes, and when we were looking for a publisher there was some confusion on whether it was a young adult novel or a “normal” novel. It had never even occurred to me that just because the main character of a story is a teenager it should be a book only for teenagers. I don’t write with an age-group in mind as a target. And Hester’s story isn’t a teenybopper story.

Your main character seeks her way of life, not easy when you’re not the typical teenager…

Being a normal teenager can be hard enough, but being an atypical one is even worse. It can be very lonely and especially at that age it seems to be important that you are not an outsider.

Your novel is characterized by a wacky sense of humor, really irresistible. Is it the best way to talk of this period of the existence or is it your personality which urges you to write like it?

I think it’s just me, to be totally honest. I’ve never been able to write anything purely dramatic, dark or serious. I’m incapable of expressing myself in words that way. I have a huge respect for comedies in general and have always valued them more than tragedies. In most cases they take more work and real talent. Good comedians are geniuses – John Cleese for example is one of my favorites.

Could we hope for another novel soon in the future?

Yes. I’m about fifteen chapters into it, and I’m hoping for the best. I’ve been working on it in stages, because I’m in my studio a lot, but it’s steadily progressing and most importantly, I’m interested in these new characters. The main character is fifteen and very different from Hester.

I’ve always been fascinated by that sinister experience known as “first love”. This is a story about that. Usually when that happens people are in their teens – hormone ridden, full of unbalanced passion, crazy idealism, burning convictions and naturally every problem is met with a totally abnormal solution. I really couldn’t ask for better circumstances to write about.

You’re a multi-talented artist. Could you tell us about the other aspects of your approach of art?

I’ve been writing and drawing since I was a kid and it’s still what I do today.

I have a studio in downtown Los Angeles, where I live part-time. I started working mainly with black pencil years ago when I had my first art exhibition, and have progressed to my current series, which consists of large-scale oil pastel scenes – mostly based on old, forgotten family photographs.

I’ve also fallen in love with making films. So far they’re all very short and are usually part of my art shows, but who knows what will happen in the future.

07_make_it_dark 02_kids_and_guitars 09nurses 03queen-of-the-living-room

Pics from the website of Mercedes Helnwein with her kind permission

How do you explain such a craving for multiple experiences?

Creative endeavors are the only things that have ever interest me. It’s really all I want to do. Sometimes the ideas for projects I have are completely random and fit nowhere into my career. For example, I do a lot of strange photo-shoots – fake family photos, advertisements, record covers, etc. It’s never a question about whether it makes sense or what the point is. It’s just about having an idea and realizing it.

Anyway, I’ve never been interested in dedicating my whole life to only one medium. There are so many ideas that I have and there are so many different ways to express them. Why would I only want to do it in one way?

Has your multicultural past been a big influence on your life as an artist?

Definitely. But America has always been one of the biggest inspirations to me. I think a lot has to do with the fact that I fell in love with early blues music as a teenager and began digging deep into that culture and the landscapes and towns and people that surrounded this amazing art form. Everything kind of grew from there.

I became very intrigued with the American south – it’s dark sides as well as it’s mundane and idealistic sides. I fell in love with it’s size, it’s freeways and highways and small, sometimes empty towns, the religious aspects of the Midwest, and the people. I think being European allows me to be more fascinated and obsessed than if I were American. I didn’t grow up there and so have always had the advantage of being an alien on a different planet.

This blog is made ​​of words and sounds. How Is music involved in your creative process?

mercedes_helnwein_2Music is deeply involved with anything I do I wouldn’t even know how to write if it wasn’t for the inspiration of sensations and feelings and stories in music.

On “Hester Day” there were particular songs and artists I listened to a lot, and I actually created two playlists that really fit the spirit of the story for me – a lot of old blues songs, spirituals, Beck, White Stripes, Elliott Smith, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, etc. In an ideal world a CD with all these playlists would have accompanied each book.

You have the choice between give us your final word or talk about your favorite dessert …

I started with tea and milk, and I’ll end with it. I went to school in England for a bit and I live in Ireland part of the year. Tea is the only dessert I need, and life without it is pointless. I drink an Irish brand called Barry’s tea and I think they should probably sponsor me.

mercedes_helnwein_3

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Rétroliens

  1. Récapitulatif des interviews 2014 | EmOtionS – Blog littéraire et musical

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