My guest today is a fellow member of Romance Writers of America and also a fellow lover of historical places. Please help me welcome Helen C. Johannes to the interview hot seat! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her and her inspirations…
Helen C. Johannes writes award-winning fantasy romance inspired by the fairy tales she grew up reading and the amazing historical places she’s visited in England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany. She writes tales of adventure and romance in fully realized worlds sprung from pure imagination and a lifelong interest in history, culture, and literature. Warriors on horseback, women who refuse to sit idly at home, and passion that cannot be denied or outrun—that’s what readers will find in her books.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Helen: Years and years and years. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember: essays, research papers, poems, stories, novels. Whatever I was studying and whatever struck my fancy, plus countless pages of instructional material in my career as a writing teacher. But my first and forever love is story-telling. Anything with suspense, adventure, danger, and romance.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Helen: Fairy tales, most definitely. I think I absorbed them through the skin from a book I had as a child. And Tolkien, whose world building inspired my own attempts; Shakespeare, who knew how to craft a plot true to character; Mary Stewart, who hooked me on romantic suspense; and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who knows how to pack an emotional punch, among countless others among my wide and varied reading.
I don’t know that they’ve influenced my style so much as demonstrated various aspects of story construction in a way that I could internalize the lessons. People joke about learning by osmosis, but I firmly believe that the best way to lay the foundation for learning to write well is by reading and, reading widely.
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Helen: My first attempts to write to the market were romantic suspense (I finished 3½ manuscripts), but what truly fired my imagination was a fantasy story I’d begun in high school and never finished. When I dusted that off, I found it was better than I thought and still captured my imagination. After years of work applying all that I’d learned from workshops and critique partners, that fantasy romance became my first published book, THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE. I didn’t know at the time that I’d be turning it into a series, but it’s now Crown of Tolem #1.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Helen: In addition to reading widely, I credit a series of exceptional critique partners for helping me refine my prose. I have also benefitted from workshops, classes, and conferences, most sponsored by RWA chapters. As a teacher, I’ve been a mentor and a contest judge, and while those experiences have given me the satisfaction of helping others, I’ve learned so much more about my own work from spotting gaffes in the work of others. Successful writers don’t work in a vacuum.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Helen: Princess and the Pea and Star Wars. Yes, you read that right.
LORD OF DRUEMARWIN, Crown of Tolem #2, picks up where THE PRINCE OF VAL-FEYRIDGE leaves off. The quest for the Crown has been successful, sort of like in Star Wars: A New Hope, but we all know the war isn’t over, and the main players have to separate in order to confront their own demons (like Luke in the swamp with Yoda). My hero, Naed, new Lord of Druemarwin, must go home to rally his people to the cause and to reckon with what he’s learned about his family (his meeting-Darth Vader-in-the-cave moment). And then there’s the assassin stalking him. His bride-to-be, Lady Raell, has the Princess and the Pea experience, an outsider trying to join a family who looks upon her with distrust and even disdain. It doesn’t help that she’s already unusual among her own people, a woman skilled with blades.
Lady Raell can fight, ride, and argue politics as well as her brothers. Only being mistress of her father’s household keeps her in skirts. In Naed, the new Lord of Druemarwin, she has found devotion, a kindred spirit, and a marriage promise. But when a forgotten and unwanted betrothal comes to light, she has no choice but to run.
Amidst sweeping revolution, Naed must rally his people, fend off assassination attempts, and fight against claims he’s a traitor. Then he discovers everything about his lineage and family is a lie. And his beloved belongs to another.
With lives and a kingdom at stake, Raell and Naed must find a way to protect the innocent and save their love.
“Raell, now is not the time—”
Aye, it wasn’t. They stood in torchlight on an open parapet while assassins stalked them, but this might be her only chance to reach him across that precipice he’d thrown up between them, to secure the future they were meant to share.
“Does my honor mean naught? When weighed with D’nalian honor, is mine lesser because ‘tis a woman’s honor? Or because ‘tis a Tolemak’s honor? Be honest and tell me that.”
The world had gone silent; Raell could hear nothing over the rush of blood in her ears, the terrible heavy beats of her heart while she waited, dizzy with fear, breathless with longing, for the man she loved to respond with a word, a look, even a blink. Even a shift of his gaze she’d take as a sign he’d at least heard, mayhap begun to consider—
“Yes, be honest, Lord Naed,” said a voice she’d heard but once, a voice that raised all the fine hairs on her body and made her innards contract into a cold, tight knot. “Tell us both how much honor means to a bastard who’s betrayed his countrymen and his blood.”
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Helen! It sounds like quite an adventure!
Happy reading, everyone!
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