Art In Fiction

Music To Thrill: An Interview with Helaine Mario, Author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody

September 10, 2020 Carol Cram & Helaine Mario Season 1 Episode 14
Art In Fiction
Music To Thrill: An Interview with Helaine Mario, Author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody
Chapters
0:00
Welcome
1:45
Helaine's life prior to becoming a novelist
3:59
Helaine on inspiration
5:05
The origins of character Maggie O'Shea
7:51
Writing thrillers and depth of characters
8:45
Women thriller writers
9:49
Colonel Beckett and Agent Sugarman in Dark Rhapsody
10:23
Reading the Maggie O'Shea series out of order
10:41
The genesis of the series
11:34
The character of Shiloh the dog
14:08
More on inspiration
16:31
How Helaine plots her novels
18:31
Dane, the villain character
20:01
About writing sequels
22:25
Advertisement - Buzzsprout
23:35
A reading from Dark Rhapsody by Helaine Mario
27:27
Wordsmithing
29:02
The business of writing and marketing
31:03
Publishing - indie or traditional?
32:12
Writing advice
33:46
Extro
Art In Fiction
Music To Thrill: An Interview with Helaine Mario, Author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody
Sep 10, 2020 Season 1 Episode 14
Carol Cram & Helaine Mario

Welcome to EPISODE 14 of the Art In Fiction Podcast.

In this episode, I chat about thrillers with an arts twist with Helaine Mario, author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody, two page-turners listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction which also incorporate Visual Arts, Theater, and more.

This quote about Dark Rhapsody says it all: "As much about art as music, Dark Rhapsody reveals the transformative power of both." 

Highlights:

  • Background prior to becoming a thriller writer: volunteering, working for Al and Tipper Gore, and more
  • Inspiration for The Lost Concerto
  • What Helaine loves--music and the arts
  • Character of Maggie O'Shea, the concert pianist at the heart of the two novels
  • Exploring the depth of characters within the thriller genre
  • Other characters in the series, including Shiloh the dog and the characterization of Dane, the villain, as a lover of Shakespeare
  • Use of character quirks to add depth
  • Plotting advice--to outline or not to outline?
  • Writing sequels
  • A reading from Dark Rhapsody
  • Wordsmithing in the editing process
  • The business of writing and marketing
  • Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
  • Advice for writers

Helaine Mario brings to her writing a long career working for non-profit boards and giving back to numerous charities, particularly through the Helaine and Ronald Mario Fund. All the royalties from her book sales go to programs that support reading programs and the well-being of children and families.

When it comes to writing, Helaine wants, more than anything, to tell a good story, create characters with depth, and paint pictures with words. She wants to be a storyteller forever.

Receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card when you sign up for a paid plan on Buzzsprout. Since 2009, Buzzsprout has been helping podcasters start and grow their podcasts. 

Press Play right now and don't forget to check out Helaine Mario's novels The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody, both listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction.

Helaine Mario's Website: https://helainemario.com/

Music Credits
The intro music is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to EPISODE 14 of the Art In Fiction Podcast.

In this episode, I chat about thrillers with an arts twist with Helaine Mario, author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody, two page-turners listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction which also incorporate Visual Arts, Theater, and more.

This quote about Dark Rhapsody says it all: "As much about art as music, Dark Rhapsody reveals the transformative power of both." 

Highlights:

  • Background prior to becoming a thriller writer: volunteering, working for Al and Tipper Gore, and more
  • Inspiration for The Lost Concerto
  • What Helaine loves--music and the arts
  • Character of Maggie O'Shea, the concert pianist at the heart of the two novels
  • Exploring the depth of characters within the thriller genre
  • Other characters in the series, including Shiloh the dog and the characterization of Dane, the villain, as a lover of Shakespeare
  • Use of character quirks to add depth
  • Plotting advice--to outline or not to outline?
  • Writing sequels
  • A reading from Dark Rhapsody
  • Wordsmithing in the editing process
  • The business of writing and marketing
  • Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
  • Advice for writers

Helaine Mario brings to her writing a long career working for non-profit boards and giving back to numerous charities, particularly through the Helaine and Ronald Mario Fund. All the royalties from her book sales go to programs that support reading programs and the well-being of children and families.

When it comes to writing, Helaine wants, more than anything, to tell a good story, create characters with depth, and paint pictures with words. She wants to be a storyteller forever.

Receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card when you sign up for a paid plan on Buzzsprout. Since 2009, Buzzsprout has been helping podcasters start and grow their podcasts. 

Press Play right now and don't forget to check out Helaine Mario's novels The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody, both listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction.

Helaine Mario's Website: https://helainemario.com/

Music Credits
The intro music is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 

Carol Cram:

Hello and welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast. I’m your host, Carol Cram, and in this episode, I’m delighted to share with you my conversation with Helaine Mario, the author of three suspense novels, including The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody  which are listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction. 

Helaine Mario brings to her writing a long career working for non-profit boards and giving back to numerous charities, particularly through the Helaine and Ronald Mario Fund. All the royalties from her book sales go to programs that support reading programs and the well-being of children and families.

When it comes to writing, Helaine wants, more than anything, to tell a good story, create characters with depth, and paint pictures with words. She wants to be a storyteller forever. 

Welcome to the Art In Fiction podcast, Helaine.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you. I am so pleased to be here, Carol. I love the website.

Carol Cram:

Oh, well, thanks so much. I'm really excited to chat with you today about your series of thrillers. Two novels in the series have been published and both are featured on Art In Fiction in the Music category. 

So The Lost Concerto was the first novel in the series and it introduces us to the main characters who we will meet in subsequent novels. And then your second novel Dark Rhapsody also brings in a lot of elements of the visual arts, which I, of course I loved.

Your novels are thrillers, but the arts play such a major role, which I think is why I enjoyed them so much. So can we start off by you telling us about the series as a whole, you know, your inspiration for writing it? Why thrillers?

Helaine Mario:

As a child I was just a huge reader, but never considered writing at all, never expected to, and worked in an insurance company and did my thing. Ended up when I married, I had two children and I became a volunteer, had several volunteer jobs and in each volunteer job, I found that I gravitated toward the writing part of the job. I would volunteer to be a secretary or whatever it was. 

And I like to say now that really my passion for writing found me because it always pulls me into that part, but it was all nonfiction. I started writing for my local newspaper in Connecticut, that was nonfiction. 

And then when we moved to Maryland, just outside of DC, I ended up working for Al and Tipper Gore for all eight years.

Carol Cram:

Oh, wow. That must have been very exciting.

Helaine Mario: 

Oh, I, I loved it. It was an exciting time in my life and a real giving back time. And, I wrote a lot for them. However, it was all nonfiction. So I just felt as if something was missing. And by now I was well into my forties, I suppose. And that is what brings me finally to fiction. 

I can remember very well sitting by the water and I had a newspaper and I happened to see a picture of Othello, a great black and white photograph of a man. And I thought, wow, what if, what if a woman picked up the newspaper and saw a photo of her first love decades later? 

And at that moment I grabbed a pencil and wrote on that newspaper. I wrote the prologue to The Lost Concerto.

Carol Cram:

Oh my goodness. What a great story.

Helaine Mario:

The first time my daughter heard me give an interview, she heard that story. She had never known that. But to, to go on when you start a novel, as you know very well, prologue will only get you 10 pages out of 90,000 words. And that is a lot. So you really need, um, you need inspiration. 

Well, that brings me to inspiration, I suppose. And what I'd like to say first is that, just look at the definition of inspiration, to inspire, to breathe in. And I love that because that says it all. It says you're breathing in all the sounds and images and sense.

Carol Cram:

Oh, wonderful image. Yes. I love that.

Helaine Mario:

It's a very good image. And so that is the trigger for inspiration for me. And it is actually the very first and most often asked question I get: what inspires me. And I bet it's similar for you as well.

And I always say that there, there's an easy answer and a hard answer. And the easy answer is for all of us, whether whatever we write, you read the newspaper, you watch the news, you go to the theater, read plays and poetry and travel. All of these things inspire us, but then there are the, the more consequential things. And for me, it was something I loved. I wanted to write about something I loved and that was music. 

And at the time my son played classical piano and it was so interesting to me because I grew up, Carol. in the fifties and sixties, and it was all rock and roll and jazz and folk music, and maybe Broadway. I never was interested in classical music, never studied it, but when my son began to study it and he was very, very good, I would stop what I was doing. I'd listened to him practice. And that's when I fell in love with classical music and all the greats. 

And that is really where my pianist Maggie O'Shea, that character, comes from. Listening to my son practice the piano.

Carol Cram:

And of course at the heart of the novel is Maggie O'Shea, who is a concert pianist. And as a pianist myself, although not on that level, I so enjoyed your depictions of her playing and also of her not playing because the first novel really is all about her not being able to play. 

She's a wonderful character. She's so feisty and yet she's super vulnerable. And can you tell us a little bit more about Maggie and of course the role that grief plays in your development of her?

Helaine Mario:

Sure. Well with Maggie, I always gravitated when I was reading toward novels of romantic novels, suspense novels, espionage, but always a strong woman. She could be flawed, but she would have to learn sometimes where her strength came from. And I tried to write a woman who would run towards something who would do the right thing. And that's the basis of, for her.

I started with her, she was grieving the loss of her husband, and he died in a tragic way. And what happened was she had been playing the Grieg concerto when he died and the whole thing really takes her music away from her. She just is unable to play music anymore. 

And so the title, The Lost Concerto, is not only about music that has been lost, but about Maggie being lost and Maggie losing her music and how she finds herself again. And that's the same in all my books, moving forward, finding your inner self kind of, kind of thing.

Carol Cram:

Well, yes and one of the quotes I read about Dark Rhapsody, your second novel, "As much about art as music, Dark Rhapsody reveals the transformative power of both." 

And of course that hit home for me because that's what I believe as well is the transformative power of art. So your novels are much more than thrillers. They are thrillers. They're lots of chills and thrills, you know, what's going to happen. 

I've lost a bit of sleep already, reading your two novels. Oh no, what she gonna do now?! But I think what, well, I know what elevates your novels beyond the common thriller is this depth you put in because of the arts.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you. Yes. I always say, I masquerade as a thriller, but I'm really a story of romance and love and courage. And I think the women or the readers who enjoy my novels really want that depth of character and going beyond.

Carol Cram:

I think so, too. And as I said, that's what really sets you apart, in my opinion, from a lot of thrillers I've read, I haven't read that many thrillers by women writers, I realize, and now I'm going to read more because I think there is just a different point of view that is brought to them.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, and there aren't that many of us.

Carol Cram:

No there's not really, are there? We need more.

Helaine Mario:

There were, back in the forties, fifties, sixties, we had Mary Stewart and Helen McGinnes and Evelyn Anthony. And those were really my first inspirations. As I said, I never took a writing class, but I learned what I wanted to write about. And I learned about dialogue and history and plot, setting from these women.

Carol Cram:

Yes. Well, I think most of us, well, a certain era remember Mary Stewart very, very well. She was great. Well, there, there's an inspiration for writers who are listening to this. Write thrillers, especially if you're women, because there is a certainly a need for more thrillers, I think, written from the female perspective.

And I've read both of them now. And as I said, have really enjoyed how you have developed your characters, particularly Maggie. And then of course, Colonel Beckett and Agent Sugarman, who I love.

Helaine Mario:

I do too.

Carol Cram:

And he gets a little romance in Dark Rhapsody, which is wonderful.

Helaine Mario:

Yes. In fact, when you mentioned that, that you might ask me to read a couple of pages, the pages I chose to read will be Agent Sugarman.

Carol Cram:

Okay, good. Well, we'll get to that in a moment. Because I just also wanted to say that I read your two novels the wrong way around. I started with Dark Rhapsody and now I've just finished The Lost Concerto and I really have to compliment you how I was able to do that easily and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. 

So they don't actually have to be read in order. Was that your intention?

Helaine Mario:

You know, my intention when I wrote The Lost Concerto was never to write a sequel and then readers started saying to me, you've got to let me know what happens next to Maggie. And I realized that I wanted to know what happened next to Maggie as well. And that is how Dark Rhapsody was born.

Carol Cram:

You didn't start off planning to write a series.

Helaine Mario:

Never. No, I did not. It was just a response. And then I realized how much I loved Maggie and I felt as if we weren't done yet, that there was more of her story to tell.

Carol Cram:

I think that's wonderful. It grew organically rather than planning it out. Because it feels like it's planned out and yet, you know, it's not, and I know you have two more coming?

Helaine Mario:

I just sold my next, the third one in the series, which is called Shadow Music. And this week I actually wrote the prologue for the fourth in the series.

Carol Cram:

Oh, fantastic. Well, I can hardly wait. And before I leave talking about the novels per se, I've got to put in a plug for one of my favorite characters, which is Shiloh.

Helaine Mario:

Oh, yes.

Carol Cram:

You and I had a previous conversation. And you mentioned that Shiloh has become a favorite of your fans. So can you tell us a bit about him?

Helaine Mario:

Oh, I'm happy to. The thing, Carol, is that, the first draft of The Lost Concerto was terrible. It was awful. I got many rejections and so I put it in a drawer and I slammed the drawer, and locked it and walked away. And I didn't write for a year. I, I ran the foundation, I did other things. 

And then those characters just kept knocking on the door to get out. I knew it was a good bones of a story. So finally I broke down, I pulled it out and I almost broke it down to the bare rafters. I started from scratch again, and I gave Maggie more of a motive. She wasn't just looking for a missing child. She was looking for her godchild, you know, these kinds of things. 

And the Colonel was in the first manuscript, but he was a loner and very crusty and belligerent. And I came up with Shiloh because I have a friend who rescued dogs and found a three-legged Golden. So when I started writing Shiloh gave him to the Colonel, it gives the Colonel so much humanity and humor and someone to talk to when he was by himself. And it really took off from there. And now I've just have to keep Shiloh healthy.

Carol Cram:

You do, yes. Don't let anything happen to Shiloh. And if people didn't get that, Shiloh was the dog.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, the Golden Retriever.

Carol Cram:

Well, and I'm a dog lover. So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Helaine Mario:

He was fun to write. Really fun to write.

Carol Cram:

Oh, I bet. Yes. And also just from a writing perspective, that is a really interesting technique, even if you didn't really do it consciously as a technique, but to humanize a character by adding something that they love like a dog or a child.

Helaine Mario:

Exactly.

Carol Cram:

You have to make your people real. And that is a good way to do it.

Helaine Mario:

The more personal you can make them real that way really helps. And another thing that helps make the characters real are giving them these little quirks, for instance, talk about inspiration again, I got a cheap catalog in the mail and it had a tee shirt with a music quote on it, "piano player". 

And that was the inspiration for all of Maggie's collection of music quote T shirts.

Carol Cram:

Those are so much fun. Yes, practically every other scene, she's got a different T shirt on with a different musical saying.

Helaine Mario:

Yes and they are fun. The other thing about inspiration for me and every author will give you a different answer, but, I didn't write what I knew. I wrote what I love and that's where all the performing arts come in, the art and music and theater and dance. 

But the thing about inspiration is you also need that little spark of madness. When I look at inspiration, it goes hand in hand with research because you could only go so far. And if, for instance, I cannot play the piano. 

So I started, I can't even find middle C. I was reading everything I could lay my hands on about music and what the research did, it opened up plot for me because about music, I started reading about missing music. And then I started reading about missing music from World War II. 

And I read about Hitler, who banned music by Jewish composers. He still had those 78 RPM albums in his bunker, worn down to the groove from him listening to them. So the more research you do, the more you come across these, even if only 10% works up into your novel, you still have this beautiful background to draw from.

Carol Cram:

And that's such excellent advice. That research is not just to find out a particular thing, to be open when you're researching.

Helaine Mario:

Exactly. Exactly.

Carol Cram:

I love that part. Just kind of reading and hoping that something will fall into place and it often does. Surprisingly.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, you're exactly right. And the other thing is it could take you in a totally different direction. Plot is the hardest thing. But if, if I read something and it inspires those little sparks, then off you go and it opens up new, new things.

Carol Cram:

And plot, of course, plays well, plot plays a role in all novels, but you know, your novels are very closely plotted. So do you actually plan that out ahead of time? Or do you kind of see where it goes?

Helaine Mario:

There are two schools of thought and most writers fall into either the outline everything or see how it goes, throw it against the wall, you know, and I certainly am a 'fly by the seat of my pants' person. I start with a bit of an outline, but then the characters take over - that is the truth.

Carol Cram:

Well, I'm glad to hear it. That's good. Because I kind of do that myself. I sort of do both. And I've heard from both like I've heard many authors say, oh, no, no, I write really long extensive outlines. I thought, well, I don't do that - maybe I should. 

So it's kind of nice to hear another author, a successful author, saying, no, you don't do it that way. And it does show you how really there is no right way.

Helaine Mario:

I agree. And I find you just have to do what works for you. And I usually end up writing my outline after the story has been written and I never know how it's going to end, but I've also heard many authors say, well, if you don't know how it's going to end then certainly the reader won't know how it's going to end. So it's going to be a great surprise. 

I had the idea originally that I was going to have a, a young man show up, you know, a prep school kind of guy with long blonde hair and whatever. Came time to write the scene and I was in a prison yard. I found myself in a prison yard and the door opened and this sort of juvie Russian kid swaggers in. And it changed everything for me. 

The other thing is I never know how my novels will end. So when I wrote Dark Rhapsody, which you just read, I planned a totally different ending for that novel. And I don't want to give anything away. Needless to say somebody was going to die by gunshot and that did not happen.

Carol Cram:

Well, it worked well. There is one more character I want to ask you about, which of course is the character that all thrillers in particular need. And that is your villain. And you have a particularly wonderful villain.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you.

Carol Cram:

Dane.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you.

Carol Cram:

Every time he shows up, you go, no! And yet he's not, I mean, he's evil, but you have made him a real person.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you. He was probably the hardest character for me to write because he scared me. I don't like to go to places where I get scared and I just believe that almost every human being is a mix of good and bad and just how we're natured and nurtured. And I wanted to have him have layers and I tried to make him very frightening, but at the same time, explain why he was the way he was.

Carol Cram:

And you know, one of the things that I really found humanized him, even if it was quite chilling, was his love of Shakespeare.

Helaine Mario:

Yes.

Carol Cram:

And you bring that in there a lot, he was an actor.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, exactly. And it really worked for him to, that sense of taking on a role, taking on a persona for the kind of work that he did or his brutality.

Carol Cram:

It was very clever to have Shakespeare, you know, the wonderful Shakespeare, actually be twisted that way.

Helaine Mario:

Thank you. Thank you. It's an interesting thing when you write sequels, especially if you didn't plan to, what characters you need to hold on to and then, well, could I talk a little bit about a sequel, am I jumping?

Carol Cram:

Sure. Oh no, go for it.

Helaine Mario:

Okay. Well, the thing about the sequel for me, since I had not planned on it, I was terrified that I couldn't come up to the first book, that the readers would have enjoyed the story a certain way and would expect the same thing from me again. And honestly I was afraid I might not be able to do it and to my publisher. And I asked her for advice and what she told me works very well. 

She said, you have a readership and they want to know what happens next to the character that they have fallen in love with. But you have to build on that character to keep your readers interested. You have to add new layers. And I thought that was very powerful advice. And I've really tried to take it and given Maggie different challenges in each book. I think that's worked well.

And the other thing I learned in the sequel, I was so again, afraid of not being able to, to write as well as I could, but by bringing in new characters, Oh my gosh, Carol, it opened up a whole new world of story for me.

Robbie Brendan, Father Robbie Brendan gave me a way of exploring faith through a character's eyes and my character Gigi who's in her eighties, a legendary pianist, she let me explore aging, which I've been thinking about a lot. 

You mentioned Maggie's grief. And so I've been able to explore not just grief, but how we handle life when things go wrong. Not only primary characters, but secondary characters really, really fill out a novel, as least to me

Carol Cram:

Yes, they do. And I really enjoyed the fact that you had all these new characters in the second novel. As I said, I read the second novel first. That's okay. But it worked.

Helaine Mario:

Good! When you write the sequel, you are doing a balancing act between the people that have already read the first one and people who are new to you. You don't want to spoil it for the new people. And you're really trying to bring them up to speed without blowing any good reveals. Now that was a challenge.

ADVERTISEMENT

Time for a short break!

Are you interested in creating a podcast? If so, then check out Buzzsprout. You’ll find a ton of information about how to start and run a podcast and you’ll get your podcast listed on every major podcast platform. When I decided to start the Art In Fiction podcast, I needed help—and I found it with Buzzsprout. You’ll learn everything you need to know to start a podcast and then get it out into the world.  

When you’re ready to start your own podcast, follow the link in the show notes and you’ll receive a $20 Amazon gift card when you sign up for a paid plan.

Link
: https://www.buzzsprout.com/?referrer_id=1036367 

And now back to the show.

Carol Cram:

So, we talked earlier about, you would do a little reading for us. So could you set it up?

Helaine Mario:

I chose two characters from Dark Rhapsody. It's a scene that shows not only how I set up a scene, but it shows the way I do settings and how I do dialogue. 

Simon Sugarman is a Department of Justice agent who has been searching for a woman named Hannah. Hannah he finds in Vienna. She is a blind cellist, and she has her own service dog, a Greyhound named Jacques. And it's a Friday night and she is Jewish and she invites Sugarman to her apartment for Sabbath. And I'll just read you just two pages from it.

Carol Cram:

Perfect.

Helaine Mario:

The candles flickered to life. Hannah extended her hands over the flames, drawing her palms inward three times in a graceful circular motion. She covered her eyes and began to recite the blessing Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu. 

He was unexpectedly moved by her words, by the beauty of her carved face beneath her veil, her narrow hands as they circled the firelight in the shadows drawing the light into her eyes, eyes that could not see. It was one of the most beautiful moments he could remember. He felt as if he had just stepped back in time into a home in ancient Jerusalem. He glanced at the front door, half-expecting Moses to enter the room in his long flowing robe.

The prayer was brief, low and musical. Then she opened her eyes and said, “Good Shabbas, Simon.”

“Good Shabbas, Hannah Hoffman.”

“I love the candles,” Hannah said into the silence. “They symbolize family, warmth and dreams. Prayer, wherever you are, the candles make it home.  

“For me,” she said. “Firelight takes away the darkness.”

She fixed her eyes on him like blue flames underwater. 

“For me as well.”

“My world is mostly dark,” she told him, “but sometimes I perceive light, flickering, shadows.” She turned away. “I am a woman in shadows.” 

“We have more in common than I realized,” he said, but he thought, all I see is light when I look at you. His eyes touched on the cello behind her and he heard himself say, “While we wait for Maggie, would you play something for me?”

“Of course. I promised you only good this evening, did I not? I think, yes, you will enjoy the Dvorak cello concerto. Dvorak always said that the finale should end gradually like a breath. Listen for it.”

“You can play music on Shabbat?”

She smiled. “Every no allows a yes. He gave music, give us peace.”

She slipped off her veil, dropped it on the table, moved unerringly toward the cello. Grasping the long neck, she sat in a straight-backed chair and settled the instrument between her knees. As if it were a signal Jacques rose and came to settle at her feet, his smooth, narrow head close to Hannah's thigh. \

Hannah lifted the bow with a soft sign. And then in a moment so intimate and intense that Sugarman caught his breath, she simply wrapped her body around the cello.

Dark Rhapsody, thought Sugarman. Come to life. For a heartbeat of silence, there was only this beautiful woman, dark head bowed lit by the flicker of candlelight. 

Then, with a slight nod and a dip of her shoulder, she stroked the bow across the strings and began to play.

Carol Cram:

Oh my goodness. Oh, that's wonderful, Helaine. That's a wonderful snippet of your writing style, which is fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed that. 

Helaine Mario:

Thank you. I really tried to paint a picture with words, Carol. That's always been what I wanted to do.

Carol Cram:

And again, that's something you do very well. Is your wordsmithing. Um, I love wordsmithing. I love playing with words and obviously you do as well, so you're very good at it.

Helaine Mario:

Yes. I can spend hours on one sentence.

Carol Cram:

Oh gosh. Yes. Can't we all. That's my favorite part. Actually, I think my very favorite part is what an editor once called the sanding, when you're going through towards the end and you're just making everything glisten. That's so much fun.

Helaine Mario:

Oh, I like that. I like that. Yeah.

Carol Cram:

I know, sanding. I'm at that point with my current one that's just about to go out. For me, the most difficult part is plot and kind of seeing the whole novel in my head.

Helaine Mario:

Yes.

Carol Cram:

Some people, they start a novel and they know exactly, as we talked about earlier, they can see it in their head. I can't. And I do tend to waste a lot of time trying to get to that point. But once you do!

Helaine Mario:

Yes, you have to find that, that heart of the novel that transforms it into something more and whether it comes from plot or character or something else, I don't know.

Carol Cram:

Yeah. And there's no magic bullet. You really just have to work.

Helaine Mario:

You're exactly right. Touch of madness every once in a while.

Carol Cram:

I know, yeah. It's, it's a lot of fun though. Why do we do it? Well, because we can't not do it.

Helaine Mario:

That's exactly right. 

Carol Cram:

So I just want to talk a little bit more about the business of writing and marketing. These days, whether you're published or not, you have to do quite a bit of your own marketing. So can you just share what you do?

Helaine Mario:

Sure. I, have written a total of four books. One of them, Firebird, published by myself or at least I hired someone to publish it for me. It was self publishing. It was relatively inexpensive and it's very quick. It went up online very quickly and the costs were minimal and I had total control, which means I could choose the cover. I could choose what I edited. I could choose what I charged for the book. What I did not realize is how much marketing I should have done that I didn't.

So the novel did very well at the beginning and it was a standalone novel and peaked and then sort of fell to the floor because I didn't understand that how much marketing was needed. Now, the next three books I sold to a publisher traditionally. And the biggest surprise there is that, two big surprises really. You don't own the novel anymore. 

So I was asked for my opinion about a book cover, but of course the publishers will choose the cover. They'll choose just everything else about the book. And also I thought I would, was free of marketing, but oh no, it's a mid-sized publisher. And you still have to do your share of marketing.

I'll put in for awards or I do a lot of speaking to, uh, libraries and book clubs, those kinds of things. You really have to get out there and try to Facebook maybe once a week. You know how that goes.

Carol Cram:

It's interesting that, yeah, even when you are traditionally published, you certainly do have to do your own marketing. So of the two, which one's a better experience so far?

Helaine Mario:

For me, I like having a publisher. I like that sense of family. I like the direction. I think they've done a beautiful job with the covers.

Carol Cram:

They have, yes.

Helaine Mario:

I'm, I'm comfortable. I'm very at home. And I just like seeing my book in hardcover on a shelf. I like that.

Carol Cram:

And that is, that is nice, yes!

Helaine Mario:

It made me proud. You really need an agent, no matter what.

Carol Cram:

So you got an agent before you sold your Maggie O'Shea novels.

Helaine Mario:

Well, actually, no. My agent and I parted ways because she wanted me to do domestic mysteries and thrillers and I wanted, I wanted to go to the world with my characters. I, you know, my books will take you to Paris and Salzburg and Vienna.

Carol Cram:

I know, I love that.

Helaine Mario:

The new one's Cornwall and just, this is how I think, how I write what, I am writing, what I want to write, Carol.

Carol Cram:

And that is also great advice. I think we have to write what we want to write.

Helaine Mario:

Yes. I agree with you. I have a little list of things I've learned. If you would like to hear them.

Carol Cram:

Absolutely.

Helaine Mario:

My number one is write what you care about, what you would like to read. And that's just worked perfectly for me. 

I try to make time to write every day, if my grandchildren aren't taking me away. 

You need to learn the tools of writing - point of view, transition, flashbacks, limiting adverbs, which is very hard for me because I am a queen of adverbs. 

I say more is more, not less is more, but that's where editing comes in.

Carol Cram:

That's right.

Helaine Mario:

And Elmore Leonard said, don't write the parts your readers will skip. I just think he's brilliant.

Carol Cram:

Good advice.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, isn't it? And you just have to keep rewriting and keep editing or sanding and polishing, as you so nicely said, even when you think you're done, you're probably not. 

And that brings you to having a thick skin and a sense of humor, you know, because it's, you'll, you will have people that don't like your work and you hope that they'll just find something they like somewhere, but, but don't give up. Don't let those negatives stop you. Don't give up. Keep trying. And you learn that you cannot please everyone. 

Finally, last but not least, don't apologize. Just tell the best story you can tell and be true to yourself. That is what has worked for me.

Carol Cram:

And that is excellent advice for writing and for life. Do your best.

Helaine Mario:

Yes, absolutely.

Carol Cram:

Thank you so much. Helaine for chatting with me today. This has been just delightful.

Helaine Mario:

Well, Carol, it has been my honor, truly. I love talking about writing because all, I just remember the seven-year-old child, I was, curled in a rocking chair, reading a book, and that feeling is so wonderful that you just want to share it with other people.

Carol Cram:

You certainly do. Well, thank you so much.

Helaine Mario:

You're welcome. Thank you.

Carol Cram:

My guest has been Helaine Mario, the author of The Lost Concerto and Dark Rhapsody, the first two novels in her gripping Maggie O’Shea Mystery series. Both novels are listed in the Music category on Art In Fiction at www.artinfiction.com

Be sure to check the show notes for the link to receive a $20 Amazon gift card when you sign up for a paid plan on Buzzsprout.

Please follow Art In Fiction on Twitter and Facebook, and don’t forget to give the Art In Fiction Podcast a positive review or rating wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks so much for listening!

 








Welcome
Helaine's life prior to becoming a novelist
Helaine on inspiration
The origins of character Maggie O'Shea
Writing thrillers and depth of characters
Women thriller writers
Colonel Beckett and Agent Sugarman in Dark Rhapsody
Reading the Maggie O'Shea series out of order
The genesis of the series
The character of Shiloh the dog
More on inspiration
How Helaine plots her novels
Dane, the villain character
About writing sequels
Advertisement - Buzzsprout
A reading from Dark Rhapsody by Helaine Mario
Wordsmithing
The business of writing and marketing
Publishing - indie or traditional?
Writing advice
Extro