The Unknown Terrorist
A Conversation With Helen Barer Author Of Fitness Kills
Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of http://Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Helen Barer author of Fitness Kills. Helen is a native New Yorker and has spent many years as a writer of non-fiction ranging from cookbooks to television documentaries. Norm: Good day Helen and thanks for participating in our interview. Helen: I'm delighted to have been invited. Norm: How did you happen to write a book about a fitness ranch in Baja and could you also tell us a bit about Fitness Kills? Helen: I'm a big fan of fitness spas - I've been going to one or another for more than 20 years.
About 12 years ago, while struggling through an aerobics class at a spa in Baja California, I looked around and thought it was like being on a cruise ship. We'd all arrived on a Saturday, would leave the following Saturday, and in the meantime got to be ‘intimate acquaintances.' Fitness Kills is the story of Nora Franke,, a New York City food writer who having broken up with her boyfriend, and having gained weight as a result, accepted a temporary job as food consultant at such a fitness spa. She is befriended by a group of regulars, and is caught up by their pain and loss as one, and then another, of the friends die. Nora's primary employer back in New York assigns her to write an article about the deaths at the health spa, and she becomes invested in solving the murder (and keeping herself alive!).
Norm: What attracted you to the mystery genre? Helen: I like stories with a beginning, middle and end. As well as those with a strong central character - preferably a woman - that have something to say about how we live today and what our values are. Norm: What do you believe are the essential ingredients of a good mystery novel? Helen: Suspense! And caring about what happens to the characters. Which means, of course, that you have to know the characters. Believability is also essential. This is not a fantasy genre. Norm: Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan? Helen: It starts off with a plan. Actually, I'm meticulous at the beginning. I have a summary page, a chapter-by-chapter outline, and know how it ends. But the middle.
that's the real mystery! As I established the characters' voices, I found they led me in unexpected directions. Norm: Helen, this was your first mystery fiction writing project. Did you enjoy the process? How was it different from your typical format? Helen: I'd never written fiction before. It was like re-inventing the wheel. I found it very clumsy until a writing teacher at the New School, in a class I'd found called "Starting Your Novel," suggested I switch to first person. All of a sudden I found my voice! Slightly smart ass, New York City, and vulnerable. I loved it. The dialogue came very naturally to me; it was the plot I struggled with. Norm: Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Helen: I did pitch it to many agents, all of whom said ‘very well written, but not right for us - it's not hard-boiled enough/sexy enough/ complicated enough/ straightforward enough.' take your pick.
It was more than discouraging, But I'm in a terrific writing workshop, and two of the authors were published by Five Star, an imprint of Thomson Gale that publishes mystery novels. I queried Five Star directly, sent the book to them as an attachment to an email, and they accepted it almost immediately. Norm: What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges? Helen: I'd had no idea how to write fiction; it was like learning a foreign language. I read a lot - other mysteries, writers about writing, etc. -- and went to mystery conferences. Joining a writing workshop was a major step. Talk about challenges! They pulled and pushed me into writing and rewriting. Norm: Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer? Helen: My mother. She was never without a book, nor was I. She encouraged me to write even as a little girl; my first significant piece was a fourth grade project called "My Life in the Wilderness.
" It got an A. Norm: Many writers want to be published, but not everyone is cut out for a writer's life. What are some signs that perhaps someone is not cut out to be a writer and should try to do something else for a living? Helen: Don't give up your day job! I actually waited until I was nearly retired to write full time. Otherwise there's so much pressure. It also helps to have a thick skin. Norm: What are your upcoming projects? How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors? Helen: I'm almost halfway through writing my next Nora Franke mystery novel, while promoting this one. Check out my website, http://www.helenbarer.com/.
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