The Horror Tree Presents: Author Interview – Helen Power
The Horror Tree Presents: Author Interview – Helen Power
By Lionel Ray Green
Canadian author Helen Power followed up her award-winning debut novel The Ghosts of Thorwald Place with another supernatural thriller, Phantom.
An academic librarian living in Saskatoon, Power uses her eclectic background – she has degrees in forensic science, environmental studies, and library science – to enhance her storytelling. She is also an avid reader and reviewer and runs the Power Librarian book blog.
Power agreed to an exclusive email interview with Lionel Ray Green for The Horror Tree about her novels.
LIONEL: Your newest novel Phantom (October 2023) features a desperate woman named Regan “Roz” Osbourne who sells her left hand to a stranger for a million dollars and safety from her unstable ex-boyfriend. Roz is an unconventional main character with many personal flaws. What made Roz such an interesting character for you?
HELEN: Roz is a very damaged character. She has self-destructive tendencies that manifest through how she handles her addictions, how she treats other people, and how she charges towards danger. On the other hand, the Phantom Strangler, who also has a very specific addiction, is a meticulous planner with a deeply ingrained desire for self-preservation. Roz is brash and rude with goodness buried deep down inside her, and the Phantom Strangler is the exact opposite – seemingly good, with a rotten core. Roz and the villain are polar opposites, despite their similar childhoods. But, as the novel progresses, their characteristics start to reverse, as Roz discovers something to live for, and the Phantom Strangler loses control and becomes more impulsive – and dangerous.
LIONEL: Roz develops a psychic connection to her missing limb thanks to an experimental drug trial and soon discovers the long-dormant serial killer known as the Phantom Strangler is now wearing her hand and using it to kill again. Did you have to do much research about phantom limbs?
HELEN: I’m an academic librarian, and at the time, I was supporting the School of Nursing. Among other responsibilities, I taught research skills, purchased scholarly resources, and did one-on-one research consultations with students and faculty. One day, I had a third-year nursing student with a unique and fascinating research topic: she was looking into the use of mirror box therapy for phantom limb treatment. I’d never heard of it before. Essentially, this technique allows your brain to reattribute your movements and imaginary sensation from the missing limb to the attached limb. The entire concept was incredibly fascinating and lends itself quite nicely to a sci-fi twist. I did do quite a bit of research into phantom limb pain, but more so into the treatment and possible cures. There are numerous treatments aside from mirror box therapy, including anti-depressants and TENS therapy, and I had to make sure that Roz cycled through at least a few of them before impulsively trying an experimental drug!
LIONEL: Your debut novel The Ghosts of Thorwald Place (October 2021) is another outstanding work about another desperate woman named Rachel Drake who dies by the end of Chapter 2 and then finds herself tethered to the spot of her death – an elevator – as a ghost in a building where any one of her neighbors could be her killer. What facets of human nature were you most excited to explore via Rachel’s observations of the residents in her building?
HELEN: I had a lot of fun coming up with her neighbours’ strange and twisted backstories! I wanted to have the residents all appear to be the typical stereotypes of people that you’d expect to find in a wealthy downtown condominium. There’s the lawyer and his trophy wife, the seemingly happy couple, the single mother who’s a surgeon … but I took these ideas and gave them a twist, ones that are revealed when we get to see what’s going on behind closed doors – as only a ghost can! All of the characters’ relationships can be described as some sort of twisted love. There are the abusive relationships, obsessive love, selfish love, marrying someone you barely know … I don’t want to spoil too much here, but there’s only one pure, unselfish relationship in the story that isn’t tainted.
LIONEL: Speaking of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place, it was the 2022 Gold Winner in the Best New Voice: Fiction category of the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Awards. What did that award mean to you?
HELEN: I’m not going to lie, the trophy I got for that award is my prized possession! It sits on my shelf in a place of honour. It’s pointy and has quite a bit of heft to it – perfect to use as a murder weapon! All joking aside, it was rewarding to have that level of validation for my writing. Being a writer can be lonely, and unless readers reach out to you to tell you their thoughts, it can be difficult to know if your story is being well received or not!
LIONEL: Your next novel – The Nine Lives of Olivia Bourne – is another speculative thriller that you said might just be your bloodiest book yet. Can you share any details or a release date?
HELEN: I can’t say much about this yet. I’m currently querying the story and hope to get representation for it soon. I will say that it’s much more like The Ghosts of Thorwald Place than Phantom, both in the cast of characters and the spooky themes. Fingers crossed that it gets picked up soon!
LIONEL: You have several published short stories in various genres, including cozy mysteries, dystopian fantasy, and historical thriller, but you describe yourself as a supernatural suspense author. Do you believe in the supernatural?
HELEN: It’s funny because this is something I’m extremely wishy washy on. Whether or not I believe in ghosts depends entirely on the time of day or what horror movie or book I’ve recently devoured. I did my undergraduate degree in forensic science, and I’m inclined to require evidence before believing in something. That said, I’ve had some awfully spooky experiences! Some of them can’t be easily explained away. For instance, when I was in university and lived in an old building in Peterborough, I had four roommates, and three of us had our bedrooms on the third floor. I’d always hear my roommates running up and down the old, wooden stairs. One afternoon, I was the first back in the house after the Christmas holidays, and I heard someone running up the rickety steps. Excited that one of my roomies was home early, I swung open my bedroom door. A chill washed through me. There was no one there, but it definitely didn’t feel like I was alone!
LIONEL: You’ve been an experienced book reviewer via your blog PowerLibrarian.Wordpress.com since February 2018. Putting your reviewer’s hat on, can you share what elements of storytelling almost guarantee a 5-star rating from you?
HELEN: This is a tricky question, because what I love differs depending on the genre I’m reading! I tend to prefer books that are lighter on the worldbuilding, with the exception of atmospheric horror stories. I live for grotesque imagery and effective use of metaphor that compares horror tropes to real-life horrors. I also love dark plots with lots of twists and turns. I don’t mind so much if I can predict the final twist, particularly if the writing style makes me dread reaching that end. That said, a shock ending always gets me pumped!
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Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army gulf war veteran living in Alabama. His short stories have appeared in more than two dozen anthologies, magazines, and ezines, including The Best of Iron Faerie Publishing 2019; America’s Emerging Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers: Deep South; and Alabama’s Emerging Writers. Drop by https://lionelraygreen.com/ and say hello.