Helen Power is an academic librarian, a self-proclaimed fridge magnet connoisseur, and the award-winning author of the supernatural thriller, THE GHOSTS OF THORWALD PLACE. Her eclectic background includes degrees in forensic science, environmental studies, and library sciences. Her debut novel was a 2022 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award winner, and a Mystery Scene magazine Editor's Pick in 2021. Helen has been gracious enough to answer a few questions.
MB: Let's start with the most obvious question. How did you become a connoisseur of fridge magnets?
HP: I’m not sure of the precise moment that my obsession began, but I have a few older magnets that were given to me by my Mom when I was a kid, including a little wooden one that says “Helen’s Kitchen.” So, I guess I can blame my mother for this hobby! I like to pick up cute magnets that have different shapes and sizes from various places I visit or for different fandoms I’m a part of. I’ve had to start cutting back, though, because I only have the one, modest-sized refrigerator and space is at a premium!
MB: THE GHOSTS OF THORWALD PLACE has received numerous accolades, including being called an "enticing debut" by Publisher's Weekly. What served as the inspiration for the book?
HP: Apparently, I’m subconsciously terrified of elevators, because there was a stretch of time when all my nightmares featured elevators. In one specific dream, I was a ghost attached to an elevator, and I kept trying to escape it, venturing into the adjacent apartments, but just when I thought I was in the clear, the elevator would be called, tearing me back into it. When I woke up, I couldn’t stop thinking about this dream! I played with the idea a little, and then it eventually turned into this novel.
MB: Without any spoilers, tell us something about your book that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material.
HP: I’ve only mentioned this briefly in a few interviews, but Thorwald Place was loosely inspired by the apartment building where my uncle lives. Back in 2007 there was a brutal triple homicide in his “ritzy” and highly secure building. I was doing my undergraduate degree at the time, and I watched the forensic investigators as they combed the parking lot for clues. It stuck with me, because parts of Thorwald Place – from the security in the parking garage to the layout of the library—are all based on his building. And, of course, the fact that a seemingly safe building could be the setting of such a horrendous crime.
MB: You have a new book coming in the fall of 2023 called PHANTOM. What can you tell us about it?
HP: PHANTOM is a speculative thriller about a failed artist who’s in debt, broke, and has a scary ex. One day, a mysterious stranger approaches her and offers her a million dollars for her left hand. One thing leads to another, and she ends up taking the deal. Immediately following the amputation, she suffers from terrible phantom limb pain. Traditional therapies and drugs don’t help her, so she signs up for an experimental drug trial. On this new drug, she develops a psychic connection to her hand and she learns that her hand was sold in the black market organ trade. It isn’t long before she realizes that Chicago’s long dormant serial killer—the Phantom Strangler—is wearing her hand and using it… to kill.
MB: Let's chat about writing for a moment. Every writer has their own specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have a special place set aside for writing. Some outline their plot, while others "fly by the seat of their pants." Tell us about your writing process.
HP: I’m all over the place when it comes to writing. I’m a plantser—meaning that I plan a lot, but then things change while I’m writing, and I have to go with the flow. Sometimes I hit a block in my planning, and I can’t figure out what could (or should) happen next until I start writing. Other times, I plan everything out perfectly, and then things change when the characters don’t turn out to be quite how I’d intended. I like to use a lot of different tools, including notebooks, online note-taking apps, colourful markers, my bulletin board… I even sometimes dictate notes into my phone while I’m in the shower. My writing process is a little chaotic, but it somehow works.
MB: What has been your biggest challenge to your writing career?
HP: Honestly, one of the biggest challenges is finding time. I’m not just talking about finding time to write. There’s the editing. Getting feedback. Marketing my book on various platforms. Signing up to lead workshops and do other types of promotional events. Getting bookstores to stock my book and/or host events has been particularly challenging.
It’s weird to say that the biggest challenge to my writing career is my other career, but there ya go. I’m a tenure track librarian at a Canadian university, and a lot of time goes into my day-to-day job, projects, service, and academic writing. It’s hard to find time outside of that for a social life, let alone a second career.
MB: Some people believe we can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelves. Share 3 titles from your bookshelf and tell us what you think they say about you.
HP: “Monster She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction” by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson. This is a gorgeously illustrated nonfiction book. I think the significance of this book is self-explanatory—I’m a woman who writes darker speculative fiction!
I have a hardcover copy of the Criminal Code of Canada – leftover from my university days – when I completed my Bachelor of Forensic Science. I kept the print, but I mostly refer to online sources when I’m doing research!
“The Love Hypothesis” by Ali Hazelwood. I absolutely adore her “STEMinist” series. I work in academia and my background is in science. I think this book shows that despite the dark content of my books, I enjoy lighter reads too!
MB: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
HP: You heard it here first! I’m currently sifting through beta reader feedback for my next novel – The Nine Lives of Olivia Bourne. Like my first two books, it’s a speculative thriller with lots of twists and murders! It might just be my bloodiest book yet.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. Good luck with THE GHOSTS OF THORWALD PLACE, and your upcoming book, PHANTOM.
You can purchase THE GHOSTS OF THORWALD PLACE from the following retailers.
You can also read my review of THE GHOSTS OF THORWALD PLACE here.