Welcome to FIVE QUESTIONS. In this feature on my blog, you'll learn about new and exciting books from the author's themselves. You'll hear about the book, their characters, the inspiration behind the book, and other insider details. All through five simple questions.
Today, we are hearing from award-winning author Helen Power about her new novel PHANTOM, which is available now.
What is your new book about?
Roz, the protagonist in PHANTOM, is an aspiring artist, but she’s broke and has a criminal ex-boyfriend who’s stalking her. When a stranger approaches her and offers her a million dollars and safety from her ex in exchange for her left hand, she foolishly accepts the deal. Shortly after the amputation she experiences excruciating phantom limb pain. No matter what she tries, the agony persists. Desperate for relief, she enrolls in an experimental drug trial. While Ryofen alleviates her pain, it has a peculiar side effect. She can feel her missing hand doing mundane things. She quickly discovers that it’s not just doing the dishes, getting dressed, or opening and closing doors. She can also feel it killing. That’s when she realizes that the long-dormant serial killer–the Phantom Strangler—has her hand, and she’s the only person who can stop them.
What was the inspiration behind the book?
This is a fun question. I work as an academic librarian, and at the time, I was a liaison for the School of Nursing. I had a student come to me with a unique research question. She was studying the use of mirror therapy for phantom limb treatment. This topic was fascinating, and within a short amount of time, I had the entire plot for PHANTOM mapped out. One thing I really enjoyed while writing was playing with the imagery of mirrors in the story, both in the literal use of mirrors (in her treatment), but also figuratively, in how Roz and the killer are reflections of one another. While they’re opposites, ironically they have a lot in common.
What was the hardest scene to write?
There’s this one scene later in the book that I’d really looked forward to writing the entire time I wrote the first half of the story. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ll say that I wanted Roz to be so paranoid, so caught up in everything that’s happening, that she would do something awful that she can’t come back from. When I finally reached that scene, I had a really difficult time actually writing it! I ended up shying away from the disturbing twist. As I edited, I had to keep going back to try to mold the scene the way I wanted it to be. I kept justifying what she did, but I didn’t want the reader (or Roz) to have that justification. I think, at that point, I’d been so hard on Roz that I wanted to give her an easy way out. But revisions helped me bring the suffering back in ten-fold. I’m a cruel, sadistic author.
What's the most interesting or unusual thing you learned while researching for this book?
Honestly, for this question, I’m going back to mirror therapy. I read a few journal articles on the topic while I was trying to convince myself I didn’t need to write an entire novel sparked by this interest! Basically the idea is that when someone is experiencing phantom limb pain, they can put that limb in the box alongside their other limb. They’re supposed to visualize themselves using that missing limb (ex. Clenching and unclenching their fist) while watching the intact limb in the mirror doing the same thing. This tricks the brain into thinking that it sees that missing limb in the mirror moving. This method has been scientifically proven to reduce pain.
Of all the books out there, why should readers choose this one? (What makes your book stand out from the rest?)
PHANTOM is a wild ride that blends a bunch of different genres. It’s a thriller at heart and there are horror elements—especially body horror—but there’s also a sweet romance subplot to keep things grounded and help Roz on her journey. A lot of early reviewers have said that PHANTOM is very unique and totally not what they expected it to be. I hope that readers will love to hate Roz just like I did, and that they won’t be able to put the book down!
PHANTOM is available now, and can be purchased at the following retailers.