Hi Helen, Welcome to Literature & Fiction. Please tell everyone a little about yourself.
Helen: I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and moved to Los Angeles, California, when I was twenty years old. Moving to Massachusetts in 1977, I opened a clothing and jewelry boutique, which I still own and operate. I’ve observed many different types of people through my business and how they interact with others, making for excellent character resources for my writing. I’ve raised two children, who are now living in California, which is where I plan to retire someday. Travel has always been a love of mine.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Helen: I loved writing fictional stories in high school, and my senior-year English teacher told me that I should submit my stories to magazines. Never taking his advice, I instead wrote many colorful and detailed letters to family members in my travels around the country, usually starting with the words, “And the saga continues.” I seemed to put myself in situations that made for good story telling.
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Helen: I met a guy from high school at our thirtieth high school class reunion who told me about the horrors his family experienced after meeting their new pastor. His family was torn apart by the pastor who used his clerical power to groom and manipulate his wife. Their four daughters were horrified when their parents divorced and the pastor married their mother and moved into the family unit. His story was so compelling that it became the first non-fiction book that I wrote called Innocence Betrayed. We unfortunately had to change it to fiction after production began, possibly because of threats to the publisher by the church mentioned in the story. The message in the story was an important one for readers to learn to recognize the grooming techniques that unscrupulous clergy will use to satisfy their narcissistic behavior.
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone?
Helen: My latest book, Sins of the Abused is non-fiction. It tells about the survival of a man who was abused by a priest at the age of ten, becoming hooked on sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, and becoming an over-achiever. It will most likely be the last story that I write about clergy abuse. It is set to go into the editing phase in the spring of 2011 and published by the end of the year.
What’s the hook for the book?
Helen: The story is a timely one regarding the recent discovery of how high up in the Catholic Church the cover-ups of abuse actually were. Victims were abused first by their trusted priests and again by the Church with lies, cover-ups, denial, and the statute of limitations. Many of the victims did not survive the torturous life after the abuse, but my co-author was one who overcame the self-loathing, addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, and pornography, having the courage to come forward to tell his story and detailing what it took for him to get there. He is brave in opening up to the graphic details of the grooming process and abuse, helping the reader to understand just how a young boy could be torn from an innocent and trusting childhood to a world of addiction and horror from which few survive.
How do you develop characters? Setting?
Helen: When I began working with my co-author on Sins of the Abused, he had already written a manuscript telling his story, but it was disjointed and rambling. I had to read about fifty pages before I found a place to begin. Since it is based on a true story, the characters were developed from real people, from my experience in already researching and writing about clergy abuse, and from being raised in the Catholic Church. It was important to pull the needed information from my co-author that I felt was necessary for the reader to get a clear picture of how such a story could actually take place.
Who is the most unusual/most likeable character?
Helen: I think my co-author, Marco, is the most unusual and likeable character, but he’s also the most hated character when he’s abusing drugs and alcohol, ruining relationships, setting his children up for pain and abuse, and destroying all that is good in his life. It’s unusual that a person can survive what he endured. He was a polite and trusting little boy who yearned for the love and attention his younger siblings received. Little did he know that he was the perfect target for the coolest priest at church.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Helen: The way I maintained the course of the plot in my first book, Innocence Betrayed, was to use an outline and pages and pages of notes. But for Sins of the Abused I was working with a manuscript that I had to continually go back and read through, moving chapters around and adding many newly written chapters to make things more clear and maintain the course of the plot.
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Helen: I thoroughly enjoyed writing two short stories based on personal escapades in the anthology, Forever Friends where I wrote a story of surviving hard times with a “Circle of Friends” living together and sharing many combined talents to make ends meet. In the anthology Forever Travels my story is called “A Most Excellent Adventure” and is based on my travel experiences driving across the United States with my son, who had just graduated from college and wanted to move to Los Angeles from Boston to begin a career in film and media.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Being the quiet and shy middle child in a happy two-parent home in Michigan with four sisters, I did a lot of observing. I feel that this helped me to see both sides of a situation later in life, which helps in developing characters. My daily journal entries gave me an outlet to express myself through writing. I saw life as a story that played out in my mind, going wherever my imagination wanted to take it. Imagination is a wonderful thing for someone who likes to write.
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Helen: There were many great reviews for Innocence Betrayed, but this one from Kate, a survivor, was very special:
The contents of this book amazed me, because they are so similar to my own story. Having been in the place of hurt that the characters found themselves, I was able to really relate to this writing. I connected with the grooming, the manipulation, the Church cover-up, and the painful aftermath that something like this can bring. The story shows just how easily something like this can happen, and is a help to those it’s happened to, in seeing that they are not alone. Heartbreaking truth…and great writing. So glad to see a voice being given to such a painful topic!
What are your current projects?
Helen: Right now I’m working with another survivor who wants to tell his story. This young man is a survivor of three kidney transplants beginning at the age of two. I’m also developing a series of adventure stories based on the many personal escapades I’ve experienced and continue to enjoy through life’s happenings.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Helen: I currently have two websites with information on my books and me. One focuses on being an informational site for those abused by an authority figure at www.innocencebetrayedbyclergy.com and the other website is more general at www.freewebs.com/helenwisocki