Helen Takes 5 with Barbara Jean

Hi there, guys and dolls! Can you believe that it’s already the end of November? I could have sworn I was just toasting the bubbly to the new year just the other day. Or maybe I was just toasting the bubbly… well, never mind.

Anyhoo, that also means it’s time for my favorite feature, my Take 5 interview with a fellow author friend. Please meet Helen Grochmal. She writes the terrific Carolina Pennsbury Mysteries, which have a terrific cast of characters with plenty of vim and vigor in their sunset years, still raring to go. The most recent is DINNER AND DEATH, and friends, do pick up a Kindle copy for yourself, but first take a little time to learn all about Helen and her Dinner_and_Death_1600x2400_(Ebook)work.

1. So tell me a little about your series and main characters.

My series is about a coterie of five friends who share a dining table at a retirement community, something I know a lot about. The leader is Carolina who lives by the word of God and the wisdom of the great writers of literature. Her best friend, Annie, is an all-American woman who helped win WW II. Margie is their wacky new friend whose speech meanders under stress, especially when talking about her ex husband who recently left her. People don’t like her because she is the type of woman who wears Birkenstocks with socks most of the time. She is lucky to have a calico cat named Apolonia who is sensitive and accepting, even about the Birkenstocks. (Poor Apolonia was a target for murder herself in the second book DINNER AND DEATH.) Rita and Dot round out the five. Both spend a lot of time shopping, although one shops at Saks, the other on eBay. Together the group manage to solve the crime in their community and help each other over the pitfalls of living as older single women in a place where social skills, luck and good clothes are primary to survival, worse than in high school. The books were written to be funny in an ironic way.

2. What is your writing process like? Do you thrive on routine or work spontaneously as the whim takes you?

My writing process was like channeling. My mind produced ideas and characters so quickly that I couldn’t write fast enough to get my thoughts down. I would write for hours at a stretch, far into the night or day, time meaning nothing. It was a wonderful way to pass the time in the old folks home. I was driven. I had purpose after those years of just watching TV. Revising the work took a lot of time but that was relaxing after the bouts of that marvelous creativity. Of course the ease of writing had its down side – when the inspiration ended. The hare is unhappy while the tortoise celebrates, unless the hare finds another race and wins. What if there never is another race?

3. What exciting moment or moments have made you realize that you were really an “author”?

Except for some articles I wrote for library journals, I started writing in my 60s, shocked into it by a terrible experience in my life. I wrote a sort of memoir about it that I published under a pseudonym, but I did not feel like an author. Then I wrote the two Carolina Pennsbury mysteries. I felt a bit like an author when they were accepted but that elation passed. Then I started writing short stories in different genres, six stories being accepted in a year. But the elation of each acceptance passed. I felt most like an author when I got rejected from the 47 other magazines I submitted to. “Submit” is a perfect word to describe the process, the writer is so vulnerable in most cases. The horror. That never passes. (I have a book of about 17 short stories I don’t know what to do with.)

Advice (although you never asked): Three of my six short stories were accepted immediately. The names of the main characters began with “A”. Aha! I hope that is a lesson to you.

4. What do you do to spark up your creativity when you feel the well of inspiration is running dry?

Nothing sparks my creativity now. I felt it leave. After I finished one short story I felt something depart from my brain or some other body part. I said to myself, I will never write again. Whatever had stimulated some lobe of my brain changed back, or the muse that had once rescued me left. I tried to write but I wasn’t inspired, and the writing was not good. I am a practical elderly woman and far from ‘New Agey’ as can be. But something happened. So call me Algernon or Charlie or a character in The Awakenings. But my gift, whatever it was, is defunct, deceased, kaput.

5. Who are some of your favorite authors and how do you feel they have influenced your desire to write?

Jane Austen, Jane Austen, Jane Austen. Reading her books is like listening to the music of the spheres. The romance is perfect, of course, but the combination of the secondary characters, the word flow, the irony, the deceptive simplicity of every element of the novels is like listening to music, to Mozart. I sometimes try a cadence of hers that I hear in my head when writing. Her writing is a symphony of perfection to me. Have you noticed I love Jane Austen? Then I should mention Thomas Hardy with his strong women characters and George Eliot with her complexity and Agatha Christie with her plots. Finally, I was influenced by the storytelling of Washington Irving and the humor of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Maybe that was James Thurber. It is so easy to get them confused.

Actually, I mean the influence on me of the above authors is quite the opposite. Instead of inspiring me to write, they all influenced my desire to read more than write. I think they had deterred my writing career for 60 years. Why write when you can read them? Then, of course, there is Shakespeare, but one mustn’t mention his writing except in a holy place or on stage. I often wonder why anything else was written except journalism or non-fiction after Shakespeare, whose every sentence is an essay as deep as Plato and the equations in modern string theory- except he wrote in poetry. When I die I want to spend the first million years with Shakespeare and Jane Austen and my favorite late cat, Cady Stanton. Of course I doubt that the afterlife will measure time in earth’s years, but you know what I mean.

I indeedy do, Helen. Thanks for such a delightful and insightful chit-chat. It’s lovely to share you with our readers. I do hope the inspiration fairy taps you on your shoulder again and we get to read more about Carolina and her co-horts. In the meantime friends, do pop on over to Kindle and pick up a copy of DINNER AND DEATH. I’m glad I did.


Barbara Jean

About Barbara Jean Coast

Barbara Jean Coast is the pen name of authors Andrea Taylor and Heather Shkuratoff. She is currently hard at work telling the cozy tales of the fictional town of Santa Lucia, loosely based on Santa Barbara in the late 50's, early 60's, known as The Poppy Cove Mysteries.
This entry was posted in Authors, book series, books, Characters, Conversation, Cozy Mysteries, Cozy Mystery Series, ebooks, Fictional Characters, Interviews, kindle, Mysteries, New Authors, Perspective, Readers, Reading, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing, Writing Ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Helen Takes 5 with Barbara Jean

  1. This was an interesting interview, Helen and Barbara Jean. Helen you have an interesting cast of characters in Dinner and Death.

    Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

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