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An Exclusive Interview with Sondra Helene
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
March 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
March 2019

She Writes got the chance to sit down with Sondra Helene, author of Appearances to talk about her morning routine, the power of editing and how she hones her craft.

Share your writing routine.

The first thing I do in the morning is drink a large glass of water, and head to the gym. When I arrive home, I pour myself a cup of coffee and write. I schedule writing into my day like a job and sit down at my desk from about 9:30-3:00. I begin each morning editing what I wrote the day before. When I’m satisfied, I start the next chapter of a novel or an essay, depending on what I’m working on. I love writing scenes but it’s in the editing where I add most of the details. That’s when I hone my writing skills and derive the most enjoyment out of my work. Sometimes I write at night if I can’t sleep or if I wake up at 6 am, I’ll get some pages done before I workout. Time speeds by when I’m at my computer writing.

What’s the first/worst job you ever had?

My first “real” job was as a Speech and Language Pathologist for stroke patients in a hospital in Boston. I derived enjoyment out of helping people who had aphasia (word finding problems) and watching them improve. My worst job was during college when I worked in a department store in the giftware area and found myself dusting the merchandise most of the day.

Describe your writing style in three words.

 Engaging. Detailed. Realistic.

What is the first thing you can remember writing?

I remember writing an autobiography when I was twelve years old for middle school English. I was so excited about it because my “baby” brother was two years old at the time and I wrote about how he kept the family laughing and how my sister and I were like his “little” mothers. He later joked that he had three mothers growing up!

When did you start to feel like a writer?

 I started taking classes at GrubStreet in Boston about thirteen years ago. Writing saved me after my 46-year-old sister died of lung cancer. I didn’t know what to do with my grief. I took lots of classes and found that sharing my story and her story was healing. It was also a way for me to be with and honor my sister after she was gone.

I began to feel like a writer when my writing was workshopped in memoir, fiction and essay classes.  I was thrilled when some of my essays were published. Now I’m a board member at GrubStreet and my life revolves around writing and supporting other authors at their book launches and readings. I attend writer’s conferences…Sirenland, in Positano, the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston, the Fine Arts Work Center and more. I look forward to attending Book Festivals this year after my debut novel, Appearances, is published in April. I am on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as Sondra Helene, my author name. Being on social media as a writer has cemented my feelings as well.

Was there something about the publishing experience that surprised you?

I didn’t know about the process of the ARCs and that it was ultimately the author’s responsibility to proofread and be responsible for any typos, grammatical errors, or changes in content. I found myself changing small things every time the manuscript was sent back to me until I just said to myself, enough!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice is to set a goal and persevere. When I decided to “write a book,” I was determined to get it published. But I didn’t know how long it would take! My novel went through many drafts over ten years. I was encouraged to keep revising and editing and each time the manuscript got better, deeper, wiser. When I look back at my early drafts, I’m glad they weren’t accepted for publication. Now, I am proud of my novel and that I didn’t give up.

What do you do to help develop your craft?

I read constantly, and I continue to take writing classes. I still take classes in personal essay, fiction, memoir, flash fiction, nonfiction. I am an avid student of the craft and love learning from my instructors and the other students in my classes.

Why is it important for women to share their stories?

We all learn from each other. I find that I am able to connect to at least one aspect of someone’s story. Also, sharing my story was healing for me. My book has lots of family drama in it and I’m sure most people can relate to some parts of it. Writing saved me. My novel was inspired by my own true life story.

What’s your favorite way to support other women writers?

I read their books. I go to their book readings and book launches. I write reviews on Amazon. When I love a book, I tell all my friends about it. I post their books on my Facebook and Instagram pages and tweet about it.

Sondra Helene is a board member and writer at GrubStreet, Boston’s center for literary life. Her publications include “Jewish Magic Protected My Sister” in Lilith Magazine, “The Switch” in Voices of Caregiving: Stories of Courage, Comfort and Strength; and “Losing My Sister and the Long Road Back” on better50.com. She has studied fiction and nonfiction at GrubStreet, the Fine Arts Work Center, Gotham Writers Workshop, the Sirenland Writers Conference, and Kripalu. She is a graduate of Ithaca College and Columbia University. A past president of the Friends of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, she has also been involved with fund-raising for the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. Helene is a Life Member of Hadassah, a member of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and a former overseer of the Boston Ballet. She has two grown children and lives outside of Boston with her husband.

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