I had the chance to pick Helena Hann-Basquiat’s brain this morning and, let me tell you, a chat with the delightful dilettante is the perfect drug to combat the doldrums that often come on Monday. Not that I’m condoning drug use–no one is saying that–and moving on. If you don’t know, Helena Hann-Basquiat is the blogger extraordinaire over at Memoirs of a Dilettante where she tells tall tales and scary stories in turn. Her Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume 1 will be coming out soon in published form and, in honor of that, I present a short interview with the Dilettante herself.
1. Tell us about yourself for those of back home who don’t know you (yet).
I’m a wanderer. Really, I’ve spend the greater part of my life like a magpie, attracted to shiny things and following my whims wherever they might lead me, sometimes resulting in wonderful adventures, and other times landing me in what I can now see as learning experiences, but at the time felt like horrible mistakes. In my wandering, I’ve tried on many clothes, and worn many faces. I’m not sure what it is I do best, but I’ve never been afraid to try something new, just in case I’m secretly a virtuoso at one thing or another. I declare myself a dilettante, but I’m no dumb dabbler, darling — I dare to delight in dipping my dainty digits in whatever I deem interesting, but I resent the implication that I’m just playing around, or that I can just be ignored.
That being said, the one thing I keep coming back to is writing, of one form or another. I love writing; I love the craft; I love experimenting with it, playing with it and seeing what I’m capable of.
2. Give us the “Twitter version” of the Memoirs: what’s it about? (in 140 characters or less)
Man goes on epic quest of revenge against great white whale that ate his leg. Really it’s a tale of destructive obsession. #CallMeIshmael
No, no, that’s something else. Try this:
A post-modern comedy of errors: the collected reminiscences of a self-proclaimed dilettante who will try anything just to say that she has
3. If you were going to die and had time to read one book, what would it be?
I’m just going to assume you mean something other than a medical textbook that might lend insight into how to prevent my imminent demise, darling.
This is one of those questions for which one should always have an answer prepared, and I usually do — my go to book is always Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury — but would I really want that to be the last thing I read on this earth? Pretty bleak. No, I think I’d want some laughs — I’m going to go with Lamb, by Christopher Moore. Laughs, and some thought provoking stuff as well.
4. So, you have a Kickstarter campaign going on for the Memoirs. Tell us a little more about that.
Well, it’s not about selling a bunch of books. Or at least that’s what my friend, Jim Squires, who’s the real force behind it, tells me.
I know. I got real nervous when he said that, too.
The Kickstarter campaign, he tells me, is the first step in getting people talking about the book, and he pats me on the back and assures me that even in the unlikely event that we don’t reach our financial goal, we will have succeeded in getting the buzz going.
I’m just going to have to trust him on that, though, because I thought the whole point was to raise the funds to do further promotional work, like getting review copies into the hands of industry people.
See, I really don’t want to be writer, editor, publisher, and bookstore. So this Kickstarter isn’t the start of Helena Incorporated — it’s supposed to be an appeal to my readers, new and old, to help me get the snowball rolling on Memoirs of a Dilettante, and give it a push, and let momentum do the rest. I want people to join in as part of the People’s Republic of Helena, as it were. Only with 99% less rigid totalitarianism. Welcome, comrade darlings!
5. If you could be a recurring guest character on any TV show currently on-air, what show would it be and what role would your character serve?
Well, I’d have to say Archer, because that show is just hilarious, and it’s my secret dream to be an animated character. I’d love for them to play on my self-proclaimed dilettante status, and have my character just show up in all kinds of different places doing all kinds of things. Like, one episode, I’m a blackjack dealer, and then in another episode, I’m a traffic cop, and then in another episode, I’m a lounge singer. After a while, Archer starts to notice, and it starts getting ridiculous — like in one episode, I’m the barista that serves him coffee, and then later the very same day, I give him a speeding ticket. Later that night, I deliver him pizza.
6. If you could tell people one thing about the Memoirs–a sneak peek, if you will—what would you reveal?
This is where I toot my own horn, darling, but what I’m most proud of — the compliment I get the most — is that the narrative voice is amazing. Nobody sounds like Helena, they say. I’ve been told that when people read my writing, they immediately imagine what I sound like. I wish I could hear some Helena impressions — that would be an absolute scream!
It’s not something you’re going to be able to help from laughing at, or crying, when the time comes. The writing is far too passionate for you to ignore.
7. What was the hardest thing about writing the Memoirs?
I could make a generalizing statement here about keeping momentum, or overcoming obstacles of discouragement and the temptation to give up.
Or, I could tell you how, once I realized that there was more to tell than just humorous anecdotes, I had to re-visit painful experiences and decide how best to present them. Or I could talk about the fine balance of fact vs fiction, and finding the right mix — and I could mention that there were times I almost felt cowardly and guilty about all that. There was a voice in my head that was berating me, telling me that if I was going to tell the truth, just tell it exactly as it was, and leave it be. And then there was the storyteller in me that insisted that sometimes, for the sake of narrative, you have to change some things to make it better.
But if I had to pick one thing — the hardest thing about writing the Memoirs — was that Penny was constantly haranguing me about the way that I characterized her. She insists that people are going to think she’s a raving lunatic, when indeed, she hasn’t been to a rave in ages.
8. Which comic book character would you most like to buy a Greyhound at a bar?
Ah, a fine question. A Greyhound, of course, is a vodka and grapefruit juice, darlings, in case you didn’t know.
But how to answer? I mean, do I pick an obscure character of some indie comic to demonstrate my hipster cred, or do I make this answer more accessible by tossing out some pop culture icon that everyone’s going to know?
Am I buying this person a drink as a way of a romantic/sexual advance, or are we just two buddies going for a drink?
I think there’s got to be more than one way to answer this, darling, so here goes:
OBSCURE: Katchoo from Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, because she’s completely bad-ass, and once we started drinking, I think we’d howl our asses off.
POP ICON: Wolverine. Just to have him refuse it in favour of a beer. Can’t you just see trying to hand Wolverine a pink grapefruit juice and vodka? He’d just look at it and mumble “I ain’t drinkin’ that, bub.”
DATE: Gonna go out on a weird limb and say Daredevil — but as Matt Murdock, not in costume. I’m not that kinky. Okay, I am, but don’t print that. Shit, my backspace key is broken again. Anyway, the guy’s gotta be something special — check out his romantic interests — Elektra, Black Widow, Typhoid Mary. (I’m such a geek, darling — you don’t have to tell me). Plus he’s blind — not to be insensitive, but it really takes the pressure off a girl, you know what I’m saying?
9. What do you hope people come away with after reading the Memoirs?
I hope it’s something people keep coming back to. I hope they love the stories so much that it’s one of those books they keep by the bed, or by the tub, or wherever, so they can pick it up and read a story from it and remember how much they loved it all over again.
I hope that I’ve made an impression on people with it, and that they want to read more about Penny and I — even if it’s just a casual curiosity about how Penny’s doing in school, or whatever happened to Cheyenne and the Accidental Plagiarist, or, or, or…
10. What’s next?
Well, more, I hope. A few months back I was in the middle of telling a story of my Return to Arcadia, and some life things happened that interrupted the telling of that tale. But I’ve been thinking more about it, and I think that’s where I’m returning to shortly. I have about half of Volume Two done, but I’m not going to rush it. I’m just going to let the stories come as they will, and hope that my readers stay interested. In the meanwhile, I’m really invested in writing the rest of the Jessica B. Bell stories set in Bayou Bonhomme. Specifically in coming up with a good title for it.