Coffee With Hannah & Helena – Episode IV: A New (Hope We Don’t Get Sued)

Coffee with Hannah and Helena
Welcome to the first official edition of Coffee with Hannah and Helena! Grab a mug or a cup or a stein or a glass or a hollowed out skull with your favorite beverage and get comfortable. One of the things Helena and I like to talk about is the projects we’re working on—whether it’s a nascent idea or something that’s more solidly formed. It’s always enjoyable to talk about writing with other authors and get advice, whatever the stage of creation. We (read: Helena) also have a habit of playing a game we like to call Pop Culture Confusion (I just made up that title, roll with it). This essentially involves mixing up pop culture icons and the films/shows/etc in which they appear. We also like to speculate on who we would pick to cast characters in our stories when they one day make it to the silver screen. You can see how Pop Culture Confusion can make casting tricky. Today, we’ll be talking about CHUK – the serial novel in progress by Jessica B. Bell, dark alter ego of your favourite dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat (for more about Jessica, CLICKETH THOU HERE…EST)

Bayou Bonhomme Primer:

CHUK is a gothic horror mystery that takes place in the fictional Bayou Bonhomme, Louisiana, home of the legend of Remy LeVert, a swamp monster that to most is about as real as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But there are those in Bayou Bonhomme that know for a fact that there is something old and evil that lives in the bayou, and they shudder in terror. There are others still that worship it as some sort of god, and do its bidding, which includes the occasional human sacrifice.
Chief of police Oscar Blanchette has lived with the knowledge of Remy LeVert’s true nature — call it C’thuN’Chuk, or Chuk for short — for the past fifteen years. Something terrible happened in the summer of ’98. A bunch of children went missing and turned up horribly mutilated, if they turned up at all. Was this the work of the otherworldly creature that lived in the bayou, or was there a human agent at work. One thing’s for sure – there are monsters in the Bayou — and some of them walk on two legs just like you or I. The story opens in current day, and another child has gone missing. Oscar fears it’s beginning all over again.
Leroy Angell runs a BBQ shack, boasting the Best BBQ in Louisiana, and it certainly is popular. Downright addictive, even. Leroy and Oscar share in old secrets, and while Leroy might not exactly be the most scrupulous of individuals, he is, for the most part, on the side of the angels.
The same cannot be said for Olivia Hereford, who stems from the two oldest, richest, and most powerful families in Bayou Bonhomme, the Herefords and the Bergerons, and who is secretly the head of The Faithful, the religious group that has worshipped C’thuN’Chuk for a hundred years or more. She is, quite simply, evil.
Then there’s Marla Bergeron — Oscar’s deputy, who he cares about like a daughter. Her allegiance is divided, having been raised in the traditions of her family, but after someone she cares about ends up dead, she begins to question her place in life, and if anything is ever truly ordained by Fate.

Soundtrack for CHUK:

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  About a year ago, Hannah and I were chatting, and I pitched her the idea of an ongoing story — completely unrealized or plotted at the time — set in the Louisiana bayou, where there lived an actual swamp monster. The idea was that it was just going to be an over the top, Tales from the Crypt-esque story about a BBQ Shack where the owner was cooking up strange meat that he got from this creature. It was really just a grotesque “the secret’s in the sauce” gag at first. Hannah, where did you think the story was going to go?

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  Well, I certainly didn’t think it would go as long or become as big a world as it has–and that’s no slight against Jessica’s writing chops, if anything it’s my fault for underestimating. I wasn’t sure how far you could take a BBQ Shop of Horrors without just rehashing jokes about “It’s an old family recipe–that there’s part of the old family!” But as the story simmered and more spices were added, and Helena mentioned that the real monsters in the Bayou weren’t the ones you expected, I knew it was going to be good. Twisted, warped characters are a forte of Jessica’s.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I honestly think a lot of that had to do with not taking it seriously. I had a trilogy of novels in my head that just refused to come out properly, and I just wanted something different to get the creative juices flowing. Next thing you know, I’ve created an entire mystery, shady characters, a Lovecraftian mythology going back thousands of years, and of course C’thuN’chuk herself..

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Not to mention Monsterotica is all the rage these days.

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  That was completely unintentional… the tentacle porn bit just seemed to fit.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’m sure there’s a niche for that too, but I’d go to a movie store outside your neighborhood before asking. But speaking of Chuk, if you could pick anyone to be the voice, who would it be?

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Oh, are we doing fantasy voice casting? Oh, this is always fun. Well, you know, I almost want the voice to be sort of androgynous — Tilda Swinton? That guy from that ’90s band BUSH? Whats his name? Gavin Stefani?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’m not a Tilda Swinton fan (it’s probably latent jealousy from the fact that she was in a film with the Hiddles**) but she would be stellar.

(** This guy)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was in a film with Loki?

(Interlude — Of course, we’re talking about the film Only Lovers Left Alive, a film by the amazing Jim Jaramusch, which looks fantastic.)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Yeah, it was after she attacked Narnia–world destroyers get on well together. (I totally missed the Gavin Rossdale/Gwen Stefani moment, that one was over my head.)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  She was the only watchable part of Constantine. If they make a movie of Sandman, I’d cast Tilda Swinton in every role. One actor to rule them all…

Would I cast her as a Bowie-esque Lucifer? Would I cast her as the androgynous Desire? Would I cast her as the zany Delirium? Would I cast her as sweet but sombre Death? The answer to all of the above is a resounding YES!

 Hannah:

Hannah Sears  She looks like Voldemort. Was Constantine a stop on Bill & Ted’s most excellent adventure?
 If you’re casting rulers, who would play the chilling Olivia Hereford?

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat Unfortunately, no one can tell you WHAT Constantine is. You just have to see it for yourself. (TAKE THE BLUE PILL HANNAH! SAVE YOURSELF!)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Oh THERE’s the Advil Liquigel I dropped on the floor this morning. Cheers!

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  So who would I cast for Olivia? Sadly, the actresses I’d want for Olivia are dead. Olivia is, in my mind, a younger, evil Jessica Tandy — a refined Southern Belle with a vicious side. Bette Davis would have been perfect, too. But now? Hmmm… Who would you cast?

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  This may be completely off base but I could see Sally Field–she’s got that spitfire quality that I could see translating into the Matriarch, but both your picks were blondes. I almost want to say Michelle Pfeiffer as well, but I feel like she’s a little bit of a cliche choice.

 Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Michelle Pfeiffer is a favourite, but yeah, you don’t want to type-cast her. I definitely think there needs to be a sexiness to Olivia that I don’t see in Sally Fields.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  True, which is why I started thinking Michelle–she’s got that slinky quality that could lend itself to the creepiness.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I could see Famke Janssen as well — a young(er) actress could handle younger Olivia, and with makeup could play older Olivia. But then, Hemlock Grove. Don’t even get me started on how that show has taken a giant nose dive with the second season. Hell, right up until the last two minutes, I was still hooked.
Hey, what about Judi Densch as the voice of CHUK! (Worst casting ever…)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I never actually knew the name of the actress that played Jean Grey — Google is getting a lot of action this morning–DAME JUDY DENSCH. Show some respect!

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  I was actually already chastising myself for that, thanks. I’ll go borrow Jessica’s scourge. What do you think of Billy Bob Thornton for Leroy? I know he’s a little old, but I loved his performance in Puss In Boots.

 Hannah:

Hannah Sears  But it makes me see Puss in Boots and he’s so cute in his little hat. I still think the real question is who voices Chuk.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Didn’t we already answer this with the catch-all answer? Tilda Swinton. She’s like the default answer. If you’re asked to solve for X in a mathematical equation, the answer is Tilda Swinton. Why’d the chicken cross the road? Tilda Swinton. What’s the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? 42 (Okay, that one’s not Tilda Swinton, but you don’t mess with Douglas Adams, darling.) But, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Who is: Tilda Swinton?

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Of course.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’ll take Who’s Going to Voice Chuk for $300.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Ah, yes, the voice. Cummerbund Bandersnatch, of course. Or Robin Williams (kidding.)

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Are you prepared for Chuk to periodically shout KHAN? (I know he doesn’t shout his own name in the film. Semantics.)

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  My only non-negotiable in the casting (other than the obvious Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Robert Pattinson, Shia LaBeouf prohibitions) is no True Blood castaways, and that guy who played Gambit in one of the X-Men movies… you know… John Carter.

Hannah:

 Hannah Sears  You leave Taylor Kitsch alone or we’ll be having words! Angry words, that is.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Yeah, but GAMBIT. Need I say more?

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  I’ll just have him in the starring role of every single one of my movies. He’ll be the Depp to my Burton. Hey, I swore off X-men when they killed everyone and then they weren’t really dead. It was like LOST but less confusing and less pointless shirtless dudes.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  In the comics, apparently Charles Xavier is dead. Again. “For real this time, we swear”

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  How George RR Martin of them.

Helena:

Helena Hann-Basquiat  Do you know how many times Jean Grey has died and come back? More than Jesus. Too much.

Hannah:

Hannah Sears  Technically he only did that once, so it’s not hard to beat.
Well, that’s all the time we have for today, thank you all for joining us–we hope you didn’t scald yourself snorting any hot beverages out of your nose, Helena and I are not responsible for injuries incurred from reading our posts. As Helena mentioned in our introductory post, we want this to be a conversation with more than the two of us, so I hope you’ll join in our discussion.

When you write characters, do you start with images in your mind, or do they develop over time? Do you create Pinterest boards or slideshows or inspiration boards etc with photos and things that inspire characters ? Do you start with the way a character looks at all or do you build from the inside out? 

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32 thoughts on “Coffee With Hannah & Helena – Episode IV: A New (Hope We Don’t Get Sued)

  1. I’m afraid my characters are pretty one-dimensional, as their sole purpose is generally to be horribly killed in 100 words or less.
    I find Tilda Swinton a bit creepy.

    • THANK YOU–someone agrees with me about Tilda Swinton. So would you say your stories are more focused on the plot or the “action” than the people?

      • Pretty much, though it’s hard to flesh out a character and write a whole story in the 100 words I use.
        However, if I’m reading a novel I demand a properly-thought out character. I need to be able to relate in some way.

      • Very true–100 word stories are often less layered due to their length. And that’s something all readers should demand and all writers should provide!

      • I’m going to confess to falling into the trap of basically coming up with a “punchline” for the 100 word stories. It’s lazy but effective.
        I admire someone like, say, Jen at Elmowrites who does a lot of character-based stories. You want to read fully realized characters, she can do more with 100 words that many do with 1000.

  2. Pingback: It’s Coffee Time | Vers Les Etoiles

      • Hey, I’m up, writing the next chapter of CHUK, thank you very much. And commenting. And listening to music. And I’m about to start the next leg of my Tarantino marathon. I’m a productive human being, I’ll have you know. Also, sorry for partying. (Incidentally, had the world’s WORST greyhound yesterday. Okay, going to close the parenthesis and tell this story.)
        Went to this micro-brew bar in Toronto. It’s called 3 Brewers, it’s on Yonge Street right downtown, in case anyone wants to avoid this place like the plague. Now, in all fairness, I’d been there before, enjoyed their beers, and they have this flatbread pizza type thing that’s quite yummy.
        But, this time, everything that could go wrong went wrong. The bartender was clueless, wasn’t even familiar with his drink menu, and when I asked him if he could make a Greyhound, I had to tell him what it was.
        This was the first bad sign. Foolish me, I didn’t stop. I really wanted my greyhound. The second bad sign was that they didn’t have RED grapefruit juice, just “the other kind” as the poor boy said.
        Well, I suppose I could have stopped there, but did I, darling? I did not.
        The clueless bartender left, and Penny looked at me quizzically, wondering why I was so intent on getting my Greyhound.
        “We’re in a bar, darling,” I told her. “It’s the principle of the thing. I should be able to get a proper Greyhound. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s just vodka and grapefruit juice.”
        Apparently, it was rocket surgery.
        I watched in horror as I caught, out of the corner of my eye, as the bartender opened up a bag of grapefruit juice concentrate and mixed it with water and shook it up.
        The horror! The horror!
        I really wanted to cry off, but the Countess insisted that I ordered it, and that I had to drink it.
        Of course, concentrated anything tends to settle, and so, as I drank the horrid concoction, the concentrate all settled to the bottom, and so the very last bit of my drink was the most disgustingly vile liquid I’ve ever had in my mouth. Yes, THAT included. Ahem.

      • You made the classic mistake of ordering a cocktail at a place that specializes in beer. The bartender should still probably be put in the stocks and pelted with red grapefruits.Grapefruit?

      • Well, I imbibe my favorite beverage no matter what the occasion, so I need no encouragement there. I do have an outline and about three chapters written on a story that I haven’t touched in far too long…

      • Cheers to that! An outline and three chapters is nothing to scoff at–half of my stories don’t have outlines and 3/4ths of my outlines never turn into stories.

      • I didn’t start outlining on CHUK (Hell, I didn’t have a fucking NAME for the thing until recently) until maybe three or four months into writing it, when I began to realize that it was actually going somewhere. Outlines are great, so long as you allow for what Hannah and I call the “What If…” game. Allow for the story to come to a crossroads and take an unexpected turn. This allows for little happy accidents of discovery. For example… you have it in your mind (and your outline) that your character is going to do THING A, and that is going to shape the plot in a certain way. But… WHAT IF… they did something else entirely? How would that shape the plot. This is an especially good exercise to do in your head to avoid following a certain path and then getting stuck. If you have different possible paths you can follow, you’ll find you get writer’s block a hell of a lot less.

      • IT’S A COMMENTARY ON HIS HEALTH I NEED THE GUY TO KEEP BREATHING LONG ENOUGH TO FINISH WRITING. HE IS A LOVELY MAN AND I WANT HIM TO HAVE A LONG AND ILLUSTRIOUS LIFE.

      • All caps? Really? I was abused as a child, Hannah. I’ve probably got PTSD and you yelling at me isn’t helpful.
        GOD, you’re an insensitive biz-nitch sometimes.

        (smiley face smiley face smiley face)

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