I first “met” Helena Hann-Basquiat through her guest post on Katie Sullivan’s blog, where she had a hilarious dialogue with a 1300-year-old Druid. I was stunned by her dry humor which had a thread of worldweariness sewn through it. That’s depth, my dear Reader. From there I went to her blog, fell in love, made a few comments, and then was given the honor to read and comment on her then-current work in progress, Three Cigarettes. Helena has published as Jessica B. Bell, a writer that would scare the pants off Stephen King, as well as one volume of her memoirs (check out my review here) as well as a long list of shorter works. Helena is the epitome of prolific.
But Helena is a persona, a fictional character. The genius behind Helena is a Canadian fellow named Ken. Ken recently “came out” via the Sisterwives blog and revealed himself. Or as much as he was comfortable sharing. I still don’t know what his resting heart rate is or if he is lactose-intolerant. Whether I should know, have a right to know, is a subject of infinite interest. Indeed, how much can we readers expect authors to share about themselves? If you want some answers to that question, check out Ken’s discussion with Katie Cross: A Question of Entitlement: What Do Authors Owe Readers?
Being that I am a writer too, I would argue that the reader has no entitlement to an author’s actual identity. Unless that author actually reaches out to the reader, as Ken did with me. I was given a choice. I could have continued with Helena firmly ensconed in my mind as a large-breasted, drop-dead gorgeous woman who had lived through a world of hurt and learned to laugh it off. And who also had a nurturing quality (evidenced by her relationship with her niece Penny) that had been missing in my life while I was growing up. So it was very tempting to leave things be. But I am nothing if not curious so I chose to know.
The only thing that really changed when I found out that she was a he was my respect for and awe of Ken’s work shot up about 1000 percent. And then everything fell into place. Of course, he chose a woman to be his persona. Who better to tell stories of great pain and great joy and all that is in-between but a large-breasted, drop-dead gorgeous woman who had lived through a world of hurt and learned to laugh it off. Helena was/is the perfect persona. She embodies all that is wonderful about Ken and she gives him a safe place through which to tell sad and painful stories as well as tales of joy and humor.
Now, without further adieu, enjoy the following excerpt from Volume 2 of Memoirs of a Dilettante. Then go and order the book through Pubslush.
The Disappearance of Amy LeFevre
I didn’t know Amy LeFevre – not really – but I’d seen her around town, riding her bike in her short shorts and Doc Martens, bruises up and down her legs like tattoos fading in the sun. If you really pressed her about the bruises (and so few ever bothered – – I only asked her once out of polite concern) she’d offer self-deprecatory excuses of clumsiness or claim she was anemic.
She wore those Docs so proudly; she’d had to go to the city to get them, and they seemed to be her declaration that she’d gotten out once, and she would get out again. They had steel toes and Amy had gotten in trouble on more than one occasion for using them against boys who just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Amy had recently shaved her head, and the oh-so-clever boys in school and around the small-minded small town of Arcadia had taken to changing the words to that old Queen song to sing at her “I want to ride my bi-sexual, I want to ride my dyke!” Amy was not a lesbian, not that it mattered to anyone. Closet homosexuality was not the secret that Amy kept, so their taunts didn’t bother her.
Amy’s father ran the hardware store in Arcadia, just as his father had before him, and he was a small, broken man with a broken marriage and a small house living in a small, broken town, and he was absolutely terrified of two small words: Home Depot.
By day he was congenial, and his customers all loved him and wished him well, and would join in his armchair economics lectures that he would launch into whenever the topic of the big box chains came up, which was nearly always. During business hours it was merely sympathizing and small town solidarity, and the conversations would always just be polite agreement that the winds are changing or some other homily. After hours, Amy’s dad would park himself at the bar, and after a couple of drinks, launch into accusations at fellow townsfolk who he knew, he just knew were doing their shopping at the Home Depot just outside of town and taking food right out of my mouth, goddammit!
This is the man that Amy had to deal with every night, and if Amy wore her shorts so short, well, maybe it was so that her father would have to constantly see the bruises, and maybe, just maybe he’d be ashamed and leave her alone. Or maybe she hoped that the townsfolk would put two and two together and say something, do something – but her cry for help went unanswered, even, I’m ashamed to say, by me. Maybe the reason why she shaved her head was so her father couldn’t grab her hair when she tried to scramble away from him when he came into her room at night stinking of Johnny Walker and the sickly sweet tobacco of those cheap cigars he liked to smoke.
One day, Amy just disappeared.
By the time they discovered her father’s body at the bottom of his basement stairs, Amy was long gone.
They found her bike at the Amtrak station in the next town ten miles away.
They never found Amy.
 It’s actually “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.”
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat, and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE
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Marie A Bailey
Writer, blogger, knitter, cat lover, and introvert.