XOXO After Dark is excited to welcome the bestselling author HelenKay Dimon to the blog today! We’ve loved her books for ages, so when we got the chance to ask her about THE PRETENDER, the newest entry in her “Games People Play” series, we jumped at it. Read on for a look at what makes this prolific author tick…

XO: THE PRETENDER, Book 3 in your “Games People Play” series, opens with a gripping scene of a job gone terribly wrong for your ex-burglar hero. What do you think are the most important elements to kick off the first chapter (or the first page!) of a book?

HKD: First, thanks for having me here. It’s always great to talk books and romance.

Because I’m a bit of a dork, I’ve analyzed the subject of strong beginnings and have a writerly type answer. There are common elements in the books I can’t put down and I try to work these into my books as well. The main one? A compelling character who makes me want to know more. I don’t have to love the character or even relate to them. I just need to think, “interesting…now let’s see what this person does.”

Another is that the book has to feel active. Not that you need an explosion on page one, though I have done that. It’s really that the book has forward momentum and presents a question that I’m willing to flip pages to figure out the answer to. For the authors out there, think of this as a hook. In THE PRETENDER, I hope the peek into this household makes the reader want to know what’s happening with these sisters.

The other thing is that I have to feel grounded in some way in the setting. I want to get a sense from the beginning of what type of book this is – romantic suspense, paranormal, historical, etc.  Authors I love have the ability to suck me in and have me ready to go from the start.

XO: We love that your website not only shares excerpts and buy buttons for your books, but also calls out the popular romantic tropes of each book. THE PRETENDER (and indeed, the whole series) plays with the “Secrets & Lies” trope—what is it about “secrets & lies” that appeals to you as a writer?

HKD: Isn’t the website amazing? I can’t take any credit. Waxcreative Design did all the work. The “trope search” is a new thing for me and I love it. And “Secrets & Lies” is one of my favorites tropes. It works well whenever you’re writing romantic suspense or anything with undercover agents. While you won’t find serial killers and black ops people in the Games People Play series, each book revolves around a cold case. The characters have difficult pasts that – usually unknown to them – intersect in some way. That leads to a lot of people with many new and old secrets to hide.

Honestly, I think it’s a realistic view of how people relate to each other. We all have these things we live with but never talk about, or just deal with privately. We have a public face and build walls and only let a few people in. For me, that is the perfect place to start building romance in the Games People Play books because in addition to solving an old mystery these characters are revealing hints about themselves, opening up and bringing down those walls.

No one would spill every secret on the first date. Well, some might and YOU SHOULD RUN AWAY because that’s a different kind of scary. But a couple that slowly peels back each layer and deals with the pain and deception but still wants to learn more about each other?  Count me in.

XO: Does your experience as a divorce attorney color your take on love? Does it make you keep things feeling more “realistic,” or do you lean into the fantasy even harder?

HKD: Love is a mix of both, isn’t it? I’ve been married for 19 years. I believe in love and mutual respect, support and fighting to stay together. I know that sense of calm that comes when my husband walks in the room. I’ve also been so angry at him that I wanted to hit him with a chair. I try to let my characters experience all those things. My hero and heroine tend to be very aware of the other’s flaws but stick around anyway. That’s realistic. That’s how love works.

XO: Harrison poses as an art appraiser as part of his cover in THE PRETENDER—is that a subject you already had interest/knowledge in, and did you do much research for this book?

HKD: I appreciate art and wish I knew more, but this is not one of hobbies. I researched artists and thought about what pieces made sense for this private island estate, which led to some research about artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II. But the inspiration for Harris came from the television show Leverage. There is a female art thief named Sophie. I adored her and loved the idea of a thief who still “liberated” pieces now and then but otherwise considered himself a “recovering thief.” Of course, Harris’s friends know how much trouble he has kicking the habit, which made Harris even more fun to write.

XO: One way to look at romance is as the story of two people discovering that their strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly. What makes Gabrielle and Harrison a perfect romantic couple?

HKD: Gabby and Harris are a bit broken. They know what their physical needs are but have no clue how to deal with their emotional needs, or that they even have those. They have very different but equally difficult backstories. Like the most of us, they’ve made mistakes and those choices have shaped them and kind of limited who and what they can handle today. But that does lead to common ground in that they each understand things aren’t always what they seem and there aren’t always good answers to problems.

In some ways, I think of both of them as being somewhat lost and floundering. Then they come together and really are stronger and more centered when they have each other. Each knows from the beginning the other is hiding a really big secret. Yet, they fall for each other. I actually can’t imagine either one of them with anyone else.

XO: You write in a number of romantic genres, so you truly have something on your list for everyone! Is there a kind of book that you’ve always wanted to write, but haven’t yet? Or conversely, a kind that you know you never could write?

HKD: There are so many books I want to write. I just need about 10 extra hours in each day. How do I make that happen?

As for romance, I’ve been wanting to write this big futuristic romance series filled with space cowboys and political strife and suspense and a marriage of convenience or two. That’s going to happen. I’m determined. I’d also like to write hybrid women’s fiction/psychological suspense with flawed, strong amazing female protagonists. Those wouldn’t really be romance, so the plan is to write them under another name.

As for the “never write” part…I don’t like to say never but I don’t think high fantasy or horror are my strengths. Same with historical romance. So, I’ll leave those to the authors who do them so well.

XO: Do you have any rituals or methods that help you prepare to be creative?

HKD: I have a wee bit of a procrastination problem. Coming up with ideas, plotting…all fine. Sitting down and actually writing? Now there’s the issue. The only thing that helps is to force myself to sit down and revise what I’ve already written. That gets me back into the book and writing.

XO: What have you learned from failure?

HKD: That it’s one small step in a very long process.

XO: And finally, what’s your go-to snack (if you have one) while writing?

HKD: This is sad, ready? I can’t really eat or listen to music or do anything other than write when I write. I kind of think I’m only capable of doing one thing as a time. If I eat then I will use that as an excuse to get up and go get another handful of whatever I’m eating. See, I told you I have a procrastination issue!