An Interview With Alysia Helming


Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers. Give us a quick summary of your new novel. 

An American girl faces loss, love and a perilous quest when she is suddenly uprooted to modern Greece where ultimately, she discovers the power of her destiny through an ancient secret of the gods.The story offers a completely new understanding of ancient mythology as described by today’s technology, as well as an alternative view of how modern civilization may have originated.  Hence, the title Protogenesis means “Before the Beginning”.  Clarke’s Third Law is quoted in the book: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 
This is a story of the perseverance & metamorphosis of the human spirit, as told through the eyes of a 17-year-old American girl, Helene, as it explores and interweaves political, cultural and economic issues in modern and ancient Greece, which she discovers through a quest in Athens to find her mother.

Why did you become a novelist?

From the time that I was a young child, I loved creating and acting out stories. The more fantastic the better. As soon as I learned to write, I began to write these stories down. By the seventh grade, I started to adapt well-known books into screenplays; and then, throughout school, I wrote, directed and starred in plays. 
Writing was always a part of my DNA, so in a way, I was destined to become a novelist, but I needed the life experiences and some training to make this dream a reality. For many years, I had a successful career as a Finance Officer for several companies, including two which I co-founded in renewable energy, while I continued to write in my spare time.
In 2009, I finally had the opportunity to return to my writing passion when I wrote my first full length screenplay as part of UCLA’s extension program; and then in 2010, I attended screenwriting classes as part of the professional program in screenwriting where I met some of the Hollywood professionals that are advisors for me for this book project.
It wasn’t until 2014 when the solar company that I owned with my husband was very successful, that I finally found the time to write a novel.  My teenage niece, Hannah, proposed an idea for a book about Greek mythology.  Ultimately, I ended up writing my own story separate from hers, but this gave rise to the ideas that later became Protogenesis.

What inspired you to intertwine mythology into your novel? Have you always been interested in Greek myths?

I’ll admit that before my niece proposed her first idea for a novel that was based on Greek mythology, I knew very little about the myths. I had only read the first in the Percy Jackson series, but as we worked together to create our story together, I became intrigued by ancient mythology.

My niece, Hannah, and I worked together on this first concept for a year and a half, but the plot had many holes that we had trouble resolving. Also, Hannah traveled abroad on a language-immersion scholarship to Germany, so was unable to continue writing with me. The story I ended up writing combined her teenage characters and animals but was an entirely new sci fi based plot that was completely different from the story we original conceived.

But Hannah believed (and still believes) that she will one day write her own story based on ancient mythology, so we decided that I would rename and dramatically change my characters’ appearance, names and personalities, the animals, the key gods/goddesses and the primary setting. I believe this process was good for Protogenesis because it forced me to think “outside of the box” on many levels. Ultimately, her story was set in the United States, so I had to figure out a new location to set my story.
When I researched other young adult books about mythology, I realized that none of them were set in modern Greece.  As Greece is the origination of Greek mythology, it is also the birthplace of many concepts in mathematics, science and democracy, which made it the perfect place to set the story. Also, the economic issues and status of Greece is a very hot topic that we see in the news a lot in the United States.  So, this is how I chose Athens as the primary setting for the book.  The only problem for me is that I am not Greek and had only been there once before on a cruise ship, so it was necessary for me to go there, and to do a lot of research with local Greek experts in mythology, philosophy and the culture.

What was your process as you wrote Protogenesis

From the time that Hannah and I separated our stories and I wrote on my own, the new story came to me in outline format over the span of two weeks.  During this time, I randomly searched on Google to find a ‘face’ that inspired each character. Those photos went up on my wall. From there, I worked with a story editor (a UCLA professor and Hollywood screenwriter) for a month to finesse the initial outline; and then wrote the first half of the book within six months before I finally took my first trip to Athens.  Over the next two months, I finished the first draft, but then over the next nine months, continued to revise the story and characters as I talked to more experts in various fields and integrated some of my real-life experiences with the culture into the book.  I hired a local cultural editor, a content and grammatical editor; and my niece Hannah edited the book, offering a teenage perspective.

How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date? What was your process to get Protogenesis published?

From 2014, when Hannah first proposed the story to the formal publishing of the book this month (March 2018) will be four years and three months!  I self-published the e-book through my own label, Cool Planet Publishing, in December 2016 where it became a best-seller in two categories for three weeks in a row. This rapidly attracted the attention of Hollywood producers, a Literary agent and several publishers. Within six months, I signed a contract with Black Rose Writing, an independent publisher, which required me to take the self-published “collector’s edition” off the market while it was edited two more times, the book’s cover was re-designed, and a huge marketing campaign was planned.  Also, since the book is set in Greece, I attracted the attention of the oldest and largest publisher there, Livanis Publishing, and signed a contract for the Greek version in January 2018.  

In so many ways, this was the beginning of a new adventure. I had no idea how much marketing and promotion effort, as well as market research, goes into publishing a book. Before I started writing, I started and ran several successful companies, which was very helpful to me in the business side of the book business. 

Due to the ‘cultural’ perspective the book offers, the Greek edition of the book is being featured by Livanis Publishing in the United Nations (UNESCO) World Book Capital events held in Athens in May 2018.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book? 

When I self-published the book, I only had a few reviews and they were mostly all 5-star reviews from regular readers, not book critics, experienced reviewers, or librarians. With the published version of the book, the publisher wanted to see reviews for it after the first round of editing. This process was extremely helpful, as it helped me to focus the editing for the final round; however, it is a little unnerving to receive criticism that is unconstructive and subjective. I realized that it’s okay that not every reader likes the book. There are so many reasons that one might not like or identify with it; and all the celebrated and classic books that most people know have received many, many bad reviews. I was surprised by this. Luckily, most of the reviews, even if they weren’t always perfectly positive, gave feedback that really helped the book!  For that, I am most appreciative.

What other books and authors inspire you? 

As I read the entire Harry Potter series out loud to my young son when he was first learning to read, I greatly admire JK Rowling.  It is one thing to read a book and enjoy it; but when you read it out loud, this really determines whether the book is exceptional.
Other young adult writers that I admire are Rick Riordan, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth and Judy Blume, each whom presented young adults with cutting edge stories and served as trail blazers for their genres. I seek to emulate this with Protogenesis for Greek mythology. 
Often readers ask me how my novel differs from the Percy Jackson series. Before I answer this question, I admit that I love Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan is a huge inspiration to me. One big difference is that Protogenesis is set in Greece, the birthplace of ancient Greek mythology, so it offers a real-life view of the rich culture and the crisis there.  Another big difference is that Protogenesis utilizes modern technology and quantum physics to describe the ancient world of the gods in a way that might be plausible. Lastly, Protogenesis is more of a love story, as it is told from the perspective of a teenage girl and involves a love triangle.

In Protogenesis, Helene moves to Greece to live with her godfather. Can you talk about your experience with Greece and how it factored into writing your novel?

As I mentioned before, part of my early writing process involved a random Google search for me to find a ‘face’ that inspired each of my characters. Those photos went up on my wall, but most of them were not people that I knew or recognized.  
Six months after I started writing, I finally traveled with my sister for that first research trip to Athens. My sister and I were driving from the airport to our hotel when a road-side banner caught my eye. There, larger than life, was the face of the guy that inspired my main character Ever Sarantos. This was shocking because just like Ever, this man was Greek, lived in Athens and was a singer! But I had no idea who he was. The concierge solved the mystery for me. He was platinum Greek recording artist Kostas Martakis.

Upon my third visit to Greece and meeting over a hundred local people, I finally met him.  Luckily, Kostas was fascinated with the premise of my story and was inspired to produce a theme song for the book based on my poems called “Forever & Tonight”, which has its global release through 3.14 Records on March 19!  In the spirit of the book, the song is an international fusion of America with Greece. The music video features dancing by Jennifer Stahl, Principal Ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet and a ballet consultant for Protogenesis.  Kostas is now an active owner in my company, Protogenesis Media, and a good friend. 

During this third trip, I was fortunate to meet the Director of the American Classical School in Athens, which manages most of the excavation sites in Greece. I worked along-side world famous archaeologist John Mck Camp, who some know him as the real “Indiana Jones”.  It was here that I learned the intimate details of the site of Ancient Agora, the birthplace of democracy, which became a setting for a chapter in Protogenesis.  This is just one example of the many amazing experts that I came to know from my many visits to Greece. But also, very valuable to my story, are the people that I met from all walks of life, from very rich to very poor, across all different professions, who invited me into their homes and hearts. Of course, I met some amazing women who became my good friends and enlightened me on the cultural nuances of dating in Greece. 

Where did the inspiration for the crime organization, the Syndicate, come from? 

Upon that first trip to Athens, one of the first questions I asked our driver that picked us up from the airport was “Tell me about the Mafia.”  He looked totally shocked, just like the driver in Protogenesis, and said that I must be talking about Italy as there is no Mafia in Greece.

Over the span of my next eight trips, I slowly pieced together a picture of the situation in Greece. What I learned is that there are some very large families of influence there, primarily in shipping, who are very well-respected and some of the wealthiest people in the world and own a lot of businesses there. As I also have owned successful companies, I know several people from these families and have not discovered any connection between them and any sort of organized crime. Once upon a time, there was a ‘mafia’ in Greece, but most all the people operating it have been arrested. Hence, the Syndicate and the Sarantos Family is entirely fictional.

Protogenesis encompasses so much more than this first book.  What else is on the horizon for the series?

Protogenesis: Before the Beginning is the first book of the seven-book Protogenesis series.  I have written detailed outlines for these books and am currently writing the second book in the series.

We produced six short films with Kostas Martakis and myself called Footsteps in Athens which trace Helene, Ever and Nick’s ‘footsteps’ though six settings in the book. These are not typical tourist destinations, so we partnered with the largest tourism non-profit in Greece, Discover Greece, to help promote tourists to go to these new places in Athens.

A renowned jewelry designer, Evan, was a test reader of the book and loved it so much that he was inspired to create several custom Protogenesis jewelry pieces.  These pieces are now for sale in Greece and the US through his company, Anatol.

My real-life story with Kostas Martakis and my friends in Greece attracted the attention of Hollywood producers at Trifecta Entertainment who are executive producers for a Hollywood TV series under development called “Meet Me in Greece”.


What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?  

Keep your eye on the dream. Don’t give up. Hire great story and content editors, and an awesome publicist. 

The published versions of Protogenesis will be released in bookstores and online on March 29, 2018 (English version) and April 16 (Greek version).  It is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other places books are sold. Learn more on Alysia's website.