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An Interview with Heleni Daly

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Heleni, based in Brookline, MA, is a fantasy writer and professional manuscript editor. Writing has been her passion since childhood, and for the past three years, she has been professionally editing fantasy manuscripts. Alongside her writing endeavors, Heleni works part-time as an elementary teacher, where she shares her love for literature and story-telling with young minds. Additionally, she co-manages a vibrant book club in her local community. Follow her writing and publishing journey on TikTok @heleniwrites.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Writing has always been my way of imagining and shaping the kind of world I want to see. Sarah J. Maas has been a huge inspiration for me, especially in my adult years. Her work not only boasts exceptional lore and beautiful prose but also offers a much-needed message of hope. I’ve been deeply moved by her portrayal of healthy relationships and her exploration of empowerment in the face of mental health struggles like anxiety and depression. Like my protagonist Kiera in Dawnlight, who repeats to herself, “I will fight because I must fight,” I’m driven to write because it feels like a necessity, a way to contribute to a better world. May everything we writers do be in pursuit of a brighter world.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

The inspiration behind Dawnlight stems from my own personal experiences of grappling with feelings of inadequacy and striving to find my place in environments where I felt like I didn’t belong. When my family relocated from a low-income area to a wealthy neighborhood in New England during my high school years, I encountered significant challenges in navigating the socio-economic disparities and cultural differences. As a first-generation college student, these struggles persisted into my academic journey, where I often grappled with feelings of unworthiness among my peers.

Similarly, in Dawnlight, the protagonist Keira’s journey mirrors my own experiences of striving to find acceptance and belonging in an environment that seems to exclude her. As a hybrid individual with both human and faerie lineage, Keira faces the daunting task of attending the prestigious war college, where the majority of her peers possess wings—a physical trait she lacks. Her internal struggle with her perceived physical inadequacies and the societal pressure to conform to a standard she cannot meet reflects the deeper emotional journey of finding self-worth and acceptance amidst adversity. Through Keira’s story, I aim to explore themes of identity, resilience, and the pursuit of belonging in a world that often feels alienating.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The journey to finding the title for my book was certainly not an easy one—it took considerable time and reflection to unearth the perfect phrase that encapsulated the essence of the story. In Dawnlight, the title holds significant symbolism, representing both the protagonist Keira’s personal struggle and the overarching themes woven throughout the narrative.

Early on in the story, Keira finds herself facing immense challenges and doubts about her ability to succeed at the prestigious war college. Much like my own experiences in college, she grapples with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, contemplating giving up altogether. However, a pivotal moment occurs when the Main Male Character imparts a powerful message to her during her lowest point. He encourages her to confront her fears and endure the darkness until she reaches the dawn, emphasizing the transformative power of resilience and perseverance.

The phrase “Dawnlight forges a warrior, but the shadows create a man” serves as a guiding principle for Keira as she navigates through adversity, ultimately evolving into a poignant reflection on the journey from darkness to light. Over time, the title’s meaning expands to encompass themes of familial sacrifice and the protective instinct to shield the innocence of loved ones from harm, even at the cost of one’s own identity.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I worked in ultra high net worth private client investment relations at Cambridge Associates in Downtown Boston. Managing family accounts of $250M (AUM $75B) or more, it was an eye-opening experience that exposed me to some of the most influential individuals I’ve ever encountered. While the world of mega-finance wasn’t ultimately my calling, my time there taught me invaluable lessons about life.

One takeaway from my experience is that most billionaires don’t care, but some, few as they are, do. This realization has profoundly shaped my perspective and informs my writing, adding depth and nuance to the themes explored in my novels.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Throughout my writing process, I delved into a mix of trending novels in my genre for research and inspiration. Works like Fourth Wing and Crescent City provided valuable insights into current trends and storytelling techniques within the fantasy genre. Additionally, I turned to beloved classics like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre for comfort and to recharge my creative energies.

As for future literary aspirations, let’s just say that in 2025, I plan to introduce a new “Shadow Daddy” to the publishing industry.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope readers take away a sense of resilience and empowerment from reading my book. My perfect reader is someone who, like me, has faced challenges and struggles in their journey through life, particularly in environments where they feel out of place or overlooked. I aim to reach readers who may have experienced adversity in school, work, or other aspects of life and help them find strength and acceptance in their own identity. Ultimately, I hope my book inspires feelings of hope and optimism, leaving readers with a sense of lightness and belief in a brighter future ahead.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.