Interview with Alysia Helming - Novelist
People Magazine, May 2017
Journalist: Deppie Kourellou, Photographer: Spiros Hamalis
The American novelist who fell in love with Greece and its history; and inspired by Greek mythology, she developed a series of seven epic novels set in modern-day Athens, with the movies in the works.
Through a journey of coincidences and self-discovery, Alysia Helming explains how she got to know Greek culture, why she loves the Athenians and how Kostas Martakis helped with her writing of the Protogenesis novel.
Helene Crawford is not a typical American teenager. She enjoys reading and is fascinated by Greek mythology. At the same time, her mother, too, doesn’t appear to be a regular mom. She has taken in dozens of stray cats, even though her daughter is seemingly allergic to these amiable felines; she dutifully keeps up with her zodiac sign readings and neither of them stay in the same place for too long. When one afternoon the police announce to Helene that her mother has been killed, she is not in the least convinced by them and travels to Athens to live with her godfather, whom she didn’t even know existed until that moment. Even though she moves into a shabby neighborhood in Metaxourgeio, she gets accepted into one of the best private schools in Athens, in just one day. And while two charming guys of the same age as her, Ever and Nick, are competing for her, she opens a portal to Gaea, a parallel universe where the Olympian Gods are still alive. Abiding secret are revealed the moment that Helene transforms into a powerful woman that threatens Zeus.
Protogenesis is the first novel by the American writer, Alysia Helming, who is inspired by the endless Greek mythology to tell a teen-saga, set in the crisis-afflicted Athens of today. An adventurous novel with six more books to follow, the book is a best-seller on Amazon that has already attracted the attention of movie producers. But, most of all, it is an enchanting journey of coincidences, self-discovery and perseverance for the novelist herself. In fact, Alysia Helming’s real-life story will soon be turned into a TV series, as a reality-based docu-comedy that is to be broadcasted by a US network under the title Meet Me in Greece.
Alysia, whom up until 2015, had never been to Greece except for a two-day visit to Mykonos and Athens as part of a cruise in the Mediterranean, is sitting opposite me amidst the cool garden of Palia Agora in Psyhiko. She looks like a typical California woman with a bright smile, well-toned body, unaffected straightforwardness and spontaneity and a well-thought planned-out strategy that includes Kostas Martakis and even the Hollywood studios.
“I started writing from a very young age, but my greatest passion was ballet dancing which took up most of my energy. Unfortunately, an injury I suffered put an end to my dreams and so writing once again became my refuge. When I started out in college, I took Creative Writing and Screenwriting classes. I disappointed my professor when I decided that I wanted to major in finance and economics”, Alysia remembers.
(Photo: Alysia & Troy Helming)
She didn’t regret it though. When she met her husband, Troy Helming, they both became something more than just a couple. They were business partners and visionaries. “Troy is a former runway-model, inventor and a stubborn entrepreneur”. Together, Troy and Alysia, started from scratch to create successful clean-energy companies, first in Kansas and then across the US. “Things weren’t easy. I remember at some point our property was foreclosed because we were behind with our mortgage payments. But that wasn’t even the hardest part. As our business got bigger, we found ourselves under attack by the Kansas natural gas tycoons, the Koch brothers, who tried – but weren’t successful – to block one of our clean energy projects”. At UCLA, Alysia later wrote this upsetting experience into an autobiographical screenplay with the title Green Warrior. “Writing was like therapy for me, a way to get over the immense pressure the Koch brothers, and other proponents of fossil fuels like coal, put us under in their attempt to try to stop our pioneering activities in the renewable energy industry”. With her active involvement in The Great Warming, starring Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves, Alysia proved that her clean-energy conscience was not just some front for her business shrewdness.
In the meantime, things at home weren’t so easy. As she mentions in her personal blog: “My son, Xander, suffered from inner ear/balance issues that impacted his behavior, his ability to focus and his appearance. As a result, we spent almost five years juggling a multitude of different types of doctors and specialists, and at the same time, we were working crazy hours to establish our company. But I had to be strong for Xander. In 2015, things started to change for the better. Our business was so successful that I could retire early, while Xander had overcome most of his issues. Now, he’s pretty much like any other kid his age. However, I was now entering a new era in my life – for the first time after all this hard work, I had no objective to work towards! And although I felt the need to start writing again, it had been so long, that it scared me”.
Nonetheless, inspiration came from an unexpected muse: her 17-year-old niece, Hannah. “Hannah, even as a little girl, would always read books on Greek mythology that captivated her imagination, and so we decided to write a book together. But no matter how smart she was, Hanna was still a teenager. And we disagreed about the story and argued about it... She was very adamant and not flexible with her original story. She also didn’t have much free time to spare with all her school activities, and in fact soon, she found herself getting a scholarship for an exchange program to Germany. So, the ‘work’ of our writing project fell entirely on me and one day, a new story came to me, which was very different from the story Hannah had envisioned. When I reached a point where I was satisfied with my work on it, I gave the draft to Hannah for her to read. She was furious. It was a completely different book from her story. We called a truce from this disagreement and signed a ‘contract’ – yes, a contract – with a list of all the story elements and ideas that I wasn’t allowed to use in my book, since Hannah was still planning to write her own story at some point. For example, we agreed that the goddess Athena wouldn’t be the protagonist in my books. In fact, Hannah’s restrictions forced me to figure out a way around them and essentially ignited the spark of my own creativity”, Alysia smiles as she recalls that she dedicated Protogenesis to her niece. The level of difficulty was increasing since Alysia didn’t have much in-depth knowledge of mythology - “until I got closer to mythology, my main source of inspiration were sci-fi movies, with Stars Wars as my first reference”, and at that point, she had never been to Greece before.
(Alysia Helming and Greek music star Kostas Martakis)
At that moment, Alysia was caught up in a vigorous Google search. “It has always been one of my dreams to work in Hollywood. So, from the very beginning of writing this book, I envisioned it becoming a movie. (George Zakk, producer of xXx with Vin Diesel and of Greek origin, is the Consulting Producer for Protogenesis). So, I set off on a Google quest in search of inspiration for the ‘faces’ of my main characters – the three protagonists, Helene, Ever and Nick. When my search was complete and I had found what I was looking for, I didn’t think much about learning more about who these people really are, because I didn’t want it to affect my story. Meanwhile, it was about time that I finally traveled to Athens. The information I got from the US Media about the situation in Greece was over-sensationalized, so I realized that I would have to go there myself and do some on-site research in order to uncover the real face of Greece. Thankfully, my sister, Jenny (Hannah’s mom), was crazy enough to come with me. When we arrived in Athens, on our way from the airport to the hotel, a strange coincidence happened – I kept seeing Ever’s face, one of my main characters, on some posters for live shows. I couldn’t believe it. At the hotel, the staff was pretty much prepared for my ‘bizarre’ requests because I had already sent them many long of emails, explaining that I wanted to have an out-of-the-ordinary tour around Athens. They didn’t, however, expect me to ask them about this guy on a poster. It turns out he was Greek music star Kostas Martakis. After a 16-hour long flight, all that Jenny wanted to do was lie on the beach. So, I went along with her wish. Right there, at the beach in Vouliagmeni, I couldn’t help but notice this gorgeous guy next to us with an unusual tattoo on his arm. Getting back to the hotel, I finally had the time to find out more about my ‘hero’ (the guy from the poster), Kostas Martakis. Astonished, I found out from his Instagram account that the handsome guy with the tattoo at the beach was the same guy from the posters. It was Kostas Martakis, whom had posted a selfie at that beach in Vouliagmeni. This whole time we were right next to each other!” Alysia and Kostas, however, would not meet each other until several months later, starting off an amazing friendship and a great collaboration.
Protogenesis Theme Song
Alysia Helming visited Greece another 9 times over the span of 18 months, providing her novel with a rich and nuanced look at a nation in economic crisis. Her research was extensive while she also collaborated with well‐known Greek celebrities, politicians, artists, diplomats, archaeologists, architects, philosophers, philanthropists, mythology experts and every‐day people that live in Greece. In fact, she has hired a Greek Cultural Editor, Denia Metaxa, so as ensure the accuracy of her writing’s cultural approach. This careful research leads some influencers in the literary industry to create a new term to describe Helming’s new type of literature, Cultural Fiction.
In the meantime, she finally met Kostas Martakis, who is no longer just the face of Ever (this character’s name is inspired by the Alanis Morissette’s son). He’s also the host of Footsteps in Athens, a series of 6 short films that allow the Protogenesis readers to explore must-see locations in modern-day Athens as visited by the book’s protagonists, while communicating a message of hope to drive tourism to the country that Alysia has fallen so much in love with. The series of films just recently premiered on Alysia Helming’s official website (www.aysiahleming.com), while on the same day, the new Protogenesis Jewelry Line by ANATOL was also launched, featuring designs inspired by the best-seller novel.
The locations showcased in these short films are, among others, Plaka, Monastiraki, Lycabettus, the Athens Riviera and the archaeological sites of the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio and of the Ancient Agora, for which the Hellenic Ministry of Culture granted filming permits for the first time in the past 60 years (the two films that require archaeological permits will soon be available on www.footstepsinathens.com).
Furthermore, Kostas, flattered from Alysia’s interest, as well as their karmic correlation, recorded alongside the music producer, Marios Psimopoulos, and the lyricist, Vicky Gerothodorou, the song Forever & Tonight, inspired, of course, by the novel.
Apart from her writing and research that lead to Alysia’s frequent visits to Greece, her personal life story is even more filled with intriguing coincidences that tie in with her underlying message of transformation and perseverance; a message that clearly relates to modern-day Greece.
One of Alysia Helming’s new and upcoming projects that she’s currently working on is a new TV series, titled Meet Me in Greece, based on her real-life story and how writing her novel Protogenesis brought her to Greece, where all these magical stories that changed her life started.
“For me, Greece has a certain magic. And it’s not just the sun and the sea”, Alysia explains to me, “It’s the people. You are generous and open-hearted, despite all that is happening to you”.
More updates about the US reality-based docu-comedy coming soon on www.meetmeingreece.com.