Today I’m thrilled to welcome author E. Michael Helms to the blog for an author interview. Helms is known for his books The Proud Bastards, The Private War of Corporal Henson, Of Blood and Brothers Books 1 & 2, as well as the Mac McClellan Mystery Series. You can learn more about his books by visiting http://www.emichaelhelms.com/
Plus, keep reading below to find out how to enter to win some great prizes from the author!
Q) Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A) I was born in Marietta, Georgia, but grew up in Panama City, Florida, along the Panhandle coast. The town motto, “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches” used to be true, but development has drastically changed the landscape, and not for better.
I joined the Marine Corps after graduating high school and fought in the Vietnam War. I was wounded and sent home after serving half my tour. I freelanced magazine articles, and later was editor of two area tabloid newspapers (Veterans & Christian). An article I wrote for Vietnam Combat Magazine led to the publication of my first book, a memoir of my time in the USMC.
I’m happily married, have two grown daughters, two grandsons, and now live in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains
Q) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
A) I read a lot as a kid—the classics, anything by Mark Twain, The Hardy Boys mysteries, and others. I loved to buy and collect books when I could save up enough nickels and dimes to do so. I believe my love of reading and books in general planted a seed during my childhood to become a writer. However, it took some life experiences to really put the dream of writing into gear.
Q) What authors, or books have influenced you the most?
A) The list would be huge, but I’ll prune it. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and The Road Back both had a profound affect on me. As a young combat Marine who returned from war at age 19 wounded in body and spirit, those novels spoke deeply to me. Later, they would play an important role in two of my own books.
I’ve been a big Civil War buff since I can remember. Living my first few years near Atlanta, I vividly remember being awed by the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, and the huge carving of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Stone Mountain. The carvings had only been underway a few years then, and were far from complete. But as a five-year-old, both place left a huge impression on me. With that background, I devoured any and every book on the War Between the States I could lay my hands on. To mention a very few authors, I’ll choose a mixture of fiction and non-fiction: Mackinlay Kantor, Douglas Southall Freeman, Shelby Foote, and Stephen Crane.
Q) Is anything in your books based on real life experiences, or purely all imagination?
A) Okay, you asked for it, so here goes! My first book, The Proud Bastards, is a memoir of my Marine Corps experiences from boot camp at Parris Island through Vietnam and the first couple of months of my hospitalization in Yokosuka, Japan, before I was sent back to the U.S.
The Private War of Corporal Henson is a semi-autobiographical novel and a sequel to my memoir. Though written as fiction, it’s mostly based on fact (around 85%). It tells the story of a handful of Vietnam combat veterans seeking help for PTSD through group therapy. It happens to be the only novel I’ve written in third person, and, despite the subject matter, leans a bit toward the “literary” side.
Though indirectly, Of Blood and Brothers: Book One, and Of Blood and Brothers: Book Two have a personal connection. This two-volume saga of the Civil War/Reconstruction era is based on a real family and events. The family lived out their lives on a farm a few miles north of where I grew up in the Florida panhandle. Two brothers from the family fought on opposite sides, one for the Confederacy, the other for the Union. I spent several years researching all I could find out about them. The military experiences are very close to what actually happened, though I did take “literary license” in some cases. Their personal lives are mostly fictionalized. The story is set at the family reunion in 1927. A young and ambitious reporter covers the reunion, and decides to record, through a series of interviews, the brothers’ individual experiences and the effect it had on the family. For me, the most interesting aspect was the brothers’ voices. As a nine and ten-year-old kid, I had the pleasure of knowing two old gents in their eighties whose father had fought for the Confederacy. They would spend hours regaling me and my friends with stories of their father’s wartime exploits. I used their voices and mannerisms as the basis for the brothers in my novels. I’m not embarrassed to say I’m proud of that work.
My latest and current foray into the writing world is the Mac McClellan Mystery series. Two books in the series, Deadly Catch and Deadly Ruse, have been published. I have four more Mac mysteries under contract. Two of those, Deadly Dunes and Deadly Spirits, are now with the publisher and due out early 2016. Personal connection? The series is located along the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle, the area where I grew up and lived most of my life. And the protagonist, Mac McClellan, is a retired Marine who settled their after his USMC career. There is a lot of yours truly in Mac. I suppose I needed that connection to be able to get inside Mac’s head and know what makes him tick. The Mac McClellan Mystery series are the only books I’ve written that haven’t been directly related to war and combat. Mac does happen to have a lot of combat experience from his deployments to Iraq, but they pop up on an infrequent basis. It’s a relief to get away from the subject of war, and I’m very much enjoying the experience of being a mystery writer.
Q) As an author who has written books in multiple genres, which genre do you enjoy writing the most?
A) Mysteries, hands down! The Hardy Boys was my initiation into the world of mysteries, but as an adult I drifted away from them. After completing my last war-related book, I knew I needed a change. I had begun reading several “cozies” (believe it or not) and enjoyed them. One day the thought struck me, Hey, maybe I could write a mystery. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I don’t remember when, but an opening sentence popped into my mind and refused to go away: My first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare. I had no idea who said it, or where the guy was fishing. Then I thought, Hmm, maybe the guy is a former Marine on vacation in the Florida panhandle. That was the genesis of the Mac McClellan Mystery series, the that line became the opening sentence of Deadly Catch.
Q) Do you ever experience writer’s block? And if so, do you have any tips for overcoming it?
A) I don’t suffer from writer’s block, but I DO suffer from a chronic case of writer’s laziness! I’m easily distracted. I have to force myself from using the computer for anything other than writing or research. I often research while I’m in the midst of a writing session. I’m not one of those “I’ll make a note of it and get back to it later” type of writers. I wish I was, but I am who I am. When I do occasionally “lose the muse,” I take consolation in the fact that writers are ALWAYS working, whether sitting in front of the keyboard or not. A writer’s mind is always in motion, whether consciously or subconsciously. I truly believe that. So, time away from the keyboard is not a total waste. Ideas are mulling around in there somewhere.
Q) Where do you get your inspiration?
A) Here’s a little secret—I hate to write, but I love to HAVE written! Writing is very hard work. It drains you physically and emotionally. I love Hemingway’s quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” My inspiration comes from knowing that one day I’ll again type “The End” on the last page of a novel, and then I can bask in the satisfaction of once again “having written.”
Q) Do you have any advice for new authors?
A) It’s age-old advice, but the best bit of wisdom any aspiring writer/author can and should take to heart: read a LOT, especially in the genre(s) you hope to write. Pay attention to sentence structure: (Don’t have too many long or short sentences strung together, mix them up. Throw in a few incomplete but coherent phrases.)
Study dialogue: (Listen to the way people talk. Use contractions, incomplete sentences. Don’t tag every line of speech. Avoid what I call “Tagverbs.” Examples: Martha said angrily. Tom asked inquisitively. she reprimanded. he explained.) Instead, SHOW how it was said: …,” Martha said, slapping the table.” And don’t forget to learn proper punctuation for your dialogue.
Q) What are you reading now?
A) I’m continuing to bone up on my mystery-writing skills by reading mostly (you guessed it!) mysteries. One of my favorite mystery writers is the late Ross Macdonald. His Lew Archer mysteries are superb! I also enjoy Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker (Spenser and Jesse Stone mysteries). I’ve recently discovered the Matt Murdock mysteries by Robert J. Ray. Ray has been around a while, and should be more widely read and popular than he seems to be. That’s a shame.
Q) What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works?
A) More Mac McClellan mysteries. I’m currently working on number five, Deadly Verse, and have number six under contract. After that, I’m hoping Mac will continue on for a good long while.
Q) Where can people find you on the web, and where can they purchase your books?
A) All my books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most other online bookstores (print or e-books). You might find a few in brick and mortar stores; if not, they can be ordered by the store. As for my web presence, here we go:
Personal website: www.emichaelhelms.com
Library Thing: https://www.librarything.com/author/helmsemichael
Q) Any final thoughts?
A) Thanks for having me, Johanna, and for all your support the past couple of years! And good luck to all your followers on the Giveaway!
One lucky reader will take away a signed copy each of Helms’ novels The Proud Bastards & The Private War of Corporal Henson!
How to enter:
Make sure to read the rules below first, then simply fill out the form at the bottom of the page. It’s that easy!
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- Begins 06/15/2015 and ends 07/15/2015
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