Sunday, April 28, 2013

Interview With Author Michael Helms

1.      WHAT TYPE OF BOOKS DO YOU WRITE?  As a USMC combat veteran of the war in Vietnam, most of my writing leans to the military.  My memoir of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, was first published by Kensington/Zebra in 1990 and has remained in print for twenty-plus years.  Republished by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Star in 2004, it has sold around 50,000 copies.  It was a hardcover selection of The Military Book Club and has been translated and published in hardcover by a Czech publisher.

    Shortly after the publication of my memoir, I followed with a semi-autobiographical novel, "The Private War of Corporal Henson," which remained in my desk drawer for many years, but is now being shopped around by my agent.  It's based on a group of combat vets who are in therapy for PTSD.  About 85% of the story is true, although some of the characters and combat actions are composites.

    Book One of my two-part Civil War/Reconstruction saga, "Of Blood and Brothers," is due out September 1, 2013, with Book Two following in March 2014.  Based on a true story, it is the tale of two Southern brothers who inadvertently find themselves fighting in opposing armies during the Civil War.  I grew up near where these brothers actually lived in the Florida panhandle, and had been fascinated by their story since a young boy.  The urge to bring their story to light kept gnawing at me until I finally decided to give it a shot. The story opens in 1927 during a family reunion when a cub reporter is assigned to interview the elderly brothers.  He soon finds that a simple few lines of newsprint won't do justice to the brothers' saga, and receives permission from his editor to do a weekly feature on their experiences during the war and the difficult Reconstruction era they faced afterward.  The research and writing was a ten-year commitment, but well worth it.  Further information can be found at the publisher's website:,or my personal website:

2.      WHAT IS YOUR NEWEST BOOK ABOUT?   I changed directions with my fourth and newest book, "Deadly Catch - A Mac McClellan Mystery" (due out this fall), although the protagonist is a newly-retired career Marine.  While on a leisurely fishing vacation contemplating what to do with his post-Corps life, Mac snags a badly decomposed body with his first cast of the day.  And when a baggie of rare marijuana is found stashed aboard his rental boat, he must butt heads with local law enforcement, shady politicians, and thugs from the eastern seaboard to clear his name and bring the real perpetrators to justice.  The second book of the proposed series has been turned in to the publisher, and the third book is about 1/3 finished.  Hopefully the series will be picked up and I'll concentrate on Mac and his adventures in the foreseeable future.

3.      WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE IT?  I've long been fascinated with the private-eye genre (Sam Spade, etc.)  Although Mac McClellan is an amateur sleuth in the first book, by the second he's been taken under the wing of a private investigator and is working for him "off the record" while he studies for his Florida P.I. license.  At the conclusion of the second book, after solving the case, he's just passed the tests and received his license.  The third book finds him tackling his first case as a bona fide, yet inexperienced, P.I.

4.      WHAT IS THE WRITING PROCESS LIKE FOR YOU?  It's a grind.  I usually place butt in chair around ten in the morning and work until four or four-thirty in the afternoon.  Happy hour at five!  I'm one of those writers who rewrites as he goes along, and I don't really outline, so I'll most always re-read what I wrote the day before, and sometimes I'll go back a few chapters and "fix" things if I find my characters have led me in a direction I hadn't anticipated.  I also hold to the notion that once the storyline starts to flow, most often the characters do take over.  My job then is to follow and record what happens.  Writing is hard work, and demanding, but it's one heck of a good feeling when you've finished the manuscript and are satisfied with the results.

5.      WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU BECAME AN AUTHOR?  After Vietnam I bounced around the country a bit, moved to California and played some guitar/sang with a buddy in a few dives.  We were lucky to escape with our lives, much less our meager equipment!  I worked at a few dead-end jobs and then tried college for a couple of semesters, but just didn't feel like I fit in.  However, I did excel in creative writing, so I suppose that's where the seed was planted that I might someday be a writer.  Eventually, I wound up back in Florida and edited a couple of local/area tabloids for a few years.  I began The Proud Bastards at the suggestion of my PTSD counselor as sort of a cathartic exercise through journalling.  I soon realized there was a book inside me, found an agent in New York for whom I'd written some magazine articles (he edited several magazines as a day job), and once finished, the book was quickly sold.  Some dreams do come true.

6.      HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR? Short and sweet:  Much better than being an unpublished one.

7.      ANY ADVICE FOR STRUGGLING WRITERS? Yeah, keep on keeping on.  It's not an easy road to travel, but you'll never get there if you quit.  Read a LOT in whatever genre(s) you plan to write.  Study styles, technique, and make your dialog real (it's a whole different animal than regular speech).  Dialog should cause conflict, reveal character, or move the story along.  Empty chatter just makes the story drag and bores the reader.  There were a bunch of dry years between my first book and the three I have coming out soon, although I thought I had it made when The Proud Bastards was published so quickly.  Very few writers enjoy continued success from the first time they step into the batter's box, although that does happen on rare occasions.  Most writers warm the bench, practice their swing and keep hoping to break in at some point.  There are no guarantees except one -- if you quit, you'll never experience the thrill of that ball leaving the bat and arcing over the fence!

8.      WHERE DO YOU SEE BOOK PUBLISHING HEADING?   I'm no Nostradamus, but I believe ebooks are the future.  Amazon (and other on-line sites) have the few big New York conglomerates shaking in their boots, although they are loathe to admit it.  Self-publishing -- if done right -- can be the wave of the future.  Imagine storing hundreds of books on your e-reader for a couple of dollars per book.  The big problem I see, is that so many are self-publishing now and the majority of ebooks out there are pretty bad.  There are brilliant writers doing it the right way and are every bit as talented and legit as most big house authors, but they are far outnumbered by those wanna-be's who haven't sweated enough to learn the trade yet.  I hear all the time, "Hey, I'm a published author, buy my ebook at so-and-so!"  There is a lot of good stuff out there, but so much more bad that it still gives talented self-publishers a black eye.  And the biggie NY types are loving that!
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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