Q ~ Can you tell us a 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 about 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 live in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
Q ~ What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
A -- We live on a lake where the fishing is excellent. I also enjoy canoeing, hiking, camping, bird-watching, playing guitar, reading, and watching sappy movies on the Hallmark Channel.
Q ~ If you could have lunch with one person, dead, alive, or imaginary, who would it be and why?
A – Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. His books about Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn entertained me for untold hours, stirred my imagination, and became a continuing education about life in general.
Q ~ What are you currently reading?
A – The Instant Enemy, by Ross Macdonald. All his Lew Archer mysteries are excellent.
Q ~ Are there any new Authors that have grasped your interest recently and why?
A—Robert J. Ray, author of the Matt Murdock mystery series. Actually, he’s been published since the mid sixties, but I only recently discovered his work. It’s a shame he’s not as widely known as some other mystery writers, because his novels are outstanding.
Q ~ How did you begin writing? Was there a single catalyst or a series of events?
A – I have my combat tour in Vietnam to thank. While in group therapy for PTSD, we were encouraged to begin journaling about our experiences. I soon realized my “journal” had taken the form of a book. Later I submitted a couple of chapters the editor of the magazine I mentioned earlier. He, unknown to me at the time, also sidelined as a literary agent. He asked to see the entire manuscript when finished. He liked it and shopped it around and made a quick sale to Kensington/Zebra. That “journal” became my first published book, The Proud Bastards.
Q ~ What’s the best thing that’s happened since you began writing? The worst?
A – The best was getting my first full-length manuscript published, and watching it continue to sell after more than two decades (currently with Simon & Schuster/Pocket).
The worst was having my mystery series dropped after two books. That was a shock. The reviews have been wonderful. Deadly Catch, the first Mac McClellan Mystery, received a starred review from Library Journal, and was named their “Debut Mystery of the Month” for November 2013. However, one door closes and another opens. I’ve just signed with another publisher for the next four books in the series. I suppose you could call it my “silver lining.”
Q ~ What are your biggest influences in life? Who are your biggest supporters?
A – Literary influences: Mark Twain, Erich Maria Remarque, MacKinlay Kantor, Sloan Wilson, and Ross Macdonald.
Biggest supporters: My wife, Karen (she’s a wonderful editor who has worked in publishing, and a fair critic not afraid to speak her mind); my immediate family; a few very close friends; and of course my handful of loyal readers/fans.
Q ~ Why did you choose to write mystery as your primary genre?
A – Every book I’d written before the mystery series dealt with war in one way or another. I drew on personal experiences, dredging up old ghosts and painful memories to bring reality to my work. Frankly, I was getting burned-out by it. I needed a change. Although I’d read very few mysteries as an adult, I devoured The Hardy Boys mystery series while growing up. So one day I thought, why not give it a shot? Fortunately, my agent sold my first try at the genre.
Q ~ Do you prefer to write in a small town or big city setting? Why?
A – Definitely small town. I grew up in a (then) small town, and have lived in rural places most of my life. I’m uncomfortable in big cities like Atlanta, or take your pick. I hate congestion and traffic. I chose the Florida Panhandle as the setting of the Mac McClellan series. I grew up there and know the area. Mac’s a retired Marine who was looking for peace and quiet after a twenty-four year, often dangerous career. He found the right place to settle, but things keep disrupting his peace and quiet.
Q ~ Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release Deadly Ruse and what inspired you to write it?
A – It was simply one of those "What if" scenarios that jumped into my mind one day and wouldn’t stop pestering me. What if Kate (Mac’s girlfriend and “Girl Friday” on his cases) saw her old flame who (supposedly) had been dead for several years? How would it affect her and Mac's relationship? How would Mac feel about uncovering some not-so-savory details of Kate's past as he tries to solve the mystery? I thought it was an interesting concept, so I jumped right in.
Q ~ What prompted or inspired you to write the Mac McClellan stories? Are any of them rooted in some sort of truth?
A – As I mentioned before, I needed a break from the subject of war. Even before I decided to try the mystery genre, I had this scene in my head that kept repeating itself like a movie trailer – A man is standing in his boat, casting toward a grass flat near shore. He feels resistance and sets the hook. But instead of a trophy fish, he’s hooked a badly decomposed body. That scene WOULD NOT go away. It turned out to be the opening scene in Deadly Catch, and thus the genesis of the Mac McClellan Mystery series. The only truth in the books are the (disguised) setting and Mac being a Marine with combat experience.
Q ~ What was the most difficult part of the process while writing the Mac McClellan series?
A – A couple of things come to mind. Finding Mac’s voice was first. I wasn’t sure of his background when I set out to write Deadly Catch. After a few false starts I decided to make him a retired Marine, recently divorced, and searching for a place to settle down and figure out what he wants to do with his post-Corps life. With that, his voice, his sense of humor, and other aspects of his character fell in place.
The other difficulty was wondering if I could pull off writing a mystery in the first place. I don’t outline, and I was hesitant to jump feet first into a story I wasn’t sure where the plot was going. I decided to rely on my characters coming alive and taking over. That system worked with my other novels, so I trusted writing a mystery might be similar. Fortunately, my characters came through for me. Mac snagged a body. He and the local sheriff butted heads, and things took off from there.
Q ~ What characters did you find yourself especially drawn to and why?
A – Mac, of course. There’s a lot of me in him. Kate Bell. I based parts of her on my wife. Like Kate, she used to work at a marina and knew as much or more about fishing and tackle as most men. She’s independent and very sure of herself. And then there’s Dakota Owens, who makes her appearance in the second Mac mystery, Deadly Ruse. If I was young and single, I’d love to meet her.
Q ~ You’ve written works outside of this series as well. For you, do they compare to one another? Do you have a favourite or do they all stand out in their own way?
A – They have all dealt with war in one aspect or another, so there’s the comparison. The Private War of Corporal Henson is a semi-autobiographical novel about combat veterans in group therapy for PTSD. It’s the only book I’ve written using the third-person point-of-view.
I would say I’m most proud of my two-volume Civil War/Reconstruction novel, Of Blood and Brothers. I wrote it over several years, even setting it aside for a couple of years. I did a TON of research to make sure it was historically accurate, including walking over the battlefields mentioned in the books. And I really like the Malburn brothers, two old gents in their eighties who do most of the narrating as they recall their colorful and often tragic past.
Q ~ Do you have anything in the works at the moment? Care to give us a hint about it?
A – I recently turned in the manuscript for the third Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Dunes. Here’s a one-sentence blurb:
History and development collide with deadly consequences when Mac investigates the possible murder of an archaeologist.
I’m currently polishing the fourth Mac mystery, Deadly Spirits, and have begun writing number five, Deadly Verse.
Q ~ What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
A – Read a LOT, especially in the genre(s) you plan to write. Pay close attention to punctuation, dialogue, and how stories are structured. Use active verbs, and show more than tell. Put your characters "on stage" and let them act out the story. And if you plan to self-publish, DO IT RIGHT! There is so much garbage out there by “authors” who haven’t paid their dues by learning the craft. There are also many really good authors self-publishing today, and their work is every bit as good as what traditional publishers are putting out in the marketplace.
Find out more about author E. Michael Helms & connect with him via Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Amazon.
After twenty-four years in the U.S. Marines, recently retired Mac McClellan is happy to be a civilian again. He is enjoying a leisurely fishing vacation in the Florida panhandle when he hooks a badly decomposed body.
Then, when a bag of rare marijuana is discovered stashed aboard his rental boat, he realizes someone is setting him up to take the fall for murder and drug smuggling. Mac’s plans for a more laid-back life must be put on hold while he works to clear his name as the number one suspect.
Mac launches an investigation with the help of Kate Bell, a feisty saleslady at the local marina with whom he has struck up a promising relationship. Along the way he must butt heads and match wits with local law enforcement officials, shady politicians, and strong-armed thugs from the Eastern Seaboard to sniff out and bring the real smuggler and killer to justice.
Find out more about Deadly Catch.
A clue leads him from his home in St. George, Florida, to a Texas orphanage. There he uncovers startling information that turns both his and Kate’s world upside-down. Diamond smuggling, sex, deceit, and murder are just part of the twisted tale that emerges from Kate’s earlier life. Using wit, grit, and the ingrained military training of a former Marine, Mac starts to fit the pieces of this scrambled puzzle together.
Further clues point to the Palmetto Royale Casino and Resort near St. George. He and Kate discover that the casino is a front for big drug deals. When they barely escape a murder attempt, Mac knows he’s on the right track.
But he better play his cards right–because losing this high-stakes game could cost him his life.
Find out more about Deadly Ruse.
Enter to win in this fantastic giveaway with E. Michael Helms & the Mac McClellan Mysteries!
1 lucky winner will receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card (International) & 1 lucky winner will receive signed, print copy of Deadly Catch and Deadly Ruse by E. Michael Helms (Canada & the US only)
Entries close at 11:59pm May 22/15/15.
Winners will be drawn May 23/15.
Winners will be notified via email to the email provided to the giveaway and will have 72h to claim their prize or another winner will be drawn.