Thursday 19 February 2015


E. Michael Helms author of the Mac McClellan Deadly Catch and Deadly Ruse mysteries, as well as other stuff was kind enough to answer a few questions from me.

I recently read and enjoyed the second Mac book Deadly Ruse after devouring the first back in 2013.

Deadly Catch review here.

Deadly Ruse review here.

Here we go..........

Q. Is the writing a full-time occupation or a sideline-passion-hobby?  What’s the day job? 

A. Full-time now, and has been for a while. I used to freelance magazine articles, and then edited a couple of area tabloid (veterans and Christian) newspapers. Being “officially” retired does help pay the bills.
Q. What’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career so far?

A. I suppose having my first book, The Proud Bastards, published. It’s a memoir of my combat tour with the Marines during the Vietnam War. I began writing it as part of my therapy while in counseling for PTSD. I submitted a chapter to the editor of Vietnam Combat Magazine, for whom I’d written before. I didn’t know it at the time, but he also worked as a literary agent. He asked to see the whole manuscript when finished. He made a quick sale to Kensington/Zebra. Luckily, it’s remained in print for over twenty years, currently with Simon & Schuster/Pocket. 

Q. From start to finish how long did Deadly Ruse take to write?

A. Around ten months, in its first incarnation. When I turned it in to my editor, he tossed it back to me, saying it was unacceptable. In the original story, human trafficking played a big role. It’s a real problem these days, particularly in big cities such as Atlanta, Georgia. That’s why I based the novel’s villainess there. So, I had to do a total rewrite, and then another. To say it was frustrating would be the understatement of the year. I still believe the first version was the best and most hard-hitting.

Q. Was it an easier book to write following on from Mac and Kate’s debut appearance in Deadly Catch or more difficult?

A. Without the rewrites, I’d say Deadly Ruse was easier. I had a grasp on the returning characters, and was able to watch them grow. Dakota Owens wrote herself into the story and will appear in future Mac McClellan mysteries. Private Eye Frank Hightower, now Mac’s boss, worked his way into the Mac series. Lucky for me, characters actually do take control and help write the story. I also had this intriguing, twisting and turning plotline all laid out in my mind after untold hours of research. But my editor spoiled that, much to my chagrin.

Q. Was it always your intention to write a series with an ongoing series of characters?

A. I’d never written a mystery before, but I thought I’d give it a shot. Having grown up and lived most of my life on the Florida Panhandle coast, I envisioned a retired Marine finding his way there, and settling down. If I could pull off writing a mystery, I certainly hoped it might become an ongoing series.

Q. Will we see more of our intrepid duo in the years ahead?

A. I’m so glad you asked that question! My agent just landed a deal for the next four Mac McClellan mysteries. (That sound you hear is single-malt Scotch being poured into a tumbler for a celebratory toast!) We’re going over the contract now, but it looks like Mac, Kate, and company will be hot on the trail for a while yet. Hot dang!

Q. Are there any subjects off limits as far as your writing is concerned?

A. Not really. “Fact is stranger than fiction” rings true with me. However, there’s always that ‘editor hawk’ perched on your shoulder to consider.

Q. Do you steal any traits from friends and family for your characters? Would they recognise themselves?

A. I've used a few names, first or last, of people I know. But for the most part all the characters in the series are the creations of my twisted mind.

Q. You have written a non-fiction account of your service in Vietnam – The Proud Bastards – and other books in the non-mystery genre, is the writing process the same?
Is mystery fiction, easier, harder, different?

A. The Proud Bastards was difficult to write because of dredging up bad memories and ghosts. However, it was very cathartic. My two-volume Civil War/Reconstruction saga, Of Blood and Brothers, took tons of research. My own combat experiences helped me capture the reality of the battle scenes and everyday life of the common soldier. Still, it wasn’t easy to write because I again relied on personal experiences. My latest novel, The Private War of Corporal Henson, was actually written shortly after The Proud Bastards. It’s a semi-autobiagraphical sequel to my memoir and deals with combat veterans in group therapy for PTSD. That was a tough one, also.

I was worn out with writing about war, and thought mysteries might be a worthwhile venture. I was a big fan of the Hardy Boys mystery series as a kid, so I decided to give it a shot. I’ve grown to love the genre, and it’s actually semi-fun writing them (all writing makes you bleed—Hemingway was spot-on there). It’s been a huge relief to get away from war and let the characters freewheel-it. Of course, Mac’s a retired Marine with combat experience. I suppose I needed that connection to get inside his head and know what makes him tick.

Q. Who are you reading and enjoying?

A. Would you be surprised if I said “mystery writers?” Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker, Robert J. Ray, Craig Johnson. Also Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and others.

Q. Last 5 books you’ve read?

A. Hmm. Bloody Murdock, Murdock for Hire (by Robert J. Ray); The Moving Target, The Drowning Pool, The Galton Case (Ross Macdonald).
Q. Is there one all-time favourite book you wished you had written?

A. Sure, Gone with the Wind for the fame and fortune. Macdonald’s The Galton Case was brilliant. I’d choose it.

Q. Favourite activity when not working?

A. Indoors, reading or watching sappy Hallmark movies. Outdoors, fishing (catch and release). My wife and I have 580 feet of waterfront on a small, semi-private lake. The fishing is great. Also, birdwatching.     

Q. What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

A. Mac Mystery #3, Deadly Dunes. It’s finished and ready to go. Hopefully it will be released late this year or early next.

Q. What’s the worst thing about writing and getting published?

A. Writing. It’s very hard work. Hemingway said it best: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

About getting published, I’d say the waiting game. It seems to take forever. Also, the frustrating experience of seeing crap being published because of name or celebrity, when there are so many talented writers whose work will never see the light of day (unless they self-publish).

Q. What’s the best?

A. As for writing, typing “The End,” knowing that you’ve given it your all. And hoping it will stand the test of time. If years down the road someone picks up a dusty copy of your book, reads and enjoys it, that’s a legacy worth leaving behind.

The best part of getting published? There’s nothing quite like holding a physical copy of your book and saying to yourself, “Hey, I actually wrote this!”
Thanks to Michael for his time

You can catch up with him and his books at his website - here.


  1. Great interview, Col, as ever. Always nice to learn more about different authors. And he's right: writing isn't easy. It's worth it though...

    1. Margot thank you. I think with every new author I talk to, my admiration both individually and collectively to you all grows ;-)

  2. Thanks for the interview, Col -- much appreciated! --Michael

    1. Cheers, good luck with numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6! Thanks again, Col

  3. I always enjoy your interviews Col. He was very interesting....

    1. Moira thanks. There's a budding journo inside trying to escape.....I need to get my NUJ card then a gig at the Guardian!

  4. Col, E. Michael Helms' answers were very down to earth and they echoed with me even though I haven't published anything yet. I agree when he says that a lot of "crap" is being published these days though you wouldn't know looking at the cover or blurb. I recently bought a novella from Amazon that was full of grammatical errors but I'm forcing myself to read it.

    1. Hope your reading experience improves. I've had the same thing happen. I did enjoy Michael's response to the questions, glad you take encouragement.

  5. Maybe I will come back and catch up on this author and his series once the third book comes out. Just don't want to add a new author to the list right now.

    1. I can understand that totally, maybe the third then!

  6. Hi, again! The third Mac mystery, "Deadly Dunes," is scheduled for Jan. 2016. The fourth, "Deadly Spirits," to follow in May '16 (dates are tentative). Thanks for a great interview, Col, and happy reading to all! --Michael