Review Madness! by E. Michael Helms

My latest Mac McClellan Mystery (#4) was launched January 15 by Camel Press (as most of you followers of MMO already know). With this book, I dared to do things a little differently than I’ve done with the previous books in the series. Namely, I purposely didn’t seek out as many pre-pub reviews as I’ve done for the previous three books. Results? I’m so glad you asked! 

Although Deadly Spirits is (in my honest, humble opinion) the most complex and interesting mystery thus far in the series, it has garnered the LEAST  reviews (so far) of all previous books thus far in its brief release history. I probably sent under 50% ARCs to reviewers than I’ve done in the past. The results speak for themselves.

The few reviews I’ve received from reviewers (fellow writers & review blogs) have been very encouraging. To whit:

Deadly Spirits is a haunting mystery with an ingenious plot, vivid setting and memorable characters, chief among them the incomparable Mac McClellan, who is easily one of my favorite PIs out there. This latest installment will satisfy fans of the series while sending newcomers scrambling to catch up. If you like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben, you’ll surely dig Deadly Spirits. I know I did. Highly recommended.”

–Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mystery series; SHAMUS Award finalist, Split to Splinters

“I loved everything about Deadly Spirits by E Michael Helms. He has included a lot of extras besides the mystery… a critter to fall in love with, a dash of the psychotic and a pinch of the paranormal…a recipe for success. I love Mac and this is my favorite adventure … so far. Michael has brought him a long way, making him more complex in his simplicity. I can hardly wait for more!”

–Sherry @

All the above to say this: is busting your butt (all authors out there in publishing land, excepting those few “big name” authors), and taking so much very valuable time away from your writing, worth the results? However meager or worthwhile they might be?

proud bastards
Military memoir

My answer, truthfully, is no. It pains me to say it. I’ve worked my proverbial ass off promoting my books. My first book was published over 26 years ago by a “big” publisher, and remains in print today. I still receive royalty checks twice a year; and they are much more than I ever dreamed about when I first sold the manuscript through my first agent. (Note: I’ve never done anything to promote the book, beyond local book fairs, signings, etc.) Yes, the monetary amount has diminished in the past couple of years, but it’s been a GREAT run!

of blood brothers
Historical fiction

However, to bring things into perspective: I spent a decade researching and writing a historical saga about a real family/events during the Civil War/Reconstruction era. I consider it the best work I’ve ever written. However, it was a total flop when published. I’ve since received all rights back for the work, and my agent is shopping it around. Perhaps it’s the dumbing down of our school system that’s the culprit. Or, maybe my self-vaunted work sucks–who knows for sure?

Which brings me back to my original premise (which I probably failed to bring to the forefront of this missive): is it worth all the time, effort, and expense for authors to present their work to the (very limited) public? Are thirty reviews at Amazon worth more than ten or fifteen? Does it really matter one way or another? Inquiring minds want to know.

What are YOUR thoughts about it, as a reader, writer, or both? I would truly relish hearing YOUR viewpoint!

e-michael-helms-headshotMichael Helms is the author of several novels, and one non-fiction work, The Proud Bastard, a memoir of the author’s service in Vietnam as a combat Marine. He currently writes the Mac McClellan Mystery series, published by Camel Press. Visit him at his website:

or at his Amazon author page:








The Year of the Rooster by Kait Carson

I love Chinese food, or at least what passes for Chinese food in this country. Never having been to China, I don’t know if what we have here in the States is even close to the real thing. I suspect it may not be. One thing that seems to be a constant in US Chinese restaurants, at least on the East Coast, are placemats. Placemats depicting the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. I’m a dragon. Frankly, that describes me better than my astrological sign of Cancer.

The traits of the Chinese and astrological overlap and braid together to form character. When I sit down to plot a character, I will often take both their birth date and their birth year into consideration and use the information to chart their salient character traits. The information provides a touchstone for me when I face the inevitable question of what will my character do now. Hayden Kent is an Aquarius born in the year of the Tiger. Her birth sign and birth year share traits. She is truthful, curious, imaginative, and optimistic. She also has a tendency to get off track and to run from emotion. Her color is blue green. Her friends refer to it as Hayden blue.

In much the same way, Catherine Swope is Virgo and a Rooster. This puts her very much at odds with herself. Virgos are reliable, intelligent and overly reserved while roosters are well, cock of the walk. They are brave and hardworking, but also can enjoy the spotlight and be vain. Catherine can get herself in trouble when her Rooster traits come to the fore, and there are other times when she needs those very traits to get her out of trouble. Hers choices are harder than Hayden’s and a good bit of the conflict in the Swope books is internal and more difficult to write.

My current WIP is the next book in the Swope series. In it, everything Catherine believes will be called into question. The foundations of all of her relationships will be shaken. As the turmoil swirls around Catherine something else more timely will be going on. 2017 is the year of the Rooster as well.

Without turning to politics, which have no place in this blog, I can only say that each year seems to have a unique character, both globally, and personally. This is the year that chickens seem to be coming home to roost. Large decisions will be made. Events long forgotten, or long thought forgotten will be brought to mind and things will change. For better, or for worse, that remains to be seen.

The year of the Rooster arrives on January 28th. Are you expecting roosting chickens?

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at


Author Appearances by Carl Brookins

Dark. Night. Moon up there somewhere. Temperature in the low teens and the raw windinsidepassage numbed my nose. We stumbled across an ice-rutted parking area in the industrial heart of a suburb somewhere on the northern fringe of the city. Box trucks, vans. Shiny automobiles. Harsh floods bolted high on the concrete walls of the narrow parking space sent needle-sharp shadows caroming off dingy windshields. Behind me a faulty compressor rattled in its cage against the concrete block wall. The wind moaned low.

I slowed and scanned the area, noting two small huddled clusters of figures. Male or female it was impossible to tell. They were plotting a move or sharing a joint. The lone point of color was a garish red orange sign, OPEN, over a glass door. Behind the door, a raucous crowd sampled beer from Bent Brewstillery, ate Jimmy John sandwiches, told each other jokes and lies.

I pushed my way through the tables, heading to the bar. Behind a tall iron-barred barrier, two-story fermenting tanks stood silent sentry duty. Overhead, set against the ribbed ceiling, big televisions sprayed silent electrons of colorful light from sports competitions that the crowd mostly seemed to ignore.

brookins-signingThe trim bartender in a tight t-shirt raised her plucked eyebrows at me. I pointed at the menu and gestured for a small glass of beer. We were checking out an event hosted by a microbrewery. The server poured a glass of rich amber fluid and took my money. My companion and I eeled through the press to the middle of the room where we found a table and two empty chairs. The crowd, a mixed range of ages, got louder and bigger. In another time the atmosphere would have been thick with cigarette smoke. People shifted and surged around the room. I glanced around again slowly, wondering how many were carrying.

A large bearded fellow in a dark woven stocking cap aslaunch on his forehead picked up a wand and cleared his throat into the sound system. He looked like he could handle himself. He looked like he could be competently employed at any of a dozen downtown bars as door minder or bouncer. He muttered an expletive and welcomed the crowd. The beer was excellent. Applause rattled the pile of old board games. Another Noir at the Bar evening of dark readings by local crime writers about nasty, violent crimes, was about to begin. There were a few minor celebrities from the local crime scene in the audience.

The mob organizer of the evening, dressed in in a long dark floor-length gown took the brookins-costumemike. She stared malevolently at us until the restive crowd subsided. Her reading was followed by excerpts read by several local authors. In between readings we all had a few drinks. I read a few paragraphs, a teaser, from my latest detective story, “The Case of the Stolen Case.” There were few questions. I thought it was well received. We drank a little more and I contemplated the sometimes doleful role of the author. Did we sell any books? I can’t say for sure. Later, a short indie film was projected on the painted block wall. We escaped with our lives into the cold and windy winter night.

Authors find themselves promoting their books in some surprising circumstances. The cliché that we lead solitary and lonely lives is just that—a cliché. And even those of us who concentrate at the darker end of the writerly spectrum, often enjoy a relatively normal life with friends, lovers and other writers

brookinsBefore he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.
He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University.


Buy links:

The Case of the Yellow Diamond

Come and enjoy a time of conversation with author Carl Brookins as he talks about translating his sailing adventures to fiction and creating fictional characters that feel like old friends. Brookins is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

The Murderer I Knew, by Ellen Behrens

 I once knew a man who ended up being a murderer. He took a hammer to his sickly, elderly mother’s head because she refused to give him money. After he killed her he went to the nearest bar, ordered a drink, and confessed.

auto-shopThis was not one of those, “He was such a nice, quiet neighbor” situations. He was a creep by all measures, but no one in my hometown suspected a murderous heart beat within him.

Clyde, Ohio, was then, and is still, a farming and manufacturing community. When my first car needed an oil change, my father suggested that — rather than drive to the dealership in the next town — I should take it two blocks over to the local garage, the one on the backside of the courthouse. He explained how small towns work: everybody shops at the local grocery, gets their hair cut at the place on the corner, picks up prescriptions at the Rexall Drug on Main Street.

So when my clothes needed dry cleaning, I went to Joe’s Cleaners. Joe Maltese was a short, red-haired Sicilian (a Gambino, on his mother’s side) who, when I was younger, drove a sports car, showed off expensive pointy-toed boots, and made the hair on the back of my father’s neck stand up. Joe was married to his high school sweetheart Gloria; both were classmates of my mother.

Gloria was as mousy as Joe was a braggart. In the 1970s she was past fifty yet she wore her hair in the same style from her high school years (think: June Allison in “White Christmas”) – smooth, pale brown hair rolled under just past her shoulders.

Joe and Gloria had two sons, Mike and younger Steve, a year ahead of me in school. The Malteses lived in a relatively new house, and the two sons got everything they wanted. The boys, especially Steve (who knew he fell farther into the range girls called “cute” than his older brother Mike did), lived lives that teetered on the knife-thin edge between enticing and dangerous. We were fascinated and repelled by them, sort of like ogling a car wreck.

clyde_porchI remember one occasion, probably among a few, when the Maltese family visited our house. The adults sat in the small kitchen, drinking coffee, discussing local politics (Joe no doubt having the last word) while we kids surrounded a table in the living room, playing Monopoly. The Maltese boys cheated. We were appalled and politely tried to give them an out, a way to recover their error without embarrassment, but they snickered and pressed on, sure they had the upper hand.

Eventually, I left that small town for college and other places, returning years later during one particulary tricky life transition. I took a pleated silk skirt to Joe’s Cleaners where Steve managed to press out all the pleats, only claim there was no fixing it. Who was I to argue? Then he asked me out. “I’ve always liked smart women,” he said. He’d outgrown cute and was, at this point in his thirties, a skinny, slimy creep who’d been accused of making advances on minors, plying them with alcohol and pot. And I was smart enough to turn him down without upsetting him, take my skirt to a cleaner who knew how to properly take care of it, and put the incident out of my mind…

bloody-hammer..until years later when my mother called to tell me Steve had murdered Gloria. Joe had died less than a year before, older son Mike had taken on the bulk of the business, and Steve glided from family handout to jail time and back.

Somewhere along the way, all those years of giving flipped on Joe and Gloria. Steve, especially, felt entitled. Eventually, on that fateful day, Gloria either had enough of his taking or didn’t have enough to give, and that sent Steve over the cliff, hammer in hand.

He pleaded guilty to murder, got fifteen to life and was denied parole in 2014. He’s not eligible again until 2021, when he’ll be 65 years old. Until then – to the end of his days, I hope – he’ll sit behind bars where, ironically, he’ll continue to live off others’ hard-earned money.

Thank you, MMO, for letting me share my story about knowing a murderer. Have you ever known a murderer? Maybe a kidnapper? I’d love to hear the story!

ellenbehrenscoversYuma Baby, Ellen Behrens’ second Rollin RV Mystery, is now available in print and ebook formats. She’s been writing fiction since she could hold a fat pencil in her six year-old fingers, and is the author of three novels, a short story collection, and a nonfiction book. She learned as much about writing by being a fiction editor for a literary magazine as she has from writing itself, and is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Fellowship. She blogs about writing at and about her travels with her husband as a full-time RVer at And she loves getting email at ellenbehr[at]aol[dot]com.

yb_bio-1Details about her books and information on ordering can be found at or

Seven Deadly Writer Sins by Kait Carson

I may have to borrow from Jimmy Buffett here if I run out of ideas but hey, Jimmy, I remember you at Bubbas, so ‘nuff said. Those of you who did not go to or hang out at the University of Miami in the early 1970s will have to make up your own stories. No, I did not know Jimmy Buffett then, or now, for that matter. But there was that wild night in Sint Maarten when I did tell him not to quit his day job. But that’s not what it sounds like either. And I doubt he’d even remember it. Jimmy, I’m glad you didn’t take my advice, but acapella, you don’t sound like you!

How does that relate to writing? It’s all about the story and not committing the seven deadly writer sins.

#1 Thou shall not head hop.

What is head hopping? Mavis asked herself.

How can she not know, Peter wondered? She does it all the time.

Jack shook his head in amazement and bit his tongue. Those two would argue over which way to screw in a lightbulb. “I have whiplash,” Kait moaned.

#2 Thou shalt not hide clues from your readers.

The key to keeping your books from hitting the wall when readers get to the end is to always play fair. This is harder than it sounds. When the sleuth stumbles across, uncovers, or develops a clue, the reader has to know at precisely the same moment. As a writer, I always feel as if a kick line of Rockettes is surrounding the fireworks shooting neon colored clue. My beta readers generally don’t have the same impression.

#3 Thou shalt not make thy victim a saint.

Everyone has good and bad points. There are few random crimes in the mystery writing world. There are some, but in those books, the perpetrator is known, the story is about something else. While the victim does not have to have a fatal flaw, he or she does need to be flawed. He or she is human, just like the rest of us. Those flaws may or may not have provided a motive.

#4 Thou shalt not make thy criminal Satan.

Even a murderer’s dog loves him. See above for good and bad points. It is essential that your criminal is human, and can hide in plain sight among the suspects which brings me to number 5.

#5. Thou shalt not point thy finger at only one character.

Multiple suspects are essential. Draw them out as if they are each the perpetrator and give every suspect motive, means, and opportunity. No one did this better than the two Dames, Agatha Christie and PD James.

#6 Thou shalt not forget to resolve thy red herrings.

I read a book once that had more loose ends than my first attempt at crochet. Suffice it to say I did not pick up another by that author. So, even if you don’t have a solution for a particular red herring (and there are times when life can imitate art) honor your reader and have your protagonist at least acknowledge it.

#7 Thou shalt not forget that writing is best accomplished when accompanied by chocolate and wine or the libation of your choice!

Your mileage may vary for these very simple seven deadly sins. Writers and authors—do you have a different list?

Kait Carson lives in an airpark in south central Florida with a pilot husband, eight tropical birds, and six rescue cats. By day, she’s a practicing probate and litigation paralegal, in the evening, legal pads give way to a keyboard, and she spins tales of murder and mayhem set in the tropical heat. Kait writes two series, the Catherine Swope series, set in Miami, and the Hayden Kent series set in the Fabulous Florida Keys.

Kait loves to hear from readers, check out her website at; follow her on Facebook at, on Twitter at @kaitcarson, or e-mail her at




There is so much fiction writing advice out there, I finally decided to strain it down for myself to what I think are the essentials. See if you agree with me!artie-bundle

  1. Write fiction every day.

This is number one. You make it a habit, you build your writing muscles, and you produce lots of stuff to work with later.

  1. Always be aware of what the villain is doing.

I only heard about this idea a while ago, but it makes so much sense. And it’s fun to imagine what the guy or gal is doing behind the scenes besides rubbing hands together in glee.

  1. Use a professional editor (not your mother, even if she is a professional editor).

Once you have done your very best with the material you wrote, you should have someone go over it, if just a proofreader. If you do that, at least there’s one thing readers and reviewers cannot complain about.

  1. Begin each scene with action (no one lying in bed mulling things over), and nailing the location and characters present right away.

This is hard, and I admit I don’t always accomplish it. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, to say nothing of second nature. (What the heck is first nature, anyway? Or third?)

  1. End each scene with a cliffhanger—it doesn’t have to be heart-stopping, it can simply be a question.

Another hard thing to accomplish, but worth a shot. It might even help you write the next scene. You’ve already set something up that the characters have to deal with. Make a list of all the things that can go wrong in life. Use one to end each scene. Fire, flood, a dead body. You get the idea.

  1. Be absolutely sure the reader always knows who is speaking.

Nothing is more annoying than wondering who is talking and having to go back and read several paragraphs to figure it out because the writer left off an attribution. This is one of my pet peeves. And I see it happen in almost every novel I read, no matter if it’s self-published or one of the “big publishers” in New York who put it out. Maybe rule #1 should be: don’t annoy the reader.

  1. While editing, hunt down and delete every single unnecessary word and phrase.

This makes for a tight story, thus a better story. There’s no downside, and if you make it a goal during your last pass-through, you will have a better piece of writing.

  1. Read fiction every day.

Learning from other good writers is so enjoyable, isn’t it? And reading bad writing can show you what not to do better than any advice about it given to you.

  1. Read non-fiction every day.

Just for fifteen minutes is enough, but of course, the more the better. I suggest at least one book about writing a month. You can also use this time to do some research. Or just read about things you are fascinated by. You might be able to work them into future work.

  1. Write fiction every day.

Try not to repeat yourself. But when something is really, really important, just do it!

Anyone have a rule they swear by that they think everyone should follow? Let us know in the comments!

janBIO: Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. Her nine published novels include three series and one stand-alone. She’s also had over seventy short stories appear in various publications, among them a collection, The Artie Crimes, from Untreed Reads.  She’s past president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and a member of Mystery Writers of American, and Sisters in Crime. Learn more on her website:



Blowin’ My Horn! (Or, It’s all about Me!)


It’s been a doozy of a week so far. Deadly Spirits, the fourth book in my Mac blast-off-1McClellan Mystery series, has successfully rocketed skyward from Camel Press’ launch pad. The early reviews have been positive. My publisher is excited about the sales prospects, and my dog still loves me. I’ve even generously given myself a little pat on the back.


But please note there is no bragging allowed here, although one world-renowned athlete hadbragging-2 this to say on the subject:


And another once uttered these inspiring words:bragging-3


Are exuberance and/or excitement too closely related to the “B” word? I think not. Hey, isn’t a writer allowed to make a little noise in celebration after months of hard work finally pay off and the fruits of his/her labor materialize into a real, live book? Yes, books are alive; no one will ever convince me otherwise. Have you never felt the heartbeat between the covers as you hold a book in your hands? Of course you have. If you haven’t, you are not a reader. Enough said.

cashMy agent called this morning with some heartening news that added more sugar to sweeten the week: a fat royalty check is on its way from the sales of my previous Mac mystery, Deadly Dunes. (Oh, be still my heart!) I know, I know, it’s only money. But wait, it’s more than that. It’s redemption! People are actually buying my books out there in Readerland. True, most writers would write if they never made a dime. Writers write! We must, it’s what we do. It’s in our blood. It’s either write, or explode. I’d also wager that writers would rather get paid for bleeding at the keyboard then to bleed for free. Through the years I’ve made money with my writing. Barring a miracle I’ll never get rich from my work, but knowing my “babies” are being cuddled and appreciated by others in this cold, cruel world means a lot to me. My ultimate dream is that someday, somewhere, a future reader will dust off a yellowing copy of one of my books, read it, and say: “Hey, this is good stuff. Never heard of the guy, but this is really good stuff!”


Now that’s something to blow your horn about!




Sisters Laura Thomas (FUONLYKNEW-Laura’s Ramblins & Reviews), and Sherry Fundin (fundinmental—as eye see it) are hosting a TAG TEAM Review & Giveaway for Deadly Spirits at their respective blogs.

deadly_spiritsPrizes include a $25 Amazon gift card; 2 print copies of Deadly Spirits, and 4 ebooks. Contest runs from January 16-30. Very easy to enter—simply visit their blogs and answer an easy question in the comment section. Here are the URLs:  and

Please take advantage of this opportunity and enter at both blogs. And be sure to tweet, email, re-post, and spread the word far and wide. I sure will appreciate it! Thanks, and good luck to all!


e-michael-helms-headshotI was born in Georgia way back in the last century, but grew up and lived most of my life on the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle in Panama City (beautiful beaches, girls galore–ah, the memories!). In 2004 my wife and I moved to the Upstate region of South Carolina in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, a land of stunning vistas and numerous waterfalls. I enjoy playing guitar, fishing, camping, and bird watching. Mac, Kate, and other recurring characters continue to bug me until I sit down and write their stories as they dictate.

Visit my website:

And my Amazon author page:

Find me on Twitter:

And at Goodreads: