Stephen Helmes Interview – Being a Milkman, a Musician, and a Writer

Which one of the stories in this book is his favorite? Where does he get his inspiration? What is his biggest fear as a writer? What is the name of his band?

Note: This interview was originally published on The News in Books on May 13, 2014.

Stephen HelmesWhere do you get your inspiration for your stories?  Life?  News stories?  The internet?  Dreams?
Inspiration comes from a number of places. It could be something I’ve read that has lit a spark in another direction or, on one occasion, a story entered my mind from a woman’s English accent I heard on the radio. I was listening to her voice and the way she pronounced her words more than I was hearing what she was saying, and thirty minutes later, a new story was coming to life. But dreams have inspired many of my stories. Sometimes a dream may only give me an interesting image and it’s up to me to fill in the blanks. There are other dreams that tell me the whole story, beginning to end, rolling throughout the night like a movie in my head. All I have to do is put it to words and name the characters.

Out of the stories in your book, which one is your favorite?  Why?
That’s a very tough question for me. Every time I am thumbing through one of the stories and say, “This one is my favorite.” I find another and say, “No, wait a minute!”

As of right now, I think my favorite is “Little Red Socks”. It’s not because I think of it as my best work. It’s because of the readers that I have talked to. Several readers have come to me about Nightly Visits, and most of them have stated that “Little Red Socks” was their favorite. All of my stories mean a lot to me, but the one that makes the readers happy is the one that makes me the happiest.

Do you develop your characters and outline each story before you begin to write, or do you allow your muse to lead you as you write?
Most of my characters are based on people that I know, or have known at some point in my life. I look at the idea of the story and think of a real face that suits the plot, and let the writing begin.

Just for fun, let’s say I had a sister named Marsha. If I wanted to use her as a character, I would take her personality and try to think like her. If a door shut on her fingers in the story, I would ask myself, “What would Marsha do, bounce around with her fingers in her mouth, or get angry and fist the door?”

Do you ever fight with your muse?  If so, what was your last fight about?  Who won?
I don’t remember ever doing that. I usually climb aboard and let it take me where it wants to go. I have found that if I stray, instead of an author, I become the world’s greatest cheese maker.

Do you have a set time to write each day, or do you wait to be inspired?
I read where Stephen King writes three hours a day, and he writes better in the morning. I wish I could set a time like that. But for me, I write anytime I feel the words trying to form in my mind.

I have to have a perfect environment to write. It has to be completely silent, no one moving around the room and total concentration for me. This puts me to doing most of my writing between midnight and five in the morning; when the world around me is asleep. That’s not a set schedule but it is normal.

Nightly VisitsWhich comes first, the title or the story?  How hard is it for you to decide on a title?
I usually have the foundation of the story in my head and the title comes from that. But it is usually titled before the writing actually starts. I have had a couple of cases where the title changed halfway through the writing.

In most cases titles come easy for me. I like short titles that have a rhythm and a feel of the story, but enough mystery that makes you wonder what it’s actually about. Instead of “Little Red Riding Hood”, I would have titled it, “The Path”. It adds more mystery and makes it a little darker and more suspicious.

What is your favorite genre in which to write?
I love to write what I feel the strongest about at that moment, whether it be an emotional part of the story, or an extremely chilling part. Most of my writings lean toward the horror genre, but the stories that I have written that are not horror, such as “Little Red Socks”, I enjoyed writing just as much because I felt the character’s emotions. That’s what I enjoy most about writing.

Are you working on another book right now?  What is it about?  When do you expect it to be published?
Yes. I am working on my second and third book now at the same time. It was to be another book along the same lines as Nightly Visits, but fresh, and deeper stories.

One of the stories intended for the second book doesn’t want to stop, so it is now turning into a novel. I never try to rush a story to be shorter or stretch them to be longer. They tell me when they are finished.

So now it’s a race to see if the second book will be novellas like the first book, or a novel. It depends on which reaches the finish line first.

As for when I expect to publish the second book… The goal is to have it released before 2015, but again, the stories are doing the driving; not me. The second book is under construction now and is definitely on the way. We just have to see when they decide they are finished.

What is your biggest fear as a writer?
As a horror lover, I write stories that are appealing to me. I’m not trying to become the greatest author of all time, but I would like to know that my work is bringing some kind of enjoyment to the reader, whether be gooseflesh down the arms, an occasional tear and heavy heart, or amusement. My stories are not meant to be taken literally. They are written for fun, to scare, touch, and move the reader. I love writing these stories and my biggest hope is that the readers enjoy reading the stores as much as I enjoy writing them. To find out that the readers didn’t enjoy the book would be my biggest fear and disappointment as a writer.

You don’t see many milkmen anymore.  I haven’t seen one since I lived in England.  Do you enjoy this job?  Why do you think there aren’t many around now?
Wow! I wasn’t expecting that question!

I love the job. I am hoping that writing will, one day, take its place, but until then, it’s the best job I’ve ever had, besides music and writing. Plus a milkman is a lot like a clown. You never know what’s hiding behind that empty smile.

You are also part of a rock band.  What is the name of your band?  Where do you play?  How successful are you?
Our band is called House of Flies. Drummer, Connie Caldwell and I pulled together in 1993, over 21 years ago. Today, we are the two original members, but with the help of our equal, bass player, Wendel Feltman, we are still going strong as a three piece.

We are not big time, meaning, you won’t find us on the top forty charts, but we have not only played some big shows, but have actually created some big shows, such as The Dead Season Jam 1 and 2 back in 2002 and 2006. Those shows were not only headlined by HOF, but created by HOF.

If you remember the television show Star Search, before American Idol, we played for them live and won a recording deal in Knoxville, Tennessee.

If you say our name in California or New York, people will say, “Huh? Who?” But if you say, House of Flies in Chattanooga, Tennessee or Northwest Georgia, people will say, “Yes, I know them. They are way too loud!”

We are playing in St. Augustine, Florida in mid-July. That is what our attention is on at this minute.

If you could spend one hour with just one person, dead or alive, whom would you choose?  Why?
My dad. He passed away with lung cancer back in 1999.

Both of my parents were great, but my dad and I shared a special kind of bond as I was growing up. He and my grandmother are the one’s responsible for hooking me onto horror. Every weekend during the late seventies and early eighties we were watching spook movies, shooting pool, and swimming during the summer.

He was a calm spoken man, never raising his hand when I got into trouble, but very big on lecturing. He could talk in circles for hours if you were stuck in the car alone with him. Halfway through the lecture, you would be wishing for a beating instead.

Yes, if I could pick anyone to spend an hour with, it would be him. He would probably lecture me the whole time, but I would gladly listen.

Where can your fans find you on the internet?
I am planning to create a website very soon, but for now, feel free to friend me on Facebook. if you have questions you’d like to ask or just say, “Hello.” I take care of both of my pages and would love to hear from you. When the website is completed, I will be posting it to my friends on both Facebook pages, so come on and join me.

Take your pick of the following links.

Recommended Articles: 
Nightly Visits – a Review
House of Flies and Writing – Guest Post by Stephen Helmes

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