Stephen Helmes Interview – Writing, Book Covers, and Relaxation

Has this writer been inspired by any other authors? Where do his ideas come from? How important is the cover of the book? Who designed the covers of his books? What is he working on now? And what does he do to relax?

Stephen Helmes 1Where are you from? What is your background?
Well, I am originally from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, but less than two years ago, I finally followed my beach-bum dream and moved to Palmetto, Florida. Green Acres is nice but give me the ocean any day of the week.

I have been a horror and music fan from the very young age of three or four. Thanks to my big brother’s record collection that I got into when no one was looking and my Grandmother’s love for a weekly television show called Shock Theater, which aired a different horror film every Saturday night, I grew up with an equal passion for rock ‘n’ roll and horror.

I started playing guitar when I was ten and cofounded the band House of Flies in 1993. We played local venues from the Chattanooga, Tennessee area down to the Atlanta, Georgia area, anywhere they would let us crank the amps. Since I moved to Florida, the Flies shows have slowed considerably, but we have not broken up. We still plan to do Halloween shows in Chattanooga and some summer shows in St. Augustine, Florida.

It wasn’t till 2001 that I decided to write a story around a very cool dream that I had. Dream isn’t the correct word; it was a nightmare. The dream was so real and frightening that I woke in a cold sweat, eyes darting around the room until my brain settled enough for me to realize I was at home, safe in my bed. Rather than going back to sleep and losing those horrific images forever, I got up at 4:30 a.m. and wrote it all down while it was still fresh in my head.

You know how it is when you dream something that really hits you a certain way, then when your brain is fully awake and you’re thinking rationally again, it seems silly or completely crazy? Well, let me tell you, after working a twelve-hour day, I came home and looked at what I had written down before daylight that morning. It still scared me! I knew something had to be done with this! So I wrote a story around those horrifying images. I created characters, a setting, and a plot, and my world of writing began that day.

After that story was completed, I began keeping notes about all of my dreams that I thought would make interesting stories. Nowadays I actually sleep with a small digital recorder on my nightstand so that I can record them the moment I wake. You should hear some of those recordings! This is also why I call my series Nightly Visits because many of the stories you read in my books come to me as dreams while I sleep.

Stpehen Helmes 2What were you like during your school years?
I was the weird kid, the one who sat alone at lunchtime and kept to himself at recess. In the early grades, I had lots of friends that I enjoyed playing with, but as the teen years rolled in, things began to change. I changed schools in seventh grade and quickly found that the kids in this new school were nothing like the kids in my old school. I had long hair even at that age. I was into the loud music and the rugged clothes. That was fine in the old school, but I did not fit in with this new group. Friends did not exist. I didn’t like them and they hated me. I got to the point where I would wear the headbands, black wristbands, and Motley Crue t-shirts just because I knew they hated it. No other reason than just to show that I was not going to change for them. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t trying to be a problem child, but I was a rebel when it came to what the other kids thought I should be.

How successful do you need to be for your writing to satisfy you?
I want to take my writing as far as I can take it. I love Stephen King’s books, and if one day I am big enough to walk over and shake his hand without being arrested, that would be the ultimate fantasy come true. However, if I could just do well enough to make a living from my books without having to work a 9-to-5 job, I would be satisfied.

Are you inspired by other writers?
I kind of answered that in the last question. Stephen King is the top of my list. But there are others I admire as well: Jack Kilborn and Ann Rice have written things that I like. I also enjoy some of the classic writers: Lovecraft, Poe, and Twain have stories that I really enjoyed.

Nightly Visits seriesWhat books and stories have you written?
Before I started writing stories, I was writing a lot of songs. I guess over the years I have written more than a hundred songs, but only a fraction that I allow anyone to hear.

So far I have only released two books, both from the Nightly Visits series. Nightly Visits is a collection of short stories and novellas. Most fall under a horror genre, and there are many kinds of horror, but there are some that fall more under suspense and sci-fi. There is even one story in the first book called “Little Red Socks” which is a mixture of drama, fantasy, and comedy.

The latest book, releasing July 5th, 2016, is titled From 12 to 6 (More Nightly Visits) and it is a second volume to the series.

Where can your books be bought?
You can find Nightly Visits and From 12 to 6 online at Amazon. Fat Lip Press is publishing From 12 to 6. Just follow these links and you’re there.

Amazon US ➜
Fat Lip Press ➜

From 12 to 6Are you working on your next book right now?
I have a few different projects going right now. I am already working on Nightly Visits III, but I am also working on two full-length novels. The Bite is about the zombie apocalypse—everybody loves zombies—and the other is called Hallows Bluff, a story about a town where Halloween isn’t just a holiday but a way of life. I am actually teaming with my editor and friend, Lisa Binion, on the latter.

All three of these book projects are well in the works. It will be interesting to see which one reaches the finish line first.

What genre do you most often find yourself writing stories for?
I write a lot of horror, however, I don’t want to limit myself to that one style. I like lots of other styles as well, and every now and then, I may venture into something that doesn’t go bump in the night. But, overall, if someone wanted to find me in a set genre, the horror section would be the place to start.

How much research do you do?
Oh God! There is a reason I started writing in 2001, and here in 2016, I only have two books. I do a lot of research.

Writers say that you should write what you know, and that is very true. But if you only write what you know, and you write more than five or six books, you stand the risk of repeating yourself. We often have to reach out into places we’ve never been, time travel to eras long before we existed, and use tools we’ve never used, whether be as small as a nail gun or as large as a space shuttle.

What if you are writing a story that takes place on an airplane, but you have never flown? It would be a good idea to do some research on airplanes, airports, pilots, and stewardesses before you dig too far in. Otherwise, the readers who have flown will likely know that you haven’t simply because you mentioned walking to the plane’s concession stand for a corn dog.

Research, research, research, then research some more. That’s me.

a galaxy far, far away, flickr

a galaxy far, far away, flickr

Why did you choose to write?
There are lots of jobs that allow you to travel and see new sights and places, but writing is the only one where you can travel anywhere you want, to your neighbor’s back yard or a galaxy far far away. You can do anything you want in writing. Superman can fly! PA-LEEZ! A writer can spin a web around the man of steel that he would never be able to get out of. A writer can do anything because the imagination is limitless.

I love using my imagination. In truth, I really don’t write my stories at all. The characters do what they do, and I just sit back, watch, and write it all down. I am not the pilot. I’m the plane, the tool the characters use to bring their story to you, the reader.

Nightmare Dream from Hell, youtube

Nightmare Dream from Hell, youtube

Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
Everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my ideas visit me in dreams, but ideas can come from anywhere at any time: watching the news, the shape of a cloud.

Have you ever walked through a supermarket parking lot and looked at all the faces? No, I mean really look at them. There is an old woman sitting in the truck with the door open and her foot dangling out above the pavement. The cigarette seems to be stuck to her bottom lip because she is talking, and it is bouncing up and down but never drops out of her mouth. Why is she just sitting there while the rest of the world is moving all around her?

What about that young couple that just walked by pushing the shopping cart? Their little girl is riding on the lower rack and hanging onto the center of the handle while her mother is pushing. They both look happy. Dad is slowly strolling along behind, not smiling. I wonder why he doesn’t look happy. It could have something to do with the old woman in the truck. She is staring at them just as I am. There could be a story in that.

Nightly VisitsDo you have an outline or basic plot written down to work from? Or do you just sit down and write to see where your idea leads?
I have worked both ways and other ways as well. It depends on the mood and the story. I have written stories, “Indweller” is one, that the ending not only surprises the reader. It surprised me as well! Then there are stories that I already know all the way through before I spell out the first word.

What do you find to be the hardest thing about writing?
Marketing, by far! I am a musician and a writer. I am not and never have been into marketing. It’s really hard when you are starting out as an indie writer. No one knows who you are, and professional advertising is so expensive that, unless you own a silver spoon, you just can’t afford it. You are limited to social media to spread the word. Sure your family and close friends are excited to see that you have just released a book, but to strangers, you are an unknown writer. Why are you unknown? Probably because you are not as good as Stephen King or some of the other best selling names out there. So you sell to friends and family. There will be a few readers out there who give your book a chance and actually enjoy it. They will leave a good review—which is very important to us all, you readers out there—but then your book sits in the dark until you release another.

Dear readers: Please remember that there are good writers out there and there are poor writers, but you should never judge a book by its cover or a writer just because you have never heard the name. Use the logic behind the old Life cereal commercials with little Mikey: Try it, you might like it!

writer's block, woodgatesvie. com

writer’s block, woodgatesvie. com

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you recommend getting past it?
Oh yes! Take time off. Go out and spend time with the family or friends. Do something you enjoy and give your mind a break. When you come back you’ll be surprised how your brain kicks right back in, ready and raring to go. You may even come up with some fresh ideas for your story while you’re out.

Can you tell us a little about your new book?
The new book From 12 to 6 is a part of the Nightly Visits series. It doesn’t matter which book you choose to read first or which story you want to read first. The stories are not connected. Though the Nightly Visits books are considered to be horror, that is not the case for each and every story inside the covers. Yes, there are plenty of screams and chills for the horror lover in us all, but you will also find humor, emotional moments, and a few gun fights and car chases. The thing about Nightly Visits is that you never know what each story is going to bring you.

How do you handle the proofreading and editing of your books?
I consider myself a decent writer as far as knowing how to dot my i’s and cross my t’s. But I give all that credit to my editor, Lisa Binion. She has a magical way of showing me just how little about writing I really know. I recommend to all writers, if you don’t have someone to proof your material, find someone. There are some out there who can do it for themselves and that’s great, but I’m not one of them.



Describe the covers of your Nightly Visits books. Who designed these covers?
The Nightly Visits covers all have a few things in common. They all revolve around dusk or nighttime. They are all dark, yet subtle. They all represent a present danger, but you can’t actually see what that danger is. That’s because the danger can come from anywhere in any form. Both Nightly Visits covers out now and the ones that come in the future will all revolve around that dangerous calm.

I designed them and created them myself. Someday I may turn to another artist but so far I have been happy with what I’ve come up with, plus I enjoy doing it.

Do you believe that the cover is important to readers when they are searching for a good book?
Oh, absolutely! If you are a horror lover and you are in the bookstore browsing for something new and different and a cover reaches out and smacks you in the face, either with its eye-catching colors or its crazy picture, you will give a second look and possibly be curious enough to read the description on the back cover. If the book’s description wins you over, then success! The old saying “Never judge a book by its cover” is very true, but the cover is the reader’s first impression, and first impressions are everything.

What do you do to get book reviews?
I get reviews the old fashioned way. I beg.

Actually, Nightly Visits has only a few reviews so far. I really hope that list grows, but the few I have are very good reviews. That makes me feel really proud of what I have created, and it helps other readers that may stop by to know that there are some who think your book is worthy to be read.

Readers, if you enjoy a book, the best way to thank an author is to leave them a good review. The reviews mean more than you will ever know to a writer.

Florida beach, pixabay

Florida beach, pixabay

When you have time to relax, what do you do?
Going to the beach, I also have a giant float shaped like a dove, but I call it “the goose.” I love to get in the pool, lay back on that huge thing, and just float around listening to an audiobook. I play a few video games, (I am hooked on Sims) and my acoustic guitar is always within reach. I also enjoy listening to music and watching movies and documentaries if the subject is right.

Do you have a favorite motivational phrase?
The day you stop playing is the day you start getting old. (Scatman Crothers in Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983)

Scatman said that to a group of elderly people in a nursing home, then talked them all into sneaking out in the middle of the night, breaking the rules, to play a game of Kick the Can. My heart gets heavy every time I see that section of the movie, and I swore when I first saw that movie back in 1983 that I would always live my life by it. Never stop playing. Our bodies may wrinkle and that age number may go up, but always keep a young, fresh mind. Amen.

Recommended Articles:
Nightly Visits – a Review
Spots by Stephen Helmes

Amazon Links:
Nightly Visits
From 12 to 6 (More Nightly Visits)

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