A conversation with Kevin Lynn Helmick

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Kevin Lynn Helmick, author of Sebastian Cross: an epic literary adventure, Clovis Point, Heartland Gothic and Driving Alone (novels) and many short stories. He blogs at The Write Room, plus he posts as a guest blogger on some other blogs (although he actually hates blogging: “… blog, blooog, sounds like a flat tire or something.”), and don’t forget to check his Amazon page.

Kevin Lynn Helmick

Hi, Kevin, I’m glad I have a chance to ask you a few questions. Who is Kevin Lynn Helmick, when described by Kevin Lynn Helmick?
First, thanks for having me over and congrats on the story in Noir Nation. It’s a good one. Good luck with that. How would I describe myself? I’m a blue color guy, a worker bee. I grew up in the American Midwest, rural, small towns and I’ve wondered the big cities too. I’m a husband and father and a writer, but at my very core I think of myself as an artist, always have.

You write for a living – how did you make it?
I don’t make a living from writing. I haven’t “made it,” as they say. I would starve and be living in van down by the river if that was all I did. I make money as a carpenter contractor. The writing pays for cigarettes and gas on a good month. It’s a serious hobby that I wish would provide a serious income, but it doesn’t for now and that’s fine.
Most of the writers I know of need a day job. Maybe my decedents will enjoy the Ferrari’s and rehabs, the spoils of my writing. It doesn’t look like I will though.

What does a typical Kevin Lynn Helmick’s workday look like?
I get up about 5, write an hour or two, get in my truck and go build a house. On days I don’t have work outside the house, and there are a lot of those these days, with the economy sucking the way it does and my body not being what it used to be, I write till around 11or 12, and then I’m spent, mentally, I have to get outside, go somewhere, do something.

If you weren’t a writer, you would be …?
I’m not just a writer. I couldn’t image just being, doing one thing. I’m a creative guy. Give me a blank page, a camera, empty canvas or even a stack of lumber and I’ll make something with it. Writing for me is just another form of expression, my preferred one at the moment, a creative outlet. I’ve gone through poetry periods, periods of drawing, painting, photography, but writing has always been a constant. I’ve quit for years at a time but it always comes back and usually with a consuming vengeance. Sometimes it’s like, ‘what, the house is burning? Wait, I have to finish this scene.’ It’s ridiculous.
But with writing, I love the doors it opens. I love the way it can develop and grow like a living thing. I love words, and sentences and paragraphs and the feeling and mental images they can produce when used and configured well. There’s fucking magic going on there between the mind and the page. I don’t understand it really, don’t even want to. It’s hard to explain, but I wrote a lot about it, about writing, in Sebastian Cross, my second novel. How I feel about it personally anyway.

What is your writing style and where do you look for inspiration?
I’m not sure what my style is. I can only give what I have and I suppose that’s what makes up a writers style. I’m into realism, modernism and human nature, whether it’s rural or urban doesn’t really matter to me. I try to inhabit the characters and speak and move about the way they would. Drama must be present. We all struggle with dilemma in our lives but finding or creating an unusual one for a character to deal with can be tough. I want it to be original or else I’m not interested. As far as inspiration, I get inspired by good writing of others. I love seeing a fresh approach, but usually it’s just little things. I’ve gotten the inspiration for entire stories from something as simple as the body language of stranger passing by. Usually the whole thing just starts growing from something very small. A feeling, a word, a quote, it doesn’t take much.
Inspiration, that’s the easy part.

How do you start working on a book – do you do a lot of research or do you write right from your head, where enough ideas are stored there resulting from your life experience?
I start with the best sentence or paragraph I can write, one that captures as much of the essence of what I want to say as possible and go from there. I can and probably do change it up later, but you have to start somewhere and that’s where I start. That’s my start, and my outline. I only do necessary research, as little as possible. I’m not writing about investment bankers or nuclear scientist. I write from inside and my own experiences, I guess.
I write about people so any research I need is mostly just local details. I’m writing a western now and was surprised at how difficult it is to write, how much research I needed just for setting. Things have changed a lot here in the States in just a hundred years so I’m learning a certain amount of history as I go with this one. I should have paid attention in American History class.

Publishing or self-publishing, what works best for you and what would you recommend to other writers?
I’ve self-published and I’ve gone with a small press. I guess that makes me a hybrid. I’ve probably turned down more offers to publish than a lot of writers would, but I have a very specific idea of what I want and how I want it, everything from cover to formatting to text to size of the book and I can get that by doing it myself. On the other hand a good publisher can do it better and or should be able to get books on shelves, mass distribution, promotion, attention, sales in exchange for a percentage of royalties. If a publisher can not do that, then you don’t have a publisher you have a self-publisher pretending to be a publisher.
For me, I’ve sold more self-published books in the same amount of time as I have books with a small press. That may seem surprising, and it is to me too but I know what my numbers are in self-publishing and with a small press publisher you only know what they tell you. I haven’t had the best experiences with small presses and that’s sad because I know there are some good ones out there. I haven’t given up on them yet, although it may look that way to some.
I would recommend you do what you want, but before signing with a publisher, specifically a small or micro-press, know them well, know that they can do something for you that you can’t. You don’t have to desperately sign with anyone who’ll have you anymore. Those days are over. You have options now and they’re getting better as we speak. Do what you want, but do what’s best for you at the moment, for that project.
There’s still a lot of snobbery out there for self-publishing but it’s mostly coming from other writers and they can fuck off for all I care. The reader matters, and they hardly ever know or care who published it. They like it or they don’t.

What are you working on at the moment – if it’s not the secret?
No, it’s no secret. In fact I read from it in Chicago recently. I’m finishing up this western, The Rain King. It’s been the hardest goddamn thing. I started it last summer and given up on it several times but now I have it because I’m stubborn that way. I hate quitting. It’s dark, it’s a little weird and I have no idea if it’s any good or not or if anybody will even want it. It should be done and polished by the Holidays.
I was in the bookstore the other day looking at westerns and their publishers for some ideas of where to shop it. Everything looked so traditional, like cookie cutter westerns. I was like, shit, mine is not a stereotypical western at all. It’s like the retarded stepchild of Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard. I just might have to self-publish it.
I’ve got a few publishers in my pocket though that I think might take it on, but not many.

How important is social media to you – you wrote in a post on your blog that bloging sucks, what about Facebook and Twitter? How are they beneficial to your creative work?
There’s a time and place for it, I guess. It’s important at times and a distraction at other times. Blogging does suck, for me anyway. Some are good at it; I’m just not one of them. I’d rather spend my time writing a book. I have a Twitter account too, but you won’t find me there. Facebook, I use a lot and have gotten more from it than anywhere else, but it’s still a guilty pleasure, I have to keep it moderate.
I see writers and publishers on there every day all day and I wonder why in the hell aren’t you writing or doing some publishing shit for your writers, some editing or something. I’m very suspicious of publishers that spend all day on Facebook. You don’t see that so much with successful publishers, hardly at all. You can gain some fast credibility there but you can lose it fast too. It’s an illusion. They should call it Fakebook.
It works for marketing in a small degree but not much. It’s best for networking, socializing, so I try to limit the time spend there, and my self-promotion. I know it can be annoying and look very desperate to post your shit all day long, so I try to do it just once or twice a week unless I have something new. I’ll hammer that for a while and then back off.
But I’ve met some great people there, writers like you, and lots of great readers, book lovers of all kinds all over the world. So it’s good and bad, and there comes a time when enough is enough, get your ass to work.

Heartland Gothic: it’s much more than your novel’s title. You’ve created a Facebook group, what is it, exactly – a genre, an art movement?
It’s a bowel movement. No, it’s just a page I created when the book came out to promote it, but it’s turned into a page to share cool shit, art, books, photos, music, generally rural, gritty stuff, and I just left it. Whatever a member thinks is cool, retro or iconic is alright with me, just no political bullshit, no religion, no calendar shots of cute kitten. I do want it to have some artistic integrity, taste and class but that’s about all I care about it.
Heartland Gothic, though; I don’t think it’s an official genre, I guess it could be. It’s kind of play on words isn’t it, another name for rural noir?
Goddamn, I’ve created my own genre!
It’s alive!

What advice would you give to a young (and maybe not that young) writer?
Write, damn it! Stop asking for advice because its only worth as much as whoevers giving it. Read and write. Write like your fucking life depends on it, because it kind of does.

Kevin, thank you for being with us!
No… thank you, and all the other European readers over there. You guys have been good to me and someday when I’ve “made it,” I’ll buy you all a Cadillac, a bottle of whisky and a shotgun.
No… really. I really would do something that stupid.

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