Edition: First Edition
Format: eBook and Paperback
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Publisher: Koehler Books
Synopsis from Closed The Cover Blog:
In the spring of 1927, ambitious cub reporter Calvin Hogue covers a family reunion in the Florida Panhandle. He learns two Malburn brothers fought on opposing sides during the Civil War, and encourages them to tell their stories. Before the night is over, Calvin realizes he has a far greater story than a run-of-the-mill family reunion.
Thus begins the first of many sessions with the Malburn brothers. The saga unfolds in their own words with wit, wisdom and sometimes, sadness. Before long the brothers are confronting troubled pasts and conjuring up ghosts laid buried throughout the long post-war years. Calvin is swept along by the harrowing eyewitness account of our nation’s most trying era, through bloody battles, personal trials and losses, and the mutual love of a beautiful young woman.
Book One follows the exploits of Daniel Malburn and the 6th FL Infantry through the battles of Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge. While working at the salt works along St. Andrew Bay, Elijah is taken prisoner by Union forces. Faced with imprisonment, he reluctantly chooses to join the 2nd US FL Cavalry as a scout, only to learn he must lead a destructive raid on the Econfina Valley—his lifelong home.
Michael, according to your author bio you are a USMC combat veteran. How do you feel that your military experience influenced your writing?
There’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Warfare has changed down through the centuries in regards to weaponry, tactics, causes, etc. But the age-old, man-on-man, enemy against enemy, has more or less remained constant. The soldier gathers his weapons and seeks out his enemy, closes with him and tries to kill before being killed. It is animalism at its base-point, and survival becomes the main goal.
There is also the old saying (from the Civil War era, I believe) that goes something like this: “War is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent sheer terror.” Or, there’s the more modern adage about military life: “Hurry up and wait.” During my time in the Marine Corps I experienced plenty of both, and I think this was invaluable while depicting both the battle scenes and everyday camp life in my writing.
You have another military book on the market – The Proud Bastards. From what I understand it’s a memoir about your time in Vietnam. What can you tell us about that book?
It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, and I avoided it for twenty years. Vietnam was the 800-pound gorilla on my back. Almost every waking hour for those two decades my thoughts would drift back to Vietnam and the friends I lost over there. Then one day I sat up in bed and thought, “Those guys will never have the opportunity to tell their stories.” I was somehow spared (at least I escaped with my life), and I COULD tell mine, and by proxy, part of theirs. That very day I grabbed a pen and a spiral notebook and went to work.
I was going through group therapy for PTSD at the time, and my counselor urged me NOT to pull any punches; to tell it as it happened through the eyes, mind, and voice of the 18-19 year-old Marine I was then. It was a gut-wrenching experience to drag up all the ghosts and horrors I’d tried to keep buried, but once I’d written “The End” it felt like a ton of weight was lifted off my shoulders. Easy? No. Cathartic? Very.
You also have a mystery novel, Deadly Catch, available for purchase. While Mac McClellan is a former Marine this is not a historical fiction novel and does not involve war. Was writing Deadly Catch more of a challenge than The Proud Bastards or your Of Blood & Brothers series?
Just the opposite. While The Proud Bastards is a memoir, and Of Blood and Brothers is historical fiction, both required bringing facts and realism to the narratives to the absolute best of my ability. A writer owes that to his readers, although there is always some leeway with historical fiction. But with military-based historical fiction, you need to portray troop movements and battle scenes as realistically as possible.
With Deadly Catch I was free to let Mac McClellan do or say what he wished, with the exception of his combat experience in Iraq, which is just briefly mentioned. I needed to get that straight for the reader and especially for the guys over there who actually bled and died in that war. Otherwise, Mac is a freewheeler, as I was writing the story. It was a pleasant change and relief to let the story develop from the characters, to go where they wanted to go and say what they dictated. Ahh, there’s nothing quite like literary license!
What was your biggest writing challenge when writing Of Blood & Brothers: Book One? Did you suffer from writer’s block at all while writing, or did you find the editing process more difficult? Was there anything that you edited out of Of Blood & Brothers: Book One that you regret leaving out?
Writing Of Blood and Brothers was a long, long process. In all, I probably spent over ten years gathering research and doing the actual writing of the story. There were a few false starts, both from where the story began and point-of-view. Not to mention a hiatus of nearly three years during which time I moved from the panhandle of Florida to the Upstate region of South Carolina. I drove and walked many miles, tracing the steps of the Malburn brothers and their units in the Confederate and Union armies. I won’t even mention the money spent buying scores of historical books and diaries and maps as I traced their movements mile-by-mile and sometimes foot-by-foot.
The voices of the Malburn brothers were another concern. When I was around nine or ten, a close friend’s parents rented out a couple of rooms in their large home to elderly tenants. Two brothers in their late eighties or early nineties shared one of the rooms. Their father had fought for the Confederacy, and they would spend hours regaling us with stories of their father’s exploits with General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Most of the mannerisms and sayings used by Daniel and Elijah Malburn come from those old gentlemen whose names, much to my chagrin, I can’t recall. I also drew upon numerous diaries from soldiers and their families of the era to tune my ear to the semi-educated Southern dialect from the West Florida region of the Confederacy.
You asked about editing. Major surgery would be more like it. The original story was well upwards of 200,000 words. Books One and Two combined now stand at a little over 160, 000 words. Everything I cut could have – in my humble opinion – remained without slowing the narrative. You can do the math and feel my pain. (I say this with a smile.)
There is a sequel coming for Of Blood & Brothers: Book One. From what I understand Book Two is set to release in the spring of 2014. Did you always anticipate this being a series or is it something that evolved as you started writing?
To be honest, Of Blood and Brothers was always intended (in my vision) to be one big novel. The publishing world has changed a great deal in a short period of time. Book distributors have their ideal limits for novels, and very few include tomes unless your last name happens to be King or Rowling, etc. I went around and around with my publisher, and guess who won? So, instead of cutting another 30,000 pages, I suggested turning one big novel into two pretty good sized ones. The publisher liked the idea, so I found the most practical place to divide the story. I wrote an ending for what became Book One and a new beginning for Book Two. Problem solved.
About the Author:
E. Michael Helms is a USMC combat veteran. His memoir of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, has been called “As powerful and compelling a battlefield memoir as any ever written … a modern military classic,” and has been in print for most of the past 20 years.
His work has also appeared in the books: Semper Fi: Stories of U.S. Marines from Boot Camp to Battle (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003); Soldier’s Heart: Survivors’ Views of Combat Trauma (The Sidran Press, 1995); and Two Score and Ten: The Third Marine Division History (Turner Publishing, 1992).
Book One of his two-part historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers, will be released Septemeber 1, 2013, with Book Two following in March 2014.
The first novel of his Mac McClellan Mystery series, Deadly Catch, is scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.
Helms lives with his wife in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
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