The Spirits are Restless in “Deadly Spirits” by E. Michael Helms

Nicole (The BookWorm Drinketh) reviews DEADLY SPIRITS!

The BookWorm Drinketh

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4.5 out of 5 Stars

Thank you to author E. Michael Helms for calling this wonderful book to my attention!


When PI Mac McClellan’s girlfriend convinces him to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society, he becomes embroiled in a case of whooodunnit. The society president, while investigating an old hotel, is found dead at the foot of the stairwell, his neck broken. The man’s secretary and current squeeze stands horrified beside his body. Authorities rule the death an accident. Mac has doubts—no one heard the man tumbling down the stairs. Then the secretary dies in an apparent suicide. Two deaths in two paranormal investigations, and not a peep out of either victim. Mac suspects there’s more going on than a vengeful spirit.
Book 4 in the Mac McClellan Mystery series, which began with Deadly Catch.

My Thoughts

Mac might just be my new favourite person… I am legitimately disappointed that…

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4 Reasons To Use Action Beats When Writing

Adding Action Beats to Your Fiction, by K.M. Allan

K.M. Allan

If you’re wondering what an action beat is, you’re not alone. Not too long ago, I didn’t know what it was either.

I’ve since learned it’s an action your character is doing while they’re talking.

Yeah, it’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation and is something you’ve probably been writing naturally anyway, it’s just now you know there’s an actual name for it.

Not only does this writing trick have a name, it also has four good reasons why you should be working actions beats into your dialogue.

4 Reasons To Use Action Beats When Writing

1. Action Beats Break Up The Boring

When an action beat pairs with your dialogue, it breaks up the usual he said/she said monotony of dialogue tags.

Dialogue tag:
“Hi,” Jenny said.

Action beat:
“Hi.” Jenny lifted her hand, waving her fingers in Carla’s face.

Action beats will also break up long passages of dialogue, puts…

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Inspiration! Or, Do You Believe in . . . Ghosts?

“What in the world do ghosts have to do with mysteries?” you asked.

ghost 1Okay, maybe you didn’t, but someone out there in the vast world of readers and writers has surely asked that very question sometime in the past. And yes, the question is relevant. Currently there are several mystery series—mostly cozies—featuring a ghost or two from the other side (the spirit world) helping the sleuth on this side (the world of the living as we know it) solve cases.

Or, you could ask Mac McClellan, whose latest case introduces him to the mysterious world of the paranormal: “Mac, do you believe in ghosts?” Mac scratches his beard, hems and haws, looks away. “Earth to Mac—do you believe in ghosts, especially after what you experienced in Deadly Spirits?” Mac sighs and looks up as though the answer might be written on the ceiling. “I don’t know. Maybe. . . .” This mumbled response coming from a bad-ass retired US Marine with several combat tours under his belt. Is something amiss in Mac’s world?

Featured Image -- 1806Which brings us to the point of this post—INSPIRATION! It is somewhat fitting that the word “spirit” can be formed from those letters. One definition of inspiration is: “to breathe; or to draw air into the lungs.” Are “spirits” really dead, or do they continue somehow to draw life from the earth’s sources? The other, more common meaning is: “a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something.” The latter usage is at the heart of today’s missive: a ghost—or rather, two—were the inspiration for my fourth Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Spirits. C’mon, I’m serious here! Read on.

For the past few years I’ve been a fan of those “ghost hunter”-type shows on cable or satellite TV. One show in particular features the paranormal group’s fearless leader often using what’s called a “spirit” or “ghost” box. It’s a small device that scans radio frequencies back and forth at a given speed. The theory is the spirit box allows the user(s) to communicate in real time with any willing ghost or spirit who’s in the neighborhood. The spirit draws power from the radio waves and projects his or her “voice” which can be heard through the spirit box’s speakers.

Please, don’t laugh. And if you’re still with us, read on.

ghost hunting 1One evening while my wife was away visiting family in California, I hosted a cookout for my younger daughter, her husband, and our two grandsons (then ages 8 and 6). Those rambunctious boys are also fans of the aforementioned shows, and I’d bought a ghost-hunting “kit” mainly to keep them entertained with “chasing ghosts” around the house while visiting. This particular night, after enjoying a BBQ supper of pork ribs, smoked sausage, and all the fixings, we gathered around the dining room table. Announcing I had a surprise for my ghost-hunting pards (the grandsons), I opened the ghost-hunting equipment case and pulled-out my brand new spirit box. Their response was greater than I’d anticipated.

After fifteen minutes or so of adulation and instruction, the boys and I got down to business. I turned the device on and set the tuner to the recommended FM mode and speed. Then, the questions began. We started by introducing ourselves one by one. David, my son-in-law, received a clear vocal response to his “hello” message. That got our hackles up. I also received a clear response, two in fact, one male and one female, telling me “hi” and “hello.” My daughter sat at the table with a mixture of boredom and bulls*** spread across her pretty face.

hi_hello_100Jump ahead fifteen-twenty minutes. We’ve had some very entertaining “hi’s” and “hello’s” and a few other words from several different voices: male, female, and juvenile. My older grandson, Liam, seems to be the person the majority of the ghosts or spirits are drawn to. He’s received some very interesting and detailed responses to his questions, albeit in minimal words from our ephemeral guests. And then (insert drum roll here), son-in-law David takes the lead. Turning the ghost box’s built-in microphone his way, he asks: “Can anyone present tell me my wife’s nickname?” I’m surprised at the question. I can’t remember my daughter’s long-time nickname because it has been a decade or longer since I’ve heard it. It has never been uttered in this house for the entire eleven (now fourteen) years my wife and I have lived here. I’m trying to remember, chastising myself for my poor memory. A few seconds of silence prevails the room . . . and then:

“Hello, Puma!” a male voice says. A couple seconds later, “Hi, Puma!” says an exuberant, very distinct female voice.

ghost 2Around the table, jaws drop, eyes grow wide, and heart-rates soar. My daughter’s face drains of color. “Puma,” my younger, cat-loving daughter’s nickname for over two decades, has sounded forth from the spirit box by two totally, distinctive voices. How could “they” have known? No distrust existed among the occupants (the “live” occupants, that is) of the room. No trickery was involved. I had received the “spirit box” only a few days before our cookout get-together. Hell, I hadn’t thought of my daughter’s nickname in nearly a quarter century! I’m convinced something supernatural happened that night. Or, did it? Who’s to say communicating with those who have “passed on” is out of the realm of possibility? Technology continues to rush forward at an astounding rate.

And so, dear reader, if you’ve stuck around this long you now know the Inspiration behind the story that resulted in my current Mac McClellan Mystery adventure, Deadly Spirits. You know my story—I’d sure like to know yours! Please share your experiences of the paranormal that might have had some/any influence on your life experience! Thank you, and . . . pleasant dreams!

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Series Bible: What To Include And Why Writers Should Have One

K.M. Allan on the Writer’s Bible —

K.M. Allan

Not content with writing just one book, some writers tackle a series.

I did this for the first manuscript I decided to write seriously (either bravely or stupidly, I still haven’t decided), and one thing I learned was that it pays to have a series bible.

A series bible is a document made up of all the notes, secrets, and information relating to your series. The same principles can be applied to standalone books, but where a series bible really shines is keeping everything straight amongst multiple books. This is the reason why all writers should have one.

What To Include In Your Series Bible


List everything you can about your characters. What they look like, who they’re related to, who they’re friends with. Note down their goals, dreams, where they go to school, if they have a job, what happened in their past. It doesn’t have to be…

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Invoking The Five Senses

From writer K.M. Allan: Invoking the Five Senses

K.M. Allan

When it comes to writing, the deeper the connection you can make with the reader, the better off your book will be.

I’ve talked about this in the last two blogs posts (How To Write In Deep POV and How To Master Show, Don’t Tell, for those playing at home), and how using these writing tricks have elevated my current WIP—a four-book supernatural YA series I’ve been tinkering with for a number of years.

Along with showing and deep POVs, I’ve been improving my manuscript using the five senses, as (I’m hoping) the following examples will show.

How To Invoke The Five Senses

If you aren’t already aware of the concept, it involves including the five senses in your descriptions and character actions:

  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Taste

You can, of course, include The Sixth Sense if your story involves seeing dead people or Bruce Willis.



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Judy Penz Sheluk releases “Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery”

My review of Judy Penz Sheluk’s Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery

By E. Michael Helms


pnp3Thirteen months after inheriting her father’s home with the strange caveat that she solve her mother’s thirty year old cold-case murder, Calamity “Callie” Barnstable has decided to put down roots in Marketville. Case finally solved,  Callie’s quit her banking job in Toronto, leased her cozy condo to a former co-worker, hired her hunky new next door neighbor to renovate her unkempt inherited domicile, and—spurred on by the success of her first case—she’s opened her own PI business: Past & Present Investigations. As the name suggests, P&P’s specialty will be solving not only present-day cases, but also cold cases from the past that have been shelved and largely forgotten.

With plans to sell her refurbished inherited house, Callie sets up shop in a Victorian home/office located in a posh Marketville neighborhood. Chantelle Marchand, Callie’s best friend and avid genealogist, signs on as partner in P&P Investigations. To round out the team, two other friends, a psychic and an antique shopkeeper come aboard as consultants.

As luck (or fate?) would have it, P&P’s first case is eerily similar to the personal one Callie has recently solved. A woman is seeking clues to find out who might have murdered her great-grandmother—and why. Callie digs in, honing the newly acquired investigative skills she learned while revealing her mother’s murderer. Meanwhile, Chantelle scours passenger lists from ships of the early twentieth century, as well as newspaper accounts of the time and other documents that hold promise in uncovering needed evidence. The discovery of a couple of old faded photographs might also hold the key to help unlock this decades’ old mystery.

There are plenty of feints, dead-ends, and red herrings throughout to keep the reader guessing while turning pages. Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery is a delightful blend of the cerebral, the psychic, and good old down-to-earth sleuthing. The interesting cast of characters and satisfying conclusion will leave the reader wanting to revisit Marketville time and again.

5 out of 5 stars!


Let’s play 20 Questions (okay, 3 or 4):


Michael: Judy, thanks for joining us at my humble blog.

Judy: My pleasure, Michael. Thank you for featuring my latest book.

Michael: I understand the publication date of September 21 has a special meaning to you. Can you elaborate?

Judy: Thanks for asking. September 21 marks the second anniversary of death of my mother, Anneliese Penz, but it’s more than that. So much of this book is inspired by documents I found inside a train case she had tucked away at the back of her closet. Things like immigration papers, photographs, postcards…I’d never seen any of them, and when I began to trace her journey, I started writing the book. It was as if she was with me every step of the way.

tarot-cardsMichael: Tarot plays a part in the first book in this series (Skeletons in the Attic) and again in Past & Present. Do you do tarot readings?

Judy: I own tarot cards…and a book on tarot…and I’ve done a ton of research, but it takes years to master. There’s another part of me that doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s going to happen. So I don’t actually read tarot, though when I’m writing and stuck, I might pick out a card and see if the message resonates.

Michael: I love the book cover for Past & Present. Did you design it?

Judy: Thank you, and no, although I worked collaboratively with Hunter Martin, who is a very talented graphic artist. I gave him a very rough sketch and he just took it from there. There was a lot of back and forth on colors, mood etc. At one time the cover was gold vs. blue-gray, and even though it looked good, it just didn’t feel right to me, and so we just kept trying different tones. I’m very happy with how it turned out.

And now, a bit about Past & Present(Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…)

It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto?

Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.

It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted.




About the author: An Amazon International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, the first in the Glass Dolphin Mystery series, was published in July 2015, and is also available in audiobook. The sequel, A Hole In One, was published March 2018, with audiobook to follow Fall 2018.

Skeletons in the Attic, Judy’s second novel, and the first in her Marketville Mystery series, was first published in August 2016 and re-released in December 2017. It is also available in audiobook format. The sequel, Past & Present, will be released September 2018. Judy’s short crime and literary fiction appears in several collections.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors as a representative for Toronto/Southwestern Ontario.


Find out more about Judy at


Find Judy at other Social Media:







Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery #2

By Judy Penz Sheluk



Release Date: September 21, 2018 Print and Kindle

Pre-order Kindle on Amazon for special introductory price of $2.99 (reg. $5.99)

Buy link:

Some Favorite Opening Lines in Mystery/Crime Novels

(Note: This appeared quite some time ago at I came across it while updating my files and thought the readers of this blog might enjoy it. No originality is claimed or presumed.  –E. Michael Helms)

Whether readers or writers, we all know the importance of that opening line. It should grab our attention and compel us to read on. Recently I was sitting at my desk struggling over the first line of a new short story I’m working on. I must’ve spent an hour writing and deleting, writing and changing, moving this phrase here, that word over there, ad nauseam. Finally I gave up, pushed my chair away from the desk. I felt like pulling out what hair I have left. It was then I noticed the five stacks of mystery/crime novels piled high to the left and right of my workspace. The lightbulb came on. I grabbed several books from a stack and began reading the first lines of each. After a couple of hours I got back to work and in a matter of minutes I had the opening line I’d struggled so hard to get. And thus was born this humble post of opening lines. Enjoy!




I never knew her in life.

–James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia


It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.

–Julia Spencer-Fleming, In the Bleak Midwinter


Maybe it was the goddamned suit. Tailor-made Italian silk, as light and flimsy as shed snakeskin.

–James Crumley, Bordersnakes


When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

–James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss


The bullets lay in a precise rank on the kitchen table, their brass casings dully reflecting sudden-death-finishthe light from the whaler’s lamp hanging in gimbals overhead: thirty-aught-six extra-velocity bullets, hand loaded and carefully crimped, deadly accurate over a range of more than a thousand yards.

–Tucker Halleran, Sudden Death Finish 


Even in the dim light of the bar, I could see the bruises.

–Jaden Terrell, Racing the Devil


I was in a deep sleep, alone aboard my houseboat, alone in the half-acre of my bed, alone in a sweaty dream of chase, fear, and monstrous predators.

–John D. MacDonald, The Dreadful Lemon Sky                                                       John D. MacDonald


We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.

–John D. MacDonald, Darker than Amber


The ambulance is still miles away when Dana awakens to the near dark of evening.

–Susan Crawford, The Pocket Wife


The headline made me sit down when I read it, that and the picture next to it and the article that spilled out over two columns underneath.

–Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost


Duke Pachinko lay propped against the wall, a dripping red sponge where his face used to be.

–L.A. Morse, The Old Dick                                                      



I slept rather badly the first few nights after Amanda’s murder.

–Richard Vine, Soho Sins


The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun in his hand.

–Mickey Spillane, Vengeance is Mine!


At fifteen minutes past two o’clock that afternoon, Mildred Crest’s world collapsed about her in a wreckage which left her so completely dazed that her mind became numb and her reasoning faculties simply failed to function.

–Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Footloose Doll


Winter came like an antichrist with a bomb.     mcbain-1

–Ed McBain, The Pusher


When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.

–Richard Stark, Firebreak


I was standing on my head in the middle of my office when the door opened and the best looking woman I’d seen in three weeks walked in.

–Robert Crais, Stalking the Angel                              


There you have it, a list of some of my favorite opening lines from mystery and crime novels. What are some of yours? I’d sure love to have you share, so share!  🙂


E. Michael Helms is the author of the Mac McClellan Mystery series, as well as other books ine-michael-helms-headshot other genres. He lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s currently being harassed by Mac, Kate Bell, and other recurring characters who keep harping at him to finish his work-in-progress, Deadly Verse. Visit his website at:

Whaddya Mean You Don’t Like My Protagonist?!

Sound advice from writer/blogger Anne Clare—-

playground 1I first posted this over a year ago, before most of you had joined me here. It seemed worth a revisit, in hopes that the little writing lessons I have learned (sometimes the hard way!) will be useful.  -Anne

Playgrounds are difficult. Supervising three children on our morning excursions leaves me longing for my afternoon coffee.

My eldest is an organizer. Last week she had half a dozen kids using the wood chips that covered the ground as ‘ice cream’ in a makeshift shop, which they ‘sold’ to other children, stashing other wood chips in a hole in the playset for a bank… it was elaborate.

My middle child has followed his big sister around for years, allowing her to run the games. That era seems to be ending. He will still go along, when he wants to, but he is also beginning to assert his independence. He spent most of that…

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UP FRONT by Bill Mauldin: Finding Humor in the Darkness of War

From Anne Clare, “The Naptime Author”

Bill Mauldin

Thus far I’ve lived a quiet life, and I’m thankful for it.

Of course there have been sorrows and troubles. Like every family, we have our ongoing health and relationship struggles that may not end this side of heaven. Still, once I started studying history again, I quickly remembered to be grateful for these.

At least my family has a home.

At least my loved ones can get medical care.

At least I’m not wondering where my next meal is coming from.

At least…

However, living a quiet life and writing about unquiet times proved a challenge. If I were going to try to portray a difficult time- for instance life in the slit trenches and foxholes of the 1940s- how was I to do it well?

I focused on finding books and sources written by people who lived through the conflict. I devoured first-hand accounts, and books which used…

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