Friday, February 12, 2010

Smart Man: Don Helin, thriller author, retired military

We're heading into the final stretch in our defense of romance, with only today and tomorrow left to make our case that "Smart Women (and Men) Read Romance." Speaking of defense, on board is retired army dude Don Helin, who, while not carrying the label of "romance author" per se, is a staunch advocate. Don writes scary, true-to-life thrillers in a military setting. After three tours at the Pentagon, Don claims he had plenty of material for his books.

Make sure to leave comments on this post, because you'll be playing for one of two copies donated by Don of his new spine-tingling thriller, Thy Kingdom Come, as well as a $15 gift certificate to (The second copy of Kingdom will be given away tomorrow.) See my contest page for eligibility rules. If your name is chosen, you must claim your prize by e-mailing me at tjb @ tjbennett . com (no spaces) by February 14, 2010, or I will award it to someone else. Be sure to check back to see if you have won, and let your subject line be the name of the prize.

Ah, but before we do that, let us arm you with more words for your I Heart Romance arsenal.

Your naysaying naysayer says: "Romance novels. Pah. They're all the same, aren't they? They're just so formulaic. Read one, read them all."

Your wise, thoughtful reply: "Well, I guess you could say romance novels follow a formula the way mystery novels follow a formula (solve the crime), or thrillers do (endanger the hero/heroine, thwart the villain), or any other genre of fiction readers pick up and have expectations about. That's how readers know how to find books they will enjoy. Even literary fiction follows certain expectations (reader will be given food for thought and learn something about the human condition, often through the protagonist's failure to achieve a goal, or by his or her demise while attempting to achieve the goal).

However, I beg to differ that all romance novels are the same. There are as many different categories of romances as there are categories of readers to enjoy them. In fact, the annual Romance Writers of America conference hosts an awards ceremony for both published and unpublished authors in order to celebrate excellence in romantic fiction in which a myriad of categories are recognized. These include: Contemporary Series Romance, Contemporary-Single Title Romance, Historical Romance, Inspirational Romance, Novels with Strong Romantic Elements, Paranormal Romance, Regency Romance, Romantic Suspense, and Young Adult Romance. Even amongst these, there are subgenres within them, like multi-cultural romance, or erotic romance.

So, are romance novels all the same? Au contraire, ma petite!"

Take it away, Don!

Don Helin: Smart Men Do Read Romance

I enjoy reading thrillers. That’s why I started writing them. The story moves at a fast pace so it keeps my attention, and it helps divert me from the daily routine swirling around me.

Many authors believe that plot is the most important component in a thriller, but I must respectively disagree. I think that character is most important. Readers must be able to relate to your characters, must care what happens to them. If readers don’t care, your novel risks ending up on a shelf somewhere no matter how breathtaking the plot.

Thrillers are about people in perilous situations. People mean relationships. That’s why I look for romance in a novel. Thrillers without a romantic touch seem sterile to me.

In my novel, Thy Kingdom Come, the protagonist, Colonel Sam Thorpe, is a military guy, a little stiff and conservative, but a nice guy. Sam sees Jackie McCarthy at a meeting of the Pentagon’s anti-terrorist task force and is attracted to her. They are partners on the task force. This keeps the story moving ahead, but adds a love interest.

FBI agent Alex Prescott joins the anti-terrorist task force. I call her a “kick-ass” woman with spiked blond hair and personality to match. She becomes Sam’s link to the Pentagon while he is undercover tracking white supremacists plotting to steal nuclear material to make dirty bombs.

Sam and Alex work closely together in the most stressful of conditions and grow to really like one another. Opposites attract. Sam and Alex are opposites. And of course, Jackie is still on Sam’s radar, although her father has been pushing her toward a state senator from Pennsylvania whom he feels is a more appropriate match.

I was delighted that Thy Kingdom Come received a five-star review (Reviewers Pick) from the romance magazine, Affaire de Ceour. Romance is everywhere in the world today, and that’s why it’s important in a novel, whether the novel is a thriller, mystery, science fiction, or romance.

So the question should be, if you don’t read romance, why not?

Bio: Don Helin is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration from the University of Iowa, and a Masters Degree in Hospital Administration from George Washington University.

During his time in the military, Don spent seven years in the Pentagon. Those assignments provide the background for Don’s suspense/thriller series. Don’s novel, Thy Kingdom Come, tells the story of a group of white supremacists plotting to steal nuclear material to build dirty bombs. His second novel in the Sam Thorpe series, Sons of My Lai, is due out in May 2011.

Don and his wife enjoy sea kayaking, cross-country skiing and bicycling. They recently returned from a dog sledding trip to northern Minnesota.


Carol L. said...

Hi Don,
I agree with you a hundred percent. If I can't relate to the characters, especially the main character, I'll put the book down. That's what takes me through the book, following a character I like and going along for the ride. :)I have 2 sons in Army, one Special Forces, the other a Drill Sgt and both have made it a career but I'm happy to say that as rigid and stern as they can appear, they have a very romantic side indeed. :)
Happy Valentine's day.
Carol L.

Anonymous said...

I agree that characters are important no matter what genre. And I have to say that some romance can definitely add to a thriller or mystery.

Colleen Thompson said...

For me, there's nothing like romance under fire to get the heart pumping. Enjoyed your interview. Thy Kingdom Come sounds terrific!

Jane L said...

Hello! Don from another Minnesota native!! I grew up in Forest Lake!

My husband like when I find"guy" authors at the conventions, who write, thrillers and mysteries and bring them home to him. I think it is great, he never read much, but now he looks forward to the next book, I find for him! The best part is the last one he read was a Barry Eisler book and he told me "hey there is even women in here!" LOL! Ok honey! We will most definately try yours! Thanks!!

Gail Leinweber said...

My father has been reading romances for years. He's a professional computer guy and he started reading them when he needed something character driven that didn't involve computers, and having read and loved some Jane Austen in high school he decided try some historical romances.... He's never looked back.
No matter the genre it's the characters that draw you in and keep you interested and when you start to root for them it can be really nice to see a happy romantic ending.

Unknown said...

I agree with you charactors play a key roll in the book. Also adding romance to the story add to it. I love a good thriller and mystery added to the story.


TJ Bennett said...

Don is having trouble getting into the blog to respond, ladies, but he's definitely reading and enjoying your comments.


The Scarf Princess said...

Great interview! Your book sounds so good and I'm sure you've had plenty of exciting moments in your real life to use for many more books to come.

For me, when reading suspense with romance, it's the romance that adds to the suspense. When love is involved the stakes are higher. You worry more about the characters because you want them to have their HEA.

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

TJ Bennett said...

[I'm posting this for Don, who is being denied access by the comment monster for some reason.]


Hi Everybody: Sorry about the computer glitch. Guess we thriller
writers aren't sometimes as smart as we'd like.

For Carol L. I'm glad to hear about your two military sons. Special Forces soldiers and drill sergeants are special guys. Tough, but definitely with a heart. I'm happy they both have a romantic side when they relax which is sometimes not as often as they'd like.

Thanks, Colleen, for your comment. Romance under fire is what it's all about. An exciting plot pulls the readers in, but characters are what
hold the reader.

For Jane L: Good to hear from another Minnesota native. I grew up in
Minneapolis and actually dated a girl from Forest Lake when I was in
college. Ah, those sweet Minnesota memories.
Your husband has good tastes in thriller writers. I've gotten to know Barry Eisler through International Thriller Writers. He's a great guy and a terrific thriller writer. Hope you husband enjoys Thy Kingdom Come. When he finishes, have him go to my website:
and leave me a note. I'd really appreciate hearing from him. Thanks.

Gail and Virginia: You're both right on. While you need to keep the plot moving, it's really all about character.


Maureen said...

The characters are definitely important. I have to like them and cheer for them to get to their HEA.

chey said...

I agree that the characters are the most important part of the story.

Jane said...

I love thrillers. Congrats on your upcoming release. How many books will there be in this series?

SiNn said...

congrats on the upcoming release I agree About relating to characters If i cnat illtry till i cnat try any more its so awesome to see more and more men write in this genera

Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews said...

Hi Don,

Congrats on the upcoming release and I love the cover!

I believe plot and characters are the most important aspects of the book!

Thanks for the great post and giveaway!