Kathleen Helms

Local woman publishes first book: “The characters take on a life of their own”

Kathleen Helms of Valley Center has published her first book ever.

By all accounts, the suspense novel “A.I. Smith”is a story that once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put down until its climactic conclusion.

The novel begins with five women paddle boarding on a therapy session on the Carlsbad Lagoon. This peaceful activity becomes deadly when a house on shore is destroyed in an explosion. Within days three of the women are dead and the survivors are on the run from a ruthless killer.

If you want to know what happens next, you’ll just need to read “A.I. Smith.”


That’s what a whole bunch of Kathleen and Brett Holmes friends decided to do. Mrs. Helms and her husband held a reception and book-signing Saturday at their home in the Mac Tan area of Valley Center.

“We sent out invitations to most of the people on my Christmas list. My husband sent some and so did our daughter on Facebook,” said Mrs. Helms.

The reception under a tent included lots of Mexican food, pasta and refreshments. Many people showed up, and she sold and signed 53 copies. Which, for anyone who has ever attended such a book release, is a remarkable number. The party started at 11 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m.  

Mrs. Helms’s adventure in novel writing began when she was laid off from her job. Brett knew that she had a dream of writing a novel.

“He said, take a year off and see what happens,” she recalls. “And so I did.” 

She had written a children’s book before, but it is as yet unpublished.  She had been wanting to write a book for years.

She describes her book as “Suspense. It’s fiction, but it’s timely; having to do with things that are happening right now.” The locations are all real and are places she knows well.

Once she decided to give herself a year to write the novel, she and Brett kicked the story around for a couple of weeks.

“We talked about potential characters,” she said. “I got a white board and sketched it out roughly, I started writing. It came pretty quickly. Perhaps because we had talked about it. It seemed like it was ready to be written.”

It took six months. 

After submitting the manuscript for “A.I. Smith” to about a dozen publishing companies and getting rejected, she decided to look into self-publishing. “Another local writer, LK Magill, helped me to walk through the self-publishing process,” she recalls.  

She spent a year learning the process and figuring out how to use it.

“I’m not the most computer-literate person,” she confesses.

Yet she was eventually able to publish an Ebook and paperback version that you can buy on Amazon or Kindle. She is also looking at publishing a hardback through a different publisher.

Why should a reader pick up her book?

“The characters are compelling,” she says. “The story is timely. It’s a fast moving read. I love that it takes place in this area.”

As many fiction writers have done,  Kathleen Helms came to know her characters as well as actual people.

“When you read from the very beginning, you see that maybe you didn’t know them as well then as you eventually did,” she said. “There is growth for the author as well as for the characters.”

During the writing process, she would read what she had written to Brett when he came home from work.

“Especially with the male character, he would sometimes say, ‘He would never say that!’ The characters take on a life of their own.” 

Sometimes Brett would make suggestions.

“I would say, ‘No way!’ and then I’d think about it and take his suggestion.”

She likes to call theirs a writing partnership. Brett prefers to say,

“I can’t write, but I have good ideas.”  “He is  my number one cold reader, while it’s  in process,” she says.

Her thinking time is when she walks four miles first thing in the morning—which takes her about an hour.

“Then I come home and write what I’m thinking about. That takes anywhere from two to four hours. If I’m doing something else and I think of something I grab the computer and write it down. Sometimes I would be driving and I would stop and write it down. Because it goes away if you don’t.”

The author’s reception was held under a tent. It was very well attended.

When the manuscript was finally done, they set aside a couple of weekends when she read it to him from beginning to end, looking for things to fix. 

During this process, Mrs. Helms learned that she loves writing.

“The idea of writing a novel is big. I’ve learned that for myself personally this is the direction I want to keep going. I can get up in the morning and think and write and have time with my grandkids.”

It was a describable feeling when the first person besides her husband read the book and liked it.

“You are putting yourself out there to be critiqued,” she said. “It gives me goosebumps that so many people enjoyed it. I’m a lifelong reader and for people to tell me they have read it and enjoyed it is pretty amazing!”

She is already working on the next novel. It involves one character from the first book but isn’t a continuation of the same story.

“It’s in the same world, but a completely different topic. It’s more of a mystery than a suspense,” she says. 

What’s her advice for others who dream of writing a book?

“It’s never too late to start,” she says. “I’m not young. I’d just say, ‘go for it. Do it. I always felt I was working full time, raising my kids, wanting to write, never making time for it. If you want to write you should make time for it. Just do it. It’s been so worthwhile for me.” 

The only thing she would ask of her readers is this: “If people read the story and enjoy it, if they would spread the word and recommend it to other people—that would be wonderful.”


View original publication: https://www.valleycenter.com/


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