An interview with John Helfers

Written by / Interviews

Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing John Helfers.

John Helfers is an author and editor currently living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. During his eighteen years working for Martin H. Greenberg at Tekno Books, he edited more than twenty short story anthologies for DAW and oversaw the production of more than two hundred others for other publishers in all genres. He has also worked with well-known authors and co-editors such as Lawrence Block, Charlaine Harris, John Jakes, Anne Perry, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Connelly, Walter J. Boyne, Harold W. Coyle, Mercedes Lackey, Margaret Weis, Kevin J. Anderson, and Max Allan Collins.

He's written both fiction and nonfiction, including the final novel in the first authorized trilogy based on The Twilight Zone™ television series, the YA novel Tom Clancy's Net Force Explorers: Cloak and Dagger, and a history of the United States Navy. The Vorkosigan Companion, a guide to the SF world of Lois McMaster Bujold co-edited with Lillian Stewart Carl, was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award in the Best Related Book category. The Shadowrun anthology Spells & Chrome won the 2011 Origins Award for Best Related Book. He is currently the President of Stonehenge Art & Word, a literary property management company that works with such authors as Mercedes Lackey and Esther Friesner, and such writer's organizations as the Mystery Writers of America.

The author can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn:


- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?

John Helfers: I’ve been working in publishing for more than twenty years now, and got my start by a huge stroke of good fortune/luck/karma/fate, when I attended the same college where the eminent anthologist and book packager Martin H. Greenberg was teaching while building his book business on the side. After a protracted (more than six months) interview process, I started working for him during my junior year, and continued doing so until 2010, when I became a full time freelance writer and editor.

I currently live with my spouse and three cats in Green Bay, Wisconsin—hardly the place where one would think a book packager would set up shop, I know—and have done just about everything in the business; published more than 20 novels (but only three under my own name), published more than 50 short stories in a variety of anthologies and magazines, written nonfiction books and articles, including a history of the U.S. Navy, written and edited game sourcebooks, and worked with New York Times-bestselling authors on more than 150 created novels and anthologies.

Along with writing, I am the Novel Line Developer for Catalyst Game Labs, where I overseeing the creation of new novels in the Shadowrun and Battletech game universes. I also do freelance novel and nonfiction editing as well.

- How did you become interested in speculative fiction?

JH: I was always interested in reading, even before I can remember—my mother often tells the story of when I came up to her at three years old and asked what the word “astronomy” meant, which I’d read off a cereal box. With that sort of auspicious beginning, it seemed that spending my life around books and the written word was almost preordained.

I read voraciously throughout grade- and middle-school, but it was in high school when two things happened that shaped the rest of my life: I discovered role-playing games and the first Dragonlance trilogy, and was hooked from that point on.

- What are your favourite authors and books?

JH: Alas, my work schedule doesn’t give me a whole lot of reading time, so I have to fall back on classic fantasy stories that continue to resonate with me over the years: C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain novels, and The Hobbit, which is what I consider the perfect bedtime adventure story to read to children. On the science fiction side, there’s Neuromancer by William Gibson, and the Miles Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold. Currently I’m finally wrapping up the original seven novels in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series—a bit late to the party, I know, and look forward to George R.R. Martin wrapping up his Song of Ice and Fire series so I can finish reading those as well.

- You've written a few novels over the years. Could you tell us something about them?

JH: The majority of the novels I’ve written have been pseudonymous tie-in novels written for Gold Eagle in their various action-adventure lines, including the long-running Mack Bolan and Deathlands series. Recent changes caused by HarperCollins acquiring Harlequin have shuttered some of those lines, but I hold out hope that they’ll find a new home elsewhere. I got immense pleasure in writing novels in the same lines that I grew up reading, and tried to tell stories that were at least as good as the ones I remembered from my own youth.

Other novels, the few with my name on them, are a bit more varied, and consist of Warlock: The Great Mage Game, my first computer tie-in game novel that was based on the Warlock II game by Paradox Games, Shadows of the Khan, a novel set in the Golem Arcana game by Harebrained Schemes, and Siege of Night and Fire, my first original fantasy novel, which will be re-released in electronic and print-on-demand later this year.

- Are you planning on writing new novels in the near future?

JH: Yes, my very next project will be the first wholly original novel-length fiction I’ve written in more than ten years. It’s part of a multi-author shared urban paranormal world that will be published by Silence in the Library, and I’m fortunate to be working with Kelly Swails and Aaron Rosenberg, both very talented authors, in bringing this new fictional world to life.

My novel is currently called Revenant’s Revenge, and is about a professional criminal who stumbles upon the paranormal population of Detroit after his most recent job goes very, very wrong. I’m excited about diving into original fiction again, and though this will be my first novel written entirely in first person, which is a bit daunting, I’m also looking forward to the challenge.

- You've edited many different kind of anthologies. What inspired you to edit anthologies?

JH: I kind of fell into the role of anthology editor, after I accidentally gave Marty an idea for an anthology after mishearing a title of one of our other projects. After that, I wanted to try my hand at putting a book together, and that became Black Cats and Broken Mirrors, anthology of short stories about superstitions. From that point on, I was selling one to two volumes a year to DAW Books and other publishers on subjects as varied as alien abductions to knights and warriors. Recently, I’ve been helping to edit the Valdemar anthologies, set in Mercedes Lackey’s fantasy world, as well as co-editing the latest Chicks in Chainmail volume with Esther Friesner.

- You'll soon be editing a fantasy anthology called Champions of Aetaltis. What kind of an anthology is it? What can readers expect from it?

JH: Champions of Aetaltis is a heroic fantasy anthology based on the fantasy world of Aetaltis, created by Marc Tassin. Each original story is set in Aetaltis itself, and will feature adventure and fantasy stories written by some of the best writers working today, including Ed Greenwood, Michael A. Stackpole, Elaine Cunningham, Mel Odom, Jean Rabe, Richard Lee Byers, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, and many others.

I’d known Marc was working on a fantasy world for some time, but I first got a look at it when he hired me to edit the Pathfinder-compatible sourcebook The Heroes of Thornwall. Once I saw the breadth of his vision for the world itself, and how he wanted to bring both it and the stories around it to players, readers, and fans, I wanted to get more involved, and the anthology is a great way for me to do just that.

- What is the target audience of this anthology?

JH: With Aetaltis, Marc set out to create a fantasy world that took the classic tropes of fantasy fiction—honor, courage, loyalty, the struggle of good versus evil—and updated them to resonate with today’s readers. Ultimately, any reader who loves a great adventure fantasy story featuring unique, fully-realized characters in strange and wondrous settings will love the stories in this anthology.

- How many stories will be in this anthology?

JH: Currently there are eighteen stories planned, however, if we reach one of our Kickstarter stretch goals, the anthology would be opened to submissions from anyone interested in creating their own story set in Aetaltis. I always enjoy finding new authors, so it would be fantastic to have someone from the gaming/fantasy writing world at large join this stellar anthology.

- Is there anything you'd like to add?

JH: The Champions of Aetaltis Kickstarter is still going on (at, so please take a look. You can also discover more about Aetaltis at I can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as at