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Arts & Performance

17 Novels Into His Mystery Series, Asheville Writer Grumbles Past Mystery of Becoming Published

Matt Peiken | BPR News

It’s a Tuesday night at the Battery Park Book Exchange, and three authors have shown up to this meeting of the Western North Carolina Mysterians.

It’s a critique group for local mystery writers and Michael Havelin, the group’s founder, is in the hot seat.

“So I think your prologue is too long. It’s sort of like an infodump,” one Mysterian tells Havelin. “And then a lot of the stuff in chapter --”

“Well, you know, you say that to me every time,” Havelin says. “Wait til we get to your stuff.”

It isn’t easy for any creative to accept criticism, let alone absorb it, but Havelin seems particularly defensive.

“If one person says something to you about your work, that’s their opinion,” he said in a conversation days after the Mysterians meeting.

“If two people say something about your work and they agree on it, that may be two opinions but it might be a coincidence,” he said. “If three people say something, you might want to pay attention, because they’re probably right.”

Havelin just turned 75 but his creative output shows no signs of slowing. In addition to poems he says number in the hundreds, Havelin has just produced his 17th in a series of genealogical mystery novels featuring the detective Ben Bones—this one titled “Ben Bones and the Uncivil War.”

Havelin is reading from the novel 3pm July 13 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.

Havelin’s novels are all self-published—as much an act of stubborn self-reliance as creative survival.

“I don’t care about the gatekeepers anymore,” he said. “I’m independently fierce, in some ways. but at the same time, I was getting older and I wasn’t going to sit around and not be published.”

Havelin grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., and his path to an author of genealogical mysteries is long and winding. Over the years, he played guitar in a rock band, earned a law degree, worked as a diving instructor, a sign-language interpreter and taught at a community college. He also married three times.

His interest in nature photography first brought him to Asheville 30 years ago. He went on to publish a pair of niche magazines from his office in the Flatiron Building, and he stepped into writing to accompany the freelance photography he produced for magazines.

“I’d always wanted to be a writer. I grew up in a family that always valued the word,” he said. “When you’re young, you may want to write, but you don’t have anything to say. You don’t have life experience to back up what you’re trying to get at. Now, you can’t shut me up. I have opinions about everything.”

Credit Matt Peiken | BPR News
Michael Havelin (right) and others at a meeting of the WNC Mysterians.

Havelin said a fellow member of Mensa inspired his interest in genealogy. In his fiction, genealogy proves not so much a focus as a vehicle, Havelin said, to explore greed and other human foibles.

“Realizing that genealogists were essentially historical detectives, I said this is going to be a great character for fiction,” he said. “Ben Bones, as I think with many writers, the main character that may run in a series might be a projection of oneself.”

Havelin’s hubris as an author matches his contempt for industry professionals who have passed him by, but there are also traces of humor about his more humbling moments over the past few decades. While once browsing eBay, he was chagrined to find a personally signed copy of one of his books listed for pennies.

“It bothers me that I’m doing good work and nobody’s recognizing it,” he said. “I’ve been looking all my life for an honest sociopath to represent me, and I haven’t found that person. If I’m discovered later and thought of as a latter-day Ambrose Bierce type in my writing, that’ll be fine and, of course, I won’t know about it.”


NOTE: The audio version of this story incorrectly states Havelin once worked as a driving instructor. He worked as a dive master.

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