Newspaper article from the Record Star Newspaper dated December 19,2008
For most people, spraying a garage down with pesticides in order to get rid of some ants is a menial and undesirable task. For 46-year-old Mike Hellums, however, doing just that led him onto a path he never expected, that of a children's book author.
Mike, a lifelong resident of Robstown who graduated from Robstown High School in 1980, is the author of two children's books: "The Adventures of Butterbean and the King" and "The Tale of the Crown Jewels." Both belong to a planned trilogy for a series he never expected to write.
The overall story is about a pair of two young ants, Butterbean and the King, who set out on an adventure to find out why all ant mounds are ruled by queen ants, as well trying to discover what happened to the last king of the ants. The third book, "The Tale of the Dust Devil," is currently in the works.
Mike shakes his head in disbelief as he thinks back to how close he came to leaving the story of Butterbean and the King untold.
"I had this story in the back of my head that I had to write down and I wrote it down in two spiral notebooks," Mike says with a smile of fond recollection. "I ended up throwing the two spiral notebooks on top of my closet."
Mike, who has two sons, Miles and Mason, with his wife of 21 years, Marilyn, said he forgot all about the notebooks until last January, when his wife found them and encouraged him to finish the story.
A few months later, Mike had a book deal with a publisher, as well as an illustrator, Malachy Mckinney, who is currently a student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. All of it has come at Mike so fast he still feels a sense of disbelief about his luck, particularly since he never really cared for writing or reading as a teenager.
"I never was really interested in English - it was not my favorite subject," Mike says as he begins to laugh at the statement. "Now, 28 years later, as an author, I wish I'd paid a little more attention in school."
Despite not having any college education, Mike says he is fortunate to have an imagination many of his close friends and family have dubbed "Mikey's World." It was that imagination that led to the creation of Butterbean and the King in the first place.
"I've been a parts manager at Nueces Power and Equipment for 20 years and a lot of the employees and co-workers just jokingly call me "the King," I guess 'cause I've been there so long," Mike says with a good-natured smile that shows a youthful side to the middle-aged father of two.
"We had a gentleman who worked for us named George, who's also from Robstown, and George was a little heavyset guy we called "Butterbean," Mike says, his speech beginning to quicken, as though this is a story he enjoys telling when given the chance.
"About nine or 10 years ago, one afternoon I asked George, who was waiting at the time clock, and I asked George if he was the only one here, and he said, 'Yeah, it's just me and you - Butterbean and The King.' And I said, 'You know what? One of these days I'm going to write a story called 'The Adventures of Butterbean and The King,'" Mike says.
The idea bounced around his head over the next few years, until about two years ago, when an army of insect invaders made the proverbial light bulb go on.
"A couple of years ago, I was spraying ants in the garage and I realized that Butterbean and the King were two ants, and the story hit me," Mike says as he looks down at the two first-print copies of his books.
Never one to forget his roots, Mike said he has centered the third "Butterbean and the King" book around his hometown of Robstown and parts of Corpus Christi.
"So my story wouldn't be just designated here, I actually changed the setting of Robstown to Pickerville, so I could throw the Cotton Pickers in there somehow," Mike says with a flash of pride only a hometown native could muster. "Then, we're going to have the Nueces River and the (Corpus Christi) area, there.
"I've changed the names a little bit, but once somebody reads the story, they're going to be able to tell exactly where I'm from because the story is going to kind of take place right here."
For Mike, who still lives in Robstown with his family, ending the story in the town of Pickerville, where it all started, is the perfect way to bring the story of Butterbean and the King around full circle.