So, without further delay, I'm pleased to introduce you to the very cool, John A. Heldt...
Let me start by telling you what they have in common. Each is a time-travel story set in the 20th century in the Pacific Northwest. Both are character-driven novels that have romance, history, humor, adventure, and protagonists that are reluctant to share their time-traveling secrets with their new acquaintances. But there are differences.
The Mine is first and foremost a romance novel. It is the story of Joel Smith, a cavalier college senior who travels to Yellowstone in May 2000, enters an abandoned mine on a lark, and emerges from that mine in May 1941. With little but his wits to guide his way, he returns to his hometown of Seattle and starts a new life with the help of a group of friends that includes his progressive 21-year-old grandmother and a beautiful, recently-engaged honors student named Grace Vandenberg. Joel possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the 1940s and frequently struggles with how to apply it. He knows Pearl Harbor will affect some of his friends in tragic, irrevocable ways. But he knows he is an interloper in another time and vows to limit his impact on the fate of others, a goal that becomes problematic when he falls in love with Grace.
The Journey is a coming-of-age story. When Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and unfulfilled following the death of her software entrepreneur husband in 2010, she seeks to reconnect with her happy childhood at a class reunion in Unionville, Oregon. But when she explores an abandoned mansion with three classmates, she is thrown back in time to 1979. Distraught and nearly penniless, Michelle finds a job as a secretary at Unionville High, where she guides her spirited younger self, Shelly Preston, and childhood friends through their tumultuous senior year. Along the way, she meets a widowed teacher and finds the happiness she had always sought. But that happiness is threatened when history intervenes and Michelle must act quickly to save those she loves from deadly fates. The Journey is the darker, deeper, and arguably more poignant novel.
How did you come up with the ideas for them?
Several books and movies inspired The Mine, including The Time Traveler's Wife, The Notebook, Back to the Future, A Walk in the Clouds, Yanks, and Racing with the Moon. I was also inspired by stories I had read about the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of my uncles, a construction worker in Honolulu who later served in the Army Air Corps, witnessed the whole thing from his car. Pearl Harbor was, in my opinion, America's defining moment. But I decided at the start that I wanted to approach that moment from a different angle. I wanted to cover the months leading up to December 7 and cover them from the perspective of a civilian time traveler who knew that war was coming and wasn't all that thrilled about jumping into it.
When I finished The Mine, I immediately set out to write a similar work set in a different place and time and quickly settled on a setting I knew well: rural eastern Oregon in 1979 and 1980. It was a much different time, even though it wasn't all that long ago. Kids went to drive-ins and bowling alleys because they didn't have laptops and smart phones. They played records and eight-track tapes, not MP3 files. And the world around them became increasingly complicated and interesting. In the span of just six months, we had a hostage crisis in Iran, the end of a decade, the Miracle on Ice, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Unlike with The Mine, I did very little research for The Journey. I didn't have to. The novel was already etched in my mind.
Writing has always been a part of your life, but did you always know that you wanted to become a novelist?
Yes. Writing a novel has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.
What spurred on the decision to finally sit down and write a novel?
I was inspired by the success of self-published romance novelist Maureen Driscoll, a friend from my college days. She proved that someone completely new to the process could bring a novel to market quickly and fairly painlessly through Amazon.
You now have two amazing books under your belt, which one was the most fun for you to write? Which was the most challenging, and why?
The Mine was the most fun to write because it contained the elements I love most in a novel: history, romance, adventure, and humor. I could have written a book on the romance between Joel and Grace alone. But The Mine was also the most challenging because it was my first novel. When writing this book, I labored to get every word and detail right. I had lengthy, heated debates with my editor over single sentences. Writing The Journey was, by comparison, a piece of cake. I was able to apply all that I had learned from The Mine, and I think the result was a better book.
Of all the characters, who did you enjoy creating? Were there any characters that were tough to create, why?
In The Mine, I most enjoyed creating Joel and Grace, of course, but also Ginny Gillette and Katie Kobayashi. In The Journey, it was Shelly Preston and April Burke. The toughest characters to draw were Scott Richardson and Evelyn Preston in The Journey. Each had good qualities and bad. My challenge was striking the right balance.
Surprisingly, I hear quite often that the book an author is proudest of is not their favorite of their works. Which of your works are you proud of, and is it also your favorite of your works?
That's a tough question. I love both books. I think The Mine is the better story and The Journey is better literature. I am proud of The Mine's commercial success, but I can probably most relate to The Journey. It is the story of my generation.
From first draft to publication, there can be a lot of headaches involved in the process for a writer. What has been a difficult aspect of the publication process for you, and how did you overcome it?
Self-published authors don't have access to the kinds of editing and marketing resources available to authors backed by publishers. We have to fend for ourselves, or at least enlist the assistance of capable friends and family to fill the void. But I don't mind. The extra challenges have made me a better writer and editor.
What do you think has been the biggest influence on your writing? Have there been certain people in your life that have influenced your work? How so?
The biggest influences have been books and movies. I like a good story as much as anyone, no matter how it is told. Several teachers and newspaper colleagues have also influenced my work through the years.
Do you have any habits, or a certain writing process you go through when writing your books?
Yes. I listen to music from the relevant time period. When I wrote The Mine, I immersed myself in music of 1941 and the Big Band Era: Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and others. When I drafted and wrote The Journey, I reacquainted myself with music I had listened to in high school in 1979 and 1980: the Knack, the Cars, Van Halen, Queen, Genesis, even disco. Now that I am writing The Show, I am listening to ragtime as much of the book is set in 1918 and 1919.
Are you an Outliner, or a Panster?
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find a lot in books and movies but also in long walks. There's nothing like a long stroll with the dog on a sunny day to clear a mind or fill it with new ideas.
What are some of your goals as an author?
I would like to put my books in as many hands, Kindles, and Nooks as possible. I derive great satisfaction from knowing that others have enjoyed my works. My ultimate goal as an author, though, would be to sell the rights of one or more of my books to a movie studio. I believe The Mine, in particular, would make an incredible motion picture.
Did you try the traditional publishing route before becoming an Indie author? What motivated you to take on the challenge of going Indie?
I did try the traditional route and will try again at some point. But I don't see a book contract as my ultimate objective. My goal is to write the books I want to write and market them directly to the readers who want to read them. Even some established authors have begun to sell their works directly to their readers. The middleman is slowly becoming obsolete and I think that's a good thing.
And last but not least, are you working on another book now, or what can we expect next from you?
I am currently writing The Show, the third novel in the Northwest Passage time-travel series and the much-anticipated sequel to The Mine. Told almost entirely from Grace Vandenberg's perspective, the book will follow Grace from her heartbreak in 1941 to her reunion with and marriage to Joel in 2000 to her shocking, spirit-crushing trip to 1918 Seattle. She will meet her parents and aunt as young adults, fall in love with another man, and make some gut-wrenching decisions that affect her future.
Thank you, John, for the great interview! If you would like to read more about John and his novels, check out his blog, add his books to your Goodreads list, or snag a copy on Amazon!