Tuesday, October 16, 2012

John Heldt, The Mine

AUTHOR: John A. Heldt
PUBLISHER: John A. Heldt

Barnes & Noble: 
Why don't you start with telling us a little about yourself? What genre do you write in and why?

I am an Oregon native, a married father of three, and a former award-winning journalist who has worked the past dozen years as a reference librarian. I have enjoyed writing since the first grade but never seriously considered writing a novel until a few years ago. I figured I would never have the time for such a project until retirement. But the success of a friend, the romance novelist Maureen Driscoll, as a self-published author inspired me to give it a go in 2011. The genre question is a little more difficult to answer. I never set out to be a romance novelist. I set out to be a storyteller whose books included a romantic element. But I've since learned that to succeed in fiction writing you have to give more than lip service to genres. Readers are creatures of habit and tend to favor books with similar themes. As a new author, I'm still trying to discover my niche. But I can tell you that I will create future works with the romance and historical fiction genres in mind.

Tell me about your current book which you are promoting.

THE MINE is difficult to categorize. It has humor, history, adventure, romance, drama, and serious themes. It is the story of Joel Smith, a cavalier college senior who road trips 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 he 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 MINE is a book that entertains, but it is also one that prompts readers to think and ask some big questions.

What got you interested in writing, and what inspired you to write your first book?
I became interested in writing in grade school. My teachers liked to hand out book report assignments and I liked completing them. My interest in written assignments continued through high school and into college, where I majored in journalism and eventually began a career as a newspaper reporter. But I was not inspired to actually write my first novel until the summer of 2011. I saw a new, fairly trouble-free path to publishing (with e-books) and took it. I decided to write THE MINE after watching The Time Traveler's Wife. I had already read the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. I enjoyed both but was motivated more by the possibilities of 20th-century time travel than that particular story.
Do you outline before you write? If not, what’s your initial process?

I outlined the basic plot of THE MINE in five minutes in June 2011 and then spent the next month writing chapter summaries. By the time I wrote the first eight chapters in August, I knew where 99-percent of the story was going. But even after I completed a rough draft in late October, I made subtle changes to the plot. I admire authors who can write without elaborate outlines and simply create a story as they go along. That takes serious talent. But there are obvious advantages to working out the particulars in advance. I cannot imagine producing something as complex as a novel any other way.

What comes first: the plot or the characters?

The plot comes first. I consider it the seed of any story. The characters and the rest grow from that seed. The storyline of THE MINE changed little during the eight months I worked on the book. But the characters continually evolved.

Which of your characters do you love/hate/fear/pity the most and why?

Most of the characters are easy to love. Joel and Grace, of course, stand apart. Though they are extraordinarily attractive and intelligent, they do not abuse what God gave them. Both are kind and generous toward others and learn from their mistakes. Ginny and Tom, on the other hand, are just plain fun. They wear their vices on their sleeves but are nonetheless appealing because they, too, are kind-hearted. Other than the street thugs who pester Tom and Joel, there are no characters in the book worthy of hate or fear. My primary characters are good people who struggle with a variety of problems. The only ones I pity are the siblings Paul and Linda McEwan. They both deserve a better outcome in this story. They play life by the rules and still come out on the short end. The other character who deserves mention is Katie, the Japanese American coed. She is by far the most inspiring of the lot and the only character whose role changed significantly after I began writing. Originally a bit player, she becomes an instrumental character at the end.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The most challenging part of writing THE MINE was describing a world I had never seen. I had been to all of the Pacific Northwest places mentioned in the book but none in 1941. A writer can only accomplish so much through research. Nineteen forty-one was also a difficult year to write about because it was a transitional year. It was technically not part of the Depression or, from the U.S. standpoint, World War II. America had emerged from the hard times of the 1930s and was still at peace, even though the prospect of war hung over the nation like a storm cloud. The fashions, speech, music, art, and even the politics of that year represented both decades to a certain degree.
Did your book require a lot of research? How long does it take to write a book for you?

I spent a lot of time researching the 1940s. I went through books, microfilmed newspapers, college yearbooks, oral histories, archival web sites, and even memorabilia from collectors. When I needed to know whether a person could fly from Seattle to Montana commercially on December 7, 1941, I found an answer from a man in Sweden who collected old flight schedules. I decided early on that I wanted THE MINE to be as historically accurate as possible, so I made few compromises. In one scene, in July 1941, I wanted "Chattanooga Choo Choo" to stream out a car radio. But the song did not hit the airwaves until later that year, so I substituted another song. I even considered what wildflowers to mention in another scene that month at Mount Rainier National Park. It seems the park has two distinct growing periods between mid-July and mid-October and different plants bloom at different times. A park ranger provided helpful information. I needed eight months to outline, write, and revise THE MINE.

What are some of the challenges in your writing process?

The biggest challenge is getting it right. I don't want to settle for acceptable prose when great prose is within reach. I want to find the right words for every scene and produce something that reads more like poetry than an instruction manual. I want to read a passage days, even weeks, after typing it on a screen and know that it can't be improved. For some writers, this comes easily. For me, it does not. Getting it right means revisiting a chapter many times and exploring new ways to make it better.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like to walk the dog, fish, camp, work out, and make my own beer. I've been doing that for almost five years now and can turn out decent pale ales and stouts. I'm also a big sports fan and follow a number of Northwest football, baseball, and basketball teams.
What books or authors have influenced your writing?

I have favored the works of Vince Flynn, Nelson DeMille, Ken Follett, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and Dean Koontz for years.

What so you see for the future of publishing and e-books?
I like e-books, for two reasons. First, they are convenient. People can store entire libraries on a Kindle or a Nook. Second, they are helping to break down barriers in the publishing industry. Writers with interesting stories are now able to bring them to market quickly, to the benefit of all. As a reader, I still favor the look and feel of paper. But I recognize that times are changing. I expect it won't be long before e-books become the norm.
What is your marketing plan?

The biggest part of my marketing plan was to work with bloggers. When you don't have access to the marketing department of a large publishing house, you have to seek other avenues for promotion. Fortunately, there are many thoughtful people in the blogosphere who love reading and promoting independently published books. And because THE MINE represents a number of genres, I was able to credibly market the book to people representing a wide variety of tastes. I also made extensive use of email to family and friends and social media sites. I knew that if people liked my work, they would use these vehicles to spread the word to others.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Don't put off any project. Jump in. Listen to those who've succeeded and to those who've failed. You can learn from both. But in the end, write the story you want to write. Don't let the critic overrule the artist.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

I have a personal blog at: http://johnheldt.blogspot.com/

I can also be found on Goodreads at:


Joel mourned his loss for five minutes. Never a fan of pity parties, he quickly accepted his predicament as permanent and regrouped. He did not know what he would do or where he might go, but he would not dwell on things he could not change.
He headed south on Gold Mine Road, toward the highway, and tried to figure out his next move. He had just twenty-five spendable cents and the shirt on his back. But he also had marketable skills and a gift that defied valuation: knowledge of things to come.
Because he had fully and, in hindsight, naively, expected to return to 2000 when he revisited the mine, Joel had not thought much about using that knowledge. He had focused exclusively on getting back home. But now that he was stuck in 1941, he gave the matter its due. And given the gravity of the times, there was a lot to consider.
With the possible exception of the Japanese high command, Joel alone knew that war was coming to the United States. He knew that thousands of placid American towns like Helena would soon send their boys to fight in places like Guadalcanal, Anzio, and Omaha Beach. He knew that goods and services would be rationed for years and that wondrous technological and medical advancements were on their way. He knew that Whirlaway was about to win the Triple Crown and that Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were headed for banner seasons. This knowledge could be both a blessing and curse. He could enrich himself and benefit others. Or he could muck things up for multitudes.
Joel recalled "A Sound of Thunder," a short story he had read in high school. In the work by Ray Bradbury, a twenty-first-century hunter traveling back in time to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex had subtly but profoundly altered the future by literally leaving his footprint on the past. It would not take much to make a mess of things. For that reason, he would have to weigh every word and action carefully.


In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

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