This week I have the chance to introduce many of you to new author – and I figure what better way to kick off the week then with an interview with the author himself (stay tuned later in the week for two book reviews). John A. Heldt released two books so far in his Northwest Passage series, The Mine and The Journey. His books are historical fiction with the element of time travel mixed in – which adds to an interesting dynamic to the story. I have immensely enjoyed both books so far and look forward to what he has coming out next. Without further ado, please read on for the interview.
You are currently writing a series called the Northwest Passage. Can you tell us why the series is titled this way? Also, how many books are planned to be in the series?
I chose Northwest Passage as the title of the series because the term perfectly describes the location and theme of the books. In each work, the protagonist, a resident of the Pacific Northwest, passes through time or goes through various rites of passage – or both. Most people think of the Northwest Passage as the legendary Arctic sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but my Northwest Passage is both a place and a concept. All five novels in the series will be time-travel, coming-of-age stories set at least partly in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Montana.
What inspired you to writing this series?
The decision to create the series followed the decision to write The Mine. I decided to write The Mine after reading and watching The Time Traveler's Wife in the summer of 2011. I enjoyed both the book and the movie but was motivated more by the possibilities of 20th-century time travel than by that particular story. Within minutes of viewing the movie, I decided to write a novel about a modern man who travels back in time to 1941. I have always considered the attack on Pearl Harbor to be the defining event of the past century. But I decided at the start that I wanted to approach 1941 from a different angle. I wanted to cover the months leading up to December 7 from the perspective of a civilian time traveler who knew that war was coming and wasn't all that thrilled about jumping into it. My protagonist, Joel Smith, wrestles with difficult decisions, the kind that can only confront someone with knowledge of things to come. The protagonists in the later books will confront the same kind of challenges as they move through time.
What has been the most difficult part of the writing/publication process? If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
The most difficult part of the writing process is achieving perfection. It is virtually impossible to write a 75,000- to 100,000-word book and not have a single typo or inconsistency or factual error. But with a capable editor and good beta readers you can come close. The only thing I would do differently a second time, and have done differently with my second and third books, is to pay more attention to marketing. It's one thing to write a decent novel. It's another to bring it to the attention of a large audience. I found the first task much easier than the second.
I read somewhere that you struggled with recognizing that The Mine is essentially a love story. Is that not how you intended the novel to turn out?
You read correctly. I had originally intended to write a coming-of-age story filled with humor, history, and adventure – or something along the lines of a Clive Cussler novel. That changed when Grace entered the picture. I quickly saw the possibilities of the romance between Joel and Grace and decided to make it the focus of the second half of the book. Even so, I strongly resisted the idea of actually marketing The Mine as a romance novel. I had it in my head that a romance was a different kind of book. Then my 17-year-old daughter read an early draft and brought me back to Earth. She said, "Get over it, Dad, it's a romance novel!" Needless to say, she was right.
You say that The Journey is not a direct sequel to The Mine - how would you say it fits into this series and what can we expect from this book?
The Journey is not the sequel, but it is linked to The Mine in Chapter 53. Joel Smith, the 22-year-old protagonist of The Mine, makes a cameo appearance in The Journey as a licorice-chomping two-year-old who runs around a convenience store. Joel will have the unique distinction of being the only character to appear in every book of the Northwest Passage series. The Journey features many of the elements found in The Mine, such as humor, romance, adventure, and serious themes. But it is a different kind of book. It's darker, deeper, and arguably more poignant. It's a novel that means more to me personally because it is the story of my generation, which came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike with The Mine, I did very little research for The Journey. I didn't have to. I lived through that time. The novel was already etched in my mind.
Can you tell us a little about what you are currently working on?
Please note that there are some spoilers in the response to this question regarding outcomes from The Mine (book 1 in the series). I have written the answers in white – if you want to read it, highlight the missing section, otherwise skip forward.
I am currently writing The Show, the third novel in the 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. I plan to publish it in March or April.
When you don't have your writing hat on, what do you like to do with your time?
I read a lot, of course, but I also brew my own beer and enjoy fishing, biking, and walking the dog. I get some of my best ideas on long walks.
John A. Heldt is a reference librarian who lives and works in Montana. The former award-winning sportswriter and newspaper editor has loved reading and writing since writing book reports on baseball heroes in grade school. A graduate of both the University of Oregon and University of Iowa, he is an avid fisherman, sports fan, home brewer, and reader of thrillers and historical fiction.
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