I am a former newspaper editor and current librarian who turned to fiction writing two years ago. I had a bucket list, and writing a novel was item No. 1. I published The Mine in February 2012, The Journey in November, and The Show last month. They are the first three novels in my series of time-travel romances. The Show is the sequel to The Mine and a story told mostly from the point of view of The Mine‘s heroine, Grace Vandenberg.
How does this book differ from your previous two?
The Show features more time travel, for one thing. Grace, a 21-year-old college senior and the orphaned daughter of missionaries, moves from 1941 to 2000 and then to 1918. Her life is about as settled as a china cabinet in an earthquake. The Show is also my longest book, arguably the best written, and the one that takes the most chances. Unlike Joel Smith, her boyfriend and the protagonist of The Mine, Grace does not feel compelled to leave the past alone. She acts on a whim throughout the book, following her heart and not her head. Joel is just the opposite. That said, The Show is very similar to The Mine. They are two halves of the same story. The Journey, on the other hand, is completely unrelated to the other books, even though all are part of the Northwest Passage series.
What is the most challenging part about writing? What is the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of writing is finding the right words for every scene. Sometimes those words just don’t come. When that happens, I go with clarity over elegance. If writers do nothing else, they must communicate their points. The most rewarding part, not surprisingly, is finding the right words. I love it when I can produce a chapter that reads more like poetry than an instruction manual and still convey my message.
Do you consider your books a particular genre or do you try to create a cross-genre appeal?
My books are classified as time-travel romances and historical fiction, but I’ve written all three with a general audience in mind. The downside of this approach is obvious. Readers who stick to particular genres are often reluctant to try something new. Though the Northwest Passage books contain romance, they are not romance novels in the strictest sense. They are books with love stories and timeless messages. The upside of going this route is that I have been able to reach readers of all ages, backgrounds, and reading tastes.
How do you choose which historical settings to use in your books? Do you have a favorite time period you like to explore?
I look for times and places that best fit the themes of the series. In each of the Northwest Passage books, a modern-day protagonist travels back to a critical moment in the twentieth century and meets ancestors that are still fresh in his or her memory. Joel Smith of The Mine arrives in 1941 a few months before Pearl Harbor is attacked and meets his grandmother as a young woman. Michelle Preston Richardson of The Journey returns to her senior year of high school, when the Iran hostage crisis and Mount St. Helens are in the news, and meets her younger self. Grace Vandenberg Smith of The Show travels to 1918 and the time of the Spanish flu, World War I, and labor unrest. She meets her parents as young, single adults. My next two books will set in 1910, the year of the Great Fire and Halley’s Comet, and 1964, when the Civil Rights movement, the Beatles, and Vietnam made headlines. I look for historical settings that are important to the story I want to tell. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the World War II era. It’s hard to beat that time as a source of inspiration.
What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
I liked social studies, reading, and writing. I did not care for math and science, with a few exceptions. My ninth grade science instructor taught a unit on meteorology. I loved that.
Do you have any odd writing habits?
None come to mine. That’s one area where I’m fairly normal 😉
What is the best advice you have received about writing?
Probably the best advice I received was to write now, not later. I had always planned to write my first novel when I was retired. But I’m glad I chose not to wait. A friend also once told me to write what I want to write – not necessarily what I think others want to read. That is great advice for any author. When you write what you want to write, your work has authenticity. There is no substitute for that.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the fourth book of the series, The Fire, where Kevin Johnson, the 22-year-old son of Shelly Preston Johnson of The Journey, will travel from 2013 to Wallace, Idaho in 1910. He will see Halley’s Comet, fall in love, and experience the largest wildfire in U.S. history. I hope to publish that book by the end of this year.
What important question have we forgotten to ask?
I have a blog at: http://johnheldt.blogspot.com
THE MINE: 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.
THE JOURNEY: Seattle, 2010. When her entrepreneur husband dies in an accident, Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and directionless. She yearns for the simpler days of her youth, before she followed her high school sweetheart down a road that led to limitless riches but little fulfillment, and jumps at a chance to reconnect with her past at a class reunion. But when Michelle returns to Unionville, Oregon, and joins three classmates on a spur-of-the-moment tour of an abandoned mansion, she gets more than she asked for. She enters a mysterious room and is thrown back to 1979.
Distraught and destitute, 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 widowed teacher Robert Land and finds the love and 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. Filled with humor and heartbreak, THE JOURNEY gives new meaning to friendship, courage, and commitment as it follows an unfulfilled soul through her second shot at life.
THE SHOW: Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.