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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Author! Author! Interview with: John Heldt

I'm really excited to have the opportunity to interview yet another talented author. Before you get to the interview, find out a little more about John Heldt.

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. THE MINE is his first novel.

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you like to do on your spare time? Where did you grow up and was writing always a part of your life?
I am an Oregon native who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the third oldest in a family of six kids. I have written informally since grade school and professionally since college, when I worked for the school newspaper. But I didn't consider writing fiction until a few years ago. A novel is a major commitment for a married man with three kids and a full-time job. But it is ultimately something I couldn't put off. When I'm not tapping on a keyboard, I'm exercising, fishing, reading, or making beer. I also enjoy long walks with my dog. There's nothing like a long walk in a quiet place to clear a mind of clutter.

Taking a historical event and using it as part of a story isn't new but it can make a certain storyline more believable. What made you pick the planetary alignment of May 2000?
Great question. I picked it because I wanted to start my story in 2000 and it was the most noteworthy celestial event that year. And I wanted to start my story in 2000 because of the symbolic significance of the millennium, the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar (which plays a key role in The Mine), and generational spacing. It was reasonable to believe that a woman born in 1920 could have a 22-year-old grandson (protagonist Joel Smith) in 2000. The timing of the planetary alignment in May 2000 was a stroke of good luck. Joel and his best friend go hiking in Yellowstone three weeks before they graduate from college in Seattle. It's unlikely they would have done that in January. Planetary alignments, furthermore, are no small deal. People throughout history have treated them much like solar eclipses. They have viewed them with awe and alarm. It was the perfect event to activate a time portal and send my protagonist hurtling 59 years into the past.

How much of yourself, if any, did you put into Joel and/or Adam?
There is a bit of myself in both characters. I have Joel's love of history, sports, and irony and a little of Adam's cynicism. But both characters are mostly composites of people I have known since college.

In your opinion, what is the best part of writing? The worst?
The best part is getting it right. Finding the right words for the right situation. Producing something that reads more like poetry than an instruction manual. Reading a passage days, even weeks, after first putting it on paper and knowing that it can’t be improved. The worst is running into a roadblock where no word or phrase seems to work. But I've learned that even the best writers can't produce perfect prose all the time. Sometimes you have to sacrifice elegance to communicate effectively.

Is there anything that people would be surprised to find on your bookshelf?
They would probably be surprised mostly by what I don't have on my bookshelf. I own very few books. I check out books at the library, read them once, and return them. I think I have read maybe two or three books, out of nearly 500 overall, more than once. But one book I own that holds a treasured place in my collection is The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose. Hugh is the son of famed historian and author Stephen E. Ambrose and served as the historical consultant for The Pacific miniseries on HBO. I got to know Hugh through my work and provided minor research assistance for his book, which helped broaden my understanding of World War II and those who fought it.

Have you ever read a book and said "I wish I'd thought of that?"
Nothing comes to mind. I occasionally come across words and phrases that I wish I had used in my own book, but that's about it. I do, however, greatly admire authors who can produce non-fiction works that read like fiction. Jon Krakauer did this with his bestseller Into Thin Air, a first-person account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. And Robert Kurson did it with Shadow Divers, which chronicled the search for a sunken German U-boat off the New Jersey coast. 

What are you working on now?
I am working on a second novel featuring a middle-aged widow who travels back to the time and place of her senior year in high school. She meets and befriends her younger self and has the opportunity to make life changes and influence the fates of others.

What do you think it is about books like The Mine that draw people in? 
Two things come to mind, and they are loosely related. The first is that readers of fiction like to escape. Whether they escape to an exotic place or a distant time doesn't matter. As long as they can leave their current surroundings behind, it is sufficient. That is the beauty of fiction. We get to imagine. We get to dream. And in The Mine, readers get to escape to 1941 and see Seattle, Washington, and other Pacific Northwest venues through the eyes of a modern man. Fans of romance also like . . . romance. Not just the physical interaction between the hero and the heroine, but also the flirtation, the conflicts, and the drama. You know, what our parents and grandparents called courtship. The Mine has plenty of that too. It is a throwback of sorts, a love story set in a simpler time – but a time where the stakes for young men and women entering relationships were enormous.

Favorite movie/tv show?
I don't watch much TV, but two series I watched regularly last season were Pan Am, the drama on ABC, and the new Hawaii Five-O on CBS. 

Is there anything else you'd like people to know?

Thank you John for giving me a few minutes of your time!

Be sure to check back for my review of The Mine.

Get your copy of The Mine at:
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