Hello! I’ve had a chance to correspond with author John A. Heldt and ask him a few questions! I’ve posted my interview with him below. John wrote “The Mine” and other works. You can find his amazon page here.
C.: So, how are you today?
John: Great. I couldn’t be better.
C.: Tell me a little about when you started writing? What inspired your first book? Was it hard for you to finish?
John: I started writing in the first grade and haven’t stopped. But I didn’t write professionally until I landed a newspaper job a year out of college and didn’t take up novel writing until June 2011. That was the month that I read The Time Traveler’s Wife and watched a college friend achieve success as a self-published novelist. That’s all it took to get me going. Within days I began work on a manuscript. I published The Mine, a time-travel romance, eight months later. Like most first novels, it was a chore. I had to learn everything from scratch. But completing it was one of the best experiences of my life.
C.: Are you working on anything currently? If so, what is it about?
John: I am currently working on my sixth novel and the first in the American Journey series. September Sky will follow an unemployed reporter and his college-age son from 2016 Los Angeles to 1900 Galveston, the time and place of one of the deadliest hurricanes in history. Like the time-travel novels of the Northwest Passage series, September Sky will feature history, romance, adventure, and several points of view.
C.: I reviewed your book The Mine. Do you have any funny stories about when you were writing that book?
John: Yes. When I was writing Chapter 34, describing Joel and Grace’s first date, at a minor-league baseball game, I asked my daughter Amy, then seventeen, to provide a female perspective on dating. She thought Grace fell for Joel far too quickly and read me the riot act. I went back to the drawing board, reworked that part of the story, and produced what is arguably the best chapter in the Northwest Passage series.
C.: What is your writing process like?
John: I write best and most when I am free from distractions. That is usually late at night or very early in the morning. I consult a chapter-by-chapter outline I have constructed in advance and try to turn out five to seven pages a day.
C.: Do you sometimes struggle with writing? How do you get back into it when you are?
John: I almost always struggle with writing. Storytelling comes easily. Great prose does not. I struggle with every sentence and occasionally obsess over a single word.
C.: Do you have any habits or tricks that help keep you writing? (For example: I set random word count goals for myself, and then take glee in smashing them.)
John: I challenge myself to write at least a chapter a day. If I go a day without writing, I push myself to write two the next. Stephen King recommended in a Business Insider interview last month that writers complete their first draft in three months. I think that’s a reasonable goal, even if you write a long book.
C.: On average how much do you write on a ‘good day’? How much on an ‘insane day’? What about an average day? Do you subscribe to the ‘write 350 words a day’ rule?
John: On the days I actually write, I average 2,500 to 3,000 words. Sometimes I go slower, sometimes faster. I wrote the first draft of The Show, my 92,000-word third novel, in thirty-five days.
C.: Do you plot out your books or do you have a rough sketch and fill in the details as you go?
John: I plot my books in considerable detail, chapter by chapter. It’s the only way I know how to create something as large and complicated as a modern novel.
C.: If you plot things out, how detailed do you go in the plotting stage?
John: I go into great detail. Some chapter summaries are more than 500 words long.
C.: What is your favorite story you’ve written?
John: My favorite story is The Mine. My best book is The Mirror.
C.: What do you like to read?
John: I don’t read as much as I used to, but when I do I turn to historical fiction, thrillers, and classics.
C.: Who is your favorite author?
John: Vince Flynn.
C.: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
John: I get the most satisfaction out of beginning and ending chapters. They are the parts where you hook the readers. Much of the rest is conveying information.
C.: What is your least favorite part of the writing process? (I hate editing. Oh, man, I hate it.)
John: I don’t like proofing final drafts. It’s a joyless, time-consuming process that usually ends in disbelief. (I missed that?) I tend to like editing. As a former editor, I actually prefer that to writing.
C.: What is the most annoying thing non-writers say to you when you tell them you’re a writer? (If I hear ‘Man, I wish I had time to write’ one more time…)
John: I honestly can’t think of anything. Many non-writers are surprised that I would spend so much time on something that brings so little financial reward, but I don’t consider that annoying.
C.: What is the most helpful thing non-writers say to you when you tell them you’re a writer? (For Example: I’ve had people point me at marketing websites, or just give general in encouragement. One time I even had someone suggest ‘an emotional wall’ to me.)
John: They are most helpful when they ask questions about the books. I learn a lot about my readership and potential readership by listening to non-writers.
C.: What is the number one advice you would give someone who has decided they want to write?
John: Write every day and write what you enjoy. Don’t worry about what others say. Just do it.
C.: What advice would you give someone who has decided they want to write for a living?
John: Be prepared for a lot of work. It’s one thing to write a book. It’s another thing to sell it in a market where several hundred thousand new titles are released each year. Put as much effort into marketing as you do into writing or you won’t succeed.
C.: What was/is your backup plan if this writing thing doesn’t pan out?
John: I’m in a good place now. I have a working wife who supports my “hobby.”
C.: Who are you outside of writing? What are your hobbies?
John: I like to fish, go on long walks, ride my mountain bike, make homemade beer, and collect memorabilia. Like a lot of American men, I also like to watch football.
C.: What do you take from your hobbies and add to your writing?
John: I take from my hobbies what I take from the other parts of my life: experiences that can be used in my books. There are several scenes in The Journey, in particular, that were inspired by experiences in my high school years.
C.: What is best in life?
John: The best things in life are the simple things: eating a good meal, watching your child succeed, greeting your dog, kissing your wife, catching a fish. Sometimes as humans we forget what’s important. I try my best to remember what is.