John Heldt is the self-published author of The Mine, The Journey, The Show and now The Fire, all books in his Northwest Passage series about time travel. Every single one of his books has a fascinating combination of history, romance and humour. Read on to see John and I discuss writing emotional scenes, researching and a possible continuation of his originally planned five book series.
1. There are some very emotional scenes in The Fire. How do you as a writer strike a balance between touching and melodramatic?
I enlist the help of others, that’s how. What is just right for one person may be too sappy or too dry for others. By getting the perspectives of beta readers representing both genders and a variety of ages, I’m usually able to determine whether an emotional scene needs to be rewritten or left as is.
2. Of all the places you could have set your novel, why Wallace in 1910?
Once I decided to write a novel about the Great Fire of 1910, I didn’t really have a choice. Wallace was literally at the center of the storm. Later, when I started researching the town, I realized that it was the perfect choice. Despite having less than four thousand residents, Wallace had it all: schools, banks, saloons, theaters, brothels, train depots, newspapers, Gilded Age mansions, and a thriving social scene. It was a town that perfectly showcased the best and worst of the Edwardian Era.
3. In our interview before The Show was released you said you basically had a different favourite character for every novel. Who was your favourite character in this latest installment?
Sadie is my favorite, by a country mile. Though Kevin is the protagonist, Sadie carries The Fire. She really does. She is the most interesting character in the book and by far the most engaging. Sadie is smart, funny, kind, and endearingly clueless. She’s a scrappy small-town girl who constantly strives to improve not only her own lot but also the lot of others. There’s frankly a lot to like.
4. Can you give us any hints about the fifth and last book in your Northwest Passage series? Have you even written it yet?
The fifth book, which may or may not be the last in the series, is already on the drawing board. I expect to finish an outline of the novel in October and begin writing in November. In this book, Ginny and Katie Smith, the 19-year-old twin daughters of Joel and Grace Vandenberg Smith, will travel from 2020 to 1964 Seattle and experience everything from the Civil Rights movement to the Beatles and meet Virginia Gillette Jorgenson, their great-great-grandmother and a beloved character from The Mine.
5. What was doing the research for your novel like? Was it very intensive or did you already know quite a bit about the time period?
Researching Wallace and the world of 1910 was incredibly time-consuming but very enjoyable. One of the things I like most about writing this series is immersing myself in an era that’s not my own. I knew many things about the early 1900s from writing The Show, which is set mostly in 1918 and 1919, but I still had to consult dozens of books, newspapers, online sources, and subject experts to get a complete picture of the time. What I found, in the case of Wallace and the Great Fire, was a true story that was far more compelling than anything I could have imagined. Why more hasn’t been written about this amazing event is beyond me.
6. I know I asked this in the last interview, but now that the end is in sight do you have any plans for writing projects after the last book?
Sometime next spring, after I finish the fifth book, I’ll have a decision to make. I will have to decide whether to tie a big ribbon on the Northwest Passage series and head in a different direction or continue the series with entirely new characters. Right now, I’m leaning toward the latter. Readers seem to like this particular blend of time travel, history, humor, and romance. I see no reason why it can’t continue. But if I do opt to write more Northwest Passage books, I will do so with new characters. Book five will be it for the Smith-Vandenberg-Jorgenson clan.
7. If you personally could travel to any period in time in any place, what would it be? Why?
I was asked this question before and answered 1962 California, the time and place of the film American Graffiti. I know that choice sounds rather tame, given all the other options, but I’ve always been fascinated by that setting. That said, Italy during the time of the Roman Empire, Britain during World War II, and Washington, D.C. during the American Civil War would also be interesting.