Good morning, delightful foodies! It’s that time of the week when we bring another Starving Review alumni back into the kitchen! Today, let’s have a round of applause for John A. Heldt, the chef behind The Mine!
Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
I’m a former newspaper editor and reference librarian who “retired” last year to write fiction full-time. A native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, I now live in the South with my wife, a third-grade math and science teacher.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
I enjoy sports, fishing, traveling, walking the dog, and making my own beer.
What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
My latest dish is Mercer Street, the second novel in the American Journey series. In this book, due in October, a Chicago romance writer, her elderly mother, and her college-age daughter time travel to 1938 where they find love, danger, and intrigue in Princeton, New Jersey. September Sky, the first book in the series, follows a contemporary news reporter and his son to 1900 Galveston, Texas, the scene of the nation’s most destructive hurricane.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
Impatience. I simply did not want to wait months or even years for agents or publishers to decide whether my books would sell in a competitive market. I knew they would. I also wanted to retain total control over the content and earn higher royalties. The self-publishing route is not for everyone, but it has been a good one for me.
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
I guess you could say I dabble. When I write a novel, I throw genre restrictions out the window. I do so to give readers a complete reading experience. My stories span several genres, including time travel, romance, historical fiction, humor, coming of age, young adult, and fantasy. So far, that approach has worked well.
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have his own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
As mentioned above, I throw a lot of ingredients in the stew. I also write in plain language and inject humor in my stories as often as I can.
Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
Oh, I have plenty. Vince Flynn is one. Ken Follett, Stephen King, Nelson DeMille, John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, John Jakes, and Clive Cussler are others.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
My novels are written in third person and feature at least two points of view. I want readers to know what all the main characters are thinking and not have to guess. I believe this approach makes for a better story.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I have moved toward Hemingway’s style since my first novel, The Mine. I love lavish description in fiction, but I know that many readers do not. Some believe it slows down the story. As an author, I try to strike a balance.
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
I favor three: man vs. self, man vs. fate, and man vs. nature. I use all three because it makes the story more complex and interesting. In my time-travel novels, my (typical) protagonist is a young, introspective individual who wrestles with whether to alter history on a large scale even as he or she changes it significantly on a personal level. Horrific natural disasters, like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and hurricanes, are usually part of the mix.
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
I strive to succeed in both areas, but creating likeable, compelling characters is most important. If readers don’t like your characters, they probably won’t like your book.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
I try to get readers to identify with the protagonist. My books typically begin with a main character doing something most of us have done, like eating at a restaurant, going to a fair, walking to class, or packing a box of belongings after being laid off. When readers relate to the protagonist, they generally find it easier to relate to the story itself.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
Pie. Not. Even. Close.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
Don’t put off any project. Jump in. Listen to those who’ve succeeded and to those who’ve failed. You can learn from both. But in the end, write the story you want to write. Don’t let the critic overrule the artist.