Interview: John A. Heldt author of The Mine

John A. Heldt is here today to answer some questions about his debut novel, The Mine.


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.

For more information on John, check out his blog


The Mine deals with time travel. What inspired you to write a story involving a young man time traveling back to the 1940’s?

I was inspired by several movies, including The Time Machine, Back to the Future, From Here to Eternity, Racing with the Moon, Yanks, The Notebook, A Walk in the Clouds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and most notably The Time Traveler’s Wife. I had already read the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. I enjoyed both but was motivated more by the possibilities of 20th-century time travel than that particular story. I outlined the plot for The Mine in five minutes after watching the movie last June.


For those who’ve not yet read The Mine can you tell us a little bit about the book and the main character Joel?
The Mine is many things. It is a romance, historical fiction, and science fiction filled with humor, poignancy, and suspense. But above all else it is the coming-of-age story of one Joel Smith, a pampered, handsome, and charismatic college senior from Seattle. While returning from a road trip to Yellowstone in May 2000, the geology major decides to enter an abandoned gold mine. He emerges from the mine minutes later and finds himself in May 1941 with money he can’t spend, a cell phone he can’t use, and little but his wits to guide his way. When he learns the time portal is one-way, he hops a train to Seattle, hoping to find anything familiar, and quickly falls in with a group of college friends that includes his progressive 21-year-old grandmother, a witty Japanese American coed, and a shy honors student named Grace Vandenberg. Joel possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the 1940s and frequently struggles with how to apply it. He has fun at times, winning large sums on sports bets. But mostly he frets about the coming war. He knows Pearl Harbor will affect his friends in tragic, irrevocable ways. He is an interloper in another time and vows to limit his impact on the fates of others, a goal that becomes problematic when he falls in love with Grace. The Mine is a book that entertains, but it is also one that prompts readers to think and ask some big questions.


Are your characters perhaps inspired by anyone?
The characters are all composites of people I have seen in movies and known in real life. Joel is a mix of Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves and Ginny is a young Katharine Hepburn. But the mannerisms and life stories of the characters are derived mostly from people I knew growing up, attending college, and navigating my way through the workforce. I have had a number of interesting educational and work experiences and known a lot of fascinating people, so finding inspiration was never difficult.


What was the hardest part of writing The Mine?
Writing a story that was historically accurate and then keeping my facts straight. The Mine takes place in 1941 and 2000 and I often had to change the story or throw things out to remain within the letter and spirit of the times. For example, there is a scene in July 1941 where a song streams out of a car radio. I wanted that song to be “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” by the Glenn Miller band. But the song did not hit the airwaves until later that year, so I used something else. I had similar difficulty with consumer products, inventions, and even the names of countries. Grace, the daughter of missionaries, spent part of her childhood in what is now Bujumbura, Burundi, in eastern Africa. But in the 1920s and 1930s, it was called Usumbura and located in a Belgian-administered territory known as Ruanda-Urundi. Most people do not care about details like these, but they mattered to me. They mattered a lot.


Do you prefer the smell of an old book or a new book, or are you more of an e-reader person? And why?
As a reader, I am still old school. I like the look and feel and convenience of paper. But like many, I’m slowly changing. Today’s e-readers are much better than they were even a few years ago. They are lightweight and easy to read and can access the Internet. Try doing that with a paperback! As an author, of course, I think the Kindle, the Nook, and other devices are the greatest thing since microwave ovens. They have opened doors for independent authors like me and changed the face of literature.


Since we do fave parts/quotes in our review, What’s your fave part/quote from the book?
I like so many that it’s difficult to choose. But my favorite part of The Mine is probably Chapter 34, where Grace and Joel attend a minor league baseball game. They are on a hastily arranged and decidedly platonic double date. At different times, they have fun at each other’s expense, with Grace getting the last laugh. When Joel climbs back into the stadium after retrieving a foul ball for a date he badly wants to impress, Grace tells a security guard that Joel is a stranger and a gatecrasher. When a police officer arrives and asks Grace if this is true, she says: “I’m not certain. It all happened so fast. One minute he was standing beside me. The next he was looking under parked cars. He said this place was good for business.” Grace eventually claims Joel before the guard throws him out. But the comic scene is important because it is a turning point in the book. Grace begins to see Joel not as an annoying flirt but rather as a serious contender for her affections.


about the book

Barnes & Noble

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.

We’d like to thank John for stopping by to talk with us today. However, we aren’t finished with him yet! John is going to be hanging around tomorrow as well. He’s going to give us a excerpt from his book as well as a giveaway to win an eCopy of The Mine!

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