Thursday, February 9, 2017

An American Journey ends

Like every other writer on the planet, I am often advised to write what I know. For more than five years, I have proudly ignored that advice and written what I didn't know. Or at least know firsthand.

I have written about times I’ve never seen and places I’ve never been. Only when writing The Journey, a novel based loosely on my high school years, did I draw more from personal experience than from reading and research.

Hannah’s Moon, the final book in the American Journey series, is different. Inspired by actual events, it is a deeply personal work — one that takes readers through the peaks and valleys of difficult pregnancies, adoption, and parenthood. It is a tribute to the mothers and fathers who have traveled the same road, including the protagonists of my tenth novel.

In 2017, Claire and Ron Rasmussen find themselves at a crossroads. After trying for years to start a family, they turn to adoption — only to find new obstacles in their path. Then they get an unlikely phone call and learn that a distant uncle possesses the secrets of time travel.

Within weeks, Claire, Ron, and Claire’s brother, David, take a train to Tennessee and 1945, where adoptable infants are plentiful and red tape is short. For a time, the three find what they seek. Then a beautiful stranger enters their lives, the Navy calls, and a simple, straightforward mission becomes a race for survival.

In Hannah’s Moon, readers will see America in the tense final months of World War II, when victory was assured but the safety of soldiers and sailors was not. They will also see the end of a series that began with September Sky and continued with Mercer Street, Indiana Belle, and Class of ’59. They will get the answers to many questions and see every major character from the previous books one last time.

Filled with suspense, romance, humor, and heartbreak, Hannah’s Moon is a poignant snapshot of an unforgettable year in American history. The novel, available as a Kindle book on and its twelve international sites, goes on sale today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Having fun after five years

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I clicked a button on a web page in the morning, waited impatiently for several hours, and finally noticed a subtle change shortly before taking my wife to dinner.

The Mine, the first novel in the Northwest Passage series, was no longer "in review." It was no longer an idea or a rough draft or a work in progress. It was live on It was a published book that was subject to the scrutiny of potentially thousands of readers.

I've learned a lot since February 13, 2012, when I joined the ranks of published authors. I've learned that covers matter, that marketing is a never-ending job, and that readers like happy endings and characters they can relate to. I've learned that producing a novel is time-consuming, humbling, often frustrating, and infinitely rewarding.

It is also a lot of fun. For that reason alone, I intend to keep at it and steadily add to a collection that now consists of ten Kindle books, a boxed set, and six audiobooks. As long as stories keep popping in my head, I will keep turning them into full-length novels.

To mark The Mine’s fifth anniversary, I am offering five selected audiobooks and compete sets of both the Northwest Passage and American Journey series. Each set consists of five ebooks. The giveaway invites participants to suggest settings for novels two through five in my next series. I plan to set the first book in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on the eve of its great flood in 1889.

The contest is open to the first forty entrants and will run no later than February 15. To participate, go to my author page or contest page.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Planning a series the right way

The first thing I learned when creating the American Journey series was that writing a series was much different than writing a single novel. I had to observe different rules and plan much further into the future or run the risk of painting myself into a corner.

Having more or less cobbled together the Northwest Passage series around a few common themes, I tried to do better with the AJ series. The result, I think, was a better collection, one that comes to a conclusion with the release of Hannah’s Moon in February.

Now, as I consider yet another series, I’m faced with the same challenges. How do I map out three or more books that meet the minimum requirements of a compelling collection of fiction? One way is to look to others for guidance. One of the best resources is online.

Now Novel’s How to Write a Series is filled with commonsense advice that every author should take to heart. The writer’s group, which offers a course and resources for budding novelists, advises authors to avoid eight specific mistakes when crafting a series. Its guide stresses continuity, consistency, and openness to change.

These tips resonated with me. When I plotted the American Journey series in 2014, I knew how it would begin and end but not how it would develop. The order of the books was left open every step of the way. Even as I followed a fairly tight script, I wanted flexibility.

I will take the same approach when I create my next series. Set initially in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888, the collection of stories will revolve around four modern-day siblings, all young adults, who search for their long-missing parents in the corridors of time.

I plan to begin the third series in June. In the meantime, I hope to put the second series to bed and convert The Mirror and Indiana Belle to audio. All three projects should be finished by the end of April.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New goals for a new year

I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. All too often, they are not realistic. They are things we should file under "Good Intentions," "Wishful Thinking," or even "Mission Impossible."

Even so, they serve a purpose. When we make resolutions or set goals, we force ourselves to evaluate our respective situations and consider what is possible in the coming year.

As an author, I have several goals for 2017. Some I expect to meet in the coming three months. Others may take longer or prove to be more of a challenge, but I will pursue them nonetheless.

One objective in easy reach now is the publishing of Hannah’s Moon. With a first draft in hand and several beta readers lined up, I should be able to release the novel, the fifth and final book in the American Journey series, in March.

Then I'll have to decide what comes next. Though I'm still keeping all options open, I've started to sketch out another five-book series that will focus less on time travel and more on historical fiction.

The idea I have in mind now is a family saga that begins in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1888, the year before its historic flood. I hope to make a final decision on the series by April 1.

I also intend to do more with my current books. Sometime this month, I will release American Journey: The First Three Novels, my first Kindle boxed set. In the middle of next month, I will sponsor some giveaways in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of The Mine.

If all goes as planned, I should also have two more audiobooks by the end of April. Chaz Allen has already begun production of Indiana Belle. Angel Clark will do the same with The Mirror in a few weeks. I hope to have all ten novels in audio by December.

For now, that’s all. But like anyone who has ever vowed to travel more, lose weight, read certain books, or work on a bucket list, I reserve the right to change my mind. I hope 2017 is a happy and productive year for all of you. Let the resolutions begin!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Behind a holiday masterpiece

One of the things I like most about this time of year is that people and organizations focus more on disparities in society and the needs of the have-nots. They give generously of their time and money and often find creative ways to improve the lives of others.

We are used to seeing acts of kindness at Christmas time because they are a part of our traditions and culture. For this, we can give many thanks to a troubled man who published one of the great treasures of English literature 173 years ago today.

When Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in 1843, millions of people in Great Britain and America, including a great number of children, lived in poverty and squalor. Life, for them, was a daily battle with joblessness, hunger, and disease.

Dickens’ classic, published at the end of the Industrial Revolution, directed public attention to populations that this revolution had left behind. The result was a legacy of awareness and compassion that is still with us today and manifests itself in countless ways.

The novella, which has never gone out of print, has been adapted many times to film, television, radio, and theater, among other media. I recommend the 1951 film, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, but many other adaptations are worthy of attention.

Some background on the book and the author can be found online at Literary Traveler, the (UK) Telegraph, the British Library, Wikipedia, and TIME magazine, which produced a fine article on the classic this month. I encourage you to check the sources out.

So in the spirit of Charles Dickens, his causes, and his signature work, I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(Credit: Image of Charles Dickens from Wikipedia Commons.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A first draft for a last book

Fifty-five days after telling others I would not begin writing the fifth American Journey book until January 1, I have finished its first draft. Weighing in at just over 100,000 words, it is the fifth longest of my ten novels, the second to complete a series, and the first to feature chapters set in another part of the world.

Set in Chattanooga, Southern California, and the Pacific Theater of World War II, Hannah’s Moon will follow a childless couple and the wife’s brother from 2017 to 1945. I hope to find a suitable cover in the next three weeks and begin the editing process in January. The projected publishing date of April 1 remains unchanged.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Starting down the final road

There is nothing like bringing a series to an end to focus the mind. Authors pay more attention to details and getting it right because they know they won’t have another chance to get it right. When a series is done, it is done. There are no second takes.

With that in mind, I have paid attention to the little things in writing the fifth book of the American Journey series. Questions will be answered — including a big one — and problems explained. In the series finale, I will bring back each of the time travelers from the first four books and borrow a few names and themes.

I am currently 35,000 words into the 100,000-word work. Set mostly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the novel will follow a young childless couple from 2017 to 1945. Driven to adopt a baby in an age where babies were plentiful, the couple and the wife’s brother will find themselves caught up in the tense final months of World War II.

I hope to finish the first draft of AJ5, as I call it now, by Christmas. I intend to publish a Kindle edition of the book by April or May.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: Edge of Eternity

I am not a fast reader. I almost never finish a book before it’s due at the library and usually max out my renewals before bringing it back. Even so, I normally finish a work before the seasons change.

That was not the case with Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity, part of his Century trilogy. I started listening to the audiobook on May 17, when green leaves began to appear on trees, and finally finished the novel on Wednesday, when those same leaves started to yellow.

One reason was that I simply had other things to do — like write and edit Class of ’59. Another was that Follett’s latest work was long — as in 1,136 print pages or nearly 37 audio HOURS long.

But the biggest reason I didn’t rush to finish the book is that I didn’t find it as compelling as Follett’s previous works. I have read nineteen of the Welsh author's novels and loved most. I consider The Pillars of the Earth my all-time favorite book.

Edge of Eternity, unfortunately, did not measure up. Unlike with Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, the series’ first two novels, Follett tried to take on too much. That can happen when you try to follow seven families and dozens of others, including real historical figures, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the fall of Communism.

But Follett compounded his challenge by turning his characters into cliches and giving his work a partisan edge it didn’t need. For much of the book, it seemed the author was more interested in sending a message to his readers than in connecting with them.

I hope Follett returns to writing shorter, more focused novels, like Eye of the Needle, Jackdaws, Hornet Flight, and Night Over Water. I know I will be ready to read them when he does. Rating: 2/5.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review: Timeless

Like a lot of people, I love time travel. I’ve written nine time-travel novels and read or watched everything from A Sound of Thunder, Timeline, and The Time Machine to Outlander, Somewhere in Time, and The Time Traveler’s Wife. In short, I can’t get enough of it.

So when I heard that NBC was rolling out a new time-travel series called Timeless, I knew I had to check it out. As it turned out, the series, or at least its first episode, lived up to its considerable hype.

Goran Visnjic stars as a sophisticated criminal who steals a time machine in order to change the course of American history and destroy the country. In last night’s series pilot, he goes back to May 6, 1937, in an attempt to prevent the Hindenburg disaster.

Kept in the dark until Visnjic takes the time machine from the private company that developed it, the Department of Homeland Security quickly assembles and deploys a team to retrieve the criminal and the device. The team includes a history professor (Abigail Spencer), a soldier (Matt Lanter), and a scientist (Malcolm Barrett).

Almost from the beginning, the best-laid plans go astray for both the hunters and their prey. People live who were not supposed to live, timelines are changed, and little is resolved. The butterfly effect and the grandfather paradox are trotted out like show ponies.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the pilot. Timeless relied heavily on trendy sayings and cliches and its pursuers more often resembled cookie-cutter action heroes than normal human beings, but the story itself was superb and the visuals arresting.

I have been looking for a quality television show to watch since Downton Abbey faded into the English countryside last season. Thanks to NBC, I think I’ve found it. Rating: 5/5.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Brooklyn

I don’t watch a lot of movies these days. One reason is that I don’t take the time to watch them. Another is that I don’t find current offerings all that compelling.

Every now and then, however, I see a film that makes me think I should give more motion pictures a chance. Brooklyn, a romantic drama directed by John Crowley, is one such movie.

Set in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and New York City, Brooklyn is the tale of Eilis Lacey, a humble young Irish woman who immigrates to the United States in 1951. She finds employment in a department store and love with Italian-American plumber Anthony "Tony" Fiorello.

Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen are magnificent as Lacey and Fiorello, respectively, but both take a back seat to the story itself. In Brooklyn, one gets a sense of what thousands of Irish and Italian immigrants experienced in the early postwar years.

Though Lacey makes a fairly smooth transition to American life, she feels the constant pull of Ireland in the form of a controlling mother, an ill sister, and a would-be suitor. From the moment she arrives in the U.S., she struggles to reconcile her two worlds.

Based on Colm Tóibín's novel, Brooklyn wowed audiences at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and earned three Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress. I strongly recommend it to any fan of historical fiction. Rating: 5/5.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Finding fun in the Fifties

In every series there is usually one novel the author looks forward to writing the most. For some, it’s the first book, the one that sets the tone. For others, it’s the last book, the one that brings a story to a conclusion. For me, it’s the book that brings the most enjoyment.

And this one, folks, was just plain fun.

Say hello to Class of ’59. The fourth novel in the American Journey series and my ninth overall, it is a book that breaks new ground, answers old questions, and takes readers on a T-Bird ride through the era of Happy Days, Pleasantville, and American Graffiti.

Like in September Sky, Mercer Street, and Indiana Belle, people from the present access a portal to the past in a Victorian mansion in Los Angeles. Unlike in the first three books, they do so without the knowledge and assistance of Professor Geoffrey Bell.

On March 21, 1959, Mark Ryan, 22, is a focused college senior, an engineering major with an eye on building rockets and missiles. Then he explores an old desk in his family’s new home and finds a letter and two crystals that give him the means to travel through time.

On June 2, 2017, Mary Beth McIntire, 22, is an Alabama woman headed to medical school. Her life seems set when she takes a trip to California with her family. Then she sees a man in 1950s attire outside her vacation house and her world turns upside down.

Mark and Mary Beth share their startling discoveries with his adventurous brother (Ben) and her sensible sister (Piper). Within hours, four young adults throw caution to the wind and plunge into the age of sock hops, drive-in theaters, hot rods, and jukeboxes.

Class of ’59 is the first of my books set almost entirely in the Golden State. Instead of scattering across the country to places like Texas, New Jersey, and Indiana, my time travelers stay put.

From the streets of Hollywood to the high schools of Pasadena to the beaches of Santa Monica, they see Southern California in its storied prime. They experience the fifties up close and personal.

Filled with history, romance, humor, and suspense, Class of ’59 provides readers with a nostalgic snapshot of an unforgettable era. The novel, available as a Kindle book on and its international sites, goes on sale today.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Giving a nod to my better half

She is usually the first person I consult on writing matters and the contributor I trust the most. She is the person most likely to recognize problems in my books because she has read them all and helped fix them all — more times than I can count.

No one else, I think it is safe to say, knows me better as a writer than my wife, Cheryl Fellows Heldt. Then again, no one else knows me better as a person.

Her support for my “hobby” goes back to the beginning. Long before I even dreamed of writing my first novel, The Mine, in the summer and fall of 2011, Cheryl encouraged and supported my career as a newspaper sportswriter, reporter, and editor.

She went through my manuscripts, attended events I covered, and occasionally provided me with story ideas. She also put her own career ambitions on hold for many years so that I could achieve my goals as a journalist, a librarian, and finally a novelist.

Even now, when she is extraordinarily busy blazing her own trails as an educator, Cheryl sets aside blocks of time to help me with various projects. In the past year alone, she has listened to and offered input on the narration of three audiobooks.

So it’s with much love and respect that I recognize my wife today. On our thirtieth anniversary, I have never appreciated her more.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A finished first draft and more

It took seven weeks, a lot of sweat, and some swearing at the cat (just kidding), but I finally got it done. The first draft of Class of ’59, the fourth book in the American Journey series, is a done deal.

I have forwarded the manuscript to the first of eight beta readers and hope to have a finished product by September 20. A cover for the book is also in the works and should be out within a week.

I am also pleased to report news on four other books.

Midwest Book Review, a highly respected and influential book review site founded in 1976, reviewed Indiana Belle this week. The review can be found online in the MBR’s July newsletter.

Narrator Sonja Field is two-thirds of the way through The Show audiobook. I expect to release that title by September.

Chaz Allen, who narrated the recently released September Sky audiobook, has started an audio production of The Fire. I hope to submit that work to Audible by October or November.

Downloads for Mercer Street, yesterday’s featured book on e-Book-Daily have been brisk. The second novel in the American Journey series is available as a free download through Saturday.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Getting a jump on novel nine

Those who know me well know that I rarely keep my word when I say I will take a long break between books. The temptation to jump into the next novel and start writing early is almost always too great.

Such was the case with the untitled fourth book in the American Journey series. I had hoped to put off the project until July 1, but I started early last week when I finished my initial marketing campaign for book three, Indiana Belle, well ahead of schedule.

In book four, two vacationing Alabama sisters, ages 22 and 18, will travel from 2017 to 1959 Los Angeles, meet similarly aged brothers, and immerse themselves in the age of Sputnik, sock hops, drive-ins, and cars with fins. I hope to complete the first draft by Labor Day and publish the novel -- my ninth overall -- by Thanksgiving.

Progress also continues on two audiobook projects. Both The Show, narrated by Sonja Field, and September Sky, read by Chaz Allen, should be available to consumers by early fall.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: Friction

There’s a reason Sandra Brown, author of more than 50 New York Times bestsellers, is still going strong 35 years after publishing her first novel. Like a lot of authors, she can write a first-rate thriller. Unlike a lot of authors, she can infuse one with a first-rate romance.

So it was with enthusiasm that I downloaded the audio edition of Friction, Brown’s 2015 novel about Crawford Hunt, a troubled Texas Ranger who saves the life of a gorgeous newbie judge moments before she rules in the custody hearing of Hunt’s daughter.

In the week that follows, Hunt carries out a clandestine and ill-advised romance with the judge (Holly Spencer), battles his vindictive father-in-law for custody of five-year-old Georgia, and aggravates lawmen and outlaws alike as he pursues the people responsible for a deadly shooting in a small-town courthouse.

In Friction, Brown gets it half right. The crime drama is gritty and compelling. Though the identity of the ultimate culprit is never in doubt, the roles and motives of Hunt’s many other detractors are. Brown offers two twists at the end that lend poignancy to Hunt’s story as Georgia’s father and the neglected son of a town drunk.

Hunt is less sympathetic as a Romeo. His relentless pursuit of Judge Spencer is comically crude, a Lone Star version of “Me Tarzan. You Jane. Tarzan want Jane. Now!” Spencer, for her part, seems more like a schoolgirl with a crush than a rising legal star.

Even so, I liked Friction enough to recommend it. Sandra Brown may sometimes prompt readers and listeners to roll their eyes and shake their head, but she rarely leaves them bored. Rating: 3/5.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Two more for the audio files

As a reader for the past couple of years, I have really been a listener. More often than not, I have selected audiobooks over print and digital books because they are flat out more convenient.

With audio, I can “read” a novel while driving my car or walking the dog or resting my eyes after a long day. I can can consume quality literature at times that work best for me.

Aware that many other readers prefer to do the same, I have sought ways to turn my Kindle novels into audio novels. Thanks to reader Aaron Landon and Podium Publishing, I succeeded in 2014 with the release of The Mine. Thanks to reader Caroline Miller and an unexpected stipend from Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), I succeeded again, last fall, with the release of The Journey.

I am pleased to report that two more books will soon join their ranks.

Chaz Allen, the producer of Little Known Facts, a nationally syndicated radio program, is about a quarter of the way into September Sky, my longest novel and the first in the American Journey series. The Oklahoman has narrated fifty-four audiobooks.

Sonja Field, a classically trained actress from Philadelphia, has just started recording The Show, the third novel in the Northwest Passage series. She has narrated twenty-seven audiobooks.

I hope to release both novels this summer. When completed, they will be available through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Putting disaster on center stage

One of the things I enjoy most about writing time-travel novels set in twentieth-century America is learning about the people, customs, and events that defined particular eras. This is particularly true with events like natural disasters, events no movie studio could improve.

I found many of these cataclysmic events to be fascinating stories in their own right and did my best to incorporate them into my books. In four of my eight novels, in fact, I have used natural disasters as backdrops, starting points, and/or climactic turning points.

In The Journey, I bring my protagonist in close proximity to the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens. In The Fire, I devote several chapters to the Great Fire of 1910, a relatively little known but widely destructive inferno that charred three million acres of pristine forestland in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

In both books, the main characters know a disaster is coming but can do little more than spare a precious few from harm. The same is true in September Sky, where a reporter and his college-age son try to minimize the impact of a hurricane they know will strike Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and claim several thousand lives.

I like incorporating natural disasters into my stories because they provide added drama, sharpen distinctions, and bring out the best and worst in people. Timid men and women become heroes in an instant, while some of the cocky and powerful become cowards.

I learned this when researching The Fire, set in Wallace, Idaho. As the flames closed in on the isolated and vulnerable mountain town on August 20, 1910, many men helped women and children escape by loading them onto trains. A few acted less nobly. They pushed others out of the way in an effort to save themselves, much like some men did on the RMS Titanic less than two years later.

I didn’t use a natural disaster to draw out heroes and cowards in Indiana Belle, but I did use one to get the novel off to a roaring start. A few chapters into the book, my protagonist comes face to face with the Tri-State Tornado, a mile-wide tempest that killed nearly seven hundred people in the Midwest on March 18, 1925.

Reading about these disasters made me appreciate modern technology all the more. People who confronted wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes in the early 1900s did not have television, smartphones, the Internet, or Doppler radar to alert them to pending doom. They faced nature’s wrath blindly.

Part of the fun of researching the books that featured the disasters was visiting the disaster sites themselves. I visited Wallace in 2013, Galveston in 2014, and southwest Indiana earlier this year. The first two venues offer several museums, historical sites, and attractions that commemorate their respective calamities.

I visited Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument -- pictured above in 2005 -- several years before writing The Journey. It is an attraction no one with a memory of the May 1980 eruption or its aftermath should miss when visiting Washington state.