Sunday, November 19, 2023

A last look at a series

The trilogy is now ten days old. The Duties and Dreams ebook came out November 9, the paperback yesterday. Even the Second Chance boxed set is in circulation. Yet the series, my fifth overall, is still fresh in my mind. It probably will be for weeks to come.

When you write a historical fiction series as detailed and exhaustive as Second Chance, you leave a little bit of yourself behind. I know I did. I am still getting used to a daily schedule that does not involve seven to eight hours of researching, writing, and editing. I plan to enjoy the hiatus between this project and the next. In the meantime, I intend to reflect a bit on my shortest — but arguably most important — series, one that will serve as a template for the next one.

The first thing you need to know about Second Chance is that it is a nod to Baby Boomers, the pampered, free-spirited, often-maligned mob I joined in 1961. If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you will immediately recognize the backgrounds of my protagonists, from their Leave it to Beaver beginnings to their personal and professional struggles in the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond. You will understand why the Carpenters did what they did when they wandered through 1906, 1912, and finally 1918.

I choose to write about old souls because I can relate to them. Like Bill, Paul, and Annie, I could relate to coming of age and growing old(er) in a world that was much different than today's. I could relate to at least some of their experiences, setbacks, and triumphs.

Annie was, by far, my favorite character — for many reasons. She brought energy and passion to the series and probably best personified its growth. She grew in ways her more set-in-their-ways older brothers could not or would not. She represented the best of her family and her generation. She acquitted herself well.

Cassie Lee, Charles Rusk, and Emilie Perot were my favorite secondary characters. All brought something to a trilogy that was as varied as the settings. Each helped the Carpenters grow.

If there was one thing I enjoyed most about producing this series, it was researching the events that shaped it. Though I knew a lot about the Titanic, I knew little about the San Francisco earthquake, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Mexican Revolution, and even World War I. I knew even less about Baja California, Brooklyn, and Alsace, a storied French region I want to visit someday.

I also enjoyed returning to my native Northwest — Portland, Tacoma, and Mount Rainier make appearances in two books — and bringing children back into my work. From the students of Oakland Prep and Gotham Prep to Mabel Moss to Chloe the flower girl to the offspring of Bill and Annie, kids put their stamp on mostly grown-up stories. Bea and Millie Carpenter and Patrick and Henry Lee brought both comic relief and perspective to the Second Chance trilogy.

I put a stamp on the series, as well. As some readers know, I often use meaningful dates, places, and devices in my stories. I have used August 2, my wedding anniversary, more times than I can count. I occasionally use birthdays too — and, in the case of my latest release, I used the birthday. When I had the opportunity to end both Duties and Dreams and the Second Chance series on December 30, 1961, by moving up the last chapter by one day, I took it. When you are a writer of fiction, you can do those things.

I did not intend to tie the book's title to its dedication, but it happened anyway. Shortly after titling Duties and Dreams, I noticed that the book's initials (DAD) lined up nicely with the subject of its dedication page. Even before writing a word, I had decided to dedicate the novel to James Heldt, my father, who is still going at age 92.

As coincidences go, that was hard to beat. It was a fitting touch to a series I will no doubt think about for a long time.

Friday, November 10, 2023

A duty to dream

Be careful what you wish for.

The warning, from The Old Man and Death, one of Aesop's Fables, is one of the oldest themes in literature. It is also, for all practical purposes, the central theme of the Second Chance series.

In The Fountain and Annie's Apple, the first two books in the trilogy, characters wish for one thing and get another. They find that the road to happiness is littered with potholes, rocks, and nails.

Then they find it again. In Duties and Dreams, several adults, linked by blood, marriage, and history, discover that even innocent wishes come with a price.

As World War I rages in Europe, the Carpenters and the Lees make a home in Southern California. Bill and Cassie add to their family. Andy and Annie start one of their own. Paul, a bachelor, enters the world of business. All find peace in a turbulent time. Then draft notices arrive, illness strikes a child, and life for two intertwined families takes a troubling turn. Thirty years later, Emilie Perot, a beautiful resistance fighter, and Steve and Shannon Taylor, an American couple with ties to Paul Carpenter, conspire to escape Nazi occupation. Each seeks freedom and a new life in France's Vosges Mountains, home of a legendary fountain of youth that can restore health and send visitors through time. As events unfold in the different eras, the participants march on. All are unaware of the forces that seem determined to throw them together.

Paul, 30, takes a star turn in this one. From the first chapter to the last, he is the focus of the story. Readers follow the quiet member of a secretive family as he returns to the U.S. Army, travels to wartime France, and battles one life challenge after another. They see a luckless-in-love soldier make a friend from the future.

Others also step up. Annie, 27, shines as a young wife and mother. Bill and Cassie, both 36, do the same as spouses and parents. Even Andy, the curmudgeon of book two, finds his place. Now 30, the lieutenant rolls with the punches of an unpredictable war.

Though Duties and Dreams is a plot-driven novel, complete with a nasty villain, action, and running clocks, it is a character-focused story, one that examines the impact of war, disease, and separation on ordinary human beings. Set in seven countries during the most difficult days of the twentieth century, it brings to a conclusion a sweeping family saga that began with a leap of faith.

Duties and Dreams is my twenty-third novel. It goes on sale today as a Kindle book at and its international web sites.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Review: Band of Brothers

For an obvious reason, I rarely watch a television series twice. A series, unlike a movie or even a book, represents a serious investment in time. This month, however, I made an exception. When I saw that Band of Brothers, a ten-episode miniseries, was making a tour of duty on Netflix, I jumped on it. I am so glad I did.

When you watch something a second (or third or fourth) time, you notice things you did not notice originally. You spot nuances and themes that hid in plain sight the first time you watched.

So it was with Band of Brothers, which follows "Easy" Company, an elite American airborne unit, from its training in the U.S. and England to D-Day to the end of World War II. In watching the production a second time, I was able to truly appreciate its brilliance.

Among other things, I was able to appreciate the war's toll on Easy's members, especially those who served for the duration of the conflict. I was able to see the fatigue, the frayed nerves, the frailties, and even the pettiness of ordinary men pushed to their limits.

Though Damian Lewis, playing Major Richard Winters, shines in the series, he is not the only star. More than twenty others, including New Kids on the Block's Donnie Wahlberg and Friends' David Schwimmer, provide strong performances. All add something to a series that many consider to be the finest every aired.

In addition to the story and the performances, I enjoyed the added content, such as the comments from the actual soldiers at the beginning of each episode. I thought the brief narratives from men in their seventies, men in a position to reflect on the war and their lives, was a treat that lent even more authenticity to the series.

Band of Brothers, which originally aired on HBO in 2001, is more than compelling television. It is history at its best. Despite its violence and mature content, I would recommend it to anyone. Rating: 5/5.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

A first draft for a last book

It took a while — three months, to be exact — but I finished ahead of schedule. With a final burst on Friday, I finished the first draft of Duties and Dreams, the last book in the Second Chance trilogy.

Spanning two world wars and much of the twentieth century, the series finale completes the story of the Carpenters, three siblings who began new lives as time travelers in early 1900s. It tests Bill, Paul, and Annie like they have never been tested before.

Though the novel focuses on Paul, World War I, and France, it also spotlights other family members, the Spanish flu, and Southern California, where the Carpenters and the Lees have made a home. In addition, it introduces a new character (WWII resistance fighter Emilie Perot) and brings back two others (Steve and Shannon Taylor) from Annie's Apple, the second book in the series.

Weighing in at 86 chapters and 116,000 words, Duties and Dreams is the tenth longest of my 23 novels. I play to revise and edit it in the next ten weeks and publish the finished product by Christmas.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Review: The Great

The subtitle tipped me off. Preceded by an asterisk, it told me most of what I needed to know about a riveting comedy series.

I say most — and not all — because The Great: An Occasionally True Story, a genre-bending offering on Hulu, surprised me. It surprised me in ways I found disturbing, annoying, and ultimately fulfilling.

Based loosely — and I do mean loosely — on historical events, the series covers the early reign of Catherine the Great, the bold, enigmatic Prussian princess who ruled Russia from 1762 to 1796.

Elle Fanning stars as Catherine, while Nicholas Hoult (Peter III), Belinda Bromilow (Aunt Elizabeth), Phoebe Fox (Marial), Adam Godley (Archbishop), Sacha Dhawan (Orlo), Gwilym Lee (Grigor Dymov), and Douglas Hodge (Velementov) highlight a strong supporting cast. Each brings something to a series that breaks every rule in the book.

A warning: The Great is vulgar, incredibly vulgar. If foul language and gratuitous sex are dealbreakers, run from this production with your arms raised high. This series is Animal House, Russian royal court edition. It is also violent — not Game of Thrones violent, but still violent.

I didn't care for that. I would have preferred less shagging and killing and more history. I grew weary of most of it after a few episodes.

What saved the series, for me, anyway, was the writing. The Great's writers did something that Hollywood rarely does anymore. They produced something that is genuinely funny. Crude? Yes. Over-the-top? Definitely. But still funny. The series serves wit on a plate. For that reason alone, I was able to set aside the vulgarity, historical flaws, and anachronisms and enjoy a show that evolved in positive ways.

In The Great, Catherine battles everyone from Peter, the emperor husband she deposes, to the royal court to the Russian Orthodox Church. She does so in a usually vain attempt to bring Russia into the modern age. The empress' volatile relationship with her husband is particularly well done. She goes from loving him to loathing him to loving him again in a way that is not only believable but also poignant.

Though Fanning is only one of a dozen actors playing primary roles, she is the only one who really counts. Nominated for several awards last year, including two Golden Globes, she carries the series from its rocky start to its satisfying end. She is on the small screen what Catherine the Great was on the world stage. She is her own woman. Rating: 4/5.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Giving a French region its due

For some, Alsace is a backwater. Tucked in a remote corner of France, next to Germany and Switzerland, it is a region often overlooked by travelers and guides. It is a land that time forgot.

Strasbourg, its largest city, pales next to Paris. The Vosges, its mountain range, pales next to the Alps. Even its vineyards do not compare to those in Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne. Alsace is, in many ways, the Rodney Dangerfield of France. Yet, for me right now, this crossroads of Europe is the most important place on earth. It is the primary setting of my latest work in progress.

I picked Alsace, the Vosges, and the nearby city of Saint-Dié as settings several months ago. I did so mostly for practical reasons. All three venues played vital roles in both world wars. All supported the narrative in Duties and Dreams, the third and last novel in the Second Chance series. Each place seemed appealing and interesting.

But it wasn't until I started writing the book that I realized how interesting they were. I soon became immersed in learning about places I have never seen and had not studied until recently.

Among other things, I learned that Alsace is almost as German as it is French. Germany conquered and annexed the region in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. It gave it up after World War I, grabbed it again in World War II, and surrendered it in 1945.

That created both possibilities and problems for me. On the plus side, I was able to set compelling stories in two distinct eras. On the down side, I had to deal with different spellings of placenames. For much of the time period between 1871 and 1945, Strasbourg was Straßburg, Villé was Weiler, Lièpvre was Leberau, Sélestat was Schlettstadt, and Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines was Markirch.

Some of these places, all featured in the novel, also have Alsatian names – names that might have appeared on maps and road signs of the times – but I did not bother with them. I wanted to keep things as simple as possible for both readers and myself.

Of course, in D and D, I will do more than explain the names of places. I will describe their features. I will take readers to an abbey in Mont Sainte-Odile, a railroad crossing in Leberau, an isolated cottage in Weiler, and the conical sandstone peak of Climont, home of the "Fountain of Youth." I'll give them a taste of Alsace.

I hope to complete the first draft of Duties and Dreams in the next six weeks. I plan to publish the novel itself in December.

Photograph Note: Climont mountain (top image), Strasbourg in three languages (bottom). Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

August author update

For authors, summer is supposed to be the quiet season. It is supposed to be the time we set work aside, take rejuvenating vacations, and take a break from the rigors of writing, editing, and marketing novels.

For me, though, this summer has been an opportunity. It has been a chance to accomplish a lot while others relax and play.

Sea Spray tops the list of projects completed. The novel, the pivotal third book in the Time Box series, is now available in audio.

Veteran voice artist Roberto Scarlato narrated the work. He previously narrated Camp Lake and The Fair and will soon lend his talents to The Refuge and Crown City, the fourth and fifth books in the Time Box series. Eighteen of my twenty-two novels are now available as audiobooks on Audible, Amazon, and Apple Books. (A note to those who requested these books: I do listen to you!) I hope to convert the remaining titles by the end of 2024. As I noted in March, I have a limited number of free promo codes for my audiobooks, including Sea Spray, that I can release to prospective reviewers on request. Please contact me if interested.

Also this past month, I began writing Duties and Dreams, the third and final book in the Second Chance series. Set mostly in Southern California, Washington state, and France in 1918, the novel will follow Paul Carpenter, Andy Lee, and their families through World War I, the Spanish flu, and a medical crisis that will finally open many previously closed doors. I am currently nineteen chapters and 27,000 words into the novel and hope to publish it by the end of the year.

I also attended to marketing, the bane of every writer, even though summer is notoriously slow for sales. Two major promotions are on tap. BookBub will feature The Mirror, book five in the Northwest Passage series, for the first time in five years on August 20. EReader News Today will run The Fountain as its Book of the Day on September 15.

I hope readers will take advantage of both offers. I remain very grateful to those who have expressed their support in the past.

Monday, July 3, 2023

The dog days of summer

I've been in a dog mood lately. My last dog, Mocha, passed away six years ago, and I miss her terribly. Because of circumstances — Las Vegas, for one, is not the best place to raise a canine — I have not replaced her. I have instead taken every opportunity to greet the dogs of others and wallow in dog videos. (I'm partial to surfing bulldogs.)

I have also watched more than a few dog movies, including three in the past month that I highly recommend. Togo (2019), The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019), and Dog (2022) — yes, Dog — are all grand entertainment. All three films feature difficult, often neglected animals that tug at the heartstrings. All demonstrate that dogs really are man's best friend.

Togo is the story of the lead dog of the main sled team in the serum run to Nome, Alaska, an event that riveted the nation in 1925. Unlike Balto, who was rewarded with international acclaim, books, movies, and a statue in New York's Central Park, Togo was mostly forgotten to history, despite covering more miles and more dangerous terrain in the 674-mile relay. Willem Dafoe shines as temperamental musher Leonhard Seppala in an adventure film that gives credit where it is due.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, based on the bestselling novel by Garth Stein, follows the adventures of Denny Swift, a Seattle race car driver, and his perceptive golden retriever, Enzo, who serves as the movie's unlikely narrator. Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, and Kathy Baker star in a compelling drama that covers courtship, marriage, birth, death, and even reincarnation. Kevin Costner gives voice to the dog who becomes a vital part of the lives of his human handlers.

Dog, an American comedy drama road film, revolves around two struggling veterans of the war in Afghanistan — Jackson Briggs, a former U.S. Army Ranger suffering from PTSD, and Lulu, the military dog of Briggs' fallen comrade. Briggs offers to drive the aggressive Belgian Malinois from Fort Lewis, Washington, to the comrade's funeral in Arizona in exchange for a promotion that will reintegrate him back into active service. Channing Tatum stars in and directs the movie.

Though the films occasionally stretch the limits of believability, all are highly entertaining. I would recommend them to dog lovers and non-dog lovers alike. Ratings: Togo 9, Racing 8.5, and Dog 8 out of 10.

Photograph: Mocha wearing the "Cone of Shame" in 2010.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Reaching for the stars

If I have learned one thing as a parent, it is never to underestimate. Children with drive will find ways to succeed and shine. They will not only reach for the stars, but occasionally pull one from the sky.

My son, First Lieutenant Matthew E. Heldt, did that today in Meridian, Mississippi, where he received his wings as an aviator in the United States Marine Corps.

The winging ceremony at Naval Air Station Meridian capped a four-year, four-state journey that included Officer Candidates School; The Basic School; Naval Introductory Flight Evaluation; Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape; primary flight training; and intermediate and advanced jet training. It included tests and trials that most of us, particularly civilians, will never face, much less conquer.

Then again, Matthew, 26, has always been a striver. Long before he mastered the T-6B Texan II and T-45C Goshawk training aircraft, he earned a private pilot license and a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Louisiana. As a Marine aviator, he logged more than two hundred thirty hours of flying time.

Now, Matthew is off to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, where he will learn to fly the F-35B, an advanced fighter jet. A more permanent assignment will follow. Here's to hoping he reaches for the stars wherever he goes. I could not be more proud of him.

(Photo: Matthew and his new wife, Mikayla, celebrate at NAS Meridian after his final qualifying flight in a T-45C Goshawk.)

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Back to the Evergreen State

In the beginning, it was my go-to venue, the place where the Northwest Passage series developed. Washington state was a secondary setting in The Journey and The Fire, the primary setting in The Mine and The Show, and the sole setting in The Mirror.

Since then, it has received only one mention, a wedding chapter, set in Vancouver, in The Fountain. That will soon change.

In the book three of the Second Chance trilogy, I will return to my former home state, setting chapters in Camp Lewis, Tacoma, Mount Rainier, and perhaps other venues. I will revisit familiar territory.

Last week, I began researching the series finale by paying a visit to the Lewis Army Museum, part of what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord. In the process, I learned a lot about Washington's early history, the United States Army, and Camp Lewis, a sprawling city of 37,000. Situated in the shadow of Mount Rainier (pictured), it was the largest military post in the country in 1918.

Southern California, the destination of the Carpenters and Lees at the end of Annie's Apple, will also get a turn in book three. So will northern France, the site of some of the fiercest fighting of World War I. Along with Western Washington, the venues will form the foundation of a novel that will bring a family saga to an end.

I intend to research all three places — and others — this spring and summer and begin writing the book itself in early August. I hope to publish the finished work no later than February 2024.

Note: The public domain photograph of Camp Lewis, featured on a 1917 postcard, is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Second Act of Second Chance

The second act is usually the most difficult to write. In literature, as in life, it is the tough center of a story, the important and sometimes unsteady bridge that connects a beginning and an end.

Annie's Apple is my latest second act. The bridge of the Second Chance trilogy, it follows three time travelers and their significant others through the elegant, unpredictable, and often dangerous world of 1911 and 1912. It develops a story in progress.

In the spring of 1911, Bill and Cassie Carpenter, both 29, have it all. The New York City educators have jobs at a prestigious prep school, a new home, and a bright future. They have everything they want except the thing they want the most — a child.

Annie Carpenter, their housemate, is in a similar spot. Though Bill's sister, now a blossoming beauty of 20, has begun a promising career as a society writer, she longs for hearth and home. She yearns for the very things that prompted her to jump into a fountain of youth in 2022 and begin a new life.

Paul Carpenter and Andy Lee also battle disappointment. Now 23, the sergeants, best friends and brothers-in-law, ponder their own futures as they try to keep the Mexican Revolution from spilling into the dusty border town of Douglas, Arizona. They anticipate better things in the final year of their enlistment in the U.S. Army.

Then fortunes change. New orders arrive, romances bloom, and the impossible becomes possible. In a snap, New York City becomes a place where the dreams of five young adults take shape.

In Annie's Apple, I develop these stories. I push the Carpenters and the Lees in ways I didn't in The Fountain. I present different sides of characters I introduced in the first book of the trilogy.

I also present a city. From the first chapter to the last, I give readers the Big Apple in the age of Model T's, Gibson Girls, and bicycles-built-for-two. From Manhattan and Brooklyn to Coney Island and Rockaway Beach, readers see a storied metropolis in its prime.

Unlike in all of my other works, Annie's Apple does not feature an act of time travel. It does feature two disasters. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the sinking of the RMS Titanic serve as bookends to the character-driven story. Personal trials and a lingering mystery, one that sets up the series finale, fill the spaces in between.

Annie's Apple is my twenty-second novel. It goes on sale today as a Kindle book at and its international web sites.

Author's Note: Today's release is a tribute to my grandfather, a folksy, adventurous, resourceful man who was born April 1, 1893, on a Kansas ranch. Andy Hoeme inspired not only two characters — Andy O'Connell (The Fire) and Andy Lee (Annie's Apple) — but also parts of several books. Whole chapters in The Memory Tree and The Fountain were based on his experiences in Mexico and the American West in the early 1900s. Happy 130th Birthday, Grandpa!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Writer's block revisited

Of all the tools and techniques I employ as a writer, it is the one I use the most. When I experience writer's block, I take a walk.

I did it just this morning. Faced with solving a plot hole in Annie's Apple, my current work in progress, I took a walk, cleared my mind, and came up with a fix. I did what I couldn't do sitting still.

Others favor different approaches. As I noted in a blog post eight years ago, the web is full of suggestions. Purdue University Global offers seven, including some that are rooted in common sense. Like other online sources, it urges writers to declutter their workspaces, develop good habits, and write in manageable chunks.

More advice can be found at SmartBlogger, The Writer, Writer's Digest,, Inc. Magazine, and other sites. SmartBlogger encourages writers to "talk to an imaginary friend," "curse like a sailor," "chug some caffeine," "browse your photo albums," and "wash the dishes." (My wife would like the last suggestion.)

I still prefer walking. When I am out and about, I can focus, solve problems, and sometimes create. I can do the things I often cannot do while staring at a blank page on a computer screen.

More often than not, I will think of more ideas and remedies than I can track in my mind. Even on a walk of fifteen to twenty minutes, I will resort to taking notes on my phone or on a small notepad.

Most writers, of course, know all about the importance of taking notes. They know that inspiration does not always strike at convenient times or places. They become proficient at recording even minor and seemingly unimportant details for future use.

So the next time the words don't come, take a walk with a notepad. Get outdoors and away from household distractions. You may find that writer's block is little more than a temporary affliction.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

A minor update for March

The draft is done! At 128,700 words, it is a bit smaller than projected, but it is still big. Annie's Apple, the second book in the Second Chance trilogy, is the third longest of my 22 novels.

I will now spend the next seven to eight weeks revising the draft and getting the input of my editor and beta readers. I still hope to release the title itself, as an e-book and a paperback, by May 1.

In the meantime, I will promote The Lane Betrayal, which will appear on BookBub on March 12, and the Camp Lake audiobook, which was published on January 5. I have a limited number of promotional codes for Camp Lake and other audiobooks, which I can release to prospective reviewers on request. Contact me if interested.

Roberto Scarlato, who narrated Camp Lake, has already started work on The Fair, the first of at least three Time Box series books I hope to convert to audio in 2023. Look for a summer release.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Building a bigger Apple

The book, now seventy percent complete, is going to be a big one. With 90 chapters and a projected 132,000 words, it will trail only The Memory Tree and River Rising among my twenty-two novels.

That's all right with me. As writer Joseph Campbell once said, "If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all."

Annie's Apple, the second installment of the Second Chance series, will also cover a lot of territory. From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it will pay at least some attention to the major historical events of 1911 and 1912.

Though I still have twenty-six more chapters to write, I have taken care of at least one important matter. Thanks to the timely work of Michelle Argyle, I have a cover. The Melissa Williams Design illustrator finished the novel's Kindle and paperback cover this week and is now working on the audiobook cover.

The book's cover, like its title, is a play on Annie Carpenter, the main protagonist, and the Big Apple, the city she calls her own. The cover features a 1911 drawing by Charles Dana Gibson of Gibson Girl fame. I thought the young woman portrayed in the illustration captured the essence of my Annie, a 20-year-old society reporter and prolific letter writer. Many thanks to the Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs Division for making the image available.

As reported earlier, I hope to finish the first draft of Annie's Apple in March and publish the book itself in the first half of May.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Taking on the Titanic

It is the gold standard of tragedies. For more than 110 years, the sinking of the RMS Titanic has inspired books, movies, and conspiracy theories and captured the public's imagination. Like Pearl Harbor, September 11, and the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, it is a fountain of intrigue that never runs dry.

I kept that in mind this week as I turned my attention to an event that will play a small but vital part in Annie's Apple, my current work in progress and the second book in the Second Chance triology.

As a longtime Titanic fan, I am very familiar with the big picture. I've read the books, seen the movies, and perused numerous papers and articles. I visited the traveling artifact exhibition when it made stops in Seattle (2001) and Idaho Falls (2009). I have even paid lip service to Titanic trivia, such as the mind-numbing debate over whether Jack and Rose could have both fit on the floating door. (For those who care, Time magazine covered it all in 2019.)

Even so, I'm still learning things. While researching the Titanic, I learned that a coal fire below deck burned for days while the ship was at sea. I also enhanced my knowledge of the Titanic-Olympic conspiracy, communications problems, and the collection of survivors and victims. I found that even a student of history can pick up a few things about a widely reported historical event.

Like many, perhaps, I was moved most by stories of the disaster's final victims. On May 13, 1912, crew members from the RMS Oceanic pulled three corpses from a lifeboat they found drifting in the ocean nearly a month after the sinking. A few weeks later, crewmen from the steamship Algerine collected James McGrady, an Irish saloon steward, and buried him in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The sinking, of course, was more than a disaster. It was a pivotal moment in history, a moment where the Gilded Age met the Industrial Age and pride and excess collided with science and math.

I plan to write my Titanic chapters in February. In the meantime, I will reread Walter Lord's A Night to Remember, scan more New York Times articles, and even watch Jack and Rose run around a doomed liner one more time. I figure it's the least I can do to get a better understanding of a tragic event that still shocks and inspires.

Photo: The last lifeboat of survivors reaches the rescue ship Carpathia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Looking back and looking ahead

This year was like the proverbial month of March. It came in like a lion and is going out like a lamb. That's fine with me. After ten years of writing two novels a year, I'm all right with slowing down a bit.

That's not to say I was idle. I started a new series in 2022, marketed several older works, and found a talented voice artist to narrate Camp Lake three years after it was released as a Kindle book.

The Fountain, of course, was my biggest project of the past year. Published in August, it launched the Second Chance series and represented a significant change in direction. For the first time in years, I explored the past through the eyes of older adults. I intend to market the novel aggressively in 2023, beginning with a book group appearance in January. I am looking forward to that.

I did not finish The Fountain's sequel in 2022, but I did finish a big chunk. I am now 27 chapters into a historical epic that will have 90 to 92 overall. As I mentioned last month, I will focus on the Carpenters and Lees in New York in 1911 and 1912. I still plan to publish Annie's Apple — named after Annie Carpenter, the main protagonist, and the Big Apple, the city she calls her own — in early May.

I hope to publish the Camp Lake audiobook even sooner. Thanks to Chicago narrator Roberto Scarlato, the Audible title is now in the final stages of production. Look for a January 2023 release.

With the completion of Camp Lake, every book in my first three series will be available in audio. I hope to bring at least some of the remaining books up to speed in 2023, starting with The Fair.

Most of these milestones would not be possible without the continued support of readers. I am deeply appreciative of those who have read many of my books and truly humbled by those who have read all twenty-one. That is a statement worth observing.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement. I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Second Chance sequel

Fourteen chapters are done. Two more are planned this week. Though they make up just a fraction of the ninety I have outlined in my notes, they represent a significant start. My latest work in progress, book two of the Second Chance trilogy, is under way.

This book will be different in one respect. Unlike my first twenty-one novels, it will not include an act of time travel. It will instead follow the lives of three time travelers as they build families, careers, and relationships in Greater New York City in 1911 and 1912.

Annie Carpenter will get a star turn in this one. Now a society reporter of twenty, she will step onto a very public stage. She will find adventure, growth, and romance in unlikely places.

Brothers Bill and Paul and in-laws Cassie and Andy will also shine. As young people with big dreams, they will seize opportunities and seek answers in a thriving metropolis. The will build on the foundations they laid in The Fountain, the series' first book.

Like in the The Fountain, I will blend fiction and fact. I will bookend a long historical epic with the most notable disasters of the age: the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

I am still working on a title and a cover concept. As for the novel itself, I hope to have a completed draft by March 1 and a completed book by May 1. As always, I will post updates along the way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Review: Around the World ...

I admit I did not read the novel, the one by Jules Verne, or see the movie, the one that won Best Picture in 1956, but I have always been intrigued by the story. For that reason alone, I rushed to see the newest rendition of Around the World in 80 Days.

The eight-episode miniseries, set in 1872, is an imaginative production that captures the essence of cultures from Britain, France, and Italy to Arabia, India, and the United States.

David Tennant stars as Phileas Fogg, an Englishman who wagers that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Ibrahim Koma and Leonie Benesch shine as Jean Passepartout and Abigail Fix Fortescue, the wealthy eccentric's travel companions.

Though I liked the settings and the plot, I most enjoyed the primary characters. All bring something to the story. Each wrestles with a personal demon. All come to appreciate the others when their lives and fortunes are on the line. I also liked that the series, which debuted on PBS in January, did not shy away from difficult topics, like racism, sexism, colonialism, and bitter family disputes.

There is also adventure. From balloon rides, train trips, and perilous voyages to encounters with bad guys, Around the World in 80 Days delivers the goods. It provides the kind of compelling old-fashioned entertainment that is often in short supply. Rating: 5/5.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Review: All Quiet on the WF

Like a lot of history buffs, I have a fascination with World War I. I have read the books, seen the movies, and featured the war as a backdrop in two — and soon to be three — of my novels.

So when I saw that Netflix was showing a new remake of perhaps the conflict's greatest story, I rushed to see it. I found All Quiet on the Western Front as riveting as anything I have seen in years.

Like Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, All Quiet examines the horrors of war from the perspective of the losing side.

Felix Kammerer stars as Paul Bäumer, a starry-eyed German boy who dreams of guts and glory in 1917. The 17-year-old finds all that and more after he is sent to the Western Front, a 400-mile-long system of trenches that stretched across northern France.

Though the 2022 German remake focuses on the big picture, it does not neglect the small. It presents the ugliness and randomness of war through a series of compelling personal narratives.

The flick also reminds viewers of World War I's most tragic footnote. Thousands of soldiers on all sides died between the signing of the armistice of November 1918 and its implementation.

Historian Joseph Persico estimated that 10,900 were killed or wounded or went missing in the war's final act. He examined that unfortunate development at length in Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour, an interesting work I read a few years back.

Though All Quiet on the Western Front is gritty and violent at times, it is nonetheless well worth the time. I recommend it both as a movie and as a tribute to the soldiers who fell on November 11, 1918, the day that inspired our Veteran's Day holiday. Rating: 5/5.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Review: The Empress

As an American, I'm not a big fan of royals or aristocrats. I tend to view blue bloods with indifference or amusement.

As a television viewer, though, I can't get enough of them. I like watching the trials and tribulations of kings and queens and dukes and duchesses as much as football. (OK, I exaggerate.)

For that reason, I've gobbled up series like Bridgerton, Downton Abbey, The White Queen, and Outlander. I like palace intrigue and power struggles, particularly those in rich historical settings.

So I didn't need much motivation to see The Empress, a new series on Netflix. Set mostly in Vienna in the 1850s, it portrays the rise of Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria. Though the series takes a few liberties with the historical record, it nonetheless presents a compelling look at the Habsburg court and the complicated political struggles that plagued mid-nineteenth-century Europe.

Elisabeth, played by Devrim Lingnau, disrupts life in the palace even before she marries Emperor Franz Joseph at age 16. Loathed by some and beloved by others, she takes her nation by storm. A free spirit with a penchant for fun, she dispenses with rigid traditions and changes the court through the sheer force of her personality.

Others, such as Philip Froissant, who plays Franz, and Melika Foroutan, who plays Princess Sophie, the young emperor's controlling mother, also turn in strong performances.

I recommend not only The Empress, the miniseries, but also The Empress, the academic subject. Elisabeth, her husband, and their family had a profound impact on everything from the governance of Mexico to the outbreak of World War I. History, even the stodgy royal kind, does not get more entertaining. Rating: 5/5.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Exploring the Big Apple

I am a relative stranger to New York. I have visited the city only once, at least at length, and know it mostly through movies and television. Even now, the metropolis is something of a mystery to me.

That is changing. Thanks to numerous books, articles, and newsreels I've perused in the past month, I’m getting to know the Big Apple, at least as it existed in 1911 and 1912, much better.

Though Arizona, Texas, and Rhode Island will make appearances in book two of the Second Chance trilogy, New York will get a star turn. All five of my protagonists, the Carpenters and Lees, will live in Brooklyn. One will work in Manhattan. A new character will come to the story from Rockaway Beach, a neighborhood in Queens.

I admit I like the learning. I love reading old issues of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as much as I love reading books about Coney Island, John Jacob Astor IV, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the defining events of the Progressive Era. I like learning about the development of New York's neighborhoods, bridges, subway system, military installations, and even its spacious public parks.

One reason I picked New York as the primary setting is because it was a big deal a hundred years ago. More so than even today, the rapidly developing city was the center of commerce, entertainment, sports, and culture. It was the beacon that lured millions of immigrants through Castle Garden and Ellis Island.

In my book, Brooklyn will take center stage. Bill, Cassie, and Annie Carpenter will occupy a brick house in Brooklyn Heights. Paul Carpenter and Andy Lee, best friends and brothers-in-law, will serve a stint as U.S. Army sergeants in nearby Fort Hamilton. All will interact with the people and places of a fascinating time.

I plan to research the setting another month and begin writing in November. I hope to publish the novel itself by May 1.

Image: New York City skyline, as seen from Jersey City, N.J., 1910-1920. Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Review: Longmire

I should have known this would happen. When I sample a riveting miniseries, I never stop at the pilot. I binge watch the whole thing -- in weeks, if not days. I keep streaming services in business.

Such is the case with Longmire, an addictive crime drama I somehow missed when it premiered on A&E in 2012. For the past several days, I have immersed myself in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, the primary setting of a show that ran six seasons.

In the series, Robert Taylor stars as Sheriff Walt Longmire, a prickly, old-school lawman who seems to have special insight into every crime that occurs in his surprisingly violent jurisdiction.

Others form a strong supporting cast, including rival deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), loyal deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), lawyer daughter Cady Longmire (Cassidy Freeman), and longtime friend and tavern operator Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). Along with rookie deputy Archie "The Ferg" Ferguson (Adam Bartley) and an endless stream of misbehaving locals, the regulars provide first-rate entertainment.

The backdrop is no less compelling. As a former Montana resident and occasional Wyoming visitor, I can relate to the setting. Fictional Durant, Wyoming, is like countless small towns in the northern Rockies: rough, raw, folksy, and sometimes sinister.

Even the high-plains sets and breathtaking mountain scenery, though, are no match for the sheriff. Taylor carries nearly every episode with a soft-spoken, commanding, no-nonsense manner that evokes James Arness' Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke.

I am now four episodes into the second season of Longmire, which is available in its entirely on Netflix. (My wife, who has surpassed me, is on episode seven.) I highly recommend the program to viewers looking for a captivating change of pace. Rating: 5/5.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Second Chance Trilogy

In golf, it's called a mulligan. In life, it's called a second shot. It is another opportunity to correct a mistake, restore a relationship, or follow a new course. It is a chance to set things right.

In The Fountain, the first book in the Second Chance series, three elderly siblings have an opportunity to do that and more. Thanks to a not-so-legendary fountain of youth, they have a chance to begin life again — as young, healthy adults — in a wondrous time.

In May 2022, William Carpenter, 81, is depressed and resigned. Weeks after burying his beloved wife of 57 years, the Oregon man must look after his dying brother, Paul, 75, and their wheelchair-bound sister, Annie, 72. Bill believes his best days have come and gone.

Then the retired professor, an expert on folklore, learns of a connection between a dying "time travel" crackpot and a newborn boy in California. He investigates a succession of leads. Within weeks, Bill, Paul, and Annie find themselves in a cave in Mexico, equipped with gold and useful knowledge. They proceed to a magical spring and take the biggest leap of their unfulfilled lives.

In June 1905, Cassie Lee, 23, is a woman on the move. A literature teacher at an elite high school in Oakland, California, she dreams of a successful career in education. Even in a world run by men, she sees clear sailing ahead. She does not see meaningful encounters with a trio of time travelers. Nor does the San Francisco resident see a devastating earthquake and fire that will destoy her city on April 18, 1906.

In The Fountain, I depart a bit from my typical routine. Though I offer readers time travel, humor, history, romance, and suspense, I also offer them markedly different perspectives. Bill, Paul, and Annie view their new surroundings with experienced eyes. They take their knowledge — and numerous battle scars — with them to the early twentieth century. They live as young people with old minds.

With this novel, I also begin a trilogy. The Second Chance series will continue with stories set in New York City in 1911-1912 and the American South and France in 1917-1918. For the first time in years, I will tell a family's story in three books, instead of five.

The Fountain is my twenty-first novel. The Kindle edition goes on sale today at and its eighteen international marketplaces. I intend to release the paperback edition in early September.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Giving a nod to literature

If there is one thing I enjoy about writing fiction, it is pointing a spotlight at other works of fiction. In several of my twenty published novels, I refer to classic poems, short stories, and novels. I love tying the themes and lessons of other creations to my own.

In The Mine, Joel Smith, a time traveler, thinks often of the butterfly effect in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder." In Indian Paintbrush and Sea Spray, grieving female protagonists find comfort in the "splendor in the grass" passage of Wordsworth's "Ode to Intimations of Immortality." In Caitlin's Song, four characters discuss "She Walks in Beauty," Lord Byron's ode to his cousin's wife.

In The Fountain, my current work in progress, I do more than pay lip service to highly celebrated works. I explore them at length.

In two chapters of my novel, Cassandra Lee, a teacher in 1906, leads discussions of Pride and Prejudice and The Red Badge of Courage. In another chapter, Annie Carpenter, the youngest of three siblings who discover time travel and the Fountain of Youth, waxes poetic about Jo March, a character in Little Women. Novelist Jack London dazzles Annie and other high school freshmen when he discusses The Call of the Wild, his most famous work.

I also mention Madame Bovary, a novel by Gustave Flaubert, and a smattering of other works. I do so to develop characters and themes in my own novel and to demonstrate the importance of reading, literature, and language in the early twentieth century.

During the turn of the last century, before the advent of the internet, television, and talking motion pictures, literature was one of the few affordable and meaningful entertainment options. Novels, newspapers, and magazines like The Saturday Evening Post were central to the lives of millions. So I made them a part of my story.

In The Fountain, I use the classics mostly to illustrate situations. Miss Lee struggles to motivate the boys in her classes until she switches from books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women to The Call of the Wild. Paul Carpenter, a Vietnam deserter, suffers through a discussion on shame in The Red Badge of Courage. Annie reveals her ambitions while giving her class report on Jo March.

The Fountain, the first novel in the Second Chance trilogy, is now in the middle editing stage. I plan to release it by September 2.

Monday, June 20, 2022

A first draft for a first book

I didn't quite finish within Stephen King's recommended limit of 90 days, but I finished nonetheless. The first draft of The Fountain, the first book in the Second Chance series, is a done deal.

With 98 chapters and 122,000 words, the historical epic, set mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1905 and 1906, is the sixth longest of my 21 novels. It is also the first to feature a "fountain of youth," a literary device I have wanted to employ for several years.

In the book, Bill, Paul, and Annie Carpenter, three elderly siblings from 2022, find youth, health, and romance in the time of Teddy Roosevelt. Determined to make the most of their second chance, they start new lives in California with only a vague understanding of a horrific earthquake that awaits them on April 18, 1906.

I expect to revise the manuscript at least three times before sending it to my editor. I hope to find a suitable cover sometime in the next few weeks. The Fountain is still set for a September release.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Writing with perspective

I am sixty now. That means something. It means I now look at the world as a "senior" and not a boy, a young man, or even a man of middle age. And that's important because, for the past ten years, I have written novels from the perspective of (mostly) younger people.

Though my protagonists have ranged in age from twelve (Ashley Lane in The Lane Betrayal) to seventy-eight (Elizabeth Campbell in Mercer Street), most have fallen neatly in the eighteen-to-thirty range.

In my next series, a family saga, I will do something different. I will write a story from the viewpoint of three siblings who are old in mind, if not in body or spirit. I will incorporate the perspective of age.

Bill Carpenter, the oldest sibling, is eighty-one at the start of The Fountain, the first book in the Second Chance series. Paul, his brother, is seventy-five. Annie, their sister, is seventy-two.

The Carpenters don't stay that way, of course. After jumping into a fountain of youth, they emerge in 1905 as young adults. They begin new lives as younger, wiser versions of the people they used to be.

The siblings will retain their "old" minds even as they progress through the rest of the three-book series. They will remember the lessons of their old lives and try to apply them in their new ones.

That's where my age may come in handy. For the first time in a long time, I will be able to write from the perspective of a person who has experienced much of what my characters have experienced. I will be able to write with a little more authority and authenticity.

Throughout The Fountain, I will refer to the 1960s and 1970s, decades I remember, times when my characters came of age and faced life-changing events. I will provide a framework for a story.

I am about forty percent into the first draft of The Fountain, which is set primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1905 and 1906. I expect to publish the novel, my twenty-first overall, in September.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The echoes of 1906

I know disasters. In ten years as an author, I have written about no fewer than seven, including floods, fires, and storms.

In The Fire and The Memory Tree, I burned a few characters in the Great Fire (1910) and Cloquet Fire (1918). In September Sky and Indiana Belle, I blew them away in the Galveston Hurricane (1900) and Tri-State Tornado (1925). I doused thousands in River Rising and Hannah's Moon, which featured the Johnstown Flood (1889) and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (1945). In The Journey, I pushed my protagonist in the path of Mount St. Helens (1980).

I hope to be kinder in the The Fountain, my current work in progress, but I'm not sure I'll be able to. I may not be able to work around one of the most destructive earthquakes in United States history.

On April 18, 1906, nature didn't just throw a fit. It shook San Francisco to its core. It reduced a city of 400,000 people to rubble and lit the match of an even more horrific fire, a fire that changed the world.

The quake itself was bad enough. Estimated at 7.9 on the Richter scale, it rocked most of California and created a rupture three hundred miles long. In some places, it displaced the earth by twenty-eight feet.

The fires did the rest. For four days, they burned mostly uncontrolled, destroying 28,000 buildings, killing up to 3,000 people, and leaving half of San Francisco homeless. They altered the face of a beauty.

Bad luck made things worse. The quake mortally wounded San Francisco's capable fire chief. Authorities who tried to create firebreaks with dynamite created tinder instead. A woman cooking breakfast for her family sparked the 'Ham and Eggs' fire, the worst of dozens that swept the city. Fractured pipes rendered water resources useless.

Hundreds recorded the disaster in words and images. The Call, the Examiner, and the Chronicle, rival newspapers, joined forces for a special edition. Photograher Arnold Genthe began snapping pictures, including the one of Sacramento Street above. Novelist Jack London, who plays a cameo role in The Fountain, rushed to San Francisco from his nearby ranch to capture the essense of the tragedy.

Many residents rushed to get out of the city. Those who remained battled water shortages, disease, violent crime, blackouts, and martial law. The Army, which patrolled the streets until civilian authorities could restore order, shot even suspected looters and conscripted the able-bodied to fight fires and dig graves. Some buried bodies where they fell, mere minutes ahead of the rats and the flames. Others flocked to tent cities and relief centers. Most did what they could do to survive.

Like the disasters in The Fire, September Sky, and River Rising, the quake will dominate the last quarter of its story. Like the other calamities, it will display good behavior and bad in sharp relief.

I have completed a third of The Fountain's first draft. I hope to publish the novel, the first in the Second Chance series, by Labor Day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Saying goodbye to Mom

I said goodbye to my mom this month. I was not ready to. Like others who have lost a parent, I was not ready to say so long.

Most of us, I think it's safe to say, try not to think about such moments. We put off pending unpleasantries like we put off appointments or even our own mortality. We believe parents will live forever.

Mary Heldt, who died last Friday at 90, lived a good life. Though she did not live to be 100, one of her biggest goals, she did live long enough to make a lasting impression on countless others.

My niece Mary called her namesake a matriarch, a teacher, a calming presence, a saint. She was right on every count. Mom was many things to many people, but most of all, she was just a good friend.

I will remember her for many things. She was an organist, a baseball fan, and a fabulous cook. She could whip up tasty dinners from the simplest ingredients and satisfy every palate. She was an avid reader and correspondent, who, in her prime, wrote a hundred letters, by hand, each Christmas.

She was also a selfless caregiver, who in the 1970s babysat as many as seven kids, the children of working mothers, while raising six of her own. She was patient, grounded, and giving.

Though I have many memories of my mom, one will always stand out. I remember it like it was fifty minutes ago and not fifty years. I was eight at the time — and in 1970, that meant something. I was old enough to lobby for a gerbil and young enough to get my way.

Mom set just one rule: "Chopper" had to stay in his cage. She did not want a fidgety rodent with beady eyes running around the house and hiding in strange places. I observed the rule for a while. I observed it until I tired of watching Chopper run on his wheel like a fitness fanatic. I released him, on short paroles, and let him explore my room.

And so it went. For three weeks, I entertained him, and he entertained me. I bonded with a furry creature. I enjoyed him too. I did so until I saw him shake and wobble in a frightening way. I feared the worst when he barely moved one morning. I knew the worst when I came home from school and saw Mom standing at the door.

She did not say a word at first. She just guided her inconsolable son through a grieving process that lasted nearly an hour. She wrapped Chopper in a tissue, put him in a small box, and accompanied me to our landscaped backyard, where we buried him with dignity.

Some parents, of course, would not give a rodent a second thought, much less something amounting to a funeral. They would dispose of the animal and offer their child a hug or words of encouragement.

But not my mother. She went further that day. She demonstrated that all life, no matter how small, is worthy of respect. She provided me with a lesson I've never forgotten and try my best to share.

I'm grateful for that lesson, Mom. I'm grateful for sixty years. I'm grateful I got to speak with you three days before you died. For now, that will have to do. I love you, Mom. I miss you. Until we meet again.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The making of The Mine

It is not my best book — not by a long shot — but it is still the one I treasure most. It is the one that took the slings and arrows while I debated whether to continue a sometimes perilous journey as a novel writer. It was the first to stand the test of time.

For those reasons and more, The Mine, which turns ten years old this weekend, will always hold a special place in my heart and my rapidly expanding library. It is an enduring reminder of the risks and rewards that go with being a self-published author.

The book, once the top item on my bucket list, took shape, at least as an idea, in June 2011. I created a rough outline days after seeing The Time Traveler's Wife, a movie based on a novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Though I liked both the film and the book, I was moved most by the concept of time travel to the recent past. I wanted Joel Smith, my carefree protagonist, to meet people he knew as a young boy.

Once I settled on 1941 Seattle as the primary setting, I faced another decision. Should I go big or go small? Should I have Mr. Smith try to stop Pearl Harbor or do something more realistic? In the end, I decided that most people in Joel's situation would focus more on surviving than changing history. They would try to blend in and meet people. They would save killing Tojo or Hitler for another day.

With that out of the way, I went about writing a novel that had a beginning and an end but not much of a middle. I fleshed out a story about a curious college senior who enters an abandoned mine in 2000, exits in 1941, and tries to finds his way in a world of swing dancing, saddle shoes, and a peacetime draft. I introduced a 22-year-old man to his 21-year-old grandmother, her ill-fated fiancé, and their coed friend, a beautiful, engaged orphan with a tragic past and an uncertain future.

Then I made another decision. On the advice of Maureen Driscoll, a novelist friend, I injected some romance into an adventure story. I turned a tale about Joel and Ginny and Tom into a tale about Joel and Grace. In doing so, I opened doors to new readers, added depth to a two-dimensional story, and created a template for future works. I gave Joel Smith another reason to tread carefully as a time traveler.

By November, I had a finished draft but not a finished book. My daughter Amy, then a 17-year-old honors student, pointed out numerous flaws and introduced me to terms like "headhopper," "conflict," and "story arc." I realized my "novel" looked more like the nonfiction newspaper stories I had written for years. I almost gave up.

Then I went back to work. I made some changes, added fifteen chapters, and expanded several others, including Chapter 34, where Joel and Grace evolve from friends to something more. That chapter, set at a minor league baseball game, is still the longest I have ever written.

Over the next several weeks, I revised the manuscript, enlisted others to proof it, and asked a family friend to create a simple cover. On February 12, 2012, I clicked the "Publish" button on Amazon, went out to dinner, and waited for great things to happen.

News flash: They didn't. Like thousands of other indie authors, I quickly learned a brutal truth of publishing. Writing a book is one thing. Selling it in a competitive marketplace is another. For weeks, I could not give the book away, at least to strangers. Sales skidded to a stop.

Desperate for a break, I pitched The Mine to 17 agents and publishers, including several small presses. All rejected my queries. Though most were pleasant and supportive, a few were not. One agent, named Claudia, said she could not generate "sufficient enthusiasm for the project." I realized that publishing is first and foremost a business, a business whose gatekeepers save their enthusiasm for books that can sell at least 10,000 copies. I turned again to my bucket list.

Then something wonderful happened. Comments trickled in. Positive comments. Then positive reviews. Two reviewers, in particular, lifted The Mine out of obscurity. Kathy Altman praised the book in USA TODAY. Marlene Harris did the same in Library Journal. More reviews, three hundred in all, followed in the coming months.

So did more interest and opportunities. In March 2013, Podium Audio contacted me after noticing that many readers who bought Andy Weir's sci-fi thriller The Martian, then a relatively obscure indie work, also bought The Mine. The Canadian company offered me a publishing contract — my only one to date — and produced an audiobook, with an appealing new cover, before the year was out.

Though The Mine did not keep pace with The Martian, which became a New York Times bestseller and a blockbuster film, it did gain steam with many readers. Bloggers and media outlets continued to review and promote the book. Customers pushed it to the top of several Amazon bestseller lists, including historical fiction. They downloaded a novel agents and publishers would not take onto 180,000 Kindles.

I no longer market The Mine like I used to. Nineteen newer books have taken its place and the opportunities to find new readers have dwindled. The novel, which has undergone numerous revisions, is the professor emeritus of my library. Its best days have come and gone.

Still, the book is important to me. It is a reminder of where I started and where I can still go. It's a testament of what I — or anyone — can do through hard work, perseverance, and the willingness to grow.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A plan for the new year

I am not big on New Year's "resolutions." I consider them empty pledges that usually fall by the wayside in weeks, if not days. I am big on realistic plans and goals though. I consider them essential to progress. So I've sketched out at least a few things I would like to accomplish in what I hope will be a better year for everyone.

First and foremost is a new series. In a few months, I will begin writing another family saga. Like the Northwest Pasage, American Journey, Carson Chronicles, and Time Box sets, it will feature time travel. Unlike the first four series, it will offer a fountain of youth, a short time frame, and older perspectives. It will view the past through the eyes of Boomers rather than Zoomers — specifically three broken, aging siblings who get a second shot at life.

The series will also be a trilogy, my first. Book one will begin in Oregon in 2023, continue in Mexico, and conclude in San Francisco in 1906, the year of the city's most devastating earthquake and fire. Books two and three, still on the drawing board, will take the story to New York City in 1912 and France in 1918. I hope to flesh out more details for all of the books by the end of March.

Later in the year, I will try to convert more titles to audio, including the last four Time Box books. Camp Lake, the Carson finale, is currently in production. It is still slated for a 2022 release.

I will also do more to promote my existing Kindle and print titles through book fairs, interviews, and online promotions. My next BookBub promotion, for The Refuge, is set for January 4.

I hope your 2022 is pleasant and productive. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Breaking down a family saga

Even now, the questions come. Readers of the Time Box series want to know why I did what I did in creating the five novels.

Some ask about characters and plot twists. Others point out peculiarities (and flaws). Most just want to know more. So I will do what I did after finishing the Northwest Passage series and address some of the matters -- and throw in a bit of trivia to boot.

The family name: Many wanted to know why the Lanes did not change their name while fleeing pursuers skilled at checking public records. I resisted making a change for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to keep things simple. When you write a family saga with multiple points of view, settings, and stories, you lose some readers. When you add aliases (and confusion) to the mix, you lose even more. Throughout the series, I tried to a make a complex story less complex. I also wanted the Lanes to retain their identity, something they cherished and ultimately defended.

The significant others: It is no accident that each of the Lane children loved and lost before finding an ideal companion. As with siblings Natalie, Caitlin, and Cody in the Carson Chronicles, I wanted them to struggle, at least a bit, to better appreciate what they found at the end. And though Ashley and Chip Brown had just started their romantic journey in Crown City, I purposely left the impression that the two had a future. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

Grace and Sarah: Kudos to perceptive readers who noticed similarities between Grace Vandenberg in The Mine and Sarah Gustafson in The Refuge. Both women were friendly, studious, blue-eyed blondes with a penchant for mischief. Both were born in rural Minnesota in the early 1920s and orphaned before they could finish college. The two could have been cousins.

Maddie and Patty: I did not even try to hide the similarities here. Ashley's best friends in Sea Spray and Crown City shared many of the same qualities, qualities that allowed a young protagonist to grow. It's not difficult to see Maddie Price, a product of the 1920s, fitting into Patty Brown's social circle in the early 1960s.

The series settings: Placing the Lanes in Virginia and Washington, D.C., in The Lane Betrayal was a no-brainer. I wanted to put the family near the center of action in 1865, the final year of the American Civil War. In later books, I simply followed the history. I thought Chicago, Long Island, Hawaii, and Southern California best reflected 1893, 1927, 1941, and 1963, respectively.

My favorite characters: Jeremy and Mary. Jeremy provided comic relief when it was needed. Mary, his stalwart mother, gave the series a strong, moral underpinning. Ashley was my next favorite. I enjoyed writing her character in each of the last three books.

Jeremy and the draft: When I finished Crown City, I left the impression Jeremy would somehow avoid Vietnam, either by leaving the country or getting a college deferment. Later, I learned he would have been fine, no matter what. As a man who tied the knot before August 25, 1965, when President Johnson signed Executive Order 11241, he could have legally put off military service.

'Mrs. Brown' song: From the start, I wanted to include "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" in Crown City's slumber party chapter. Then I learned that the most well-known version of the song, by Herman's Hermits, did not exist in 1963. Fortunately for me, another version, the first version, did. Tom Courtenay, an English actor, released a 45 of "Mrs. Brown" in 1963. Problem solved.

Craig Henderson: I expanded this bit player's role to answer the central question of the Time Box series: How far would you go for the ones you love? I wanted readers to put themselves in the shoes of time travelers who had the power to save lives, even at a cost.

Bobby Devereaux: One reader asked about the fate of the three-year-old boy after he was adopted by a family that wanted him. I did not answer the question in the book, but I did provide a clue. In the case of nature vs. nurture, I cast a vote for the latter.