Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Mine by John Heldt: Interview & Excerpt




In 2000, Joel Smith is a cocky, adventurous young man who sees the world as his playground. But when the college senior, days from graduation, enters an abandoned Montana mine, he discovers the price of reckless curiosity. He emerges in May 1941 with a cell phone he can't use, money he can't spend, and little but his wits to guide his way. Stuck in the age of Whirlaway, swing dancing, and a peacetime draft, Joel begins a new life as the nation drifts toward war. With the help of his 21-year-old trailblazing grandmother and her friends, he finds his place in a world he knew only from movies and books. But when an opportunity comes to return to the present, Joel must decide whether to leave his new love in the past or choose a course that will alter their lives forever. THE MINE follows a humbled man through a critical time in history as he adjusts to new surroundings and wrestles with the knowledge of things to come.

 


CHAPTER 20

Joel thought about mattresses as he walked north on the Ave.

He thought of the queen-sized box spring he had in his apartment, the waterbed he had had growing up, and the king-sized memory foam special in his parents' bedroom. He even thought about flimsy bunk-bed pads, the kind Saint Xavier's Mission had but could not offer when it told him there was no more room in the inn.

The pampered youngest son of Frank and Cynthia Smith could not remember the last time fatigue and hunger had gripped him like this. He gained new respect for those who spent each day walking the streets.

Joel also thought about the blonde. Who was she? And why had she stared at him? Was Joel Smith, world traveler, gold card member, and former all-state linebacker, now an object of pity? He did not think so. He saw empathy in those incredible eyes, not contempt. Still, he wondered.

As Joel proceeded down the busy arterial, he passed a few familiar sights. Some things had not visibly changed in fifty-nine years, such as two brownstone apartment buildings, a Mission Revival grade school in the Heights, and three taverns with colorful names. He stood before one, the Mad Dog, and considered his options.

The Mad Dog did not have memory foam mattresses for weary time travelers. But it did have a long sidewalk bench. Joel sat down on one end and extended his legs toward the other. He pondered walking to a nearby park but decided to stay put. The bench was hard but relatively comfortable. If necessary, he could make it his bed for the night.

He closed his eyes and thought of pleasant things: his mother's Cacciatore, the hot tub at home, Jana in a string bikini, Maui, and the blonde. He could still picture her face.

Miss Denmark has nothing on you.

Joel was about to drift off when a party of three crashed through the tavern door. Two men about his age escorted another to the other side of the Ave, where a narrow, unlighted alley between a law office and a used bookstore allowed private conversations. An American flag flew in front of the redbrick law office.

"I believe the sum was twenty dollars," Joel heard one of them say.

"And I said I'd have it by Wednesday."

"You said that a week ago. Let's see your wallet."

Silence passed for a moment, and then another. Pleased that the misunderstanding across the street had been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, Joel again settled into the bench and let fatigue take its course. He visualized Kapalua and another epic dispute. In this clash, Jana and Smiling Sarah fought over his beach towel. Blondie from Forty-Seventh Street, whistle in mouth, mediated the spat, which had gone into overtime. The bliss ended all too soon.

"That isn't going to do it. You owe us twenty, not ten."

"It's all I have. I'll give you the rest later. I promise."

"That's not good enough."

Joel hated the dull sound of fists hitting bellies. He hated that total strangers had interrupted his best daydream in weeks. Most of all, he hated that he would have to jump into the fray or tune out a nasty assault. Violence, he reasoned, belonged on football fields and in boxing rings, not dark alleys in Seattle, Washington. He jumped off the bench, donned his hat, and walked slowly across the Ave.

"OK, gentlemen, break it up."

The bill collectors, in sleeveless shirts and cuffed denim, turned toward Joel. So did their better-dressed debtor, who bled from both sides of his mouth.

"Well, take a look," the larger aggressor said. "It's John Wayne."

With pompadour hair, low bushy eyebrows, and a six-inch scar that ran across his chin, he was all set for Halloween and not one to talk. He laughed, sneered at Joel, and resumed his business, lifting the ragdoll to his feet before knocking him down.

"I said break it up."

Mr. Congeniality kicked his prostrate victim in the side for good measure, then spun around and briskly walked up to Joel. With twenty pounds on the peacemaker, he got right in his face.

"And what are you going to do if I don't?"

"I'm going to run your ass up that flagpole and then do your mother."

The bully nixed the small talk. He crouched, shifted his weight to his back foot, and threw a clenched fist at Joel's face. The right hook grazed an ear. When he reloaded and fired again, Joel caught his wrist, twisted his arm behind his back, and shoved him face first into an overflowing garbage can. The metal lid rolled into the street.

The man got up slowly and brushed coffee grounds off his shirt. He lowered his shoulders, snarled, and charged with the fury of a wounded bull. Once again, Joel was ready. He stepped to one side, tripped the lout to the pavement, and jumped on his back. He grabbed a handful of hair and slammed his face into the ground.

"Do you give, or do we discuss your sister too?"

"I give."

Joel lifted the trash – the one on two legs – and kicked it hard to the curb. The man struggled to his feet, looked around, and appealed for help but found none. His scrawny sidekick had already grabbed the wallet and bolted. Stunned, humbled, and furious, the ruffian glared at Joel, extended the middle finger of his undamaged hand, and retreated north. It was over that fast.


Welcome John!  Thanks so much for stopping in today so we can find out a little about you and your debut book.  Tell us about your current release.

The Mine is a novel with something for everyone: humor, history, adventure, romance, and drama. It is the story of Joel Smith, a cavalier college senior who road trips to Yellowstone in May 2000, enters an abandoned mine on a lark, and emerges from the mine in May 1941. With little but his wits to guide his way, he returns to his hometown of Seattle and starts a new life among a circle of friends that includes his 21-year-old grandmother and a beautiful, recently-engaged honors student named Grace Vandenberg. Joel possesses encyclopedic knowledge of the past, and he struggles with how to apply it. He knows Pearl Harbor will affect his friends in tragic, irrevocable ways. But he knows he is an interloper in another time and vows to limit his impact on the fate of others, a goal that becomes problematic when he falls in love with Grace. The Mine is a book that entertains, but it is also one that prompts readers to think and ask some big questions.

Tell us about a favorite character from a book.

Most readers gravitate toward Joel. He is the protagonist and the heart and soul of The Mine. But my favorite character is Grace. She is appealing not only because she is smart, beautiful, and kind, but also because she has a compelling, albeit tragic, life story and views the world with childlike innocence. Raised by missionaries in Africa, the Philippines, and war-torn China, she is a stranger to modern technology and the complicated social norms of 1941 America. She is a sympathetic character who, like Joel, adjusts to new challenges in surprising ways.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?

When you write a novel, you don't simply type words on a screen. You get sucked into your story. The narrative is real. The characters are real. They are in your head 24 hours a day and don't go away. When I wrote newspaper articles years ago, I left the subjects behind as soon as I filed the stories. That's not the case here. I suspect Joel, Grace, and others will be with me for years to come.

Tell us about the absolute BEST fan letter you have received.

When I wrote The Mine, a romance novel, I expected feedback from women. They represent 91 percent of the market, according to a 2011 Romance Writers of America survey. I did not expect many letters from men, particularly men with military backgrounds. The Mine is romance, not Rambo. But I've received quite a few inspiring comments, including one from a Navy veteran who said he couldn't put the book down. That made my day.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

The last paragraph of Chapter 40 fills the bill:

Yet when Joel thought again about what had transpired and the effect he had already had on several people, he did not hear a symphony. He did not hear bells or whistles or even fireworks. Instead, he heard something ominous, something he had vowed to avoid and could little afford to recklessly invite: the distant but unmistakable sound of thunder.

Joel has just kissed Grace in an outburst of affection that sends her running away in tears. He realizes, for the first time, that he is altering the fates of others and it troubles him. The last three words are a reference to Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder," where a time traveler makes a mess of the future by imposing on the past. Joel is very mindful of this story.

If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?
I think it would be fun to be Joel for a day and carry knowledge back to a time where I could put it to use. Joel doesn't just struggle in 1941; he has fun. He wins bets on sporting events and playfully interacts with people who don't know what the next 59 years will bring. But I would want to take his place only for a day. Nineteen forty-one was a serious year and I don't think anyone would want to be stuck in it for the long haul.



John A. Heldt is a reference librarian who lives and works in Montana. The former award-winning sportswriter and newspaper editor has loved reading and writing since writing book reports on baseball heroes in grade school. A graduate of both the University of Oregon and University of Iowa, he is an avid fisherman, sports fan, home brewer, and reader of thrillers and historical fiction. THE MINE is his first novel.

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