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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

“A Plotter, Not A Pantser” – By John A. Heldt

This time I would like to welcome time travelling author, John A. Heldt, to Fiction Books.

John is author of  the successful, five part, time travel series Northwest Passage and has recently released the first episode of a brand new time travel series, American Journey.

I’ll hand you straight over to John, to introduce himself and let you in on a few of the secrets he uses when planning a book …

Hi! I’m John A. Heldt

Image Of Author John A. Heldt - Updated February 2015I am a product of the Pacific Northwest. Born in Portland, Oregon, I grew up in the suburbs and small towns of Oregon and Washington, as the third oldest of six children.

I began writing professionally a year out of college as a journalist and went on to report and edit for four Northwest newspapers, taking second in a regional sports writing competition in 1994. I changed careers in the late nineties and became a reference librarian in Montana.

I turned to novel writing in 2011 when, inspired by the success of a college friend, the romance novelist Maureen Driscoll, I wrote The Mine, which was destined to become the first episode of the hugely successful, five part Northwest Passage series … and since then, I have never looked back!

Last year my wife took a position with the ‘Teach For America’ programme, so we are now living in Alabama, whilst my three children, two daughters and a son, are all grown and living independently.

I am an avid fisherman, sports fan, home brewer, reader of thrillers and historical fiction, and active blogger.

Catch up with my blog posts at my website

Follow me on Twitter

Like me on Facebook

Image Of Author John A. Heldt - Updated February 2015

A “Plotter” Not A “Pantser”

E.L. Doctorow once said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I must say that, for the most part, I can’t relate. When it comes to producing novels, I’m a “plotter” and not a “pantser.” A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of his (or her) pants — a person who can reach a destination without looking too far ahead.

Writing for me is not a spontaneous process that begins by opening a blank page on my laptop. It is a process that is so clear and ordered, it’s like driving all day in sunshine on a flat, straight, traffic-free highway with my GPS navigator activated.

My outline takes the form of detailed chapter summaries that can run from twenty words to two hundred. If there’s something I want to mention in Chapter 26, I’ll leave myself a reminder. Often I will add entire quotes or passages to a summary.

By the time I’m ready to start Chapter 1, I know not only which roads I will take to get to my destination but also which ones I’ll avoid. Virtually every twist, turn, and potential obstacle will be identified well in advance.

I say virtually because, like most authors, I like to leave some room to depart from the script and do something entirely different.

‘The Mine’ – Book One Of The Northwest Passage Series

When I wrote The Mine, my first novel, I added a Japanese-American character about a third of the way in. The character, a college senior named Katie, became one of the most instrumental figures in the book. In three other novels, I added two lengthy chapters after the first draft was “finished.”

I’ve found that this approach works well. By outlining a novel in advance, I reduce the chances of writing myself into a corner. By leaving myself wiggle room, I leave open the possibility of heading down a better road.

In the twentieth of his twenty-two lessons on writing, Stephen King advises writers to take a break from their finished draft. He suggests six weeks, in fact, so that they can return to their manuscript with fresh eyes and see the proverbial forest among the trees.

I think this is sound advice. Good writing is a process that requires not only discipline and perseverance but also patience and perspective. What may seem a great idea in the planning stages may seem downright dumb in the end.

As I jump into the second novel of my second series, I plan to drive during the day with a map handy. But I’m going to keep an eye on the signs. Last-minute detours can to more than make a trip more interesting. They can make it better.

‘September Sky’ – Book One Of The American Journey Series

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, it was great to meet you all and I hope that you enjoy my time travel adventures.

Image Of Author John A. Heldt - Updated February 2015

John A. Heldt

Thanks for stopping by John. It is always good to learn of the different and diverse approaches authors take to researching, writing and finally, editing their work.

This article formed part of a post on the author’s website and was offered to me with permission, for re-posting here at Fiction Books.

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I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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  • Alas not a fan of the whole time travel genre, I admit to being completely thrown by the whole concept, these aren’t books I can see myself reading any time soon. Still, interesting guest post, thanks.

    • Hi Tracy,

      I’m not a huge fan of the genre per se, however I found John’s style of writing very easy to get along with and the pages simply flew by. I have to confess that I didn’t read the entire ‘Northwest Passage’ series, only the first episode, ‘The MIne’, but that is more the fact that I am not a series person, than anything else.

      I have the first episode of the ‘American Journey’ series, ‘September Sky’ in my TBR pile and have no hesitation in wanting to read another time travel story by this author.

      Without even reading John’s guest post, hubbie had declared me a ‘plotter’ not a ‘pantser’ and I do have to say that I can only agree with him. I have a list for lists and just about every aspect of my time is planned to the nth degree. Spontaneity is definitely not one of my better traits, although if you are looking for a an organised person who can lay their hands on just about anything on demand, then I’m your girl!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, even though this genre of writing isn’t for you, I appreciate it 🙂

  • Hello John and Yvonne.
    The books sound good, The Mine especially. I like the idea of traveling back in time then deciding whether to stay or go back home.
    I enjoyed On Writing as well, I was fascinated by King and his sharing his process.
    Great post and enjoy your week!

    • Hi Naida,

      If you are new to the time travel genre ‘The Mine’ is a great first read, at least it was for me. The writing style was easy to get along with, the storyline not overly complicated yet intriguing and the characters well defined and easy to connect with.

      The only reason I haven’t explored the subsequent books in the series, is purely and simply time. I have so many books in my TBR pile, that I can’t afford to become a ‘series reader’, as much as I might like to.

      ‘September Sky’ does sound very good though and as it is set in a completely different time era, it will be like starting out anew on the time travel experience for me.

      I haven’t read the Stephen King piece both yourself and John refer to, but it sounds as though I should, although I don’t know if I could walk away from a project for few weeks, as he seems to suggest. As I have so many lists on the go at any given time, I am a great one for getting on with a task, completing it, so that it is a tick box on my list – patience definitely isn’t one of my virtues!! 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by, I always appreciate your contribution to a discussion, you have such an interesting viewpoint.

  • While I don’t believe time travel can work in reality, I don’t mind reading books that employ its use. After all, it’s ‘fiction’.

    I enjoyed this guest post and even though I’m not a writer, I know if I were that I would be a plotter for sure! I’m far too OCD and organized to just jump in without a plan. Now that doesn’t mean my plans always pan out or I’m not open to change (which I’ve gotten much better at in my old age), but I still like to have guidelines.

    Excellent post! Thanks to you and the author for providing it.

    • Hi Kelly,

      As you say, it is fiction and not too be taken too seriously. Having said that, hubbie has always maintained that time travel will become a reality in the future, although not unfortunately in our lifetime, as I am sure he would be waiting in line to sign up!

      Wow! I’ve just read back over the replies I’ve written and am not liking what I am seeing. I am not spontaneous, I am not patient and I was about to respond to your comment, that I am not very open to change either … I don’t seem to have many good traits going for me, unless you like someone who lives their life by lists! Perhaps in another few years I will start to mellow a little 🙂

      I really enjoyed reading this post when John sent it across, so I am pleased that you also liked it. I am amazed at just how many authors find it difficult to put together a spontaneous and interesting guest post, John certainly nailed this one!

      Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of your week.

Written by Yvonne