Welcome to the six hundred and seventy-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with sports / paranormal novelist and short story author John Heldon. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, John. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
John: I’m John Heldon, and I retired a couple of years ago. I live with my wife of 43 years, Virginia, in Marlboro, New Jersey, USA. Over the past twenty or so years I’ve been a piece of flint about writing, not being able to work more than full time as a small businessman, and write at the same time. However, when I retired, sure enough that flint sparked, and I burn to write each day. I never figured myself as a late bloomer, go figure.
Morgen: 🙂 Most of the members of my writing groups are retired because they’ve now got the time to write. I’ve often said in these interviews that 300 words a day equates to 100,000 words a year but of course it’s easier said than done to find the time even to write that every day. I need something like NaNoWriMo to write chunks. Fortunately Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up and I’ll be continuing my crime series. Having done NaNoWriMo five times, I’d encourage anyone to do either (or both) because it definitely focuses the mind. What genre do you generally write?
John: Sports fiction, with paranormal elements. Someday, I would like to write for children.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
John: My first book “Ark”, as well as a “boomer humour” blog http://ivegotafunnystory.com, twice or thrice weekly. My legal name is “John J. Heldon, Jr.” Because my dad, God bless him, is still alive. I write under just “John Heldon”. I’m still easy enough to find.
Morgen: That’s the trick, we should be Googleable. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
John: I am self published. I read and heard some horror stories about getting traditionally published. Then I heard about Amanda Hocking, and her success marketing the Internet, so I decided to go that route.
Morgen: I’m self-published too and we all strive for Amanda’s success. It’s tough but ‘you have to be in it to win it’, as they say. Is your book available as an eBook? How involved were you in that process?
John: “Ark” is available on Kindle, and Nook. I published through Createspace, and they handled the setup.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
John: My favorite is Charlie Bennett from “Ark”. The story is about a college basketball team of ghosts from 40 years ago, but the twist is these ghosts’ personas are still ALIVE in the present. Charlie is the best player, and his teammates rely on him. However, he is conflicted, both in the time warp, and the present time. He embodies not only the mistakes an athlete makes in planning for the future, but those we all do. Just as he needed to have two dreams, one based on athletics as well as academics, we should all have back up dreams. Second chances at redemption can be gotten, and Charlie turns out all right in the end. The older Charlie would be Kevin Costner, but I’m undecided for the younger Charlie.
Morgen: Maybe your readers could tell you. Which author would you compare your writing to?
John: F Scott Fitzgerald. I hope someday to get within a mile of his talent, lol! “The Great Gatsby”, in my opinion, doesn’t have a word out of place.
Morgen: I’ve not read it but will definitely watch the movie. Having a word-perfect book is something we all inspire to. Did you have any say in the title / cover of your books? How important do you think they are?
John: I had total say. The cover is two pictures, one front and the other back, of the “Ark”, the building so nicknamed. I felt the picture of a building instead of a boat would provoke “pickup curiosity”.
Morgen: I like pictures with a lot in them (as invariably you spot something different each time) yet with an uncluttered feel as yours has. What are you working on at the moment / next?
John: I’m working on “Ark, Book II ‘Beneath’”. I’m afraid this one’s a breach baby. The delivery is much more difficult than the first. I’m hoping the third of the trilogy “Ark, Book III ‘Above’” will take after the first.
Morgen: Oh dear. If it’s any consolation. I wrote my sixth novel for NaNoWriMo last November and that was probably the hardest, although it’s the beginning of a series so a different beast. I’m now planning the series before I carry on, which is something I find I don’t need to do with standalones. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
John: I try very hard to, whether social media, blogging or a few novel pages. I minimized the block because writing is such a pleasure to me, and I’m playing catch up, remember. However some days are hard, and I wonder if prune juice can be used as ink for writers.
Morgen: <laughs> I don’t like prunes but I stayed with a friend (who runs http://loose-muse.com) when I did a talk for her (on blogging) at London’s Poetry Café last week and she offered me a prune yoghurt and it was actually nice. I mentioned planning – do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
John: Both. I can’t just make a detailed outline, and then write from there. I would find that creatively minimizing.
Morgen: It’s how I feel as I love it when the story takes over, especially when the characters have their way. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
John: In “Ark” the basketball characters are composites of different players I’ve come across over the years. Some readers have come up to me and said, “That guy is such and such, no?” I then say, “You’re only part right.” I give them some other hints, and they say, “Oh!”
Another main character is partly based on a friend of mine, who happens to be Irish, and his role is that of a promoter, so I mixed his traits with PT Barnum, and named him “Ken Blarney”. He got a kick out of it.
Morgen: I featured one of my friends and gave her a promotion – she loved that. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
John: As I write, I always stay on good terms with the backspace button. I find that cleans up most of the mess, and I also have a great in house editor in my wife!
Morgen: Ah, handy. Feedback’s so important. Do you have to do much research?
John: So far I haven’t. “Ark” is set in the state of Delaware, USA. I made sure I had the local and proximities straight.
Morgen: I set most of my stories locally. It does make life easier. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
John: First and third about equally. I think the second person comes off too “preachy.” I lay my views on the page for reader to accept or reject them.
Morgen: It can do, it’s certainly an acquired taste (one I’ve gladly acquired despite most editors and readers not liking it). We’ve talked about your novels, but I also listed you as a short story author in the introduction…
John: There are ninety-something short stories on my blog, http://ivegotafunnystory.com, mostly baby boomer humour.
Morgen: I love short stories, especially humorous ones. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
John: Not yet!
Morgen: Excellent. Let’s hope it stays that way. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
John: Being self-published, I’ve avoided most of that, and thankfully, almost all the reviews have been very good. Amanda Hocking had 50 or so people tell her that her work wasn’t worth their time, and we know how that worked out. I believe I have enough faith in myself to overcome rejection.
Morgen: Dean Koontz was reported to have had over 500 rejections and although I don’t write horror, I do find that inspiring. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
John: No. And No.
Morgen: 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
John: I’m still in the “establishing” phase. My publisher at Createspace told me I’d have to stay with it for 2-3 years, but I’m enjoying the journey so I don’t set a timeframe for success. I also don’t measure success in terms of book sales. Some of the greatest books didn’t sell well in their author’s lifetime.
Morgen: This blog will be two years’ old on the 31st so I have another year to go. 🙂 When I started writing (seven years ago) I looked at Barbara Cartland and thought that if she was writing in her 90s then I had plenty of time. I still feel like that. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
John: Write the book, market the book, publish the book, in that order.
Morgen: It’s interesting you say that. This blog, although mostly about my guests, it undoubtedly marketing for me too and I one novel out so far, I am hanging fire on the marketing of that until I have more. Not everyone wants chick lit (or as a top agent once told me, no-one wants chick lit!). 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
John: Jesus, Leonardo diVinci, and Paul Robeson. The most influential person the world has ever known, the most brilliant mind, and the soundest mind and body in a person. I would serve them tilapia in a red garlic sauce on a bed of polenta and a broccoli side.
Morgen: I’d not heard of ‘tilapia’ until you mentioned it so had to Google to find out that it’s fish. Don’t you just love the internet. 🙂 If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
John: The day I married my wife of 43 years.
Morgen: Ahh… 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
John: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth, and all that’s in it, and, what is more, you’ll be a man, my son.” Kipling
Morgen: I like that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
John: Gardening, cooking, or watching college basketball.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Morgen: <curtseys> Thank you very much. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
John: The pendulum controlling the current rage of writing will eventually swing back the other way. The fad, or ‘look what I did’ writers will wither away, while the real writers will keep writing.
Morgen: We will. I have no plans to give up. Whether that makes me ‘real’ or not, time will tell, but if I only end up writing for pleasure (and share for free), then I’ll be happy. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
John: Is there just one of you, or are you triplets, to get all you get done?
Morgen: <laughs> Just one of me, although triplets would be great. My mum’s a twin (she and my aunt will be 82 in September) but it usually skips a generation. Thank you, John. I’m delighted you could join me today.
I then invited John to include a synopsis…
“Ark Book II Beneath” is a departure from the first book, where the Ark is a stage for a play about redemption. In Book two, the Ark takes on a personality of its own, while still being the site of two stories being told at once, in alternating chapters, and hurtling towards each other. There are characters in Book II who had very minor roles in Book I, and have major roles in the sequel. There is a thread between the two books, and they can be read independently or in order. This is a challenge for me to have them separated, while still married.
John J. Heldon, Jr. was born in 1947 and raised in Bergen County, New Jersey, USA. After attending Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, he embarked on a career in sales before founding a successful plastics fabricating business, after which he became a real estate developer. “Ark” is his first novel. He lives in Marlboro, NJ, with his wife, Virginia. They have one son, Geoff, and daughter-in-law, Evelyn.
His blog, “ivegotafunnystory.com” is a compilation of “boomer humor” friends and family anecdotes which he adds to regularly.
“Ark” is meant to be the first book of a trilogy. “Ark, book two ‘Beneath'” is currently being written.
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