Featured Author Jean Hackensmith

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 Join us today for a special guest author, time travel romance author Jean Hackensmith. Jean writes as part of a duo and her co-author is Kathe Birch.

 Jean and Kathe wrote “Charmed Passage” in just over a year and had about half of “Destined Passage” done when they had a falling out and did not see each other for over two years. Luckily they mended fences, though, and, after giving “Charmed Passage” a facelift, it was published in 2000. “Destined Passage” followed in 2001 and “Doomed Passage” in 2002. With the time travel romance trilogy complete, Jean and Kathe moved on to “The Gitche Gumee Saga”, an historical romance saga – that’s when the letters and emails started. Readers wanted another “Passage” book. Jean and Kathe put their heads together to try and figure out how in the heck they were going to write another book when the trilogy had been designed to make that impossible. Well, nothing is impossible if you’re determined, they found out, and after coming up with what they think was an “ultimate” idea, they got to work. “The Ultimate Passage” was released earlier this year. A labor of love, “The Ultimate Passage” revisits all of the characters seen in the trilogy – which has now become a saga.

You can visit their website at www.porttownpublishing.com


Hi Jean, 

 Welcome to Paperback Writer 

Will you share with us how you came up with the idea for this book?  

 Truthfully, “The Ultimate Passage” was never supposed to have been written. When Kathe and I finished the first three books in the “Passage” time travel trilogy, we thought we were done. In fact, the amulet that induced the time travel was “disposed of” at the end of “Doomed Passage.” It was supposed to be just a trilogy, after all. We cried a little at having to let our characters go (and we also tore down the extra room we had built onto our houses for them!) then moved on to the “Gitche Gumee Saga.”  That was when the letters and emails started. Our readers wanted another “Passage” book. “So,” we asked ourselves, “how do we write a forth book when the amulet was destroyed at the end of book three?” Well, after much collaborating, we came up with what we think is a fantastic idea, an ultimate idea. We had already visited the Civil War era, the post Civil War era, the Titanic, and the Salem Witch Hunts in the other books. Our new idea necessitated going even further back in time. Hence the reason we chose 14th century Scotland and a Scottish castle as the setting for the new book. The research alone that went into “The Ultimate Passage” was phenomenal. In the old days, it would have filled a file cabinet. Luckily now days, it took up only a few files on a computer hard drive. The main plot idea behind “The Ultimate Passage” is one Jean had been playing with for years. In a nutshell, take a futuristic man—one from way into the future, who lives in a time period where citizens live in domed cities, war and disease are no more—and sex has been outlawed. It’s messy and unsanitary, after all, and it can also lead to sexually transmitted disease. Now, put this guy back in 14th century Scotland, where they do still have sex, and make him fall in love with a very beautiful woman. Oh, and I forgot to mention, this guy is also President of the United States. Yes, you get the idea…

 Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it? 

Kathe and I have the basic plot of the story down when we start writing, but that’s about it. From then on, we let the characters write their own story. This method has worked well both in my own writing and in my collaborations with Kathe. Basically, the story kind of writes itself and, believe me, things come out on the computer screen all the time that we had never even dreamed of. 

Do you know the end of the story at the beginning? 

Yes. That is one thing we always do. We plot the beginning and the end, then just kind of fill in the middle. 

Do you have a process for developing your characters?  

We always start with character sketches for all the main characters in the book. These “outlines” describe everything from a character’s eye and hair color, to their height, weight, personal backgrounds and family ties. To bring a character alive, he or she must each have a personal conflict that they bring to the relationship; a conflict, of course, that will affect their ability to freely love their partner. This conflict, of course, has be to resolved by the end of the book. In our instance, the main conflict, of course, is always that one of the characters comes from a time period far distant from that of their love interest. 

It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be? 

In our case, I do all of the writing. Kathe is the researcher and she helps with plotting. When we write together, I generally dictate and she types. We’ve found that is the best way to get realistic dialogue…to say it aloud. (And, believe me, she let’s me know when something doesn’t sound right!) And, yes, I can safely say that you will sometimes see me emerge in some aspects of my heroine’s personality. For instance, I am a rape victim. In “Doomed Passage,” Ariana is also a victim of a brutal rape. Her feelings, her fears, used to be mine—and my husband can be seen in Ian’s gentle persuasion, as well as in his frustration at times. I also like to think I have a good sense of humor, which also is relayed through my characters. And Kathe, well let me put it this way…the lady tends to go bonkers after midnight, which is when we do some of our best writing.

 What is your most favorite part about this book? 

Definitely being able to mix the past and the present. In “The Ultimate Passage,” though the characters are actually living in 14th century Scotland, the reader will see ships from the 19th century and the 21st century—compliments of a goddess named Aveena. There are also the little things—like introducing futuristic characters to a 14th century “privy.” Not a pleasant experience, I assure you. Darius Calhoun (our hero) is also quite comical at times when he tries to deal with the mere idea of that forbidden concept called “sex.” Kathe and I had a great time putting him in all kinds of erotic situations and settings. I will warn the reader, though; “The Ultimate Passage” is sometimes sexually graphic, and it has to be. In short, Lara (the heroine) has to take Darius by the hand and walk him through the process of falling in love. My second favorite part about “The Ultimate Passage,” and all of the “Passage” books for that matter, is that the main characters from the previous books are also active characters in each successive book. Our readers were especially appreciative of these plot lines. Let’s face it. If you really like a book, it’s hard to leave the characters behind. Well, in the “Passage” saga, you don’t have to. Rest assured, they will always be back in the next book.

 When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher? 

I’m am luckier than most authors in this aspect. I own my own publishing company. So, once a book is finished, it hits book stores shelves a few months later—or, at the very least, it can be ordered from your local book store as well as the Port Town Publishing web site and Amazon.com.  

What struggles have you had on the road to being published? 

Before I started my own company, I, like every author, was a struggling writer looking for a publisher. I literally papered my office walls with rejection slips (I’d read that Kathleen Woodiwiss—my idol—did the same and thought it was a cool idea. A way of kind of snubbing your nose at the all powerful New York publisher, I guess.) Anyway, by the end, I was getting personalized rejection letters, rather than form letters—a plus, believe me. The publishers were actually telling me that they liked my work, but I needed to change this, this, and this. Well, I did change this, this, and this and resubmitted to those who allowed it, and still got nowhere—except to be bombarded with more suggested changes. Then it got to the point where the big publishers wouldn’t look at unsolicited material. Okay, time to find an agent. I did so, rather easily—in fact too easily. This guy suggested that I have the book professionally edited, and he suggested an editor. Well, to make a long story short, the editor took $1500 from me and never did a thing. The agent was getting kickbacks for referring authors. It was a racket of the most painful kind. I finally got a letter from the attorney general in the state where the editor and agent lived, stating that both were being prosecuted for fraud. I never saw the manuscript again, or my $1500, but I learned a valuable lesson. I also got ticked off and decided to “do it myself.” Consequently, I self-published “Wagons To The Past,” my own book (not co-authored with Kathe). I spent countless hours researching book marketing, then went to work. “Wagons To The Past” sold just over 3000 copies in the first few months. Not a lot by big publisher standards, but I was ecstatic. In an author chatroom one night, I ran into a guy named Jonathan Briggs. He had written a science fiction novel called “S-4”. He asked if I would be willing to read it and, if I liked it, would I consider publishing it for him. I did, and Port Town Publishing was born. 

What has been the best part about being published?

 Putting my work into the hands of enthusiastic and devoted readers. There are authors out there who are just happy to have a book in print and say that they’re a “published author” (and, believe me, I’ve met more than a few of them through my publishing company). To me and Kathe, though, having people other than family and friends read our work and like it is the most satisfying feeling in the world. To know that we are able to produce a book that is capable of helping the average person forget their worries for a while and escape into another world is more than we’d ever hoped to dream. 

What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel? 

The characters…and they do. I’ve had countless readers tell me that the characters in the “Passage” saga are realistic, likeable and believable. Female readers actually fall in love with our heroes. Our guys don’t always do the “right” thing, though. They make mistakes, and they are sometimes jerks, because they’re human. In fact, we’ve had some readers tell us that they didn’t like Ian in “Doomed Passage”, because he was too real. He didn’t always treat Ariana like a queen; in fact, he leaves her for a year and a half during the course of the book. He’s also sixteen years older than her, which was an issue for some readers. Ian redeems himself in the end, of course, but at times he is not a likeable guy. Hands down, though, our readers’ favorite characters so far are Eric and Kristie from “Charmed Passage,” the first book in the saga. People absolutely love Eric—even though he is an alcoholic. Again, he is real. Our female characters are both spunky and vulnerable and, yes, even bratty at times…again, like real women. 

Do you have plans to write another book? 

Personally, I just finished what I think will be classified as a romantic suspense. Maybe even a thriller. This new book, titled “Daddy’s Revenge” is headed for an agent and a “big” publisher. Hopefully it will hit book store shelves within the next couple of years. The story deals with a woman whose ex-husband tried to kill her and her children seventeen years earlier and is now being released on parole. He still wants to kill her and his terroristic stalking makes for an edge of your seat thriller. 

Would you care to share with us how the virtual book tour experience with Pump Up Your Book Promotion has been for you?  

In one short word, wonderful. To be honest, I had no idea what a “blog” was until I started working on this tour. Cheryl from Pump Up Your Book Promotion has been both patient and understanding, and very thorough. I can’t thank her enough. 

Where can readers find a copy of your book? 

Our books can be ordered from any bookstore. They are also available on Amazon.com and through the publisher website at www.porttownpublishing.com. In fact, the publisher website sells the entire “Passage” saga as a set, saving the reader $10.00.

 Do you have a website for readers to go to? 

 Not a personal one as of the writing of this interview. I simply haven’t had time what with my writing and with trying to run a publishing company. I am going to be doing a MySpace page, though, in the very near future, and it might be up by the time this interview appears. Readers can find synopsis’ and excerpts from all of mine and Kathe’s books (as well as my own solely-authored titles) on the publisher website.

 Thank you, Jean for sharing your book and characters with us today. It has been a pleasure and I hope you have had a successful virtual book tour.  

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9 thoughts on “Featured Author Jean Hackensmith”

  1. Well, it’s 2:00 a.m. here…officially December 4th, so I want to thank Paperback Writer for hosting the second stop on my Virtual Book Tour. I will be checking the blog every hour or so throughout the day, so if anyone has any questions or comments regarding “The Ultimate Passage” or The “Passage” Saga in general, I will be sure to answer them! I will, of course, also answer any questions posed to me personally about writing in general or my publishing company, Port Town Publishing.

  2. Okay, Jean, I want to know what the falling out was about and how Jean and Kathe reunited. Sounds like a great story!

    I’m be sure to check out your books!


  3. What a great interview ladies. This series does sound awesome. I just have one question, if you put some of your personality into each book, which traits of yours does the witch in “Doomed Passage” have? LOL!

    Thanks so much for the compliment, Jean. I’m glad you’re enjoying your first virtual book tour. See you along the tour trail.


  4. Would love to see you interview this first-time author – Thanks!

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  5. Well, Angela and Cheryl: Let me address Cheryl’s question first. That “witch” in Doomed Passage? She can definitely be me at times — just ask my husband! And to Angela, the falling out Kathe and I had had nothing to do with our writing. It was totally personal. In truth, and I know I’m sticking my neck out here, my husband and I had a very serious gambling problem back at that time and we stole some money — a LOT of money. I actually spent a month in a jail cell — a REALLY scary experience, let me tell you. I’m happy to say that every dime has been paid back and we haven’t been in a casino since, but unfortunately Kathe had a real problem with what we did and simply would not speak to me for close to three years. Her husband even died during that time, and she STILL couldn’t make herself return my phone calls. It’s over and done with now, though, and we’ve worked through it. (There were a lot of tears involved, believe me!) My husband and I have told our story to many gamblers anonymous groups, as well as a group of high school students. Hopefully it did some good. So, now that I’ve bared my soul, I hope people will still read my books!

  6. Jean and Kathe:

    My gawd, you should combine on a memoir. Your lives sound as fascinating as your books. And your collaboration style is interesting, as well.

    Good luck with your book and your tour. As I’ve been telling the others, I’ll be tagging along.

  7. Hi Jean,

    I really enjoyed your interview. I learned a lot about your books, which sound very interesting, and a little more about you too. I am proud to know you and work with you at PTP. 😉 Blessings on your book tour! I’ve added your titles to my list, for when I get some time to myself for “fun” reading.


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