Interview with Time Travel Romance Author Jean Hackensmith

Welcome Jean Hackensmith, author of the time travel romance novel, THE ULTIMATE PASSAGE (Port Town Publishing, Sept. '07), to The Writer's Life!
Jean Hackensmith has been writing since the age of 20. (That’s 30 years – and, yes, she’s giving away her age.) She is married to her biggest supporter, Ron, and has three grown children and ten grandchildren. Jean’s relationship with her co-author, Kathe Birch, began in 1987. Though Jean does all the actual writing, Kathe is invaluable when it comes to research and plotting. (The duo does their best writing after midnight, when Kathe gets a little “squirrelly”, but that’s another story…)

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.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Jean! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Hi, Dorothy, and thank you for having me. In answer to your question, I’ve been writing since I was about twenty years old—thirty-one years, to be exact, and yes, I’m disclosing my age! I have been married to my second husband, Ron, for 14 years—he’s my biggest fan and my biggest supporter. I am the proud mother of three, the stepmother of two and the grandmother of ten. My children and grandchildren alike are the highlight of my life. Next to writing, my passion is live theater. I founded our local community theater back in 1992 and still direct 2-3 shows a year.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

In truth, “The Ultimate Passage” was never supposed to be written. My co-author (Kathe Birch) and I started the “Passage” trilogy back in 1986. The three-book series, “Charmed Passage,” “Destined Passage” and “Doomed Passage” were supposed to be it. In fact, we designed the ending of “Doomed” to be just that. The end. That’s when the letters and emails started. Our readers wanted another “amulet” book. (It’s a “magic” amulet that induces the time travel in the first three books.) “So,” we asked ourselves, “how do we write a fourth book when the amulet went back to the goddess Aveena in the end of book three? Luckily, after much discussion, we came up with an idea. To make the saga work, though, we had to put our latest “victim” in a time period before that of the other books. We chose 14th century Scotland at the time of the Scottish rebellion. Even more intriguing, we chose to take our hero from a really distant time—namely, the 24th century—and we also chose to make him President of the United States in a time where citizens lived in domed cities, war and disease were no more, and sex had been outlawed because it was messy, unsanitary and could spread sexually transmitted disease. Can you imagine this poor guy’s horror when he finds himself suddenly dropped in the 14th century—where people are still having sex and where he falls in love with a woman determined to make him change his mind? Well, that’s the main plot in “The Ultimate Passage.” Even more fun, though, is the fact that, as with all the other books in the “Passage” saga, the characters from the first three stories are integral in this one, also. In order to avoid telling the same stories over again, though, we chose to have a little fun with the previous characters and pull them from different time periods—in some cases before they had even met and, in others, where one character remembers his or her former love, but the other doesn’t. Talk about romantic tension! Trust me, it’s there in “The Ultimate Passage.”

What kind of research was involved in writing “The Ultimate Passage”?

Enough to fill a file cabinet, but luckily we’re in the computer age. We not only had to research 14th century Scotland and Scottish rebellion—including Robert the Bruce and William Wallace—but we also had to do tons of research on a male’s pre-pubescent stage, which is basically where Darius Calhoun, the hero, is at when he enters the past. The government in the future laces the water with a fictional drug call Phentical, which limits the production of testosterone in a man and progesterone in a woman. Consequently, males in the 24th century are all in a pre-pubescent state, which means they have virtually no sexual drive or urges. The same goes for the women. We also bring ships from the 19th century and the 21st century back to that time period—compliments of the goddess Aveena—so it was also necessary to research ships in both time periods. Again, enough combined information to fill a file cabinet.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

I’m lucky in that aspect, because I own the publishing company. Actually, I designed all the “Passage” covers myself.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

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.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Again, since I own the company, I’m lucky. “The Ultimate Passage” was in print within two months of finishing the final draft. Now my other authors aren’t quite as lucky. Generally, though, a book hits book shelves within a year of being contracted.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

No, I don’t, but I am currently working on getting one. In fact, I just sent a query to an agent about a month ago.

Do you plan subsequent books?

“The Ultimate Passage” is the final book in The “Passage” saga. Both Kathe and I are firm on that note. Personally, though (and I do all the writing—Kathe does the research and helps with plotting) I just finished a romantic thriller, I guess you would call it. It is that manuscript that was submitted to an agent. I’m trying something new, I guess you would say. The new book, “Daddy’s Revenge” is about a woman and her new boyfriend who are being stalked and terrorized by her ex-husband.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

Definitely a night writer. I got into the habit of writing at night when my kids were small. It was the only “quiet” time. I’ve just stuck with it—mainly because now I have to run the publishing company during the day. My normal bedtime is around 4:00 a.m. Friends and family know not to call Jean before noon!

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Television advertising on the major networks—maybe during the Super Bowl! Even as a publisher, the company can afford to do very little advertising for its writers. The majority of the promotion falls on the author. I’m no different. Promotion of my books comes out of my pocket. Such is the life of a small publisher.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Luckily, I’ve built enough of a reader base over the years that the books just kind of sell themselves. In the beginning, though, I spent hours upon hours researching book promotion techniques, which I have passed on to my authors. There are so many ways to promote a book on-line at virtually little or no expense. The virtual book tour I’m currently involved in is one example. One of the most important things is to get the book out there for review. It’s very important that readers see unbiased comments about your books. They can then judge for themselves whether or not they want to take a chance on spending the money to buy it.

Honestly, I’m just learning what a “blog” is, but I’ve quickly come to understand that visiting writer and reader blogs is another great way to promote your work. My publishing company downsized recently, which is why I now have time to actively promote my own books once again.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Keep trying! As both a publisher and an author, I cannot stress that enough. Don’t let rejection get you down. This is a tough business to break into, but well worth it in the end. Namely, when the manuscript (or query or proposal) is rejected, send it out again! Trust me, your persistence will pay off if you believe in yourself and in your work.

Thank you for coming, Jean! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Mine and Kathe’s books, as well as my own books, can be ordered from virtually any book store across the country. They are also available on-line through many retailers, though admittedly most of my sales are through and the publisher web site at The publisher website is the only place, though, that offers a discount if you buy the entire “Passage” saga. Do so, and readers will receive $10.00 off the combined cover prices. The publisher site also features a synopsis and excerpt from each book.

Thank you again for having me, Dorothy! It has been fun!
Editor's Note: Jean is on a virtual book tour! Leave a comment here to be eligible to win a free copy of her book, THE ULTIMATE VOYAGE!

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