Brenda Heller published her first book in 1991 when Jimmy Adams was in high school, writing what he calls “300 pages of garbage.”
Heller retired as an English teacher in 2014 from Derby High School after teaching for 34 years, only a couple of years after Adams started teaching history.
Adams works early in the morning. Heller works late at night. Adams writes in coffee shops. Heller writes at home.
But their love of history and passion for education brought them together to write “TimeWorm,” a historical fiction novel.
“We are not related. We don’t hang together. I’m old enough to be his mother,” Heller said. “It’s just odd, but maybe that’s why it works.”
Adams was a long-term substitute teacher at DHS when he first came up with the idea to write a book about a boy who traveled back in time. After sitting on the idea for two years, he came into Heller’s classroom with three pages of notebook paper, the beginning of “TimeWorm.” He asked Heller if she wanted to help him write a book.
“She started editing at first, but I had never been a teenage girl so she helped bring Gracie’s character alive,” Adams said.
The writers began a partnership, meeting once a week at local coffee shops to write and talk about the book after Adams’ cross country, swimming or track practices.
“Now you can’t tell who wrote what half the time because she takes my nonsense and turns it into good stuff,” Adams said.
The main character, Theo, lives in the future and goes back in time to Nazi Germany before World War II at the beginning of the Third Reich and Adolph Hitler’s reign.
“It’s kind of a brutal time,” Heller said.
Some of the book’s characters are based off of real people like the antagonist, Viktor Brack, a German Nazi war criminal and “mastermind” behind the concentration camps and gas chambers.
Other parts of the book are derived from their own lives like Theo’s robot dog, Murphy, which is based off of Adams’ dog growing up.
A moment in the book is from Heller’s experience at a Holocaust museum in Israel. The tour guide led her to a huge opening in the museum that looked out over Israel, and he said, “This is why we do it.” Theo has a similar experience in the book looking out over Germany.
“You can make a difference, too, as a kid,” Heller said. “It is fun having kids being characters who can make a difference, and they don’t have superpowers.”
Adams and Heller spent countless hours doing research, even recruiting tech-savvy teenagers to help them write about the future. Two students at DHS read the book, giving the teachers recommendations based on their experience as teenagers.
“They helped inspire us to keep going because they enjoyed it so much,” Adams said.
It took them two years to write “TimeWorm,” the first in a series of three books. Despite their schedules, writing the book wasn’t the hardest part.
They received six calls within one month from publishers interested in the book.
“The last time I published was in 1991, and so much has changed since then because of technology,” Heller said.
They sifted through contracts, trying to make sense of it all.
As of now, the book is available for $12.95 on Amazon and Readerslegacy.com.
They did their first signing at Derby Public Library on Nov. 19 where they sold 42 books in two hours and another book signing Dec. 3 at the Panera in Derby.
Current and former students, swimmers and parents of students all showed up to buy the book.
“I have been shocked that it has gone so well,” Heller said.
One of Adams’ students asked him to sign her book. She told him that while reading the book, she stopped to look up the characters because she had to see who was real.
Adams and Heller hope the book makes their readers develop an interest in history and makes them think.
Heller said that she wants to finish the third book before she dies. Adams joked he wants to finish it by the time the movie comes out for the first book.
The sequel should be out by fall of 2017 if all goes according to plan.
“The ideas never stop,” Adams said.