TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Jason: I have to be out in public to get anything done. Contrary to how a lot of my writer-friends operate, I can’t write at home. Granted, it’s quiet. But there are just too many distractions: TV, guitar, refrigerator, comic books, bed. When I’m out at a coffee shop, I don’t really have any choice but to pay attention to my laptop. Or else it’ll get stolen.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Jason: Most of my favorite writers—from H.P. Lovecraft and J.G. Ballard to Kurt Vonnegut and Roald Dahl—have a striking element of weirdness to what they write. Of course, the above writers aren’t remotely alike. If there’s a unified influence that I can say I’ve drawn from them all, though, it’s this: The world is not as it appears, nor should it. That would be boring, right? There are all kinds of cracks in reality, and writers are morally obliged to fill those cracks with satire, fantasy, horror, and/or utter nonsense. Some call that escapism—but to me, it’s a beautifully perverse form of realism. I can only hope that Taft 2012 contributes to that tradition in its own small way.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Jason: A plotter, definitely. I love plotting stories. I get giddy when I’m doing it, just letting the stakes and reveals and reversals ramp up and branch out at the same time. My enthusiasm for a story swiftly dissipates if I don’t have at least a semisolid plot in place. You can’t stand up — let alone run — without a skeleton.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Jason: Without a doubt: self-doubt. It’s easy to take for granted the instantaneous cause/effect of working a more typically structured job. I write full-time, and the uncertainty can take its toll on the already tender ego of a writer. First-world problem, I know! But when the bills aren’t paid and you’re staring down a deadline and the prose is flowing like molasses running uphill in January, it can cause a bruising reevaluation of one’s life choices and/or sense of overall worth. (Then again, writers do tend toward melodrama, don’t they?)
TQ: Describe Taft 2012 in 140 characters or less.
Jason: After vanishing in 1913, the hapless William Howard Taft reappears to find the 21st century both radically strange and strangely the same.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Taft 2012?
Jason: Being someone with no academic background in history, I read quite a few books on Taft, but I relied heavily on two in particular: William Howard Taft: An Intimate History by Judith Icke Anderson and The William Howard Taft Presidency by Lewis L. Gould. That said, I didn’t feel obligated to adhere to any one biographer’s vision of Taft. After all, Taft 2012 is wholly satirical and speculative; my Taft is a man yanked from his own time, halfway through his life as we know it, and reawakened in ours. My portrayal of him is not supposed to be realistic or even plausible. In some cases, I went out of my way to make Taft outrageous or ridiculous. In others, I probably made him far nicer and more reasonable than he actually was. Then again, that’s one of the main themes of Taft 2012: We as writers, readers, and voters often project whatever we want onto politicians. For better or worse.
TQ: Did you consider any other former deceased presidents as candidates for your novel?
Jason: My esteemed editor, Stephen H. Segal, came up with the basic idea for Taft 2012 before recruiting me to realize it. As far as I know, Taft had always been his first choice; there’s just something about his stature (or lack thereof) in the annals of presidential history that make him perfect for fictionalization. The timing was also perfect: Taft was voted out of office in 1912 (and, in my book, vanished in early 1913), so the hundred-year disappearance made for a nice, round number. It also helped that he was a Progressive Republican, a term that now seems to be an oxymoron—and that set Taft up as an instantly self-conflicted person by today’s terms.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Jason: Taft was the easiest. Once I did the research, my admittedly distorted vision of him just fell into place. The hardest was Irene Kaye, the little girl who wrote Taft a postcard in 1912—and who’s now a 106-year-old widow living in a nursing home, and Taft’s only link to his own time. Part of that difficulty was the fact that I based Irene on my own, late grandmother (who just so happened to have been born the week Taft was voted into office). Needless to say, it brought up quite a few memories, both happy and bittersweet.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Taft 2012?
Jason: There’s a string of scenes in which Taft and his faithful Secret Service bodyguard, Agent Kowalczyk, take an incognito road trip to Chicago. They find themselves in a punk-rock bar on New Year’s Eve, and let’s just say Taft winds up getting lucky… and quite unlucky.
TQ: What's next?
Jason: I’m currently working on a pair of dark fantasy/science-fiction novels: The Walking City, which is YA, and Ocean of Bone, which is for adults. I’ve also just finished the first installment of a middle-grade horror series that Quirk, the publisher of Taft 2012, will release later this year. They’ll be appearing under a pseudonym, so it’s all very hush-hush at this point!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Jason: Thank you! As Taft himself might say: The pleasure, fellow citizens, is purely my own.
About Taft 2012
Taft 2012Quirk Books, January 17, 2012
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
He is the perfect presidential candidate. Conservatives love his hard-hitting Republican résumé. Liberals love his passion for peaceful diplomacy. The media can’t get enough of his larger-than-life personality. Regular folks can identify with his larger-than-life physique. And all the American people love that he’s an honest, hard-working man who tells it like it is.
There’s just one problem: He is William Howard Taft... and he was already U.S. president a hundred years ago. So what on earth is he doing alive and well and considering a running mate in 2012?
Jason Heller’s extraordinary debut novel presents the Vonnegut-esque satire of a presidential Rip Van Winkle amid 21st-century media madness. It’s the ultimate what-if scenario for the 2012 election season!
About Jason Heller
Taft 2012 Website
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What: One commenter will win a copy of Taft 2012 from The Qwillery.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
If you could time travel, when would you go?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Friday, January 20, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
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