TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Jack: Thank you for inviting me.
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Jack: My first stories were written for my junior high school newspaper. I was dubbed a "feature" writer, because they didn't know what else to call me, I guess. While other staff writers produced abysmal copy concerning the fortunes of the track team or whatever, I wrote science fiction stories. Also abysmal, of course. To my credit, at least, I knew how bad they were and ached to be better. I'm still aching for that, but at least I'm getting paid now. As to why I wanted to start writing in the first place, that's the big question. It must be for the same reason other people want to be pilots, or surgeons, or dancers -- why they want to excel at some highly focused field of endeavor. You simply know nothing else will satisfy the itch. I figured this out when I was about twelve years old.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Jack: If you're speaking in terms of process I would say it's my somewhat irrational belief that I am actually two people, and that to begin writing at all I must somehow trick the other me into behaving and getting on with it. Now, if you're talking about content it may be my willingness to openly explore stuff like off-the-path sexuality and some kinds of seriously dissociative mental states, within the context various science fiction tropes -- to present those tropes (space travel, time loops, robots, etc.) through the lens of a warped magnifying glass. By the way, saying I'm willing to do this is slightly disingenuous. More accurately I would say: I'm helpless to resist the impulse.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Jack: Pantser? Yes, I wear them. Okay, I had to resort to Google to ascertain what "pantser' means. This is an either / or question that requires a somewhat more complicated answer. In my experience there are no pure pantsers. Even Ray Bradbury thought about his stories ahead of writing them. Whether you fill notebooks with plot ideas, make a structured map, or simply think ahead a little, you are planning -- at least to some extent. And I think you have to do that. Remember how I said I regard myself as two people? I'm dead serious about that. The other "me" is my unconscious, which will do all the heavy lifting if you provide it sufficient nourishment.
I wrote six novels before I wrote one that held together in a coherent fashion. It wasn't a good novel, but it was a novel, and it possessed a recognizable structure. Here's what made the difference between that book and the others: I did some hard thinking before I started writing. Not a lot of hard thinking; I'm not particularly good at it. But some. So that when I sat down to write I knew two very important things. I knew what my viewpoint character was doing before the story started, and I knew, in somewhat hazy terms, where I expected him to be when the story concluded. In other words, I gave my narrative a target. It's good if the target isn't carved in stone. By the time you arrive it might be pretty different from what you first imagined three months ago. But just having it hanging out there is enough to encourage your writer-self to construct inventive ways to get there. I don't like to over do it with the planning/plotting, because I think it inhibits spontaneous invention. You should feel free to explore as you go along, and forge a new path, if you find a better route to the target.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Jack: The hard thinking part, the figuring out part, the problem-solving part. Fiction writers spend a lot of time solving mundane story problems. The failure to solve these problems can cripple a book beyond redemption, even if the characters are wonderful and the situation intriguing.
TQ: Describe Life on the Preservation in 140 characters or less.
Jack: A man discovers his city is caught in a time loop. He fears he may be losing his mind. Then a girl from outside the loop arrives. They find each other and solve the mystery.
TQ: What inspired you to write Life on the Preservation?
Jack: Originally, LOTP was a short story I wrote for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. It performed quite well, was popular in the reader's poll, got picked up by a couple of Year's Best anthologies and almost made the Hugo ballot. It even produced a little Hollywood interest, that, alas, went nowhere. The inspiration for the short story was simple. I'd just seen "Groundhog Day" and became obsessed with the idea of a day that never stops repeating. I made a science fiction story out of the premise, because I happen to be that kind of writer.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Life on the Preservation?
Jack: There wasn't a tremendous amount of research. Most the story takes place in Seattle, where I have lived for most my life. Beyond that, I learned some stuff about retro viruses, high performance jet aircraft, and the likelihood of surviving a small caliber gunshot to the head.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Jack: Ian Palmer, the male lead, was the easiest, probably because I can relate to his mental states, his longings and fears and neurosis -- many of which have been my own at various points in my life. Actually, all my "good" characters were relatively easy to write, since in one way or another they were all outsiders, which is a character type I understand.
The most difficult character to write was Father Jim. he does some pretty bad stuff, and to understand why he would do such things I had to get into his head more than I really wanted to.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Life on the Preservation?
Jack: Ian is a graffiti artist and a painter. There is a scene in which he covers the inside of his studio apartment with his tag, which is WHO. He uses markers and employs different styles. He starts by making this unwinding mandala of WHOs on the wall next to his bed, then proceeds from there, making daisy chains of WHOs around the door frames, and so forth. Eventually he covers the ceiling with a bizarre mural, using markers, spray cans, brushes -- everything. He's trying to turn his apartment into a "safe-box," a place where they can't get at him. It's a crazy scene, kind of funny, but also paranoid and weird. I love it.
TQ: What's next?
Jack: My novelette "Arlington" is out in the next issue of Asimov's. Also, I've spent the last year and half writing a quirky reincarnation fantasy set in Las Vegas, and my agent is putting together the submission list. In the meantime I've writing a new novel, this one a science fiction thriller of sorts, called, "Human Potential."
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Jack: Thank you very much for having me.
About Life on the Preservation
Life on the Preservation
Solaris, May 28, 2013 (US/Canada)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
Inside the Seattle Preservation Dome it's always the Fifth of October, the city caught in an endless time loop. "Reformed" graffiti artist Ian Palmer is the only one who knows the truth, and he is desperate to wake up the rest of the city before the alien Curator of this human museum erases Ian's identity forever. Discover the reality bending SF of this new author in this astonishing story.
Inside the Seattle Preservation Dome it's always the Fifth of October, the city caught in an endless time loop. "Reformed" graffiti artist Ian Palmer is the only one who knows the truth, and he is desperate to wake up the rest of the city before the alien Curator of this human museum erases Ian's identity forever. Outside the Dome the world lies in apocalyptic ruin. Small town teenager Kylie is one of the few survivors to escape both the initial shock wave and the effects of the poison rains that follow. Now she must make her way across the blasted lands pursued by a mad priest and menaced by skin-and-bone things that might once have been human. Her destination is the Preservation, and her mission is to destroy it. But once inside, she meets Ian, and together they discover that Preservation reality is even stranger than it already appears.
The UK edition is out on June 6th with this cover:
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