Book Nerd Interview
It’s an analogy made by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – he taught his students at the University of Iowa that being a good writer is like being a good date. As a writer, you’re inviting the reader to share a few hours of her precious leisure time….so you need to honor that commitment, right? It’s such a simple analogy and yet it makes a ton of sense: Your writing needs to be smart, interesting, and above all considerate – making unnecessary demands of the reader is like asking your date to pick up the check. If your fiction’s not honest and genuine, your date will be able to tell. And being funny doesn’t hurt, either!
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I make my living publishing books about zombies and comic book heroes and supernatural horrors so people are 0ften surprised to learn that my favorite author is Anne Tyler, author of so-called “family novels” and “marriage novels” like Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Amateur Marriage, and The Accidental Tourist. She’s my go-to writer any time I need a shot of inspiration; I’ll just open any of her books and start reading. She has a style and a voice that I find irresistible. And amazing command and control of her characters. And so funny. And so much heart. Genius!
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I grew up in the 1980s. I was always reading, always making up stories. But the notion of being a published author seemed way beyond my reach – I assumed that anyone publishing a book had degrees from ivy league schools or wealthy family connections. So instead I channeled all of my creative energies into designing video games -- and telling stories on early 8-bit home computers.
As it happens, this is the subject of my novel THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS. My protagonist Billy Marvin is constructing an elaborate fantasy game called (you guessed it) The Impossible Fortress, full of knights and ogres and princesses. He’s trying to squeeze an elaborate fantasy world into 64 kilobytes of memory….and the problem is, he’s a very imaginative writer, but he’s not a very good programmer.
What else can you tell the Book Nerd community about THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS?
Well, the book also involves a ridiculous quest. Billy and his friends are planning a heist to steal a Playboy magazine from their local newsstand, because it features lingerie photographs of Vanna White. I realize that to anyone born in the 21st century, this sounds absurd! But in 1987, Wheel of Fortune was one of the most popular television shows in America, 40 million people watched the show every night, and every teenage boy in America was desperate to see these photos. You couldn’t Google them – you had to beg, borrow, or steal.
In the course of planning the heist, Billy meets a teenage girl (Mary) who works in the newsstand. Mary is an expert computer programmer—and she doesn’t look anything like Vanna White, or other sex symbols of the day. But Billy falls for her anyway, and this unexpected love affair leads him to make some terrible choices.
What part of Mary did you enjoy writing the most?
Mary was fun to write because she’s ahead of her time; she’s designing and coding video games in 1987, long before gaming was fully embraced by young women. I recently shared the novel with Dona Bailey, one of the first women hired by Atari back in the early 1980s; Dona was the programmer of the classic arcade game Centipede. She told me she loved the book and loved Mary’s character in particular—which, for me, just might be the critical high point of this whole experience.
You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
There are a few people in my life that I’ve lost to illnesses and other causes, and I’d do anything to spend ANY 30 minutes with them again. Someone give me a DeLorean with a trunk full of plutonium, please!
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I liked growing up in the 1980s—can I go back and do that decade again? I’m really glad I had a chance to experience life before the Internet. I like technological advances as much as the next person, but I’m increasingly skeptical about their ability to improve our world. I mean, it seems clear to me that in 15 or 20 years our roads will be full of self-driving cars….but do you really want to live in a world full of self-driving cars? Does anyone?
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
I started working as soon as I was old enough to collect a paycheck – I spent my summers working in fast-food restaurants, shopping malls, drug stores, libraries, any place that would hire teenagers. The most memorable (and most awful!) was a cosmetics factory that is very similar to the one described in my novel THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS. In the book, my character Billy spends several weeks screwing brush-caps onto mascara tubes, thousands of brush-caps a day, and that entire chapter is ripped straight from my biography. It was awful!
When was the last time you cried?
Might have been Toy Story 3. Those Pixar movies, they get me every time.
When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?
This morning. I mail notes, letters, and postcards all the time. I find that authors and illustrators always appreciate the time and crafstmanship that goes into a well-written, handwritten letter or note. I collect obscure postcards for just this purpose, and I’m even very choosy about my postage stamps.
Where can readers find you?
Best place for updates is my Facebook page Jason Rekulak. Or visit my author website! I worked with the brilliant Dan Vecchitto to design a video game based on “The Impossible Fortress” game in my novel, and you can play it at jasonrekulak.com. Drop me a line if you beat my high score!
Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.
Do you remember your first love?
The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.
The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.
At its heart, The Impossible Fortress is a tender exploration of young love, true friends, and the confusing realities of male adolescence—with a dash of old school computer programming.
Bonus content: Play the "The Impossible Fortress" video game at http://www.jasonrekulak.com/game/ (less)
*MOST ANTICIPATED NOVELS OF 2017 SELECTION BY * ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY * BUSTLE *
PRAISE FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS
“Infused with 1980s music, pop culture, and plenty of the BASIC computer programming language, Rekulak’s debut offers a charmingly vintage take on geek love, circa 1987 in New Jersey… Rekulak’s novel will have readers of a certain age waxing nostalgic about Space Invaders and humming Hall and Oates, but it’s still a fun ride that will appeal to all.”
“Rekulak layers in nostalgic eighties references, like a mixtape created by Mary’s recently deceased mother, an oblique nod to Beetlejuice, and the wacky group of misfit friends with a 'really good' plan. Despite all that, in the end the plot manages to magically subvert the time period while also paying homage to it. An unexpected retro delight.”
—Booklist (starred review)
"A love letter to the 1980s, adolescence, technology, nerd-dom, and Vanna White, The Impossible Fortress will make you laugh and remind you of how much is possible when you're fourteen."
—David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The Danish Girl
"The Impossible Fortress reads like a newly-unearthed Amblin movie—a sweet, funny and moving tribute to nerds and misfits everywhere, set in a magical time when cassettes were king, phones had cords and Playboy was the pinnacle of smut. Fans of Ernie Cline and Chuck Klosterman—this is your next favorite book."
—Seth Grahame-Smith, New York Times bestselling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
"The Impossible Fortress is hilarious, compulsively readable and surprisingly poignant, a teenage caper novel set in a time where U2 could still be considered a one-hit wonder and pornography was as close and as unobtainable to a 14-year-old boy as a Playboy magazine kept behind the counter at an office supply store. I absolutely loved it."
—Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel and Harmony
"Part love story, part coming-of-age tale, and part heist picture, The Impossible Fortress is an endlessly clever novel about friendship, heartache and computers—all rendered with the bright colors and buoyant spirit of Q*bert for the Commodore 64."
—Ben H. Winters, author of the Edgar-award winning Last Policeman trilogy, and Underground Airlines
"A tenderly crafted and charmingly spot-on debut novel....surprising and nostalgic in the best possible way."
—Denise Kiernan, New York Times bestselling author of The Girls of Atomic City