Interview: Jack Skillingstead, author of Life On the Preservation

Jack Skillingstead’s brand new novel, Life On the Preservation, just came out this week from Solaris, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions!

Please welcome Jack to the blog!

lifeonthepreservationYour brand new book, Life On the Preservation, just came out this week! Will you tell us a bit about it?
Seattle is trapped in a time loop. October 5, 2012 runs over and over. From inside the city, everything appears more or less normal. Two young guys, Ian Palmer and his friend Zach, become aware that something is going on, but the repeating day always ends before they can address the situation. When October 5 re-sets so do Ian and Zach’s memories, except for a powerful sense of deja vu. In addition, someone is stalking them, monitoring them, and finally interfering with their efforts to recover their memories. Outside the city the world lies in apocalyptic ruin. A teenage girl named Kylie is one of a handful of survivors. She manages to escape what’s left of her small town, where a religious fanatic holds power, and make her way to Seattle, breaching the Preservation Dome that encloses the city. She meets up with Ian, they fall in love, and together unravel the mystery. The unraveling is where it gets weird. Weirder.

What inspired you to write it?
The we-have-been-here-before concept has always fascinated me, but around 2006, when I got around to watching “Groundhog Day” I was suddenly motivated to attempt my own version of the ultimate deja vu. The result was a six thousand word short story, which I sold to Asimov’s. It did very well, making a couple of Year’s Best anthologies, falling just shy of the Hugo ballot, etc. It’s been translated a couple of times, and there was even a little movie interest from an independent producer, though nothing came of that.

What did you enjoy most about writing Life On the Preservation?
I struggled with the book for a long time. The idea was to expand the short story into a big adventure novel about alien invasion and the people who survive it. The short story focused on the quirky love story between Ian and Kylie, but the novel wanted more. I tried to write a straight up adventure novel, but the harder I tried the worse it got. I’m not really that writer. Ultimately I had to discard two years of work and start from scratch, relying on my instincts to provide me with something more original, which is how I approach short fiction.

What do you love most about writing SF in general?
The door is wide open.

In your writing, are you a plotter or a pantser?
I only learned a week ago what “pantser” means, but I can say definitively that I am (mostly) one. I hesitate a little, because the truth is no one is entirely a pantser or entirely a plotter. By the way, I distrust the word plot and prefer to use story. “Plot” has always suggested to me a mechanical planning out of narrative effects, the implication being that the writer is going trick and manipulate the reader, whereas story indicates fascination with a developing situation. So, story writers can fall into two broad categories of those he spend a lot of time thinking through their situation ahead of time, and those who simply love some aspect of the situation and dive in. Divers think ahead, too, but are falling at the same time.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
In genre, these are some of the writers who have in various ways influenced my sensibilities: Sturgeon, Bradbury, Ellison, Zelazny, Dick. They are all past masters, because beyond a certain formative point other writers stop being any kind of influence. Out of genre I would add, off hand, Dickens, Maupassant, Nabokov Faulkner (his short work), Hemingway (ditto) Cheever and Shaw. I’m really just pulling these names out of my hat. There are many, many others.

If someone asked for a book recommendation (other than your own, of course) what would your answer be (off the top of your head?)
“Stony Mayhall,” by Daryl Gregory — the most original zombie novel ever written. That is not an exaggeration.

When you’re not busy at work on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I like to wander the neighborhood with my wife. We have bookstores, coffee shops, bars, a live theater — the perfect urban environment. Also like to catch up on reading, movies, etc.

What’s next for you?
My agent is about to begin shopping my Vegas-based reincarnation fantasy. Beyond that, I’m writing yet another novel. If you would like to read something new on a smaller scale, I have a novelette in next month’s Asimov’s.

Keep up with Jack: Website | Twitter

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.

About Jack Skillingstead:
Jack Skillingstead grew up in a working class neighborhood south of Seattle. He dropped out of college to work in a cannery in Alaska, later tarevlling to Maine and then returning to the Pacific northwest. In 2000 Skillingstead won a writing competition sponsored by Stephen King and his hs first professional sale was a finalist for the Sturgeon Award in 2004. Since then he has published more than thirty short stories in publications including Asimov’s, F&SF and Realms of Fantasy. His work has also appeared in various Year’s Best volumes as well as the acclaimed Fast Forward and Solaris series of original anthologies. His first novel,Harbinger and short story collection Are You There both appeared in 2009 and received critical acclaim.

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