Interview: Jason Rekulak The Impossible Fortress

A fun, tender flashback to the Eighties 

Simon and Schuster

Shelf Unbound: Your novel The Impossible Fortress begins with 14-year-old Billy Marvin and his two best buddies concocting a plan to steal the May 1987 issue of Playboy with Vanna White on the cover. You were 14 or 15 in 1987 and I’ve read that the story is somewhat autobiographical. Did you actually get your hands on a copy in 1987?

Jason Rekulak: Yes, I was determined to get my hands on that magazine. Back then, Wheel of Fortune was one of the most popular television shows in America, and these photographs caused a tremendous scandal—the supermarket tabloids were reporting on them every week. But if you look at the photos now, you’ll laugh—they’re just lingerie photos, strictly PG-13, no worse than anything you’d see on primetime television!

Shelf Unbound: Other than listening to a lot of ‘80s music,
how did you get yourself into the ‘80s mindset while writing this novel, which is delightfully rich in the era’s nostalgia?

Rekulak: Music was definitely critical. One interesting thing I discovered is that really good 1980s music—songs we still hear today, timeless pop songs like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—didn’t help with my writing at all. I guess that’s because we’ve been listening to “Thriller” for the last 30 years so it doesn’t “feel” like an ‘80s song anymore. The music that really transported me back to the 1980s were the songs that you never hear anymore—songs by Richard Marx and Debbie Gibson and Genesis—they were truly transportive! I also watched a lot of 1980s teen movies: Pretty in Pink, Stand by Me, Ferris Bueller, etc.

Shelf Unbound: While playing homage to MTV, Jolt cola, Swatch watches, the Commodore 64 computer, and 8-bit video games, the novel also has a serious side. Did you plan that part from the outset or did the writing process take you there?

Rekulak: I had everything planned out. I wanted to convey that sometimes nice people do bad things, especially during adolescence, when you really are still experimenting with independence and autonomy. Billy, Mary, and Tyler all do terrible things in this book, but I’m an optimist and I believe they are all fundamentally good people. There’s a lot of talk in the book about second chances.

Shelf Unbound: As a longtime editor at Quirk Books, where you’ve acquired such best sellers as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, what qualities do you look for when selecting a novel for publication and did you consciously impart those qualities into The Impossible Fortress?

Rekulak: Quirk strives to publish books that are “strikingly unconventional” so I am always looking for books and stories that are slightly left-of-center. I’m also drawn to stories with a sense of humor, stories that are positive and hopeful and upbeat. I get my full share of misery just by watching the news! So I look to fiction for a ray of light, for stories that will make me laugh and give me hope. And I like to think The Impossible Fortress shares those qualities. 

Shelf Unbound: Any chance we’ll see Billy Marvin in a sequel?

Rekulak: No, I think Billy’s story has been told … and I’m not sure I could handle writing another book set in the 1980s! I’d like to tackle something more contemporary—these are interesting times! 

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