Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Interview with Jay Chalk

Today I have an interview with Jay Chalk, author of Revolution 2050, which will be available on April 3rd.

Tell us about yourself.
First off, thanks, Sandra, for inviting me.  My name is Jay Chalk.  I’m a former trucker turned high school teacher.  I received a Bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in English from the University of Texas at Tyler and have been teaching high school social studies the past 20 years.  I’ve written four novels and I’m working on a fifth.

Please tell us about your latest work.
Revolution 2050 is a dystopian sci-fi due out April 3rd.  In the novel, America has suffered through another, albeit brief, civil war.  A political party called the Directorate restores order east of the Mississippi River, where it begins its stranglehold on constitutional freedoms.  By the 2040s, it’s morphed into a full-blown totalitarian regime.  Those escaping its claws have fled west, forming the U.S. Western Alliance.  The protagonist, Sam Moore, is a young high school teacher and Directorate member, living in what was once South Carolina, now renamed Carolina Province.  The adoptive son of a wealthy Directorate Commissar Colonel, Sam lived the sheltered, pampered life of the ruling elite.  The nucleus of the story is his realization that he’s nothing but a facilitator, brainwashing young minds into the Directorate’s anti-God, anti-American ideology.  The story follows his transition from follower to leader to revolutionary.

What drew you to writing?
I was always an avid reader and hoped one day to have the time and fortitude to sit down and actually write a story.  As a trucker I would keep a journal describing where I’d been and what emotions my surroundings evoked.  While in college in the early 1990s, two English professors told me there was “voice” in my writing and encouraged me to continue writing once I graduated.  I wasn’t sure what “voice” meant at the time, but continue writing, I did.  Writing just seemed a natural form of expression to me, like talking, or playing the guitar.  Yet I’m still humbled that people will read my work.

Do you have any writing habits, such as writing in a certain location or time day?
I’ve got a small desk in one corner of my living room with a great outside view.  That’s my favorite spot to write.  If working on a novel, I usually start before sunup and write until everything I have to say is out.  It could be a few minutes, but usually turns into an all-day affair, sometimes stretching into the evenings.

How do you get the inspiration for your stories?
I teach U.S. government and enjoy political spectacles.  I’m also a student of history.  So, you probably know where I’m going with this.  In today’s world with 24/7 mass media reporting, I’m surrounded by inspiration.  Three of my four novels have a political “reaction” to not only historical but also current events.  Russian author and Cold War dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, along with Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley heavily influenced my writing.

Of all the stories you’ve written, which one is your favorite and why?
That’s a tough question.  The smart answer would be Revolution 2050.  However the sequel, which for now will remain untitled, actually moved me more.  There were times when I was writing Revolution 2050’s sequel that I freaked out inside.  “Desperation” describes Revolution 2050.  “Sacrifice,” describes its sequel.  The sequel would be my favorite by only a “tad” because the story unfolds closer to home.

Do you write in other genres?  If so, which ones?
As a matter fact, I do.  My unpublished novel, Final Run, is a present-day thriller.  The protagonist is a trucker who inadvertently becomes  involved in human trafficking.  The head of the human trafficking ring is the son of a prominent U.S. Senator.

Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?
John Steinbeck—hands down.  To me, Steinbeck’s writing gives emotions a flavor I’ve never known.  His novel, East of Eden (my personal favorite), could be the bible for character development.  I’m also fond of Stephen Coonts and how he develops his protagonists’ inner voice and conflict.  And of course I can’t leave this topic without mentioning my love for JRR Tolkien’s fantasy world and his trilogy, Lord of the Rings.  I still have the box set I purchased in high school for $2.95 sitting on my bookshelf.  I often wonder if Tolkien were a new writer today, could he breakout in today’s instant gratification world?

What other writing projects are you currently working on?
I’ve mentioned the sequel to Revolution 2050.  It’s completed and waiting for some serious editing.  I’m currently bogged down in the final book of the series.  It’s set in the early 22nd century.   The  protagonist is the adult son of one of the previous characters.  That work is heavy with the sinister use of bio-technology,  its symbiotic attachment with social media and its effect on humanity.  I’m not sure what direction I’m taking the story, though.

What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?

My main goal is once people read the novel, I’ll hear them say something along the lines of, “This author is on to something; this could actually happen.”

What are your favorite non-writing activities?
I’m a private pilot and absolutely love flying.  I hope one day to own my own plane.  I’m also a beekeeper, but more on the hobbyist side.

What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?
What an interesting question.  I’m sure other authors have experienced the following (at least I hope they have—or it could be just me!):  If it comes up in conversation that I’m a published author—especially of fiction—I get the strangest looks.  Then I hear something that goes like, “You’re kidding…” or “You don’t seem like a writer.”  Now there’s a dozen ways I could reply to that, but I usually just laugh it off.  Yet the question begs to be asked: what does a writer/author look like?  Most would reply to me with, “Not like you!”      

Coming April 3, 2018 -Revolution 2050 by @jay_chalk Amazon B&N Kobo #scifi #dystopian

Twitter: @jay_chalk

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dozing with Dinos--and Porgs

Saturday night was our third Dozing with the Dinos event at the Field Museum. I don't think I blogged about it last year, but this year we brought Porgs in addition to Stan (the T-Rex), Rex (the brachiosaurus named after clone trooper Captain Rex), and Oscar (the stuffed orca we adopted on our honeymoon). The original trio may be a bit jealous of the porg, but surprisingly they all behaved when we got to visit the Fossil Prep area and the dinosaur storage area. (The first three pictures are from the fossil prep area outside the Evolving Planet exhibit, and the porg is checking out dinosaur eggs in the storage area.) They also checked out some other exhibits, as you'll see below.

Studying porgs' relationship to other birds.

I think the porg were a little too curious when they examined this cast of a T-rex skull.

 The boys check out Sue's new digs.

The boys try to offer the porg to the Egyptian dead.

Did the Egyptians have a porg-headed god?

 Off to all go exploring together!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Plot Points and Pacing

One advantage of reading eBooks is that you can see the percentage of the book at the bottom of the screen. Some books on writing offer suggestions as to what plot points should occur at what points in the story. It's cool to read a certain event, look at the book percentage, and realize, "Oh, yeah, this is about the time that should happen!" It gives me hope that even a pantser like me can internalize plot structure.

Of course, the scenes in between the plot points are where your characters develop and "earn" the next plot point. While developing the highlights of a story is important, it's also critical to make sure the rest of the story supports it. For example, once a character makes a decision to do something, I want her to do it. When it takes her half-a-dozen chapters after making a decision to do something, it can be a frustrating read, even if the intervening chapters wrap up subplots and increase the stakes. (That said, in a book I read recently, one character asked the protagonist to do something, but later sent her a message saying it was okay to wait. The message definitely worked against any sense of urgency the author was trying to create.)

Pacing at the beginning of a story can make or break the sale. For most eBooks, I download a sample first before buying it. If the story is supposed to have a speculative element, but the sample just sets up the normal, everyday world without a hint of fantasy or SF, I'm far less likely to read the entire book.

Do you have plot pointers or pacing peeves? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Milwaukee Trip

My family and I took an overnight trip to Milwaukee this weekend. My son is on spring break, so we thought it would be nice to take a short trip somewhere, even if we do end up revisiting the same attractions. After checking into our hotel Saturday, we had dinner at the Milwaukee Public Market and bought some games at a store we went to the last time we were in the area.

Sunday, however, we managed to check out some new places. One of the main reasons we went to Milwaukee was to go to the Milwaukee Public Museum. Although it's not as big as some of the museums in Chicago, it has some interesting exhibits, we have reciprocity with our Field Museum membership, and Alex likes a type of candy sold at the museum that he can't find elsewhere. However, they didn't open until 11:00 a.m., which left us with some free time in the morning. We wound up going to the Mitchell Domes. Eugene and I went there a long time ago; Alex has never been there. They had a special event going on to celebrate the spring equinox this week, so in addition to touring the different habitats, Alex also got to pet snakes and llamas. (The top picture is a sculpture in the Desert Dome.)

The museum did have a special exhibit this time. It was on the Mayan culture. We toured that, along with the butterfly exhibit (you can see pictures from both exhibits), but we didn't go through as much of the museum as we normally do. Instead, we left a little early to go to a rock shop in one of the suburbs. My son picked up an arrowhead and a few fossils, then we returned home.

When you travel, do you like to explore new places or revisit familiar ones? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Short Story Sale!

The contract is signed and mailed, so I suppose it's safe to make this announcement: I sold my urban fantasy short story "Henry's Harness" to Otter Libris' MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation anthology. This is only my second sale to an anthology; the last one was so long ago my author byline for that story ("A Reptile at the Reunion" in Firestorm of Dragons) is my maiden name. I don't want to say too much about my current story, but it's set in my beloved city of Madison, Wisconsin, and the main character is a former pet detective. Further details about the anthology will be coming out soon, as the publisher is planning to start a Kickstarter to fund the project. I'll share more details once the Kickstarter is live. I'm excited to be part of this project and am looking forward to reading the other stories in the anthology. Hope you are too!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Project Updates

I have so many things going on right now it's difficult to keep track of them all, but here's a quick summary.

I'm continuing to crochet Star Wars characters and other items.Here's a TIE fighter I finished last week. My son thinks the wing arms are too long, so I'll make them shorter the next time I try this pattern. The Porg, of course, continue to be popular. At least they don't take very long.

Since I crochet so many Porg, I've decided to create a "Mother of Porg" outfit for C2E2 when I'm not in my Imperial Officer uniform. (I may leave the Jawa costume at home this year to simplify packing.) I have Porg-themed clothes and accessories from head to toe--though I'm still waiting for some of them to arrive. I'm planning to sew a skirt from Porg-print fabric in case the skirt I ordered comes late. When everything is complete, I'll post pictures.

All these other projects do take time away from my writing. Although I'm nearly done drafting a short story for Uncanny Magazine's Dinosaur issue, I don't expect to have it ready by the deadline, which is this Thursday. Maybe I'll save it for my newsletter subscribers. Hopefully I'll have more news to share about my short stories soon.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

IWSG: Celebrating Goals

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so if you've been following my blog for a while, you know it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. You can learn more about the IWSG online, Facebook, and Twitter. Our cohosts this month are Mary Aalgaard, Bish Denham, Jennifer Hawes, Diane Burton, and Gwen Gardner.

For March, we've been asked the following question: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/finish a story?

 I don't do anything to celebrate finishing a short story, but I have a tradition of finishing first drafts of novels with these lines: The End! 
The Very, Very, Very End! (Amen!) 
A Book Report on Peter Rabbit!

Rather than ask people to guess where that came from, I'll tell you: it's from "The Book Report," from the musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown:

I saw the musical performed when I was in school (I think middle school), and the final lyrics just stuck in my head. Of course, I do remove them during revision, but it's still a fun way for me to mark the end of the first draft.

As for celebrating other goals, I treated my family to dinner the first couple of times I published a book, but I don't think I've done that for the last few. I didn't plan anything special for completing the Season Avatars series last year, probably because I was too busy with the marketing. It's never too late to celebrate, is it?

What do you do to celebrate your goals? Feel free to share in the comments.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Wakanda Worldbuilding

This weekend was super busy, as I participated in three Star Wars troops. Here are a couple of pictures from the troop on Sunday. (I'm the kneeling Jawa in the top picture and the shortest officer in the bottom one--yes, I switched costumes mid-troop.) However, I managed to find time Sunday morning to see Black Panther. 

Before I share my thoughts on the movie, I'd like to mention that I don't see many superhero movies these days (still haven't had a chance to watch Wonder Woman or Guardians of the Galaxy 2), and although I've read a little about Black Panther and Wakanda online prior to seeing the movie, I'm very much a newcomer to this world.

My favorite character (and favorite part of the movie) was Shuri. How can you not love a female scientific genius with an attitude? I'd love to see her be the protagonist of her own stories. In comparison, T'Challa, though noble and admirable, seemed almost too perfect to me.

To me, Wakanda was the key part of the movie. I was definitely intrigued by the mix of green trees, traditional items and customs, and advanced technology in the cities. However, I wanted more background on this country. What other factors beside vibranium shaped Wakandan history? How much influence did tribal customs, Bast, and other factors have in making Wakanda so advanced while the country hid its true nature from the rest of the world? I'll probably have to track down comics collections or graphic novels to find these answers. Hopefully C2E2 will be a good place to learn more about Wakanda--and enjoy Black Panther cosplay.

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