We have author William J. Jackson with us for this week’s Friday Night Interviews. William, who has two books out, writes alternative history, punk genres, and more. Read on to see his insights on his take on how people view history and what makes attracts people to alternative history stories.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in southern Delaware and moved to South Jersey as a kid. In both places I grew to love nature, quiet, imagination and reading. Also, I may or may not be a robot.
What is your life like when you aren’t writing?
I drive for a living for Lyft, birdwatch, read, ingest comics, and try to understand what’s going on in the world. That last one…zoiks!
How did your life as a writer begin?
I began typing at three, and books got me wanting to write. Tabletop RPGs in ninth grade opened the door. From there I learned what works, what doesn’t, and later formed the basis of the Legacy Universe (The Rail Legacy).
Do you have a favorite genre to read or write?
Science fiction, but that typically ends up as a Star Trek novel. Lately it’s leaned toward the punks and the odd cozy mystery.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the people that influence you the most?
So, dead people. HG Wells, silent film stars. Seeing old movies and things were more interesting than anything in the present to me. Only when it mothballs to the past do I like it.
Have you always been interested in punk fiction or is this a recent development in your life?
Before they had names I loved mashing genres. Let’s keep in mind the original punks were pulps and superhero comics, which freely used other genres to tell tales.
What it is about the punk genres that inspires you as a creative?
The ability to discuss basic human issues, technology and the things of the past people would rather avoid. If you take a gander at how people view history, it’s all nostalgia or all horror. Really it’s both, so I need to showcase it. Steampunk especially. As fun as it is, many treat it as if only tea and attire ever mattered. We can use punks to not only cry ‘Gee Whiz!’ at the world’s imagined, but to learn from history, imbibe its lessons and use it to show us how to light the future.
Of all the various *punk genres and subgenres, which one would you like to live?
Ah…as an asthmatic with acute allergies, and being multiracial…let’s go with cyberpunk. Sucks? Yeah. But they have antihistamines and AC. There’s a real adventuresome outlook lol.
2015 was a busy year for you–two books published just a few months apart! Would you tell us a bit about them and that process?
Both are in the Legacy Universe, where an alien element mutated a Missouri city, but each book is set forty years apart. An Unsubstantiated Chamber is in that city, the Rail, in 1886, and begins to tell the tale of the Rail’s darkest days. Anybody in history class ever get told about the Rail from 1884 to 1905? Look at it that way, as history and you have dusted off a time confessing what happened in those days after Heroes were slain by the government. The other tale, Perilous Ping, is a short story in Asia. The Sky War has come, and far from the Rail a new hero will be made, very reluctantly. I like writing things in different orders, not unlike George Lucas starting Star Wars in the middle of things. As time passes I get to fill in the historical gaps.
Your stories fuse steampunk and superheroics. What inspired this blend of genres?
Loving superhero comics and understanding they inspire. It did for me as a kid looking for role models in a world where men primarily pursue cash and pleasure. Superheroes, done well, teach hope, law, right, camaraderie and bravery. But while searching for the next RPG story to run, I came up blank wanting to generate my own hero universe, but divergent from Marvel and DC. A dream as simple as a steam locomotive passing by me clinched it. Victorian Justice Society! Then it hit me, as many things in comics bugged me (no one stays dead, retconning). Why not make time pass, and show how the legacy of the first Heroes not only changes things, but how it rises and falls.
You often urge readers to know their alternate history. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, can you give us the William J. Jackson definition of “alternate history”?
I’m glad you asked, because I watch a movie, right? I exit the theater, and hear kids talking about say, Star Wars. They begin comparing scenes in the film with actual events, what they know of history, etc. But! Come to the average Joe with a direct history question and the eyes roll. People react like they’ve been transported back to high school exam time. Humans relate better, in a way, to heavy subjects indirectly. Know alt just, and either way, you suck up some history. Then, the person is more open to real history.
What are the challenges of writing alternative history?
Research. Also, research! It takes time from writing, so often it is as frustrating as it is instructive.
You’re active on Wattpad. What has your experience been like?
Great! I never thought Down Jersey Drive-shaft would get over 600+ eyes on it thus far. And as my first dieselpunk story I worried how that community would view it. For those who read it by the way, it’s about to go down! Just saying…
How did you end up getting involved with the Writerpunk group and Writerpunk Press?
The Duchess of Deco, Dame of Diesel, Holly Gonzalez! She pointed the way, and I’m grateful getting a nod from a great writer like her to join Writerpunk.
What anthology are you helping with or hoping to help with? What inspired you to work on this specific project?
Writerpunk is doing one taking punk versions of classic literature. I just joined up when word went out, AND just finished Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Boom. Talk about timing. My tale will be the atompunk version, starting similar, then taking a left turn at kaiju-infested Albuquerque. Also, Scribblers Den is on its second anthology, Den of Antiquity, the connective tissue being short stories contain a Den, inn, etc. Jack Tyler. Scribblers Den, thesteampunkempire.com. Sign up, y’all. We discuss it all there, especially the craft.
What you have taken away from working with Writerpunk Press and the Writerpunk Facebook group?
A welcoming invite first off, and willing to take everyone’s ideas when questions are posted. I like that. But then, artists are more democratic than other folks.
Do you have anything else you want to tell our adoring public or add to this interview in any way?
Read indie. Review indie. Tell your friends about punk genres, indie authors. Drop info at small bookstores.
William J. Jackson is a dreamer, writer and fine purveyor of alternate worlds. He waxes and wanes between realities, bringing back tales of hope and daring for the bored, gray masses. Swing by Twitter, Facebook, or his blog to find out more about his work.