Prior to one of Jack's first speaking engagments, a Rotary Club sent him a list of questions so their members would be somewhat acquainted with him when he spoke.  These are their questions and his answers:


My, some of these are tough.  I hope I don’t flunk.

How long have you been writing? 

Ah, a nice softball opening question – five years as a serious writer

What inspires you?

To write?  Reading books, taking showers – I’m serious, some of my best ideas and  toughest writer’s block breakages have come in the shower.  Observing things around me, both the good and the bad inspire me to write.

When do you write?

Right now, whenever I can, which is not often enough.  Soon I will retire from my day job and devote more time.  I think that I write best in the morning.  The ideas flow so fast I can barely keep up with them.  I can edit and rewrite anytime.  The inspiration to do that comes right up out of what I have already written.

Where do you write?

When I’m using the keyboard, which is most of the time, in our library by our front door.  If things are too chaotic upstairs, I have an older PC down stairs that I stick a flashdrive into and write down there.  I try to store everything that I write upstairs, downstairs and on the flashdrive so I never again lose something I have written – yes, it happened twice before and I was able to recreate it, but I will never know if it was as good as what I lost.  When I write longhand, I like the far corner of the library - back in the stacks - at the KU Edwards campus where I attend classes, or on a picnic table in a park at lunch.

Do you have any superstitious ticks when you are creating your masterpieces….certain pencil/pen/paper/location/time of day/music you listen to?

I usually don’t listen to music, because I love it so much it distracts me.  Long hand writing I prefer to write in blue ink.  Don’t ask me why, I just do.  But it’s not a deal breaker, I’m versatile, I can adapt.  I mentioned I like writing in the morning.  It’s the best time for me when I’m stuck.  And on the weekend I’m up an hour or more before anyone usually, and I have some quiet time with just the sound of birds (except winter of course) and the clicking keys.  I like to drink coffee when I write – copious quantities of coffee.

What do you plan to write next?

I love to write short stories and will always write them.  Sometimes I just start in on one without any detailed plan, just a kind of idea of where it might go, or how to begin and how to end and let the middle bubble up from inside.  I’m not a detailed outline kind of person or writer.  Sometimes stories take off in a direction that I never intended.  There are two in Blowing Carbon: “The Truth About Mary” and “My Secret.”  Both stories were hijacked by my muse and yanked away from me.  But that’s okay.  I wasn’t totally unhappy with where they went.  My inner muse guy knows what he’s doing.

I also have recently grown fond of personal essays.  In spring of 2009 I took a KU (Kansas University) course on non-fiction writing and ate it up, especially the personal essay section.  I enjoy writing them and my wife says that my sense of humor comes out more in that genre than in my short stories.  She may be right and I’m going to work on that – trying to bring more humor to my fiction. 

I have started collaboration with my friend Priscilla Myers who lives 1200 miles away.  We are writing a novel about a 25th year high school reunion.  It will have an element of fantasy to it, kind of a “Gross Point Blank” meets “Peggy Sue Got Married.”  This novel thing we simply must outline to keep from writing ourselves into a corner – boo hoo.

I also have an historical novel based on the Civil War swirling around in my head.  My great grandfather had some things happen to him in that war that are too incredible to be true.  I plan to write his story as fiction.

 

If you could change anything about Blowing Carbon, what would it be?

I wrote something about how men of my generation were taught by our fathers and grandfathers to handle tragedy and loss stoically, I used my own personal experiences with the death of my mother and my horse three years apart.  It was very cathartic to write and I am told it’s very good by both males and females who have read it.  I wish I had written it before the manuscript was submitted. 

Will you actually go to a bookstore and buy a copy?

No, but I might hang around trying oh so subtly to coax people to come over and take a look at it.

Who do you read?

I am pretty widely read and don’t claim any one genre as my favorite.  My wife likes thrillers so I end up reading them a lot.  I love Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, most but not all Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Roddy Doyle, Leon Uris, Bill Bryson, W.P. Kinsella.  There are many others that I like but those are ones that I will read/have read everything they have written.  I do like what is to my mind pretentiously called "Literary Fiction."  What it boils down to for me, is the inner conflict that goes on inside each of us all the time, our heartaches, aspirations and dilemmas.  If a writer can bring that out and write it well, then I don't need gun-play and explosions and terrorists.  Although a miscreant here and there would be nice.

Who is your biggest critic? 

The cliché answer would be me, and it is also the correct answer.  That said, I cannot take any criticism as far as writing goes from my wife Nancy -criticism of my writing, that is.  All other criticism from her I take and by golly I like it too.  We learned early in my writing career that I can’t take compliments, criticism or even silence from her.  It’s my hang up.  I can take anything anyone else dishes out about my writing.  We learned to adapt our relationship to my weirdness.  So a lot of “Blowing Carbon” she read for the first time when the book came out.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Ireland, with England a very distant second.  I would prefer to go to the seemingly few places where they don't stereotypically dislike Americans. 

If you could meet one person from history and talk with them for one hour, who would it be and what would you talk about?

Again, the clichéd answer would be Jesus.  But that would be my answer.  We would talk about God and Heaven and Earth and why God allows us to be so cruel and muck things up so terribly down here.  After that, maybe Winston Churchill – brilliant, brave, witty, and a writer!

What is your greatest hidden talent?

I can’t think of any that are hidden.  I have an enormous “talent” for feeling compassion that I do not fully display because I grew up learning that those kinds of feelings are not manly.  I can also whistle very loudly using a widely varied selection of fingers in my mouth. 

Does anyone know all of your secrets?

No, and no one ever will.

How many songs do you know all of the lyrics to and could sing right this minute without the music?

A lot, and I’m not afraid to sing out loud a cappella.  I might occasionally stumble on a few verses but I’d nail the choruses. 

There's a scene from the film "My Best Friend's Wedding" where mean Julia Roberts finagles Cameron Diaz into singing a song without music in order to embarrass her in front of Diaz's fiance' and his family.  Diaz sings terribly yet Robert's nasty trick fails because the feeling bubbles up through her tonedeafness and her plucky desire to push ahead through the song, knowing she stinks, wins everyone's admiration.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend?

No, but I have always had one helluva imagination.

Are you good at any sports? What’s your best, and what position?

Yes, many sports - a jock if you will.  All league end in high school football, KU Rugby Scrum Captain in college and All Heart-of-America Rugby Wing Forward with the Kansas City Rugby Club after college.  Very good youth baseball outfielder.  Competitive tournament slow pitch softball left fielder into my 50’s – good glove, decent arm (always hit the cut-off man) and range, great stick with gap power to all fields.  Good, not great basketball forward.  Shitty golfer.

Best would probably be the rugby or softball


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Also these questions from famous blogger Lauren Loya (her link is in the left margin above):

 

1.    Briefly describe your last encounter with a clown.
“Clowns, and to a much lesser degree, girls, comprised the principle banes of my childhood.  All were evil and all were out to get me, especially the clowns.  Avoiding clowns or minimizing my time in their presence remained a life strategy after I became an adult, even though the fear had subsided.  My most recent encounter with one, actually with a whole bunch of them, was at a circus in Kansas City’s Kemper Area a few years ago.  The experience wasn’t that bad at all.  Mostly the clowns behaved like the three (eleven of them actually) stooges might, only in whiteface, and with big red noses.  They were really quite funny – on the surface anyway.  During these particular clown’s performances I thought I noticed a couple of them stealing furtive glances my way even though I was seated twenty-three rows up.  And that tall one, the one with the swirly orange hair, turned and smiled my way as the show concluded and they ran out of the ring.  His smile wasn’t that friendly at all.”

2. In  Post Literacy  you speak of a future without tangible books, without pencil and paper to write on. The book publishing industry’s future seems bleak with the growth of online publishing – ebooks can be created, uploaded and downloaded by anyone. What is it about holding a real book and writing on real paper that you cherish?
“I worry about two things: losing books in their current form, and also the end of books altogether.

The latter worry first: the number of people who read books dwindles.  There are so many other ways to occupy one’s mind.  Video games, texting, tweeting, facebook, and the internet all gobble up people’s time.  And reading a book requires a significant investment of time.  Will these time grabbers and other similar yet-to-be-developed diversions squeeze out books?  When I began my own blog last year, my blog set-up advisor told me to keep them short. She told me that the average web surfer’s attention span lasts about four minutes.  Not too many four minute books out there.  I fear that when book readers are marginalized, there will be no economic incentive for writers to write them.  We will become a world of four-minute tweeters and facers and bloggers.

Relatively soon I expect books to change in form, and those who love to read them (me) will adapt.  We will buy Kindles or whatever else comes down the pike in order to continue to read “books.”  When I was a kid, my mom often took me to the library and I loved it, and vowed that someday I would own my own full bookshelves.  And I always enjoyed sniffing around bookstores, pulling out books and reading the jackets and admiring the cover artwork.  I love the way a new book smells, and the way an old one does.  When we built a house out in the country, and we met with the architect, I told her there were only two things that I wanted – a deep bathtub, and a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves so that I could free my old friends from their basement cardboard box tombs.  Now I can walk into my library and see my books and each one carries a memory of the read.  I can even pull them out and sniff them.  I have books that were my parents and grandparents and a handful from my great-grandparents.  With an e-reader these joys will be replicated by powering up one’s device, browsing a web site for new titles, downloading, and then by opening the desired folder and scrolling down the list of titles.  And anytime or anywhere I want, I can hold my thin plastic rectangle up close and sniff it.  Ah, I love the smell of plastic in the morning.”

3. What author would you most like to meet and talk with in person, both dead and alive?
“Alive?  Stephen King hands down.  I have read nearly everything he has written, including the stinkers (more than few, as many books as he has written).  But when he nails one he hits it out of the park.  Most King poo-pooers think he is just a horror writer.  Stephen King is a literary, sometimes harsh and sometimes smooth as Makers Mark, author who writes of the human condition with impressive depth and knowledge.  He happens to use horror as his primary, but not sole, medium.  Through horror he puts people under extreme pressure and shows what makes them tick, how some exhibit the characteristics we all hope that we possess and how some of them crash and burn.

I would remind those who think he is a one-trick horror pony that King wrote the stories that the movies Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile were based on.  And King knows kids and remembers what it was like to be one.  When he writes about them he is at his best.  I like to write about kids and teenagers too.  I think Stephen King is a regular guy, and not so full of himself that he wouldn’t enjoy a beer and a chat.  And King loves baseball.  If the conversation lags, we have our mutual love of baseball in common.  Distant second: Janet Evanovich or John Irving.

Dead?  Mark Twain.  He was one funny guy.  And he wrote a novel on the evils of racism when that simply wasn’t done, and made it palatable to a wide range of readers, racists included.  I’ve read much of his work.  I admire his biting, often hilarious sarcasm and I think that it would be a hoot to sit down with him and shoot the shit.  Second Place: Kurt Vonnegut.  Third: Bill Shakespeare.”

4. Vampires are so hot right now. Did you catch the fever, too?
“I did not catch the fever, but merely a minor vampire cold.  I read Octavia Butler’s Fledgling about all-white vampires who’ve been around for thousands of years and one is born black and can stay up during the day and go out in the sun for brief periods.  One group wants to breed her.  And of course the racist vampires want her dead.  Butler also wrote one of the best short stories I’ve ever read “Bloodchild” which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for sci-fi writing.  I read Twilight but not the sequels, though I did watch the movies on video – pretty good stuff.  I love TrueBlood but don’t have HBO so I’m not a regular Blood watcher.  And both of my thumbs are up for 30 Days of Night. I did, however, contract an acute case of Zombie fever and I fear I’m still contagious.”

5. Paparazzi catch you doing something embarrassing. What would that be, most likely?
“Well, the “print” paparazzi would embarrass me very much by asking this question and convincing me to answer it truthfully.
“Photo”paparazzi would have had a field day following me around in the past.  Most embarrassing were the stunts and feats of derring-do that I performed or attempted to perform under the influence of alcohol and other substances.  And I could go on and on about the many embarrassing rugby after-party moments during my playing days.  Some of my feats are legendary in my old circle of neer-do-wells.  I suppose that I might have qualified for a full half-hour in a Jackass movie, the results of which found me in at least a handful of different emergency rooms.  Nowadays paparazzi would quickly get bored trying to follow me around.  About the best photo-op they could come up with would be the ample opportunities to click me taking a piss outside.  There’s just something intrinsically macho and liberating about whipping it out and taking a piss in the great outdoors.  That’s a big perk of being a male and living out in the country.”