We have a nice little treat with Kirk Dougal, author of JACKED. Jacked is a Young Adult science-fiction novel from Ragnarok Publications. I've heard really good things about it and its author has decided to answer some of my questions about it. You can look up the novel for yourself on Amazon.com.
He can repair technology just by touching it. That's a dangerous thing to be in a world after The Crash, an event that left millions dead or little more than empty, mindless shells. In the aftermath, a new regime hunts down technology and destroys machines with ruthless zeal, even executing fixers like Tar.
And Tar has caught their attention.
Now, he's running for his life, desperately searching for other fixers, avoiding the engineers responsible for The Crash, and hoping to save those whose minds have been lost. In his flight, Tar must grow up and come to realize his ability to manipulate tech is more than just "some neat trick."
Can a teenager, even a gifted one like Tar, hope to survive — much less be victorious — when an entire government is deadset against him?
Let's hear what the author has to say.
1. So, what can you tell us about Jacked?
Taro "Tar" Hutchins is a 15-year-old boy who just wants to go to school and hang around with his friends like everyone else. But he is hiding a terrible secret about himself that forces him to live in relative seclusion with his grandfather. Tar is a fixer, someone who can fix technology just by touching it and manipulating the machine with his mind. In the years after the crash of the World Wide Mind that killed millions of people and trapped millions more as shells, he needs to find a way to survive and come to grips with his ability while still learning to be an adult.
2. Would you consider Jacked to be cyberpunk? What does cyberpunk mean to you?
I do consider Jacked to have a cyberpunk feel with some key differences. As a genre, cyberpunk usually deals with characters who are outside of normal society, many times through their own choice, and battling against big government/business by using their technological skills. In many ways Tar does represent that outsider who is battling his enemies in a world turned upside down by technology. But in reality, the people who caused The Crash are really the typical cyberpunk protagonists, turning their own technology against the government and society. I thought it would be interesting to flip that dynamic and set Jacked 13 years after the cyberpunk revolution would have taken place.
4. Why make a YA science-fiction thriller?
I was working on an idea for a world and a character that revolved around their ability to manipulate technology but in a real sense, not in some kind of magical way. In this case I had decided to incorporate elements of near field technology and extrapolate other technologies to their next possible leap. So the internet became the World Wide Mind where people were able to connect continuously for access, wearable technology became embedded technology, and so on. But I was struggling to find the story until I was sitting and talking with my teenage son one day about his computer games and virtual reality and it suddenly hit me that the protagonist should be a teenager instead of an adult. That gave me a chance to play with themes of growing up in a world that had burned itself out on hate and the exclusion of people who did not hold the same beliefs. Once I made that change in the protagonist, the story flowed out.
5. What can you tell us about the protagonist?
Tar wants to be a normal teenager, however he is anything but normal. Part of his maturing process, just like it was for all of us, is realizing that everyone is different. We all need to come to grips with liking the differences in ourselves, the strengths and the weaknesses, and learning to accept other people at their core as well. His problem is just multiplied by the fact he has an ability that could begin the restoration of society or lead to his being killed by fanatics.
6. Could you tell us about the villains?
I could but... okay, just a little. Father Eli, Captain Ludler, and the Black Shirts saw the marriage of technology to humans as an abomination on religious grounds. But they are more complicated than just hating technology. Although they purposely caused The Crash that killed millions, they also organized food distribution after the collapse, found ways to bring older equipment back online for electricity and water in the cities. They cared for the the people who were still alive but devastated, the "zoms" who can no longer take care of themselves and are trapped in their own minds. The antagonists are on the dark end of gray but they are not just pure evil characters. Well, maybe Ludler.
7. Who are your influences?
I believe you can learn something from every author. Tom Clancy's plotting was incredible. He could take six different plot lines, let them expand throughout the first 500 pages of a book in a way that sometimes felt like there was no connection to the others, then slam them together in the last 100 pages so that it made perfect sense.
Stephen King's characterizations where even his protagonists have warts, Frank Herbert and Robert Jordan's world building, Dashiell Hammett's dissection of a scene and dialogue, Arthur C. Clarke's imagination, just the absolute joy of storytelling and fun by Clive Cussler - so many influences. But in the end, if I could put a tenth of the magic in my books as Neil Gaiman does in his, I would count myself successful.
8. Do you have a favorite character in the book after the hero?
I find Toby fascinating. You understand why Tar takes on the danger and goes on his journey. But his best friend Toby is right there with him, Sam to Tar's Frodo. The bond of friendship that leads someone to take those kinds of risks is an irresistible pull and forces you to like them.
9. How's your experience with Ragnarok Publications been so far?
I can't say enough good things about Ragnarok. My debut novel (horror) was originally published by Angelic Knight Press and had only been on the shelves for a few months when Ragnarok bought the company. I was one of only two authors that were offered continuation contracts and that worked so well that I also took Jacked to them. Their artwork is outstanding and their production values are top of the line.
10. Will there be any sequels to Jacked or is this a stand-alone?
Jacked is the first book in a trilogy. The second book is plotted and the third sketched out at this point.
11. What can we expect from you next?
I am getting ready to send the sequel to my horror novel, Dreams of Ivory and Gold, to beta readers so I hope to have that publishing in early 2017.
12. Anything you'd like to add to your would-be readers?
I hope that anyone who reads Jacked has as much fun reading it as I had creating it. In the end, telling a good story is more important than anything else.