J. R. Hobeck, author of “Smokestack”

What is your book about?

“Smokestack” is about the impact of the appearance of a huge, mysterious object on the story’s six main characters: Tommy, a security guard, Michelle, a reporter, Robert, Hedwick, Sue and William who are government operatives. In the course of attempting to discover that the object is and why it has appeared, they each must come to terms with difficult aspects of their pasts.

The ideas in the book include the power that our pasts hold over us, as well as how it is possible to escape from the hold of that past, the power of honesty and its consequences, and an examination of predestination and whether or not it is possible for the future to be set at the same time allowing for the exercise of free will.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

The basic inspiration for “Smokestack” was literally out my backdoor. A smokestack, very similar to the one in the story, was visible from my house. One day I was looking at it and letting my imagination roam. I began to wonder what someone might be able to hide in the quarry pit that was in the shadow of that smokestack. That evening I wrote.the first few paragraphs of a short story that eventually became “ Smokestack”.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

There is not any one character I can point to and say “That’s Me.” But, several elements of my personality are spread out over most of the characters. That being said, there are actually bits and pieces of nearly everyone I know wrapped up in the characters. A few of the minor characters closely resemble people I’ve know, but all of them are to some extent or another amalgams of multiple people.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I wrote the initial short story in about ten days. Of course I was working as a pharmacist then, as I have been ever since, so it took longer than it would have if I were a full time writer.

I sat on the short story for about six months until my wife, who did not like the original ending to the short story. convinced me to tell the rest of the story. The rest of the story took almost three years.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

Not really. I tend to be a ‘pantser’ when I write. I have a basic idea in mind, but the plot develops as I write. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write.

That is what I found most fascinating in the writing process. I honestly had places in the writing of “Smokestack”, when I did not know what was going to happen next. It was not until I actually wrote the sentence that gave the reveal, that I knew the answer to the mystery myself. I do sometimes wonder if this is an odd form of split personality, but since it does not manifest anywhere else in my life, I am not too worried.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

There were two challenges that continually fought got priority as to which was going to be the bigger obstacle to the completion of “Smokestack.” The first was time. I have a full time job, two kids who need help with homework and to be driven to dance, and karate, a honey do list and a wife with whom I enjoy spending time. It seems all of these things, along with laundry and dishes and the yard needing mowed and a thousand other little things conspired to make it difficult to find the time to write. It was not impossible, obviously or else the book would never have been finished, but still a challenge.

The other challenge was self doubt. With “Smokestack” being my first novel, I really had no idea if what I was writing was any good, or senseless drivel. I knew the few people I let read it early on had positive things to say, but in the back of my mind I knew there was likely bias, because these first readers were family and friends. It wasn’t until after Second Wind Publishing offered to publish the book did I begin to have a little faith in myself as a writer.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently about halfway through editing the current book, called (tentatively) “The Winter”. it is a story about a teen girl living in a post-apocalypse America. The apocalypse was due to a combination of three main events which combined to kill about 99% of the worlds population. The story centers around the main character’s quest to find the answers to what really happened to bring on the death of billions. She gets a nasty surprise when she does find those answers.

At what age did you discover writing?

The answer to this question really depends on whether you mean writing for myself, or writing with the idea of having other people read it. As for writing for myself, I’ve kept a journal since I was about fourteen years old, and often wrote down story ideas as part of the journal.

Writing with the aim for publication is a much more recent thing. I long had the feeling that I wanted to try and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Being a pharmacist is not what makes me happy. It certainly does well enough for paying the bills, but there is no true joy in it. I was about thirty-three when I wrote the first short stories that I have tried to get published. And, it has only been in the last three or four years that I’ve thought about writing novel length works.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

“On the Road” By Jack Kerouac. The imagery and scope of the story a complete picture of Kerouac’s milieu at that moment in time. the characters, who in actuality were real people, seem so much bigger than the normal person. The book captures a moment in history that reflects america trying to find itself after the second World War.

I first read it when I was in grad school at Purdue. I had just graduated from college, gotten married and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Reading about someone else trying to find himself was somehow comforting. I’ve read it two or three times since then and each time, some part of the book speaks to some issue I was facing at the the time I am reading the book.

If your book was made into a TV series or Movie, what actors would you like to see playing your characters?

This is a question I’ve already been asked a couple times, so I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about it. I think I’ve come up with a pretty good group of choices. For the main characters:
Tommy Irons: Bradley Cooper (my wife’s suggestion)
Michelle Perry: Winona Ryder
Robert Braun: Joe Pantolianao
Hedwick Franklin: Carrie-Anne Moss
Sue: Kelly Hu
I’ve also thought a bit about some of the minor characters and have come up with the following:
Jonathon Irons: Michael Chiklis
William James: Fred Savage
Greg Childress: Steve Buscemi
Sandy: Phillip Seymour Hoffman

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

At any given time I’ve got three or four ideas running around in my head. There is the story I’m currently working on which is the dominant thing. There also is the idea for the next story which sits on the back burner and simmers. Then there is a wide variety of things that come to mind at random times. these may be anything from a single interesting phrase, to bits of conversation up to the basic plotline of an entire novel. I usually try to get these things out of my head and into a little notebook I carry all the time. The notebook serves two purposes. the first is to get ideas to someplace safe where they might be used in the future. If I don’t write it down when I’m thinking about it, I am very likely to forget. the second reason to write things down is to get the extra stuff out of my head so I can focus on what I’m supposed to be working on.

Where can people learn more about your books?

Well right now there is only one book. More information about “Smokestack can be found at http://www.secondwindpublishing.com.

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