The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Young Teens Attempt to Breach The Impossible Fortress

An exclusive Authorlink interview

By Diane Slocum

May, 2017

The Impossible Fortress
By Jason Rekulak
(Simon & Schuster)
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In Jason Rekulak’s novel, The Impossible Fortress, young teens in a 1987 New Jersey working-class neighborhood set goals to break into several impossible places. It all starts with an attempt to steal a copy of the Playboy that features Vanna White. As part of the break-in scheme, self-taught Commodore 64 programming geek Billy meets kindred spirit Mary and they try to break into the gaming industry by developing Billy’s game “The Impossible Fortress.” Billy and his friends, Alf and Clark, even make a desperate attempt to sneak into a mountain-top Catholic girls’ school surrounded by an electric fence.



“I had been thinking for a long time about writing a book that felt like a 1980s teen movie.”

AUTHORLINK: How much did the Vanna White Playboy photos play in originating your idea for this story?

REKULAK: I had been thinking for a long time about writing a book that felt like a 1980s teen movie – a novel that felt very fast and funny and big-hearted, a book about a bunch of fairly decent teenagers making bad decisions.  And I knew I wanted to set the book in the Spring of 1987, so I started remembering what was happening in pop culture around that time, and I remembered this giant scandal concerning Vanna White’s appearance in Playboy magazine.

At the time it was such a bombshell announcement — Wheel of Fortune was one of the most popular shows on TV, and Vanna White was one of the biggest celebrities in North America.  So in 1987 it was all over the media.  But in hindsight it struck me as very funny, because by today’s standards, these photos are really tame, PG-13 at worst – I mean, she’s wearing underwear!  I decided it might be a funny Macguffin for setting a 1980s story in motion – the idea that three teenage boys might risk life and limb just to see a game show hostess in her underwear.  Something about it seemed quaint to me – it certainly wouldn’t cause a scandal today!

AUTHORLINK: Can you program a Commodore 64 – or what did you have to learn about programming to write the story? If someone followed the programming that begins each chapter, would they have a game?

“I was tempted to print the complete code into the novel but I decided no one would actually want to read it . . .”

REKULAK: Yes, like my narrator Billy, I was a self-taught computer programmer working on a Commodore 64 – so I knew C64 BASIC pretty well. Over the course of my novel, the two teenage protagonists Billy and Mary are designing a video game called The Impossible Fortress, and each chapter is prefaced with little patches of code from their game.  I was tempted to print the complete code into the novel but I decided no one would actually want to read it – so I just included excerpts, and I put the complete game at my author website

AUTHORLINK: Did you know much about how things would turn out and how the characters would get there before you started writing or did things fall into place as you wrote?

REKULAK: I had the major beats of the story outlined before I started writing.  All of the characters are basically good people who make poor choices, and I knew all of their bad choices before I started writing.

AUTHORLINK: The same question for your characters – did they develop organically?

REKULAK: I had a strong sense of all the characters before I started writing.  I spent many weeks (maybe three months?) just thinking about the story in a very broad high-level sense.

AUTHORLINK: You were raised in New Jersey. Did any of the story come from your own life? Did you get your details of 1980s culture that permeate the book from your own experience or was that research?

REKULAK: I never attempted to break into a newsstand but there is a lot of autobiographical content in the book.  Billy’s obsession with computer programming, his job in the cosmetics factory, his bad grades and his goofball friends, all these things were based on personal experiences, or people I knew growing up.  I fact-checked a lot of details but I did not have to do very much research.

AUTHORLINK: You’ve published many successful books – maybe a dozen NY Times Bestsellers – and I read that sometimes you wrote the books you have published using pseudonyms so this isn’t exactly your first novel, but perhaps this is the first novel you have published with a different publisher.  How was it to go from the role of publisher to a writer seeking a publisher?  What was different about this novel that led you to take this route?

The Impossible Fortress was more complicated than anything I’d ever written.”

REKULAK: I had ghostwritten a couple simpler and smaller books but The Impossible Fortress was more complicated than anything I’d ever written – and since much of it was drawn from personal experience, I wanted to release it under my own name.  It seemed like a good candidate for a “first novel.”  I worried that releasing it through Quirk Books (where I work as the Publisher) would have looked to many readers like self-publishing or vanity publishing, so I used an agent to reach out to the larger publishing community and I was very lucky to find a good home at Simon & Schuster.  They’ve done a wonderful job of publishing the book, and their involvement keeps my life nice and tidy.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

REKULAK: I’d like to write something more contemporary.  I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting the 1980s but I am ready to move on to the 21st century!

About the Author:

As editor of Quirk Books, Jason Rekulak pitched the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to writer Seth Grahame-Smith who thought it was brilliant. Quirk Books also published Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

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Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.