Author Interview: George Tackes

1. When did you know you had a story to tell?

Storytellers always have a story to tell. This particular tale, “The Great Chicago Fire Conspiracy,” started in 2011 during a family trip to Springfield, IL. After visiting the old State Capitol, we were walking away and my daughter turned to look at the old building. She said, “Why are there only bars at the bottom of it?” Jokingly, I responded, “Because that’s where the secrets are hidden. My imagination took a hold of the idea.”

That night, I learned that the architect of the new State Capitol was the same one who designed the Water Tower, which survived the Great Chicago Fire. Once I made that connection, the concept blossomed into a story to tell. 

2. What inspired you to write in the past?

Ironically, the original concept involved three modern-day historians who discover hidden facts about the Great Chicago Fire much like characters in a Dan Brown novel. I struggled for more than 8 years in trying to write it.

Then I attended my first Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention in 2018. After attending a couple panels, I realized that pulp fiction was the best format in which to write it. Except for the famous historical villain starting fires across the city, (in fact, I “reveal” the arsonist of the Great Chicago Fire within the first three chapters), much of the events are based on historical reports: an alderman blowing up buildings, horses in a old west setting, a bartender offering free drinks to patrons who put out fires in the bar, firemen fighting a losing battle, lynchings, people freaking out in the streets, massive buildings destroyed, the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation burned, a mayor with less than a month in office facing with a city-wide disaster, a disgraced hero redeeming himself, a newspaperman who is no longer just a spectator. Everything just screamed pulp fiction.

About 80% of the novel is based on historical reports.

Setting the story in the past instead of the present worked best. It practically wrote itself within a year and a half. 

3. Who inspired your main characters?

The heroes are based on James West and Artemus Gordon from the 1960s TV show. The Wild, Wild West.”

The villain inspired by historical reports of himself. He was a lot of fun to write.

4. How much research went into your novel?

Around 10 years worth of sporadic research was involved in writing this novel. I’d gather pieces here and there. I read several books about the subject. I’d watch a program on TV. I’d scan the Internet for tidbits.

I attended a lecture at a library. The presenter, William Pack who wrote “The Essential Great Chicago Fire” said something that gave me focus. He stated that photographs existed before the fire and after the fire but not during the fire. The fire burned for more than 24 hours and at least 5 major newspapers operated within the city but no professional journalist had the presence of mind to take a photograph of this disaster. It screamed “conspiracy” to me. And conspiracies are a writer’s best friend.

5. How hard was it to add a mystery twist on history?

That was the easiest part of writing it. The Great Chicago Fire has a built-in mystery. Who started it?

In fact, the only two suspects that have ever been eliminated from the list of arsonists are Mrs. O’Leary and her cow.

6. When you’re not author-ing, what are you doing?

I read. I ride my bicycle. I romance my wife. I enjoy time with my family and friends. 

Since the publication of my stories, I get to hang with extremely fascinating authors, book sellers, editors, and publishers. That’s more as a wide-eyed fan than an author.

7. What’s your go to writing drink?

Nothing. When I’m writing, when I’m in the zone, I don’t eat or drink until I finish the particular section I’m working on. I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I’d be so focused, so absorbed on a project that I’d forget to eat.

8. What stigma, do you feel, writer’s struggle with the most?

Writers face a lot of issues, most of them self-induced. The external stigma that I’ve noticed is the slur that people don’t read anymore. Unless your book is a movie or on television, it’s not considered good or successful.

Another stigma I’ve discovered is the concept that writers are bespectacled milquetoasts. I met authors who are decorated police officers, retired federal agents, and highly successful businesswomen. One I know is a pastor/firefighter.

9. Do you have any other projects in the works?

I’m doing research on a “sequel” to “The Great Chicago Fire Conspiracy” titled “The Great Peshtigo Fire Mystery.”

I’m also working on a pulp fiction adventure inspired by the 1937 children’s Christmas radio serial, “The Cinnamon Bear,” that involves the main characters’ Uncle Jed. It’s called, “In Search of the Cinnamon Bear.”

Another story I’ve started is “Conley’s Patch,” featuring a notorious crime-ridden area in 1871 Chicago and James Shelton, the first black police officer in Chicago.

Finally, I’m planning on a series of short stories focusing on a holiday-themed hero named The Pilgrim as he gathers American artifacts like Paul Bunyan’s axe, Pecos Bill’s lasso, John Henry’s sledge hammers, and Dorothy Gale’s silver slippers. The Pilgrim is a contractor for a mysterious American agency.

10. Where do you hope to be in the next year with your writing journey?

Besides completing the aforementioned projects, I hope to see more of my stories in print soon.

I’ve submitted four stories that were accepted for publication by Airship 27. Two stories were accepted by Pro Se Publications.

And more book signings at Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, IL.


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