J. Conrad Guest, Author of One Hot January

What is your book about?

One Hot January is about an alternate history in which the United States fails to enter World War II in time to help the Allies defeat the Tripartite before Germany becomes too strong to defeat.

Imagine a future in which Germany has perfected genetic engineering and is systematically eradicating whole nations in an effort to secure the empire Hitler vowed would last a thousand years; a future in which Hitler lies in a cryogenic chamber, awaiting treatment for a cancer for which a cure has been discovered; a future in which a faction of genetically engineered people opposed to Hitler’s tyranny travel back in time to amend future history by influencing Churchill to withhold from U.S. Intelligence the vital decrypt specifying the date and time of the raid on Pearl Harbor. Imagine a fast-talking private investigator from Brooklyn, New York named Joe January who uncovers the seemingly impossible plot by grudgingly agreeing to help a pretty young woman locate her missing father—a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College who must prevent the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands …

Imagine all of the above and you have the ingredients for One Hot January and its sequel, January’s Thaw (forthcoming later this year). Populated with characters both fictional as well as factual, the plot is based on the premise that Winston Churchill did indeed withhold such a decrypt from U.S. Intelligence—a decrypt that lies locked away in a box, to remain unopened for seventy-five years. In One Hot January, Churchill advises Roosevelt of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor. With the foreknowledge, the Japanese fleet aborts its attack, thereby delaying U.S. involvement in the war until it was too late to defeat Nazi Germany. Hitler’s detractors from the future believe that by allowing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to take place, President Roosevelt would have no choice but to declare war, without the support of Congress, or else incur the outrage of the American public. So they travel back through time to launch a conspiracy that results in our living this alternate reality.

One Hot January takes into account the theory of what many historians have long suspected: a plot to draw the U.S. into World War II. By the end of One Hot January, January is transported one hundred years into the future where, in January’s Thaw, he must survive by his century-old sagacity in our modern world.

Filled with mystery and intrigue, action and romance, the January series is speculative science fiction on a large scale.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

In my youth I had a voracious appetite for science fiction—the late Alfred Bester and Samuel R. Delany were my favorites and I later discovered Gene Wolfe and Stephen R. Donaldson. January’s Paradigm (the first book in the trilogy) is about a science fiction novelist who wrote the best selling One Hot January and is endeavoring to complete its sequel, January’s Thaw, when he discovers, firsthand, his wife’s infidelity. Unable to cope with her duplicity, he drinks himself into an elaborate fantasy in which he assumes the persona of the fictional Joe January in his books. So One Hot January and January’s Thaw are the books within the book (January’s Paradigm).

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

It’s been said that writers write what they know. However, I read recently that authors should stretch their comfort zones or, to turn the phrase, know what they write, which is not the same thing and could suggest that if one wants to write about a serial killer one must become a serial killer.

I’m for stretching myself even if my themes of love, infidelity and loss recur; but I doubt very much I’ll ever write from the female perspective (never say never!). Transgender writing is tricky. I’ve read a few who managed to pull it off; but that’s not to say I found them totally convincing.

I recently work-shopped an excerpt from a novel written by a woman in my old writers group and suggested her male character’s description of a building in (if I recall correctly) seventeenth century Venice had a distinct female voice. Her male protagonist described (I’m paraphrasing) “beautiful stone work,” and “finely hand-crafted iron trim.” If I’m writing that description, I’d describe the stone work as “handsome,” the ironwork as “wrought by the hands of a skilled artisan.” Subtle differences, with which others in the group disagreed, pointing out the third person narrative made my point moot. So it’s largely subjective.

Joe January and I have a lot in common. We’re both quick-witted smart asses, outspoken, observant and, to a degree, arrogant. But in January I created the bad boy I never was. That’s not to say I haven’t broken a heart or two along the way; but unlike January, I never made a habit of patting myself on the back for the pain I caused others. January has a good heart and does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, except, the result of a childhood trauma I won’t reveal here, where women are concerned. When he loses the one woman who meant the most to him and he’s robbed of the chance to tell her of his true feelings, he recognizes the value of what he lost and redeems himself by paying it forward.

How long did it take you to write your book?

It took me ten years to write the January trilogy. Sadly, during the time I was writing One Hot January both my parents died. As a result, I lost my focus and rhythm for a while, so it alone took me nearly six years to complete.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)?

One Hot January takes place in New York City, circa 1947 and 2047. I’ve been to New York several times; but some of January’s haunts—the nightclubs he visits back in the 1940s—I researched, mostly on the Internet. I bought a tour guidebook that helped with locations and streets.

I hit a wall about two-thirds of the way through, a real writer’s block. When a woman I was seeing at that time took a business trip to NYC I went along and we visited many of the places January frequents in OHJ. It was my intent to catch up with him. When we returned to Michigan I wrote a short story, A Case of Writer’s Block, which details January’s encounter with his author in Central Park. The block is chronicled from the perspective of the character; in this case, January had been relegated to Central Park, where his life had quite literally come to a complete standstill. However, after his encounter with his author, he is assured that his life outside the park would continue. I got back on track to finish OHJ and finished January’s Thaw less than two years later. As a side note, A Case of Writer’s Block won a contest recently.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

Many of the characters about whom I write are based on people I’ve known or observed over the years—my mother and father make appearances in some form or another, childhood pals, old girlfriends. The names are changed of course, a few nuances given or tweaked to ensure any resemblance to actual persons living or deceased is entirely coincidental.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

The January books are composed of a number of messages. In January’s Paradigm the reader learns that there are people in the world—men and women alike—who are not very nice; that men don’t have a corner on the mean market. Men, too, can be hurt through infidelity. One Hot January shows that no government is benign and that we must care about a world we will not see. While January’s Thaw is largely about redemption, that it’s never too late to close the door on the past and to live in the moment, for tomorrow.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

At the risk of sounding elitist, I write to please myself first and foremost and hope that my audience finds me.

I love reading novels that are of a literary nature, those that don’t follow a formula. Sadly, they’re not often found on the best seller list. I’m not a mercenary—I don’t write simply to turn a profit. If it happens, great, but then I can say, I did it my way.

The reader I wish to reach seeks something a little different—something that combines or mixes genres. A reader who enjoys the turn of a phrase, who believes how a story is told is as important as the story itself. I hope my readers remember the stories I tell long after they’ve closed the cover for the last time.

Have you written any other books?

Yes, I’ve already mentioned January’s Paradigm and January’s Thaw. Last year Second Wind published Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. Last year I finished The Cobb Legacy, a murder mystery romance based on the shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother, which I hope will find its way into print. I just finished writing my sixth novel a couple weeks ago—A Retrospect in Death.

Where can people learn more about your books?

Readers can learn more about me and my literary world at my website. I’m also on Facebook.

See also
Interview with Joe January, hero of One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Excerpt from One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Chapter One – One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Click here to buy: One Hot January

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