JCG: A World Without Music is a non-traditional romance, as are most my novels. Protagonist Reagan returns from the first Gulf War haunted by horrific images of Tom Wallach, a dead marine he brought back from the desert. Seeking refuge from his nightmares and broken marriage in a jazz quartet in which he plays bass guitar, fifteen years elapse and he has a one-night fling with a beautiful young woman he meets at one of his gigs. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, the groupie’s obsession turns into a fatal attraction. With help from Wallach’s ghost, the daughter Wallach never met, and a friend who is more than he appears, Reagan must find the music that will enable him to finally let go of his tortured past.
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
JCG: Not long. After my publisher, Second Wind, accepted my previous novel, 500 Miles to Go, I took some time off. While going through some old short stories I’d written over the years, I came across one that I imagined could be part of a novel. I kicked around a few story lines for the next few weeks and finally settled on an alien from another planet “walking in” to the life of an average earthling. This alien is curious about music, since his planet evolved without it. He’s able to cohabitate with people without them being aware of his presence. He’s inhabited a number of notable historical figures from our history, from Jesus to Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Jefferson, and Thelonious Monk, in an effort to discover the meaning of music, and whether it serves to incite violence in humans.
But the character is a tertiary one, and his purpose isn’t revealed until the final twenty or so pages of the novel. The main character is Reagan, who is broken by his service in Kuwait.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
JCG: In the last dozen or so years, we’re hearing and reading more and more about our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs and suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A large number of these kids are unable to fit into society; many end up homeless, while others commit suicide.
I wanted to draw attention to this issue, so I created Reagan. A veteran of the first Gulf War, he’s unable to cope with what he saw. It costs him his marriage, and so he loses himself in his music and several meaningless affairs. He also contemplates eating his Glock. But it’s always music that keeps him from taking that final step.
In the end, Reagan learns that his PTSD doesn’t have to define who he is.
How has your background influenced your writing?
JCG: To a large extent, I’m a loner; I don’t just march to the beat of a different drummer, I march to the beat of my own drum. I’ve struggled most of my life to fit into society. I bore easily. I’m not sure whether that’s a bane of creativity or something I learned in my youth. Maybe it’s genetic. I don’t follow crowds or genres, so I don’t write about vampires or werewolves.
All of my characters are like me—loners. They’re broken is some way, every day people whose stories deal with the universal ideals of love, loss, regret, and death—and the emotions associated with those ideals. A reader told me that my novels are “gritty, entertaining … real. Romance for the non-romantic.”
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
I think upbringing colors every writer’s work, to an extent. As I near completion of my current work in progress, I’m wondering if I’ll submit it to my publisher. I’m not sure he’ll even accept it, and should he, I may publish it under a nom de plume.
It’s largely about sexual addiction the result of marital betrayal, and I worry whether readers will wonder how much of me is in the protagonist. As I consider that few readers are taken aback by stories about substance abuse or gambling addictions, I fear offending readers who may be sensitive to describing the sex act. A reader once told me she wouldn’t finish reading Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings because of several paragraphs that describe a sexual encounter that is a defining moment in the story. I thought it was pretty tame, but it likely didn’t help that she was the wife of an ordained minister. Someone somewhere will always be offended by something we write, even the description of two tongues intertwined in a single mouth.
Still, there is the recent success of a trilogy about BDSM that became a bestseller and was sold to Hollywood. It depicts acts of violence, including rape, against women; but it was written by a woman for women, so maybe I’d do well to take on the name of the fairer sex.
What are you working on right now?
JCG: My current work in progress is Forever a Philanderer. If you could go back in time, what would you do? Prevent the crucifixion of Christ? Maybe kill Hitler before he comes to power? If your spouse committed the ultimate act of treason, perhaps you’d return to the past to murder their mother, thereby erasing their existence in your present. But would it erase your pain, or simply serve as the ultimate act of revenge?
For Forever a Philanderer, I once again explore the paradox of time travel: how undoing events in the past affect that past’s future, as well as how obsession can be our undoing.
The story was born after editing for pay a romance novel a little more than a year ago. Romance novels today are rated based on their heat level, from stories that leave the sex act to the readers’ imagination—the action starts with a kiss and segues to a shared cigarette after the sex act—to those that depict the act in great detail, including body parts and bodily fluids. This woman’s novel I thought was better suited for the erotica genre, and frankly, I thought I could do it much better. In short, Forever a Philanderer is my most sexually graphic novel, as it explores sexual addiction.
Still, I’m on the fence about seeing it in print. Readers are far more forgiving about “seeing” a junkie shoot up heroine or a serial killer dismembering a body in graphic detail than they are about the sex act. Part of this is sensitivity, but also, I think, because it’s very difficult to bring something new to the act of love-making or “screwing” in fiction. It’s been done countless times before, which is part of the reason why I’ve refrained—until now.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?
JCG: When Dain Galdikas discovers his wife’s infidelity, he doesn’t confront her with her duplicity, he decides to go back in time to murder his wife’s mother to prevent the birth of his philandering wife.
What was the first story you remember writing?
JCG: It was a short story titled The Ultimate Paradox. It was written about twenty years ago as a birthday gift for a woman I wasn’t even dating. I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she said she wanted me to write a short story. I can’t recall what it was that prompted her to ask that, but she must’ve seen something in me. I can’t recall what happened to the copy I kept for myself, but as I wrote it I began to see it as the basis for a novel. A year or two later I commenced my first novel, January’s Paradigm.
How do you deal with exposition to give readers the background information they need?
JCG: It really grates me when I hear agents and publishers condemn back story. “Just drop it into the story somewhere,” they say as if back story is something terrible that “takes the reader out of the story.” Just try to write a novel without back story.
The first 120 pages of Victor Hugo’s Laughing Man is back story, and the early chapters of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is filled with back story.
Commercials during my favorite television nighttime dramas take me out of the story, but they don’t lesson my enjoyment, and you don’t hear critics clamoring to remove them.
Over the years I’ve learned how to include back story sparingly and disguise it so that it doesn’t jump off the page as what it is.
Does your understanding of the story you are writing change during the course of the book?
Almost always my understanding of the story changes during the creative process, probably because I don’t write from an outline. I go where the story and the characters take me.
In Forever a Philanderer, Dain makes a serious miscalculation in traveling back in time thirty years and ends up at Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (he also failed to take into account the earth’s rotation in traveling nearly two thousand years). It was to have been a one-time encounter with the Messiah, from whom Dain flees; but Dain, having traveled back in time, partially exists outside the parameters of space and time. Therefore, Christ makes return appearances to Dain at opportune moments, wearing John Lennon glasses and a JESUS LIVES! t-shirt, to advise Dain that his actions will weigh heavily against his life in eternity.
Describe your writing in three words.
JCG: Gritty, entertaining, real.
From where do you think the most influential change in book publishing will come?
JCG: If I knew the answer to that, I’d already be a household name based on my understanding of today’s publishing model twenty years ago.
Would it matter to you if you were never published? (In other words, would it matter if no one ever read your books?) Why or why not?
JCG: Of course it matters, and any writer who says otherwise doesn’t take their craft seriously.
The number of self-published titles last year is up more than 400% from seven or eight years ago. That says two things: First, it matters because more writers today self-publish when traditional publishers turn down their work. Second, the approximately 400,000 self-published titles last year, combined with a shrinking demand, only makes it more difficult for the cream to rise. With more books in print today than there are readers, the industry is more competitive than it ever has been.
Do you have a saying or motto for your life and/or as a writer?
JCG: Happiness can’t be found, unearthed like some ancient relic at an archeological site, it comes from within.
Where can we learn more about your books?
From Second Wind Publishing http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!j-conrad-guest/c1k84 and Amazon http://www.amazon.com/J.-Conrad-Guest/e/B002BM8Q88/