Interview With J. Conrad Guest, Author of “A World Without Music”

A World Without MusicWhat is your book about?

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!j-conrad-guest/c1k84 and Amazon

J. Conrad Guest, Author of “500 Miles to Go”

500 Miles to GoWelcome, J. Conrad. What is your new book about?

JCG: In a nutshell, 500 Miles to Go is about the importance of, and the risks associated with pursuing our dreams. Alex Król made his dream come true to drive in the Indianapolis 500 eight years after seeing his first 500, in 1955, the year Bill Vukovich was killed in his bid to become the first driver to win three consecutive 500s.

Then there’s the girl: Gail, as in Gail Russell. No, not the Gail Russell, who starred opposite John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch and was in her own right downright gorgeous. Just not as gorgeous as Alex’s Gail. Gail had been Alex’s girl since high school. She fell for Alex before she learned that he risked his life on dirt tracks during the summer months to the delight of fans who paid to see cars crash—the more spectacular the wreck the taller they stood on their toes and craned their necks to see the carnage.

By the time she learns the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—that Alex had vowed to one day drive in and win the Indianapolis 500—it was too late. She was in love with him.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

JCG: This story was born from a part of my youth that I shared with my dad, recalled with much fondness. Dad took me to my first Indy 500 in 1966, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The 1960s are considered the golden era of motorsports. At that time Indy had a pure formula, and innovation was encouraged—unlike today, where, to keep costs down, the cars pretty much come out of a box.

Today’s sport is all about technology—wind tunnels, engineers, two-way communication with the driver and pit lane speed limits. Unlike the days of yore, when a good driver could put a mediocre car into victory lane, today a winning combination is maybe 40% driver, and their on-camera appeal as spokesperson for their sponsor is as important as their talent behind the wheel.

For 500 Miles to Go I wanted to capture the glamour and the allure of what was once known as the greatest spectacle in racing, so this my tribute to that bygone era, before television and technology turned a sport into a beauty contest and a science.

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

JCG: A lot. Sadly, my father wasn’t very nurturing to me in my youth; as a retired marine and drill instructor, he was more disciplinarian than a dad. He taught me to throw and hit a baseball, but left the finer nuances of the game for me to learn.

Most of my novels depict rather dysfunctional relationships between fathers and sons. In 500 Miles to Go, the relationship between Alex and his father is one I wish I could’ve had with my own father. Fortunately for me, in the final year of his life, Dad and I connected; but I’m grateful for what we had during that final year. So many fathers and sons don’t get even that.

Why will readers relate to your characters?

JCG: Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? Alex and Gail never consummate their love in their youth, and she is largely absent from the middle pages, except in Alex’s mind, in his yearning for what might’ve been. The reader is left to root for them to achieve their happily ever after.

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

JCG: I mixed real life figures—the actual drivers from that era, Foyt, the Unsers, and Eddie Sachs, who befriends Alex and is killed during Alex’s first race at the famed Brickyard—with my fictional characters, which was challenging. I tried to stay true how the races played out in reality, and I found some great Internet sources on specific races, the starting fields and how the drivers finished. What I found most challenging was getting the drivers to “sound” like their real life counterparts. I don’t have a particularly good ear for dialect, so getting A.J. Foyt’s Texas drawl was intimidating to me, but I think I managed it quite well, recalling interviews with him that I heard on TV. I’d never heard Eddie Sachs speak, so I had only my research to go on: he was a prankster, so I created him as a fast-talking wise guy who speaks in quips and laughs at his own jokes.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

JCG: I think each novel I complete changes me in some way. Certainly I feel each book leaves me a better writer as I continue to hone my craft. In 500 Miles to Go, I learned that love, and marriage specifically, isn’t about me. It’s about my partner. When I focus on me, my needs, I doom the contract. Successful marriages are between partners who understand that it (the vows) is about their teammate and not about themselves.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his creator?

JCG: I killed off Joe January, the protagonist in One Hot January, at the end of the book. Since he lives in an alternate reality, it wasn’t difficult. Talk about your time travel paradoxes, One Hot January begins where its sequel, January’s Thaw, ends, and January’s Thaw ends where One Hot January begins. How’s that for a teaser?

Which is more important to your story, character or plot?

JCG: My plots tend to be tightly focused, while my characters are everyday people dealing with the everyday issues of love, loss and regret. That said, most important to me are my characters. They must be real and easy for my readers to connect with.

What has been your greatest internal struggle to overcome in relation to your writing career?

JCG: My greatest struggle came early in my literary career: dealing with rejection letters. I found myself questioning my talent and ability. Each rejection was a personal affront to me and my work. Once I learned how to enjoy the creative process—to simply write because it gives me great joy—I became a writer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, once I learned to enjoy the process, publication followed.

Do your characters ever take on a life of their own?

JCG: I think they have to, if they’re to come to life in my readers’ heads. Any book is only as good as what its words make happen inside the reader’s head, and so my characters do take on a life of their own. Corny as it sounds, I’ve said that I act only as channel for them. They tell me their story, and I put it down in words. If I have them say or do something that is out of character for them, they’re the first to voice their discontent.

Describe your writing in three words.

JCG: I love language and words. I can’t listen to a book on disk. I prefer seeing the words on a printed page (or my Nook). A three-word description of my work? A literary feast.

What one word describes how you feel when you write?

JCG: Euphoria

What is your favorite place, real or fictional? Why?

JCG: I love a good pub, a place where I can go with my fiancée to sip a black beer and simply relax, letting the world around us go by at its furious pace. My favorite pub is the Dead Poet, on New York’s Upper West Side. Its mahogany-paneled walls are adorned with black and white portraits of writers long since deceased but remembered for what they left behind, literary quotes, and poetic passages pertaining to the universal quandaries of life. Ah, nuts. Now I’m thirsty.

J. Conrad GuestWhat do you wear when you write?

JCG: In the winter I wear sweats and a hoody; in the summer, shorts and a t-shirt.

Where can people learn more about your books?

JCG: I have a website, an Amazon author page, and a page at my publisher’s site.

J. Conrad Guest, Author of “Retrospect in Death”

retrospect_thWhat is your book about?

A Retrospect in Death is a story about discovery. Who hasn’t wondered about the meaning of life, the origin of the universe, what we’ll find on the other side? The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche theorized that some of us are born into the world destined for greatness. The rest of us he referred to as the bungled and the botched. They’re teased with greatness, but they never see their dreams come true, no matter how hard they try. They get thrown under buses, gunned down when someone goes postal in public. What a world it would be if everyone who reached for the stars saw their dreams come true.

The protagonist in A Retrospect in Death, unnamed throughout, leaving the reader to infer he could be anyone—hopefully connecting to them in a highly personal way—dies at the onset. The reader is taken to the other side of the Great Divide, where the protagonist meets his higher self, the part of him that is connected to the Creator. The protagonist learns, to his vexation, that he must return to the lifecycle. But not before they discuss his past life, the mistakes he made, the disappointments he encountered, why he gave up on love.

The risk I took was telling his story in reverse chronological order, beginning at the end and ending with his childhood, as they search for the breadcrumbs—those defining moments that led to future choices.

Darker than any of my previous novels, and also more humorous, it portends not only a search for the meaning of life, but also seeks to determine why we are as we are: prewired at conception, or the product of our environment?

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I’d just finished writing my fifth novel, and was kicking around ideas for my next project. I came across a short story I’d written a year or so prior, which I’d posted to my blog. It chronicles a man’s death and subsequent rebirth to a new life. I considered expanding this to novel length, breaking off into a prologue the death sequence and adding a meeting with his higher self, and using the end of the short story for the end of the novel. In between, I envisioned enough content, maybe a hundred thousand words, to fill out the three major stages of his life: old age, middle age, youth, and childhood. The novel ended up 110,000 words, each section approximately 27,000 words—by far my longest novel to date.

What inspired me was a desire to write something that was more honest than anything I’d written before, along with a fascination with death. Although I’ve not yet reached 60 years, I relate to Oliver Wendell Holmes’s adage: “After 60 years the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years. There begins to be something personal about it.” Our society fears death, when it is the most natural thing in life. And while the health care industry frets over which disease is the leading cause of death, I’ve always felt it was birth. Or as John Oxenham wrote: “For death begins with life’s first breath; and life begins at touch of death.”

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

I dug deep for this novel, opened a vein and bled profusely, writing a lot from personal experience, particularly those from my youth. I wouldn’t call it autobiographical, because I endeavored to fictionalize much of it. Friends who’ve read it have asked if this or that incident is based on my life, but I’m vague in my answers.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

Very little. I usually start with a beginning, an ending, and only a concept of what fills the middle. I tend to let my characters take me where they wish. I act only as a channel for their voices.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

I often use people from own life, disguised of course, so that they don’t recognize themselves. This makes it easy for me to differentiate them, since I can imagine the true life characters and hear their voices. Several people may recognize themselves in A Retrospect in Life, and some of them are not portrayed in a flattering light. But they are not people I expect will read it anyway.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

With a vague idea of total word count, I typically envision a theme for the story. I see each chapter as a short story, each loosely connected to its predecessor and foreshadowing its successor. With a concept for the ending, I just write to that end, letting my imagination and the characters take me where they will. I’m often surprised by the journey, which I think is good. If I’m surprised, surely my readers will be, too.

In my current work in progress, I was startled by a discovery I made about the protagonist after I was nearly 10,000 words in, and that discovery shaped the entire piece.

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

For A Retrospect in Death, I hope that readers will look to within, connect with the story on a personal level. Like most of my novels, A Retrospect in Death is not mere escapism, but an introspective look at life’s ideals—love, loss and grief. It may sound cliché, but life is not about our failures and successes, but about the choices we make, or fail to make. Do we allow those failures and successes to define us, for good or bad? Do we learn from the past, or stare at it, choosing to not live each new day as if it were a clean slate?

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

I like to think each novel I write leaves me changed in some way. Not only do I learn something about the craft of writing, but I learn something of myself, through my characters. I find the creative process wonderfully therapeutic.

In A Retrospect in Death, I reconnected with my lost youth in a way that rejuvenated my present, and led me to conclude that the innocence of my youth isn’t as lost as I feared.

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

I’m a much better writer than I was while writing my first novel. I was flying by the seat of my pants twenty years ago. Still, I must’ve done something right. I recently launched a third edition of that first novel, and took the liberty of making some minor changes to the text and adding an afterward.

Typically, I don’t read my work once it goes to print, for fear of wanting to make wholesale changes; but that wasn’t the case here. I found I still liked the novel, the story and the characters. Would I write it differently if I were writing it today? Absolutely; but I didn’t wish to change that. I wanted it to stand in its rightful place in my body of work, to serve as a sort of measuring stick of where I was at that point in my life, both as a man and as a writer.

While writing may not come any easier today, I’ve streamlined the process. Twenty years ago, I was writing was a hobby, and frankly, I had no expectations that I’d write another. It was only during the writing of that first one that the idea for a trilogy began to take shape—two more novels based on the Joe January character, One Hot January and January’s Thawresulted. Once I learned to enjoy the creative process, without the burden of publication, I became a writer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, publication followed.

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

Oh, yes. I typically write on Sunday morning, using the remainder of the week to revise and polish. I wake up around seven, have breakfast, put on a pot of coffee, and select a cigar from my humidor. For me, writing is all about ritual, in this case, the ritual of selecting the right cigar; unwrapping it, inhaling the fragrance of the wrapper, snipping the head, lighting it, and watching the smoke fill my den. I may have no idea where I’ll pick up the story, or what I hope to accomplish that morning, but I’ve learned to trust that something will always come. I may start with a few revisions, but before long, the muse shows up to peek over my shoulder, if only to see what all the tapping is about.

For my weeknight revisions, I go through the cigar ritual again, but instead of coffee, I sip on a glass of bourbon or scotch.

What are you working on right now?

I hope to complete my current work in progress, A World Without Music, in the next few weeks. I started with a prologue that describes a walk-in from another planet inhabiting the lives of notable historical figures—Jesus during the crucifixion, St. Augustinus, Bach (where he becomes fascinated with music—his world evolved without music), and Thomas Jefferson (who also loved music, practicing his violin three hours each day), before stepping into a present day fictional character, where he interacts with a Gulf War veteran whose PTSD cost him his marriage. As a bass player in a jazz-blues quartet, he seeks to infuse his world with the music he lost, the result of a traumatic experience while in Kuwait.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?

Can a Gulf War veteran suffering PTSD finally leave behind his past to find the music that will make his life worth living?

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I’m hesitant to say that I don’t write genre fiction, so I don’t write for a specific audience. I write to amuse myself, and in a way that challenges me as a writer. The first display I bypass in any brick and mortar bookstore I may patronize is the bestseller table. I enjoy reading novels that don’t fit a genre or formula. It’s that audience I hope will find my work — readers who don’t read simply to be entertained, who choose books with which they feel comfortable, perhaps knowing ahead of time what they’re purchasing. I seek the audience that prefers books that strive to do nothing short of changing the world, and that force them to think.

Where can people learn more about your books?

You can learn more about my literary world, including novel excerpts and news, at my website.

J. Conrad Guest, Author of “January’s Thaw”

What is your book about?

January’s Thaw is the sequel to One Hot January. In One Hot January, Joe January, a private investigator circa 1947, grudgingly helps a pretty young woman find her father, a professor of archeology at Columbia College in New York who’s been missing for six years. When January finally tracks him down, Professor MacIntyre spins a wild yarn of time travel and alternate realities. All January knows for sure is that two nefarious individuals are hot on his trail. Only at the end, when January is transported a century into the future, does he come to believe in the validity of MacIntyre’s claims.

In January’s Thaw, January must come to terms with his misplaced past, which includes losing the woman he loved but never told, while trying to survive in a world that has, in his eyes, gone mad: “Pornography, prostitution, pollution, government corruption, global warming, terrorism, and for all your purported connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, your society is more disconnected than ever. On top of that, the war between men and women is no closer to a cease fire than it was from when I come.”

Written in January’s own first person narrative, it’s a convoluted story that ends where it begins. If that makes little sense, well, don’t expect me to explain. You’ll just have to read both books for yourself! Trust me, when all is said and done, it’ll be crystal clear.

Tell us a little about your main character.

Joe January was fashioned after Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s character in many great novels from the 1940s and 50s. Chandler did so much to shape the hard-boiled detective genre that others, like Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and, yes, even Elmore Leonard, have pushed to new heights.

January is my tribute to Chandler. Think Marlowe working against a science fiction backdrop of time travel and an alternate reality in which Germany has won World War II.

How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

The answer to that is twofold. I usually have the end of the story in mind before I sit down to write the first word; I also have in mind an approximate word count. Therefore it’s simply a matter of writing to that end while I allow the characters to tell their story through me. I make a number of discoveries as we go, taking digressions and detours, all the while keeping track of the word count. Just because I hit that word count doesn’t mean I just end the story. I give myself permission to go over if the story requires it. Subsequent drafts usually add to the word count.

The second part of my answer is that I’m never truly finished writing a story until I approve the final proof. Frankly, I could make revisions indefinitely. Each time I read a novel of mine I’m capable of tweaking this or that, adding narrative or an exchange of dialogue. I’m a perfectionist that way. Jack Kerouac would accuse me of self-censorship, but I can’t help myself: I’m constantly looking to improve something I’ve written. But once it’s published, it’s done and I won’t revisit them.

January’s Paradigm, my first novel, has been available for more than a decade and I haven’t looked at it since. What would be the purpose? I’m sure I’d find ways to improve it; however, that’s where I was, both as a person and as a writer. Why would I wish to change it to reflect who and where I am today?

Someone recently told me they thought January’s Paradigm is my best novel. I have to say I felt somewhat insulted. If I’m not writing better today than I was twenty years ago, then what have I learned about the art of writing? I think what they meant is that they connected to that story more than they have to my other work.

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, and that men don’t have a corner on the mean market. Men, too, can be hurt through a woman’s 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.

Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?

I think every story I’ve ever written has changed my life in some way.

The January trilogy took ten years to write. During those years I lost both my parents. I struggled with the creative process as I struggled through my grief; but I also struggled because I was so caught up in publication and the rejection letters I received. It was like playing the dating game. I constantly questioned why I was doing it—putting myself through the agony of looking for approval of my work through publication. I questioned my talent and ability—ignoring the reality that the book industry is a business concerned with bottom line and that acquisition of a manuscript is, like wading through profiles at an online dating site, largely subjective—and I often talked myself out of a writing session, procrastinating to another day because I doubted the value of my work. It was only as I neared completion of January’s Thaw that I finally learned to enjoy the process of creation. At that point I knew I was a writer.

Coincidentally, success came when I stopped focusing on trying to manifest it. Just like dating: when you stop looking, someone usually comes into your life when you least expect.

What are you working on right now?

I just completed my seventh novel, 500 Miles to Go. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, the story centers on Alex Król and his drive to win the Indianapolis 500. A sports/romance novel in the vein of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, 500 Miles to Go is largely about the importance of, and the risks associated with, pursuit of dreams.

I’m presently in the process of making revisions to A Retrospect in Death, my sixth novel, and I’m nurturing the seed for my next major project, which was given to me by a beautiful and creative woman I met on Facebook. I’m making plans for a book event in late February to promote both One Hot January and January’s Thaw at Barnhill’s in Winston-Salem. The aforementioned beautiful and creative woman is planning to meet me there and we will endeavor to create some romance. I expect the endeavoring will come easily and naturally.

When I get home I’ll work on the second draft of 500 Miles and will likely commence my next novel sometime in March.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

Revisions are the most difficult process for me; yet it’s a process I enjoy immensely. I constantly seek ways to improve my work—even before I finish my first draft. First draft is really a misnomer, because I edit as I go. I sometimes think my first draft is really the equivalent of a third or fourth draft because of all the changes I make as I go.

But it’s difficult, too, to cut something you really love but know you must because it contributes little to the overall piece.

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

Putting on a Sunday morning pot of coffee, going to the humidor to select the right cigar, unwrapping it, snipping its head, inhaling the fragrance of the wrapper, lighting it, and watching the smoke permeate my den. Then I put on a Beatles CD and crank up the Bose speakers. The Beatles were turned down by Decca Records because some suit didn’t like their sound and also thought that guitar-driven music was on its way out. The Beatles inspire me to one day create my own White Album (which, at present, might be 500 Miles to Go).

Honestly, that’s all a part of my routine, and writing, for me, is all about routine. While I’ve heard other writers talk about waiting for their muse to show up, I find that, with a cup of coffee and a good cigar, my creativity gets a jump start and pretty soon the muse shows up, out of curiosity, to peek over my shoulder to see what the tapping is all about.

Does writing come easy for you?

It comes a heck of a lot easier today than it did when I first started. It’s like anything you do with regularity—like a workout routine. The first few times you hit the gym, your muscles rebel. But after a time, your body craves that workout; miss a few days and your body complains. For me, a day without writing is like a day without sunshine. And a day without sunshine is like … night.

But does it come easy? No. Nor should it. I’ve gotten better at arranging words on a blank screen. I’m more efficient about it. I rarely struggle for thirty minutes or more over the construction of a simple seven-word sentence like I did early in my career.

I don’t write formula, or even in a specific genre. I find that easier than writing to a particular audience. The January books combine science fiction with the hard-boiled detective and mix in more than a dram of romance—just not the bodice-ripping romance novels that sport Fabio on the cover. Backstop and 500 Miles are both sports-themed novels with romance; while A Retrospect in Death deals with searching for love and never finding it. The Cobb Legacy is a mystery-romance with subplots of infidelity, divorce, and a son trying to connect with his dying father.

Always in my novels you’ll find something decidedly different. If you’re tired of regency romance because of the formula, why not try one of my novels? Another Facebook friend of mine says I write gritty love stories … what she calls “romance for the non-romantic.” I like that, although that in no way reflects on me as being non-romantic. I may be curmudgeonly and smoke cigars and drink scotch, but I know how to romance the right woman. The trouble is it’s been a while since I dated a woman who I thought was the right woman. I suspect that’s about to change.

But enough about my love life.

I suppose writing would come easier if I chose to write following the formula many creative writing courses teach; but then I’d see myself as a mercenary, writing for a paycheck to appeal to the masses. I still write largely to amuse myself and hope my audience one day will find me.

I like the challenge of writing a good story—outside the confines of genre—creating characters with whom readers can relate, and writing engaging dialogue. If it was too easy, I’d grow bored and find something else to challenge me.

Wow. What was the question and did I answer it?

What words would you like to leave the world when you are gone?

In the words of former Spinal Tap keyboardist, Viv Savage: “Have a good time all the time.”

No, seriously. Don’t let the novel die. Wherever the technology takes the novel, there’s something about words—whether on a page or an e-reader—and what they make happen inside a reader’s head that can never translate to the small or big screens. It’s been said that all change begins with a thought. And what is a thought but words that ultimately compose an idea.

If the novel is dying, what’s that say about imagination? Watching a movie requires little imagination—it’s all done for you. A picture may be worth a thousand words; but never underestimate the power and value of a thousand words and what those words, in the hands of a skillful writer, can do to inflame a mind. Words can inspire support for a cause; they can stir the oppressed to rebellion; they can bring understanding to two sides at odds; or they can bring two lonely hearts together for a lifetime.

So many people today in our immediate gratification society don’t have the patience for reading. I find that sad because, like stopping to smell the roses—which requires disconnecting from technology—getting lost in a good book is truly one of the most gratifying, and rewarding, indulgences.

Where can people learn more about your books?

You can find out more about me and my literary world, which includes all my novels and works in progress, events, cigars, and a link to my blog, at J. Conrad Guest. I’m also on Facebook.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of: January’s Thaw by J. Conrad Guest

Click here to read an: Excerpt From “January’s Thaw” by J. Conrad Guest

The Authors of Second Wind Publishing

I thought a fun way to introduce the authors of Second Wind Publishing, LLC (or at least the ones who wanted to be introduced) would be to have them answer three simple questions so you can see how different authors perceive themselves and their writing. The questions:

1. What is writing like for you?
2. What is the most thrilling thing about getting published?
3. What is the most humbling thing about getting published?

Nancy A. Niles, author of Vendetta:

1. Writing is something that I can’t not do. It’s my best friend, sometimes a pain in the neck, but most times just something that I need to do for my own peace of mind.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the encouragement it has given me to keep writing and keep allowing myself to express more freely and deeper. I think all those rejection slips had an effect on me and now being published is having a strengthening and very positive effect on my writing.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is knowing that for a few hours the people who read my novel will be taken away from their problems and be in my world. It humbles me to know that for just a short time I can give them a little escape from their troubles. It is quite a blessing.

Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard:

1. Writing is like exercise. Sometimes, it’s really hard to get up at 4:00 in the morning to begin writing…the warm covers are oh so snuggly. Other times, the adrenalin rush about an aspect of the story-in-process surging through me has me up at 3:00, sitting still for three hours, and then reluctantly stopping so I can prepare myself and family for the work/school day ahead. Like exercise, it has to be done nearly every day to accomplish anything close to completion.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is reading reviews from unknown readers – and seeing that they really loved my story.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing typos after publication of what I thought was an error-free book.

Nichole R. Bennett, author of Ghost Mountain:

1. Writing is in my blood. I don’t mean that I come from a long line of authors, because I don’t. But I have to write. I have to get those words out of my body and onto paper. Some days those words flow and there is no stopping them. Other days I struggle over each and every letter. Either way, writing is something I have to do. Just like eating or breathing.

2. The most thrilling thing is knowing that I am living my dream. Yes, it can be hard, but this is what I want to do and I’m doing it. How many people can truly say they get to live their dream?
3. I’m not sure there’s a humbling moment for me. I knew going in that writing would take some thick skin and hard work. I knew not everyone would like my work or appreciate the time and energy that it took to get where I am. That’s okay. I’m just grateful for the opportunities I have had and that there are people who do like it!

J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings and One Hot January:

1. I haven’t found anything that provides the level of satisfaction writing provides me—the highs of crafting a perfect sentence, of self-discovery and exploring the universal themes of love and loss, dying and death, salvation, redemption, and keeping my parents alive and making them proud.

2. As writers, I think we all believe our work is the greatest since Hemingway, and seeing our work in print is affirmation, a thrill, that our work has merit—even if it isn’t really as good as Hemingway.

3. I find nothing humbling about getting published (I write with publication in mind), save for the process. By the time I receive my first proof copy, I’ve gone over my manuscript a dozen times or more and have probably a half-dozen drafts. An editor has gone over it, found several typos I’ve missed, and made suggestions for changes—some with which I agree, but most I discard. So I find it maddening and, yes, humbling, when I start reading my proof copy and find ways to improve the narrative, to rewrite a passage and, worst of all, I find a typo! I’m a perfectionist, so, yes, it’s humbling to learn I still can improve upon the process.

Eric Beetner, co-author of One Too Many Blows to the Head and Borrowed Trouble

1. Writing is lonely and tiring. Even writing as a part of a team like I do with Jennifer is still lonesome. We live on opposite coasts and only communicate through email. I never show anything to anyone for critique. Never let early drafts out to the public. So having her around is also an act of real trust. We show each other our naked first drafts and still expect that we’ll respect each other in the morning.

2. I find that it is too easy to only hear from a friendly audience of family and friends so the biggest thrill for me is when a total stranger says or writes something good about my writing. I know it is genuine. Being published lets that person have exposure to my work and find something in it that resonates or entertains. That’s why we’re here, right?

3. Oh, brother, what hasn’t been? I’ve had signings at book stores I respect (and where I shop) I’ve been in panel discussions alongside authors I admire. I’ve met writers as an equal – a fellow published author, not just a fan. All that has made me feel grateful beyond words.

DCP_0851-136x150Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday:

1. A few years ago I came back to writing fiction after a self-imposed twelve-year period during which I did not write, and found about twenty ideas of books rattling around in my head. My first official act was to get a notebook and list the novels, outlining them to the degree they had “marinated” in my imagination. For me, writing is getting out of the way and allowing those stories that germinated so long ago to take root, flower and bear fruit.

2. The thrill comes from somebody you don’t personally know buying a book, or seeking you out intentionally at a book signing. It’s also thrilling when someone asks you a question about your story in such a way that you know they have read it with comprehension.

3. A couple things strike me right away. First is the praise I often get from my colleagues. When another writer whose work I admire compliments my work in a way that reveals I’ve accomplished precisely what I set out to do in the story—that is humble. The second thing is when people I know hunt me down and pester me until I get them a copy of one of my books. And sign it to them personally. I’m not accustomed to adulation.

lucy_balch-113x151Lucy Balch, author of Love Trumps Logic:

1. Writing is like I’m in a time machine. I can work for hours on a story and it always feels like much less time.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the knowledge that, finally, I’ll have something to show for the five years I’ve put into this obsession. Maybe I haven’t been selfishly squandering huge amounts of time?!

3.The most humbling thing about getting published is the realization that so many good writers have not yet been given the opportunity to publish. Is my book worthy of the privilege? As an unpublished author, I can always tell myself that my book will be well received when given the chance. The reality might be different. I hope not, but it’s a possibility, and once a book bombs there is no going back to the fantasy of it doing well.

jwcomputercatmail2-133x157Juliet Waldron, author of Hand-Me-Down Bride:

1. I write historicals, so writing for me is like entering a time portal—or, sometimes, like stepping out of Dr. Who’s callbox after accidentally pushing the wrong button. I have an idea of what may be there when I first look around, but I often find the world I’ve entered to be surprisingly different from my preconceptions.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting/being published is having someone you don’t know leave a message or write a review that totally “gets” the book. Shows I wasn’t as off-base as I sometimes—in those dark 3 a.m. moments—imagined.

3) The most humbling thing about getting/being published is that we have so much competition, and that there is a great deal of good writing out there. After publication there is the (IMO) far less agreeable marketing to do. The playful creation is now complete.

TracyB_3-134x150Claire Collins, author of Images of Betrayal and Fate and Destiny:

1. For me, writing is a journey. I don’t always know the final destination until I start traveling, but it’s always a rewarding trip.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is when people read what I’ve written and they like it. I write for myself because writing is almost a compulsion for me. Readers enjoying my writing is a bonus.

3. The most humbling thing? All of the work it takes to get the books out and maintain a normal life while still trying to write. I realized pretty quick that I wasn’t superwoman. I’m still trying, but someone keeps standing on my cape.

mickeypic_1_-124x149Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies:

1. For me, writing is like being in that space just after you woke up from a dream but you only remember half of the dream and you spend all your waking moments trying to flesh it out.

2. I had some stories to tell and now I feel like they’ll be heard. And it really is thrilling. I feel like I’m white water rafting and I don’t need a boat!

3. I’ll be awed that anyone would take the time to read what I’ve written when they could be doing something more valuable with their time.

Deborah_J_Ledford-114x160Deborah J Ledford, author of Staccato and Snare:

1. I am an entertainer. I don’t write for a cause or to pose my own thoughts or impressions on issues. My only function is to provide a suspense-filled, exciting ride the reader won’t want to stop until they reach the very last word.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is seeing the words I’ve worked so diligently to craft actually in print. If what I present happens to be worthy enough for readers to tell others about Staccato, that’s all I could ask for.

3. Everything about being published is humbling to me. That readers would seek out Staccato, then take the time to escape from their lives for a while, makes me more grateful than anyone could possibly know.

Sherrie_-_book_2-120x154Sherrie Hansen Decker, author of Night and Day, Stormy Weather, and Water Lily:

1. For me, writing is like a dream vacation – a chance to escape the realities of my everyday life and travel to some faraway world where I can see the sights and meet new people.

2. For years, I wrote and wrote, wondering if anyone would ever read my words. What a wonderful feeling to be writing for readers who are eagerly awaiting my next release!

3. Every time I think I have a perfect draft, I find more errors glaring out from the pages of my proof. Very humbling . . .

Norm2-140x151Norm Brown, author of The Carpet Ride:

1. As a retired computer programmer, I see a lot of similarities between writing a novel and creating a complex software program. Both processes require an enormous attention to detail. All the little parts have to tie together in a logical way and a good flow is critical. And it’s hard work to get all the “bugs” out of a book, too.

2. The most thrilling thing for me was pulling the first copy of my book out of the box and holding it in my hands. It was exciting to see something that I actually created.

3. The most humbling thing for me about being published was discovering how much I have to learn about promoting my book. I’m still learning.

biopicsmall-136x139Jerrica Knight-Catania, author of A Gentleman Never Tells:

1. Writing for me depends on the day. Some days it’s the most wonderful romp through my dream land and other days it’s like getting a root canal.

2. Knowing that someone else believes in your work enough to put it in print is just about the most thrilling feeling. It’s great to hear friends and family say how much they enjoyed my work, but to have it validated by professionals is a whole ‘nother ball game!

3. I’m not sure I’ve been humbled at all! Haha! But I’ve never really had unrealistic expectations of myself or my work. . . . I’m prepared to correct mistakes and make cuts/edits as needed. I’m just grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve been given.

Lindlae_Parish_photo-129x151Dellani Oakes, Author of Indian Summer and Lone Wolf:

1. Writing is like a discovery process. I start with a beginning line, an idea or even just a character’s name and watch as the characters lead me where they want me to go.

2. I loved the fact that I finally was validated. Someone did think I was worth publishing and I wasn’t just “Wasting time with all that writing.”

3. Humbling? Wow, I think the most humbling – perhaps humiliating – step in the publishing process is all the rejection you get until someone finally says “Yes, we want you!”

Margay_touch_up-129x150Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora’s Soul:

1. For me, writing is like creating a baby. There is the conception (what a wonderful idea!), the writing/rewriting period (gestation, anyone?) and the birth (I can’t believe it’s finally here!). And then you nurture it for the next couple of years as you slowly introduce it to the public – and hope they don’t think it’s an ugly baby.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the sense of accomplishment when you see it in print for the first time and you discover that people actually like it!

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing the book in print for the first time and realizing that all of those years of struggling, writing, rewriting, submitting – all boil down to this one little book that you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Chris2-132x150Christine Husom, author of Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, and An Altar by the River:

1. Writing is multi-faceted for me. It is a joy, but also pretty hard work at times. I do much of my writing in my mind and when I finally sit down to get it on paper, it often comes out differently. I spend more time mentally forming plots and picturing scenes than I do writing them. I love having a whole day here and there to sit at my computer and concentrate on writing. If I have problems with a scene, I skip ahead to the next one so I don’t get frustrated.

2. The most thrilling thing about being published is getting my books out of my house and into readers’ hands–hoping people get some enjoyment reading them.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is seeing mistakes and typos in what I thought was an error-free manuscript!

Amy_12_1-113x151Amy De Trempe, author of Loving Lydia and Pure is the Heart:

1. Writing for me is like unmapped journey, I never know what turns, obstacles or excitement is about to unfold.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is seeing my name on a book cover.

3. The most humbling thing about getting published is finding out how supportive and happy my friends and family really are for me.

maggiemed-138x150Mairead Walpole, author of A Love Out of Time:

1. In some ways, writing is a form of therapy. Not from a “work out my issues” standpoint, but rather it allows me to escape from the day to day stresses of the world. I can let the creative, sometimes a little off-beat, imaginative part of my soul off the leash and let it run. Some of my very early writing did dip into the realm of “working out my issues” and those stories will never see the light of day!

2. Can I channel my inner Sallie Fields and run around saying, “They liked it, they really liked it…”? No? Darn. Seriously, I think it is the whole – I did this – aspect. Someone read the book and thought it was worth publishing. That is pretty cool no matter how you cut it.

3. Opening yourself up to criticism, being vulnerable. Sure, you know that not everyone is going to love your book, and intellectually you know that some people will hate it and think you are a hack, but when someone actually expresses that to you it is a whole new experience. It can be very humbling.

IMG_4132-use-115x154Suzette Vaughn, author of Badeaux Knights, Mortals, Gods, and a Muse, and Finding Madelyn:

1. I’m like a humming bird on too much caffine. I write in waves. When the wave hits I can put out several thousand words in an unbelievably small amount of time. Then when I’m not in humming bird mode I edit.

2. The most thrilling is probably the fact that there are people out there that I don’t know that have read my book and liked it. I had the pleasure a few times of meeting them and there is some twinkle in their eye that is amazing.

3. My son is always humbling. I recieved my proofs in the mail and my then seven year old son didn’t fully understand what it meant that I’d written a book. He flips through the pages looking for hand-writting. “I get in trouble when I write in books.”

jjdare-139x150JJ Dare, author of False Positive and False World:

1. Writing is like being in a triathlon for me. I power write for days or weeks at a time, then crash for awhile with the help of Tylenol and chocolate. Writing is a scary, exciting roller-coaster. It is exhilarating and draining, and Iwouldn’t do it any other way.

2. The most thrilling thing about getting published is the very act of being published! Something I wrote is out there, available for anyone to read. Holding the hard copy of my book in my hands gives me the good shivers. The other thrill is the pride in my family’s voices when they introduce me as “The Writer.”

3. The most humbling thing is feeling responsible for the places I take my readers. During the time they’re walking with and living the lives of the characters in my book, my readers are taking the same roller-coaster ride I took to write the

pat-135x150Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I:

1. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions.

2. Someday perhaps, I will find the thrill of being published, but to be honest it was anti-climatic. I am more thrilled at the thought of what the future might bring now that my books have been published.

3. I had no intention of answering these questions. After all, I was the one who collated all these mini interviews, but a fellow author said, “This is your party, too. People will tune in because of you. They want to know more about YOU. Don’t cheat your fans and followers.” Now that’s humbling.

Click here to read the first chapters of all Second Wind novels: The Exciting Worlds of Second Wind Books

Joe January, Hero of the Novel One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Bertram: Who are you?

Joe: My name is Joe January. I was a private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940. Was once described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. Who am I to argue? The difference between Bogie and me is that I was the real McCoy. Where he took the scripts that Hollywood wrote for him, I took on the tough cases nobody else would. Unlike Bogie’s, my bumps and bruises were the real deal, not makeup.

Bertram: What is your story?

Joe: One Hot January is anything but a story, although it could be construed as a Hollywood type script Bogie might’ve been interested in bringing to the screen were he alive today. Not being a scientist, I can’t tell you the how behind what happened, only that it did happen. I know, it reads like science fiction, spanning two centuries and dealing with time travel and alternate realities, while the denouement is less than satisfactory—boy loses girl, boy finds new girl, loses her, finds the first girl and this time she loses him. But such is life: a happily ever after, while often promised, is never a given.

In a nutshell my story could be termed what Nietzsche called “the bungled and the botched.”

Bertram: Are you the hero of your own story?

Joe: Funny, just not in a humorous sense, but I’ve been accused of arrogance in my self-depiction, creating a sort of comic book superhero of myself. Yet in youth, we often view ourselves as invincible. It isn’t until later that we realize how fragile life is; furthermore, that we see the repercussions of our actions.

Antihero was a term first coined in the early 18th century to describe certain protagonists, those whose armor was less than shiny, indeed, tarnished. They often fall short of literary ideals, just as happens in real life. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish American author who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in literature and was noted for his short stories, wrote: “Children have no use for psychology. They detest sociology. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish allusions.”

Yeah, I’m an antihero.

Bertram: What is your problem in the story?

Joe: Imagine 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. Imagine 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. Now perhaps you begin to see my problem in the story.

I managed to uncover this seemingly impossible plot by agreeing to help a pretty young woman from Gramercy Park locate her missing father—a Professor of Archeology from Columbia College who was tasked with preventing the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands.

But the real meat of my story is about regret: how, through my own foolishness, I lost the two women who meant the most to me.

Bertram:  Do you embrace conflict?

Joe: I always find myself at the center of conflict. It seems to find me the way it finds the protagonist of any good detective novel. Do I embrace it? Does anyone ever embrace conflict? I don’t run from it, which is not the same as embracing it. I guess, as Philip Marlowe could tell you, it came with the territory during those years I was a PI. Like Marlowe, it became a way of life for me—fighting, in my own way, for truth, justice and the American way.

Bertram:  Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

Joe: I approached J. Conrad Guest in 1992 with my story. He was an unknown back then. He had talent, although it was unpolished; still, he was no hack. What I liked about him was that he refused to write the formula drivel that the major publishing houses seek today.

It was a chance meeting, and I suspect he didn’t believe he could complete the project. Our encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm, the first book in the January trilogy. He’s since written the second volume, One Hot January, and the final volume, January’s Thaw. Both are forthcoming from Second Wind Publishing. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.

Although it took him ten years to complete the project, I’m pleased with the result. I think he managed to remain true to my story as well as my voice.

Bertram:  What do you need?

Joe: There was a time, in my youth, when I would’ve said the only things I needed were a challenging case and a beautiful woman with whom to lay for an evening of divine debauchery. The first was true, until circumstances deemed it necessary I find a new career. The second was a lie. Unfortunately it took my losing Lindy to make that clear to me.

Bertram:  What makes you angry?

Joe: Having been thrust one hundred years into the future in the blink of an eye, perhaps it’s easy for me to see how the world, our society specifically, has devolved: pornography, pollution, global warming, corrupt politics, terrorism, the pursuit of materialism—the American Dream—as a basis for happiness, and for all our purported connectivity through the Internet and cell phones, we are more disconnected than ever.

Why does there have to be a battle between the sexes? “Battle,” by default, denotes a winner and a loser. Sometimes the only way to achieve victory is through negotiation—by seeing an issue from the other’s perspective. If more people, men and women alike, attempted to see through the eyes of their partner, I daresay there’d be far fewer unhappy couples and fewer divorces.

Bertram: What, if anything, haunts you?

Joe: That after I abandoned Lindy—it wasn’t my choice, merely circumstance over which I had no control—she’d had to marry another man out of necessity. We met once, Lindy and I, thirty-five years after the accident that took me from her. It took her a moment, but she recognized me and I knew her feelings for me had never diminished. Furthermore, that she forgave me the betrayals of my youth as well as my abandonment of her.

That anything but chance meeting resulted in my finding the closure I needed to give my past self a second chance to find the love he didn’t yet realize he had.

Bertram: Are you lucky?

Joe: Most people either find love or love finds them, and they hold onto it, stay with it their entire lives. They are the fortunate ones. The unfortunate manage to make it out of this life without experiencing love, perhaps taking solace in the juxtaposed adage that it is better never to have loved than to have loved and lost.

I was fortunate in that love found me not once but twice, in two different centuries. In the first case I never realized what I had until it was too late. In the second, I fully realized what I had, but knowing didn’t prevent my losing her. You could say I’m living proof that one can be both lucky and unlucky in love.

Love found me the second time a hundred years after the first time. Her name was Ecstasy, and she once told me that she loved my loneliness—a man out of place out of time. I surmised that her love for me was born of pity. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my loneliness was the result of my losing the one woman who, at one time, mattered most to me. To this day I regret that I never told her how much she mattered. After Ecstasy was killed, I often wondered if she might not have known that all along—that my loneliness was for a woman who could never threaten to usurp her place in my life.

Bertram:  Are you honorable?

Joe: At one time I thought I was. I never stole money from a client for services I failed to provide; but that’s only a part of my life. I never kept secret from Lindy that I had other lovers and patted myself on the back for my honesty, crediting her for her choice to accept that arrangement. But in retrospect, such an attitude was anything but honorable. Once I realized I would never again find my way back to my own time, to enjoy the warmth of Lindy’s familiar and loving embrace, I lived my life to honor her memory, because it was the right thing to do and the only way I could make up for my treatment of her.

Bertram: Did anything newsworthy happen on the day you were born?

Joe: I was born on October 21, 1911. Newsworthy events of October 21 include:

         The Battle of Trafalgar began in 1805
         Thomas Edison invented the working electric light in 1879
         The first transatlantic radio telephone was made, 1915
         Trumpeter and bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917
         A new typewriting speed record was established by Margaret B. Owen in New York City, when she typed 170 words a minute with no errors, 1918
         Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame was born in 1956, as was my biographer, J. Conrad Guest
         The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—the only building in New York City designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—opened in 1959

Bertram:  Who was your first love?

Joe: That would be Lindy, my gal Friday in 1947. Sadly, I never told her how I felt about her. Then one day I was gone—whisked into the future. I took little comfort in knowing she still lived in her own time. To me, in 2047, she was dead and buried. Obviously she got on with her life after I abandoned her. But I like to think I could’ve made a difference in her life, the way it turned out for her.

Bertram: Who is your true love?

Joe: Ecstasy Givens, who I met the very day I arrived in 2047. I needed her in order to survive in the 21st century. Initially I loved her for her body, but in time she came to mean much more to me. In losing Lindy I learned what love is. Ecstasy was the beneficiary of what Lindy taught me, which pains me even if I imagine Lindy might be proud of the Joe January she in part helped to mold.

Bertram: Have you ever had an adventure?

Joe: Duh. Read One Hot January and January’s Thaw.

Bertram:  Was there ever a defining moment of your life?

Joe: The day I was transported into the future. Not only did it save my life, it defined how I lived the remaining days of my life.

Bertram:  What is your most prized possession? Why?

Joe: My memory—specifically of Ecstasy and Lindy. Since they are both gone from me, they—their memories—are all I have.

Bertram:  What is your favorite scent? Why?

Joe: Smell and memory are intimately linked. Since Ecstasy was killed my favorite scent belongs to those items that still bear her essence—the clothing that remains in our closet, the afghan with which she covered herself while reading on cold winter nights.

Bertram:  What is your favorite beverage? Why?

Joe: A single malt scotch—Aberlour a’bunadh (pronounced ah-boo-nar) is my favorite. If I have to explain why, you’re obviously not a scotch drinker and wouldn’t understand anyway.

Bertram:  What is your favorite item of clothing? Why?

Joe: That would be my fedora, which I was forced to give up wearing in the 21st century. You’ll read why in January’s Thaw. In the 1940s it defined who I was, as it defined Bogart’s screen persona. But I wore mine first, and my persona wasn’t make believe.

Bertram: If  you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?

Joe: We face many choices each and every day of our lives, which over a lifetime add up to myriad decisions. Whether we choose to act or to refrain from acting affects the world and ourselves. There is nothing we do, or choose not to do, that doesn’t leave a mark on us. All of which lends credibility to the theory that countless universes exist, the result of the choices we make (or fail to make) and their interactions with the billions of other choices made or not made by others.

Too New Age for you? Remember, I come from an era before New Age.

See also:
Excerpt from One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest
Interview with J. Conrad Guest, author of One Hot January
Chapter One — One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

Click here to buy: One Hot January

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

J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop and One Hot January

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I start with a protagonist and his conflict; most times I have the ending in mind and simply write to it, although often the ending is amended depending on what happens prior to my getting there. Everything before that — the digressions, the journey — are discoveries that, hopefully, translate as discovery for the reader. I’ve never written from an outline. I haven’t even tried to work from an outline; I feel it would be too restrictive to me.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain number of words each day?

Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite novelists, despite Faulkner (no stranger to drink himself, Faulkner butchered the screenplay for The Big Sleep) calling him a “world class drunk,” wrote Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off. My writing schedule is like that: the first sentence is magic, the second intimate, the third settles me in for the session, and after that it’s like taking the girl’s clothes off. I used to set a word count but learned to accept what comes. Some sessions produce more word count than others; but I focus on the content as my goal. Certain parts of the story are going to be more difficult to put down on paper than others. Some sessions result in 1,500 words, while others end with 4,000 words. I’m grateful for it all.

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

Oh, yes, I do. We laugh at our pets for being creatures of habit, but we are, too, if we’re honest. My morning sessions start with a pot of coffee and a trip to my humidor to select a cigar. (In the evening, substitute bourbon and beer for the coffee.) The cigar is all about the ritual — selecting the right cigar to go with my mood, the time of day; taking it out of the cellophane, inhaling the fragrance of the wrapper, admiring the label, the workmanship (the better cigars are still handmade by someone with skilled hands in another culture thousands of miles away), snipping its head, lighting it, those first few draws, and watching the smoke infiltrate my den. The ritual helps get my creativity flowing.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

Yes, my preference is for Sunday morning. I schedule my entire day around my session. During the week, in the evening, I’ll polish or edit what I wrote on Sunday; but sometimes, if I’m really humming along, I’ll push the story forward during the week. But it’s difficult to do that consistently with a day job, especially one that puts me in front of a laptop writing. Sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is switch on my own laptop and be creative.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a major project — A Retrospect in Death. It begins with a man’s death, and the reader is taken to the other side where the narrator encounters his higher self—the part of him that is immortal and is connected to the creator. The protagonist learns (much to his chagrin) that he must return to the lifecycle. But first he must be “debriefed” by his higher self, and so they set about discussing the man’s previous life — in reverse chronological order: knowing the end but retracing the journey, searching for the breadcrumbs left along the way. I’m just now tinkering with a concept for my next novel, a period piece during the golden age of motor racing—the 1960s—with the Indianapolis 500 as the centerpiece.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

When I started my first novel, nearly twenty years ago, the hardest part was sitting down to write the first sentence—even though I’d written it in my head several weeks previously. I was intimidated by the whole process and feared that I’d never complete it. I only talked about it to friends. Finally, someone asked me when I would stop talking and do something. It was the kick I needed to set pen to paper. Now, when I near the end of a project, I begin to worry about my next one. What’s the story? Who are my characters and what are their conflicts? How can I top my last novel? Today I find the revision process the most difficult part. I love polishing a text; but sometimes I get carried away with the tinkering. At that point I go back to the original draft and determine whether the tinkering adds something, some new dimension, or does it get in the way?

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

The late great sports writer Red Smith wrote Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed. Opening a vein is never easy, but it’s essential, in my opinion, to great writing. It separates the great writers from the mercenaries, who write simply for the masses, for profit. Unfortunately, that seems to go against what many creative writing courses are teaching young writers today. They’re told that they must allow the reader to experience the text in their own way. I understand that, but one must still lead the horse to the water. What if your reader has never experienced what you’re writing about? For example, I’ve never fathered children, so it does me little good to read about a character’s joy over holding his newborn son for the first time by writing, “He was proud.” I like metaphor and so I could relate to something like, “Holding his son for the first time he felt as if he’d just hit the walk-off homerun in the seventh game of the World Series.” Raymond Chandler was one of the greatest stylists ever to write, and I consider myself somewhat of a stylist, too. It comes natural to me. I love language, and to me how something is said is as important as what is said; yet sadly, the publishing industry seems to frown on anything that might take a reader out of the story. Well, commercials do that on TV; but it doesn’t lessen our enjoyment of our favorite shows, does it? If the industry is losing money, perhaps they should reconsider the cookie cutter mold stories they seem to want to publish.

Does writing come easy for you?

It comes a lot easier today than it did when I started twenty years ago! That’s a product of experience — like an exercise routine, the first few workout sessions are difficult as your muscles rebel against the abuse you put them through. But in time, your body craves those workouts. Writing is like that for me. The more I do it the more I feel the need to do it. Raymond Chandler wrote Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say. I hope I never reach that end because every session is an adventure. I learn something about the craft of writing and, more importantly, about myself.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

For me, the most essential quality of a good story is characters with whom I can connect. Finding a good story to write is easy; but writing about characters the reader cares about is more difficult. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most demented characters ever conceived, yet he was fascinating, a train wreck away from which we want to look but can’t.

Where can we learn more about your books?

My third novel, One Hot January, is soon to launch, through Second Wind Publishing. You can learn more about me and all my literary endeavors at my website.