Dale Cozort, Author of “Exchange

Welcome, Dale. I’m delighted you agreed to let me interview you. What is your book about?

Here is the blurb: Exchange is an alternate history novel where our risk-averse society suddenly has a frontier again, as a series of “Exchanges” temporarily swap town-sized pieces of our world with an alternate reality empty of humans, a wild, dangerous place people can go to start a new life if they’re brave or crazy enough.

With little warning, computer guru Sharon Mack finds herself in a land where sabertooths, giant bears and even more dangerous creatures still roam, fighting giant predators, escaped convicts, and a mysterious cult to rescue her kidnapped daughter before the Exchange ends, trapping them forever.

How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?

For this particular book, almost twenty years. I know that because I came across a notebook with dated entries from when I was in my late teens outlining some of the ideas. That’s unusual for me. Most of my stories go from concept to writing within a year or two. I had the idea for Exchange long before I had the maturity or self-discipline to write it.

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

I’m not big on putting messages in fiction, but one snuck into Exchange. We live in what my daughter calls a ‘bubble-wrap’ society, one that is obsessed with reducing risk to the point of keeping us from doing a lot of things we want to do and/or need to do. How does that kind of society react to suddenly being in a world that is wilder and more dangerous than the Wild West ever was? A lot of us take the benefits of the bubble-wrapping for granted, but dream about getting away from the restrictions. Unfortunately, the risk reduction and the restrictions are often a package deal. I try not to hit people over the head with that message and you can read and enjoy Exchange without ever noticing it, but it is there.

How has your background influenced your writing? How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I grew up in a fair-sized city, but I spent a lot of time with relatives in the country, so I probably write rural life a little more authentically than someone without that experience. I also have a computer background, so there is always a little bit of the techie in my stories. I have to dial that back so it doesn’t get in the way of the story.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

I usually concentrate on one aspect of writing at a time. If I’m writing I schedule myself to write a thousand to three thousand words per day, depending on what other obligations I have. If I’m editing or marketing that’s usually all I do that day.

A group of people from a workshop I went to last July pledged to write at least two hundred and fifty words per day every day for thirty days. We kept renewing that through the end of December and most of us ended up averaging five hundred to a thousand words per day. The two-hundred and fifty words is a small enough amount that you can do it in twenty minutes to a half hour, so pledging to do that is a good way to avoid procrastination. At the same time, the mindset for editing and marketing are enough different from writing mode that I found myself having to work at making the transition.

What was the first story you remember writing?

In fifth grade I wrote the first ten or fifteen pages of a really bad Hardy Boys imitation. It had no plot, cardboard characters, and if I ever get famous I plan to hunt it down and shred it so nobody publishes it after I die.

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

The last five percent of the editing process, the part that gets you from almost the right words to exactly the right words. For me that takes more time than writing the rough draft.

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

For me, the easiest part is writing the rough draft. Once I have characters and a plot outline I can write the rough draft of a novel in four to six weeks and I enjoy doing it. What happens before and after writing the rough draft is far more difficult and time-consuming.

Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

I write down lists like that from time-to-time, but not systematically. I recently found a notebook with a list of twenty or thirty ideas that I wrote down over twenty years ago. A surprising number are still good.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

Way too many. I have two novels with 70-80% of the rough draft finished, at least half a dozen short stories more than half-written, probably a dozen more that I started and still want to complete and a constellation of ideas I’m not letting myself start writing on until I finish the ones I’ve started.

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

A good science fiction story starts with a big idea–usually new technology or a unique world. From there good science fiction takes a character we can care about and gives them a problem or a challenge that is caused by the big idea. The challenge needs to be big enough to push them almost beyond their ability to cope. It needs to be big enough that they have to grow in order to deal with it. A really good story has the main character earn their victory, assuming they win. They need to pay a price. Typical ways stories go wrong: Not making the story big enough for the world they are set in or not challenging the main character enough. If nothing bad happens to the main character through the story it’s hard to have a good story. If they just have to do one thing to win and it doesn’t cost them much, it’s hard to have a good story. Good stories come from making your character suffer and dig deep to overcome odds that seem impossible. A good villain helps too, obviously. The trick is to make the villain realistic, smart and justified in his/her own mind while still keeping them the antagonist.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Know what you’re getting into. Writers on TV have an idyllic life. Writing in real life is like the rest of real life. A lot depends on who you know. A lot of very talented writers never succeed because they’re nice people and get jostled out of the way by less talented people with sharper elbows. If you hate corporate politics and see a writing career as a refuge from it, you will be disillusioned. People and companies in the publishing industry are a mix of good and bad, selfish and generous just like people anywhere.

If you love to write, I would strongly encourage you to continue to write. Do understand though, that the market for writers is incredibly, beyond imagining glutted. Never put yourself in a position where next month’s rent and food or even the rent and food six months down the road is dependent on earning money from writing. There are probably a couple of thousand times more stories landing on editor and agent desks than there are slots for them, so as a new writer the odds against any one of your stories getting accepted by a particular venue are astronomical. If you wrote the best story out of a stack of a hundred, you still have only a three to five percent chance of getting accepted. The odds in your favor do go up if you’re persistent, but getting published does take persistence as well as an exceptional story. Do you have something exceptional to say? Something better, more compelling than the vast majority of stories out there?

Becoming a better writer is partly a matter of writing a lot. Raymond Chandler claimed that it takes writing a million words of crap —  ten or twelve good-sized novels worth — before you write anything publishable. That’s probably close to right, though you can cut that down somewhat by reading well-written stories. You can also cut it down by having exciting things to write about. That comes partly from life-experience and partly from being a good listener — basically incorporating other people’s experiences. Empathy is a big help too, being able to understand someone with a very different set of life experiences and beliefs.

You can come out of a great English program writing wonderful, flawless prose, but if you don’t have anything to say why should anyone read what you write? On the other hand, if you’ve had extraordinary experiences you can write mediocre prose and people will overlook that because your stories are so vivid and compelling. There is nothing as real as actual experiences and there is a grittiness, a reality to scenes where the author has been there and done something very similar to what they’re describing. It’s very hard to duplicate that without the experiences.

What are your current writing goals and how do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

My goal for this year can be summed up as finishing what I started. I have two novels in what should be final edits, two more with the rough draft essentially done and waiting for me to edit them, and two more where the rough draft is 70-80% done. By November I want the first two to be published. I want to be doing final edits on the ones where the rough draft is done, and I want finished rough drafts on the ones that are currently almost done. When I meet those goals I’ll start the next novel.

I tend to do marketing in blocks of time rather than trying to do it at the same time as writing. I have writing days, editing days and marketing days. That fits my somewhat obsessive personality. I’m not sure if it’s the most effective way to get things done.

Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

I wrote Exchange as a science fiction story, for techie guys a lot like me. I get generally pretty good feedback from that audience, but surprisingly, the people who tell me they couldn’t put it down and want a sequel yesterday are mostly women who rarely read science fiction and are generally more into mystery or romance. I can understand that because the story has a strong female lead and there are elements of romance and mystery, but it did surprise me. As to how to market to that strength, I haven’t figured that out yet.

What do you think the most influential change in book publishing will come from?

The book publishing industry has at least two problems it has to solve. First, how do they find new voices that will sell among the thousands of voices that won’t, and second, how can they find readers in a market that will become increasing fragmented.

The sheer number of manuscripts going to major publishers and top agents makes it extremely difficult to find the stories from new authors that will sell. A lot of the big publishers and agents have apparently almost stopped trying, though they won’t tell you that.

The problem with not finding good new voices is that it sets up competition. Granted, some authors will give up and stash their stories in a trunk, but others will find a small publisher or self-publish. If even the extremely good new voices aren’t making it to the major publishers, then marketing-savvy smaller publishers end up publishing those people and taking market share away from the majors. The marketing power and distribution of the majors can minimize that to some extent, but at least in science fiction we’ve seen small-press books getting major awards and tens of thousands of sales. That’s mostly happening in the larger small presses, but it’s feeding the growth of competitors.

As those competitors ramp up, people have more choices and the market becomes more fragmented. Publishing probably becomes more a matter of finding enough niches for a novel, rather than going for the kind of mass audience the big publishers are going for now.

The impression I get from talking to people in tune with the industry is that book people are increasingly getting forced out of larger companies in the book publishing industry in favor of accounting types, lawyers and general marketing people. That’s a very disturbing trend, but it does open up some possibilities. Depending on how nasty of a non-compete clause the people signed I could see some very talented book people available for smaller companies or available to strike out on their own. I can see amorphous entities forming where a publisher is more a coordinator than anything else. They farm out final edits, then contract out marketing and distribution. I could also see writers or small publishers forming cooperatives for marketing and distribution. A lot of possibilities are opening up, and I don’t know if we’ll see a final shape for the industry for years, maybe decades.

As always, Dale, you give me much to think about. Where can people find out more about your and your books?

You can find me at my website: http://dalecozort.com/index.htm or at Stairway Press: http://www.stairwaypress.com/bookstore/exchange/

Click here to read an: Excerpt From “Exchange” by Dale Cozort

Click here to read: Three Things Television Tells Us About The Future of Writing by Dale Cozort

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

Monica M. Brinkman, Author of “The Turn of the Karmic Wheel”

What is your book about?

The Turn of the Karmic Wheel is the theme of good versus evil, with a bit of a twist. It is speculative fiction containing suspense, horror, the paranormal and spirituality, hence the Karma.

Set in a small college town in the Midwest, we follow the characters for one weekend where they will answer to the choices made in their life when Universal Law takes over.

For example, the ‘bad guy’s’ have no idea what is in store for them as they go about their ordinary tasks. Soon that tube of toothpaste, car radio or DVD will become an object of loathing, pain and humility. Voices from no discernable source whisper in their ear, music as dark as midnight surround them, urging them to ignore what is right in front of their face. And this is just the beginning of the physical and mental pain they shall experience at the hands of karma.

We also have the ‘good guy’s’ hearing angelic voices, mystical music and experiencing visions until they can no longer ignore the mission set before them. For these good people now hold the key of releasing the power that can save or destroy those who live by greed.

Moreover, from what source does all this come?

What inspired you to write this particular story?

My main reason was to show others that the acts and deeds you perform in life do mean something. I hear many people say that the greedy are the ones who have everything. However, do they really? What if at this very moment, we had to ‘pay the piper’? What if a person’s true self or soul were exposed for all to see. Would they act differently or continue on the same path?

Tell us a little about your main characters.

Angela Frank, late 20’s, a tiny petite woman is a wife, mother of twin girls, psychiatrist and a very reluctant psychic.

Monty Frank, also late 20’s, is Angela’s husband. Not what you would call handsome being overweight and balding, Monty adores his family so much he keeps his true feelings hidden deep inside his soul. He works at home as a Debt Consolidator.

Euclid Hannigan, Widower, late 50’s with a thick head of gray hair is short and stocky in stature. He speaks with a thick Midwestern accent and is considered, by most, a simple countryman. He also believes he is losing his mind.

Rosie Richards, middle-aged, carrot red hair, extremely overweight is brash in character and with the use of makeup. She is the town’s most profitable Realtor and very self-absorbed.

Karmin Shelton, early 50’s, a bit overweight, frizzy hair, thick glasses and not what most men would find attractive, works as a nurse in the local hospital’s psychiatric ward. She has never been married and performs charitable service on her days off.

Joshua Allen, mid 30’s, black hair, blue eyes, 6’2 and strikingly handsome works in the local bank as an investment broker. He views women as something to use for his own sexual needs and the people of the town as morons. He has it all, looks, the gift of gab, money and prestige.

Who is your most unusual/likeable character?

The most likeable and unusual character would surely be Euclid Hannigan. He is a simple man who at 55 lost his wife and his job at the auto factory. He is boisterous with a great spirit and speaks with a heavy Midwestern accent. Euclid is the neighbor who is always there to assist when needed. He is the solid, likeable grandfather whom the children of the neighborhood adore. His laughter would fill an auditorium and his recent acts would fill your heart with horror and fear. He believes he is losing his mind as the story begins, yet is he?

How long did it take you to write the book?

Writing the book took approximately 6 months but editing took another 3 months, so total would be 9 months to completion.

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

Definitely. I want the reader’s to understand each of us is accountable for our own decisions made in life and that these choices affect others lives as well. I also wish to give hope and value to those who are giving and caring; that it does mean something when you make the right choice.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

My main challenge was deciding wither to keep the writing simplistic or not. I opted to write it as I felt it should be written, in a way every person could understand with, hopefully, just the right amount of literary indulgence.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

I wish. My schedule is quite busy with hosting the Two Unsynchronized Souls radio show which involves reading many author’s books. How I handle my writing schedule is to write when the moment hits. The words and story then easily flow from my fingertips onto the screen. So, some days I’ll write 5,000 words, other days a mere 500 or so.

What are you working on right now?

As far as novels go, I am writing the sequel, ‘The Wheel’s Final Turn.’ If anyone has read the first book, it reeks of a sequel, leaving it open at the very end for yet another adventure. I also write articles, poetry and enter contests to enhance my writing. The more your write, the more you learn.

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

‘Don’t be afraid to be ‘the fool’.

You see, people live their life in fear of what other’s think of them or they put aside their own passions in life and merely ‘get by’. I want people to live their life and not just exist. Quit worrying about what everyone else thinks of you or what you are doing. If you love dancing, then dance. If you enjoy music, then play. The joy in life is entirely up to you.

Thank you.
Monica M. Brinkman,
Author, The Turn of the Karmic Wheel
Into The Tunnel of Darkness
Host of the Two Unsynchronized Souls Radio Show

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