25 Authors: J Conrad Guest

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Tell my fans a little bit about yourself and your book(s).

JCG: I write novels about everyday people dealing with the universal ideals of love, loss, regret, and death—and the emotions associated with those ideals—about the relationships between men and women and sons and fathers. My publisher wrote about me: “J. Conrad Guest has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to write stories of action, love, mystery and morality; tales that cross genres, seizing the imagination of the reader. Though his novels are varied and original, the reader will find that each is full of life’s lessons—full of pain and humor, full of insight and triumph.”


Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler Studios

How would you introduce your books to someone that has yet to read them?

JCG: What better way to introduce my work than to quote a reader: “Gritty, entertaining… real. Romance for the non-romantic.”

How many books have you written? What are their titles?

JCG: Eight of my novels have been published:

My first novel, January’s Paradigm, is the first book in the January trilogy, although I consider it a standalone novel. References to its successors, One Hot January and January’s Thaw, abound, but the latter two can be read without having read the former. One Hot January starts where January’s Thaw ends. How’s that for a time travel paradox?

Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings was nominated as a 2010 Michigan Notable Book, while the Lewis Department of Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology adopted it as required reading for their spring 2011 course, Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.

My fifth novel, The Cobb Legacy, is a murder mystery that spans two centuries written around baseball legend, Ty Cobb, and the shooting death of his father by his mother.

A Retrospect in Death begins with a man’s death. The reader is taken to the other side of the Great Divide where the narrator encounters his higher self—the part of him that is immortal and 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.

A love story that touches four decades, 500 Miles to Go is about the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams. When our dreams cause angst to our loved ones, they become nightmares: Gail fell for Alex Król 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. When Alex makes his dream to drive in the Indy 500 come true and he witnesses the deaths of two drivers in his first start, he must ask himself if his quest to win the world’s greatest race is worth not only the physical risk, but also losing the woman he loves.

In my latest novel, A World Without Music, 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 Rosary, a beautiful young woman he meets at one of his gigs. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, Rosary’s obsession turns into a fatal attraction.

I also self-published a novella, Chaotic Theory. My foray into eroticism, it explores the concept of how the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might cause a change in weather elsewhere. Do myriad realities coexist, the result of the actions we take, or fail to take, each and every day?

What genre have you not yet written, but would like to try?

JCG: I dislike labels; hence I refrain from writing genre-specific fiction. My romance novels are anything but traditional bodice-rippers; three are set against sports backdrops. Two of the January books are science fiction novels, light on science and heavy on regret. At the end of One Hot January, Joe January finds himself transported a century into the future, where he rues never telling the woman he loved how he felt about her.

What inspired you to start writing? What age did you start?

JCG: I started my first novel at the age of thirty-eight. Prior to that, I didn’t really have much to say, nor did I have the patience to see a novel through to “The End.” I started writing January’s Paradigm the result of a bloodied and bruised heart. What started as therapy turned into a message that men, too, can be the victim of abuse.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

JCG: I enjoy a good cigar, fine bourbon, and spending time with my beautiful wife of four months. We spent our honeymoon in Boston pubbing and attending three Cubs-Red Sox games at Fenway Park (my wife is from the north side of Chicago). It was a good sign that the Cubbies swept the Sox.

Although I’m tone deaf and never learned to play a musical instrument, I love listening to music and have a CD collection that’s way too large.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

JCG: Add to your toolbox perseverance. Too many writers today give in to the urge to self-publish after receiving three or four rejection letters. Publishing today is incredibly competitive, and the major publishers are less willing to take a chance on an unknown writer; but there are many independent presses willing to give voice to emerging writers. Anyone can self-publish. But there is no greater feeling than having a publisher tell you, “I want to publish your work.”

What’s your favorite scene/line from your works?

JCG: Unquestionably a scene from A World Without Music. Ah, the dance. What men and women put each other—and themselves—through during the mating ritual. But in this scene, who is leading? It could be one of the most revised and reworked scenes I’ve ever written, a line or two added here and there increases the sexual tension between the two characters. Much that started as Reagan’s introspection was turned into dialogue, I think to good effect, adding to the repartee between man and woman during their first meeting. Overall, the reader is left to infer the sincerity of the much younger Rosary’s come on to a forty-something Reagan. The scene has become one of my favorites for the give and take of the flirtatious dialogue, interspersed with brief interludes of introspection, exchanged glances, sipped drinks, etc.

What’s the hardest thing about writing? The easiest?

JCG: The most difficult thing for me is sitting down to write the first sentence, perhaps a fear of commitment. The easiest thing is sitting down at each session to continue where I left off in the previous session.

What are you currently reading?

JCG: I’m rereading Nova, a space opera by Samuel R. Delany. I first read it more nearly forty years ago and it remains one of my favorite novels. I’m picking up on nuances that I missed when I first read it. Such is the benefit of being older and wiser.

What are you currently working on?

 JCG: My work in progress is Forever a Philanderer. 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 in an effort to prevent the birth of his philandering wife. When he confronts his wife’s mother, a beautiful and sexy married woman, he finds he can’t go through with his original plan. Instead, he seduces her, but returns to his own present to find his wife still in the arms of another woman.

His actions draw the attention of the Messiah, who attempts to save Dain’s eternal soul. But Dain returns to the past again and again in an attempt to change his present circumstances, in time becoming obsessed with his wife’s mother, returning each time to 2014 to find slight alterations in his present, but always his wife continues to torment him with her betrayal.

Will Dain ever be able to undo the pain she’s caused him?

Once again I 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.

What genre is your favorite to read?

JCG: I’ve gotten away from reading genre. I’ve acquired a taste for the eclectic: Umberto Eco, Jose Saramago, and Joseph Conrad, for whom my father named me.

How has your life changed since you began writing? 

JCG: When I learned to enjoy the creative process and not get caught up in rejection, I became a writer. Perhaps not coincidentally publication came to me. I learn much about myself with each project, and I came to love myself. After a series of unhappy relationships, I stopped looking for the right person and concentrated on becoming the right person. As a result, I finally found a wonderful woman, and seeing myself through her eyes leaves me wanting to be a better man.

You’re stranded on a desert island. What books do you take with you?

JCG: The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe), Victory (Joseph Conrad), Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe), The Island of the Day Before (Umberto Eco), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), and several blank notebooks and a pen.

Favorite book character?

JCG: Severian from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Set in a distant future so far removed from our own that all evidence of our civilization is obscure, Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer, is exiled from his guild for showing mercy to a prisoner. His first person narrative, translated from a manuscript unearthed by the author, is as close as one can get to perfection in fiction writing. The voice is achingly authentic, the perspective wonderfully flawed.

What is your dream vacation destination?

JCG: The Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland. Guinness is my favorite brew, but I recently learned it tastes much better in Ireland, the result of something they must do or add to what they export to the U.S. I must taste the difference for myself!

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?

JCG: That Other Joseph Conrad.


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