Interview with J. Conrad Guest

Happy Wednesday everyone! This week’s interviewee is the one and only, J. Conrad Guest. J.’s novels are about everyday people dealing with the universal ideals of love, loss, regret, and death, along with the emotions associated with those ideals. His work is “gritty, entertaining, and real.” He is said to write romance for the non-romantic.

Personal: Getting to know the Author: jconradguest022

What inspired you to write your first book?

JCG: My first novel, January’s Paradigm, written more than 20 years ago, was the result of a bloodied and bruised heart. What started as therapy turned into a labor of love: if I couldn’t find the proverbial happily ever after for myself, then I would write one for my alter ego.

When I reached the halfway point, I realized it was a project I likely would finish, so I shared with my dad that I was writing a novel. He loved reading, to the point where he named his only son for his favorite author—Joseph Conrad. Imagine my dismay when he asked me what I was doing wasting my time on such an endeavor. I was at that time unemployed, and he felt I should be spending every available waking hour looking for work. It was a stressful time in my life, and working on January’s Paradigm gave me a place of refuge, a world where I was in control of what happened. It taught me a lot about myself, and helped me to heal. It was also a wonderful distraction from the frustration of changing not only jobs, but careers as well. In the end, when Dad read the first draft, he was pleased.

What do you think your books offer that others in the same genre do not?

JCG: In a publishing world that likes everything to fit neatly into a box, my work defies genres. The Cobb Legacy is a mystery written around the shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother. It takes place a century later and follows the life of a writer coming to terms with his adulterous affair and impending divorce, while trying to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran.

500 Miles to Go, another sports-themed tale and due to launch later this year, is about the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams.

One Hot January and January’s Thaw, successors to January’s Paradigm, compose a science fiction diptych in which Germany has won World War II. A time travel yarn, OHJ and JT are my tribute to Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective genre. Joe January is described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. The first book takes place in 1947 New York City; but by the end, January is transported a hundred years into the future, where he must survive on his outdated sagacity as he tries to return to his own time and the woman he loves but lacked the courage to tell.

A Retrospect in Death is a journey in self-discovery. The story starts with a man’s death, and 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 connected to the Creator. Much to his chagrin, the narrator learns he must return to the lifecycle, but not before being debriefed. So he and his higher self set about recounting his life, but in reverse chronological order, knowing the end and searching for the breadcrumbs along the way to account for his discontent.

Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings is a pseudo autobiography. I started with my youthful dream to play major league baseball; but where I allowed my parents to steer me down another path, Backstop goes against his parents’ wishes to make his dream come true.

I’m currently shopping my eighth novel, A World Without Music, about a veteran of the first Gulf War suffering PTSD seeking to find the music that will make his life worth living.

I mix and match genres, even if all of them deal with relationships—between men and women, and fathers and sons.

My fiction appeals to readers who seek something more than what traditional genre fiction offers: the bodice-ripper romance, hard science fiction, formula mysteries.

What is your favorite aspect of the writing process? Where do you find your inspiration? What motivates you?

JCG: I love the creative process. Early on in my literary career, I fretted over publication. Each rejection letter resulted in my questioning my resolve as well as my ability, and my writing suffered for it. It was easy to let days and weeks go by without setting down a single word. When I finally learned to enjoy the process and let go of the fear of rejection, I became a writer. Perhaps not so surprisingly, once I did, publication soon followed.

I find inspiration in writing about everyday people going about their everyday lives and dealing with everyday issues: love and loss, regret and redemption. A reader once said of my work, “Gritty, entertaining… real. Romance for the non-romantic.” I count that as one of the nicest comments about my work I’ve gotten. I find that writing about everyday people teaches me a lot about myself, and what could be more inspirational than that?

As for what motivates me… well, I’m motivated by a need to connect with readers as well as a love for language. I’ve found nothing more gratifying than arranging words on a blank monitor, knowing I’ve crafted a great sentence, an exchange of dialogue, or a scene. Of course, a cup of good coffee and a fine cigar go a long way to jump start me in the morning.

Books, Writings, and Routines:

Have you won any awards for your writing?

JCG: Backstop was nominated a 2010 Michigan Notable Book, while the Lewis Department of Humanities at the Illinois Institute of Technology adopted it as required reading for one of their spring 2011 courses—Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.

A short story of mine that appears in a Second Wind anthology was nominated for a Pushcart.

Do your books seem to revolve around the same morals and themes?

JCG: That’s a definite yes! I’ve found many people averse to morals; many seem to think morals are those things others place on us—like the Bible telling us not to covet our neighbor’s wife. Who am I tell someone infidelity is wrong? I think we’ve gotten too attached to our personal rights, to the point of excluding the rights of others.

The January books in particular deal with the oppression of women. Fresh from 1947, Joe January notes that women of the twenty-first century are more oppressed than the women of his era. They allow themselves to be used sexually under the guise of freedom. In other words, freedom without accountability results in oppression of a different kind.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

JCG: For A Retrospect in Death I opened a vein and bled profusely, relying on certain autobiographical events in my life, fictionalized to protect the innocent. While it was difficult, especially recounting events from my youth, I found it wonderfully therapeutic, and found much closure and healing.

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Do you recommend any “tricks” or tips on how to get through writer’s block?

JCG: I’ve experienced writer’s block only once. It was while I was writing One Hot January, my second novel. My parents both took ill and eventually passed away, which left me orphaned and grieving; but I was struggling with the plot, too. When I got a chance to go to New York City, which is the setting of the story, I jumped at the chance. I visited a number of places that Joe January frequents, and I hoped to catch up with him, figuratively. When I got home I wrote a piece of flash fiction in which the character catches up with his author in Central Park. After that, I caught fire and finished both January books in fairly short order.

These days I never encounter writer’s block. That’s not to say I don’t experience days where I might flounder, but I’ve learned a few tricks to minimize those days. For one, I try to finish a writing session in the middle of a scene or an exchange of dialogue. That leaves me anxious to start my next session because I know exactly where I’m picking up.


How are your books published? Do you self-publish or go through a publishing company? In your opinion, what are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each?

JCG: All of my novels, save for January’s Paradigm, are published through independent presses. It’s nearly impossible for writers who aren’t household names to get published by one of the Big Six, perhaps more so for authors like me who don’t write to a formula.

Self-publishing is both a boon and bane. Yes, it allows many writers the chance to have their voice heard; but it also allows them to do an end around to learning craft. I recently learned that the new publishing model is simply to upload your book and let your readers tell you what’s wrong with it. Then you revise, upload, and repeat the process until a major publisher picks up your work. To me, that’s simply wrong. E.L. James proved it’s possible to win the lotto, but that just doesn’t happen very often. It gives new writers a false sense of hope. Actors learn their craft; athletes spend years playing their sport for a chance to make it as a pro. Writing is no different. There are no shortcuts to success. But in America, we’re all about instant gratification. Get more than three rejection letters, and self-publish. The end result is that there are a lot of poorly written books available, which only makes it more difficult for the cream to rise to the top.

Social Networking and Marketing:

As an author, how do you feel about social networking? Have you been able to use it to your advantage? If yes, how so?

JCG: I keep reading of the importance of social networking. I understand that E.L. James parlayed her social network to become a bestseller. I sure would like to know how she did it, because I haven’t come close to the success she achieved.

Publishers are now asking upfront about a writer’s social network. I network on Facebook, where I have an author page, and have profiles on Goodreads and LinkedIn. At LinkedIn I participate in a number of author groups, but I don’t see that it’s helped much.

Every author is networking. Many of my Facebook friends are writers; I “like” them and they “like” me, but I haven’t noticed that it translates to sales, even though I’m told consumers tend to purchase based on number of “likes.” I don’t know if that can be proven, because I certainly don’t buy a book based on popularity. If I use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature and don’t like what I see, a thousand “likes” won’t get me to buy. I don’t buy my Facebook writer friends’ work any more than they buy mine. I want to get my work in front of consumers, and I’m not sure how to accomplish that.

Marketing and self-promotion, for me, is the most difficult part of my writing life. I’m sure I could do more, but I’m not good at it. I’ve talked to writers who claim to spend more time marketing than writing. I’d rather spend my time writing than promoting. If I could afford it, I’d hire a publicist; but they’re very expensive and expect payment upfront, not results based. After spending hundreds of hours writing, revising and polishing a book, an investment of time with no monetary reward, I’m asked to outlay a thousand dollars or more for services for which there is no guarantee for results.

Where and how are your books sold?

JCG: My books are sold, in e-format and trade back, at Amazon, Second Wind Publishing, and Pulse Publishing.

Do you think that giving books away free works and why?

JCG: I understand the theory behind giving away books—give away something in hopes of enticing sales down the road. One of my publishers rotates giveaways for all his authors, and I receive notice of each download of my titles. They are copious; but whether it translates to sales of my other novels, I can’t say. Frankly, I’d rather my publisher give away a partial file, say half of the content, to get the consumer hooked, then make them purchase the remainder to find out what happens. Of course, this would mean more work creating another downloadable file, but I think it would be financially beneficial to both my publisher and me.

In Conclusion:

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively over the years as a writer?

JCG: I’m still learning my craft; each new project teaches me something new. As evolution goes, I think the process is much easier. Like an exercise routine, the more you work, the more you want to work, and the easier the work gets. I’ve streamlined the process. Early on I agonized for an hour over a single sentence, selecting the right words and making sure they were in the right place, moving punctuation. Now I trust myself, and it comes easier. That’s not to say I don’t give myself permission to make changes later; but it’s no longer the battle it once was.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

JCG: You can learn more about my literary world at my website and by simply Googling “J. Conrad Guest.” Please consider signing my guest book on my website. I write to connect with readers and find that’s a good way to measure with whom I connect. I promise I won’t spam!

Amazon Author page





Publisher’s website