Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
JCG: J. Conrad Guest, and it’s not polite to ask a gentleman his age! Let’s just say I can certainly see the top of the hill over which I will pass far sooner than I care to.
Fiona: Where are you from?
JCG: I grew up in Garden City, Michigan, and have lived in Michigan all my life.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
JCG: I married at age 23 and divorced before I turned 30, proving one can never be too old to make a mistake. I met a wonderful woman, after several false starts with others, in 2012 and we tied the knot in 2014. It’s great living with a woman who doesn’t need to be fixed and doesn’t want to fix me, and I don’t mean what you do to the family pet.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
JCG: I’ve been wrestling with finding my groove in my current work in progress, The Girl Who Loved Cigars. My wife and I moved last summer and spent three months living in an extended stay facility, which amounted to a small, three-room hotel room with a refrigerator, stove, a bathroom and a bed. Not conducive to my creativity. Then, after moving in we had to unpack and set up, then winterize the house; then the holidays came around, and now I’m wondering whether I’m good enough to carry off this project: my first novel written from a woman’s perspective. It’s been daunting. Hopefully, once the weather breaks and I can move out onto the patio where I can light a cigar to go with my morning coffee, I’ll find my muse and my mojo.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
JCG: I started my first novel 25 years ago. January’s Paradigm is the first book in a science fiction trilogy that includes One Hot January and January’s Thaw. Five more novels followed those three, indulging myself in other genres, and I’m still struggling with helping my audience to find me.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
JCG: When I let go of the fear of the rejection letter and stopped fretting over whether my work was good enough for publication, and simply embraced the creative process.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
JCG: January’s Paradigm was the result of a bloodied and bruised heart. What started as therapy for me turned into a labor of love. Dad wondered why I was wasting my time on such an endeavor, which surprised me considering his love of reading and that he’d named me for his favorite writer, Joseph Conrad. But when he read the second draft, he was very pleased.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
JCG: That was the easiest part of the project. It came to me before I sat down to write the first sentence, which, along with the last sentence, was written before I sat down to start writing. Although it’s science fiction, the science part is really only a backdrop for a very non-traditional romance. Joe January is a fictional detective, circa 1945, and paradigm is representative of his ideal woman.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
JCG: When I first started writing I endeavoured to emulate Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite novelists; but I realized, when working on the second draft of January’s Paradigm, I’d developed my own. It’s a double-edged sword. One of the nicest comments I’ve ever received was that my “voice” is unique and easily recognized. On the flip side, writers today are advised to “butt out of the story” and write very vanilla, to a sixth-grade level.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
JCG: All my novels, all my characters, carry aspects of me and my life. I smoke cigars; so do most of my protagonists. I write about the relationships between men and woman and fathers and sons, so my parent’s appear in novels, as do some of the people with whom I’ve shared rooms for a time throughout my life: past lovers, friends, colleagues, even acquaintances.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
JCG: Other than the January series, all my novels take place in Michigan. The one and only time I experienced writer’s block, during the One Hot January project, I drove to New York City to visit some of the same haunts January does. When I returned to Michigan I wrote a piece of flash fiction about Joe January meeting his creator, suffering writer’s block, in Central Park. It remains one of my favorite shorts, but for some reason, no one seems to get it.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
JCG: I like to allow my readers to connect with my work in their own way. I write about love, loss, infidelity, death, relationships, and redemption. All of my protagonists go through a transformative process. Life is not a sprint race. Happiness is not a destination; it can’t be found, unearthed like a relic at an archaeological dig. Happiness, like love, is a choice. If one goes through life forever looking for happiness in their next job, with their next relationship, it will never be where they are.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
JCG: I don’t read too many new authors. There are just too many from which to choose, and most I’ve tried have disappointed me. I’m on a kick where I’m reading older novels, some from other eras, like Victor Hugo, Joseph Conrad, Jules Verne, and others from my youth, like Umberto Eco. I’ve also taken to reading more biographies and autobiographies, and other non-fiction. I’m currently reading Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, from the early or mid-1990s.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
JCG: At one time I wanted it to be; but it’s incredibly competitive. Only a handful of authors, Patterson, King, Rowling, those who drive the profits for the big five, make a living. Nearly a half-million novels are published every year, most self-published, which makes it nearly impossible for the cream to rise to the top.
I received several of the nicest rejection letters years ago, when I was looking for an agent and a publisher. They were very complimentary, thought I was gifted, they liked my voice. Unfortunately none of them believed there was a large market for what I write, which I found amusing considering the science fiction aisle is one the largest aisles in most brick and mortar bookstores. I wrote a baseball themed romance and was told there was no market for baseball novels. Obviously they never bothered to search Amazon, keyword “baseball”, or they’d have found nearly 50,000 titles. Many have been turned into movies: “Field of Dreams”, “61”, “For Love of the Game.”
But the industry has changed. The major publishers are looking for sure fire bestsellers in whatever is popular at the moment. For a while it was vampires and werewolves, and boy wizards. There are many talented writers who go unnoticed because the industry is very critical in assessing what’s marketable and what’s not. Ideally they want something they can sell to Hollywood to turn into next summer’s blockbuster movie.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
JCG: Always, which is why after I go to press I don’t like to read my work. In preparing subsequent editions I can never resist tweaking this or that. But I rarely add much content or a new scene. I want to remain true to where I was in my life at the time I wrote something, so I can use it as a measuring stick for where I am today, as a writer.
In working on the current edition of January’s Paradigm, I found there were many things I’d have written differently, although I was surprised that it was much better than I remembered. One reader told me she thinks it’s my best novel. That pleased and disappointed me. Orson Welles’ greatest work was “Citizen Kane”, achieved when he was 25. If I thought I’d never write anything better than my first novel, I’d probably give up writing.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
JCG: I learn something new in every project I undertake, something about craft as well as about myself, my life, the world around me.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
JCG: I don’t often think of movie versions of my novels because movies are nearly always never as good as the book; but I’ll go with my latest novel, A World Without Music. 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.
With help from Wallach’s ghost, the daughter Wallach never met, and a friend who is much more than he appears to be, Reagan discovers he must let go of his tortured past if he is to embrace the future.
Who would play Reagan? Jim Caviezel.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
JCG: The older I get the easier I cry. Almost anything will do it, from the beauty of my wife’s smile to seeing a dead deer by the side of the road. A beautiful passage in a novel, a great scene in a movie or TV show. An old song that reminds me of a snapshot of my life from the distant past; a new song that connects with my life today. A two decades plus old Christmas card from my deceased parents.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
JCG: Jesus Christ. Why? Really?
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
JCG: Any movie with Jeff Bridges. I thought it sacrilegious the Cohen brothers did a remake of “True Grit”, but Bridges made me all but forget John Wayne in the role of Rooster. “The Fisher King” is one of my all-time favorite movies. “NCIS” is the best show on television and has been for more than a decade, even the last two seasons, without DiNozzo. Would love to see him do a guest appearance before the series ends.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
JCG: Pizza, olive green, classic rock and jazz.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
JCG: “He Done His Damndest”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?