Tag Archives: J. Conrad Guest

January’s Paradigm Launch—J. Conrad Guest

Launch for January’s Paradigm is tentatively Monday, February 15.

What started in 1990 as therapy for a bruised and bloodied heart soon turned into a passion to see it published. It took eight years to achieve that desire, well worth the wait.

Like most of my novels, January’s Paradigm is a very non-traditional romance. Or as Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote: “J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy.” Current Entertainment Monthly also wrote, “Readers will not be able to put it down.”

Below appears another excerpt.


 

Seven

I arrived at The Oasis at eight-forty. Two of the three members of The Tri-Stars—Shauna was not one of them—were onstage doing a sound check. I’d hoped to arrange a chance meeting with the dark-eyed beauty before the first set. A quick reconnaissance of the establishment, already near-capacity, merely served to disappoint; she was nowhere to be found.

I paid the doorman the cover charge.

Porter’s bankcard had come in handy. From whence my knowledge of ATMs came, like my inherent ability to operate the computer, I ignored. The access code to the bank machine was something I attributed to a lucky guess. Porter and I shared the same date of birth forty-six years apart, so stated the driver’s license tucked away in the wallet in my back pocket. I simply punched in the number “10” and, adding forty-six to my own birth year, “56”, and walked away from the ATM a hundred dollars richer, taking comfort in the fact that Porter was going to finance this little vacation in 1992.

I pushed my way through the crowd toward the bar.

My fruitless attempts at locating Porter had increased my thirst. I needed to unwind with a good, stiff shot of bourbon chased by a beer.

Suddenly the populace surrounding me parted, and I came face-to-face with Shauna. She was shorter than I imagined she would be. What last night I’d taken to be stage makeup turned out to be natural; her complexion was dark and flawless. Her jaw was square; her high cheekbones were tinged with rouge. Beneath the finely-arched twin prosceniums of her eyebrows, her eyelids were shaded green; and they highlighted to perfection the fathomless brown eyes now studying me as intently as I was studying her.

The moment seemed long; it was long, I dimly noted, and threatening to go on even longer. If I didn’t find something to say, the moment would be lost.

Fortunately she came to my rescue.

“Don’t let me get in your way.” Her tone was husky, the measure playful.

My heart beat rapidly, but I managed to blurt, “Aren’t you the lead singer?”

Smooth, real smooth—like a kid meeting his idol for the first time.

“Shauna.” Her smile was as white as it was wide. And genuine, I was pleased to note.

“Joe January.” I offered my hand and was delighted when she took it. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.” And then, perhaps in response to the hurt look I was certain she couldn’t help but notice, she added, “How about a cola?”

I smiled and led the way through the crowd to the bar, where I ordered and paid for the soft drink. Shauna, accepting the glass I proffered, smiled her dazzling smile and I reflected, for the mere price of a cola. I’d gladly pay a thousand times that amount to bask in the warmth of that smile in a more secluded place.

“You going to be here awhile?”

The question at once both surprised and pleased me. “Actually I just got here.”

“Wait here. I’ve got to finish the sound check. It shouldn’t take but a minute or two, and I’ll be back to visit a while before our first set.”

As if to prove her probity, she left her glass on the bar in front of me.

I watched her departure, fascinated by the gentle motion of her hips, snug inside the leather pants that perfectly accentuated her perfect figure. I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the way she’d so completely managed to disarm me in so brief a time.

I watched her on stage, her manner supremely confident, her voice clear and resonant in its purity. Her interpretation of the lyrics, even though it was just a sound check, was genuine. She sang from the heart.

I suspected that her contentment stemmed from being on stage and that getting paid was simply the icing on the cake.

What served to perplex me was my sudden intrinsic capacity to decipher this. Never before had I cared or taken the time to perceive anything beyond the superficial. Yet now I was mystified by the warm and comfortable feeling, the security that accompanied the very pleasant discovery that something beyond exterior could entice me.

Typically a woman of such depth would only intimidate me. Now, however, something inside of me thrilled at the expectation that she could somehow appease the malaise I’d recognized last night while in the embrace of another; and that instead of providing the comfort I so desperately sought, last night’s encounter had afforded the catalyst that had resulted in my encore appearance here tonight.

Shauna finished her sound check and, true to her word, was making her way back through the crowd to where I waited at the bar, nervously turning my shot glass around and around in my hand. My heart rate picked up as she approached.

“You sound terrific.” I’d never been any good at making small talk, but I spoke the truth.

“Thanks.” Her tone was sincere.

But then she probably accepted the same compliment dozens of times nightly in the same affable way. Talented as she was, it hadn’t gone to her head.

“I’m surprised to see you back tonight.” No accusation, just an observation. “You left after our second number last night. I was afraid my singing had been an affront to your musical palate.”

She was teasing me now, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I had no idea how to respond to her jest. When I failed to reply, she pushed her advantage further.

“I’m surprised at the company you keep. She didn’t look to be your type.”

Feeling totally outclassed and outmaneuvered, I stammered something about my friend having taken ill and requested that I take her home early. If Shauna saw through my smoke screen, she gave no indication.

“Well, you’re back tonight,” she said. “And my confidence in my singing has been restored.”

In the span of a heartbeat, she’d managed to break and then restore my self-assurance. She looked at her watch.

“You going to be here after the first set?” She sounded accusatory.

I smiled and nodded my acquiescence, ecstatic at the prospect of her return.

“Oooh,” she purred, setting down her empty glass. When had she time to finish it? So lost in the depths of a gaze that was at once innocuous yet mischievous, I hadn’t even noticed her drinking it. “He can smile,” she playfully provoked. “Now if I can just get you to loosen up and talk, you might be able to help me pass an otherwise long and boring night on stage. And as long as you’re buying, I’ll need another of these.” She indicated the empty glass. Her smile positively beamed, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. She winked and was gone.

The first set ran nearly an hour. Near the end I found myself squirming in anticipation. Several times I’d refused the advances that a man alone in a singles bar in 1992 seemed to invite. Finally they stopped, my propensity toward the barstool duly noted by the female patrons who’d hoped to lure me into tending to their lonely needs.

I watched as Shauna manipulated the crowd. Instinctively she sensed their mood and knew what they wanted to hear, providing respite, usually in the form of something she and the band wanted to play, at just the right moment. Her movements were sensual, yet not vulgar. And her voice was magnificent in its range and flexibility. She rocked, finding somewhere within the raw power to rattle the chandeliers. Her interpretation of the two blues tunes that provided a reprieve from the intensity of the rock-and-roll intonated the pain of the lyrics, while the sole ballad of the set was sung with the pure innocence of an altar boy during Sunday morning service. She had a natural affinity for people.

I didn’t think for a minute that she was bored with performing.

The breaks between sets, I suspected, were from her point of view a chance for the band to catch their breath and slake their thirst, but more for the sake of the dance floor patrons who discovered the ten or fifteen minutes between sets enabled them to recharge their batteries.

Feeling that I’d simply serve as a diversion until the next set got underway, I felt the ego that Shauna had managed to build up nearly an hour ago deflate.

Shauna was just now telling everyone to sit tight. The band would be back in a few minutes to rock down the rafters. Those on the dance floor shouted their approval.

I signaled the bartender for a refill for me and a fresh cola. I’d just finished paying for the refreshments when Shauna slid up onto the stool beside me. I was startled; the thought that she might seek company elsewhere had briefly crossed my mind.

“Thanks,” she said, slightly out of breath as she took the soft drink and downed nearly a third of it. “How’d you manage to keep this stool empty?”

“It wasn’t difficult.” I’d never found difficulty in maintaining my distance when I wanted to.

“Not with a scowl like that, I imagine it wasn’t.”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks. Her eyes sparkled as she laughed and my embarrassment turned to ire. I didn’t like being the butt of someone’s jest.

Shauna placed her hand on my knee in reassurance. I was amazed at the lightness of her touch; and just that quickly, my anger was defused.

“We sound okay?”

I was grateful for the change in direction to another topic. Perhaps now I could maintain control of the conversation for a while. I nodded and queried, “You do any original material?”

“One or two.” Then, in response to my raised eyebrows, she added, “People come to hear what’s popular, and popular is what gets air play; and unfortunately, since we get no air play, we aren’t popular.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Hard to argue with statistics. We play anymore than we do, and the dance floor tends to thin out.”

I decided to take a risk. “Don’t tell me; the ballad was yours.”

It was her turn to look surprised.

Yes. How did you know?”

“It seemed your style.” I was beginning to regain my balance; but before I could pose my next question, Shauna once again changed tack.

“How come you weren’t out on the dance floor?”

And just that quickly, my advantage was lost.

“There’s no one here I care to dance with.”

She bestowed her laugh upon me for the second time, a wonderfully-melodic sound.

“You weren’t so choosy last night.”

My face burned with embarrassment.

She didn’t call my earlier bluff, I thought, helpless. Just my luck she now thinks I’m lying.

I wanted to say, “That was before I met you,” but my discomfiture held me in check. In the end I settled for a shrug that said, What can I say? She laughed again. I felt myself redden further; and then, just in time, she put an arm around my shoulders and apologized.

“I’m sorry, Joe.” It was the first time she’d used my name, and I marveled at the mellifluous way she said it. “It’s just that you’re so easy.”

I waved my empty glass at the bartender. I hadn’t been aware that I’d even been sipping it since she’d joined me, let alone that I’d finished it. Shauna checked her watch.

“Listen, buy me another cola.” She laid her hand on my arm. “I’ve got to go backstage and freshen up. You know, do the things we women have to do to keep guys like you watching us.” I doubted she had to work very hard at it. “Be right back.”

I was struck by the energy level she was able to maintain.

Adrenaline, fueled by caffeine, I guessed as I held up her empty glass. It certainly isn’t alcohol.

During her absence I tried to think of some way I could arrange to meet with her in a more neutral setting without seeming like I was coming on too hard, something with which she was probably quite adept at dealing. My efforts frustrated me.

I can’t hold an intelligent conversation with her. How can I land a date?

Suddenly I feared her motives.

What makes you think she’s even interested in you? More than likely she picks someone out of the crowd nightly just to keep that caffeine high going.

I felt compelled to leave.

Here I was a man out of time twice removed, sitting calmly in a bar without a clue as to how I got here. I sat, a man in doubt of the actual authenticity of his own reality, trying to deal some broad who gets her kicks out of watching me squirm in discomfort. No one had ever been able to do that before, which only added to my feeling of inadequacy.

Without a doubt, I should be back at Porter’s trying to figure a solution to the equation, not how to get this self-styled rock queen between the sheets. I can get sex anytime without having to go through this.

And then I remembered last night, how lonely and unfulfilled I’d felt, despite the level of physical gratification I’d attained.

Well, I rationalized, settling myself back down onto the stool. Maybe there are answers to my questions that can be ascertained through an association with her.

Any chance to argue myself out of staying disappeared with Shauna’s reappearance; her smile immediately convinced me that I’d made the right choice.

“I’m delighted to see you haven’t abandoned me.”

“To be easily replaced, I’m sure.”

She took my sarcasm for humor and leaned over to whisper, “Save a dance for me?”

Then she was gone, leaving me with an uncomfortable sensation of comfort.

My thoughts swam. I was experiencing emotions and input to those emotions never before encountered. I was attracted to this Shauna, but not in the usual sexual sense. Not that I didn’t find her alluring. There was a time, in another century perhaps, when all that I would care to concern myself with would be the exploration of the dark, deep secrets concealed beneath the sexy attire that served to promote the image of a rock star. But that image spoke in terms of a rather warped reality.

Here I am, it said, on stage for the adulation of one and all. Welcome to my fantasy. A fantasy that guarantees stimulus to senses of sight and sound; listen to my voice, watch me move. Now, if you dare, try to emulate my undulations. You are all a part of my fantasy, for without you I am nothing. Yet I remain apart from your fantasy. Here I stand, symbol of your want, your hunger, your desire and your lust—one and all, male and female—but rest assured you can never have me.

But equally disturbing since my arrival in 1992 was my troubled sleep, dreams plagued by a demon and haunting images of another, alternate self. One that was weaker, more emotional than I.

Yet even in my conscious state, I was being tormented by uncertainty, accosted by unfamiliar feelings of denial, distrust and betrayal. And now I’d discovered that a new passion had been awakened—a passion heretofore unknown—a passion for emotional intimacy.

Yes, I had to admit that my attraction to Shauna went far beyond the superficial. It exceeded my rather curt allegation that perhaps it was she who held secret the knowledge that would empower me to see past the barriers that had so surreptitiously been placed before me.

To be sure, she fascinated me. Certainly the package she came in was enough to turn the head and raise the blood pressure of any red-blooded American male, but there was more. Something mysterious—and God knew I loved a good mystery, almost as much as I loved endeavoring to sate the needs of my sexual appetite.

Part of the enigma was the simple fact that I found her to be a puzzle; and that was something I’d never before equated with the fairer sex, preferring instead to imagine them as merely an end to a need.

I couldn’t deny that Shauna had awakened in me two needs: a need to be in her company—for in that company, I presumed to find comfort to ease a loneliness that until last night, in the lazy afterglow of sex, I hadn’t been aware even existed—as well as a need to discover more about the conflicting passions she seemed to have brought to the surface.

I felt unguarded, helplessly open to her scrutiny, and I found that threatening. Something inside me told me that in order to more fully understand these new sensibilities, as well as my attraction to Shauna, I would have to become more open and vulnerable. That insight served to further threaten me; yet my instinct seemed to promise an end result that could prove more gratifying in more ways than any other result I’d previously sought as an end.

But what of her needs? What if I were simply a diversion? Her interest in me, the way she looked at me and the interest I purported to be in that look, seemed to be genuine; yet she was a performer.

I tried to picture her nightly selecting a different paladin to keep her supplied with caffeine while amusing herself with small talk at their expense and couldn’t.

I took note of the dance floor, filled to capacity with dancers, most perspiring profusely as a result of their exertions while the empty stools down the length of the bar confirmed that I was among the scant few who weren’t out on the dance floor.

On stage Shauna was also perspiring heavily, the result of her aerobic efforts as she and her band mates rocked vehemently. I watched, entranced, as she worked the dancers, feeding off them and then, almost as if in grateful acknowledgment, gave it back to them. The energy she emitted was then caught by the dancers, where it was held for a moment as they basked in its warmth, before being sent back magnified a hundred-fold.

No doubt about it, I thought. She’s in her element.

Suddenly I knew. And just as suddenly, I knew that Shauna knew.

This was her fantasy, her escape from whatever trials and tribulations that defined her own personal reality. Her sincere congeniality simply mirrored that reality. She was completely at peace with herself, and her contentedness grew from within. Her self-assurance came not from performing, as I’d originally imagined, but instead from the serenity that comes with being totally quiescent with oneself.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I now knew that whatever doubts I’d had concerning Shauna’s integrity were now unwarranted. While she seemed to enjoy teasing me incessantly, I knew she would never knowingly hurt me. She was honest, a rare commodity even in 1947, as well as trustworthy. Perhaps it was seeing mirrored in another my own strong ethics that had attracted me to Shauna.

Shauna.

Suddenly that name didn’t fit her, and I knew it was assumed. I was now more than ever driven to find out more about her.

I regained my composure and confidence. I could only hope she wouldn’t knock me flat on my ass ten seconds after she seated herself on the stool next to me. She had a way of keeping me off-balance, and I couldn’t deny that I enjoyed her playful ridicule. I couldn’t help but find myself amused by it, as well as challenged.

She evidently felt comfortable in my company, despite the ponderous disposition I’d displayed. Maybe she was just trying to get me to loosen up. The idea of her playful affection warmed me.

Well, I concluded, two can play at that game. I’ll just have to even the score.

On stage Shauna was introducing the next song, a ballad to be sung by her backup singer, a knockout blonde named Melody, in whom I wasn’t the least bit interested.

Shauna locked eyes with me as she put the microphone back into its cradle and, with a slight motion of her head, invited me to join her on the dance floor.

A moment later she slipped into my arms and nestled herself comfortably into my embrace, nothing vulgar, just comfortable. I led, marveling at the soft texture of her hand.

Is it really that small?

My heartbeat quickened as she moved her other hand up around my neck, her head now resting on my chest; my own head was aswirl with myriad sensations, all of them pleasant. I contented myself with the moment, knowing it would be over all too soon, finding solace in the hope that there would be many more such moments. If I never found a way back to my own time, I could think of worse places with less desirable people to spend the rest of my life.

I inhaled the sweet fragrance of her hair; somehow, miraculously, it had managed to escape the fate to which Chrissie’s had succumbed. I sighed and tightened my hand around hers.

In response she gazed up into my pale green eyes with her own brown ones, alive with mischief, and accused, “Boring you to pieces, am I?”

I only smiled my pleasure at her and pushed her head back down to its rightful place.

A moment later the song came to an end and with it the moment.

Her eyes alive with mirth, she promised to join me at the bar in just a few minutes, where she would proceed to “drink you under the table.”

“No mean feat,” I countered. “Considering the alcoholic content of cola.”

She left for the stage, while I, feeling ten feet tall, headed for the barstool I’d been keeping warm all night. The envious glances from the other male patrons in the establishment did nothing save to inflate an already-swelling ego.

While I waited for the set to end, I tried to think of a way to arrange a more intimate meeting with Shauna. I didn’t wish to come on too strong, too desperate; yet playing it too insouciant would risk looking like I was simply coming on.

As a result of this new dilemma, I became aware of the delicate nature of what I was contemplating. Never before had the consequences of rejection weighed so heavily. In the past, rejection simply meant moving on to the next most likely candidate; my needs had always been easy enough to accommodate. Never before had I been faced with the perils associated with the failure to attain that which I so desperately aspired.

Desperately?

I was beginning to sound like a man smitten. And the implication that I affiliated with that malady left me with a feeling of mounting inadequacy.

Needs: I needed to find out who I was and why, for the first time in my life, I was being harassed by moments of anxious apprehension. Furthermore, I needed to explore the uncertainty of the reality of my existence.

I should catch a flight to Michigan, if that’s what it took, and try to locate this Robert Porter character. I was convinced more than ever that he could better provide answers to the list of questions that seemed to lengthen of its own volition than Shauna could. But I seemed paralyzed by fear, a never-before faced debility because until now I’d never encountered it. And it was safe to say that the basis for that fear was the revelation of that which my endeavors might unearth.

Wants: I wanted to explore my uncharacteristic fascination with the mystery girl on stage. I’d initially thought that she might possess answers to questions and I still thought that, but to which questions?

I began to reassess the nature of those questions. I wanted her but for more than just her body.

Through her, I felt certain I could learn something of myself; yet what that lesson might be, I had no clue.

JP Cover Front

Cover Concept Pending Approval

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Novels of J. Conrad Guest

During a recent conversation I was asked how many books I have published. I said, “Eight.” That seemed to be an impressive number, because their response was, “Wow, you’re prolific.” I laughed and told them that I’d been writing for twenty-two years and that I considered that number not so high.

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

In truth, it took me ten years to write my first two, and I’ve written seven more (my ninth is soon to be released) in the last twelve years. Even that latter number pales in comparison to writers who complete a novel every six months.

In my defense, I go for quality rather than quantity. That is, I don’t write formula or even genre, even if all my stories are about the universal ideals of love, loss, regret and death. Although I apply what I previously learned to each new project, I tend to recreate the wheel for each one.

After that recent conversation ended, it occurred to me that for my monthly Second Wind blog, I’d include in one place all my titles with a brief synopsis of each one, along with reviews.

500 Miles To Go

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Click to purchase

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 often 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.

“…J. Conrad Guest has demonstrated once again not only his innate literary ability, but also his marvelous ability to draw us irresistibly into this incredible, thrilling and heartfelt story. We would jump ahead to the finish, if the writing were not so compelling—and when the race is over, we want to go again!” —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Caddo Creek

“A sweet love story gives way to the love affair with speed… First loser becomes disillusioned winner, hindsight waxes philosophical, and a lonely man reminds us, ‘One doesn’t find love… It’s not some object to be unearthed… Love is a choice.’” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer

A Retrospect In Death

retrospect_th

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A Retrospect in Death begins with a man’s death. 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.

A Retrospect in Death is a story about discovery. You think you know yourself? Perhaps you only think you do. Do those closest to us know us better than we know ourselves; or do they, as we often insist, know jack? Consider that only in death can you really know, and understand, who and why you are—or were. And then ask yourself: At that point, is it too late? Does it even matter?

“J. Conrad Guest’s A Retrospective in Death is a languid, oddly compelling tale, evoking an era with a wealth of intricate detail, creating a memorable yet achingly ordinary man, and searching for meaning and purpose in it all.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer

A Retrospect in Death is one part Ingrid Bergman, one part Joseph Heller, a la Catch-22, and—with its copious cigar smoke and leggy women—two parts vintage J. Conrad Guest. Like his previous novels, readers will be sorry when the story ends.” —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Lacey Took a Holiday

A World Without Music

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Click to purchase

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

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.

“J. Conrad Guest ventures into new literary territory, and once again the result is gripping and beautiful. The seamless prose draws the reader from the horror and peril of combat to the agony of post-traumatic stress and despair. Protagonist Reagan is a creature of the brutality of the real world, stripped of idealism and past, waiting for miracles, searching for the music that will make his life worth living.” —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Lacey Took a Holiday

“…And the music of the common man proves as vital to our world’s symphony as that of heroes and villains throughout all time. A World Without Music reads like a masterpiece of music, culture and life, and is highly recommended.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer

Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings

Backstopfront

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Backstop plays the catcher’s position for any team in any city in America with a major league ball club. You cheer him when he delivers, and boo him when he doesn’t.

Backstop’s story—told in his own words during the seventh game of the World Series in what could be his last game after fourteen years in the major leagues—chronicles his rookie season, takes the reader to Chicago where he finds romance, and reveals the heartbreak he endured in the aftermath of an adulterous affair.

Cheer for Backstop both on and off the field as he plays the most important game of his career—haunted by the ghost of his father who passed away before Backstop achieved stardom—and fights to win back the heart of the woman he loves more than the game.

Superbly crafted with a deft, tender touch, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings is a compelling tale of following the true passions of the heart. A truly heartwarming read.” —Apex Reviews

“Baseball, like love, is a game of errors and regrets. Pop-outs, ground-outs, strike-outs. A bad swing, a bad throw, a bad hop. But what captivates us most is the possibility of the next at-bat, of the chance for a rally, of an unlikely clutch play that suddenly changes the stakes. This is where J. Conrad Guest meets us in Backstop: in this beautiful, hopeful place closest to our hearts, where we play for the love of the game, and we love with everything we have.” —Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly

January’s Paradigm (fourth edition forthcoming from Second Wind)

Cover concept

Cover concept

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling detective novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity.

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right… and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist… or does he?

“J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy… Readers will not be able to put it down.” —Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Prompted by his detective’s instincts and the photograph of a woman who seems strangely familiar, January begins his search for the reasons behind his existence. His quest will take him down numerous and occasionally violent paths: there’s a beast lurking at the periphery of this, Robert Porter’s alternate reality.” —Ellen Tanner Marsh, New York Times best-selling author

January’s Thaw

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Click to purchase

Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived. If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler. Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets. You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read on to the end, and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.

“J. Conrad Guest gives us an unforgettable adventure seen through the cracked lens of our broken present and an all-too-possible what-if past. Full of intrigue, romance and scathing social commentary, it is both an ambitious novel and an exciting, page-turning imaginative quest for that which is beautiful and true.”
—Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly

One Hot January

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.

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Imagine a future in which a faction of genetically engineered people, opposed to Hitler’s tyranny, choose to 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 the Bronx 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 Archaeology from Columbia College who must prevent the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands…

By the end of One Hot January, January is transported into the future where, in the sequel, January’s Thaw, he must survive by his century-old sagacity in our modern world.

“He may be Bogart-cool and clever, sharp-tongued and fedoraed—but underneath the veneer Joe January reveals himself both in his vulnerability and the most ageless adventure of all: a journey of the heart.” —Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly

J. Conrad Guest

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Sandlot — J. Conrad Guest

With the start of the baseball season a couple of weeks away, I thought I’d share this short story I wrote more than five years ago. It appeared in an online e-zine, and from it was born my fourth novel, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. It’s interesting, these many years later, to note how the protagonist evolved.

J. Conrad Guest (photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

J. Conrad Guest
(photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie)

***

 “Hey, Buzz, what happened out there today?”

Eighteen years in the majors and I still don’t like tape recorders pushed into my face after a game, especially not after a loss, and not when I’m heading for the shower with a bar of soap wearing nothing but a towel, and that draped over my shoulder. I’ve gotten used to it I suppose; it goes with the game, but I don’t have to like it.

“I fouled out to end the game,” I said into the recorder. “I stranded the winning runs on base and we lost the game.”

“A few years ago that wouldn’t have happened, right? You’d have brought those two runners home, wouldn’t you?”

He was baiting me I knew, this kid reporter trying to make a name for himself in the local paper, looking for a quote from the colorful veteran. I’ve never considered myself colorful. I’ve always just wanted to play ball. I don’t think of myself as outspoken, but I say what’s on my mind; sometimes, when I’m quoted in the morning paper, they somehow manage to make me sound erudite. Most of the time I find it amusing.

I looked at his press badge, pressed it, and asked him what was supposed to happen. He didn’t get it. I decided against explaining. You could say I was in a foul mood.

“Yeah,” I said, “and last night I hit a three-run shot to extend our lead. So what the game wasn’t on the line in the third inning.”

All the reporter did was stare at me. Somehow he knew I wasn’t yet done. Maybe it was because I’d sat down on the bench. I let out a long audible sigh.

“Look, what do you want from me, a scoop? You want me to tell you I’m washed up, finished? That this is my last year?”

The kid sat down on the bench across from me and I thought back to a similar discussion I’d had with my dad twenty-five years ago, when I was playing ball in high school…

“Look, what do you want from me?” I asked. 

“I want you to come to your senses,” Dad said. “Major league baseball, that’s a pipe dream.” 

Both Dad and Mom wanted what was best for me, and they both thought they knew what best was: they wanted me to play it safe — learn a trade or get a degree and spend the next forty years working nine to five for someone else. I saw that as a sentence, one that would end up with me, at age sixty-five, regretting that I’d never even tried, disgusted with myself that I’d given up my dream, sans the pipe, for what my parents had wanted for me. 

“I’m going to college, and I’ll get a degree” I said, “but I want to play baseball.” 

“But major league baseball —” 

“Is for a lucky few,” I finished for him. We’d had this discussion before. “Well who’s to say I won’t be among those lucky few? Guys get paid millions for hitting a meager .250. A few seeing-eye ground balls and bloop singles here and there over the course of a season spell the difference between mediocrity and superstardom. I’ve got some talent, Dad, and I’m hard-working. I can hit a curve ball, and if I can learn to lay off the high inside fastball I’ll be able to work a count. I’ve a pretty good glove, too. After my playing days are over, maybe I’ll end up managing, or maybe in a booth doing color. If I don’t make it, well, then I’ll have my degree to fall back on.”

I recalled Ty Cobb. His father hadn’t approved of his son’s dream either; but when he realized Ty had his heart set on playing baseball, he told him not to come home a failure. A couple weeks before the Detroit Tigers called Ty to the show, William Cobb was shot dead by his wife, who claimed she thought he was a burglar. Maybe that’s what drove Ty Cobb to become the demon he was on the diamond: that his father never got to see him play.

Dad said nothing to me after I’d made it to the show; he died the year before I was drafted. Maybe that was as much the reason I continued to play well into the twilight of my career.

Baseball is a humbling game. Trust me, I know. I was drafted… well let’s just say I wasn’t taken early. I spent a year in the minors; played solid defense at first base and hit well enough, for average and with above average power, to earn a good look the following year at spring training. I was fortunate that I had a good pre-season, so the team took me north. I worked my ass off to stay in the majors. I might not have Hall of Fame numbers, but I’ve rarely been cheated at the plate; sure I’ve had my share of oh-fers, but I’ve accumulated some three- and four-for-fours along the way, too, and a Gold Glove to boot. I haven’t won a World Series — this might be the year although it’s still only June — and have been voted an All Star only twice, but I’m proud of my career. I’ve played the game the way it was meant to be played, with adolescent joy. I’ve put up numbers good enough to have played my entire career for the same team, a rarity in the modern era, and I’m thankful each and every day I take the field, which isn’t as often as it once was.

Maybe I should’ve gotten out of the game a couple of years ago, but thanks to the designated hitter rule — a rule I despised when I broke into the game and still loathe for the sake of the game (call me a purist) — I’m still playing, at age forty, this kid’s game that I love so much.

I learned long ago not to pay too much attention to what the press writes or says about me, for good or bad, or to listen when the fans boo me. They’re the same ones who’ll cheer me tomorrow. This game, as much mental as it is physical, is filled with ups and downs, and I’m hard enough on myself without trying to please the press or the gate, and I think that has helped my longevity as much as my work ethic.

I didn’t say any of this to the kid reporter who sat looking at me, wide-eyed. I sighed, stood up and took a few steps toward the showers. When I turned back, the kid was still looking at me, still hoping for a story.

Sportswriters, I thought wryly.

I tossed him, underhand, the bar of soap. He reached for it — it glanced off the heel of his hand and landed on the floor, bouncing once. He sat and I stood, each of us looking at the other. After a long uncomfortable moment, for him at least, he picked up the bar of soap and lobbed it back at me. I snatched it out of midair, rolled my eyes, and headed for the showers.

J. Conrad Guest, author of 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January 

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Interview with 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.

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Excerpt From “500 Miles to Go” by J. Conrad Guest

500 Miles to GoGail had been Alex Krol’s girl since high school. She fell for him before she learned that he risked his life on dirt tracks during the summer months to the delight of the 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 death 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.

EXCERPT:

“I’ve never danced with a boy before,” Gail whispered in my ear as the band played “Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite,” a Spaniels song that was popular. I couldn’t believe how wonderful Gail felt in my embrace.

“That’s okay,” I said, “I haven’t either.”

Gail laughed, the sound tuneful.

“You’re funny,” she said.

“Well, looks aren’t everything.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Although I have to say, you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you.”

When the song came to an end, we made our way to the punch bowl.

“You know,” Gail said after taking a sip, “you’re my first date.”

“Ever?”

“Ever.”

“Not to call you a liar, but I find that hard to believe.”

“Oh, I’ve been asked once or twice.”

“Only once or twice?”

“Okay, several times. But I’m very choosy.”

“Huh,”I said, with a grin. “And here I thought I’d done the choosing.”

“I could’ve chosen to turn you down, you know.”

“True enough. So how come you said ‘yes’?”

Gail blushed and looked down.

“Oh, my… Be still, my beating heart,” I said. “Do you do that of­ten?”

“What?”she asked, looking up at me again.

“Blush.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “Unfortunately, yes.”

“Well, I think it suits you. I hope it’s something you’ll do only for me.”

Gail smiled and blushed a deeper shade. I came to her rescue – that’s who I was in my youth, a rescuer.

“So why did you say ‘yes’?”

“Promise me you won’t laugh?”

“Scout’s honor,” I said, holding up my right hand, palm out.

“I liked the way you looked at me yesterday when you asked.”

“How was I supposed to look at you?”

“I’m not expressing myself well.”

“That’s okay; I have that effect on people.”

Gail laughed. “I imagine you do.” And then, “It was obvious when you looked at me that y’all liked what you saw. But you were respect­ful.”

“Why wouldn’t I be respectful?”

“You didn’t leer at me.”

“Oh. My turn to apologize. Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake.”

“Telling me I looked like Gail Russell didn’t hurt your cause.”

“I’m very honest,” I said.

“And…”

“Uh-oh…, there’s an ‘and’?”

“I’ve seen you around school, and you seem one of the better boys.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“What, that you’re one of the better boys?”

“No, that you’ve seen me around school. That would mean I’ve missed seeing you, and I can’t believe that.”

“Do you always flirt so outrageously?”

“Only with you.”

“Good answer.”

Just then, the band segued into “Honey Hush,” a Joe Turner song that had been popular in 1953.

“Come on,” I said, taking Gail’s hand. “Let’s dance.”

The evening came to an end all too soon. We danced and talked and got to know each other, and we liked what we learned.

We held hands as we made our way across the parking lot to where her dad sat behind the wheel of his idling car, a 1950 Ford Zephyr Six.

We stopped about ten feet from the Zephyr Six to look at each other; I held both Gail’s hands in mine.

“What I wouldn’t give to kiss you,” I said.

“Why, Alex Król, what kind of girl do you take me for?” Gail said with a smile.

“The kind I’d like to kiss.”

Gail grew serious. “I know,” she said, glancing at her father, who was seated in the car with his hands firmly gripping the steering wheel. Perhaps he knew this day had been coming, when his little girl would grow up to meet the young man who might take his place.

Gail rose up on her toes to kiss me on the cheek.

“Another time, I promise,” she whispered. Then she gave me a quick hug, her breasts feeling firm against me, and made her way toward her father’s car.

***

J. Conrad Guest, author of: Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings, January’s Paradigm, One Hot January, January’s ThawA Retrospect In Death, and 500 Miles To Go 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.

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Most Popular Second Wind Blog Posts in 2013

If you haven’t yet checked out these  perennially popular Second Wind Publishing blog posts, now is your opportunity! Happy reading.

What is Your Character’s Favorite Color? — by Pat Bertram

The Importance of Imagery–by Deborah J Ledford

A Retrospect in Death: Pending Launch

What do you call the female version of Peter Pan? by Mairead Walpole

Is being realistic in actuality a form of pessimism or vice versa? by Mairead Walpole

The Benefits of Book Fairs

Interview with J. Conrad Guest, Author of Retrospect in Death

Have You Ever Been to Paris? The Answer May Surprise You. By Calvin Davis

Water me, please!

Like it or not, Words are a Writer’s Best Friend — J. Conrad Guest

Splish Splash, I was Taking a Bath by Sherrie Hansen

Short Story vs. Novel by Norm Brown

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Brief Interview with J. Conrad Guest, Author of A Retrospect in Death

retrospect_thSECOND WIND: Tell us something about you, an interesting fact, or an unusual event.

J. CONRAD: I once met actor Jimmy Stewart at an airport, back in the early eighties. I asked him for an autograph, but the only thing on which he could write was some cash I had in my wallet. I handed him a dollar bill and he looked at me kind of strangely, as if I were asking him to break the law. After a moment, he inked his name to the bill, and I stashed it back into my wallet. Sadly, today, I can’t recall what happened to that autographed currency. I imagine I spent it without realizing it, and I wonder from time to time whether whoever has it knows what they have.

SECOND WIND: How did you choose the setting or settings in your  novel A RETROSPECT IN DEATH? Are they places you’ve lived or visited?

J. CONRAD: I’m a native Michigander, so I chose the Detroit area, including Ann Arbor and Brighton, as the settings for A Retrospect in Death. Even though I believe writers should know what they write, writers are often advised to write what they know, which made writing about the places easy—many were places I’ve frequented myself. Of course that lends much more authenticity to the narrative.

SECOND WIND: Does your hero (or heroine) have flaws?

J. CONRAD: All of my protagonists are what I like to call anti-heroes; that is to say, flawed. I often choose to write in first person, which makes it easy to write from a suspect point of view. This gives the reader a biased view of the story as opposed to the unbiased, omnipotent perspective of a third person point of view.

SECOND WIND: Please tell us more about a A RETROSPECT IN DEATH.

J. CONRAD: A RETROSPECT IN DEATH begins with a man’s death. The reader is taken to the other side 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 RETROSPECT IN DEATH is a story about discovery. Consider that only in death can you really know, and understand, who and why you are—or were. And then ask yourself, at that point, is it too late? Does it even matter?

You can learn more about me and my books from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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Excerpt From “A Retrospect in Death” by J. Conrad Guest

retrospect_thOliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “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.” While John Oxenham wrote: “For death begins with life’s first breath; and life begins at touch of death.”

A Retrospect in Death is a story about discovery. You think you know yourself? Perhaps you only think you do. Do those closest to us know us better than we know ourselves; or do they, as we often insist, know jack? Consider that only in death can you really know, and understand, who and why you are—or were. And then ask yourself: At that point, is it too late? Does it even matter?

Darker than any of J. Conrad Guest’s previous novels, while 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?

EXCERPT:

My room was in Art Centre Hospital, on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

The race riots were in full bloom in 1967, and from my first floor room I watched armed National Guard troops drive past my window in jeeps.

Mom left – Dad had stayed home – just before Ed Sullivan came on, telling me, “Good night, honey. I’ll be back in the morning, before you go into surgery. Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.” She sounded somewhat worried herself, although I wasn’t. This was my first night away from home; it was an adventure.

A short time later, a male intern came in with a chrome bowl and a straight razor to tell me it was time for my shave.

“I’m eleven,” I said. “I don’t shave.”

He grinned and told me to raise my hospital gown.

With that, he proceeded to lather up my balls with soap, and then shave them.

I was on edge, listening to the rasp of the blade against my balls. Rodney Dangerfield was doing a stand-up act on the TV. He told a joke about being held up by a mugger with a knife. “I could tell it wasn’t a professional job,” he said. “There was butter on it.” I heard the intern chuckle, which left me feeling even testier over my predicament.

The intern left; a few minutes later, a nurse came in, a plump black woman.

“Time for your enema,” she said.

“What’s an enema?”

“I put this,” she told me, holding up a plastic nozzle attached to a hose that was in turn attached to a bag of what appeared to be soapy water, “into your backside and release the contents of this bag into your colon.”

My eyes got the size of silver dollars, prompting the intern to laugh. I watched her immense breasts shake from the ferocity of her laughter, its pitch that of a baritone.

“Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s to clean out your colon before surgery. Now roll over onto your side.

I did as I was told; a moment later, feeling violated, I felt the nozzle inserted into my rectum. The flood of the water felt warm as my colon expanded to accommodate it.

“Almost there,” the nurse said. I felt as if my colon were about to explode.

A moment later, she withdrew the nozzle, and then told me to head to the bathroom to release the water. Like I needed to be told.

I raced to the bathroom and sat just in the nick of time, releasing the water, and everything that accompanied it, into the porcelain bowl.

I sat there for about fifteen minutes as my bowels emptied in sequential movements – like the orchestra to which my parents had taken me and Francine to see over the summer: long classical pieces played in what our program called “movements.” Every time I thought the musicians were done playing, they launched into yet another movement. Now, each time I felt I was done, I’d lean forward to wipe my backside only to feel yet another movement.

When I finally crawled back into my bed, I wondered what new dread might await me next in this little shop of horrors.

My surgery was scheduled for Monday morning, and a nurse came in first thing to give me a shot of something, which left me feeling groggy.

A short time later, my bed was wheeled out of my room and toward the operating room. My mother walked alongside me, with her hand on top of mine.

At the door to the operating room, my mother again reassured me that everything was going to be all right. At eleven, I had no clue as to the dangers of surgery. I was about to be cut open and couldn’t wait to tell my buddies of the ordeal, sans the shave and the enema parts. Like a soldier wounded in a war, I intended to bear my scar proudly.

I was wheeled under the brightest lights I’d ever seen, and a mask was put over my face; a voice told me to count backward from one hundred. I got to ninety-seven and…

***

Joe_Guest-171x271bJ. Conrad Guest is the author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, available from Second Wind Publishing. Backstop was nominated as a Michigan Notable Book in 2010, and was adopted by the Illinois Institute of Technology as required reading for their spring 2011 course, “Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.” He is also the author of One Hot January and January’s Thaw, both available from Second Wind.

J. Conrad appears on Facebook, Twitter, his website, and on his author page at Second Wind Publishing.

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Interview with 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 me and my books from Second Wind Publishing, LLC.

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Happy Middle-of-the-Month Day from Second Wind Publishing!

Are you in the humdrums because the month is only halfway over?

We can Help!

Here’s a sampling of Second Wind authors who are ready and willing to help you beat the middle-of-the-month humdrums:

 

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Murder in Winnebago County by Christine Husom

Slowly, meticulously, Sgt. Corky Aleckson is piecing it all together—the deaths of the judge, the public defender and the prosecutor are all connected. What she hasn’t figured out is who else the serial killer is after and why . . . or that her investigation has put her on the murderer’s list as well.

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 Lone Wolf by Dellani Oakes

The year is 3032 and mankind has expanded far beyond Earth’s galaxy. Matilda Dulac is a member of the Galactic Mining Guild. With her lover, Marc Slatterly, she works in a small mining ship in deep space. Their well ordered life is suddenly thrown into chaos when one miner arrives with a load of Trimagnite, a highly toxic liquid ore.
Enter The Lone Wolf. Wil VanLipsig, known as the Lone Wolf, arrives to take the Trimagnite off their hands. Is it a coincidence for him to show up on Marc’s ship years after Marc thought he’d killed Wil? Or is this the beginning of something far more insidious?
“The Lone Wolf” is book one in this new sci-fi series by Dellani Oakes.

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A Spark of Heavenly Fire by Pat Bertram

In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease, insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Her new love, investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover the truth behind the red death until the cost—Kate’s life—becomes more than he can pay.

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Deadly Traffic by Mickey Hoffman

Girls are disappearing from Standard High while the local sex trade flourishes. Their absences are barely noticed in the worst school in Arbor City, CA, where turnover and truancy are facts of life. Kendra Desola, the only faculty member likely to care, is on a leave of absence.
After a student’s lifeless body turns up in a seedy part of Arbor City, an immigrant community leader contacts Kendra. What does she know about her missing students’ activities, their families’ illegal status?
Searching for the missing girls, Kendra enters a dark world where passports and flesh are currency. When a second murder puts her in the police spotlight, she is unaware a trap is about to close around her.

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One Hot January by J. Conrad Guest

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.
In truth, I’m no Joseph Conrad, but I wrote every word on these pages. This is my story; but make no mistake, it’s anything but make believe. 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. But such is life: a happily ever after, while often promised, is never a given. Yet given the chance to live life over again, avoiding the mistakes made during the first go-around, well, I found I couldn’t turn my back…

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Night and Day by Sherrie Hansen

It’s midnight in Minnesota and Jensen Marie Christiansen is dreaming of a rosy future. It’s daybreak in Denmark and Anders Westerlund is waking up to a world full of stark realities. When parchment paper and faded ink meet computer screens and fax machines, the old-fashioned magic of a great-grandmother’s letters sets the stage for a steamy Internet romance… and the unraveling of a hundred year-old mystery. Night & Day… Will fantasy become reality, or will oceans and time keep a second pair of lovers apart?.

 

http://www.secondwindpublishing.com

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