As you know I held a contest recently where writers were asked to submit a 500 word story on second chances or redemption. From the pool of entries a first and a second place winner were chosen.

Today I’m happy to introduce J. Conrad Guest to you as first place winner of the Redemption Contest. Mr. Guest won with his short story “A Case of Writer’s Block.”

For more information on Mr. Guest, please check out the links included in his post and be sure to visit Second Wind Publishing to buy copies of his books.

JB

Unblocking Writer’s Block

By J. Conrad Guest

Truthfully, I think procrastination is a greater enemy for me than writer’s block. It’s often easier to put off until tomorrow what I’d planned to do today. However, A Case of Writer’s Block was written in response to a block I suffered nearly 10 years ago.

I was working on the second book in the January series—the sequel to January’s Paradigm. The trilogy is a very complex storyline composed of an alternate reality in which Germany has won World War II. The backdrop is based on my revisionist theory to an actual conspiracy theory that Roosevelt and Churchill had conspired to allow the attack on Pearl Harbor to take place, thereby enabling Roosevelt to declare war on Japan without political consequence. For One Hot January, I asked myself, what if Roosevelt had thwarted the Japanese attack on Pearl, delaying U.S. involvement in the war by a matter of even a few weeks? Would such a delay allow the Tripartite to grow too strong to defeat?

The trilogy spans two centuries and deals with speculations on time travel and creation of alternate timelines rather than the paradoxes normally associated with traveling through time to change the present. Throw in elements of romance and a man’s regrets over a love lost and I began to feel bogged down and, well, blocked.

In September 2001, a woman I was dating at the time invited me to come along with her on a business trip to New York City. Since the protagonist in the January books, Joe January, is a private investigator from Brooklyn, I readily agreed, thinking I might visit some of the same haunts he does in an effort to catch up with him.

The trip was just what I needed. In Hell’s Kitchen, the building that once housed January’s office—across from the Church of St. Paul the Apostle—had been replaced by a huge medical facility, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. We visited Zabar’s deli on the Upper West Side, where January had had, in the 1940s, a sandwich named for him—J.J.’s Special (pastrami with grilled onions and Swiss on Jewish rye bread). Through Gramercy Park and down to Greenwich Village we traipsed, all the places with which my protagonist was so familiar.

Then one day, as we crossed Central Park east to west, the idea for a short story took seed—told from the perspective of a character in a novel, abandoned by his author the result of writer’s block, its denouement so hopeful.

We returned to Michigan on September 9, two days before the WTC fell. I watched events unfold the night of 9/11, the images of the towers dominating the view of Lower Manhattan I’d seen a few days previously from the top of the Empire State Building relegated to memory and jpg. So I resolved to finish January’s saga, using January’s voice to espouse my own discontent with the political climate of this country at the turn of the century, and how it might impact the world order for the next 75 years.

I finished One Hot January and January’s Thaw, eventually combining them into one shorter novel—January’s Penitence—at the urging of a publisher who reluctantly turned it down.

As for A Case of Writer’s Block, what started out as 1,000-word short story, much maligned by everyone who read it, it’s always been a favorite of mine. I continued to pull it out every year or so, when I found myself between major projects, to rework it, polish it. We bonded and became great friends, and now, in its abbreviated 500-word format, it won a contest! Which goes to show that a writer should never give up on a piece about which he or she feels strongly. It’s also a lesson on the power of rewrites and the editorial process. Some might say it’s not my best work; but it holds a special place in my heart because of its autobiographical nature, and I couldn’t be happier that it connected with J.B. After all, that’s in part why writers write—to connect with others.

I’m in a good place in 2010, the best place in which I’ve been in many years. My latest novel, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings just launched through Second Wind Publishing, I’m heading down the backstretch with my fifth novel, Cobb’s Conscience, a murder mystery that spans two centuries centered on baseball legend Ty Cobb, and I’m looking forward to working my next case with Joe January as we embark upon possible publication with Second Wind as they expand this year to include a science fiction imprint.

Oh, and let me also add that Second Wind is having a launch party on January 29 and 30, which will include Backstop. I’m inviting readers to submit a personal account, between 200 and 400 words, of their most memorable baseball date. It could be disastrous, it might’ve led to marriage. The outcome of the game is really unimportant; what is important is what happened between the couple.. In addition to a signed copy of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, the winning submission will receive a signed baseball from Backstop himself!

J. Conrad Guest

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Pitcher In The Rain

April 10, 2008

Baseball

A game was played last night in the mist and rain. Spectators sat huddled under umbrellas and blankets, trying to keep dry. The players were all aged 11 or 12 and growing frustrated with the wetness of the ball, how hard it was to throw and catch. Those of us with children on the team watched from the stands, hoping they would pull it together to get through the last inning.

The pitcher was having none of it. He grew more and more frustrated as the ball slipped from his hand during his pitches. He’d throw his arms in the air, sink to his knees, moan out loud. And all the while, the parents in the stands shouted their reassurances. “It’ll be alright. You can do it. Hang in there.”

His mother wrung her hands, wondering if she should be embarrassed about his behavior. Be embarrassed why? I wondered. Because he is behaving like he is 12? So the parents, dripping and wet and miserable, reassured her too.

At last, the pitcher dropped to his knees with an “ankle injury.” And, truth be told, it was the most mysterious ankle injury I’d ever seen. It happened while he was merely standing there, very still, on the mound.

We were disappointed, but what could we do? He’s only 12. He was frustrated and cold and wet. And I’m sure he could smell the hot dogs and the popcorn that all of us were eating. That had to add to the frustration. One can’t exactly eat a hot dog out on the pitcher’s mound.

So the coaches put the player in right field, where he made an immediate and miraculous recovery. And they called my son to the mound. My son doesn’t pitch. My son, I thought at the time, can’t pitch.

But there was no worry on his face, just a wide-eyed expression and an eager grin, despite the cold rain and the late hour. He warmed up for five or six pitches, the ball sailing over the catcher’s head at one point, veering widely outside at another. But his face was all smiles. From all the way up in the stands, I could see his teeth as he grinned, oblivious to the water dripping into his eyes, the wetness of the ball, the misery of his teammates.

He walked his first batter. But everyone cheered for him anyway. I think I cheered the loudest…because he was so obviously thrilled to be throwing that ball. There were two outs…achieved by the pitcher before his “injury.” A batter stepped up to the plate. My son wound up. And pitched.

Strike one! I squealed. I actually squealed.

By the third strike, I was better composed. I stood and yelled and cheered. Just like everyone else.

My son’s team totally lost that game. Their hearts weren’t in it. But I felt pride for my boy. And I felt envy and admiration too. He was able to smile when the rest of the team was faltering for their determination and the will to go on. He slapped the catcher on the back and said he was sorry that ball was so high. He’d try to do better. He knew he wasn’t a “born pitcher.” There were others on the team better qualified for the job. But the coach chose my son. Perhaps he knew that this was the boy to turn to when everyone else was in the gutter…this was the boy who would finish the game just for the sheer joy of playing.

I’m thinking of my son today as I try to find the will to write the next scene for my book. I’m trying to smile as I throw the pitches out…watching them veer wildly in all directions. I think of his face out on that mound and look for the joy in what I do. Who would have thought that inspiration could come from a baseball game on a rainy day?