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 In Hell’s Kitchen, the building that once housed January’s office—across from the Church of St. Paul the Apostle—had been replaced by a huge medical facility, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.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

Advertisements

Proofing

October 23, 2009

One would think that, after editing, re-editing, proofing, and re-proofing, that a book would be perfect, ready to go, error free.

Not so.

I got the proof for One Too Many Blows To The Head on Monday.  It was thrilling to see it in print.  However, despite the fluttering of my heart when I looked at it and flipped through its pages–pages laced with the heavenly smell of printer’s ink–I knew I had to push past the honeymoon phase and get to readin’.

As I opened it and read the first paragraph I realized one thing . . . I was really getting tired of proofreading. After all, writing is the fun part. Writing is what makes my heart sing. Writing is what I do. Proofreading is like washing dishes or vacuuming. It’s a job to me.

But read it I did.

And I found errors. Nothing embarrassing, like changing a character’s name halfway through the book, but errors in punctuation or spacing that were noticeable to me and would certainly be noticeable to a reader.

So another proof has to be ordered.

Am I disappointed? Sure I am. But not as much as I would be if Eric and I had let it go to press with all the errors inside.

I constantly remind myself that I shouldn’t let impatience govern my decisions . . . and that is so important in the writing world. Patience is what gets a good copy. Patience is what gives you time to start marketing and pushing forward. Patience is what it’s all about, man. Well, and writing something worth reading.

So here I sit, impatiently (despite my self-chastising) awaiting my next proof and reminding myself that it too will need to be read and approved by both Eric and me before it goes to press.  My fingers are drumming but I tell myself this is what it is to be a writer . . . it is to learn to love your art enough to get it right . . . no matter how long it takes.

Groan.

On May 30th, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of the technothriller, Stormdragon by Lloyd Ritchey. Lloyd is one of Arctic Wolf’s authors and is a talent to watch. This blog post is a reprint of that interview. Enjoy!!

I just finished reading your book, STORMDRAGON. (And LOVED it!) Tell us a little bit about it.
Thanks, Jennifer, for your kind remarks about my book. I’m honored to participate in an interview.
The concept for Stormdragon had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time. After I learned about a government project called HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) I seized upon a plot. Some believe HAARP is far more than an innocuous research project; they believe it is a dangerous, clandestine weapon that can be easily abused. I took the HAARP concept, enlarged it, and asked “what if?”
Stormdragon is essentially a technothriller, with a heavy emphasis on exaggerated science, but it’s also solidly based upon historical fact and existing technology. And by the way, you don’t have to know anything about science to understand the book.
In the story, ordinary people stumble upon the truth behind the ARC Project, which is an installation like HAARP, only far larger and more powerful. The conspirators, who lust for ultimate power, are willing to use the ARC technology against anyone, even their own country, in order to implement their plan.

How did you come up with the title?
Titles, like cover artwork, are critically important. I think a title should entice, excite curiosity, and relate to the story without revealing too much.
In mythology, the Storm Dragon rides the violent storm and spouts lightning. The title flashed into my mind before I could actually find a solid tie-in to the novel. As the writing progressed, I realized Stormdragon actually worked on several levels; it is a metaphor for power, both that embodied in the terrifying machinery described in the story, and in the ruthlessly powerful conspirators who will do anything to further their agenda. It also has a direct relationship to a specific element that is revealed as the story unfolds.

Your prologue is fascinating. As I read it, I was reminded of the experiments in old movies…the rising platform, the enormous generators giving off electrical charges. Would you be willing to give us a little background on your experience with Tesla’s works?
I have been fascinated by Nikola Tesla since I read Prodigal Genius, by John J. O’Neil, in the 7th grade. Tesla was a mega-genius, whose turn-of-the-century inventions gave us modern electricity, the radio, and much, much more. He was so advanced that the U.S. government, which confiscated his research papers upon his death in 1943, still holds some of those papers as classified. He is the archetypal “mad scientist” who influenced film and artwork. Ken Strickfaden, who built the scary machines for Universal’s Frankenstein, and other films, designed the labs to resemble Tesla’s.
I have been building and experimenting with Tesla apparatus, primarily the well-known, lightning-generating Tesla Coil, since junior high school. Tesla’s incredible, dramatic, and powerful inventions inspired much of the action in Stormdragon.
I’ve used Tesla Coils to produce electrical effects for stage and screen. I toured a Tesla system with the Doobie Bros. and Kansas back in the seventies, filmed T.C. effects to illustrate a screenplay, and demonstrated the system to Universal Studios, Warner Bros., and Disney. But, these are long stories!

Your book is packed with suspense. I had a difficult time tearing myself away once I sat down to read. Does the writing style you have come naturally/easily to you, or do you have to work to get the degree of suspense you want?
The suspenseful idea is there, its energy clamoring to be expressed. Once I decide what a scene or chapter should be, I can write it fairly quickly. But keeping a tight, meaningful story structure is a challenge for me. So, I’d say yes, I have to work hard to keep the suspense ramped up. But once I feel I’ve “got it,” it’s a total blast, a catharsis.

You have a long history of writing…and even sold a screenplay in the past. First of all, tell us about the screenplay experience, if you would. Which do you prefer; writing a screenplay or a novel?
I sold a screenplay entitled Night of the Electric Death (no kidding!) to producer Warren Skaaren. I wrote the screenplay in three months. This was in 1974, and Skaaren had just completed work on Texas Chainaw Massacre. Skaaren bought the rights to the screenplay and brought director Tobe Hooper to my humble Dallas “studio” to see the electrical effects I had envisioned. There’s more to this story, but I digress.
I prefer writing novels. The main difference, for me, is that a novel requires far more skill in creating scenes; the reader must feel immersed in the scene through the author’s powers of description. A screenplay, of course, requires imagination, but it demands less description; you only have to indicate, for instance that the actors are afraid, or that the room is scary, or the atmosphere gloomy. That said, I know great screenplays require great skill. One has to know something of the production process, and have a sense of timing, structure, and dialogue. By the way, dialogue or narration that is to be spoken by an actor is a little different than dialogue that is to be silently read.
Would I write another screenplay? You bet—soon as I’m finished with my second novel!

Would you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?
I’m in a time-management crisis! My second novel, a techno-horror, is about one-third finished, and I’m desperate to work on it. I just fired off a non-fiction proposal to a publisher who has shown interest, and if they go for it, we’re off to the races! Meanwhile, I need to add content to my Website (and my wife’s) and also start blogging.
I’m assembling a “dog and pony show” for book signings that I think may be somewhat unique, and I’d like to keep you posted as that develops. I don’t know if it’ll help book sales, but, like they say, keep barking up that tree…there might be a possum in it!

When you’re not writing, what do you read…both for pleasure and regarding the craft of writing?
I read everything. My favorite thriller/horror writers are Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. For horror I’ll go with Stephen King, Peter Straub (sometimes), Robert McGammon, and many others. I’ve found some gems in novels such as Whirlwind, by Joseph R. Garber, and The Breathtaker, by Alice Blanchard. Prey, by Graham Masterton, is a first-class creep-out.
Your book, The Deputy’s Widow, was the first in the noir genre I had read in many years. I don’t want to sound smarmy, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed it so much I’m reading Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, and will investigate more of the hard-boiled crime novels.
I once threw a lot of money at vendors of “How to Write” books, but can’t say any have been very helpful, and I actually disagreed with some of the authors! I found Stephen King’s On Writing not only instructive and informative, but also entertaining.

Do you (or would you ever) write in any genre other than science fiction/techno thriller?
Yes. The techno-horror I’m writing now is an example. But my strengths (I think) lie in capturing the dramatic moment and translating action into words. I love that feeling when a powerful scene manifests itself in words that bristle with energy.

What advice can you offer for writers trying to get published?
Initially, write in a genre that publishers can recognize. We’re all stuffed into boxes these days, so to get started, you may not want to be too experimental. Naturally, there are exceptions to this. Write what you enjoy.
A note here: Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction, and you don’t have to write the whole thing up front!
Before submission, get as many critiques as you can, especially from people who don’t feel compelled to tell you they liked your book, i.e., get independent feedback. You might find some important flaws (and good stuff) after various people read your manuscript.
Have someone competent edit your manuscript. You just can’t successfully edit your own writing, even if you’re a grammar whiz.
Get the mechanical stuff right: paper, margins, headers, spacing, etc. Always find out how the publisher or agent wants his/her submission. Most of them have Websites. More and more are accepting digital submissions. Carefully read how they want material submitted. I found Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, by John Wood, and Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript, by Jack and Glenda Neff, quite helpful. These are Writer’s Digest books.
I agree with Stephen King: you don’t always need an agent to get published. My wife’s first title, Woven Wire Jewelry, was rejected by a well known agent we met during a writer’s conference. This agent had expressed great interest and urged us to send a proposal. After the rejection, we submitted directly to Interweave Press, and in two weeks had a contract. Now my wife has published three books with Interweave.
Beware of cons. Check out potential agents and publishers. I recommend visiting http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peba.htm. This Website is packed with useful information, and they help identify the bad guys.
Finally, you might try submitting to a small publisher like Arctic Wolf, a company that’s trying hard to assemble a stable of talented writers. With increasing competition and reduced sales, the big-name publishers are being advised to curtail acquisition of new writers and concentrate on promoting the authors they currently have.
If you’re interested in a specific publisher, read some of their books to see if the quality is there. Do you want to be in their company? If the publisher gets a bad name for poor product, it’s not going to help you.
Stay at it. Persist. Be prepared for rejection. Keep writing.
I wish you every success.