Category Archives: Interviews

The Next Big Thing—J. Conrad Guest Interview

Narielle Living, author of Signs of the South, invited me to be part of the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. It sounded like fun, and I get to promote my work and the work of other gifted writers. I was tasked with answering the questions below, and to tag three others to be part of the hop. Look for their answers next Wednesday, December 26. You can read Narielle’s post here.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

A World Without Music.

From where did the idea for the book come?

I’ve always been fascinated by music. Although I’m tone deaf and won’t sing even in the shower, and I can’t play a musical instrument, I love music and have a rather large collection of CDs—jazz, classic rock, blues, and more. I’ve always wondered how music does what it does: bridge cultures—remember when the Iron Curtain fell and Billy Joel went to Russia? Those in attendance (I imagine most didn’t speak English) cheered and rocked like any American audience. Music can incite a people to revolt, fill us with inspiration, and bring us to tears. It can bring two lonely hearts together.

Well, it occurred to me, what if our civilization had evolved without music? What if ancient man had never learned to communicate over distances by beating a stick on a hollow log? What if he’d never devised stringed instruments, or reeds or woodwinds? What if he’d never learned to write ballads to his lady love? Might we have evolved into a much more peaceful planet?

A spiritual being from a distant galaxy—a walk-in—stumbles upon our planet and shares lives with a number of historical figures: Jesus, during his ministry and crucifixion, and Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, helping him to develop Western Christianity. When he shares the childhood of Johan Sebastian Bach, he becomes fascinated by music because, on his world, although highly mathematic, they never devised music. He leaves Bach, gifting him with his mathematic knowledge (music is numerics), and moves forward, to inhabit the body of Thomas Jefferson, who also loved music and played the violin, during the time of the American Revolution. Eventually this walk-in moves to the twenty-first century where he befriends a musician—a bass player in a jazz quartet who is also a veteran of the first Gulf War suffering PTSD, which cost him his marriage. After fifteen years, his world devoid of music despite playing in his quartet, he contemplates suicide.

How’s that for a short answer?

What genre does your book fall under?

All my novels tend to defy categorization. I’ve written science fiction, sports-themed novels, paranormal, a mystery. I guess the one thing that ties them together is an element of romance, although not in the bodice-ripping sense. You’ll never see Fabio on the cover of one of my books!

In all my novels the protagonist is broken in some way, seeking redemption. In A World Without Music, the protagonist seeks for the harmony his life once was, prior to witnessing a horrific scene in the desert of Kuwait.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t write with a screenplay mentality, and no one has ever asked me the question. But this was a fun exercise, even if I spent more time on it than any of the other questions.

  • Reagan (the Gulf War veteran): Jim Caviezel
  • Prisco (inhabited by the walk-in): Kevin Spacey
  • Sarah (Reagan’s ex-wife): Susanna Thompson (she played Lt. Colonel Hollis Mann, Gibbs’ romantic interest for a few NCIS episodes)
  • Cam (Reagan’s Facebook romantic interest) Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black)
  • Rosary (the groupie who stalks Reagan): Bellamy Young
Jim Caviezel

Jim Caviezel

Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey

Susanna Thompson

Susanna Thompson

Claire Forlani

Claire Forlani

Bellamy Young

Bellamy Young

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Can a veteran of the Gulf War suffering PTSD finally leave behind his past, to find love and peace of mind?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A World Without Music will be traditionally published, likely by a small, independent press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I anticipate completing my first draft by late winter 2013. I commenced the project in March 2012.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of another book to which A World Without Music compares. I would hope that’s a good thing, although the publishing industry often likes to piggyback off the success of works that have come before.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Actually, I think I was inspired by events in my own life. More than two years removed from an ugly breakup and going through a career crisis, my own life was devoid of much harmony. As luck, or fate, would have it, a month after I started the project, I met a wonderful woman who has brought the music back into my life. Still, the story was started and I couldn’t bring myself trash it—I’d already gotten too attached to the characters. I also pride myself in finishing what I start.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

All my novels deal with relationships—those between men and women or sons and parents. A World Without Music is no different. The protagonist is broken, seeking love and redemption. Who can’t relate to that? Introspective, A World Without Music also attempts to answer those questions we all ask, at some point in our life, about the meanings of life and love. I hope it will leave readers with their own introspection.

Please checkout next week’s participants:

With ten published books under his belt, Peter Watson Jenkins, an Anglo American, has just added his first collection of short stories. This genre has allowed him to range widely in location, just as he has done in life. Since graduating from Cambridge, he’s been a jack of all trades: a school teacher, minister of religion, journalist, leader of a peace movement, stockbroker, and hypnotist. He hopes this book, Found Money, will prove him a master wordsmith and successful at selling books. He should be, as he was also once a carpet salesman.

Jennie Nicassio is the author of Moondust. While attending Chatham University for her master’s in professional writing, she rediscovered her passion for writing. A clairvoyant with a strong belief in the power of positive thinking, Jennie resides in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her sons, three cats, and dog.

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Author Interview with J. Conrad Guest

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

I start with a protagonist and his conflict; most times I have the ending in mind and simply write to it, although often the ending is amended depending on what happens prior to my getting there. Everything before that—the digressions, the journey—are discoveries that, hopefully, translate as discovery for the reader. I’ve never written from an outline. I haven’t even tried to work from an outline; I feel it would be too restrictive to me.

What is your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain number of words each day?

Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite novelists, despite Faulkner (no stranger to drink himself, Faulkner butchered the screenplay for The Big Sleep) calling him a “world class drunk,” wrote Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off. My writing schedule is like that: the first sentence is magic, the second intimate, the third settles me in for the session, and after that it’s like taking the girl’s clothes off. I used to set a word count but learned to accept what comes. Some sessions produce more word count than others; but I focus on the content as my goal. Certain parts of the story are going to be more difficult to put down on paper than others. Some sessions result in 1,500 words, while others end with 4,000 words. I’m grateful for it all.

Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

Oh, yes, I do. We laugh at our pets for being creatures of habit, but we are, too, if we’re honest. My morning sessions start with a pot of coffee and a trip to my humidor to select a cigar. (In the evening, substitute bourbon and beer for the coffee.) The cigar is all about the ritual—selecting the right cigar to go with my mood, the time of day; taking it out of the cellophane, inhaling the fragrance of the wrapper, admiring the label, the workmanship (the better cigars are still handmade by someone with skilled hands in another culture thousands of miles away), snipping its head, lighting it, those first few draws, and watching the smoke infiltrate my den. The ritual helps get my creativity flowing.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

Yes, my preference is for Sunday morning. I schedule my entire day around my session. During the week, in the evening, I’ll polish or edit what I wrote on Sunday; but sometimes, if I’m really humming along, I’ll push the story forward during the week. But it’s difficult to do that consistently with a day job, especially one that puts me in front of a laptop writing. Sometimes the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is switch on my own laptop and be creative.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a major project—A Retrospect in Death. It begins with a man’s death, and 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. I’m just now tinkering with a concept for my next novel, a period piece during the golden age of motor racing—the 1960s—with the Indianapolis 500 as the centerpiece.

What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

When I started my first novel, nearly twenty years ago, the hardest part was sitting down to write the first sentence—even though I’d written it in my head several weeks previously. I was intimidated by the whole process and feared that I’d never complete it. I only talked about it to friends. Finally, someone asked me when I would stop talking and do something. It was the kick I needed to set pen to paper. Now, when I near the end of a project, I begin to worry about my next one. What’s the story? Who are my characters and what are their conflicts? How can I top my last novel? Today I find the revision process the most difficult part. I love polishing a text; but sometimes I get carried away with the tinkering. At that point I go back to the original draft and determine whether the tinkering adds something, some new dimension, or does it get in the way?

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

The late great sports writer Red Smith wrote Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed. Opening a vein is never easy, but it’s essential, in my opinion, to great writing. It separates the great writers from the mercenaries, who write simply for the masses, for profit. Unfortunately, that seems to go against what many creative writing courses are teaching young writers today. They’re told that they must allow the reader to experience the text in their own way. I understand that, but one must still lead the horse to the water. What if your reader has never experienced what you’re writing about? For example, I’ve never fathered children, so it does me little good to read about a character’s joy over holding his newborn son for the first time by writing, “He was proud.” I like metaphor and so I could relate to something like, “Holding his son for the first time he felt as if he’d just hit the walk-off homerun in the seventh game of the World Series.” Raymond Chandler was one of the greatest stylists ever to write, and I consider myself somewhat of a stylist, too. It comes natural to me. I love language, and to me how something is said is as important as what is said; yet sadly, the publishing industry seems to frown on anything that might take a reader out of the story. Well, commercials do that on TV; but it doesn’t lessen our enjoyment of our favorite shows, does it? If the industry is losing money, perhaps they should reconsider the cookie cutter mold stories they seem to want to publish.

Does writing come easy for you?

It comes a lot easier today than it did when I started twenty years ago! That’s a product of experience—like an exercise routine, the first few workout sessions are difficult as your muscles rebel against the abuse you put them through. But in time, your body craves those workouts. Writing is like that for me. The more I do it the more I feel the need to do it. Raymond Chandler wrote Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say. I hope I never reach that end because every session is an adventure. I learn something about the craft of writing and, more importantly, about myself.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

For me, the most essential quality of a good story is characters with whom I can connect. Finding a good story to write is easy; but writing about characters the reader cares about is more difficult. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most demented characters ever conceived, yet he was fascinating, a train wreck away from which we want to look but can’t.

Where can we learn more about your books?

My third novel, One Hot January, is soon to launch, through Second Wind Publishing. You can learn more about me and all my literary endeavors at my website.

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Author Interview

What is your book about?

School of Lies is funny mystery novel about a bunch of teachers who work in a dysfunctional, urban high school. The stressful environment is a perfect catalyst for the murder that takes place. My new book, Deadly Traffic takes a teacher out of her comfort zone into the word of human trafficking when female students disappear from campus.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

My MC is a Special Ed. teacher named Kendra Desola. She’s compulsive and overly inquisitive; every problem has to be examined and solved. She is devoted to her students but has learned the hard way that the best way to help them often involves breaking the rules. There’s a tension between her wanting to be a good role model and her willingness to lie when she thinks it’s useful. In Deadly Traffic, Kendra meets a young man, Win Ni (who my brother decided to call Win Ni the Pooh). Win has a good heart but he wants to be rich and is willing to do almost anything to achieve his goal. I wanted to make him a lot darker than he ended up because I became fond of him.

Who is your most unusual character?

I’d have to say most of them are unusual, but they’re true to form. The good characters I create are never all good and that bothers some people. Readers who aren’t familiar with what really goes on in public schools may think the teachers I portray are over the top. I’ve had people react in shock. They say, “A Vice Principal wouldn’t talk like that.” Oh, but they do, they do.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

For School of Lies I relied on my own experience moving through different schools. I mentally filed away what other teachers told me of their experiences as well. The book, in fact, started because some of my fellow teachers knew I liked to write and said, “You should really make a book about some of this stuff because no one would believe it.” For my second book, Deadly Traffic, I read several nonfiction books about modern slavery—in this country as well as overseas—and human trafficking, and visited many websites.

What was the first story you remember writing?

My family used to make up poems and stories in the car during road trips when I was very young and I’d try to contribute when my older brother would stop torturing me. Just kidding. I do recall writing a play in 9th grade with some friends about a super pigeon named Supersplatt.

What do you like to read?

I like mystery novels, fantasy and science fiction. I try to find mysteries with puzzles and with as little gore as possible. Some of my favorite writers are Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin and Tad Williams.

What writer influenced you the most?

Mark Twain. Absolutely.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Hitchhiker’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I want the main characters to have a “quest.” The quest can be a real journey or one in their heads and if there’s mystery involved all the better.

What is the best advice another writer gave you?

I asked how you tell when your manuscript is finished. The reply: “You don’t leave a book when it’s done, it leaves you.”

See also:

Mickey Mickey Hoffman’s author page at Second Wind Publishing, LLC
Interview of Kendra DeSola the Hero of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
The first chapter of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
Review of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman

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