Today I’m delighted to welcome J. Conrad Guest to Me, My Books and I:
J. Conrad Guest is the author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, available fromSecond Wind Publishing. Nominated as a Michigan Notable Book in 2010, the Illinois Institute of Technology adopted Backstop as required reading for their spring 2011 course, “Baseball: America’s Literary Pastime.” He is also the author of a science fiction diptych—One Hot January and January’s Thaw—a time travel, alternate reality tale in which Germany wins World War II, his tribute to Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective genre, and its prequel, January’s Paradigm. The Cobb Legacy is a mystery romance written around the shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother.A Retrospect in Death, Guest’s sixth novel, explores the meaning of life: prewired at birth, or a product of our environment? His seventh novel, 500 Miles to Go, is a tale about the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams.
To find out more:
Where did the idea for 500 Miles to Go come from?
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 is my tribute to that bygone era, before television and technology turned a sport into a beauty contest and a science.
Which of your characters would you like to meet in person and why?
I’d love to meet Gail, and not just because she resembles Hollywood’s Gail Russell, who starred opposite John Wayne in Wake of the Red Witch. 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. Gail is both soft and strong. She understands that she can’t ask Alex to choose between her and his dream, which shows strength. Without giving away too much, in the end, she also shows great courage.
What do you hope readers will learn from 500 Miles to Go?
500 Miles to Go is largely about the importance of, as well as the risks associated with, the pursuit of our dreams. When our dreams cause our loved ones angst, they become nightmares. But it’s also a love story, and who doesn’t enjoy a good love story?
How long did it take you to write?
My first draft took eight months to write. After setting it aside for about six weeks, I commenced to making revisions and polishing it, which took about another month. Of course, once my publisher accepted it, I kept tweaking it right up until he told me, “Enough!” In other words, this writer’s work is never done.
Do you think your writing style has changed since your first book?
Absolutely it changed, and it continues to evolve. Early on, I was more a show off, crafting long and convoluted sentences, and using a lot of words that required the reader to use a dictionary. My prose often said: “Look at me, aren’t I beautiful?” I still love language and flowery prose, but I’ve scaled it back quite a bit.
Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you let them influence your writing?
Yes, I read reviews of my work; but I never let them influence my writing. Generally my reviews are good, but I can’t say I don’t let the occasional bad review affect me.
Are there any occupational hazards to being an author?
Not really, unless you consider coffee and cigars occupational hazards. For me, writing is all about the ritual: putting on a pot of my favorite coffee—bourbon truffle—and opening my humidor and pondering which cigar I’d like to smoke. Unwrapping it, inhaling the fragrance, snipping the head, striking a match, lighting up, and watching the smoke permeate my den. Coffee and cigars are my muses, without which I’m powerless as a writer.
Paperback or eBook?
Paperback. I own a Nook, but after nearly three years, I’m still trying to wrap my head around having to keep it charged.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee without a doubt. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.”
Listener or talker?
Talker. I consider myself a fairly good listener, but I don’t always hear.
Pen or pencil?
Pen, even on crossword puzzles.
Snow or sun?
Both, preferably on the same day!
Any last words for your readers?
Stop by my website to check out my literary world, and don’t forget to sign my guestbook—I promise I won’t spam you. Writers write to connect with readers, and letting me you’ve stopped by is very gratifying.
Thank you so much for being here today, it was a pleasure to have you on my blog. I particularly enjoyed reading about where you got the idea for 500 Miles to Go.
Now check out the book:
“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.”