Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Global Book Blast: J. Conrad Guest Interview


GBB: What was the inspiration for you to write this story? What was your motivation to complete it? Were there defining moments that helped you along the way?

The inspiration for One Hot January was January’s Paradigm. January’s Paradigm is really a standalone novel about a novelist who has written a bestselling science fiction novel—One Hot January. He’s working on the sequel, January’s Thaw, when he makes the firsthand discovery of his wife’s infidelity. Devastated, he turns to the protagonist in One Hot January, Joe January, to help him come to terms with his wife’s duplicity.
January’s Paradigm contains many references to One Hot January and January’s Thaw, their plot lines, and introduces Joe January. As I was wrote January’s Paradigm I began to imagine a trilogy, and the completed January’s Paradigm left me with a fairly good outline for the second and third books.

Sadly, both my parents passed away shortly after I started writing One Hot January, and in the aftermath of their loss I lost my focus, rhythm, passion and inspiration for the project. When I recommenced work on it a couple years later I found I didn’t care much for the strictly escapism focus of the story. Losing my parents forced me to grow up in some ways and I realized I had in my word processor the means to make some statements about love and loss and remorse, as well as write an editorial on our society toward the end of the twentieth century—how disconnected we’ve become despite the Internet and BlackBerries; how our parents’ generation worked to give us a better life while the Boomers work only to acquire more things; that freedom without accountability can lead to anarchy. I’m not suggesting we’d be better off under the iron-fisted rule of an Adolf Hitler, but I do suggest that we are a modern day Rome and warn that that former Rome eventually fell.

GBB: Many writers do research or construct outlines before writing a story, take us through the process you used before you started writing.

I rarely work from an outline; I find them too restrictive. I usually start with a character and his dilemma, a beginning and an ending, and just go with where the characters take me, enjoying the process as well as the ride. However, as I mentioned above, my outline for One Hot January was January’s Paradigm, and the outline for January’s Thaw was One Hot January.

Fortunately, I was able to complete January’s Thaw before One Hot January went to press so I was able to make changes to the latter that plotting in the former necessitated.

As for research, the Internet is a wonderful tool; but I also contacted Columbia College and worked with a delightful young woman who provided a wealth of information about Columbia during the 1940s, their involvement in splitting the atom, careers for women during that era, and more. I read a book on World War II and the theory that Winston Churchill conspired with Roosevelt to allow the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor so that Roosevelt could declare war openly with no fear of political fallout from the American public. The proof of that theory is conspicuously locked in a box, where it will remain for another dozen years before it can be opened. That theory is the basis for One Hot January: how would history have played out had Churchill passed on to Roosevelt the vital decrypt that specified the date and time of the Japanese raid on Ford Island, thereby enabling the U.S. to warn off the Japanese and delay our involvement in the war?

GBB: How did you come up with the title?

I wanted “January” to appear in all three titles for the sake of continuity. The casual observer will note a reference to the month, off which “Thaw” and “One Hot” play. Closer inspection of the cover blurb will reveal that January is the last name of the protagonist. Since both novels chronicle a man’s journey through life, taking place over a century, the titles also reference his disposition: in One Hot January he is quick to anger, fast with his fists; while in January’s Thaw we see him soften to become more human.

GBB: Tell our readers what the setting or backdrop is for your novel.

The setting for One Hot January is New York City, circa 1947. Although obviously a work of fiction, plenty of real people make cameo appearances—Thelonious Monk, a bebop pianist and one of the most innovative composers of that era, performs at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem; Art Tatum, a jazz pianist plays at The Famous Door. At Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, songwriters Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen overhear a conversation between January and Lance that sparks a lyric for one of their songs. A sandwich is named for Joe January—J.J.’s Special (hot pastrami with grilled onions and Swiss on rye)—at Zabar’s, a deli on the Upper West Side. Although both are fictional characters, Professor MacIntyre and his daughter Melissa work at Columbia College where actual experiments in splitting the atom ultimately led to construction of the atom bomb.

The challenge in constructing the plot was in sleight of hand, making the reader believe that original history had Germany winning World War II and that a faction of fascist detractors from the future had come back in time to alter their own present by conspiring with Churchill and Roosevelt to draw the U.S. into the war earlier, at a time when Nazi Germany could still be defeated, and that we are living that altered timeline.

GBB: Without giving too much away, can you give us some background on the major characters? Do you have a favorite character?

I try not to play favorites. Even my strongest characters have a weakness for Kryptonite. Joe January is afraid to fly. But he’s also highly intelligent—he works to completion the Sunday New York Times crossword (it wasn’t until the 1950s that it appeared in the daily paper). He’s observant, as necessitated by his being a private investigator, and he’s the bad boy every woman outwardly claims she eschews but for whom she invariably dumps her warm and caring guy. I confess: I wish I could be more like the bad boy.

Lindy Parquette is the woman January loves but hasn’t the courage to tell. January’s gal Friday, Lindy takes her name from Charles Lindbergh (Lucky Lindy), whom her father once saw during Lindbergh’s barnstorming days. It’s only after January is transported one hundred years into the future, with little hope of ever returning 
to her, that he feels the immense weight over never having told Lindy his true feelings.

Lance Cantrell is January’s best friend going back fifteen years. A bomber pilot in World War II with a heart of gold, Lance tends to trust too much. Lance gives too much of himself too early in relationships with women, believing he can love enough for the two of them until the woman comes to recognize his value. Having returned from Japan, where he received a Dear John letter from the girl he left behind, he sees new hope as Melissa MacIntyre becomes his new ideal.

Melissa MacIntyre is the woman in distress. She employs January to find her father, who has been missing since just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Melissa makes no effort to hide her attraction to January (although Lance certainly seems blind to it), leaving January (who prefers less complicated relationships with his women) certain that she must have a hidden agenda.

Benjamin MacIntyre is Melissa’s father. A professor of archeology at Columbia College, he often went overseas for research and to purchase old relics to leverage Columbia’s esteem. He’s been missing for six years and January suspects he was merely a casualty of the war—until Melissa shows him a letter she received from him with a recent postmark in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Benjamin MacIntyre, Jr. is Melissa’s odious brother. Upon their first meeting, both January and Ben Jr. take an immediate dislike of one another and when Melissa contacts January nearly six years after their first encounter, he is immediately suspicious of junior’s alleged disappearance.
Nigel is Professor MacIntyre’s friend and overseas colleague. He is curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London.

Regis is the mysterious man from the future—a future in which the empire Hitler vowed would last a thousand years is a century old. A product of genetic engineering, Regis has six digits on each hand and, in his perfection, resembles a Macy’s mannequin. He has come back in time to hatch a conspiracy, using Nigel and Professor MacIntyre, to draw the U.S. into the war early.

GBB: Can you give us a brief summary of your book?

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.

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 Archeology from Columbia College who must prevent the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands ...

Imagine all of the above and you have the ingredients for One Hot January. Populated with characters fictional as well as factual, the plot is based on the premise that Winston Churchill did indeed withhold such a decrypt from U.S. Intelligence—a decrypt that many believe lies locked away in a box, to remain unopened for seventy-five years. Hitler’s detractors from the future believe that by allowing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to take place, President Roosevelt would have no choice but to declare war, without the support of Congress, or else incur the outrage of the American public. To declare war openly would prevent Germany from developing the atomic bomb first, thereby becoming too strong for the Allies to defeat. One Hot January takes into account the theory of what many historians have long suspected: a plot to draw the U.S. into World War II.

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

GBB: Do you have a favorite part or chapter?

Despite the violence in his storylines, I’ve always thought Quentin Tarrantino writes some of the best dialogue about nothing. If that sounds too Seinfeldish, consider the elevator ride Vincent and Jules take, while debating the meaning of a foot massage on their way to a hit, at the beginning of Pulp Fiction, which culminates in:
Jules: Look, just because I wouldn’t give no man a foot massage, don’t make it right for Marsellus to throw Antwan off a building … That ain’t right, man.

Vincent: I’m not sayin’ he was right, but you’re sayin’ a foot massage don’t mean nothing, and I’m sayin’ it does. I’ve given a million ladies a million foot massages and they all meant somethin’. We act like they don’t, but they do. That’s what’s so … cool about ’em. This sensual thing’s goin’ on that nobody’s talkin’ about, but you know it and she knows it. Marsellus knew it, and Antwan shoulda known better. That’s his … wife, man. He ain’t gonna have a sense of humor about that.

That foot massage dialogue is some of the best nonsensical dialogue ever written—proof that pointless dialogue can move a plot along. Of course without Jackson and Travolta to make it fly, it undoubtedly would have fallen flat.

In One Hot January I try to duplicate that sense of nonsense when Joe January takes a German stoolpigeon for a ride up Broadway, chattering away about rubbernecks and how the avenues in New York City all run north-south while the streets run east-west, along the way exchanging a few “jas” with the German, who is unsure of the English language to begin with. The whole chapter is about as close as I’ve come to slapstick in any of my fiction; but I think it plays well to January’s sardonic sense of humor.

GBB: Are there any anecdotal stories pertaining to writing this story that you would like to share?

As I mentioned previously, I endured a block after my parents passed away within eleven months of each other; that block commenced in 1998 and lasted a couple years. When the chance to go to New York presented itself, I took advantage. It was my effort to try to catch up with Joe January, visit the same haunts he frequented. When I returned to Michigan I wrote a piece of flash fiction—A Case of Writer’s Block. It was written from the perspective of Joe January, who encounters his author while crossing Central Park, where he’d been relegated for no good reason. They exchange but a glance, but January is assured that his life outside the park is soon to resume. After that “encounter” I finished One Hot January in short order. As for A Case of Writer’s Block, I’ve always liked that piece, even if most people didn’t get it. Someone else must’ve liked it, too, and gotten it, since it won a contest I entered a few years ago.

GBB:With all the new genres out there today, what categories and sub category would you say your novel falls into?

That’s tough to answer because I tend to mix and match genres. It’s science fiction (light on science) in an alternate reality setting, mixed with a dram of romance, all combined with an underlying theme of loss and regret. My writers group even marveled that I managed to get several references to baseball into the narrative. Something for everyone!

GBB:On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the most difficult) what is the reading level of your novel?

Can I plead the Fifth on this? Seriously, writers today are advised to write down to a ninth grade level (some say sixth grade) and that’s something I refuse to do. My work tends to be heavy on narrative and I love language and wordplay; to me, how something is said is as important as what is said. Considering that I’ve read books more difficult than my own, I’d rate One Hot January a 4, assuming 3 is at a ninth grade level, 2 at a sixth grade level, and 1, juvenile.

GBB: What well known author would you compare your writing style to?

I don’t know that my style compares to any other author. I was once told I have an inimitable style; that is, easily recognizable. A friend on Facebook with whom I’ve corresponded only through email wrote that, from my photo, she has an image of me as being very Hemingway-esque; but I’m not sure that had much to do with writing style.
When I first started writing I tried to emulate Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany—two writers of (mostly) science fiction I grew up reading and still greatly admire.

GBB: Are you working on any new projects?

It seems I’ve been working on one project or other for the last ten years. After I completed January’s Thaw, the final book in the January series, I wrote Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings; my foray into sports and romance, Backstop was published by Second Wind Publishing in 2010.

After Backstop I wrote The Cobb Legacy, a mystery surrounding the shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother. Amanda Cobb married William, twenty years her senior, when she was twelve; twenty years later, William, aged fifty-two, suspected Amanda, still radiant and beautiful at thirty-two, of an affair. One day he told her he was leaving town to tend to business; but he doubled back that night in an effort to catch her with her lover. Amanda shot twice, killing who she took to be an intruder. An all-male jury found her innocent of wrongful death. Why she’d locked her bedroom windows on a hot August night was never asked; nor why she shot twice—surely she knew, after the first shotgun blast, at whom she was shooting?
This past winter I completed A Retrospect in Death, which takes the reader to the other side where a man must account for the life he’s just lived in preparation for his return to the lifecycle. The catch: he’s soured on life and doesn’t want to go back. He reviews his life with his higher self, in reverse chronological order, looking for the breadcrumbs that led him to become the curmudgeon he was at the end. 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?

I’m presently working on another sports-themed novel, 500 Miles, about love and the importance of pursuing dreams; it takes place in the fifties and sixties, during the golden age of motor sports, with the Indy 500 at the center.

GBB: Is there a sequel or a prequel for One Hot January somewhere out there in the future?

There is a prequel, January’s Paradigm (available from Amazon), and a sequel, January’s Thaw, also from Second Wind, which is due to launch in the fourth quarter of 2011. Will there be a fourth January book at some point? Well, January’s Thaw leaves the door ajar …

GBB: Do you have any media or book signing appearances coming in the near future?

I’m working on a couple appearances. Details are forthcoming on my website.

GBB: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans or potentially new fans?

I invite everyone to visit my website and sign my guestbook. I promise I won’t spam you, but I will select one or two guests at random to receive an inscribed copy of either Backstop or One Hot January—their choice. This offer is good through July 31 and only to U.S. residents. I extend the same offer to members of Facebook: become a fan of One Hot January or Backstop and I’ll select one or two members to receive an inscribed copy of the book of their choice.

Thank you for your time. We wish you much success with your novel.

1 comment:

  1. Backstop's getting closer to the top of my to-read pile. Nice to read your interview, and I liked how you put real people into January's life--made him feel very real.