Historical Romance

Historical Romance with an Inspirational Touch

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spotlight on: J. Conrad Guest

Author of: Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings
Publisher: Second Wind Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-935171-31-7
Release Date: January 2010
Genre: Romance
Available from Second Wind Publishing and Amazon (for Kindle, too); can also be ordered through the major brick and mortar stores

You know Backstop. He plays the catcher’s position for any team in any city in America with a major league ballclub. You cheer him when he delivers, and boo him when he doesn’t. You’ll cheer for Backstop, both on and off the field, as he plays the most important game of his career—haunted by the ghost of his father, who passed away before Backstop achieved stardom—and fights to win back the heart of the woman he loves more than the game.

AMY: Thank you for joining me. What else would you like to share with us regarding your book?

JCG: Hi, Amy. You’re welcome and thank you for sharing your corner of the Internet with me. Backstop is the autobiography I wish I could’ve written, sans the infidelity aspect. My childhood dream was to play baseball, but like Backstop’s parents, mine would have none of that. So I started with my own childhood―yes, my dad was a Marine Corps DI and several recollections of Backstop’s youth are from my own―but where I let my dream die, Backstop pursues and achieves his.

AMY: Were there any surprises that came about while you were writing Backstop, or did you stick with the plan you had set?

JCG: My original intent with Backstop was to depict the power of lies. Originally, I envisioned a jealous teammate of Backstop’s concocting a lie about an affair that never took place, thereby jeopardizing Backstop’s marriage. But I’ve always been fascinated by what, in today’s modern era of fiction, is known as the “antihero.” He’s not always heroic, not even particularly likeable at times, but he always does the right thing (even if he does so kicking and screaming). In the end he redeems himself.

In life, heroes fail. Some, like Tiger Woods, fail abysmally; after all, they’re human. I think our society in general is too quick to affix that hero status upon athletes and actors and actresses. Sadly, too few are deserving, while the real heroes—the father who takes a third job to put food on the table for his children, or the single mother who overcomes breast cancer to raise her family—we rarely read or hear about in the news. But that’s a whole other topic. The key to writing an antihero, of course, is to make the reader care enough about this often unsympathetic character to keep turning pages. I wouldn’t put Backstop into the category of an antihero. Unlike the antihero for whom we root to succeed, we root for Backstop to not fail; yet once he succumbs to temptation, we root for his redemption. At least, that is what I hope from the reader.

So, maybe a third of the way into Backstop, I chose to veer from the pure-hearted protagonist who would become a victim of a vicious untruth, and have him, in a moment of weakness, betray his wife of 12 years. The story ultimately becomes one of redemption and forgiveness—yes, in order to truly forgive, one must forget.

I think the reader is in for a few surprises along the way, too, but I’ll leave those for him or her to encounter on their own.

AMY: What inspired you to write this book or these particular characters?

JCG: Having realized I was never going to play major league baseball, I suppose it was inevitable that I would one day write a novel with a baseball theme. Backstop is a sort of alternate reality for me. In the title character I see the person I once wished to become, had I the courage to reach out to make my dream come true. My parents meant well, wishing to spare me the disappointment that comes with falling short of achieving a dream, but their lesson—that I should avoid risk—has also had a negative impact on my life, on some of the choices I’ve made along the way.

What also inspired me was my relationship with my father. We were never close, until the last year of Dad’s life, while he waited for cancer to claim his life. He’s been gone now nearly 12 years and I still find myself seeking his approval. Like me, Backstop puts questions to a man who, in death, is as adamant about withholding answers as he was in life. My father appears in a lot of my work, but always post mortem. My work in progress, however, is in part about a son’s efforts to connect with his father before he succumbs to cancer, proving the old adage that writers write from experience.

AMY: Tell the readers about your writing journey and how you ended up with your publisher.

JCG: My fiction tends to be literary. Elmore Leonard claims to leave out of his text all those long narratives he envisions his readers skipping over. But I love rich narrative. Backstop’s storyline is a simple one: a man’s efforts to make his dream come true while trying to connect with a deceased father, finding girl, losing girl, winning girl back. Yet the structure I employed—a baseball love story in nine innings—is anything but formula. Telling a man’s life story in flashback during game seven of the World Series, and bouncing from present to past and back again is complex (and I had one or two detractors along the way tell me it wouldn’t work), I think is rewarding for the reader.

Backstop wasn’t an easy sell. Despite a number of encouraging rejection letters, most publishers/agents were reticent about taking me on. I was told there is no market for baseball novels—try searching on Amazon using “baseball” as your keyword. Some of the most popular sports genre movies are about baseball: Field of Dreams, The Natural, For Love of the Game and The Rookie all started out in print. Who can forget Bull Durham?

I was convinced I had a winner in Backstop and I wasn’t going to self-publish. I tried that route when my publisher for the first edition of January’s Paradigm went bankrupt and I found I didn’t have the financial resources to make it a success.

Last April, Second Wind Publishing invited me to send my entire manuscript and by September we inked the deal. I cringed, initially, when I learned Backstop would appear as part of their Beckoning Books Romance imprint. I certainly don’t consider myself a romance novelist, yet many of my favorite novels have romance themes. There is a large market for romance novels, so I hope Backstop finds an audience. There is also enough baseball in Backstop to appeal to baseball purists as well.

Working with Second Wind has been a great experience. No heavy-handed ultimatums about changing this character or that one, revising this scene, deleting that one. They’ve offered suggestions (some I’ve taken, others I’ve rejected). They were patient as I continued to revise and polish, always encouraging me. I found it ironic that, just before Christmas, another publisher to whom I’d submitted Backstop last February finally sent me an email turning me down. Yes, I thumb my nose at publishers who advise against simultaneous submissions. No writer can afford to wait 10 months for a rejection letter.

AMY: If there is one piece of advice you could give an unagented/unpublished author, what would it be?

JCG: Assuming you have talent, further assuming you’ve gone through several rewrites, have revised and polished, have had more than one trusted reader give you their reaction and suggestions for improvement and have revised and polished some more, my advice is the same advice I’ve heard from almost every successful writer, and that is to employ another essential tool from the writer’s toolbox—perseverance.

If I recall correctly, Rowling endured nearly 100 rejections before Harry Potter was picked up. Publishing is incredibly competitive, perhaps never more than in today’s economic environment. There is no easy road into print, save for self-publishing. Expect twists and turns, to be turned down. But learn from your rejection letters—a handwritten comment that you have talent is gold because it tells you that you’re on the right track. If you have talent, it you have a good manuscript, you will likely find a home for it, but only if you employ perseverance.

AMY: Besides Backstop, which we highlighted here, have you published other books or are there some that are yet to be released?

JCG: January’s Paradigm is available on Amazon. I’ve written a companion novel, January’s Penitence, which I plan to submit to Second Wind in a few weeks, as they embark upon including a science fiction/fantasy imprint. I have a novella I’m currently shopping and another novel in progress. Information on and excerpts from all of these can be found on my website - http://jconradguest.com/.

AMY: How can we find you on the Internet (FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, blog, website addresses)?

JCG: I have a Website - http://jconradguest.com/, and a FaceBook page; I appear on Goodreads, LinkedIn, and I Twitter. My fiction appears on a number of Websites—just Google me.

AMY: Is there anything you would like to ask the readers?

JCG: You know, there is. Writers write, in part, to connect with an audience. Sadly, all too often our only connection comes at the end of the month, when we receive our royalty statement. That said, I’d like to ask your readers to connect with me, and all their favorite writers. Please, stop my Website, sign my guestbook (I promise not to spam you in return for your generosity), check out my blog; leave a comment or two on those entries that move you. Let me know what you think. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but after a piece is finished, a writer wants to know that they’ve connected with you!

AMY: Readers, are there any questions you would like to ask J. Conrad Guest?

J. Conrad has been generous enough give away an autographed copy of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. I am sorry but this is limited to U.S. residents only, due to the cost of postage. If you would like a chance to win the book, simply comment and leave your e-mail address. A winner will be picked and announced Saturday night. Good luck.


  1. What a wonderful, indepth interview. It makes me want to move "Backstop" up to the top of my "to be read pile". Thanks for giving us more insight into your background and what inspires you, J.I hope you sell a million copies!

  2. Wow, Amy! What a wonderful interview. You can tell how much Mr. Guest cares about his character and in doing so, makes me want to read the book. I've always found antiheros so interesting. No one is perfect in life, but in fiction that isn't always clear. So flawed characters are my favorite to read about. They seem so much more real that a traditional hero or heroine.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Christine: You mean Backstop isn't already at the top of your reading list?

    Lydia: Thank you for your kind comments. I'm with you when it comes to flawed characters. They are ever so much easier to relate to.

    Thank you both for reading my interview, and thanks to Amy, too, for being so gracious as to share her space with me.


  4. Very interesting interview, J. Conrad. It's always fascinating to discover how writers come up with their ideas. Thanks for discussing the path you took in getting your words in print. And best of luck with "Backstop."

  5. AMEN! Perseverance is the answer to anything that's worthy of doing in the first place. What a great reminder.

  6. I am sorry I missed the deadline for this contest, but I wish you God's favor as your book is released, J Conrad. This was an encouraging interview.

    Just in case you've extended the deadline, I'd love to win it! jeanettelevellie(at)gmail(dot)com.


  7. Linda and Jeanette: Thank you both for "connecting" with me, for taking the time to read my interview and for leaving your comments.


  8. Thanks to you, too, Deborah. It's always a pleasure to see you following me.


  9. I missed the deadline too, but I'm happy to purchase the book! It sounds so great, and I'll definitely be buying a copy for my dad as well!

    Great interview and congrats on your release! :)


  10. Aren't you sweet, Jerrica. I hope both you and your dad enjoy Backstop.