First of all, I have a very important announcement to make:
I think I have defeated the Spam-BotOfDoom
once and for all.
Ever since I was evicted from my old domain for not renewing promptly enough and moved my blog to this one, I’ve been plagued by a relentless Spam-Bot. Even though I moderate comments and nobody ever sees what the Spam-Bot says, I have close to 60,000 comments in my queue. They are almost all from the Spam-Bot. I’ve installed all sorts of anti-spam, malware detector, and nifty widgets to shut it down. Nothing worked. Additionally, WordPress wants to make it difficult for you to make comments not an option.
I finally found a solution, in the form of changing my settings so that comments close ONE minute after I post something. Then I added a CAPTCHA. The Spam-Bot has not been seen for days. On the down side, nobody can actually comment on this blog, but, hey…opinions are overrated. (and, seriously, there are tons of other ways to contact me. I just updated my social media box. )
So, hooray! I haven’t had many wins in my life lately, but I can proudly say this: Alayna, 1; Spam-Bot, 0.
Because I got behind on my interview schedule during my time of illness (you’d think being stuck in bed does not limit your ability to use a computer, but you’d be completely wrong.), I’m doing a “Literary Libations” interview on a Wednesday! Woo hoo!! Talk about being an unpredictable, rule-breaking kind of person.
This is one of the most interesting interviews I’ve done to date, absolutely no thanks to me. I happened to have to have the good fortune to speak with J. Guenther, the author of a very large amount of stuff. While most people drop by to promote the one or two things they’ve published, J. has put together an impressive resume of almost unstoppable creativity and energy, both on the page and off.
I learned a valuable lesson I’ll never forget while editing this piece: “There’s no UNDO button on a radial arm saw”.
Like myself, J. is not a person of few words, so….let’s get started, shall we?
1) Please tell the readers a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you reside now, and what is your latest project?
I was born in Los Angeles, but lived in Denver for several years, as well as Ventura/Ojai and Bakersfield. Bakersfield is not bad. It reminded me of Denver on a smaller scale. “B-town” has some great views; I especially liked the one in my rear-view mirror. I’m living in the South Bay in the Los Angeles area, now, not terribly far from Hollywood.
I keep several projects active at the same time, so which one is latest is hard to nail down. The most recently recent is Green Dragon Drool, a short play about a not-too successful wizard and his unfortunate apprentice.
My latest full length book in progress is Something Wicked in Ichekaw. I’d been hammering at writers in the Ojai workshop to “shoot the sheriff on the first page.” Just for fun, I wrote the first page of Something Wicked and did just that. It’s a mystery/western/romance and is about half finished, now.
2) If you don’t mind, share a little bit about your latest book or project? What is it about your writing that gives it a unique voice and appeals to readers?
One-act stageplays are my favorite kind of project. My latest project, Green Dragon Drool, started as a short story that I wrote a couple of years back. I got into a playful mood a few weeks ago, and decided to adapt it for the stage. In Green Dragon Drool, Barnaby is summoned by his master, Monte the Magician, to participate in a new spell. Since the last one turned Barnaby into a lizard for a week, he’s understandably reluctant. An excess of green dragon drool in the new potion results in disaster, and Barnaby has to wield the wand himself in an attempt to rescue Monte.
I add humor to whatever I write. I can’t help it. I wrote a three-act tragedy ten years ago. It has many bits of humor. When it was produced, my director asked me at one point, “Do you really want this line to be funny? The character is about to be sentenced to death. People will laugh.” At her urging, I did modify the line. We cast an actor for that role at the very last minute, and somehow, despite the change in the script, he delivered the line exactly as originally written. And everyone laughed. I’ve since restored the line as it was.
3) When it comes to the creative process, what inspires you? Tell us a little bit about how your latest book came into being.
Good writing inspires me, sets an example, shows me the possibilities. For one example, the opening of Keith Roberts’ The Signaller showed me the beauty of choosing the precise verb needed to convey scene to the reader.
Bad writing also inspires me. I saw an awful play in Santa Barbara, once. It was performed in a black box, so sneaking out was not an option. The next morning, I woke up and thought, I couldn’t possibly write anything worse. I sat down and started on Midnight in the Temple of Isis that same day.
My most recently published book is Sail Away on My Silver Dream. The story centers around a poem that I’ve written about companionship and escaping from troubles:
Come, sail away on my silver dream,
Cast off the hawsers of care,
Leave all your troubles and sail away
Over the ocean with me…
I created two children who needed to sail away, if only in imagination: Eleven year old David’s mother contracted cancer; his true friend Sharon is the daughter of an abusive alcoholic. I started the novel in third person, wrote five chapters, then couldn’t go any further. I rewrote those first chapters again and again, with the same result. I was stuck.
Ultimately, I stood back and looked at reformatting the book. I considered adding various story-related items, such as David and Sharon’s report cards, a note from the teacher to David’s dad, and a transcript of David’s first session with Dr. Appelman, his therapist. That transcript was the key. First, it got me in deeper touch with the character. Second, it flowed smoothly, sailing away with me, practically writing itself, because it was in first person. I changed the book to first person and finished it in a few months. There have been several rewrites, since, but the hard part was over.
4) Did you decide to go with a traditional publisher, an indie publisher, or self-publish your latest work? What do you consider the benefits and the drawbacks of the particular route you’ve chosen?
Traditional publishers no longer exist. What we have are mostly amalgamations of the remains of legacy publishers, stumbling zombie-like across a literary wasteland in search of riskless manuscripts by famous names.
I chose to go with a locally-based boutique publisher with the most effective business model for high-tech times. The common model of one SP writer with one book publicized on one blog doesn’t make good sense. It creates too many small voices “crying in the wilderness,” with no one listening. The best model, in my opinion, is a coop or small publisher, with a dozen or two high quality titles, providing synergy among their authors by sharing resources and methods. World Nouveau Books comes closest to this model. It’s more of an us thing than an us-them thing.
☺The drawbacks are the same as currently apply to a “traditional publisher.” I have to provide my own marketing effort. Since I’m not John Irving, I can’t expect marketing services, free publicity, etc.
The advantages are (1) Access to the publisher. I try not to bother them with every problem I run into, but it helps a lot to know that I’ll be listened to and responded to in a timely manner. (2) World Nouveau’s distributor is Ingram. Bookstores like working with Ingram. (3) Cooperation: Being local, World Nouveau’s authors can work together on marketing and publicity, etc. Just today, I made a sales call to a store and picked up books for another WN author at the same time, saving her a trip. (4) Shared methods. My visit to the bookstore was expedited by following a WN procedure for store contacts. (5) Good editing. I’d say WN’s editor is superior to those at many large publishers. (6) Graphics. Again, WN’s graphic artist is top notch.
5) You are, by far, the most prolific author I’ve had the pleasure to interview. Where, when, and how did you get your start in the writing world? What inspired you to choose writing as your path?
“My blushes, Watson!” Thank you for saying that. It’s been a gradual process, with few definable milestones. My writing started with reading. My father’s idea of a great day off was to drive downtown and make a tour of used bookstores, bringing back a box or two or three of books. All four walls of our den were covered with bookshelves. My mother also used to take my sister and me to a local library for children’s books. Later, I read tons of science fiction, starting with one my sister liked: Van Vogt’s World of Ā.
The actual writing? My sister and I used to make pretend newspapers [“The Daily Bloop”], complete with fictitious radio program schedules and news articles. I think the serious writing started when I signed up for a night school course on creative writing taught by Edith Battles, my mentor for many years. The course rolled over into a workshop, and I’m still in contact with former members.
My first sale resulted from working for a company that resembled, in many ways, the story of the building of the Tower of Babel. I wrote a parody called, “Beware the Wrath of Abibarshim” as a joke to give to the harassed CEO, then later submitted it to several engineering magazines. Production Engineering bought it, probably the only piece of fiction they ever took. Abibarshim is on the internet, if you want to read it.
I’ve gradually ramped up to my current level, such as it is, mostly through participation in workshops over the years. I recently felt the need for more challenges, so I signed up for Jeff Hoppenstand’s screenwriting course at Harbor College, one of the smartest things I’ve done. It was a huge leap for me, and I’m still in mid-air, to continue the metaphor, working on In the Mouth of the Lion.
My inspiration(s)? My best friend’s mother, Dr. Margaret Fate, said I should be a writer, after seeing something I wrote in college. Also Peggy Connelly, the ramrod of the Bakersfield Children’s Writing group. Edith Battles and Lyn Hardy, Dave Kenney, and Paul Thompson, from her workshop. Dr. Julia McCorkle of USC. Mrs. Gardner, my 5th grade teacher, who showed me my reading comprehension score with barely restrained glee. I didn’t see it as of much importance at the time.
6) Not only have you been prolific in the amount of well-reviewed work you’ve published, you’re also one of those rare writers who is able to successfully write in multiple genres and formats. What is your favourite form of crafting stories and bringing them to life?
First, let me say, I try not to write the same thing twice. That forces me into new directions a little at a time. Not surprisingly, the crafting method also varies from work to work.
I sometimes start with a “what-if?” What if a man arrives in a strange city and doesn’t get the map promised by the travel agency? The answer was the dystopian A True Map of the City. What would it be like to be the apprentice of a drunken wizard? Green Dragon Drool tells us. What if an Indian servant continually makes terrible mistakes for a good reason? The Moon of Other Days resulted. How would a senile retired professor with few visitors get them to come back week after week? The Scheherezadean Roses in December shows that.
Or sometimes I read something that resonates and feel a need to bring the story to the stage, as in Midnight in the Temple of Isis. The evolution of Mountain Where Rain Alltime had three inspirations: First, a geologist friend, Don Coates, told my sister and me of his trip to the South Seas, where the people spoke only pidgin. Second, Lyn Rollins warned us at Ventura College never to use a lot of dialect in a story. Muhahaha! I immediately put together a short story, half in pidgin dialect, about a visit to the Island of Parangatoa. Third, a few years later, someone in the Ojai workshop said, “Hey, that would make a good one-act play.”
7) Are there times when you experience “writer’s block”, and what do you find is the best way to get past that? Do you have a set schedule that allows you to keep on task, or do you write whenever the muse strikes you?
I subscribe to the theory that if I get writer’s block, I’m writing the wrong thing. Isaac Asimov used to work on dozens of manuscripts concurrently. I’m no Asimov, but I have at least a dozen things I could be working on right now. If I’m stuck, I move on to whatever feels good.
I’d like to say I have a schedule, but the truth is, I don’t. I write when I feel like it. If I’m going gangbusters on a particular piece, I usually keep cranking on it into the wee hours until it’s finished. In odd moments, I sometimes open a file and just do a little bit, then put it away. I wrote A Present for Robbie that way. When my publicist, Dana Macy, told me Theatre 150 was looking for 10-minute Christmas plays, I opened the file and found it had grown to nine full pages. I finished the last page in a few days, and Theatre 150 performed it as a reading that December.
Very important: when the muse presents me with a good idea, I write it down right away. I once found my idea for a story squirreled away on a scrap of paper in my stationery box. Six hours later, I had the first draft of Prisoner of Suggins Holler done. Prisoner won a prize in Elite Theatre Group’s contest that year.
8) Other than yourself, of course, who is your favourite author? What’s the last book you read that really spoke to you in some way, and why?
John Irving? Iain Pears? Michael Crichton? Isaac Asimov? One of those.
Three books stand out. Agent Zigzag is a great character piece, picaresque non-fiction. Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost was also outstanding, recommended by a good friend. Another friend told me about Kurzweils’s The Grand Complication. The latter was intricate, mysterious, puzzling. I like puzzles, and maybe that’s what drives me. I also design puzzles and have two patents on them.
9) Has writing always been full-time career for you? As an artist, what do you hope to be most remembered for? What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I am a retired chemical engineer, so writing has never been “full time,” though I do little else, now. I’d like to be remembered for my plays. My greatest accomplishment? That’s a tougher question, since I don’t think of any of my work as “great.” Maybe the screenplay, if I live long enough to finish it. I’ve done easily 500 hours of research on it.
10) What’s one thing—artistic or otherwise—that you haven’t gotten around to exploring yet, but would really like to try your hand at doing?
Can’t think of much I’ve not dabbled at. I’ve played at chess, cryptography, watercolors, wood carving, acting, woodwork, photography, puzzle crafting, some oil painting. I made a chess set using a radial arm saw, while standing on a bowling ball. I determined the orbit of a comet without a computer. I’ve done some computer programming. Okay, someday I want to make a violin. I have a theory…
(I was kidding about the bowling ball. There’s no UNDO button on a radial arm saw.)
11) Do you enjoy other types of media and artistic creation, such as television, magazines, movies, music, fashion, social media, etc.? What are some of your favourite things?
I’m currently preparing to copyright a song I’ve co-written with my composer/ actress/ director/ singer/ teacher friend, Judy Sanger. I love chocolate, good films, mysteries, classical music, gallery/museum crawling, dancing, Heavy Metal Magazine, steampunk style, art nouveau, art deco, cryptic crossword puzzles, photography. I taught a college course in computer drafting for a year; that was good in many ways. I’d like to teach creative writing sometime. I’ve written a fair amount of poetry [Moon Over the Lost City] but not much lately.
12) What’s your Zodiac sign?
I was born under the sign of the donut. Mathematicians will understand.
13) One of the interesting things about you is that you’re not only well-educated, but well-traveled. What is your favourite place in the world, and why? Where haven’t you visited yet that you’d love to explore?
Home is my favorite place. Also, I lived Ojai, California, in a guest house for 5 years. I have some roots in Santa Barbara, too. Hawaii is nice, and Italy, for sure. But I’m in second draft on a novel about a crazy poet from Zaragoza, so, given enough income, I’d head to Spain for a week of research in Zaragoza.
What is the best advice you have to offer writers just starting out today?
Have a set time to write every day, like I do. [Hahaha!] Don’t be a perfectionist. Join a workshop. Read new novels and books on technique. Start from the ground up: Study haiku, then flash fiction, and work your way up to novels in steps. Plan your work. Outline. Rewrite from the ground [theme] upward. Write down your ideas. Remember that thinking about your story counts as writing, too; treat thinking time with the respect you show actual writing. Shoot the sheriff on the first page, Bad Bert McGinty on the next to last.
15) Of course, we both want readers to rush right out and grab a copy of your latest book! Please tell us where we can find it. Additionally, if you have a blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter, please let us know so we’re able to follow you.
Sail Away on my Silver Dream is available on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and at many local bookstores. If your store doesn’t have it, they can order it for you from Ingram. The book has a Facebook page. I’m blogging at jguentherauthor.wordpress.com, and I tweet as @Jguenther.
Thank you for this opportunity to connect with your respected readers.
J Guenther has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Southern California. Lately, he has been studying cinema at LA Harbor College. He is a past president of Southwest Manuscripters and Torrance Toastmasters.
“Jay” loves puzzles and has patented two of them. His works often involve a mystery to solve, sometimes explicit, sometimes hidden. His work has been influenced by Bradbury, Borges, and Thurber. He has participated in writing workshops since 1972 and critiqued over 1200 pieces, including novels, memoirs, and short fiction. His publications include four magazine articles and three computer books. He has written over 50 short stories and 120 poems. His works include:
Sail Away on My Silver Dream, World Nouveau Books, 2012
Moon Over the Lost City (Poetry), 2004
Sorcerer of Deathbird Mountain (Fantasy)*
Sherlock Holmes and the Twelve Apostles, novelette, 2010
True Map of the City, novela, 2011
* Nominated, best novel award, Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, 2005
Midnight in the Temple of Isis, 2009, Faulkner Gallery, Santa Barbara**
A Present for Robbie, 2007, Theatre 150, Ojai***
Prisoner of Suggins Holler, 2011, Elite Theatre, Oxnard****
The Five Hundred Goodbyes, 2013, EST, Atwater Village*****
The Moon of Other Days
Roses in December
Mountain Where Rain Alltime
Call of a Distant Song
A Robot of Dawn
Do Those Voices in Your Head Bother You?
** 3-act, semi-staged reading
*** performed as a Theatre 150 reading at El Giardino
**** 2nd prize, Elite Theatre Contest, 2010
***** performed & developed via Ensemble Studio Theatre
Work in Progress:
In the Mouth of the Lion (screenplay)
Something Wicked in Ichekaw (Western-Mystery-Romance)
Tenirax, Mad Poet of Zaragoza (Episodic novel)
Temple of the Permutants (Future/Postapocalyptic)
I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read such an inspirational interview, and to J. Guenther for stopping by to remind us all to live live to the fullest and constantly keep creating: on the page, and off. And, of course, please stay tuned on Sunday for your normal champagne brunch and book chatter!
Happy Wednesday, everyone!