J. Conrad Guest—Novelist, Writer, Editor

My work has been hailed as “Gritty, entertaining... real. Romance for the non-romantic.”

I write about the universal ideals of love, loss, regret, and death—and the emotions associated with those ideals.

About J. Conrad Guest

Welcome. If you’re reading these words, you have my thanks for finding me.

Genre? What’s that? My characters face everyday obstacles: love (finding it), loss of love (ouch!), regret (who doesn’t have a few of those?), infidelity (from love to hate to compromise), death (the Grim Reaper recently visited me in a dream to tell me he was coming for me. “Great,” my dream self said. “You bring the whiskey and I’ll provide the cigars”), redemption (that transformation from the anti-hero the reader wants to like into the hero for whom they want to root), and more. I write about relationships between men and woman, and fathers and sons. Yet each character, although flawed and in some cases broken, is in their own way extraordinary. I write mainstream, non-traditional romance (Fabio will never grace the cover of one of my novels), and soft science fiction. I hope you’ll find here something that appeals to your literary appetite.

About me: I was named Joseph Conrad for my dad’s favorite novelist.

As a boy my dream was to become a Major League Baseball player, but my parents had other ideas. They urged me to play it safe, learn a trade, get a job with an automotive company and retire in forty years with a gold watch. To me that was a prison sentence.

I was creative and wanted to leave my mark on the world. How to go about achieving that dream perplexed me for many years, until I sat down to write my first novel. January’s Paradigm was born from a bloodied and bruised heart. What started as therapy for me turned into a passion. My dad often criticized me for not finishing what I started, and I was determined to finish a novel. When Dad read my second draft, after two years of labor, he was pleased.

While I geared up for submitting my child to agents and publishers I struggled for a name. A nom de plume was out of the question. I wanted to use “Conrad” but didn’t wish to be compared to the man who today is considered one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I finally settled on J. Conrad Guest and have never regretted it.

My novels are available in brick and mortar bookstores and at Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

Oh, and feel free to check out my blog.
About J. Conrad Guest

500 Miles To Go

A love story that touches four decades, 500 Miles To Go is about the importance of, and the risks associated with, the pursuit of dreams. When our dreams cause angst to our loved ones, they often become nightmares.

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.


“I looked at the phone, silent on the nightstand, and for the first time since she walked out of my life, I thought about calling Gail. Never had I longed so much to hear her voice. ‘Alex Król,’ she’d say into the phone, the way she used to when we were young. I imagined her telling me how glad she was that I’d called, that she’d listened to the race on the radio, had watched it later that night on tape delay, and had celebrated with me. She’d go on to say that she’d followed my entire career, was proud of all that I’d accomplished, maybe even adding that she’d been foolish to worry about my getting hurt. I’d tell her it was okay, that I understood. Then I’d ask her to join me for dinner when I got back to town, and she’d sigh in that way she had, and tell me that she’d love to…”

Alex paused, and Alicia waited patiently for him to continue:

“But so much in life never plays out the way we envision it. My marriage was proof of that.

“I re-imagined the phone call: Gail’s father would answer. He’d congratulate me on winning the 500 – assuming he was aware of it. He’d ask how I was doing, and I’d tell him, ‘Great, I’m doing great.’ Then I’d ask about Gail. He’d tell me that she’d met a young man a year or so after we’d broken up, married him, and that she was now mother to two healthy toddlers, a boy and a girl. Then it would be my turn to congratulate him, for becoming a granddaddy. Maybe, to save face, I’d nonchalantly ask him to say ‘hello’ to Gail for me, give her my best, hoping he wouldn’t, not wanting her to know that I’d asked about her. More than likely, I’d leave it at ‘Congratulations’ and simply say ‘Goodbye.’


“A sweet love story gives way to the love affair with speed... First loser becomes disillusioned winner, hindsight waxes philosophical, and a lonely man reminds us, ‘One doesn’t find love... Love is a choice.’” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer
500 Miles To Go

Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings

Backstop plays the catcher’s position for any team in any city in America with a major league ball club. You cheer him when he delivers, and boo him when he doesn’t. Told in his own words during the seventh game of the World Series in what could be his last game after fourteen years in the major leagues, Backstop chronicles his rookie season, takes the reader to Chicago where he finds romance, and reveals his heartbreak in the aftermath of an adulterous affair.

Cheer for Backstop 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.


“Look,” I said. “We’ve gotten off to a shaky start. I only came in to ask if you’d like to have dinner tomorrow night, after the game and be­fore I leave for Cleveland.”

“I have dinner every night, whether or not you leave for Cleveland.”

I laughed, although the woman’s demeanor had not portended humor. “That’s funny,” I said. “I meant dinner with me.”

The woman ignored me: “I’m a businesswoman. Do you intend to purchase something?”

I looked at some of the items for sale on the counter-top, my eyes alighting on a dish of blue marbles, maybe three-quarters of an inch in diameter, painted to look like globes, the continents painted on the surface in remarkable detail. I picked one out of the dish and asked how much.

“Eighty-nine cents.”

I handed a dollar bill to the woman, who in turn rang up the sale and handed me my change. I exchanged the tiny globe for my change and said: “There, I just gave you the world, so you can’t turn me down.”

The woman sighed, told me: “You come into my shop, insult me, and expect me to be impressed by an eighty-nine cent bauble?”

“Not by the price, no,” I said, “but by all it foretells. I was hoping to make up for some of my previous comments, which were not intended to be insulting.” She seemed to soften a bit, but remained mute. “Come now,” I added, “when was the last time someone offered you the world?”

The woman stiffened again, told me: “That’s none of your concern.”

“No, I suppose not,” I said, “but from your response I can only surmise that whoever he was, he took it back.”

The woman said nothing, but her complexion flushed, more from embarrassment than from anger.


“Superbly crafted with a deft, tender touch, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings is a compelling tale of following the true passions of the heart. A truly heartwarming read.” —Apex Reviews

Backstop’s a read where slow development contrasts with fastballs, slow plans with hurried mistakes, and slow reading with quickened excitement and delight. The dialog has a sweet old-fashioned feel, pleasant humor, and serious depth, and the whole is a seriously enjoyable tale.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer

“This is where J. Conrad Guest meets us in Backstop: in this beautiful, hopeful place closest to our hearts, where we play for the love of the game, and we love with everything we have.” —Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly
Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings

Chaotic Theory

What power, to hold in one’s own hands the ability to affect the present by altering the past... In the twenty-second century the world population has dwindled to fewer than a billion, with total extinction expected within a decade.

An erotic tale of love and love lost, Chaotic Theory centers around three profiles of a solitary individual, Antanas Rupkus, a young Lithuanian.

In one he is a musician endeavoring to keep alive the work of American jazz musicians of the twentieth century. Stoic and aimless, Antanas is incapable of anything but physical intimacy the result of having witnessed, as a boy, his parents killed by Estonian immigrants in search of fresh water. In another profile, Antanas is a sculptor, filled with hope and the belief that love can overcome all obstacles, until he loses the object of both his inspiration and desire.

In the third, he is a writer whose essays define the mid to late twentieth century as the point in history that set man on the path to extinction. But alas, his wisdom comes too late. If only Antanas had lived two hundred years earlier; but perhaps he can, if what Kazys Galdikas tells him is true...


“I’ve always believed in love,” Antanas says.

“Then you’ve not yet had your heart broken.”

Antanas thinks a moment of Giedre, the girl who’d done just that, broken his heart, two years ago when her family moved to Finse in Norway. Even though they’d never consummated their love, Antanas remained in touch with Giedre for nearly a year, and then her letters to him became fewer, finally stopping altogether a few weeks ago, and Antanas was forced to consider the likelihood that she’d met someone else. He sighs aloud, which prompts a laugh from Loviise.

“From your sigh it seems you believe otherwise.” When Antanas says nothing, Loviise asks, “What was her name?”

“Giedre.” Antanas’s hands stop their work; he feels Loviise’s eyes upon him. “It was perhaps only puppy love,” he says to hide his embarrassment.

“There is something to be said for young love,” Loviise says. “Innocence lost can never be regained.”

Moved by the sorrow in her voice, Antanas looks up, sees pain in Loviise’s countenance, and grieves for her. Not wishing to intrude on her discomfort, he is quick to look away.

“Where did Giedre go and why did she go?”

“Her family moved to Finse, where a greater supply of fresh water exists, thinking to buy a few more good years before―”

Loviise nods to show she understands. After a moment, she asks, “And you? Why did you not follow her?”

“I’m Lithuanian. I was born here and don’t wish to die in some foreign land.”

“Perhaps you did not love her so much as you thought.”

“Or she, me,” Antanas is quick to add as he works the cool, moist clay of Loviise’s left thigh, such a contrast to how he imagines her real flesh would feel to his kneading hands—smooth, like the clay, but warm, soft like a pillow, velvety.

“A young man should pursue his heart’s desire,” Loviise says, as if she is taunting him. Antanas ignores her.

“And you?” he asks. “Will you return to Estonia?”

Antanas watches Loviise consider several replies before she settles on: “There is nothing for me there. I will remain here, where in all likelihood I will die alone.”
Chaotic Theory

The Cobb Legacy

Cagney Nowak is writing a novel around the 1905 shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother a week before Ty was called up by the Detroit Tigers. Although she was acquitted by an all-male jury on the grounds that the incident was accidental, the townspeople of Royston, Georgia, thought otherwise. When Cagney begins to relive the night of the shooting in his dreams, more than a century later and in the guise of Amanda Cobb, he is led to discover his father’s deepest secret.

More than a mystery, The Cobb Legacy is the story of a man’s efforts to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to come to terms with his obsession over the Cobb legacy as well as his own adulterous affair and impending divorce, while doubting that love with an old friend can be his.


“I used to think Romeo and Juliet was the greatest love story ever written. But now that I’m middle-aged, I know better. Oh, Romeo certainly thinks he loves his Juliet. Driven by hormones, he unquestionably lusts for her. But if he loves her, it’s a shallow love. You want proof?” Cagney didn’t wait for Dr. Victor to say yay or nay.

“Soon after meeting her for the first time, he realizes he forgot to ask her for her name. Can true love be founded upon such shallow acquaintance? I don’t think so. And at the end, when he thinks she’s dead, he finds no comfort in living out the remainder of his life within the paradigm of his love, at least keeping alive the memory of what they had briefly shared, even if it was no more than illusion, or more accurately, hormonal.

“Those of us watching events unfold from the darkness know she merely lies in slumber. But does he seek the reason for her life-like appearance? No. Instead he accuses Death of amorousness, convinced that the ‘lean abhorred monster’ endeavors to keep Juliet in her present state, her cheeks flushed, so that she might cater to his own dissolute desires. But does Romeo hold her in his arms one last time and feel the warmth of her blood still coursing through her veins? Does he pinch her to see if she might awaken? Hold a mirror to her nose to see if her breath fogs it? Once, twice, three times a ‘no.’”

Cagney heard the leather creak as he shifted his weight in his chair.

“No,” he repeated. “His alleged love is so superficial and selfish that he seeks to escape the pain of loss by taking his own life. That’s not love, but obsessive infatuation. Had they wed—Juliet bearing many children, bonding, growing together, the masks of the star-struck teens they once were long ago cast away, basking in the comforting campfire of a love born of a lifetime together, not devoured by the raging forest fire of youth that consumes everything and leaves behind nothing—and she died of natural causes, would Romeo have been so moved to take his own life, or would he have grieved properly, for her loss and not just his own?”


“... an eye-opening tale of drama, scandal, and intrigue highlighting the living, breathing history of a fatally-flawed, intrepid folk hero. Five stars.” —Apex Reviews

“Different genders, different generations, different assumptions and rules are revealed in this game of eternal truths played through eternal differences. Chapters switch from Cagney’s flailing present to (Ty) Cobb’s wounded past, linked by the mystery of dreams and the factual numbers of baseball. Figures never lie, thinks Cagney, wondering another time, Ain't it great to be living in America? Land of the free, home of the psychoanalyst.

The Cobb Legacy balances the pursuit of happiness with the choice for happiness, presenting lives wounded by guilt and regret, scarred by lack of communication. The present-day dialog is convincing and absorbing, like sitting in a restaurant listening while strangers meet at the table opposite, half-wondering if they're famous, half-guilty for learning so much about their lives. The recreation of the past is authentic too and nicely interspersed throughout the tale, adding a curiously disconnected depth. Threads come together with gentle touches of fate and there's a satisfying completeness to the tale which goes beyond past and present into eternity.

“I enjoyed this book for its powerful depiction of real lives, its gentle introspection, and its forgiveness. Kind at heart, honest in execution, and hopeful in its attitude to despair, it's a drama of family relationships and compassion, and a truly enjoyable read. Threads come together with gentle touches of fate, and there’s a satisfying completeness to the tale which goes beyond past and present into eternity.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer
The Cobb Legacy

January's Paradigm

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity.

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right ... and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist... or does he?


Once more at peace with myself, I rounded a corner and collided with a small gargoyle.

It was grotesque. Standing at no more than five-foot, three inches tall, it was dwarfed by my six-foot, three-inch frame. It was obese, too; its girth greater than its height. Its personal appearance was obscenity personified: a bulbous nose, red from too much drink, supported glasses so thick the magnifying principle worked both ways. The watery blue eyes, disproportionately huge, glared back at me with cold, savage indifference.

And I recognized the beast of my recent nightmares.

At the same moment, dawning recognition replaced the indifference that had previously resided on those hideous features. A smile broke from behind gray lips; its teeth, black from the rot of ten thousand Baby Ruth bars, jutted at a multitude of crazy angles, like those of some weirdly mutated rodent. It grunted once, the sharp exhalation accompanied by halitosis so foul I was forced to take a step back.

Then it was gone, leaving me staring after it in disbelief.


“Loaded with clever dialog and vivid characters, January’s Paradigm is a polished, calm and a well paced fantasy fiction with original premise and a dramatic climax.

Kate Porter’s marital disloyalty leaves her husband Robert Porter devastated, depressed and miserable at the hands of his wonder drug—Bookers. Once the author of an International Best Seller, One Hot January, Porter finds salvation from the heart wrenching truth of life through his fictitious character — “the product of his own imagined altered ego” —detective Joe January.

Author J. Conrad Guest’s attention to details of plot is meticulous as he keeps his novel pulsing with energy and tension skillfully woven with an entertaining combination of romance, betrayal, mystery and thrill. With storytelling mastery on full display, powered by engaging narrative and emotional intensity of individual story line, January’s Paradigm is a novel that delights its readers with a captivating premise with serious literary work of thoughtfulness, complexity and depth.

Those looking for a fantasy with diversity may find themselves bewitched. This 5-star read is definitely worth reading for its originality. Highly recommended.” —Enas Reviews

“In January’s Paradigm, J. Conrad Guest has taken the heartbreak of sexual betrayal and turned it into a romance-fantasy … Readers will not be able to put it down.” —Current Entertainment Monthly, Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Prompted by his detective’s instincts and the photograph of a woman who seems strangely familiar, January begins his search for the reasons behind his existence. His quest will take him down numerous and occasionally violent paths: there’s a beast lurking at the periphery of this, Robert Porter’s alternate reality.” —Ellen Tanner Marsh, New York Times best-selling author
January's Paradigm

January's Thaw

Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived.

If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler. Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets. You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read on to the end, and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.


When I said nothing, Ecstasy leaned over and kissed me, softly but with purpose; I felt the weight of her breasts, the points of their nipples against my chest, her hand gently caressing the inside of my thigh. I recalled the vision of a few minutes ago: A woman undressing in shadows—mottled light from between window blinds set to motion by a gasp of early summer night air, slashes of luminosity split rounded breast, hip’s parabola.

My own gasp whispered to the darkness as my desire responded to hers.


“In January's Thaw, J. Conrad Guest gives us an unforgettable adventure seen through the cracked lens of our broken present and an all-too-possible, what-if past. Full of intrigue, romance and scathing social commentary, it is both an ambitious novel and an exciting, page-turning imaginative quest for that which is beautiful and true.” —Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly
January's Thaw

One Hot January

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 a seemingly impossible plot by grudgingly agreeing to help a pretty young woman locate her missing father—a Professor of Archaeology from Columbia College who must prevent the secret of Hitler’s location from falling into the wrong hands...

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


Later that night Lance saw Melissa home, via cab. The decorated war hero and gentleman nonpareil no doubt sealed their business venture with a handshake, not a kiss. The kiss, he would anticipate, would come later.

I was mildly disappointed to find that the mole on Ginger’s breast had no twin elsewhere; but the consolation her many other gifts provided helped to ease my disappointment. Still, I found Ginger to be a taker and not a giver, and so what pleasure I gained was the result of my own giving, which she was only too eager to take.

While Lindy, who drove home alone, was robbed of any chance to give, and therefore gained neither pleasure let alone solace from the image of where and with whom I had lain.

Over the decades since that night, I’ve tormented myself over the fact that Lindy had suffered her disappointment alone, perhaps the previously unrecollected melody, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You, echoing unsympathetically through her fading consciousness, her pillow taking the tears she could not help but give.

Tomorrow is forever. I should’ve held on for one more night.

Ah, so many regrets. What’s one more?


“He may be Bogart-cool and clever, sharp-tongued and fedoraed—but underneath the veneer Joe January reveals himself both in his vulnerability and the most ageless adventure of all: a journey of the heart.” —Rachael Perry, author of How to Fly
One Hot January

A Retrospect In Death

A Retrospect In Death is a story about discovery. You think you know yourself? Perhaps you only think you do.

On the other side of the Great Divide, the narrator, who remains nameless throughout, encounters his higher self—the part of him that is immortal and is connected to the creator—and 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.

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 exhaled, fought to draw yet another breath – one more in a lifetime of breaths – heard my own death rattle, and followed the light. Muted voices, although the words meant nothing to me, and the sound of someone sobbing thrummed softly in my ears. A hand on top of mine – warm, soft, delicate… connecting me. Feminine. A woman’s hand. Someone I knew. Who?

The light darkled to a black blacker than the blackest night, and the voices and sobbing faded. Disconnecting, I heard nothing, not even the ringing in my ears that had become familiar to me in my old age as my blood pressure inched ever upward. I might as well have been deaf.

I had conquered the Great Divide. A general feeling of indifference, which I’d associated with the acedia others had come to associate with me while I lived, washed over me.

In living, I had feared death; yet in dying, despite the crushing weight of far too many regrets, which had become a sort of leitmotif in what had become my anything but Wagnerian life, I feared I hadn’t lived enough.

In death, I was relieved to have left behind the hardship, to no longer hear the rhythm of my heart counting down its finite number of beats, to feel the burn of my blood pushed, seemingly against its will, through plaque-hardened veins.

I waited for what could’ve been a moment, a month or a millennium, suspended somewhere between belief and disbelief. No glimmer of light illumined me or my surroundings – if it could be said that I was in fact somewhere, or anywhere – nor did a sound vibrate against whatever essence my being had become...


“Introspective, like a personal remembrance of life, this book is more than diary or autobiography, but less than truth perhaps because it’s viewed entirely through the eyes of the (dead) protagonist. Slowly working towards the unseen facts of his character’s past. A Retrospective In Death is a languid, oddly compelling tale, evoking an era with a wealth of intricate detail, creating a memorable yet achingly ordinary man, and searching for meaning and purpose in it all.

“Song titles, movies, well-known names and places, events in sports, evocative phrases from the past and much, much more build up into a powerful retrospect of an era, all told in a voice that changes convincingly with changing enthusiasm, self-deprecating humor, and psychoanalytical hints from the higher self. It’s a pleasing, though very long tale, and the ending is beautifully worth the languorous journey.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer
A Retrospect In Death

A World Without Music

Can a Gulf War veteran suffering PTSD finally leave behind his past to find the music that will make his life worth living?

Reagan returns from the first Gulf War haunted by horrific images of Tom Wallach, a dead marine he brought back from the desert. Seeking refuge from his nightmares and broken marriage in a jazz quartet in which he plays bass guitar, fifteen years elapse and he has a one-night fling with Rosary, a beautiful young woman he meets at one of his gigs. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, Rosary’s obsession turns into a fatal attraction.

With help from Wallach’s ghost, the daughter Wallach never met, and a friend who is much more than he appears to be, Reagan discovers he must let go of his tortured past if he is to embrace the future.


Reagan’s eyes fluttered open; he felt as if he were being watched. He glanced at the window: it was still dark. Sarah was breathing softly beside him. She was still asleep. His eyes moved about the room – there, on the corner chair, sat Tom Wallach.

“You’re a light sleeper,” Wallach said.

“I’m still a marine.” Reagan sat up.

“Never goes away, does it? Especially in times of stress.”

Wallach watched Sarah roll over; then he stood, motioned Reagan to follow him, and made his way to the door.

Reagan rolled out of bed and stepped toward Wallach; halfway across the room, Sarah muttered, “Don’t leave me.” Reagan turned toward the bed, but Wallach spoke first.

“It’s okay, Reagan. She’s only dreaming. Come on.”

Reagan followed Wallach to the living room, where they sat, facing each other, in two high-backed chairs.

“How do I know I’m not the one dreaming?” Reagan whispered.

“You’re not.”

“But how do I know?”

Wallach shrugged. “Pinch yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Reagan refrained from doing just that; at some level he knew this was real: across from him sat the ghost of Tom Wallach.

“Death is permanent,” Wallach said.

“Don’t I know it.”

“I’m sure you do. Aren’t you glad now that you didn’t pull the trigger on your Glock? You were so convinced that you’d lost Sarah forever, but it was just a bump in the road. She needed time to realize what you meant to her. Had you pulled that trigger –”

“I know,” Reagan said, looking away in shame.

“No, you don’t, Reagan. You have no idea what that would’ve done to Sarah.”

Reagan sighed. “Suicides rarely understand the ruin they leave behind. They’re lost in their own pain.”

Wallach nodded and said, “Not pulling the trigger was an act of courage. Your work here is not done.”

“And you know this how? Are you omnipotent?”

“All knowing? No. Let’s just say I have night vision.”

“You can see the future?”

“The future is made up of myriad possibilities, all predicated on the choices we make, or fail to make, each and every day.”

Reagan thought about that for a moment, before asking, “So is there an alternate reality, one in which you came home from Kuwait?”

“There is only one reality; but I am attuned to all possibilities, including the one of which you spoke.”

“How do you bear it?” Reagan said. “Knowing what might’ve been?”

“It brings me much comfort.”

“Don’t you feel cheated?”

“No. My life played out as it should have. My widow and daughter would not be the people they are today had I come home from Kuwait.”

“How do you know they wouldn’t be better off?”

For the first time since he’d begun haunting Reagan’s dreams, Wal­lach looked uncertain, as if he didn’t know how much he could, or should, share with the living.

“My death set something into motion.” And then, as if he couldn’t – or wasn’t allowed – to say more, Wallach changed direction. “Why did you sleep with Rosary?”

Reagan could only hide his shame behind both hands.

“There is no need to feel disgrace, Reagan. I still understand the drive of the loins, the lure of a beautiful woman, although I was never tempted by one as beautiful as Rosary.” And then, as if he were privy to Reagan’s thoughts, he added, “We enter the afterlife as we exited life. The essence of what I am lacks what made me a man in life. It’s unnecessary to me now, but I still recall what it is like to be a man.”

“You seem to know all. You should know why I slept with her.”

“I know what you told Sarah, but there is more.”

When Wallach didn’t go on, Reagan said, “So now you’re my shrink?”

Wallach chuckled. “No.”

“Is it so important, the why?”

“Not to me.”

“I was angry,” Reagan said.

“Yes, you were angry, because you blamed yourself for Sarah divorcing you.”

“Are you telling me I wasn’t at fault?”

“You gave her reason, but you were not to blame.”

“What’s the difference?”

“She never blamed you. You assumed blame because you couldn’t allow yourself to see her mistake. That she came back to you is proof that she was, in her own eyes, misguided in leaving you.”

Reagan said nothing.

“When you thought she’d abandoned you once again, you made certain to assume blame for that, too, by sleeping with Rosary.”

“I thought it was –”

“Polyphemus,” Wallach said, grinning. “Yes, he was drawn to Rosary, to be sure. But you would not have acted as you did had you not thought Sarah had once again forsaken you.”

“Are you blaming her?”


“Why are we having this conversation?”

“Because you need to understand what was set into motion.”

“I already understand,” Reagan said.

“But what you don’t understand is that Mimi is destined to be a part of the outcome.”

“Does she have to be?”


“What if she gets hurt?”

“That possibility exists.”

“I won’t assume that responsibility.”

“You have no choice.”

“Do any of us ever really have a choice?”

“We always have choices, Reagan, and this is Mimi’s choice. She feels a connection to me through you.”

“But she doesn’t owe me anything.”

“Does she have to? We are all connected. To love is to give without expecting in return. The greatest sacrifice one can make is to forfeit one’s own life for another.”

“Are you telling me that Mimi will die?”

“It is one possible outcome.”

“And how am I supposed to live with that?”

“It will be just one more choice – the choice to honor her sacrifice, her memory. Like a choice to embrace happiness, or to cling to the past.”

“This isn’t about us – you and me – and our past,” Reagan said.

“Oh, but it is, isn’t it? You don’t understand how the choices of others affect you because you grapple with your past, choosing to hold onto it – one defining moment.”

“I am what I am today because of that past.”

“Because you’ve chosen to allow it to define you in the manner it has. You must let me go.”

“What if I can’t?”

“You must, Reagan. You do me no honor, pay no homage, by keeping alive the image of what was done to me.”

“Can you at least tell me if you know how this is going to play out?”

Wallach looked thoughtful, as if he might be communing with some higher authority about what he might be permitted to share about events to come. After a few moments, he nodded and said, “Sarah fears you will leave her again, as you did before.”

Reagan recalled Sarah’s words of a few minutes ago, talking in her sleep: Don’t leave me. “But,” he said, “it was she who left me.”

Wallach shook his head. “You know that is not true.” Then he added, “I can tell you only that the past repeats itself, unless we choose change –”

“Who are you talking to?” Sarah said from the entrance to the living room, and Wallach was gone, as if he’d never been there.


The Unsettling Beauty of a Perfect Chord… “Discussions of life, love, faith and the universe fuel J. Conrad Guest’s intriguing dialog-based novel A World Without Music. Music itself ‘stands half way between thought and phenomenon,’ a fascinating concept that leaves the reader pondering all. But the conversation’s powerful and real, and the tale moves on; locations change, topics flow and grow, and the reader soon feels like a traveler delighting in overhearing strangers who might become friends.

“This novel’s path through music, movies, sci-fi, baseball, politics, faith and romance is endlessly intriguing and deeply involving, even as mystery deepens and danger looms. Allusions to jazz and song lyrics are as natural as the flight of a softball into the air, smoothly delighting the reader whether they’re caught or simply catch the eye. And Reagan, born to lust, love or jazz, has choices to make, and scary consequences to navigate.

“And the music of the common man proves as vital to our world’s symphony as that of heroes and villains throughout all time. A World Without Music reads like a masterpiece of music, culture and life and is highly recommended.” —Sheila Deeth, author of Divide by Zero and Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer
A World Without Music

The Girl Who Loved Cigars

It’s said that those who experience a life-threatening event see their whole life flash before their eyes.

What if a fetus, at the moment they feel their limbs about to be torn asunder in abortion, see their whole unlived life flash before their eyes?

Young Marla is haunted by nightmares of being in the womb, terrified by the prospect of having her whole life—everything she’ll ever have and everything she ever will be—taken from her.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars is my new work in progress. It’s been nearly two years since I finished my last novel and I’ve been itching to start a new one. After kicking around two ideas for several months I finally settled on this one and set pen to paper.

I love new projects, but it’s a love-hate relationship. I love them because… well, they’re new, fresh. The ideas for characters, story, plot twists flow freely. The downside is they’re new, fresh. Ideas abound, which results in a lot of starts and stops, and false starts. It takes me a while to settle in, to become intimately involved with the characters, and settle on a theme.

The Girl Who Loved Cigars promises to be my most challenging write to date. I’ve written several short stories from a woman’s perspective, but never a novel. It’s intimidating, and I fear I won’t be able to pull it off, to write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. I don’t know whether I’m good enough to succeed. But I do know I’m ready to try.


The face, long and white and haggard, nearly hidden by long hair, greasy and un­kempt, loomed above me. I reached for the face. Tiny arms with tiny fingers flexing fell woefully short. I wailed, wanting to be held.

The head shook once from side to side. A hand, large and heavily veined, pushed a smoking white stick between the lips on the face; its tip glowed red as the face breathed in deeply. A sigh accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke.

I wailed and reached.

Words mumbled, barely audible. They meant nothing to me, whose only means of communication was crying.

Hungry: cry.

Soiled: cry.

Hold me: cry.

The words registered no meaning; but the hostility with which they were spoken instilled great fear in me. But fear held as little meaning to me as did words. I only wanted, needed, to be held. To be coddled. To be loved.

The lips on the face parted to reveal yellowed teeth—nearly as yellowed as the hair that hung to either side of the face. The smile was not one of affection or meant to reassure. Cold, calculating eyes stared down at me, helpless and needy…

I wailed: Hold me.

The hand that held the smoking stick dropped. A moment later I felt a searing pain on the bottom of my foot. My wail turned to a scream…
The Girl Who Loved Cigars


  • Dearborn, Michigan, United States