It is a great honour to get the chance to interview Justin, who is based out of the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. I was just recently afforded the opportunity to beta-read his newly released novella ‘The Conversationalist’ and am a big fan of his dark psychological thrillers. He currently has a short story collection in print titled ‘Sandcastle and Other Stories’ and his debut novel, ‘Wake Me Up’, will be published by Green Darner Press in 2014. Aside from writing fiction, Justin is also the Senior Contributor and Editor at ‘In Classic Style’, and he also maintains a blog over at JustinBog.com.
And so, here he is.
The perceptive, pensive, and e’er poignant Justin Bog.
What first made you want to become a writer?
“As a child, this want remained undefined until I found a typewriter in the attic. After that, I never stopped writing, but I didn’t share my work with others very much. Once I learned how to read, early in the first grade, I always had my nose in a book—this was much preferable to math studies, even though I enjoyed the puzzling world of mathematics as well. Because I loved books so much, I dreamed of working in bookstores. I never dreamed of owning one, just had my heart set on being in the fiction department of a cozy bookstore like the basement bookstore in my hometown. That dream did come true; I worked in one large bookstore throughout college and then for three terrific independent bookstores over the next twenty years before moving to the Pacific Northwest to concentrate solely on my writing. I applied to MFA programs two years after graduating from the University of Michigan, where I had taken three years of creative writing courses. I was accepted into two programs and chose Bowling Green State University because it has a small, almost boutique, program. There is also a Visiting Writer year and Dan O’Brien, author of ‘Eminent Domain‘ and ‘Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch‘, took over the writing workshop one term. Even though I moved away from Harbor Springs, Michigan in 1993, and ‘Between the Covers Bookstore’ has changed ownership, I will be doing a reading and signing for the new proprietor on July 10th. I can’t wait to go back to northern Michigan.”
‘The Conversationalist’ being your second publication, did you feel any of the ‘2nd book’ stigma that writers often complain hangs over them after their first literary foray?
“Not at all. ‘The Conversationalist‘, a novella, would’ve fit well as the final piece after ‘Train Crash’ in ‘Sandcastle and Other Stories’, since it also has a character who seems obsessed by trains and how destructive they can be. I’ve been ready to publish my first novel since 2011, but decided to postpone that until after I introduced my work through a short story collection. I’m very happy with the choice I made. People seem to like my dark off-center tales, and I hope they enjoy meeting my new characters in ‘The Conversationalist‘. This one has a more direct plot, and a main character who is just sketchy enough to make me want to write about.”
How important do you believe observation of people to be when writing a story focused on interpersonal relationships? How much do you borrow from real life?
“Observation is paramount in most of the stories I tell. Someone even called them observational tales. I try to reveal character through observation—get into the psychology of what motivates certain broken types, or even the person we all walk by in everyday life without a second glance (or even a first). Everything comes from real life, but that’s just a jumping off point. I don’t write about friends, family, or acquaintances. ‘On the Back Staircase’ (is) the most autobiographical (short story I’ve written) because it is set in my childhood home and has a similar family of seven people, including two sets of twins, (but it) is not about my siblings or parents. I just talked about this with my twin brother. It’s not us, I said, and I stand by that. There are touchstones in the tale taken from my past, but the characters are fictional. All the characters in my writing are usually created out of thin air.”
Do you believe digital media (e-books) have changed the execution, demand, and ultimately the public reception of short stories and novellas?
“EBooks have changed everything about publishing, and maybe make shorter work, short stories, ‘singles’ and novellas readily available to readers in larger numbers. Short story collections, in general, did not sell well when I worked in bookstores. I read them, and believe other writers are the ones who read short fiction. eBooks are beginning to change this, make shorter work appealing because people can read them on their iPhones when waiting in any office, or in line at the Post Office—I do this, and love it. I hope to discover many more authors’ work this way. I love reading eBooks and print paperbacks in even measure. There’s nothing like the feel of turning real pages, and that’s why I am not bemoaning the loss of “real” books just yet. I’ll always buy them.”
If you could have a conversation with anyone, real or fictional, from throughout the span of human history, who would it be (bearing in mind that you have to murder them upon the conversation’s completion to ensure the preservation of the existential continuum)?
“A macabre question to finish this interview off is perfect. But first I want to thank you Ryan for allowing me to share my writing thoughts here on your blog—kind of you.
“I have to choose someone to speak with, and in doing so, execute this person . . . sad for him, and I will choose someone fictional since then the murder aspect isn’t criminalized… I would love to have dinner (adding a meal in since it’s this character’s last supper) with The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès. His story, told to perfection in what is my favorite classic novel of all time, the very first suspense novel written, is so complex, I know there are many other stories he could tell, and the more he reveals over this really long dinner will help prolong the grim reaper’s appearance. I should’ve chosen Scheherazade. :)”
Justin Bog’s new eBook ‘The Conversationalist‘ is available for purchase from Amazon.com here. His collection of short stories, ‘Sandcastle and Other Stories‘ are available in both paperback and eBook form. His debut novel, ‘Wake Me Up‘ will be out in 2014, and you can follow his blog, JustinBog.com, for further updates and information on the up-and-coming projects of this very talented author. Thanks again Justin for making the time to speak with us. 🙂