Friday, July 27, 2012

How people relate to each other: An interview with anthology writer Justin Bog

Today I'm talking with Justin Bog about his collection of literary psychological short stories, Sandcastle and Other Stories.

1) Tell us about your collection.

First of all, thank you very much for letting me sit down for this cool Q&A. Nice digs. To answer your first question, Sandcastle and Other Stories, began as noodlings, tiny little flash fiction tales, and lengthened with character, the inner workings of each person on the page, scene settings, and motivation, and the actions the characters decided to take. When they were ready I published them on my A Writer's Life blog ( over the past year and a half. There are other stories and unused novel sections there today, but these ten tales formed a tight collection of literary, psychological, and suspense stories. The collection has since found the interest of a Washington State publisher, Green Darner Press, and the print version, as well as the other eBook formats beyond Amazon's, will be available in November. I am thrilled to know the writing life dream continues. One review came in recently, and what was so fantastic was that the reviewer related to me how she gave the book to the head of the English Department, a colleague of hers at the nearby University in Fairbanks, Alaska, and he is going to use the book as part of a lecture series on books that are helping to dispel the stigma surrounding self-publishing. 

2) What inspired this collection?

People inspired Sandcastle and Other Stories. How people relate to one another. What happens when someone doesn't tell anyone he or she has a secret that drives any reaction? I tried to capture those moments in short form. Each tale begins with an impulse, a setting, a scene, almost in the middle of the action, and then the characters reveal something, and lead the reader down a path. My mind tends to run to dark places, and my characters sometimes visit these places as well.

3) Are there particular themes that unify the collection?

That's a good question, since I didn't write them as a whole, as linked tales. Afterwards it's a bit easier to say that there are themes of inner strife and dark psychology running throughout the tales. How people overcome hardship, or fall backwards into an unknown future. These are family dramas with no easy answers given, as in real life. People always want closure, but often, even in fiction, that is not a reachable or natural state since time keeps marching on, and after closure, there is what can be a beginning.

4) Do you experiment with style between the stories?

I tried to get into the minds of a varied group of characters. In the first tale, The Virtue of Minding Your Own Business, I chose the first person point of view, that of an elderly gardener dealing with a huge part of his past, as if a chunk has been stolen from him, and he can never find it again. For the second story, Sandcastle, the action and characters called out for a more journalistic third person point of view. This reporting adds to what has been called the most shocking of the ten tales, a story some have even said crosses an ethical line. Mothers of Twins, the third story, pops right back into the point of view of a new mother of twin boys. It was a challenge, since I'm a guy, to make her story as natural and believable as possible. I have no problem with men writing as women, or women writing as men, children, teens, as long as it's honest and the story places me in that world. The 4th story, When the Ship Sinks, goes 90 degrees in a different direction right into the mind of a divorced man who cannot have children told to get out of the office, the stress of being newly single is ruining the work atmosphere, and he decides to go on a singles' cruise, where he witnesses a bizarre set of circumstances. I then went back to the third person point of view for the only fantastical tale, really more in the realm of magical realism, Poseidon Eyes. Here the reader is looking over the shoulder of a young girl who catches the fancy of an ancient god, and he begins to toy with her. Cats In Trees continues the third person point of view, and this is the shortest of the stories, but a lot of secrets are told, how each member of this family relates to one another. The 7th tale, Typecast, is told in the first person point of view and in the head of a typecast television and B-movie film actor. He is fairly balanced, but what is revealed is how unhinged most of the others are who surround him, how they make assumptions about him based on his appearance. Under the Third Story Window and On the Back Staircase are written in the third person point of view and are also two of the more harrowing of tales. These two stories have a nice raw quality to the settings, and the action stems naturally from the scene. The last story, Train Crash, I ended once again with the first person point of view, and back in the head of a down-on-his-luck gentleman, maybe not as old as the gardener from the first tale, but just as wounded. He sees everyone around him as someone who is about to witness a train crash or worse.

5) Do you have a favorite among the collection?

I am fond of every single story in this book, but I do have my own favorites. I loveSandcastle because it really works. The ending is earned naturally, and every word from the beginning to the end is important. Poseidon Eyes began as a fanciful tale about a young woman who was trying to cash a check at a bank, and how she wasn't seeing the people around her as anything near human, and the idea came into being when she accepted this as the status quo. I loved her inner strength, and how she changed during the story's timeline. 

6) What advantages do you feel the short form provides over longer form works?

I don't really think of one form having an advantage over the other because of length. There are classic short stories and classic novels. I love reading them all. The kindle has been a great invention and is bringing back short fiction or "singles" to a much wider audience. Very few people bought short fiction collections in traditional bookstores. The novel is king there. But for eFiction, a group of stories can find more people. Stories are easier to read for those with shorter attention spans. I love reading both novels and short stories.

7) Are there any authors who have influenced you?

Yes, Alexandre Dumas wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo, which I could read again and still marvel at how great it is. I love Shirley Jackson's short stories and novels. Rachel Ingalls is an undiscovered writer in our country who writes dark tales of wonder. I also loved the writing of John Irving, Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, and Stephen King. I like economic prose that gets to the point, or uncovers something dreadful and makes me think.

8) Can you tell us about any of your other work?

I finished a longer novella titled The Conversationalist for an upcoming anthology of suspense stories called Encounters, which will be an original eBook. Each of the stories accepted had to deal with a stalker. Fun to write. It would've fit well as a final story in Sandcastle and Other Stories. At the end of Sandcastle I included the first chapter of my novel, a psychological family drama, Wake Me Up, and this book is ready to go. I also will finish editing the first draft of a new psychological horror/contagion novel, The Shut-Ins, for next year. I'm halfway done with that process. I'm in the middle of a longer suspense story about a tennis coach down on his luck who invites something bad to oversee his team, called The Volunteer. After that I have ideas for two more stories. They're getting darker as I hit the keyboard more each day.


If you'd like to see more from Justin, please check out his blog,


Eden Baylee said...

Justin, I agree the theme of your book has to be the dark psychological twists and turns that happen.

Happy endings are not always the case in real life and your stories reflect humanity in its splendour, ugliness, and everything in between.

Great seeing you here ;)


JustinBog said...

I like observing and listening to people, friends, complete strangers, and seeing the choices made. Many times I make my characters take the other path, the one hidden away, and this is usually an epiphany moment in the writing process. Thank you Eden for seeing that.

mohadoha said...

I started reading this book last night and the melancholy, real voice reminded me of Alice Munroe. The stories are on balance "sad" or what I would have strayed away from in my usual life but now as a writer, I see the dramatic value.

Best part of this book may well be the preview you get of the novel! What a great opener to share and hook your readers... well played, Justin, great piece of marketing.

JustinBog said...

I cherish your comment, mohadoha, since I believe your own writing and stories tap into humanity, the depths of chaotic despair and the heights of misunderstandings between characters -- and the good within shines. I love what I have read of your short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories. Thank you for stopping by.

moonduster said...

Justin, if I were judging from the stories in your collection, I would say that you are very accomplished at observing people around you. Really enjoying your book. :)

JustinBog said...

Thank you moonduster for stopping by and for reading Sandcastle and Other Stories. Observation with little interaction is how I try to go about learning from others around me, but I'd get the chills from meeting some of my characters . . . you can keep Brenda away from me LOL