A member of ITW: International Thriller Writers group, Justin Bog lives in the Pacific Northwest with his two long coat German shepherds, Zippy and Kipling. He is the author of the Suspense Magazine Award-winning collection, Sandcastle and Other Stories: The Complete Edition, and Hark: A Christmas Collection.
We’ll do the interview first then have a look at his release
Toni: Sum up your release in 20 words.
Justin: Wake Me Up is a trip through the brain of an injured teenage boy whose supercharged perceptions expose secret sins.
Toni: Please tell me about your release.
Justin: Wake Me Up is a novel with a theme heavy with social injustice. I wanted to write a book about a family facing the hardest moment in their lives, a family with secrets they hide. I call it a literary crime novel and it has been compared to The Lovely Bones, a book I loved. The narrator lies in a coma, mentally reliving the events leading up to a brutal assault that placed him in the coma. He sees everyone around him, their actions, petty and otherwise, as they face the fallout from the crime visited upon him and his community, in the larger sense.
Toni: What inspired you to write this book?
Justin: I began writing a story about a father in a chaotic desperate situation. I wanted to answer the question: What would make a friendly, attractive, successful lawyer, husband, and father go off the rails? This man materialized, hurt and searching for a way out, in his home office. Then his wife appeared, someone indifferent and cynical about her husband’s intentions. Loyalty was broken somehow, and the other woman in the triangle popped into being—Deepika, a visitor to the town, began an affair with the husband. When the book begins it’s six months after the affair ended and the teenage son is only piecing everything together at this point. He makes a decision that will change his life.
Toni: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Justin: I read a few books on hate crimes, read all about statistics for Montana, where the book is set in a fictional college town. The story takes place in 2004, an elections year, and fear of gay people was being used as a political tool to win votes. Not unlike this year’s election—fear-based politicking. I read a book on how men handle clinical depression much differently than women, usually trying to contain the depression as long as possible without anyone finding out because of shame—a safety net, or group of caring friends, not being an option men turn to for help: I Don’t Want to Talk About It is the book and I highly recommend it. I also researched an illness that is beginning to take hold in the mother, along with different geographical research about India and the Hindu religion.
Toni: Did you base any of your characters on real people?
Justin: Yes, but all but one is only the use of a name. I would ask first if I could use any name. These friends said yes. The real person’s biography that I used in the novel is probably the most unbelievable in terms of being too far out—I didn’t have to change much, but I’ll rarely reveal who that character is. To me all the characters in the book must be natural, relatable, interesting, and this doesn’t mean they have to be likeable either. If characters are interesting, villains, for example, they don’t have to be likeable, but they better be honest and fit into the story in a realistic manner. I believe all people have frailties, weaknesses, and strengths, and fictional characters must have these traits as well. When readers say they didn’t like any of the characters in a book or movie, I want to go further and ask, but did they make you feel, think, shock, or love? If a character makes a reader feel something, that’s not necessarily a weakness.
Toni: Which of your characters is your favourite? Do you dislike any of them?
Justin: I love Deepika the most. She’s the strongest character, and I felt a connection to her. I wanted her to be involved in the family, but not overpowering. She’s definitely a catalyst for the action that the book hinges on. I don’t dislike any of the characters, and there are dozens and dozens who pop up in the narrative. There are many who think differently than I do about everything, politics, life, family, justice, love, but I hoped to humanize each and every single one.
Toni: What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?
Justin: The hardest part was writing the brutal assault scene that begins the novel on page one, and this scene reverberates throughout the book, like ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown in. It had to be harsh, realistic, natural, and the four classmates who beat the narrator with a baseball bat had to appear scary, misguided, horribly dense—what happens is tragic, and I also wanted it known that they couldn’t stop if they’d wanted to because afterwards they all run away like scared children only a second after the possibly fatal blow is made.
Toni: Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?
Justin: Not at all. I began the story with the father in his office, which ended up being Chapter 2/Apathy, with each chapter given a name instead of a number. Then I went back and created what I call a Greek Chorus, a cast of characters, some with small parts and others with larger roles, who comment on the narrative, the crime, in their own way. I revisit these characters again in another chapter towards the end of the book, and most of them appear throughout interacting with the main characters, making the narrative colorful.
Toni: How about you? Where is home for you?
Justin: I call Anacortes, Washington home. This is the main town on Fidalgo Island, part of the San Juan Islands 90 minutes north of Seattle. Anacortes gets 1/3 less rainfall than Seattle and has a mild, temperate climate. It gets down to freezing, but it hasn’t snowed much in the past two years. We get a lot of wind storms though!
Toni: When did you first start to consider yourself as a writer?
Justin: I began writing short skits in the seventies when I was a child given permission to use an old typewriter. I’d mimic Saturday Night Live bits. Write stories about people living on the moon or different planets. Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Peter Straub became influences way back then along with Shirley Jackson’s dark tales. Did I consider myself a writer back then? Possibly, in dreams. As an adult I have only considered myself a writer after I heard from my first reader upon publication of my first book. Wow. What a thrill! Love the feedback from readers. Each opinion is worthy.
Toni: Why is this story so important to you? How much of yourself is in your book?
Justin: Wake Me Up is important to me because I placed all my energy into the story. I wrote each morning bits and pieces and somehow kept the long narrative together with the strange viewpoint of a comatose patient telling the tale from his phantom-like state. With dozens and dozens of editing drafts, the novel became stronger over the years, and I took my time whittling away weaker scenes, adding a few and building up the action in as subtle a way as possible. It’s a long novel of almost 140,000 words, but a quick read.
Toni: Do you have an up and coming project for us to look forward to?
Justin: I am more than halfway through my next book, which is a collection of four novellas. I’ve finished writing two of the four, and I’ve begun the last two tales. A few of them enter the supernatural horror genre full tilt, while the rest are psychological terror and suspense stories. A stalker begins to haunt a young college teacher because he doesn’t know how to treat the women he dates well. A married military wife and mother takes a favourite hike in the Cascade Mountains near her home and takes a detour off the trail. She comes into contact with a “being” that will change the way she thinks . . . and not for the better. The ghost of the nearly departed begins to stir trouble with a man who wants the grieving widow for himself. This is a complex tale and is the story I’m working on currently. In the final novella, someone seeks revenge on those who would mistreat the neighbourhood pets. Revenge is a theme throughout! The tentative title is Horrorstruck: Four Dark Novellas!
Toni: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Justin: Risk it. Publish. Life is too short. If you like what you write, odds are someone else will as well. Just keep writing.
Toni: What’s your all-time favourite book?
Justin: The Count of Monte Cristo
Toni :Any other remarks?
Justin: I thank you for the wonderful interview. I loved the questions. They made me think about the work and I tried to share my process. Best to you and your readers!
So let’s just get straight to the book now:
A FATHER IS HAUNTED BY HIS PAST — HIS WIFE LIVES HER LIFE IN A RIGID SHELL — THEIR SON, UNTETHERED, DISCOVERS THE SECRET THEY SHARE WITH DEEPIKA, A VISITOR TO THEIR TOWN.
“I see all of these people. They’re living and breathing and acting on their basest impulses. I lay in a coma. They live. I hover over all of them, all at once. I can see my body, motionless, wired up, adrift. And I can find out why this happened. This is my story and I won’t remember any of it when—if—I wake up. But I’ll try to remember—I’ll try damn hard.”
MIDDLETON, MONTANA—OCTOBER 2004—AN ELECTION YEAR
A small college town’s populace is tied, complicitly, to the brutal attack of a teenage boy by four of his classmates. Soon, heated rumors of a possible hate crime surface. Injustice is a hungry beast.
While Chris Bullet remains unresponsive in a coma, his skull shattered, he floats above
dire circumstance. In this phantom state, compelled to witness his past once more, the family’s darkest secrets, hidden over generations, will be aired.
If you like the sound of Wake Me Up you can find it here:
On Amazon: http://amzn.to/1SwsfUv
On B&N: http://bit.ly/1PE9fkf
On Goodreads: http://bit.ly/20KuQLi
Or Find Justin on his website:
A final note – I apologize, I usually like to do my silly comic strips for author interviews, however timing here has fallen wrong, so you don’t get to see Justin in doodle form – don’t worry though, I haven’t scraped the idea!
If you’re a writer looking for an interview like this I’m always happy to host, just message me through the contacts page, and to all the readers out there thanks for supporting indie authors like us!