Community Blog

Novel Excerpt: The Girl Who Loved Cigars

Excerpt from Marla's journal:

I’m feeling buzzed. No, I’m drunk. For the first time in my life I’m drunk.

My life has always felt as if it were a dream, a fantasy, unreal. Like I’m a ghost. Learning that my birth mother was a druggie and a prostitute makes it feel… I don’t know… more not real—no, more unreal. Maybe I’ve already lived before and this is Hell. My life feels like hell. A drunken eternity in Hell.

The record showed there was evidence of abuse. And now Hondo (the private investigator not John Wayne) knows. I could tell by the way he looked at me he thought I was pretty. I could see it in his eyes—windows to the soul.

Hondo, from the movie: “Her hair was black as ten feet down. Did you ever see a crow’s wing, how black and gleaming it is? That’s the way her hair shined.”

That’s romantic. I think I’m in love with John Wayne. Sorry, PI Hondo, you’re no John Wayne. But being in love is not the same as loving someone. Mom’s wisdom.

They felt it important to note the cigarette burns on the bottom of my foot. Why was that important to put in their journal—no, this is my journal, that was their record. And why is it important for me to write down here?

Because I’m drunk. (Giggles) How do I write slurred words?

She considered aborting me, my birth mother did. What if she’d gone threw with it? No, what if she’s going through with it, now, at this very moment? What if she’s lying on some bed in some clinic and while my life is being ended, while she’s having me murdered, I’m seeing my whole unlived life flash before my eyes?

Wow, that’s deep. Maybe there’s wisdom in Jack Daniels. No friend of mine, Jack isn’t. Wait, that’s Jose Cuervo. I’ve never drank—drunk? (boy am I ever) tequila. Will it be my friend? Doesn’t tequila have a worm in the bottle? Ew!

Robert said he thought wisdom meant having all the answers. I have no answers. Does that mean I’m not wise? I’m unwise. There’s truth in that. The truth will set you free. That’s what they say. Who are they? Who do they think they are?

Dad: "Thinking wisdom means having all the answers isn’t wisdom, it’s youth." Or something like that.

I still love you, Robert. Why won’t you call? Why won’t I call you? Because I’m a coward. Love isn’t for cowards. Love is for… what’s the opposite of a coward? Risk takers? Heroes? I’m neither of those. I don’t want to be either of those.

I just want to be loved, for who I am and not because I’m pretty (I don’t think I am even if my mother tells me I am, not because I have a great body (I don’t, but I must because men stare at me and I know what they’re thinking, what they’d like to do to my body parts). Robert told me I was beautiful. He liked my legs, because they were attached to me, he said, and that was okay; but when James told me I had a great body, it wasn’t okay. Why did that make me feel like a piece of meat?

What will Mom think if she ever reads this?

My birth mother didn’t love me. She gave me up. Now there's an answer. Or is she, at this moment, getting rid of me? Poof, evidence gone. Like I never lived. How’s it feel, Marla, to be “evidence” to be gotten rid of? Evidence, like in one of Hondo’s cheating spouse cases. John Wayne Hondo, not PI Hondo. PI Hondo, not John Wayne Hondo. Why can’t I keep my Hondos straight?

Robert didn't want me. He gave me up, too. Another answer: I'm unlovable.

Wow, 21 years old and all I have are two answers to my life’s questions. That all I’ll take with me when I die, the two whole lessons I’ve learned?

My life… it isn’t real.

Oh, I’m not thinking straight. Can I thunk straight when I’m drunk? I don’t think straight when I’m not. Drunk.

Shit (giggles). I think I’m going to be sick. What will I think in 20 years when I read this and see “shit?” Shit, will I remember how drunk I was? Am? Will I find it funny and laugh, or get sick again?

Dad told me to slow down. He tried to cut me off after my second glass. But I didn’t listen.

Sorry, Dad. You lost your drinking buddy. I don’t ever want another drink. Not ever again.

Sorry, Mom, if you ever read this when I’m gone.

This feels like a dream. Will I remember having this conversation tomorrow, when I’m sober?

Silly. Of course I will—I’ve written it all down!

The better question is will I remember having this conversation?

Shit, I’m going to be…


(Later, after throwing up)—Some day in April in the year, I don’t know, maybe 1978? Ohhh shit, I think I’m going to throw up again…

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.