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From One Joseph to Another
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Portrait by Bill Koeb

It’s no secret, you were my dad’s favorite writer; after all, he named his first and only son after you. After he passed away, as I was going through his library, I came across the copy of A Conrad Argosy I never knew he had. It was inscribed to him by a young marine with whom he went through boot camp on Parris Island in 1942—a Christmas gift that year. 

My dad tried, several times when I was a young, to get me to read some of your work. My preference at that time was for science fiction, and I guess he feared I wouldn’t acquire a taste for the classics. Sadly, it wasn’t until after Dad passed away that I read Victory. But then I was in my 40s. I’ve since read some of your short fiction, a biography, and intend to read several more of your novels. 

What surprises me most about you is that you were born in Poland, as a teen moved to France where you learned to speak French, and eventually made your way to England where you learned English, and that it was English in which you chose to write when you began your literary career. 

I started my first novel when I was 39 and I was indecisive over what name under which to write. I certainly didn’t wish to be compared to one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, so Joseph Conrad was out of the question. I briefly considered Joseph Guest but found it lacking. I feared Joseph Conrad Guest would elicit still more comparisons to you, and J. C. Guest sounded more like a sports figure, with the J.C. bringing to mind yet another historical figure to whom I didn’t wish to be compared—I’m less than perfect and often find my home is without a bottle of wine. 

When I presented the second draft of January’s Paradigm to my dad and he saw the name on the title page, I could tell he was pleased. A few days later, after reading the draft, he was proud. This after asking me, when the project was but half complete and I began to believe it was a project I would complete, what I was doing wasting my time on such a thing. I was unemployed at the time—changing careers as well as jobs—and I guess he felt I should be devoting all of my time to my job search. 

I’ve since been writing as J. Conrad Guest, and I like to think that, wherever my dad is, he’s pleased with my body of work, even if I haven’t yet written my Heart of Darkness. My work may not be discussed in creative writing classes 100 years from now, but I’ve held true to my ideals: I write what I’m moved to write and in the manner in which I’m moved to write, and hope that my audience finds me. 

I guess you wouldn’t expect anything less from another Joseph Conrad.