Author Interview: G.J. Swenson

Long and Short Reviews welcomes  G. J. Swenson, whose debut novel Occupant was recently released.   Occupant is the first book of the Compromised Agency trilogy, to be followed by Resident and Uninvited Guest.

In this series, he started with an incident he thought was interesting. He filled it with characters who were everyday people and wanted to develop them in a number of different ways.

“I wanted to show that there can be good and evil in us all. Good people can make bad choices and can be stuck in the decisions they have made,” he explained.  “Said another way, bad people can often be very likable people who have made some bad choices. I thought about what circumstances would motivate them and put them where they were. I wanted to show that people on the same’team’ or side of an issue can have very different motivations than the head of the team or the other teammates. I also wanted to show that ordinary people, when pushed into a corner can change drastically to preserve their lives. That change can be permanent.”

He has started a spin-off using one of the characters from Occupant and Uninvited Guest.  The new book allows that character to finally deal with what happens in the trilogy. He’s also started a book set twenty years in the future, in a very different America.

“How did you come up with the titles to your books?” I wondered.

“I tried to describe, in some clever way the focus of the book.  Occupant was named for the indiscriminate attack on an innocent person who was occupying the home of another.  Resident followed the occupation format, but focused upon the fact that there was a traitor within the residing personnel infrastructure.  Uninvited Guest describes the surprise move that a character makes.”

Gary has always found that he can form his ideas best while writing. As a young romantic, he wrote poetry. He wrote op-ed pieces to argue social viewpoints and wrote a community newsletter to promote unity and share information in a new housing development. He went through college in his late 30s and took a very heavy course-load to speed his completion. Through many semesters he found he was required to complete a term paper a week.

“What I discovered was that the writing not only came easy, but it also relaxed me,” he confessed. “I was in the beginning of the end of my marriage when my (then) father-in-law told me of his paranoid experience at a rental house.  I went home the same night and started to write in ernest.”

Occupant was the most complex book of the trilogy and, in that regard, it was the most difficult.  It required establishing many characters and settings.

“It was a project that helped me get through a divorce and discover a side of myself I did not know. I fought for its life for many years,” he said.  “Writing Resident was very different experience.  The story is of a different timbre. I wanted to continue developing the complexity of the plot and the differing motivations of the characters. But for me Resident was more of a thrill ride with high energy and non-stop action.  I brought some quirky characters into the spotlight for fun. In Uninvited Guest, I was required to do a very different type of research, since it was my first real experience at using multiple unfamiliar settings that I had to make come alive. I really enjoyed the experience.  I want to go to Prague and Moscow to see how I did!”

” What is your work schedule like when you are writing?” I asked.

“I’m at my best in the early morning.  I am usually awake 4-4:30amwithout an alarm and write for an hour before I have to get ready for work. It is when the house and the requirements of the day are still asleep.  Thoughts of my story will saturate my day, and I often find myself writing notes by the side of the road or speaking into the notes app on my iphone. I remember when I first started writing Occupant. The family had one compaq computer.  We were home-schooling our children, and by the time I got home from work my children were at play.  My son had discovered the program, The Oregon Trail, and I would often find him fighting dysentery, a snake bite or having some critical problem with his Conestoga. He reminded me recently how irritated it made him when I would pull rank and take over the keyboard after work.”

“Have you ever eaten a crayon?” I asked.

“I did not eat the crayon, but I managed to get myself into quite a lot of trouble with them.  We had  ceiling lights in our 1950’s  era house.  Like today’s lights, the bulbs were mounted to the ceiling. There was a translucent, yet foggy glass bowl that hung from three brass chains to soften the light from the bulb.  I don’t remember how old I was, but I laid in my bed with my yellow and green box of 64 colors of crayons, carefully chose a few- shades of primary subtractive colors red, blue and yellow, broke them in half and threw them up into the bowl.  I watched the crayons melt and the colors blend into new colors, ending up as near black when the show was over. My artistic moment was rewarded with a spanking and an hour at the sink scraping and cleaning the melted wax.”

Finally, I asked, “What is a talent you wish you had, but don’t?”

“Music.  I would love to be able to play music and harmonies as I can hear them in my head.  I love the violin, but I find my greatest accomplishment in playing has been the nights when an ambulance doesn’t show up at my door to help the person my neighbors believe is in pain.”


About the Author:  7_24 author photoI grew up inside the Washington, DC beltway.   After making twenty stringed instruments I left the life of a luthier for a more traditional career in the production department of The Washington Post. I moved from union production worker to Assistant Plant manager and eventually to Director of Production for one of the Post’s subsidiary daily newspapers. Along the way I was the board president of a professional Symphony Orchestra.  Each step of my career gave me insight into my desire to write and the natural flair I possessed. My father-in-law, a published college English professor, helped me through my first few months of creative writing, providing guidance and direction. I now work to support this love. It took twelve years to find an agent that would present me to the industry. I wrote during this time, but without focus. Within months after I had that introduction, I finished book 2, Resident, which I had started more than a year before. Then, in another half year I had the trilogy finished.  Since the trilogy was finished I have started another two books, but have not yet had the time to really develop them.

7_24 occupantcover1600x2400What if someone else’s past became your future?

Occasionally, information comes into our lives – and changes everything. It can be in the form of a gift or an inescapable dilemma.

Sergei Zorkaltsev was living a charmed life. His doting father was able to make enough money and have the right connections to get him into the St Petersburg Technical University. His dream of becoming an Agricultural Engineer was coming true. That was until the American bullet pierced his father’s heart. He became a man looking for justice. He was given an address. Its occupant was his target. His information was manipulated.

Tom and Michelle Larson were embarking on the journey called retirement. Their life together had been fruitful, their love neglected, their story- rather bland. Unknown to them, they rented a vacation home from a man with a much more exciting past. His past became their future.

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