Friday, January 28, 2011

The Novel Road Interview: John Lescroart

Damage
Available Jan.5 2011

The Novel Road is honored to be a part of the launch of a fascinating novel, by one of the most talented fiction writer of ours or any day:
Damage
by John Lescroart

 There authors that just can’t help writing Bestsellers. They rule The New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, USA Today, The New Yorker bestseller lists, some by reputation, others by hard work and sheer force of will.

  Yes, talent is a must for these lions of modern literature. It’s what started their journey as authors, and makes readers yearn for their next work every year, and years again.

  My guest today, is not only a member of this elite group of authors, he is one of the unique among them:
  
   John Lescroart gets BETTER, year after year, at what he does. To make this echelon in the first place, you have to be great to a degree. John works tirelessly to exceed expectations, and does so to constantly dazzle his fans with rich characters and vibrant stories.

  He should also be held as the model for how an author must be part of the business of publishing. His schedule is PACKED with appearances far into 2011, not just 6 weeks of publicity and out like many modern authors. I firmly believe the secret to being a successful author, now more than ever before, is connection with the reader beyond the story. John’s fans are legion because he is a part of the book you buy. He truly loves meeting his readers. John is both honored and humbled by his reader’s and does everything in his power to live up to their trust.

Treasure Hunt  John Lescroart is launching his newest novel “Damage” in two days. Mark your calendar, set your pre-buy or eat lunch on the run January 5th 2011. Because this book is going to fly off the shelves and tax the bandwidths of every bookseller in the country.

“Damage” story line:

         The Curtlees are a powerful force in San Francisco, unscrupulous billionaires who've lined every important pocket in the Bay Area in pursuit of their own ascent. So when the family's heir, Ro Curtlee, was convicted of rape and murder a decade ago, the fallout for those who helped to bring him to justice was swift and uncompromising. The jury foreman was fired from his job and blacklisted in his industry.    

    The lead prosecutor was pushed off the fast track, her dreams of becoming DA dashed. And head homicide detective Abe Glitsky was reassigned to the police department's payroll office. Eventually, all three were able to rebuild their lives.

   And then Ro Curtlee's lawyers won him a retrial, and he was released from jail.

   Within 24 hours, a fire destroys the home of the original trial's star witness, her abused remains discovered in the ruins. When a second fire claims a participant in the case, Abe is convinced: Ro is out for revenge. But with no hard evidence and an on-the-take media eager to vilify anyone who challenges Ro, can Abe stop the violence before he finds himself in its crosshairs? How much more can he sacrifice to put Ro back behind bars?

SunburnCan you say #1?

             "John Lescroart is one of the best
              thriller writers to come
              down the pike."
              Larry King, USA Today

Now a little about my guest…
   
    John Lescroart (pronounced "less-kwah") is a big believer in hard work and single-minded dedication, although he'll acknowledge that a little luck never hurts. Now a New York Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into 16 languages in more than 75 countries, John wrote his first novel in college and the second one a year after he graduated from Cal Berkeley in 1970.

    The only hitch was that he didn't even try to publish either of these books until fourteen years later, when finally, Lisa suggested taking a look at some of the old manuscripts and submitting them—she remembered reading and liking SON OF HOLMES. How about that one? There was one 14-year-old yellowed and brittle copy of the manuscript left in the world—in the basement of their best man, Don Matheson's, apartment.


    John submitted SON OF HOLMES to New York publishers—and got two offers, one in hardcover, within six weeks!

    He finished a novel, SUNBURN, that drew on his experiences in Spain. Since John didn't know anyone in the publishing world, he sent the manuscript to his old high school English teacher, who was not enthusiastic. Fortunately, the teacher left the pages on his bedside table, and his wife picked them up and read them. She loved the book and submitted it in John's name to The Joseph Henry Jackson Award, given yearly by the San Francisco Foundation for Best Novel by a California author. Much to John's astonishment, SUNBURN beat out 280 other entrants, including INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, for the prize.

    Though SUNBURN wasn't to be published for another four years, and then only in paperback, the award changed John's approach to writing. He started to think he might make a living as an author, something he'd never previously believed possible for a "regular guy with no connections." He started paying for his writing habit by working a succession of "day jobs"—everything from a computer programmer with the telephone company, to Ad Director of Guitar Player Magazine, to moving man, house painter, bartender (at the real Little Shamrock bar in San Francisco), legal secretary, fundraising executive, and management consultant writing briefs on coal transportation for the Interstate Commerce Commission.

   John moved to Los Angeles and in the next three years finished three long novels, the last of them featuring a private investigator who shared the name Dismas Hardy (and very little else) with the man who would become John's well-known attorney/hero. 

        Over the next seven years, John and Lisa were finally  ready to start their family. During this time, John wrote several screenplays and published three more books while he held down a job as a word processing supervisor at a downtown law firm. He rose each day at 5:30 and went to a room they'd built in their garage, where he wrote four pages of his latest in two hours. Then he worked his nine-to-five, ate a bag lunch, and stayed downtown, typing briefs and pleadings at various other law firms until 10:00 or 11:00 at night.

    Finally he was publishing, but he wasn't making a living. And then in 1989, at the age of forty-one, he took a break to go body-surfing at Seal Beach. The next day, he lay in a Pasadena hospital. From the contaminated sea water where he'd been surfing, he'd contracted spinal meningitis. Doctors gave him two hours to live.

    John now looks back on his 11-day battle with death as the turning point in his career. He quit the last of his day jobs to move back to Northern California and to write full-time, with intense focus and a renewed dedication. The resulting books, richer in terms of theme and story, found a devoted readership and propelled him into the elite circle of bestselling authors—only twenty years to overnight success!


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I'm pleased to welcome author John Lescroart to The Novel Road...

John Lescroart
Me: Your passion and impeccable work ethic has brought to the height of the writing profession. How do you maintain this high level of productivity and passion?

John: I guess I’ve just realized that the way to keep the work front and center in my life is to treat it like a regular job that I’m just incredibly fortunate to have.  I wasn’t able to make a living writing books until I was nearly forty-five years old, and once I got to that point, I didn’t want to ever let myself forget how badly I wanted this life and this career – it really had been a vocation from my earliest memories.  So I just come into work every day, sit down and begin writing, and more often than not, something good starts to happen and I become involved – frequently, as you say, passionately involved – and keep going until a scene becomes fully realized.  This process is almost always joyful, and spurs me on day to day to keep having fun and telling stories that feel like they matter.


The Second ChairMe: The schedule for your appearances in 2011 shows your relentless effort to expand your already impressive reader base, as well as take care of your fans that number in the 10s of thousands. Give me your views on the importance for an author’s physical presence in the marketplace.
John: I don’t think the value of an author’s physical presence in the marketplace can be over-stated.  Many people write very good books, and thousands of books both good and bad are published each year, so that there is simply no way for anyone to read any reasonable percentage of them.  So, human nature being what it is, people tend to read books by people they’ve heard of, and even moreso books by people they’ve met and like.  There is a huge human element to the book business, as in any other business, and there is just no substitute for “pounding the pavement” and getting to know booksellers and your/their customers.
 
The MotiveMe: Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky are iconic characters, with the “legs” to last for years. What makes a character successful enough to go beyond the story itself into a continuing franchise?
John: This is a great question because its answer is so counter-intuitive and even contradictory.  The implication is that there is a “secret formula” for writing successful franchise characters, whereas the reality is that the exact opposite is true.  There should be no template.  Good characters become memorable because they are unique, not because they somehow fit a mold of other successful characters.  The way to make people come alive on the page is to let them act in their own inimitable fashions.   I never actually tried to come up with an idea of Dismas Hardy or Abe Glitsky.  Rather, I simply put them on the page and had them start doing things – and it turned out that the things they did were interesting and novel, and continue to be.  And just because they were once interesting doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily continue to be – it’s a constant challenge to keep the guys fresh and relevant, and believe me, they let me know it when I start leading them down a path that is redundant or stupid or not very creative.  They still have the power to surprise me and my readers and this, I think, is the absolute key to a living, breathing, fascinating character.  They do stuff, often cool stuff, we don’t expect, and so there’s always a strong desire to see what that stuff might be.  And this keeps readers coming back to find out.

The Hunt ClubMe: How much author editing is too much? Where should an author stop editing before submission?
John: The basic rule is to stop when you’re done.  Of course, this presupposes that you recognize when you’re done.  But this is a very subjective thing.  In my case, I’m very much a believer in the individual scene, and I have a very strong sense – and that is all it is, an artistic feeling – about when a scene is complete, about when its done its job about as well as it ever can.  When there is enough punch and/or humor and/or character or plot development.  There is a perfect arc and an exact, although indefinite, number of words for each scene.  This is something that, as writers, we must learn to recognize on our own.  In many ways, this is the key to successful writing in general.  Recognize when you’re done, and when that moment occurs in each scene, stop.  Do this with every scene, including the last one in the book, at which time your book is done as well.

Me: The Publishing Industry is facing enormous challenges in the not so distant future. A number of smaller Houses have closed, Literary Agencies are taking on fewer, if not more select clients. Paint us a picture of the Publishing Industry five years from now.
John: I don’t know how optimistic I can be about this.  The industry is to a large degree very reactive and very afraid.  I don’t see much risk-taking in terms of the kinds of books publishers are buying.  Royalties, and even hard numbers of sales, are pretty much down across the board, and fewer and fewer young people seem to be buying books, or reading.  All of that said, people have been predicting the death of publishing since Gutenberg.  There is a deep human need for story, and for reading, and this gives one heart and hope.  I think the physical book is under a huge onslaught from e-books from which it may not really ever recover, but the product, the stories, I believe, will continue to find a market and an audience.

The SuspectMe: Talk about life experience. How important it is to an author?
John: Life experience is of course important to any author.  How can you create believable characters and situations if you haven’t had some life experience to put real life in some sort of perspective?  All this seems self-evident.  However, let’s remember that everyone who lives, by definition, has “life experience.”  It’s not necessary to have worked in twenty different jobs to understand what it is like to work.  I’m not a lawyer and I’ve written many books about lawyers, for example, and about trials.  Beginner writers are always urged to “write what you know,” but this leaves out the fact that we can learn to know new things.  What’s needed is creative involvement in the things we already know, and an inquisitive artistic approach to those which we don’t.  Life experience, then, is good, but the experience of creating life on the page is artistic, and is the more essential element of powerful writing.
  
Me: Give me a two sentence “Hook” for your just released novel “Damage”.
John: “Damage” is the book that asks the questions:  “What if the system let the wrong man go free?  What would it take to undo the damage?”

Me: If John Lescroart ever writes a Non-Fiction book, what would the subject be?
John: I believe I would like to write a John McPhee type treatment of a specific type of food.  Salt has already been taken, as have several other items, but there always seems to be something fascinating going on in the food world – preserving fish, for example, comes to mind.  Or pre-historic winemaking.
 
BetrayalMe: Social Media. Talk about its importance to the modern author’s success.
John: I’m not really sure.  I have a web page and a Facebook page and I try to keep active on both.  So I’ve got a community of the book-buying public with whom I stay in contact, and I’m sure many of these people go out and get my books as soon as they come on sale.  But it’s hard to get a firm handle on how the numbers of these people compare with those people who wander into bookstores, see the latest book, and pick it up more or less on impulse.  I basically think that social media plays a role, and definitely contributes to that ever-elusive “word of mouth” that is so important to book sales, but that much of a writer’s long-term success is really a function of visibility in bookstores and reviews in national publications.

Me: This question, courtesy of Jeff Hall: “I'm a shortstory-ist. Writing a novel is like a crazy long marathon, only harder. How do you maintain a clear sense of that first passion that inspired you, throughout a 200 thousand word journey?”
John: Well, Jeff, again it comes down to scenes.  Anyone who sits down to write a whole novel has got to be intimidated by the sheer massive size of the undertaking.  On the other hand, almost anyone who wants to be a writer can sit down and whip out a page or two in a day.  The trick is to only – or mostly – be thinking about the rather limited one- to five-page scene that you’re in the middle of.  It’s very much a one step at a time endeavor.  You write one page, then another, then that scene is done, so you start another one.  You don’t ever “look up,” as it were, to see if you’re getting out of the forest; you’re just clearing one tree at a time, with the belief that the forest will end someday; and then one day you cut one more tree and you see the clearing and run for it.  I like to remind writers that if they put down one page a day, they’ve got a book in one year. And if you can’t put down one page a day, maybe you’re not a writer.

A Plague of SecretsMe: You show a tremendous connection to your subject matter, as evidenced by your crisp dialogue and characters.  Talk about your research.
John: Research is essential.  I don’t know much about most things I choose to write about.  I find I get interested in a topic as a story idea – say, mercy killing, or non-profit charitable malfeasance, or HMOs – and typically I know zip about the details of these things, of where they fit into society, or how they function.  So I start talking to people within these fields.  I just call them up and ask them questions, and you’d be amazed at how many people love talking about what they do.  Once I get a little familiar with the general stuff about any topic, then next I usually find that I can start asking more interesting questions, until at long last, usually after a month or two, I find I’ve reached a critical mass in terms of knowledge, in terms of the jargon of the topic, to the point where I’m comfortable starting to write scenes within this universe.  As I go along, if the scenes stop “singing,” I often go back to the source and ask new, and more complex, questions, until at least I feel almost as though I’m the expert at whatever it may be.  At this point, my characters and my dialogue sound like the “real” people who exist in these jobs or situations.

Me: How much of a gamble is it to create a new character? Do you get “first novel” release nerves when you unveil a new character?
John: I feel as though I create new characters almost every day.  In my twenty-three books, I believe I may have created well over a thousand characters, from small bit-players to fully-realized major protagonists or villains.  Characters just show up and populate scenes because that’s what  a scene is, the interaction of characters.  So no, I don’t get “first novel” nerves – I just try to keep people having fun and doing interesting things on the pages, and hope my readers enjoy them, too.

 
The First LawThe OathSon of Holmes