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Friday, September 12, 2008

Author John Lescroart ~ Interviewed

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.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

My most recent project is a Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky novel entitled “A Plague of Secrets.” It will be published by Dutton in the summer of 2009. After a couple of stand-alone novels, and a large-themed book (Betrayal, 2008) that featured Hardy and Glitsky as critical but ancillary players, I decided to bring these two amigos back in a full-fledged legal thriller environment, where their personal lives were front and center, and integral to the story. This novel’s issue concerns the perhaps slightly retro idea of the ramifications of casual, recreational marijuana use – maybe it’s not so benign after all. In any event, this book returns to my “bread and butter” constituency, and it’s great to have Diz and Abe back again on the page.

Share a bit of your unique writing journey.

My writing journey began when I was in about 7th grade, when my teacher sent one of my assigned school essays, “What Is Democracy?” to the local newspaper, and they published it. From about that time on, though I had no idea how a career or life from it was going to come about, I began to consider myself a writer in my soul. I gravitated toward English in high school and majored in literature at UC Berkeley, all the while simply knowing that this was the stuff I most cared about. I wrote a short novel in college, then another one just after I got out – really just to practice how to do scenes and connect them in a longer work.

But I had no idea how to do anything with this output. I was nothing like many of today’s young writers, who seem to break onto the scene with three different series ideas and two pseudonyms. I just thought writing was cool, but never really thought I’d publish. Instead, I became a musician for ten years, writing and playing songs in America and Europe. At 30, realizing that I wasn’t going to be a rock & roll star, I quit my band and started a “literary” novel, which turned out to be Sunburn, which in 1978 won the San Francisco Foundation’s Joseph Henry Jackson Award for best unpublished novel by a California Author. I thought this would be my start. Silly me.

No publishers or agents wanted Sunburn, but undaunted, I wrote another book, then another. Finally, a friend of mine brought Sunburn to an LA publishing house, and it came out in paperback, with a semi-pornographic cover. Four years, and a couple of manuscripts after that, I gave up and decided to go to graduate school in creative writing, so that at least I could be around books and book people. But, as fate would have it, I got lured away before I could start graduate school by a technical writing job with a Washington, DC, consulting firm. Two years after that, at my wife’s urging (and very depressed over my daytime job), I submitted the book I’d written just after college, 14 years before, to New York. Six weeks later, I had two offers to publish Son of Holmes, and my publisher wanted a sequel, which I signed on for. Since then, I’ve written about a book every year, just finishing #20. Yikes. What a ride!

What has been your biggest writing challenge and how have you overcome it?

The biggest challenge continues to be writing fresh and original scenes. Especially once you’ve written as many words as I have, it’s critical not to repeat ideas or phrases and to keep the material unique. It’s really mostly a mindset, but it’s also important to try to stay aware of your own “ticks” and idiosyncrasies, and not have them appear to sully your work.

How has life prepared you to be a writer? How has it not?

Well, I’ve either been blessed or cursed (depending on your perspective) with an interesting life. That said, I’ve kind of gone out of the way to make it interesting – quitting jobs when I got sick of them, working at all different kinds of endeavors, traveling, experiencing things on purpose that I knew would scare and challenge me. Beyond that, I’ve had some unplanned experiences (a spinal-meningitis induced coma that lasted 11 days, for example) that have changed and motivated me and made me aware of mortality. Luckily, I’ve always liked the act of writing and of synthesizing experience through that lens. So, I think the real answer is that I’ve been blessed with a certain temperament and interest, and then I’ve worked pretty hard to ensure that I could turn that into a life. The decision to take it beyond the “hobby” stage is terrifying and long, but in the end, I don’t think I could have done it any differently.

As to how life has not prepared me to write – well, let’s say the publishing community didn’t exactly embrace me until I’d come quite a ways along. I didn’t start making a living at the printed word until I was 45 years old. I don’t think that too much prepares one for that kind of rejection over the long haul, but I as stupid or stubborn enough to just keep on plugging ahead until everything began to work.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

There are two main things I’d say: 1) Make sure you love writing for itself and that you want to do it as a lifestyle. Becoming a successful writer is a lifelong commitment to book after book after book, with often very slow, incremental movements up the commercial ladder. 2) Don’t try to write for “the market” – write what you love and care about because that’s really the only thing that will both work and give you satisfaction in your life and career.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Cliché’d though it may be, I’d have to give the credit to Ernest Hemingway. When I first came across his work, I became clear to me that this was the way I wanted to live and work – romantic, I know, probably dumb. But he got to the center of things, and wrote so brilliantly about life, in a way that when I was younger was simply inspirational on every level, and introduced me to a way of looking at life that drew me immensely.

Do you still struggle with any aspect of writing or the writing business? What are you doing to conquer it?

As I intimated above, I still struggle with the actual words the most. This is because, say what you will about plot, theme, character, etc., if the words don’t sing, you’re dead. So I work the prose over and over, trying to eliminate the bad stuff, which seems to leak in by osmosis. After that, I also struggle quite a bit with plot. I seem to have a blind spot about how to plot in advance, so that I’m always slightly behind the eight-ball in wondering whether where my story is going to take me, whether it will be interesting enough, or powerful or scary or surprising enough. The way to conquer any and all of these fears/problems, of course – and there is only one way – is to write your way out of it, over and over and over again. As I’ve said many times, writing isn’t for wimps.

Have you discovered any surefire marketing ideas that you'd like to share with us? Or have you encountered any that our readers should avoid?

Sure fire marketing ideas!? If only one knew . . .

Be as good as you can. Work as hard as you can. Don’t make enemies if you can avoid it. Cooperate with your publisher and agent. Get to know individual booksellers. Get as big an advance as you can.

Beyond these, pray for surf. Stuff happens. Be aware of opportunities, and pursue them doggedly.

Parting words...anything you wish I'd asked because you have the perfect answer?

Here’s the reality: writing is an extremely difficult craft and a business that takes talent, luck, skill, patience, ego, suppression of ego, and oh, did I mention luck? It also doesn’t hurt to keep a senses both of humor and of the absurd. If you keep working at it, it can provide the most satisfying life that I can imagine. But there are no shortcuts. Learn grammar, read a lot, increase your vocabulary, read some more, master the craft, work every day. Love what you do. That’s about it.


  1. Thank you, John. Great words of wisdom.

  2. Thanks, Kelly & John. This is filled with wise words. And anyone who thinks writing a book is easy is out of their mind. LOL

  3. Hey, John, thanks for the great candor, wisdom, and humor. My dad first told me about your books years ago, and now I even know how to pronounce your last name (I'll pass it on to Dad).

    It's great to hear your love for writing. What an inspiration!


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