Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Interview: NYT bestselling author John Lescroart

By Mark Young
It has been more than two years since New York Times bestselling author John Lescroart visited us here on Hook’em & Book’em. There has been a least one major change in his writing career since that time which we will cover in the Q&A section below. It has been too long. Join me as we find out what has been happening in John’s literary world since we last visited.

After his release of The Hunter last year, I intended to try to corner him with questions about that novel but I fell into my own writing cave, emerging months later to realize I never followed up on this opportunity. One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions was to make sure I did not miss another chance to visit with this gifted author. I wanted to interview John before his next novel, The Ophelia Cut, comes out this May. Between the two novels, I felt I might be able to kill two birds with…oh, enough of the clich├ęs.

In The Hunter, the subject of adoption is an intricate part of the story. This subject matter is close to my heart, and this novelist quickly drew me into the story after I learned the main character found out his adoptive mother may have been killed. Not that John needed this heart tug to get me to read another of his great novels. After discovering this author a few years ago, I’d follow his writings anywhere.

John Lescroart has crafted a community of crime-investigating individuals –characters that stay with you long after the novel ends—who live and work in the San Francisco bay area. In this novel, The Hunter, San Francisco private investigator Wyatt Hunt must dig into his own past after receiving a disturbing text message: “How did your mother die?” Hunt learns his mother might have been murdered, and he begins down a path into his past that he never knew existed. What he finds out will shock him and the reader. Do not assume you know where this story might be headed. You would be wrong!

MARK: Thanks for joining us again, John. Let’s start off with The Hunter. Tell us a little about the plot and the main character, Wyatt Hunter.

JOHN: Well, you’ve done a great job of that already. Wyatt Hunt is a San Francisco private investigator whose fictional debut was in The Hunt Club. Wyatt was an adopted child, raised by loving foster parents, and hadn’t really given too much thought to his birth parents. Then one day he gets a mysterious text that asks: how did your mother die? And once he opens that can of worms, he cannot rest until he finds the answer, and that answer is as traumatic as it is unexpected.

MARK: The topic of adoption is a central theme in this story. Just this subject alone would grab my attention for personal reasons. How did you come to choose this as an intricate part of Hunt’s character history?

JOHN: When I’m creating my characters, I try to give them what I think are interesting backgrounds, even if I’m not sure of all the details. In Wyatt’s case, I thought it was inherently provocative that he came from a foster background, even though in my first two Wyatt Hunt books, I didn’t go into much detail about this other than the bare fact of it. Then, as I started thinking about the book that would become The Hunter, this background moved to center stage, and I knew I would have to explore it to get to the core of Hunt’s character. It was an exciting and powerful opportunity, and I couldn’t pass it up.

MARK: Without giving the story away, there is one well-known cult you use in the novel to build upon the plot. Is the missing funds from the cult something you came across in research or is this a part of your creative fiction?

JOHN: Actually, both the well-known cult and all of the facts that I attribute to it, including all of the financial details are, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely true. I always like to ground my stories in reality, and this aspect of The Hunter turned out to be one of the most resonant that I’ve used in any of my stories.

MARK: The Hunter sales seem to be doing quite well in the market place. I noticed on your blog that this novel rose from #10 to #4 on the New York Times Paperback Mass-Market Fiction list. Congratulations! And I took a peek on Amazon regarding your upcoming novel, The Ophelia Cut, a Dismas Hardy novel, to be released May 7, 2013. The ranking on Amazon is rising fast even before your release. Your readership really seems to be snowballing. Besides writing outstanding novels, what other ways have you been able to connect with readers?

JOHN: I try not only to write books that are timely and fun to read, I also keep in touch with my readers in a variety of ways. I speak at writing events quite regularly. I also have a webpage that I update all the time. Beyond that, I’m on Facebook and Twitter and I have a blog page. So all in all, I try to keep in close contact with my readers, and to respond to requests about the writing process, or individual books. Also, I invite emails from my readers. If you write me on my web page, I try to respond every time. That’s a great source of connection and fun.

MARK: I noticed that you’ve switched publishers this last year, leaving Penguin’s imprint, Dutton after many years and joining Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Can you give us a little inside information about these changes? How are you managing this major shift in your publishing career?

JOHN: I think that sometimes it just gets to be time for a change. Dutton was a wonderful publisher for twelve of my books, with every one a NY Times bestseller. My editors there, Mitch Hoffman and later Ben Sevier, are both great guys with whom I’m still on excellent terms. My publishers, Carole Baron and Brian Tart, are likewise terrific people. But I think there just got to be a kind of expectation of where I fit into the sales projections, and then this tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The sales force of any one company can only go out so many times saying, “This is so-and-so’s best book. You’ve got to stock it in big numbers.” And unfortunately, if they don’t do that, the book doesn’t “happen.” So, after The Hunter spent only one week on the NT Times list, I decided it was time to get involved with a company whose enthusiasm for my work, and belief in its commercial prospects, was a little greater. And Atria has been nothing if not wildly enthusiastic and gung-ho. I’m very excited to be bringing The Ophelia Cut out with them.

MARK: Looking toward the near future, your main character, Dismas Hardy, returns to center stage in the next novel, The Ophelia Cut, in what appears to be a suspenseful legal thriller. Tell us a little about this story and what kind of trouble Dismas might be headed for in this new adventure.

JOHN: The Ophelia Cut has Dismas Hardy threatened from all sides. In the first place, faithful readers will remember that he and three of his closest friends (Abe Glitsky, Gina Roake, and his brother-in-law Moses McGuire) were involved in an extra-legal solution to a big problem a few books back (in The First Law). If any of the details of that solution came out, it would cause huge problems for all of the principals, probably ruining lives as well as careers. As this book begins, Moses McGuire, a recovering alcoholic, shows dangerous signs of spilling the beans about this event. At the same time, McGuire’s daughter Brittany gets involved with a boyfriend who is nothing but trouble, and who eventually rapes her. When the boyfriend then winds up dead, McGuire becomes the chief suspect. After he falls off the wagon, he becomes a great threat to reveal the earlier secret. As the McGuire’s trial progresses, the ratcheting tension spills over into every aspect of Dismas Hardy’s life, where it seems that every one of the choices he has to make is more awful than the last one. How far can he go before his world, and that of his friends and family, falls completely apart?

MARK: Can you tell us how you came to select this title, The Ophelia Cut, without giving away the story?

JOHN: The Ophelia Cut is that rare example of a phrase showing up in the book in the course of the writing. In this case, I was on my third draft, on the very last page of the book, and a character brought up this phrase in conversation. As soon as I wrote it down, I empathized so much with the phrase, and it seemed to encapsulate the very essense of the book, that I actually teared up. Ambiguous though it might at first appear to be, to me it simply captured the deepest themes that the book explored. It simply had to be the title.

MARK: There have been a lot of changes in the book publishing industry over the last few years. Major publishers seem to be cutting back on the number of authors they sign, book advances seem to be shrinking, and even some major authors have chosen to follow a more independent publishing path. From your prospective, where do you think the world of book publishing is headed?

JOHN: Since I’ve signed a three-book deal with Atria, I hope it’s headed to great things over the next couple of years. But in a general sense, I hope that the turmoil calms down somewhat. I believe the royalty structure around eBooks needs to be corrected. It would also be nice if we could return to having the “secondary” publication of books (e.g. downloading, paperbacks), after the hardcover release, take place after giving the hardcover a few months at least to sell in that format.

MARK: Many authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and others seem to be experimenting with shorter works in the digital market—novellas and short stories—as a way of attracting readers to their novels. I noticed that writers like James Patterson are offering the first nineteen chapters of their novel for free to entice readers to buy the complete work. How do you feel these efforts are paying off? Have you contemplated offering shorter works as part of your marketing strategy?

JOHN: In fact, I contemplated it with The Ophelia Cut. I wrote a short story that was, I though, tangentially related to the book. When I submitted it to my agent and editor, they decided that it would be great as the book’s prologue! And so it came to be. I would expect over the next book or two, these “teaser” elements will become even more prevalent. Although I must say that giving away the first 19 chapters for free seems a bit excessive. (Although I will also admit that James Patterson probably has a slightly better idea about how to market books than the rest of us!)

MARK: With The Ophelia Cut now set for release, can you tell us a little about your next project?

JOHN: My next book is tentatively entitled The Keeper, and all I know about it is that it begins with a man coming home from picking up his brother at the airport on the day before Thanksgiving to find that his wife is gone. I’m taking any and all suggestions for what happens next. J (Yee Gods, my first emoticon in an interview! What is the world coming to?)

MARK: I can imagine with your writing schedule, coupled with promotional tours and marketing efforts, you have little free time left to blow off stream. When that time is available, how do you enjoy spending it? Playing in the band? Watch the Giants win some games?

JOHN: Free time? Hmmm. Maybe not so much. I’m in “work mode” now on The Keeper, putting down as many pages a day as I can, as it is due in the middle of July. My tour for The Ophelia Cut will take most of May. Meanwhile, for fun, I still love cooking. I’m playing a little bit of guitar, but not enough. And I’m very much looking forward to the Giants winning the World Series again this year. My wife, Lisa Sawyer, and I still have many good times together, and spending time with her is mostly what I look forward to day to day. If I didn’t like my work, I might find the schedule grueling, but fortunately, I love what I do. And that’s the secret to never really working a day in your life. 

MARK: John, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here on Hook’em & Book’em. We look forward to your upcoming novel.

Readers can find out more about John Lescroart and his writing career by visiting his web site at JohnLescroart.com or interviews here on Hook’em & Book’em on May 10, 2010 and January 1, 2011.

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