Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com

Author of the Month
John Lescroart [August 2004]
Chosen by Beverly Rowe, MyShelf.Com

     I read my first Lescroart novel several years ago when I picked up a used copy of Guilt at a friends of the library sale, and I was hooked. John is simply a master at characterization and plot. He really gets you into the story and keeps you reading. The courtroom scenes are superb, and the personal lives of all the characters make you feel like they are people you know...your friends, and you really care what happens to them.

Let's get his name right. It isn't pronounced the way it looks...his last name is French in origin and pronounced "less-kwah."

John wrote his first novel in college and the second one a year after he graduated from Cal Berkeley in 1970. His books have been translated into 16 languages in more than 75 countries, and he becomes more popular with each new book. Grab one, and you'll see why. There was simply no question of who I would choose as Author of the Month.


Interview

Bev: I didn't realize that you were a musician before you were a novelist. I just listened to your latest CD...As The Crow Flies. wonderfully different, and as refreshing as the tradewinds that blow through some of the songs. Tell us about Johnny Capo and his Real Good Band, and your musical career.

John: I started playing guitar when I was seventeen and within a year or so I was writing songs and performing in clubs around the San Francisco Bay Area. Paying my way through UC Berkeley by teaching guitar and playing and singing, I caught the music bug pretty bad. After college, I traveled in Europe for a few years and financed that by playing music in resorts in Spain during the summers. I returned to the States and went to LA to become a rock & roll star, but it seems LA already had enough of them. So I came back to the Bay Area and formed a five-piece band – Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band. We were okay, and worked pretty constantly for about three years, until I turned 30, at which time I realized I wasn’t going to make it big time in music. So on my 30th birthday, I stopped performing cold turkey and turned my creative energies to fiction, which I’d always loved in any event. Since then, I’ve mostly performed kids’ songs (my own and Raffi’s, for example) at my childrens’ schools, and have sat in with some local bands. About two years ago, after I’d already formed my record label CrowArt Records, and produced Date Night, which featured some of my ballads arranged and performed as piano solos by Antonio Castillo de la Gala, my friend Rick Montgomery and I decided to make a CD with some of my original tunes, and the result is As The Crow Flies, which I like very much. (CrowArt’s latest release, this July of 2004, is another Rick Montgomery production with David Grisman alumnus Joe Craven. Django Latino is a collection of Django Reinhart’s material done by Joe and friends in the authentic styles of various Latin countries – a wonderful, wonderful record.) Next up for me is an all-country CD, probably sometime next year.

 

Bev: According to the biography on your web page, you have done just about everything in the line of employment before becoming a novelist. Tell us about your work experiences and how they relate to your writing.

John: Everything that doesn't kill us makes us strong, right? Well, some of my “day jobs” nearly killed me, whether from boredom or physical work or emotional degradation, but eventually must have made me strong. I had to make a living to support these artistic habits, so I took what work I could get to live. The silver lining on this cloud, which hovered over my head for over twenty years, is that I got to experience a lot of different work and living environments first-hand. Plus a lot of different kinds of bosses, co-workers, even employees. I’ve been a junior executive with the telephone company, a singer and guitarist, a moving man, house painter, bartender, ad salesman, magazine and book editor, cook, fundraising executive, typist, typist, typist at any number of offices and law firms. Most of these – or experiences based upon them – have found a way into my books and maybe have helped to keep them grounded in reality.

 

Bev: Was there anyone who had a big influence on your desire to write?

John: I’ve always wanted to write, so I don’t know if anyone influenced that desire. From when I was a really young kid, I was always making up stuff, writing it down, having fun with words. Songs, poems, short stories, pastiches, character sketches – you name it, I played with it. As I got older, I came to admire the work of some of the greats – Saul Bellow, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Camus – and started to wonder if maybe that’s where I should concentrate. But it turned out that I tended to think of plots that did not really conform to these “literary” pretensions, and I gravitated to mysteries, where the plot was something I could get my arms around, so to speak. At about that point, before I had a career but well after I’d pretty much committed to writing, a few of my fellow scribes did some work that knocked me out and pointed the way to the kinds of books I’ve been writing for the last decade or so. Specifically, Loren Estleman, Scott Turow, T. Jefferson Parker, and Nelson DeMille each had a large influence in not only the way I write, but in what I choose to write about.

 

Bev: Success has not come easy for you as a novelist, though, has it? When did your passion for writing begin? How long had you been writing before you gained publication?

John: As I say above, I’d been writing forever. I wrote my first novel, No Promise (which will remain forever unpublished) while I was still a student at UC Berkeley. At 23, I wrote Son of Holmes (which I didn’t even try to publish, and did publish, when I was 36). At 30, I finished Sunburn, and started writing almost daily in a disciplined manner. I wrote two or three novels quickly after that and had no luck publishing any of them. Finally, after Son of Holmes was published, my publisher asked for sequel, and I wrote Rasputin’s Revenge, and with that book, I think I finally “got” it. Plot, character, point of view, tone, humor, the whole she-bang. Since then I’ve written about a book a year.

 

Bev: Your first book, Sunburn beat out over 280 other novels, including Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice to win the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. Tell us about that award and what it meant to you.

John: The award, which I didn’t even enter myself, literally changed my life. Pat Gallagher, the wife of my high school English teacher, sent my manuscript to the San Francisco Foundation after she’d read her husband’s copy of it. Until then, for some reason it never seemed possible for a suburban-raised regular guy like me to be an “author.” After I won the award, I finally allowed myself to consider that possibility, and it gave me the confidence I needed to try another book, and another, and another, until finally publishers started to buy them.

Bev: I couldn't find a single copy of Sunburn in any of the Out Of Print search bases. Are there any plans to reprint Sunburn?

John: I have heard rumors from Dutton that they are planning to re-release Sunburn as a quality trade paperback with a new foreword from me. Presently, there is no firm timing on that, but I wouldn't be surprised if it came out in the next year or two.

 

Bev: Son of Holmes and Rasputin's Revenge are back in print....do you plan to revisit Auguste Lupa in a new novel?

John: The short answer is no. Lupa, who of course is the young Nero Wolfe, was a good crutch for me to lean on in the creation of a character whom I already “knew” to a great degree. Now I’ve got a stable of my very own characters, and more to come, and I wouldn’t want to go back and try to recreate what was in essence a recreation in the first place. That said, I can’t rule out the possibility that Jules Giraud, the narrator in the Lupa books, might not show up in my pages again sometime.

 

Bev: Your novels are huge, complicated books with many characters. When you are working on a new novel, do you have the story pretty well outlined and plotted before you begin the actual writing?

John: The way I approach a new book is that I usually conceive of a theme first, and a bare bones kind of plot that might or might not work with that theme. Then, with no thought of how things might turn out, I just start writing and usually go two or three chapters. If I like the way they’re looking, I stop there and write up a fairly succinct plot outline, but not quite to the end of the story – I like to leave open as many plot possibilities as I can. Now, if all the stars are aligned just right, I’ve got my basic idea and I just start to write as fast as I can, without thinking too much. Thinking clouds the brain when you’re trying to create. So I just ram out pages and try to make each one fun and/or exciting – worth reading for its own sake. During this process, I’m hoping and believing that events will lead me somewhere satisfying, and generally they do.

 

Bev: I hear other authors talk about their characters taking over and telling their own story. Do Diz and Abe do that?

John: Without a doubt this is the fundamental experience of writing fiction. My characters always do what they want, often without much rational input from me (see thinking, avoidance of, above). These guys, and all of my main characters, have carved out their own niche as individuals and I wouldn’t presume to tell them how to act. They’d just get pissed off and shut up, and then where would I be?

 

Bev: It must take an enormous amount of research to get all your facts right for the police investigations and the court scenes. How long do you usually spend on research versus the actual writing of the story?

John: You’re right. Since I’m not a lawyer and have no real-life experience in the police world, the research for each book is exhaustive – and more so if the book is also about something else, such as HMOs (The Oath), or gasoline additives (Nothing But The Truth), or any one of the number of issues I’ve confronted in these books. After I know what I’m writing about, I usually take three to four months of pretty solid research – talking to people in the field(s), reading, visiting sites, etc. Then, as with plot and character, I just go to the writing, making notes on things I need to check as I go. But I don’t stop writing usually. Then, when I’m all done, I send my books out to various friends and consultants – notably Al Giannini, a career prosecutor and great friend, for the law stuff, and Pete Dietrich, a doctor, for medical and scientific facts. Both these guys are great helps. But if you check the Acknowledgements on any of my books, you’ll see that I ask help shamelessly, and most people are wonderfully generous with their knowledge, comments, and advice.

Bev: You indicated to me that you had just finished a new novel. Is it another story with my favorite characters, Diz and Abe? Tell us about it.

John: The new book is called The Motive, and yes, it’s another Abe and Diz book. This one begins when a power-broker lawyer in San Francisco and his mistress are found shot to death and a house burned down around them. I’m really excited about this book – the motive is very cool. Plus, it just wrote itself, which is what we like to see happen. The Glitsky stuff in the second half of the book came from nowhere and just knocked me out, and at this juncture I’d say it’s one of my favorites.

 

Bev: When I'm reading the latest Lescroart book, I visualize Hugh Jackman in the role of Dismus Hardy and maybe Denzel Washington as Abe Glitsky. Who do you see there? Are there any plans to make any of your novels into movies?

John: Actually, The 13th Juror is having a script written right now, so we’ll see where that goes. Several of these books have been optioned in the past, but no movies as yet. My casting ideas are Dennis Quaid (or, in a year or two, maybe Brad Pitt) as Hardy. Glitsky is Delroy Lindo. But no one in Hollywood is going to ask my advice on any of that.

 

Bev: What are you working on now, or have in the planning stages?

John: I’m hoping to start outlining the 2006 book in the next month or so. All I’ve got is a working title, but my agent would kill me if I told you what it was.

 

Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?

John: Just that I’m thrilled to be able to do this now full-time as a living. It’s gratifying as can be to have people read your stuff and react favorably to it. I’m always delighted to hear from my readers, and answer my email myself. You can reach me at my website, http://www.johnlescroart.com/. Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you.

Bev: Keep up the great work, John. I'm so happy that there are writers in the world like you to help satisfy my reading addiction. The only trouble is that you just don't write your novels fast enough. That's ok though, they are worth the wait.


Reviews

Nothing but the Truth
By John Lescroart

Signet/New American Library - February 2001
ISBN: 0451202856 - Paperback
Suspense / Thriller
Buy a Copy

Beverly J. Rowe, MyShelf.Com

       When attorney, Dismas Hardy got a call from the principal of his children's school advising him that Frannie had not picked the children up, he rushed to the school. His wife had probably just been delayed somehow. After a terrifying night of trying to locate Frannie, and imagining all kinds of bad scenarios, Diz discovers that she is in jail on a contempt of court charge. It seems that Frannie had appeared before a Grand Jury (without even mentioning her subpoena to Diz!) and had refused to answer some questions about her friend, Ron, who is suspected of killing his wife.

      It's true that Diz and Frannie are not as close as they once were. Life's pressures have edged between them somehow. But why would she go to jail to defend another man? Frannie is sure that Ron did not kill Bree Beaumont, and if he is arrested for the murder, he will lose custody of his children.

      Dismas accepts this reason, and now, he must come up with the real killer in order to get his wife out of jail, and Ron off the hook.... if Ron is innocent.

The suspense just keeps mounting as Diz gets closer to the truth. And then his house burns, and it looks as if Dismas is going to be charged with arson, and that the DA's office would like nothing better than to see him in jail too. The conflict between them is well developed.

        You can count on John Lescroart for a great story, unforgettable characters, and an unexpected, satisfying ending. Dismas Hardy and Lieutenant Abe Glitsky are realistic, and engaging. Marian Braun is a superior Court Judge that will not tolerate disrespect and the courtroom scenes are electric. I fluctuated between hating her and loving her.

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The First Law
By John Lescroart

Signet - 2003
ISBN: 0-451-21022-0 - Mass Market Paperback
Mystery/Suspense
Reviewer's Notes: some violence
Buy a Copy

Beverly J. Rowe, MyShelf.Com

   After convalescing for over a year from a heart attack and gunshot wound Abe Glitsky returns to the force, only to discover that his beloved homicide detail is now out of bounds to him and that he has been transferred to head the payroll department. He is warned not to meddle in the homicide investigation of his father's best friend who was killed during a robbery.

   Abe's good friend, Dismas Hardy, a San Francisco defense attorney, represents John Holiday, the main suspect in that crime. Hardy is convinced that John Holiday is innocent.

   Patrol Specials are a private police force that keeps watch over paying clients, and date back to San Francisco's wilder days. Dismas is in the process of putting together a lawsuit against these Patrol Specials when suddenly, the only law is survival. Diz's partner, David Freeman is beaten unconscious and lies near death and Diz thinks that is related to the murders. The police believe that Hardy is a liar protecting Holiday, that Holiday is a cold-blooded killer, and that Glitsky is on the wrong side of the law. Both Hardy and Glitsky are forced to try to solve the murders on their own, outside the law, while defending their own threatened families.

    Lescroart is a master at plotting suspense novels that keep you up all night with characters that you love like family. This thriller is a departure from the courtroom drama that I always enjoy in John's Hardy/Glitsky novels, and though it was not what I expected, I enjoyed this suspense novel immensely. The action is fast and furious and has some unexpected twists and a climax that will leave you breathless.

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The Second Chair
By John Lescroart

Dutton - January 2004
ISBN: 0-525-94775-2 - Hardcover
Mystery/Suspense
Buy a Copy

Beverly J. Rowe, MyShelf.Com

     In Lescroart's newest Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky legal thriller, they have both moved up the ladder in their professions. Abe is the deputy chief of investigations in the San Francisco Police Department, and Dismas heads his own flourishing law firm. However, the excitement has gone out of their jobs. Diz seldom appears in court now. He is spending his time as a fix-it attorney for clients who don't want to take their chances in the courtroom, and he, himself, has lost faith in the law. Abe is bored with what he does and wants to be back at the hands-on level of investigations.

    Hardy's young associate, Amy Wu, is grieving over the recent loss of her father and parties too much. She accepts the high profile case of a 17-year-old who has been arrested for the double murder of his girlfriend and her drama teacher. The kid just happens to be the son of a prominent San Francisco family. Amy makes a huge blunder-- in her zeal to get him tried as a juvenile, and out of adult court--by admitting the accused teen's guilt to the prosecutor before she even talks to her client.

     Diz decides to step in as second chair during the hearing and try to salvage his firm's reputation. In the process of preparing the defense, Diz becomes convinced that their client is innocent in spite of mounting evidence of his guilt. Abe has his own problems with a crime wave that has seized the city. Both men have their own demons to tame in this highly charged, passionate story.

     Lescroart is one of the very best in writing courtroom drama. The characters are old friends that I have come to love, and there are some new ones that are equally compelling. John makes you feel their every emotion, as the suspense builds relentlessly to a breathless, smashing finish. Lescroart books always end with me wanting more and making me impatient for his next book. He's a writer you can count on for great entertainment with escalating suspense, and a complicated plot that fulfills its promise.

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Booklist -AmazonCom-

Sunburn (1982)
Son of Holmes (1986)
Rasputin's Revenge (1987)

The Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky group of books:
Dead Irish (1989)
The Vig (1990)
Hard Evidence (1993)
The 13th Juror (1994)
A Certain Justice (1995)
Guilt (1997)
The Mercy Rule (1998)
Nothing But the Truth (1999)
The Hearing (2001)
The Oath (2002)
The First Law (2003)
The Second Chair (2004)
The Motive (Coming soon)

2004's Honorary List

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