Q&A: Writer’s Roundtable interview with NY Times bestselling author John Lescroart

By Jared Kuritz and Antoinette Kuritz

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. A New York Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into 16 languages in more than 75 countries, Lescroart wrote his first novel in college and the second one a year after he graduated from Cal Berkeley in 1970.

He didn’t even try to publish either of these books until 14 years later, when finally, at his wife Lisa’s urging, he submitted “Son of Holmes” to New York publishers — and got two offers, one in hardcover, within six weeks.

Lescroart never looked back, and with 18 New York Times bestsellers to his credit, he continues to write novels with characters readers want to know more about and stories that compel readers to keep the pages turning.

You can meet Lescroart and hear him talk about writing and his new novel, The Keeper, at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at noon on Saturday, May 10 (7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA 92111; 858-268-4747).

Lescroart recently took the time to chat about the art, craft, and business of writing.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and then when did you actually start writing?

I knew that I wanted to be a writer, in a general kid-like way, from about the 8th grade, when my teacher sent one of my homework assignments – “What Is Democracy?” – to the local newspaper and they published it. I thought it was one of the coolest things in the world. Shortly after that, I started a “newspaper” called “The Daily Blab,” chronicling the goings-on of my friends in high school. So I was writing pretty regularly just for fun all during high school. Then as a junior at Cal Berkeley, I wrote my first novel, and just after I graduated I wrote another one, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that I called “Recipe for Murder,” but which Donald I. Fine published a mere 14 years later, when I was 36 years old, as “Son of Holmes.” Since then, I’ve been coming out with about a book a year.

Thriller, suspense, mystery. People often confuse the three. In which genre would you place your books and why?

Actually, these labels overlap tremendously. To me, they are mostly tools for publishers (and authors) to market books. In a general sense, I do think that suspense isn’t really its own genre, since every book that makes you want to turn the page has an element of suspense. The main difference between thriller and mystery is that, while mysteries can be and often are thrilling, there doesn’t have to be a “who-dunnit” element to thrillers.

How did you chose your genre – or did it chose you?

I just kept trying new things until something paid off. My first novel was “literary.” Then I wrote the two “Holmes” books. Then I wrote two straight-ahead mysteries featuring Dismas Hardy. That’s five publications with total sales of about 95 or 100 books, which really didn’t pay the bills. Obviously, something had to change, and fortunately I had created Dismas Hardy as an ex-lawyer. So I brought him back to the law in a “legal thriller”/”courtroom drama” and the rest is history. So I’d have to say, my genre chose me, and I’m very glad that it did.

I know you wrote second shift at the beginning of your career. How many published books did you have before you could write full time?

Second shift? Try fourth shift? Even after I was publishing regularly, my daily workload included getting up at 6:30 a.m. and writing for two hours in my garage. (We had babies, and working in the house with Barney the Dinosaur on in the other room wasn’t very conducive to concentration.) Then I worked full-time as a word processor in a law firm, after which I went around to the other law firms in downtown LA and did pick-up typing and word processing until 10:30 or 11 p.m. I only did that for six years, publishing my second through fourth books. Then, after an 11-day coma due to spinal meningitis, we moved to Northern California, and I wrote three more novels before I had a hit and was able to write full-time. So, short answer – seven books until overnight success.

So often friends, family, spouses of aspiring authors don’t take them seriously, considering writing a mere hobby. What is your response to that?

My answer is that the proof is in the pudding. If you’re putting in the hours, doing the work, and producing product, you’re a writer. If you’re lucky and you start actually making money, the “hobby” moniker goes away pretty fast. But just for the record, people who belittle your passion aren’t adding much to the world, and you’re trying to. So what side of that equation would you rather find yourself on?

Hardy and Glitsky appear in so many of your books. How real have they become to you? What do you think makes them such a good pairing?

These guys couldn’t be any more real. They’ve got their own lives and their lives vis-a-vis each other. I think they’re such a good pairing because a) they’re funny with each other; b) they care, basically, about the same things; c) they have a long history with both of their families; and, d) in many ways, they couldn’t be more different: Glitsky doesn’t drink, he doesn’t swear, he plays by the book, whereas Hardy drinks, is irreverent to the max, and is very much a loose cannon. These guys shouldn’t get along at all, and yet they’re the best of friends, and that makes, I think, for fun reading.

Many of your books have at their core a timely, newsworthy, relevant premise. What is at the at the core of your newest book, “The Keeper?”

Without giving away too much of the plot, let’s just say that San Francisco has had some very interesting recent history surrounding the office of the Sheriff and the running of the jail. That history figures prominently in “The Keeper.”

What person, event, or writer has most influenced you as a writer?

Most? That’s one of the major questions. Persons include my father and my wife Lisa Sawyer. Events? Not so much. Influential writers: Conan Doyle, John D. MacDonald, Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, and Lawrence Durrell.

You have 18 NY Times bestselling books to your credit. How does being a bestselling author inform your writing process?

It’s a responsibility, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s an expectation that you’re going to come out with a “big” story that will be widely read and, hopefully, enjoyed. I think it’s important to respect that expectation.

Over the years you have seen the publishing industry evolve dramatically. What has stayed the same?

Ironically, in my own career, the basic ebb and flow of producing books has remained remarkably the same. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be under contract for the past 16 or 17 years, and I hand in an outline in September, write the book through the winter, hand it in come June or July, promote last year’s book and the paperback of the two-years-ago book, and then hand in the next outline the next September. With all the upheaval in the industry, producing the next actual book remains pretty much a constant.

What is the best advice you ever received as a writer?

Writer’s block is simply a failure of nerve.

What is the best bit of advice you give aspiring authors?

Finish something. Anything. A poem, a short story, a novel. Just get to the end of whatever you’re writing, because that’s where you learn how to do it. Oh, and I have one more: Try to write one page a day. If you can’t write one page a day, sorry, but you’re probably not a writer. But if you can and do, you’ll have a book within one year.

Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz are the team behind both STRATEGIES Public Relations and the La Jolla Writer’s Conference (