Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lee-Scrat? Le Squaw? Le Scrow-Art? It's John with the funny name.

RHYS BOWEN: For a best-selling thriller writer John LeScroart is not besieged by fans as often as you would expect. This has nothing to do with his personality which is warm, funny and outgoing. It has everything to do with his last name, which nobody can pronounce. So I'm going to welcome John to Jungle Red Writers today and start off with that unusual name:

John, I have a first name people don't know how to pronounce , so I have good reason to ask this: did you ever think of changing your completely unpronouncable last name when you became a writer? Or has it been a good introduction point that people ask you how to pronounce it (hint... it is pronounced Less-kwah)

JOHN LESCROART: I hate to start off on a negative note, but I have to say that my name has been one of the most frustrating aspects of my entire career. I sincerely believe that my last name has probably reduced my sales over the last twenty years by a minimum of 20 percent. People read my books and then either can’t recommend the author because they can’t remember or pronounce the name, or they get the name wrong. I’ve been to book signings for my own books where the bookstore managers have put out John LeCarre’s books in place of my own. In real life, this is not remotely as funny as it sounds as an anecdote. Another time, I gave an inspiring talk to a bunch of writers and afterwards heard a participant comment to a friend that he’d like to go out and buy every one of my books, but he couldn’t remember my last name. Even leaving aside the fact that in most bookstores, “L” is on the bottom shelf and hence mostly unseen by the average browser, we are living in an age where brand is paramount – and the brand Lescroart does not roll off the tongue. When I started writing, I didn’t know this – otherwise I would have simply used my mother’s maiden name, Gregory. Which would have put me on the eye-level top shelf next to another legal thriller writer whose first name is John and whose last name starts with “Gr”. Now who could that be?

RHYS BOWEN: Anyone who reads your bio will see how a true writer will persevere until he succeeds. Did you always know you wanted to write? What kept driving you to succeed?

JOHN LESCROART; The simple answer is failure. By the time I was thirty, I had worked as a telephone company executive (hated it!) and a musician (loved it, but couldn’t make a good living). By thirty-five, now with one published book, my list of “day jobs” had increased fairly exponentially – advertising executive, word processor, legal secretary, bartender, housepainter, moving man. Looking into the future, I was starting to realize that if I ever wanted to have the life I’d dreamed of, it was going to have to be in writing. So even though essentially no one bought my first six books, I was getting published and believed that I had the talent to succeed if I could just keep trying and not weaken. And eventually, that approach paid off.

RHYS BOWEN: Why mysteries/thrillers? Did your own brush with death have anything to do with this?

JOHN LESCROAT: My brush with death (from spinal meningities at the age of forty-one) had a lot to do with the kind of books I was writing, but only in the sense that I realized that I had to write bigger books with complex and important themes. Before then, I had looked upon writing books as more of an educational exercise: Could I sustain a book-length literary narrative? Could I write a good puzzle? How could character and plot be more closely connected? With this basic attitude, I wrote a few literary books and a few mysteries, always agonizing over whether the mysteries were “real” books. After the meningitis, I decided that I’d learned enough with my previous six books, now it was time to combine my literary sensibilities with my love for mysteries with puzzles and plots. These two things did not have to be antithetical to one another, or mutually exclusive. One could write a “real” novel that had mystery/thriller elements. And ps: this started paying the bills, which is terrific for continued motivation.

RHYS BOWEN: Talk about Dismas Hardy (and why the fascination with that name?) and your first runaway bestseller The 13th Juror.

I first created Dismas Hardy as a character in my very first novel (which I wrote in college). I introduced him, and then killed him off on the next page! But I loved the name. As a good Catholic boy, I had become aware of the Good Thief, who died on Calvary next to Jesus, and whose name was Dismas. I guess the Hardy came from the Hardy Boys – in fact, Dismas is the orphaned son of Joe and Iola Hardy – coincidence? In any event, I vowed early on that when I started my “Travis McGee” type series, my hero would be named Dismas Hardy. But when I wrote the first Hardy book, Dead Irish, and then the second, The Vig, and then Hard Evidence, people weren’t lining up to buy these books. So I resolved to give it one and only one more chance before giving up on this guy and going to someone else whom the reading public might more readily embrace. Fortunately, that book was The 13th Juror, which became my first NY Times bestseller and in fact a big international hit. But a couple of funny things happened surrounding that book: first, it was rejected by twenty-two publishers; second, like most books, it took a relatively long time after submission before it got published – and during that year or so, because of the rejections, I gave up on Hardy, and decided to concentrate on his partner, Abe Glitsky. Hardy, as far as I was concerned, was dead. This is why the two books following The 13th Juror (A Certain Justice, and Guilt) are Glitsky books. Only after The 13th Juror came out in paperback and became a hit did I agree to resurrect Hardy – and I’m so glad now that I did!

RHYS: I actually wrote a novel with the same theme... women who kill abusive husbands but not while they are being battered. Therefore they are guilty of murder. Fascinating theme. So how many Dismas Hardy novels have you now written? How long to do see him continuing or are you itching to write something else?

JOHN: To date, there are thirteen books that center mostly on Dismas Hardy and the cases he’s working with. I’ve also recently created two new characters who’ve had their own books, Wyatt Hunt and Gina Roake. These latter books have been very well-received, and now Wyatt Hunt has three of his own books, too, including next year’s release, The Hunter. So I’ve got kind of a fugue of San Francisco characters who interact and take turns playing the lead role in these books. The last Hardy book I did, A Plague of Secrets, was now three years (and books) ago, and I’m hoping to bring him back with my next book, but I’m not a hundred percent sure he’s in the mood. We’ll have to see. I’m calling him every day since I’ve started trying to get my next outline together, but so far he hasn’t answered the phone. I’m assuming he’s going to want to continue to be a lead character for me (certainly he’s my best-known character), and as long as he shows up to play, I’ll give him his “at bats.” He’s pretty much the heart of the franchise and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s been up to the last three years.

RHYS: You are active with the ITW, and you've just been part of the group novel No Rest for the Dead. What was that like, writing part of a book that wasn't yours?

JOHN: Actually, I enjoyed No Rest For The Dead immensely, but this was in part because I feel like I “cheated” a little. I was one of the first authors approached by Andrew Gulli, the book’s originator, and I only agreed to write a chapter if it could be the first one! This turned out to be a great idea, since I could put all this flesh on the bones that Andrew had provided, and every following author would have to work with my original ideas. So I feel that I didn’t really work with other people’s characters – I set it up so they had to work with mine! Cheating, maybe, but fun stuff.

RHYS: Next spring you will be Guest of Honor at LCC in Sacramento. You are probably one of the most low-key bestselling authors around. Is this deliberate or do you feel you have slipped under the radar until now?

JOHN: The whole idea that authors are some kind of celebrities is a little bit foreign to me. I realize that some celebrities go on to write books, of course, but this isn’t the same thing. And some authors become household names – Grisham, King, Connelly, Dan Brown. But most professional writers basically work in some degree (or a lot!) of solitude, and once in a while, if you’re lucky, something “public” happens that might serve to remind you that there are people out there who read your stuff and like it. As you note, I’m going to be the Guest of Honor at LCC next year; and this summer in NY, I was one of the Spotlight Guests (with Bob Crais and Diana Gabaldon!!) at the Thrillerfest. These are both thrilling and flattering opportunities, of course, but they are rather the exception than the norm. My goal as a writer is to just keep books coming out about once a year, and it’s nice if those books hit the NY Times bestseller list (which the last 14 have done), but mostly I just view myself as a working stiff who happens to be lucky enough to love my job. I figure if I were less low-key, I’d run the risk of turning into a self-important jerk, so I’m pretty much not going there. I do enough promotion and public appearances to keep the career alive, I hope, and enjoy the ride while it’s going on. But basically the big persona moments are things about which we rarely have any control, and so I don’t worry to much about them. Now if I get on the Today show for my next book, and/or they start making big-budget feature films of my work, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be delighted, but mostly I like to think I’d just roll with it and keep living the same life I’m living now in Davis with my darling wife, Lisa – getting up healthy in the morning, keeping up with my friendships, putting down good words and hoping people find something to like in them.

RHYS: You see why I like John so much. He's a great guy. So if you see him at a convention, you'll now know that it's pronounced Less-kwa. And his latest thriller is called DAMAGE. Check it out at your local bookstore.


  1. Great interview. John's candor about dealing with setbacks and celebrity is refreshing.
    Donna Volkenannt

  2. Welcome to JR..and delighted that I finally know how to pronounce your name. I've joked that I only married Mr. Harris so that I would be in between Charlaine and Thomas on bookstore shelves instead of down in the S's with my less memorable Italian name. He doesn't think that's funny.
    As a (lapsed) good Catholic girl I wondered about the Dismas connection and appreciated reading about your epiphany re bigger themes.
    Judging by this interview I think there's little chance of you turning into a self-important jerk - 14 NYT far.

  3. Oh John, that's a horrible story about the bookseller directing readers to LeCarre! No one has a clue what to do with "Isleib" either, so it will be interesting to see what happens with Burdette:).

    I loved reading your story because it's so clear how hard you've worked and studied and then how it all came together. Finally. Congratulations and thanks for stopping by JRW.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hey, welcome, John. The name thing is funny--I agree...from my standpoint, I often wish I didn't have a man's name. "Ryan" sometimes puts me by Rozan, lovely company. But usually the R's are in the shelf-netherworld. Oh, to be a C.

    Anyway---more important--I am SUCH a fan of your books! Forgive the fan-girl blathering, but your books are on my list of instant-buys--I happily scoop up the new one even if I have no idea what it is.

    I love the relationships, the family conflicts, the care and concern characters have for each other--the people in your books absolutely come to life. And the plots are terrific--they're fair, and logical, and clever and original.

    Oh, dear, I promised myself I wouldn't gush. But impossible not to--you are truly truly one of the authors I use as a touchstone of how mystery writing should be.

    Okay, stopping.

  6. Loved meeting John-with-the-funny-name. THANKS!!

  7. Up here in Maine, we have a large population of French-Canadian descent, and it's always a fifty-fifty chance when you meet someone: does he use the Americanized pronunciation (which up here I'd think would be Les-Croit) or the original French?

    At any rate, John writes some of the best legal thrillers around, even if you can't pronounce his name.

  8. What an interview. Now, I see why you chose John - he is so down to earth, yet obviously a man of the craft. His advice and philosophy of living are refreshing.

    Now, I need to pick up one of his books! To the Kindle store, I go...