1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Very early on. I was always writing poems and stories and songs, even when I was a little boy. I published my first short story at 19, and wrote my first novel (unpublished) when I was in college.
2. Where do you find inspiration and influences in your stories?
I've been interested in fiction an prose for as long as I can remember - writing has always been not just a means of self-expression but the vocation I feel I was born to pursue. As a reader; I've admired the works of many of the masters - notably Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence Durrell. Since I wasn't a "natural" mystery reader through college, I didn't grow up on the more unusual Hammett and Chandler, but found Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe in my early 20s. After that, I devoured all of them, then Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Agatha Christie, John D. Macdonald, and came to feel I could write these kinds of stories. Nowadays, in my field I like Nelson B. DeMille, T. Jefferson Parker, Lawrence Block, and Scott Turow. Patrick O'Brian's nautical novels are great, and I read lots and lots of non-fiction.
3. Your degree is not in law, and yet you've written legal thrillers for 15 years and counting. What inspired you to do this? Where have you gained your experience?
I wasn't so much inspired to write about law. The field found me. I had created my character Dismas Hardy for Dead Irish a,d; absolutely fortuitously, made him an ex-attorney. Two books later, I brought him back to the business of law, and voila! Whatever expertise I have gained from writing these books comes from my lawyer consultants, especially Al Giannini, a homicide prosecutor in the Bay Area who has been my best friend since I was 14. (That's called good luck.)
4. Can you handle criticism?
I don't know anybody who loves it, but you'd better be able to handle it if you want to be in the writing business. I've gotten rave reviews and horrible reviews and though it's incredibly difficult to do, the best thing is to ignore both and just keep writing what you believe in. My first book, Sunburn, did not get reviewed. Son of Homes got a few pans and one or two really nice reviews. The good news is that all my books now sell very well, so I assume that most readers like them.
5. Music was your first love. Do you still play or sing?
Yes to both. In fact, I've recently formed my own record label, CrownArt Records, and have released an CD, Date Night, of songs written by me, arranged and performed by Antonio Castillo de la Gala. Later this year, I'm releasing As the Crow Flies - original songs that I sing and play on. For more info on this music stuff, see my website - www.johnlescroart.com.
6. Describe the relationship between publisher, agent, and author from your personal experiences. Who is your publisher and how did you originally come to do business with them? Your agent?
In theory, the relationship between publisher, agent, and author is symbiotic. Everybody wants to sell lots of books and share the proceeds. In practise, it often doesn't work that way, especially with beginning authors. Because publishing is a high-risk business, publishers try to minimize costs on unknown authors - hence they tend not to advertise, or promote. This generally annoys authors. Sometimes publishers don't pay authors what they've earned, either, or they don't pay it when it's due. This also annoys authors. The agent is in the middle. Good agents represent their clients, the authors, first. But because they need to maintain good relationships with publishers to do more business, maybe with their other author clients, sometimes they are not as effective as advocates should be. After an author achieves some degree of success, as has fortunately been my case, these relationships smooth out to some degree, although there is almost always a bit of friction over whose book it really it - the author wrote it, yes, but it's not a book until the publisher publishes it. So there are territorial disputes, usually involving marketing issues, such as cover design, ad campaigns, and even the title of the book. My publisher now is Dutton and they bought me three books ago at an auction because they were very enthusiastic about promoting my work, which has proven to be true. My agent is Barney Karpfinger (funny name, but brilliant man). He's the best in the business. I consider him a true friend and business partner.
7. Have you published anything that doesn't fit into the legal thriller genre? If so, what and if not, have you had any desire to do so? What would your publisher say to this?
My first novel, Sunburn, was a literary book, unlike anything else I've published. My next two books were historical mysteries, featuring the son of Sherlock Holmes and set during World War I. Both of these books are being reissued this year, with new covers. Dutton is very supportive of anything I want to do right now. I'm currently outlining another historical novel, set in England in the early days of World War II, and if I finish it, I expect that Dutton will be very interested in bringing it out with bells and whistles.
8. Does your publisher have any influence on the subject matter, production or content of your novels? Are you permitted to work fairly freely or are there expectations for a bestseller every time?
The publisher has to approve an outline that I submit in writing. As mentioned above, Dutton and I both have the same goal regarding my work, which is to sell as many books as possible. To this end, I try to provide a story that I think will be compelling to a large audience. If Dutton disagrees, they don't buy the outline and I'm free to peddle it elsewhere. But in practise, if they didn't like an idea enough to reject it outright, I would certainly reconsider whether or not I wanted to write that idea into a book. Once we agree on what the book generally will be about, I'm free to write it the way I want, after which they suggest revisions which I can either accept or not.
9. Do you think the publishing industry has changed with the coming of the internet?
The internet has some marginal impact on letting authors "interact" with their readers through newsletters and web-pages, but in general the internet hasn't had a huge impact on the industry.
10. Have you got any words of advice for beginning writers?
Yes. First, learn the basics of the writing trade. This includes fundamentals such as grammar and sentence structure. After that, make sure that you "show, don't tell". (If you don't know what that means, find out.) Finally, believe in yourself and finish what you start. Most people have an initial idea and write while the fire is hot; when the moment of inspiration passes,, they stop. Real writers can't allow themselves to do this. Book writing is a craft; you're building something like a house. And you've got to keep pounding those nails until the walls stand up. Remember, if you write one page a day, every day, within one year you'll have a book. If you don't want to put in that time, you might be a great human being with bunches of good ideas, but don't kid yourself, you're not a writer.
© 2005 Nickie Fleming/Jansan