May 5, 2013

Q&A: Novelist John Lescroart talks about his new thriller

John Lescroart, who has written 24 novels, is a national figure who contributes time and energy to local causes, and who never seems too busy to make appearances at functions large and small.

John Lescroart writes his New York Times best-selling legal thrillers in a neat but memorabilia-stuffed second-floor office near downtown Davis.

"I go there every day and do my job," he said. "I don't think I have any airs about it."

That's where he finished his new novel, "The Ophelia Cut," the 16th title in his San Francisco-based Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky series (Atria, $26.99, 432 pages).

Former cop turned defense attorney Hardy and homicide detective Glitsky share a backdrop as longtime friends who have worked many dangerous cases together, surviving life-threatening scenarios that include a deadly gunfight along the Embarcadero.

Lescroart, who has written 24 novels, is a national figure who contributes time and energy to local causes, and who never seems too busy to make appearances at functions large and small.

"They're part of the job to promote the work, but I enjoy them," he explained.

For instance, he has twice appeared for the 13-year-old Sacramento Bee Book Club, and has been a mainstay at the 11-year-old Authors on the Move fundraiser for the Sacramento Public Library Foundation. In 2005, he donated $50,000 to the graduate program in creative writing at the University of California, Davis – though UC Berkeley is his alma mater.

The literacy-advocacy group Libraries Unlimited included Lescroart among its list of 100 most popular thriller and suspense authors. His books have been translated into 20 languages in more than 75 countries.

Lescroart is 65 and pronounces his French name "less-KWAH." Visit him at

Can you believe this is book No. 24?

It seems like just yesterday I was thinking, "Can I make a living out of this?" Now here I am, working on book No. 25, going, "This is just getting silly."

What's not silly is the discipline required.

You have to go in every day and do it. When you start a book, there's always a process. First, you get an idea you think is brilliant and you start putting down scenes. You get 50 pages into it and you realize it's awful.

Then what?

That's when the discipline kicks in, because that awful period tends to stick around for 100 pages. You've got so much to put on the page, and you've got to believe the reader is going to follow you, even though there's no apparent reason to follow because you don't know where you're going yourself. You're just, "OK, I'm going to put a lot of players on the chessboard and move them around," and you're asking people to watch pawn move to queen four and think it's interesting. That's the trick – you have to write prose that's appealing and hope people stick with it.

Where does the title "The Ophelia Cut" come from?

It came in my last draft (of the novel), when I was writing a conversation between two characters. I didn't think I had gotten to where I needed to be, so I was having these characters just talk, as I do, and in one of the conversations this guy uses the phrase "the Ophelia cut." In context, it's very understandable.

When I wrote it, I went "Holy moley!" and had to stop writing, like I got whacked upside the head. It was one of those emotional moments you hope for when you write. Those words give the entire book its context. I fought like hell (with the publisher) to keep the title and now everybody loves it once they read the book. They go, "Oh, duh!"

Your two favorite characters, Hardy and Glitsky, are back. What's going on?

Moses McGuire is the owner and bartender of the Little Shamrock bar in San Francisco. He's Hardy's brother-in-law and Glitsky's acquaintance. McGuire has a daughter who gets raped. He's a hot-headed guy and an alcoholic, and it looks like he murdered the rapist. Hardy becomes his lawyer and begins to defend him.

But there's a wrinkle there because (in a previous novel, "The First Law") these guys did something outside the law. If what they did comes out, Hardy, Glitsky, McGuire and (defense attorney) Gina Roake (Hardy's law partner) are all in deep trouble.

McGuire is a loose cannon, plus he goes back to the bottle, plus he has a murder rap hanging over his head. So he could break and tell what they did years earlier. Things get heavier from there.

The book you're writing now will be another Hardy-Glitsky adventure.

Yes, it's called "The Keeper," but the title may change. Hardy goes through some changes in "The Ophelia Cut" that lead him to the point where we find him when "The Keeper" begins.

There are huge but absolutely believable changes in the characters, but I have no idea where the story is going. I'm in the middle portion, where I'm pulling teeth and hating it every day because it doesn't seem good. I'm hoping some really cool ideas are going to pop up.

You changed publishers last year (from Dutton to Atria), a major move for an A-list author.

There was a terrific problem with the distribution of (the hardback edition of) "The Hunter." A lot of it had to do with Borders Books closing in 2011, since (the chain accounted for) 20 percent of my sales. That, plus the dramatic increase in my e-book sales, made the publisher decide to print only about 40 percent of my (usual press run). Without books in stores, it's very hard to get people to buy them. There's an actual linear correlation between those two things. My new publisher gets that.

You do a lot of appearances. Most authors of your stature aren't so generous with their time.

Most of my life is sedentary and isolated, so the opportunity to go out and meet with fans and readers and talk about something I'm passionate about is plenty of motivation for that.

You're a musician who put out a second CD in 2007, "Whiskey and Roses." You still playing the guitar?

I'm always playing, I've got calluses right now, but it doesn't pay even one bill. I've always loved music, and like so many people my age I wanted to be a rock 'n' roller. I may even sing a song or two at the book launch on Tuesday.

Any time for your other favorite pastime, fly-fishing?

I've got a 17-city national book tour starting this week, and the book I'm writing now is due July 15, so I'm not going to be fishing between now and then. After that, I'll finish all the booze in my house in celebratory fashion and then drop a line in the water somewhere.

Your main characters spend a good deal of time over meals in San Francisco. If you could take Hardy, Glitsky and another of your stars, private eye Wyatt Hunt, to dinner, where would it be?

We would definitely go to Sam's Grill. We would ask for Stefano for our waiter and I would order sand dabs, which I think are a little bit better than petrale sole. We'd probably close the place down.


Legal-thriller novelist John Lescroart will host a launch party for his new novel, "The Ophelia Cut," at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St., Davis; (530) 297-2108. The centerpiece will be his onstage conversation with Capital Public Radio "Morning Edition" host Donna Apidone. The evening will include a reading and book-signing; music, wine and catered food will accompany. The public is invited.

Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

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