YOLO COUNTY NEWS
Bestselling author John Lescroart of Davis looks forward to introducing his hometown fans to his newest book, "The Hunter," which will be released in January. A book-launch party, open to all comers, is planned for Tuesday evening at the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Davis. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

Books

Local author’s success is no mystery

By From page A1 | December 28, 2011

Join the fun

What: Launch party for John Lescroart’s “The Hunter,” featuring food catered by Stones Catering, music by Caribbean Jazz Quintet with special guest Eric Boone on acoustic guitar

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Odd Fellows Hall, 415 Second St., Davis

Details: Books available for purchase and signing by the author; bring other Lescroart books from home for signing

Admission: Free; no RSVP necessary

The first thing that Davis mystery novelist John Lescroart would like people to know about Tuesday’s launch party for his latest novel, “The Hunter,” is that everyone is invited. Yes, everyone.

“I hope everybody comes,” Lescroart (Les-KWAH) said several times during an interview in his downtown Davis office.

Though he describes finding a local venue large enough for a book-signing to be “challenging” in the wake of the closure of Borders Books & Music, Lescroart’s enthusiasm for the event at the Odd Fellows Hall downtown is infectious.

“There’ll be food and wine, and we’re going to have a band. And lots of books,” he said. “It’s a really great location. It ought to be a blast in the night.”

The bestselling author of more than 20 mystery and suspense novels doesn’t appear to do anything by halves, even going so far as to develop sympathetic migraines while writing the emotional and psychological struggles of the protagonist in his latest novel.

In “The Hunter,” to be released in January, San Francisco private investigator Wyatt Hunt, raised by adoptive parents, receives a shocking text message: “How did your mother die?”

This message catapults Hunt into the traumatic and tangled history of his birth parents. At points in the novel, the psychological trauma of reignited feelings of loss and abandonment physically incapacitates the hero.

Of writing Wyatt’s intense emotional journey, Lescroart says, “It was the most personal reaction I’ve ever had to writing a book. I started getting migraines myself; it was that intense.”

Unlike many mystery novels, the plot of “The Hunter” is driven more by the choices of the protagonist than by the bad guys.

“I knew I didn’t have a lot of external action,” Lescroart says. “I had to have the interesting stuff be internal — and gut-wrenching.”

Lescroart describes the middle third of the book — during which Wyatt is isolated and away from his home base of San Francisco — as the most difficult portion to write.

“I had to fight through it,” he says. “I had to put down pages every day. It was due.”

He describes the experience as “walking a tightrope without a net.”

When asked about the notion held by many nonwriters, that plot and character emerge fully formed in the writer’s brain and flow from the fingers, Lescroart laughs.

“It comes out of your ass. It comes from sitting on your ass (and working),” he says. “One thing all writers have to learn is that there is a period of time where you’re getting to know your characters and that can’t be confused with telling the characters’ story.

“Show. Don’t tell. There is no middle ground. If you’re telling, nothing is happening.”

Craft is serious business for Lescroart, who researches all aspects of a novel’s plot for several months before beginning writing.

“It’s not just got to be OK. You’ve got to be the authority,” he says of the subjects covered in his books.

The acknowledgements at the end of “The Hunter” extend for several pages as Lescroart thanks not only the usual family, friends, editor and agent, but also the small army of experts to whom he turned for information on everything from cell phone triangulation to the Jonestown massacre.

Craft is so important to Lescroart that he sponsors The Maurice Prize for Fiction (named for his father) for alumni of the UC Davis Creative Writing Program.

“It may be true, sad but true, that there’s not very much technical training given at the elementary, secondary and even university levels of English,” he says. “The focus there is on creativity. The importance of advanced education (in writing) is that it drums into you that there’s a craft — that there is something to learn,” he says.

“These things are the tools of writers.”

Lescroart describes writing as a “career choice that can play havoc with your self-esteem.” He says he established the Maurice Prize to “facilitate the process (for writers) of feeling worthwhile, that (they) have a true craft, and can pay the bills and have a life.”

He describes the effect of his own early experience winning a literary prize — the Joseph Henry Jackson Award, for “Sunburn” — as something that “let me believe I could be a writer.”

Then, a novelist so successful that his current business relationship with a top-tier New York agent began with a fan letter from the agent grows quiet as he remembers that early experience.

“It was world-shattering for me.”

Though winning a prize may have given Lescroart a new faith in his ability to earn a living with his books, unlike many creative people, he appears never to have questioned his path through the arts. A 1970 graduate of UC Berkeley, he wrote his first novel while in college and “Son of Holmes” not long after.

Though he attempted the safe, office job when first out of college, he says, “It taught me all I needed to know: I am not this person and I can’t do it.”

Though he held a series of miscellaneous day jobs, Lescroart says he was “left with a shrinking palette (of career choices) — all artistic things.”

Facing questions and concerns from friends and his family whom he describes as “not artistic,” Lescroart says that in order to find his place as an artist, “I had to go away (to Europe and Africa), and come back three to four years later as a different guy.”

That guy was initially a musician. Having gained some success with music while in Europe, Lescroart was able to earn a living with his music in the United States with his band, Johnny Capo and His Real Good Band.

Of his writing, until winning the prize for “Sunburn,” Lescroart says, “I know what I wanted to do but I didn’t know how.”

After “Sunburn,” Lescroart increased his focus on writing, but maintained a day job. After a nearly fatal bout with spinal meningitis from surfing in contaminated waters — again doing nothing by halves — Lescroart decided to focus full time on his writing and the family relocated from Southern California to Davis, where he and his wife settled to raise their two children.

Can a Cal grad be content in another UC town? When asked the tricky question, “Berkeley or Davis?,” Lescroart barely flinches: “Cal for football. Davis for everything else.”

In his early days in Davis, “before I was making any money,” Lescroart was a “full-time dad,” singing for his children’s nursery school classmates, working on his writing, and occasionally fielding the looks and questions from other parents that are inevitable for the struggling writer.

He relates his response to the last with a reminiscent grin, “Well, this is what I’m doing because this is what I’m doing.” Lescroart describes that early period as “really challenging, difficult, frustrating and ultimately really rewarding.”

Of his life in Davis now, having raised those preschoolers to adulthood, and with literary successes matched by only a handful of authors, Lescroart says, “I’m glad I moved here 20 years ago. (Davis) is great. It’s a great place to be an artist.”

And, he really wants to celebrate with the community on Tuesday. Judging by Lescroart’s commitment to whole-heartedness, it should be quite a party.

Christy Corp-Minamiji

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