Tag Archives: Literature

Success with “Fatal” for John Lescroart

Success did not come early for John Lescroart.  It wasn’t until he reached middle age and his seventh novel that Lescroart achieved commercial success in the book world.  Since then, he has written 18 New York Times Bestsellers.  His latest book, “Fatal,” is a standalone likely to continue his success, even as it defies the traditional conventions of the mystery/thriller genre.

Lescroart—who was born in Houston—will make an appearance at Murder by the Book on Wednesday, February 8 at 6:30pm.John Lescroart, Fata, Mike Yawn, SHSU, LEAP Center

Mike Yawn: I’ve heard you say you’d use a pen name if you were starting over.

John Lescroart: Yes.

Lescroart is pronounced “Less-Kwah,” the opposite, he notes, of “More-Kwah.”

MY: What would it be?

JL: My mother’s maiden name was Gregory, and I would probably just use John Gregory which, by the way, would put me next to John Grisham on the shelves in bookstores.

MY: That’s a good place to be.

JL: It is.

MY: You’ve had about 10 different jobs, all in different fields.  How has this informed your writing?

JL: I think it gives me a big palette with which to work.  I’m familiar with blue collar and white collar jobs, and that kind of thing is helpful when you are dealing with large slabs of humanity, as I tend to do in my books.

MY: You broke through with “The 13th Juror” at the age of 45.  How common is it for a writer to have his first success at that age?

JL: “The 13th Juror” was my 7th book, and I’d say breaking through like that at 45 is uncommon.  But then, any success story in literature is rare.

MY:  What was it about “The 13th Juror” that made it a breakthrough?

JL: Timing and fortune play a role in people’s lives. Something has to elevate your book to become more visible.  “The 13th Juror” addressed battered-woman syndrome, and it came out in paperback about the same time the OJ Simpson trial began.  This syndrome was on everyone’s lips.  Suddenly my book had visibility; I probably did 140 radio interviews.  People were buying it in big numbers, and it changed my life.

MY: Have you always tried to incorporate a topical social problem in your books?

JL: I think some of my books had that aspect to them.  I try to find a big theme, which I do in the Dismas Hardy books.  Also, I incorporated the courtroom scenes into my novels, and that was when the legal thriller was becoming a hot genre.  John Grisham and Scott Turow led the way.

MY: Most of your books address law, but all of your books are set in San Francisco.  Why is that such a prime setting for fiction?

JL: When I was majoring in English at UC Berkeley, I really enjoyed a tetralogy called “The Alexandria Quartet.” It was set in Alexandria, Egypt before World War II.  It was fascinating, and it gave me the idea that a city could function as a character.  And San Francisco is that way: it’s cosmopolitan on the one hand, and yet small enough that everyone knows everyone.  Even the weather, which is bizarre.  It can go from being beautiful and sunny to foggy and wintry in a day or within the same day.  You can create tremendous scenes.

MY: You’ve also relied heavily on Dismas Hardy, who has appeared in more than 20 novels.

JL: I think Dismas is a pretty good character.  He’s complex, just smart enough.  He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes his work seriously.  He’s got a good sense of humor, a knack for makiJohn Lescroart, Fata, Mike Yawn, SHSU, LEAP Centerng friends, a guy you want to be friends with.  And he’s faithful to his wife.

MY: Speaking of being faithful, that’s not a claim all the characters in your new book, “Fatal,” can make.

JL: In “Fatal,” I have a character, Beth Tully, who is a homicide detective, and one of her friends engages in a brief marital affair—a kind of purposeful mistake—just to see what it is like.  And it puts into motion a series of unpleasant events.

MY: Tully, your detective, is central to the book but isn’t mentioned on the cover.

JL: You have to take risks in this business, and I think risks are what make it fun, but also a bit terrifying.  I wanted to play with structure a bit, so I introduce her later and more gradually than I otherwise might have, but I believed she could carry the load of the novel, and I think she did.

MY: She’s also the moral conscience in the book, a book in which some of the other characters lose their way.

JL: The theme of the book is fidelity and faithlessness.  Actually, I was going to call the book “Faithless.”  Most of the characters are deeply flawed. It doesn’t serve you well if you have one-dimensional characters.

MY: In addition to the mistakes that individuals make in the novel, there is a city-wide tragedy, and San Francisco falls into a kind of miasma.

JL: This city-wide tragedy wasn’t something I had planned out, but it produces a powerful effect, a powerful change, and it leads to redemption as well.  You have to have dramatic moments in a book, and when I decided to go on this path, I fell in love with it, and I think the readers will too.

Mike Yawn is the Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics at Sam Houston State University.

 

 

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Author Discusses Going “All-In” on Life’s Choices

In her new book, “The Art of Risk,” Sukel explores why some people are more comfortable with risk than others, how risk shapes our lives, and attempts to explore how we can manage risk more successfully.

Kayt Sukel, The Art of Risk

                  Kayt Sukel, Author of “The Art of Risk”

Mike Yawn: Risk means different things to different people, but you came up with a working definition of risk in your book.

Kayt Sukel: Simply put, risk is a decision that involves uncertainty with a potentially negative outcome.  It could be going “all in” in a poker game or wearing a white blouse on a rainy day. It could be all manner of things.

MY: Speaking of going “all in,” you mention in the book that your boyfriend proposed to you and you went “all in” and said, “Yes.”  Is that still accurate?

KS: Yes, I am married!  Otherwise, I would have had to make the acknowledgement section a bit different.

MY: In your book and in other studies, it’s made pretty clear that people aren’t good at predicting outcomes.

KS: Our brain tries to predict what is coming next, but given the amount of information we face, it would be overwhelmed unless we use shortcuts. Our past experiences, our learning, they help our brain hone in on the things on which we need to focus.  But sometimes those shortcuts aren’t applicable, and that’s why the book is called “The Art of Risk.”  It’s more of an art than a science.

MY: People’s acceptance of risk, as you point out in the book, is a function of both biology and environment.

KS: Two parts of the brain are very important for influencing how comfortable a person is seeking risk: the basal ganglia, which is sometimes referred to as the reptilian part of the brain; and the frontal cortex, which is the seat of executive control. The basal ganglia shouts, “Yes, I want rewards!  I want excitement—food, sex, money, prestige!”  And the frontal lobe says, “That stuff is great, but maybe this isn’t the best time” or “If you do that you’ll probably end up in jail!”  These two parts of the brain are tangling all the time and biology helps shape which of these brain regions may be more influential.  But our family environment, our peers, and the life cycle have considerable sway.

MY: You’ve previously researched stress and early childhood.  How does that connect to “The Art of Risk”?

KS: Risk is often seen negatively, but without some kind of risk, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow.  Some freedom to take risks is important for healthy brain development in children.  Similarly, stress can motivate people.  We don’t want chaos, but a certain amount of stress helps us learn and grow.  Risk and stress in your children can be managed to an extent, but there is a big difference between a parent who permits a ten-year old to walk to school after discussing safety with them, and a parent who sends their five-year old to the store alone to fetch cigarettes for them.   It’s important for parents to know the difference so that children take part in healthy learning, growth, brain development and, ultimately, decision making.

MY: How old are your two children and, as you were writing this book, did you at times think of risk through a parental lens?

KS: I have a son who is 10 as well as a nine-year old daughter. And, yes, I thought of them extensively as I was writing. It’s funny, from the time my son was a baby, I strapped him on my back, and we travelled all over the world.  He’s been to more than 40 countries, snorkeled with sharks, and has ziplined through jungles.  But last winter he busted his ankle sledding!  Of all the activities on which to get hurt, it seemed like the most mundane activity ever.  But, you know, we live in Texas where there isn’t much snow, so he doesn’t sled often.  It makes sense that this would be an activity where he hasn’t had enough experience to fully assess the risks. I can either say, “Everything is terribly dangerous, and I have to wrap my child in bubble wrap to keep him safe,” or I can say, “Let’s learn from this, take corrective action, and do our best to avoid this kind of accident on the next sledding attempt.” I want him to learn how to do cool things; sliding down a hill wicked fast is one of them.

MY: You discuss training as a way to manage risk and decision making.  You use the term “deliberate practice,” which is different than just “practice.”

KS: I think of “practice” as what my kids do at the piano each afternoon.  They plunk away without much thought, and it’s not getting them very far.  Deliberate practice is practicing at the edge of your performance ability.  Athletes, classical musicians, and artists do this all the time.  They choose a project that exceeds their abilities and they fail over and over again until they get a step ahead.  It sounds like torture, but it’s how people learn the difficult piano piece, or shave seconds off their run time, or learn a complicated play in sports.  It helps your mind assess what risks are involved and the parameters within which success can be achieved.

MY: If you were a bookseller, which shelf would you put your book on?

KS: Perhaps science or business or self-help, but whatever shelf it falls on, I hope that people see it as interesting non-fiction.  I think this book is really for anybody who wants to understand more about the way we make decisions or how to make better decisions.

MY: It has elements of a memoir.

KS: Yes.

MY: Tell us why you thought it important to include your experiences.

KS: The questions I was asking were personal questions, but I don’t think they are limited to just me.  They affect everyone, and I wanted to put context of what I have faced, and why I went on the quest to find some answers.

MY: You participated in many activities in different fields to research your book.  Was witnessing brain surgery the most interesting?

KS: Yes.  It was fascinating.  I was able to observe the surgery from a close distance.  It’s amazing to see the skull opened on a live human while doctors are cutting into really delicate tissue.  The doctor was using his brain—specifically the frontal lobe—to control his actions and mitigate the risk to the patient to successfully repair the brain of the patient.

Mike Yawn directs the Center for Law, Engagement and Politics at Sam Houston State University.

 

 

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