Thirty years. That’s how long Dismas Hardy has been staring in John Lescroart’s thrillers. Since appearing in the 1989 novel Dead Irish, Hardy has gone on to appear in 18 novels, most of them bestsellers.
Typically, when a character is around for that long, it’s hard for the author to keep the series fresh. I mean, after almost twenty adventures with the same character, how many stories are there to still tell? And how do you make them just as compelling, but different, than the others? For Lescroart, the answer came by way of giving Hardy a new nemesis to face off with.
Whereas before, when he had allies in the DA’s office, Dismas is now forced to try and defend someone he cares about while also squaring off with a new DA, who is flat-out gunning for Hardy and anyone else associated with him. That complicates matters significantly, providing just the spark that was needed to re-energize this series and freshen it up in a way that allows Lescroart to dazzle readers yet again.
Thankfully, John Lescroart agreed to come back for our Five Questions segment (he also stopped by last year ahead of Poison hitting bookstores) and I this time I asked him about everything from his writing process (which, it turns out, has evolved over the years) to who some of his favorite authors are. Read the full Q&A below, then make sure to run out and get your copy of The Rule of Law, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: Dismas Hardy is back! How did you come up with the plot idea for The Rule of Law, and what sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write it?
Lescroart: One of the fascinating realities of publishing is the lag between the original idea of a story and the completion of the book that is based upon that idea. In the case of The Rule of Law, in December of 2016, I had just finished my novel Poison (published in 2018) and was casting about for the next book idea. One month before that, the country had elected Donald Trump, a man who even in the kindest light seemed to play rather fast and loose with the concept of the rule of law. And so I didn’t have to cast very far to hook into a theme that could propel a timely, high-concept thriller.
At the same time, I had left parts of the resolution of my 2017 book, Fatal, ambiguous and unresolved. Most particularly, I had left the true villain of that book — an actual murderer — free and unfettered. What if, I thought, I could bring that man back and put him in a position of power? How would he deal with it? Who else would be affected by his arrogance and disregard for playing according to the rule of law? How about if my own hero, Dismas Hardy, gets caught in the crosshairs?
Here, I thought, I had all the elements, and once those elements were in place, The Rule of Law essentially wrote itself.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline your books, have a target word count you try to hit each day? And how, if at all, has your process changed from earlier in your career?
Lescroart: My writing habits are as regular as can be. I try to get into my office by around 10:00 and then spend about an hour answering emails and paying bills and doing anything else I can think of to keep me from actually sitting down to write. I call this free-form preparation “sorting my sock drawer.”
At last, I decide that I need to actually get to my computer, and I sit down, take a fresh look on where I’d left things the day before, and as Hemingway suggests, try to write one true thing — simple, declarative, interesting and non-cliche’d. Usually, this process leads me to a scene that I find entertaining and then I’m off and running. I stop at five o’clock sharp and don’t work weekends. Oh, and also, I don’t outline. To me, it’s all about narrative drive and if I’m true to that concept, the book finds and redefines itself almost every day, which is both exhilarating and terrifying. It’s definitely a tightrope walk, but most of the time it seems to work out.
Earlier in my career, before in fact it was a “career” at all, I came to realize that if I didn’t put out some quantity of pages every day I wasn’t ever going to produce even a short story, if not a novel. So I blocked out two hours starting at 6:00 o’clock every morning (before going off to my day job) and tried to average a page per half hour. Amazingly, to me, those four pages added up quickly, allowing me to put out a novel per year for several years running. That number of pages also gave me the time — but not too much time — to think about what I was going to do with my plots.
I started making a full-time living as a writer with Guilt, which was my ninth published book, and with all the extra non-day-job time on my hands, I shot for about ten pages a day. Nowadays, my daily output when I’m in full “work mode” tends to be between five and ten pages a day.
TRBS: What advice do you have for new or aspiring authors?
Work hard on the craft of writing itself, the individual scenes and the language you use to tell your story. This is critical, and often — surprisingly — ignored. Style, taste, accuracy, vocabulary, and wit really do make a difference, and that difference is between getting published and not.
Don’t ever, ever, ever give up. Getting established as an author is rarely easy and you will almost undoubtedly run into roadblocks, negativity, and rejection — probably lots of rejection. My first ever best-seller, The 13th Juror, was rejected by twenty-two publishers before the book finally found a home.
Keep writing and learning until your work is so good that it can’t be denied.
Write at least a page a day — though you can take weekends off.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite writers, and what is the last great book that you read?
Lescroart: My favorite writers include many of the greats from the recent and more distant past. Prominent among them would be Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lawrence Durrell, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, Elmore Leonard, Ken Follett, John D. MacDonald, and Patrick O’Brian. I hold many writers among my contemporaries in high regard as well. We are truly in a golden age of the mystery/thriller — the last truly great book I’ve read in the past decade is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you now that The Rule of Law is set to come out?
Lescroart: These days I’m finding myself thinking less in terms of book ideas and more in terms of projects that I’m working on right now, the most important ones trying to be the best husband I can be to my wife, Lisa, the best father I can be to my two children, Justine and Jack, and the best grandfather I can be to my wonderful granddaughter, Cora Violet.
As to the next book and what it’s about, I think I’ll just let the suspense build a little while longer.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.