His father wanted him to sell insurance. But Davis mystery writer John Lescroart has published nine novels since 1982. His most recent is "Guilt" (Delacorte Press, 1997).
"I was not raised to be a writer," he told a group of interested readers meeting at the Winters library recently. "My dad sold insurance. My sisters and brothers all went into the business world but I was just this freak who always wrote but was always conflicted, too. My dad said writing was wonderful - just not something you could make a living at."
However, Lescroart's father was a good guy. Recognizing that his son had the bug, he set out to help him. "We sat down together and outlined a seven-day story in the life of Sherlock Holmes with Nero Wolfe as his son. It took me 11/2 months to write then I put it in a drawer and didn't think about it again. Instead I went into music."
He didn't say how his father reacted to that career decision. Lescroart abandoned music when he turned 30 and hadn't made a hit record. "Then I wrote a book called 'Sunburn' about travels in Spain and Europe," he said. "I sent it to my high school teacher who wrote me back saying it was really bad. A day later his wife called and said she loved it and wanted to submit it for an award."
Lescroart was working at Guitar magazine when he got a call saying he'd won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award for "Sunburn."
"I was positive (the person on the phone) was my younger sister Kathy giving me grief," he said. Anyway, winning an award was nice but the book wasn't published. "I wrote three more books but nothing happened," he said. Finally, "Sunburn" was published but it died unnoticed. Lescroart kept writing.
At one point he took the novel he'd written in college out of that desk drawer, added 15 pages to it, and sent it off. It was published, but the bigger success he needed - like, making a living, -- still eluded him.
Lescroart recalled what it was like living in Los Angeles with his wife, Lisa, writing in the mornings, working a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job and working another job at night. "We were unhappy," he said. But he kept on writing.
By now he had published five novels but was barely making it. Then he and Lisa moved to Davis and he wrote "Hard Evidence," "The 13th Juror," and "A Certain Justice." Those were his breakthrough books. Then, too, he got serious about the business of being a writer.
"In the beginning I didn't have a vision of myself as a writer. I was overwhelmed by every little bit of success and didn't care about getting a lawyer or an agent." Now, as he will tell you in detail, his attitude toward the business side of writing has changed completely.
"I made a lot of mistakes due to lack of confidence," he said. "I now have a lot more power and understanding of the business."
Lescroart said his father lived long enough to see "Son of Holmes" (the book they outlined together) and "Sunburn" published but unfortunately not long enough to see the success he is enjoying now.
That's too bad because "Guilt" was just selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club. It was rejected as a movie of the week idea by CBS TV but that no was not final. If "Guilt" becomes a best-seller, as it looks like it will, then CBS will be glad to reconsider. "Publishing is not about books," concluded Lescroart. "I don't know what new authors do anymore."
"Why didn't you give up?" a would-be writer asked him.
"I couldn't shake the vision," he said. "I think I've made the point I'm stupid."
Lescroart said his early books were entirely character-driven. Weak plots, strong characters. Then he began writing books that were all plot. However, "Guilt" represents a return to character.
"It's not really a mystery," he said. "The guy you think did it, did it."
(Lescroart turned to some local folks for help in technical aspects of the book. He received medical advice from Dr. Peter Dietrich of Davis and information on the Catholic Church from Father Dan Looney of Davis.
(When Looney saw a copy of the new book with his name listed in the acknowledgments, he was pleased. "I contributed to 'Guilt," he said, smiling. And how many times does a priest get to say that?)