Today’s Interview is with Author John Pearce about writing his highly successful novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare.
John, how would you describe your book to someone who has not yet read it?
Treasure of Saint-Lazare is an international thriller with a strong romantic undercurrent. It’s the story of lost treasure and lost love. Only one of those is found.
Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Treasure isn’t a “message” book, but I hope my readers will watch my protagonist, Eddie Grant, change before their eyes. He, like many of us, must learn to put aside his grief and get on with the business of life.
What inspired you to start writing ?
I’ve been a word person since my days as a journalist in Washington and Germany a good many years ago. Treasure is my second serious effort to write a novel, but the first that stuck. I lived in Germany and wrote for the International Herald Tribune during the last full decade of the Cold War, and I’ve wanted to follow up on that experience by presenting a story as seen by the younger generation of people who were influenced by the Cold War but didn’t actually take part in it.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
Work and reflection. A lot of my ideas come during my daily four-mile walks. The “what if” idea for this one came that way one day, and then I went looking to see if there were a historical hook I could use. That’s when I found Raphael’s well-known self-portrait, which has been missing since 1945.
Does your book have any underlying theme, message, or moral?
Do the best you can, whatever the situation.
Are your characters based on real people?
I picked up a couple of names from people I know, but otherwise every character in it is totally fictional, or such a broad combination of attributes that they are anonymous.
Who is your favorite character and why?
Just about everybody who’s expressed a preference likes Jen Wetzmuller, the Sarasota art dealer who’s always on the edge of being in trouble. I’m writing the sequel right now, and the more I look at her the more I like her.
Are your plots based on your real-life experiences?
Not in any large way, but I spend a lot of time in Paris and I’ve been everywhere I write about. Of course, I live most of the year in Sarasota.
Give us an excerpted quote from your favorite review of this book:
One of my early and most thoughtful reviews came from Adam Najberg, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s Asia edition. I was really pleased when he wrote, “The best thing is how absolutely readable it is.” Of the 119 reviews I have since publication, there are several of the “I couldn’t put it down” variety, which I also appreciated, and the ones who tell me reading the book is like taking a walk through Paris – that’s the effect I wanted to leave.
How much of the book is based on real life (either yours or someone you know)?
The painting was real. Hans Frank, the brutal Nazi governor-general of Poland, was real (and was hanged at Nuremberg). He did steal the painting, along with others. Outside of that minimal factual framework, it’s fiction. I don’t know of any other real-life event precisely like this (although there are still a lot of paintings and other treasures missing from the war).
Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you have learned as a writer from then to now?
Stay in the chair. Write!
Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
I enjoy coming up with the concepts. I enjoy creating the sentences. I do not particularly enjoy the editing.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?
I’d resolve the ending more clearly. Of course, there are several small changes I’d make, but all in all I think it came out the way I intended.
What genre have you not yet written but really want to try?
My sequel, whose working title is “Last Stop: Paris,” will be more of a thriller than Treasure. The third book will be the story of my protagonist’s father as a U.S. military intelligence agent during the war, a sort of third-party memoir. That will keep me busy through 2015, and as of now I don’t know what direction I will go.
What general advice do you have for other writers?
Write. Read many, many books of your own and similar genres, and any book you can find that’s well-written (however you define that). Two good sources for ideas are the podcasts of the New York Times Book Review and the New Yorker Magazine’s fiction department. Their interviews with the reviewers sometimes give a better impression of the quality of the writing than the pages of the newspaper or the magazine.
What is the best part of being a writer?
The feeling of creation.
What’s the most challenging part of being a writer?
Making time for the physical work in the face of all the demands for marketing and research.
Where’s the one place in the world you’d like to visit?
After a lifetime of travel I live in Paris part of every year. This year my wife and I may make another couple of stops in Europe. I’d like to see Hong Kong. I have a book idea on the back burner that might take me to South America, but it’s too early to tell.
What is your favorite novel?
That is tough. I thought “Atonement” by Ian McEwan was one of the strongest novels I’ve ever read, better than its successor “Solar.” Up there with it is “To the End of the Land,” by David Grossman. “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner and “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt are two new books I enjoyed immensely. And then, after I read about Ann Patchett’s new book of stories, I read her “Bel Canto.” And that short list omits a lot.
How would a close friend describe you?
Focused, self-contained, friendly most of the time, tech-savvy.
Where can people learn more about your writing?
My blog site JohnPearceAuthor.com is the best place. I’m active on Google Plus and Twitter, less so on Facebook and LinkedIn, although I do show up there.
What is ONE thing that you have done that brought you more readers?
Seek reviewers. I’ve been fortunate to have almost 120 reviews of Treasure of Saint-Lazare. It’s maintained a four-star ranking on Amazon and reached #25 on the historical mysteries best-seller list. The Amazon page, where you can get the paperback and audio-book editions from. Don’t miss the video trailer on YouTube.
Thanks so much John, for taking the time to talk about your book and your life as a writer.
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