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Best-Selling Author John Lescroart Talks About Latest Book, Prisons, Writing & Friendship

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JL: This is one of the main issues that I address in The Keeper. The close fraternity of the general law enforcement community is exaggerated when a relatively small group of these people work together daily in a constant state of danger and/or privilege. Though many jail guards take their jobs and responsibilities very seriously, the environment itself reinforces an us/them dynamic between the guards and the inmates that is heavily weighted on the side of the guards. These are people who see themselves as basically under siege at all times. And in many ways, this perception is pretty much correct.

It is a dangerous thing to try and restrain any raging man, much less one who might weigh 300 pounds, and put him in a cage. That kind of situation -- which happens frequently in most jails -- demands cooperation and trust that, over time, creates intense loyalty among the tribe of guards. If some one of them oversteps his boundaries because of the intense pressure they're under, and perhaps takes out his frustration on the raging inmate, it is seen as a forgivable.

The crucible of the jail creates its own society whose rules do not always match the rules outside. This is understood and largely unspoken, and of course individual exceptions abound, but a general rule of closed societies is that they create their own ethic, which tend to protect their own citizens. It is possible, of course, to hold the job of jail guard and retain your ethics and your humanity, but since there is very little incentive to do so, and only a small or rare penalty if you lapse, it tends not to be the default position.

JB: I love the deep and rich bond between Diz Hardy and Abe Glitsky. I'm used to seeing that much more often between two women. Why is that? Have you personally enjoyed strong male friendships over the years or is this wishful thinking?

JL: Actually, I've been extremely lucky with a host of some great guy friends, beginning I suppose with my two brothers, Michael and Emmett. Because of our good Catholic parents, we were all born within a 37 month period (do the math), and so we are all close in age. We've made it a point to hang out together throughout our lives -- e.g. we all went the San Francisco Giants baseball fantasy camp when I turned 50 -- and just two days ago, we all met for dinner with our wives in San Francisco since Emmett was passing through on his way from New Jersey to Australia.

But I've also had the good fortune to meet not just a few, but several, terrific guys who have remained truly close friends over many, many (think 50!) years. My chief legal consultant, Al Giannini, for example, was my buddy from freshman year in high school; likewise, Frank Seidl, who was a high school pal and later singing partner. I met another singing partner, Alan Heit, when I was about 24, and he is the model for my character Abe Glitsky. The list goes on and on -- my male friendships greatly enrich my life and my work and, with the exception of my marriage to Lisa, are the blessings for which I am the most grateful.

JB: Lucky is exactly what you are, John. What advice would you give your sons (if you have them) or a boy child about the importance of male bonding?

JL: I believe that male bonding is one of the most important things in life. People always say that guys never get together, or have a hard time getting together, to share real thoughts, ideas, emotions and experiences. I have not found this to be the case. I have shared these real moments with all of my male friends: from singing, to writing stories and songs together, to fishing, to all kinds of team sports, to trying to discuss and solve marital/health/child raising issues, there is really no limit to the connections guys can have. And the great thing is, these connections don't have to interfere at all with guys' relationships to the women in their lives -- it's all complementary. Recently, some friends and I have taken the ultimate step in communication and actually formed a "Guys' Book Club." Guys reading and talking about books? Get out of here!

JB: It does sound very Out There. Good for you. I love that you're still close with your brothers. What was it like growing up in a big family? And how was the Lescroart Boys' stint at baseball fantasy camp?

JL: Growing up in a big family was the only thing I knew, so I don't really have any point of comparison. I was second, eleven months behind my sister Patricia (Irish twins!), and then in quite succession came Mike, Emmett, Marijane, Lorraine, Barbara (who died in infancy) and Kathryn. We kind of naturally divided ourselves in the "big kids" -- Patricia, me and Mike -- and the "little kids" -- Marijane, Lorraine, and Kathryn -- with Emmett casting the swing vote as a staunch independent. With so many kids, my parents were by today's standards extremely laissez faire. We had only one rule -- "Respect" -- and it applied to pretty much everything -- respect Mom (first and foremost), ourselves, property, school, church, etc. As long as we lived with respect, we ran free.

The Fantasy Camp was bittersweet for me, but terrific for both Mike and Emmett. It was less than perfect for me because the week before we were scheduled to go, after I'd been working out and playing long-ball catch and hitting the batting cage, I went skiing and got knocked off the chair lift, dislocating and getting a "ping-pong" fracture in my left shoulder. So I didn't get to play a lick, and was relegated to coaching. Meanwhile, my brother Mike was I think the MVP of the camp, winning two or three games as a pitcher, and leading the league in batting average. Emmett likewise had a hell of a good "season." So . . . all in all, it was fun because the people there were so great, but personally, it wasn't my best week.

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JB: That is disappointing. Moving on, you have a custom of naming some of your characters after actual people. Can you tell us how that came about and how it works?

JL: In the "old days," charity auctions often featured signed First Editions of an author's novels. I would often donate two or three autographed books and perhaps a CD to an auction to benefit, say, a Crisis Nursery, or a Library Foundation, and one of the patrons at the event would typically pay somewhat more than the cover price of the book to bring home the auction item. This was a nice, but kind of low-impact way to raise funds for worthy causes.

Sometime around perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, some smart marketer got the idea that if individual signed books were nice, how much nicer would be the donor's actual name as an immortal character in a published novel. Right from the beginning, this approach paid off in spades, with donors paying truly large sums of money ($37,000 is the record) to become a character. Since the first time I did this, I've probably averaged three characters per book every year, and many more authors are doing this all the time. It's a terrific way to give to worthy causes -- far more lucrative and just as easy as a signed First Edition.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure (more...)

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