Monday, February 11, 2013

John Pearce: The IAN Interview

I started gathering the material for Treasure of Saint-Lazare during my days as a journalist in Washington and Germany, where I covered economics and finance for Associated Press and then the International Herald Tribune. I developed a keen interest in World War II when I lived down the street from an immense air-raid bunker in Frankfurt and kept on top of the war literature when I returned to the United States and went into business.

I only recently found time to write, and the first thought I had (as any novelist does) was “what if”?  My what-if moment was the time I realized there was a world-famous painting by the Italian old master Raphael, a contemporary of Leonardo, that was lost at the end of the war – and was still missing. From there it was but a short jump to a story about a hellish consortium of crooks who thought they knew where to find it.

IAN. Please tell us about your latest book
JP.Treasure of Saint-Lazare is the story of one man’s grudging quest for the truth. My protagonist, Eddie Grant, is a man who life has not treated at all well. His father, his wife and his young son were killed several years before the book’s action and he has been working ever since to dig out from under the emotional and psycological avalanche that brought down on him.

I’ve been extremely gratified at how well it’s been received. I’m a first-time author publishing from a tiny publishing company, and Treasure of Saint-Lazare still has ranked in the top 1% of all Kindle books almost from the time it hit the market. It’s also been in the Top 100 Kindle historical mysteries almost all of that time, and in the Top 100 of all Kindle books for about half the time. Needless to say, I’m pleased.

IAN. How long did it take to write Treasure of Saint-Lazare?
JP. From concept to publication, three years. However, the first two years were a sort of self-imposed timeout. I began the writing but discovered pretty quickly that I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I stepped back and began a self-study program. Then I came back to the writing in late 2011 and had it finished and on the market by October 2012.

IAN. What inspired you to write the book?
JP. My interest in the war, in art and in France, in no particular order. Also, I had wanted for years – decades, really – to write a novel like this. I still have notes from back in the day for a John Le Carré clone that, fortunately, I had sense enough to kill and bury.

IAN. Talk about the writing process.
JP. I worked on morning newspapers so I’ve never broken the habit of afternoon work. I get up at a reasonable hour, take a three-mile walk, have a leisurely breakfast, read the New York Times, and then around lunchtime I turn to work for three to five hours.

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
JP. Yes is the best answer I can give. I don’t do a formal outline but I gather hundreds of notes using Evernote, which I’ve been using for as long as it’s been in business. I now have almost 17,000 notes, not all of them about my books. I organize those notes and construct a rough chapter outline in Scrivener, then write to that outline.

IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?
JP. My main market is Kindle readers, because that’s what I am and that’s where I think the novel market is headed. I also have a trade paperback, which has been very popular in Sarasota, FL, where I live, because our population is a touch older and hasn’t yet fully embraced ebooks, to put it delicately.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
JP. I hope they see a story of a man’s ability to change his life when he’s forced to step up to an unwanted task. My protagonist, Eddie, is far from a perfect guy but he knows his failings and makes huge progress toward overcoming them.

IAN. Where can we go to buy Treasure of Saint-Lazare?
JP. Amazon.

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
JP. I’ve finished plotting a sequel and have begun the writing. My publication goal is third quarter 2013, but I’m willing to let that slide if another few months will give me the chance to polish it.

Treasure of Saint-Lazare
296 pages
Historical Mystery
Publisher: Alesia Press LLC. (

    For more than a hundred years, the Hôtel Luxor had stood imperiously on the narrow sidewalk of Rue Saint-Roch. Its cut-stone façade and wrought-iron balconies reflected to perfection the austere design dictated by Baron Haussmann when he razed and then rebuilt whole sections of the city for his patron, Emperor Napoleon III. Its sole distinguishing feature, other than a discreet brass plaque bearing the hotel’s name over four stars, was an immense revolving door made of dark-stained oak and brass, which the hotel staff polished every day to a mirror finish. The single doors on either side of it stood open in the glorious late-spring weather that often settles over the city in mid June. Spring turning to summer is the time all the other Parisian seasons envy, and this June day was one of the best.
    Late afternoon was a slow time for the reception manager — he was born to the hotel world and would stay at the Luxor until he died. His name was Monsieur Duval, and he believed he was at least partly responsible when the hotel received its coveted fourth star the year before. M Duval arrived at work each morning in casual dress — that is, he wore no tie with his starched white shirt, which his wife had carefully ironed that morning. In the small cloakroom behind the reception desk he changed to a dove-gray suit, adding a silk tie a few shades darker. Only Eddie and the payroll clerk knew his first name, so complete was his devotion to both his privacy and his guests’.
    He was peering suspiciously at a slightly loose button on the left sleeve of his jacket just as Eddie’s tall silhouette filled the open door, then stood aside to let Jen Wetzmuller enter the lobby. He followed, pulling her wheeled suitcase.
    “Bonjour, Madame, bonjour, M Grant. Welcome back.” M Duval said seriously, no smile. His hand came from beneath the counter holding two envelopes, which he handed to Eddie. “You have a little mail today. Not much.”
    “Thank you. M Duval, allow me to present Madame Wetzmuller, who is visiting me and my mother for a few days. Her father and mine were close associates during the war.”
    “The Luxor is very pleased to have you as its guest, Madame,” M Duval said gravely.      “Please ask for anything you need.” Surprised by his formality, she muttered a barely audible “merci,” then managed a tight smile and a dip of her head.
    Eddie bypassed the large winding staircase he normally took to his apartment on the top floor, instead leading Jen toward the elevators to its left. He pressed the button marked 7 but the elevator did not move until he entered a code into the keypad above.  “Remember the code, 6161,” he told her.
    As they rose, he reflected that Jen had retained the fresh air of youth he’d admired in 1988. She wore a traveler’s outfit of white blouse and pleated blue skirt, and had coaxed her hair into a shape he had not seen in Paris for several years. With difficulty, he brought it back from his very small store of fashion knowledge — coupe à la Jeanne d’Arc — pageboy cut, that had been its name, and it had been popular in the U.S. twenty years before. Despite the June warmth she had a sweater over her shoulders. The skirt fell precisely to the top of her knees, and her legs were as attractive as he remembered. She wore a delicate perfume he couldn’t identify, except to remember that it was different from the one she’d worn in 1988. Under the perfume there was the delicious woman smell he’d immersed himself in during their three days together.
She looked up at him and said gently, “It’s been a very long time. I never expected to see you again.”
    “Nor did I. But I could never forget those three days in Sarasota.”
    “They were memorable, weren’t they?” She smiled at him for the first time, a generous open smile that lighted her deep blue eyes and told him his disappearance was forgiven, if not forgotten. The weight of mortal sin lifted from him.
She broke the silence as they passed the fifth floor. “What happened after?”
    “Pretty much as planned. I went into the Army, served in Desert Storm, then came home to Paris.”
    “Did you ever marry?”
    “Yes, once. You? My wife died.”
    “That is sad. I married once, for three years. A big-time cardiologist who wanted a younger wife. It lasted until he found another blonde trophy.”
    “Then you’ve stayed in Sarasota?”
    “God knows why. It’s a beautiful town but no place for a single woman my age. It’s a huge, deep pool of blue-collar men looking for college-educated women and, surprisingly, finding them. I’m almost too old for that group now. I suppose I’ll sign up for the club of unhappy middle-aged divorcées and widows who understand deep down they’ll spend nights alone for the rest of their lives.
    “You’re selling yourself short. We’re only forty and you still look like the girl I knew back then. It’s far too early to start wearing black and sitting in a rocker on your front porch.”
    “Thanks for that. You haven’t done badly yourself. You still have all that black black hair I admired. And you still carry yourself like a West Pointer.” She smiled again.
They stood in silence until the elevator stopped. The door opened and she stepped out into a small lobby decorated in Second Empire style. A marble table held a large bouquet of yellow flowers, which complemented the blue walls.
    “Just one door?”
    “This floor was an afterthought some time after the building was built. It’s a little smaller than the others, which is the reason the city has winked at it. The French are pragmatic about that sort of thing. If it pushes a little over the edge of the law but doesn’t hurt anything, they generally close their eyes. It was a little risky, but I decided to turn the entire floor into my own apartment.”

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