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Saturday, July 16, 2011

FEATURE: New York Times Bestselling Author John Saul

by Cyrus Webb

I have been an avid fan of New York Times bestselling author John Saul since I was fourteen years old. I can remember reading COMES THE BLIND FURY and being entranced, frightened and thrilled all at the same time. From there I went on to enjoy other books by the author, and twenty-two years later I am still reading them.

It's not so much what John writes that has kept me coming back over the years. It is the way he writes that I think keeps us loyal. No matter what title(and I have read 29 of them, 21 of which are on my personal bookshelf today), the author manages to give us characters that represent people we can not only relate to but feel. How many of us know someone has felt mistreated or misunderstood? How many of us want to see justice done for a wrong we think has been committed against us or someone we know? These are some of the people we meet in John Saul's books, and it has become the signature that has made me a real fan.

When Conversations LIVE Radio in July 2003 I knew that I wanted to include in the programming individuals that I admired like John Saul. Though the show initially focused on indiviudals making a difference in my homestate of Mississippi where the show began, by 2004 I was moving outside of the state lines to talk with others who had a story to share. It wasn't until 2007, however, that I finally got up the nerve to email John, tell him about myself and the show and invite him to talk with us. By this time we were broadcasting live from Waldenbooks in Jackson, MS and booklovers were invited to join the conversation as we talked with the guest by phone. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I received an email back saying that John would join us to discuss his new book.

That was the beginning of our working together. After that first interview with him I began to feel more comfortable with reaching out to him about coming on to talk about his new books. He made another appearance on Conversations LIVE in 2008 and then again in 2009.

When it came to asking him to do this conversation for the magazine I was back to that place I found myself mentally in 2007 when I wrote about him coming on the radio show. He announced after the release of his 37th book HOUSE OF RECKONING that there were no plans to release another novel at this time. He has been working on new projects, and I wasn't sure where things stood about his doing press at this time.

Thankfully he said yes again.

In this interview John talks with me about his success, the break from novels as well as the pen names he hinted to me about in our first interview.

Here is our conversation.

John, first let me say thank you for your support over the years. It has really meant alot. As a fan, I look at you with amazing respect because of the longevity you have enjoyed. When you look back over the years, what do you account for the fact that your long-time fans and new readers keep coming back to you?
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I do my best to tell a new story every time, and if the mail is accurate, it seems to be working given that a lot of people have written telling me how much the like the fact that I don’t rework the same story over and over, simply renaming the characters and changing the scene. On the other hand, they also know that they’re going to get something that will keep them reading late into the dark hours before morning.

Having the success you have, beginning with the very first book, is there ever those moments when you wonder to yourself how the next one will be received?That would be every single year, and it wasn’t just me. My editor, Linda Grey, used to worry just as much as I did, and when the first bestseller reports would come in she’d call me with the news that, once more, we didn’t have to run off to Mexico and hide our heads in shame. As far as I know, most writers suffer from the same fears and doubts, and all of us (at least among my friends) are still surprised to see out books on the stands with all the “real books”. Imposter syndrome, and it, too, never eases up.


From the very first book I read with your name on it I fell in love with your writing style and your ability to get us into the mind of the characters. Where do you think that gift comes from?
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that when I write, I tend to become an actor playing the part of the character I’m writing, thinking what they’re thinking, feeling what they’re feeling, etc. Given that, I tend to write what’s happening to me rather than to someone else, which seems to make it much more alive for the reader. Unfortunately, it also makes it more alive for me, too, and I can make myself crazy feeling what the characters are feeling.

Another thing that intrigues me about you is the ability to bring forth real evil while at the same time giving us the epitone of innocence with your young characters. Can you tell us about your choices to put children in some of the storylines that you do?
The great thing about working with children as a writer is that it gives me the ability to cast a single character as both the hero and the villain in a book. Children, by their very youth, are forgiven all kinds of things that an adult couldn’t get away with, even murder. I always find it interesting to try to figure out several reasons why the mayhem is occurring, ranging from someone being really, really mad, stone crazy, or just plain evil. Keeps people guessing right up until the end.

Conversations the Book Club recognized you recently as our author of the decade, though your work expands a much greater time period. While some wish for just one book to make the bestseller's list, you have had practically everything you release become a hit. Yet in spite of the accolades and the honors, you manage to remain humble and approachable. If you were going to share part of your philosophy on life, what should all of us remember as we achieve some level of success?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve always understood that my success wasn’t based only on my own ability, but also on the talents of my editor and publisher as well, not to mention my partner, Mike, who has helped me every step of the way, and my agent, Jane Berkey, who was able to steer me in the right direction and keep me on course through what has been a very long career.

A new step for you has been the release of your books electronically. Is this just keeping up with the times for you or a way that you also are reading these days?
I’m a great fan of eBooks; in fact, one of my titles (I can’t remember which) was one of the first ever to be published in an electronic format. The technology wasn’t ready yet, and that eReader quickly failed, but with the Kindle, Amazon.com got it very much right. I bought on early on, and use it constantly, now in conjunction with my iPad, which is better in the dark. Being able to take a whole library with me wherever I go is one of the great pleasures of modern life, and I’ve also come to understand very clearly that the economics of the physically printed book just no longer make any sense. They’ll always be there in libraries, but for the average reader, the eBook simply makes much more sense.

You told me during a radio interview in 2009 that you also write under pen names. I know you aren't going to tell me one of them, but can you at least give us a hint?
Not yet. But I suspect soon. And you will be very surprised.

Thank you again for your time, John, and continued success to you. I couldn't end this conversation with out asking the question that many of your fans are wondering as well: When can we release the newest John Saul release?
That’s a question I can’t answer right now, as I’m finally taking a long vacation and finding that I enjoy not having a deadline hanging over my head. I’d forgotten what it’s like not to be thinking about “the book” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a new one due every year.


For more information about John Saul, visit www.johnsaul.com.

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