In a letter to his readers, John Hart talks about becoming a writer and the challenges he faced in writing The Last Child
I never thought that I would be fortunate enough to make a living as a writer. I dreamed of it, fantasized about it, but even as I walked away from a law practice to write my first novel, the decision was based on an undeniable need to at least try. To aspire. That kind of need is very different from the conviction that it would actually work. I often think of it as a kind of desperation - one that is probably known by a lot of working writers an urge to do something different, to make something from nothing: a compelling story, unforgettable characters, a message, maybe. I knew the odds of getting published were small and that the odds of becoming a bestseller were even smaller, but I never much cared for being an attorney. I guess it had something to do with all of those guilty clients.
My wife never doubted. When I told her that I wanted to quit my job to pursue the only dream Ive ever had, she said, Of course you should quit. We had a newborn at the time and serious plans for another. She was not working. Itll work out, she said, and I love her for that. That total trust.
I walked away from the law and never looked back. We lived lean while I wrote: no dinners out, no travel. We did not have to sell our house, but it was an interesting time. Three books have now been published (The King of Lies, Down River and The Last Child) and all three have been bestsellers. Im blessed to be published in more than two dozen languages and in over thirty countries, a fact that still seems unreal. When Down River won the Edgar Award for Best Novel, I actually started to believe that I would not have to beg for my old job back. Then The Last Child won Englands Steel Dagger for best thriller of the year, and I finally relaxed (for about three days ).
Ive met so many wonderful, committed people along the way. Publishers, editors, booksellers. They shared an excitement about what I was doing, invested their energies and faith None of this could have worked without them.
With my new novel, The Last Child, I took even more chances. My earlier works were told from the first person perspective of an adult white male, which is a skin that I am well-suited to wear. And while both books worked, I feared that a third done in the same manner might feel similar. Not only is The Last Child told from multiple perspectives, but the voices truly challenged me: a thirteen-year-old boy traumatized after the disappearance of his twin sister yet still innocent enough to believe in magic, the boys grief-stricken, drug-addicted mother, a three-hundred-pound escaped convict with the mind of an innocent and the voice of God in his head I had to stretch for these. But I wanted to tell the story of a child whose world is shattered so badly that no one can make it right: not his parents, or the cops, not the church or the community. How does the boy cope? Where does he find strength and down what dangerous path will that strength take him?
Making a thriller work with a child as the main character is not an easy task. The risks have to be credible, the action not only compelling but very, very real. And the kid man, the kid has to be real, too: his perspective, beliefs and actions, everything that he sees and thinks. That challenge so daunted me that when I first began the book I told my editor that in a years time he would either love me or hate me. Thankfully, the book works. Its my favorite yet, and I couldnt be happier.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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