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Hart hopes ‘Last Child’ is on way to New York Times bestseller list

By Deirdre Parker Smith
dp1@salisburypost.com
Jason Walser of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina made a bold statement at Sunday night’s launch party for John Hart’s new book, “The Last Child.”
“I really believe, in 24 months from now, this book will be a collector’s edition. It will be a movie. It will be a huge hit and you’ll be glad you have the book.”
Hart thanked him and laughed.
Kicking off books is almost old hat for Hart, who made the New York Times bestseller list for his first two, “The King of Lies” and “Down River,” both set in Rowan County. “The Last Child” takes place in Raven County, a little further east, but the unnamed town in the book could be here.
“Salisbury still feels very special to me. … I get tickled by the idea of someone on the beach in Japan or in the snows of Russia reading about North Carolina.”
His books are now in 70 countries, in 26 languages.
“The Last Child” will officially be released Tuesday, but patrons at the Sunday event got signed copies early. Walser warned them not to start reading tonight or they’d never make it to work Monday morning.
“One of the things I’m most proud of ó I put so many things in play here with no idea they would all fit and it does,” Hart said.
Hart always starts with character. “For me, this is what it’s all about, the character.”
In “The King of Lies” and “Down River,” he wrote in first person from the perspective of a white male, no stretch. In “The Last Child,” he writes in third person and his hero is a 13-year-old boy, Johnny Merrimon.
“There has to be honesty in character-based novels,” Hart said. He knew when he wrote about the boy fishing at the river in the beginning of “Down River” that he wanted to take that character further. In that book, the boy represents the carefree childhood of main character Adam Chase.
In “The Last Child,” that boy becomes a powerful new character that Hart has had a hard time shaking. “It’s taking me a long time to start book four,” Hart said. “Because of Johnny.”
When he came up with the idea for this book, he told his editors, “You’re going to love me or hate me.”
Looks like they’ll love him, if early reviews are any indication. Critics have praised the novel.
“Adam (in ‘Down River’) meets this boy fishing on the river, a typical Rowan County boy. I had to figure out how I could ruin this poor child’s life.
“It’s hard to write mysteries or thrillers around young children. I had to ruin the life of an innocent and figure out how he would react.”
Johnny’s twin sister vanishes, and it’s a year later. Everyone has failed him, his father, wracked with guilt over her disappearance, leaves. His mother is addicted to pills and booze and has a new, mean boyfriend. The cops haven’t found his sister. God won’t answer his prayers.
“As far as he can tell, he’s the only one who still cares,” and he sets out to track down all the sexual predators in the county, by himself, despite warnings from the tortured police detective.
Hart had to build a child who would walk through fire. “There is nothing this kid will not do.”
Another favorite character in the book is a giant, simple-minded escaped convict with a coffin on his shoulder.
“The book takes off for me when the boy is going from home to home searching for his sister.” Then he witnesses a horrible accident, “on the same bridge,” figuratively, “where Work ditched the gun, where Adam stopped on his way back to town” in the first two books.
“The broken man who’s flown off his motorcycle into the river says, ‘I found her.’ Then he grabs Johnny and tells him, ‘run.’ ” And Johnny does, straight into the giant escaped convict. Then things really take off.
Only a handful of people at the event had read an advanced copy of the book. Hart had his audience, literally, on the edges of their seats.
Barbara Setzer asked Hart if he looks for his books in bookstores.
“I did. I used to drive around and stop anywhere I thought they sold books. If I found them, I’d rearrange them, organize them. Then I found out that wastes a lot of time and gas, and I’d really be disappointed if I didn’t find them. I don’t do that anymore.”
Hart has an office in Greensboro and goes in five days a week to write, and sometimes on weekends. “I treat it like a job, and it is.”
Walser kidded him he picked a fine time to leave his job at Merrill Lynch to write books.
Book four is a little intimidating. “I’m so thrilled with three I don’t know how I’m going to touch it,” Hart said.
The planned movie of “King of Lies” is off. The producer did not renew his option, partially due to the economy, but Hart says “The Last Child” is “the most filmic. That’s a Hollywood word, ‘filmic’.”
When he launched the book in London, there was a lot of excitement, so he’s hoping for good international sales.
He’s quick to point out he is not Johnny, the relentless child. “BookPage called him a spiritual soul mate of Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. … I like that.
“It took three months to find a convincing voice for the boy.”
Hart thinks it worked. Time will tell what the readers think.
Hart has a second fund-raiser and launch party Monday in Greensboro for the Greensboro Children’s Museum.
He’ll be back in Salisbury Tuesday night for a reception and book signing at Literary Bookpost, 119 S. Main St., from 6:30-9 p.m.
Walser told people to buy lots of books so Hart can, once again, make the New York Times bestseller list.

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