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John Pearce: Finding the Focus to Write Paris Thrillers

John Pearce

At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academic researchers, explorers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and efficient go-getters. We love to share their stories and advice, because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

Meet John Pearce.

John Pearce is a former journalist and businessman turned novelist. John started his career as an Associated Press journalist predominantly covering economics in Washington and Germany. John and his wife Jan, a former reporter for the Washington Post, lived in Frankfurt for many years and together wrote the special financial sections for the International Herald Tribune (now the International New York Times.) During this time John and his wife took many trips to Paris – falling in love with the city that would later provide the backdrop for his novels.

After leaving Germany in the mid-seventies to move to Sarasota, Florida, John left journalism and entered the security business which would later enable him to retire early and begin his career as a novelist.

John penned his first novel, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, in 2012, followed by Last Stop: Paris in 2015. Both books topped multiple bestseller lists and Treasure of Saint-Lazare won best top historical mystery of the year by Readers’ Favorite.

John and his wife now spend most of the year in Sarasota, Florida, but still . reserve a few months each year for their favorite place, the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris, where he continues to write his novels much like Hemingway and other expat writers once did.

So this week we decided to sit down with John and learn a little more about how he finds the focus and motivation to write thrillers in his favorite city.

How did you know that you wanted to be an author and what were your first steps in making this your career?

I was a journalist in an earlier life, covering mainly economics in Washington and in Germany. Those skills don’t transfer automatically into successful novel writing, so I put my desires on hold while I pursued other careers.

My wife and I sold our business and took early retirement in 2004, then began regular annual visits to Paris. It was then that I started gathering the information that would become Treasure of Saint-Lazare, which Readers’ Favorite picked as the best historical mystery of 2014.

We still live in Paris three months each year. In fact, we’re in Paris as I write this and I’ve just begun gathering material for my fourth, fifth and sixth novels.

At what point did you realize that tech/apps/sites were taking a toll on your productivity/time/relationships?  When did you know that you had to do something about it?

Anyone who MUST concentrate on the task at hand knows what a dead weight the bottomless well of the internet has become. I’ve tried several methods of control, from turning off wifi to using Freedom, which is now my tool of choice.

How do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day

The one block of time that is sacred is my afternoon writing time. A lot of people are more comfortable writing in the morning, but I learned journalism working for morning newspapers. Once you’ve built the habit of working after lunch, it’s hard to change.

Mornings are spent on business, marketing my books, keeping up to date with the news (old reporters are notorious news junkies, and I’ve been reading the home-delivery version of The New York Times since 1960). Afternoons are for writing.

When we’re in Paris my habits change somewhat. I write at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, one of the most beautiful old reading rooms in the world, and it opens at 10. We meet for lunch and I go back for a couple of hours. Later we work on gathering info and pictures for my blog, Part-Time Parisian, or social media. For the first couple of weeks I go to a French language school for three hours each morning.

John Pearce Novels

How do you stay focused and motivated on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, ritual,  or process that helps to get into a productive flow?

This gets into the world of writer psychology. Every writer runs into the slough of despond near the beginning of work on a book. You just have to power through it. At least that works for me.

How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?

There’s not much to my writing environment other than my MacBook Pro, my iPad Pro, my Moleskine writing notebook and my fountain pens. When I sit down to write, Freedom goes on. If I’ve prepared the right way, I won’t have to turn it off for four hours.

What projects are you currently most excited about?

I write novels about Paris. My first, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, explored what might have happened to an Old Master painting that disappeared from a Polish museum and has never been found. It’s a real painting, one called Portrait of a Young Man, a self-portrait of Raphael. The novel has a lot of World War II in it, not to mention some exciting scenes in Sarasota, Florida, where I live. It was very well received and spent some time in the Top 100 of all Kindle books. I’ve just released a large print edition to go with the e-book, paperback, and audio editions.

The next two books, Last Stop: Paris and Finding Pegasus, continue the story of my protagonist, Eddie Grant. The next book will be placed almost entirely in Paris and will include at least one of the new characters I introduced in Finding Pegasus. That book, incidentally, was the most techie of the three.

What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?

I walk four miles every day. It’s my best time for thinking, and I carry a small portable recorder to capture ideas and turn them over to Dragon for transcribing, then I store them in Evernote. I also listen to podcasts, some of them about my own industry but many about politics and history. The Washington Post’s Daily 202 and the BBC’s History Extra are two of my favorites. History Extra had a fascinating program on the Crusades the other day.

Where are you currently based?

My wife Jan and I have lived in Sarasota, on the West Coast of Florida, since the mid-eighties. The year after we arrived we bought a fire protection business and ran it for eighteen years, until we sold it to a large national company in 2004, and retired. It was far too early for me to retire, which led directly to my returning to fiction.

We live in Sarasota nine or ten months of the year. In the past we’ve spent the balance of the year in Paris, but this year we will expand our travels, spending three months in Paris, a couple of weeks in Dublin, then two or three months in Montreal and Upstate New York. I’m working on a plot that will feature the POW camps in New York State where German prisoners were housed during the War, so we’ll spend some time exploring that part of the area’s history.

By the time we get back to Sarasota, I hope the summer will have left for good. It’s odd — Paris lies approximately at the same latitude as the U.S. – Canadian border, but in recent years it’s been as hot as it has been in Florida. I won’t give up Paris, but I will happily give up Paris summers, which is why we’re going there earlier this year than we ever have before.

To learn more about John Pearce or his work, visit his site at You can also follow his blog at