Friday, June 7, 2024

Q&A with John McNellis




John McNellis is the author of the new novel Scout's Honor. His other books include the novel O'Brien's Law. He is also a principal with the commercial development firm McNellis Partners.


Q: What inspired you to write Scout’s Honor, and how did you create your character Eddie?


A: Many years ago, I was too sick one day to do anything but lie abed—I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch television, I could only wish away the pain.


I began to fantasize, to daydream, and I found myself wondering what would happen to a highly principled teenager if everything suddenly went wrong in his life, if he lost his family, if he ended up homeless.


What would he do to recover his place in the world? How far would he go to succeed? If he turned to crime, would he regret it and how would it affect his life? Would the flickering light of his morality be doused altogether, or might he overcome his criminal past?


I created Eddie Kawadsky the way I write my stories…like a magpie nest, taking sticks and twigs of pure fiction, bits and pieces of real life, sprigs of desultory research (I hate research) and fashioning them together in—hopefully—a story that holds together like a strong nest in a gale.


Q: Did you need to do much research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did. I didn’t serve in the Marines nor have I ever been to Vietnam. I grew up in a military family and had always admired the Corps, but I had to heavily research the novel’s Marine section. Surprisingly, a number of readers like the war chapters the best. 


Also, I have to admit I’ve never run drugs, been inside a Mexican prison or opened a secret Swiss bank account. All required research. I was quite surprised to learn how well someone of means can live in a Mexican prison. If you have the money, you can buy 24-hour security, a private apartment replete with a kitchen, multiple bedrooms, television, and almost unlimited visitation rights. 


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: A scout is the point man in a rifle platoon, the Marine who leads the way into and through the battlefields, the most dangerous job in the Corps.


Eddie does two full tours in Vietnam and is widely considered the best scout in his battalion. His valor earns him the nickname Scout, which in time becomes such an honorific that it raises the envy of even his company commander. 


The title Scout’s Honor suggests the book’s central question: Can honor lost ever be recovered?


Q: What do you hope readers take away from this novel?


A: That life can offer a second chance. While the real-world evidence for it is scant, I would like to believe in a moral universe, that good is rewarded, bad punished, the scales balanced at day’s end.


I hope my readers see this belief in my admittedly flawed characters’ struggles in their lives. And perhaps take some comfort from it. 


My simpler hope is merely that readers enjoy the story, that for just a short time, it takes them away from their daily lives, maybe even helps them briefly set aside their inevitable pains as the story did for me the first day I dreamed of Eddie Kawadsky. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A story in which a man rediscovers his humanity through learning how to train his wildly unruly dog. Some writer once opined that telling a story before having written it was a sure way never to finish the book. I’m going to take his advice and leave the description of my next project at that.   


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I would like to recommend my first novel, O’Brien’s Law. It could scarcely be less similar to Scout’s Honor. It’s often comic, largely lighthearted.


Michael O’Brien is a brand-new lawyer at a fancy law firm in San Francisco’s swinging ‘70s. O’Brien thinks he’s a terrific lawyer, but he’s not; he’s immature, cocky, lazy, and far more interested in chasing women than in doing legal research. But he grows up fast as the loser case his firm hands him turns into a murder mystery.


If they’re interested, your readers can Google me, or more specifically, look me up at My two novels—Scout’s Honor, O’Brien’s Law—are described in detail there, as in my nonfiction real estate primer, Making it in Real Estate. If they wish to know more about my real estate career, they could check out


Finally, please ask your readers to write me at if they do happen to read Scout’s. I would love to hear what they think. Thank you. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with John McNellis.

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