One of the first things that struck me about John Grisham is that he married a woman six years his junior. He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, right next door to the girl he would go on to marry. He said when he came back from school, she had grown up! He went to Ole Miss after attending some smaller schools (he changed colleges three times before graduating). But her parents wouldn’t allow him to date her because he was too old. On their first date, her parents weren’t home and they went out to see a movie.
His breakout book was A Time to Kill. He also wrote The Pelican Brief and The Firm. Grisham has sold more books (nearly 300 million) than any other author. Aside from his children’s book series, he has penned a total of 33 books – 31 novels, one collection of short stories and one work of non-fiction.
One of the books that inspired him was To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Like Grisham, Lee was also from the Deep South. In addition, he enjoyed reading Mark Twain’s Roughing It, John le Carre’s Little Drummer Girl and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
As long as he can remember, however, he really wanted to be a professional baseball player. After that dream died, he built a $3.8 million stadium in Virginia. He is a St. Louis Cardinals fan and is involved with RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities). Combining his vocation and his avocation, he wrote the original screenplay for Mickey, a baseball drama movie which starred Harry Connick, Jr.
He said he gets most of his fodder from the newspaper. There is always a story there of a trial taking place. He postulates there is inevitably a “Crime of the Century” every two years or so.
He started writing early on in his life. He said he was a terrible lawyer but was always dreaming of the big case. Because he was a young attorney, he felt that time was on his side. He knew that writers like James Michener wouldn’t be around forever and that, sooner or later, he would have his day.
It doesn’t take a speed reader to realize that many of his books start with the word “the.” The Runaway Jury, The Client, The Brethren, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The King of Torts, The Summons, The Broker, The Appeal, The Associate, The Confession, The Litigators and The Last Juror. Exceptions include Bleachers, Skipping Christmas, Playing for Pizza and A Painted House. Regardless, they have all gone on to become international bestsellers.
His routine is that he will write starting around 7 or 7:30 am, and will stay at it for four or five hours. He said he generally doesn’t go longer than that as his brain is pretty well fried by then. He writes in a farmhouse that is steps away from his kitchen. During the process, he denies himself access to the internet and his mobile phone. Rarely does he ever suffer writer’s block, he claims.
He said that men don’t generally write women very well. Those who read Gray Mountain, which included a female lead character, would probably agree.
His books have been adapted into screenplays starring such notable actors as Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Gene Hackman. The books themselves have been translated into nearly 50 languages.
Lately, he has been writing for the kids market. Theodore Boone is a series of books that have gotten much attention. Theodore’s parents are both lawyers and are very smart. While Theodore can’t practice law (because of his age), he knows it very well and imparts helpful information to friends and members of his community.
A Time to Kill was picked up by Wynwood Press (after being rejected by 28 publishers) and given a modest print run. Doubleday ended up republishing it – and turned it into a blockbuster.
The Innocent Man marked his foray into non-fiction. He boasts that, after 30 books, there’s still plenty to write about. He wishes he could write two or three books a year – but instead has been writing one a year for quite some time.
He says “If what you are writing is good, it will eventually get noticed.” And perseverance is a big, big part of it.
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