An Evening with John Grisham; Southern Expression Special
Stay tuned to Mississippi educational television for a Southern expression special. An evening with John Grisham next. This southern expression special is made possible in part by a grant from North Park Mall providing options for shopping in central Mississippi. Oh. Good evening I'm Gene Everett. Just 10 years ago John Grisham lived here a small town Mississippi lawyer a part time legislator new husband new father. He wanted to be a writer. His first novel A Time to Kill took the better part of three years to write. He sold it by loading copies into the back end of his car and hitting the road. He
next wrote the firm and on the first Sunday of 1990 an agent called to say the film rights had been sold for over a half million dollars. John Grisham was first five novels have sold more than 55 million copies of his novels. The firm The Pelican Brief and the client are hit movies and on the occasion of the publication of his sixth novel The Rainmaker John Grisham has come to spend an hour with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen John Grisham. Each. Thank you. Thank you Will. Let me hand this to you here I think it's all organized. We have a lot of people here who have questions to ask all of you there you go. One disk with that one right. Always want to feel Oprah. See I even do that. I even do the technical work you know what I like. Let me ask
about this business before we do anything else OK. Time to Kill. How many copies hardback in the first room the only room the original hardback printing of the time to kill was. Somewhere between four and five thousand you bought a thousand for him how many copies in the hardback worth of. First Edition they printed 55000 copies of the firm in ninety one. March of 91 went on the Souls of millions. It was sold 600000 hardback. And so somewhere around 13 million in paper I figure where I'm going here you know Pelican Brief the first edition hardback copies were you know I know. I know I'm just the first pelican the Pelican was talking his first edition first printing a pelican I think was four fifty four hundred fifty one thousand. OK and the first printing of the client was.
About 1.8 1.9 you're getting up there in the chamber the first printing was two and a half to my hand. And this this remake. How many copies of the first 2.8 million. Twenty thousands we think we're losing ground here. Yeah that's incredible. So here's what I want to know. You go to bed at night you put your head on the pillow you go to sleep do you ever think when you go to sleep at night I'm going to wake up in the morning and it's all going to have been a dream. I did for a while but it I guess is like anything else in life you sort of get used to it. The firm was published four years ago in and so there's been a lot of attention ever since then. Book Number Six just came out and I mean I don't take any of it for granted but we've sort of got become used to certain elements of it. Certain aspects of
being published certain certain levels of attention we get as much as we can stand. But there were some early days early on with the firmware. I thought often ask myself if it was a dream. Now still every day I mean it's not a day that doesn't go by that I don't really stop and think about it. It's still new still fresh or still happening I mean the books are still there you know again the firm was four years ago. It's happened awfully quick and we sort of got ambushed by it. So it's been a real adjustment. Is there any way to prepare yourself for this. No way to know there's no way to prepare for there's no way there's no way to. What's been very frightening at times is there's no one to go to for advice because you really can't find anybody who's been through anything. You know Stephen King came to Oxford last year and we met each other and got to be kind of buddies and
so we spent a lot of time right around the road the low roads of canning and talking about you know books movies success and it was a lot of help to me just to have somebody else to talk to somebody who'd been through it and it was very beneficial. So but that advice has been pretty rare. Best Sellers support group. Yeah I would say. And we get a lot of sympathy. I am we have a we have a wonderful crowd of people here tonight we've got a hundred and fifty people or so who have come to ask you questions. They want to know all kinds of things and I hope some of them have surprises for you. You have a surprise. What's your question. Good evening. In an interview with Bryant Gumbel I believe it was right before the Pelican Brief came out. He stated that after a time they killed and not say Oh many copies when you sat down to write the farm
you set out to write a book that would sail and have always been fascinated by that statement and my question is how does a writer accomplish that. The farm was a naked stay abit commercial fiction. I had spent three years rotting at Sam to kill a book I hoped would get published. But right when I finished a 10 to kill I went to the next book which turn out to be the firm. And I thought back the time to kill would have a limited appeal if it was ever published because it's very southern It's very sort of emotional and and maybe even controversial I just didn't see it as a big seller even if the book was ever in bookstores at the time I didn't have an agent I don't know if the book was ever going to get published. So when I spent three years writing it it began to become a very much a secret hobby a daily habit something I did for a few minutes or an hour maybe every day and I said look if I'm going to do this
if I get a five o'clock in the morning to go to the office and try to write I'm going to write something it's going to say all I'd like to get paid for doing this and and how do you do that and how you do it you. You just try to come up with a good story you try to come up with a story that people find and suspenseful. People hooked into early on and don't want to put it down for a long time. How much should help with your wife and all that. I think there were a couple of instances along the way where she was crucial and had she not been there I don't know what would happen for example for example when she read the first chapter of a time to kill his own legal pads. She didn't know I was writing it and I was a nervous wreck when I gave it to her and I said I got something I want you to read. And she left the house while she read it. And I came back she said. This is pretty good like to read some more
and I thought OK I'll go. So I thought I had you know that was that was a big moment. There was a there was a really funny story occasion looking back it's all a lot of fun. I guess about once a month around our house when I can finally stop or long enough I'll say OK I need five minutes and five minutes that means I have an idea for a story that's been going on for a long time and it better be good because normally I get less than five minutes. She loved to shoot the ideas down and I've got to give her three or four five quick sentences with a good you know good story a good cook a good compelling idea. And as I was finishing a time to kill as I typically did I'm looking forward to the next book I'm always anxious to start the next one for fear that I might not have one. You know it's I think writers do that. But Time to Kill is almost through and
one day I said look I have an idea. And so I gave it this idea of a young lawyer who goes to work for a law firm that secretly owned by the mafia and once you join the firm you never leave and he tries to get out what you think. And her reaction was amazing she said. She said wait a minute. Do that again you know repeat that and I did and she said that is a big book if you can get it written. That has a huge commercial appeal to it. And my reaction was because we do this all the time. My reaction was really unthinkable work and so off we went. And those are those two moments or were very crucial she is me she still has a lot of input into it. She still reads each chapter as they come off the machine and we have some pretty healthy discussions about them.
The fiction the kids used to think we were really seriously fighting but they've grown up with it now and they realize mom dad just Dargon over the book. At what point at what point though in the firm did you realize that it was really working that it was him. I had written half of the firm when I got the phone call from New York that a time to kill was going to be published which is amusing when I write when I read where people have written it's obvious he wrote the firm just for the movies. I mean when I wrote half of the book I don't know if the first one was ever going to get published but I was writing every day. I fit the time to kill was published in June of 89 in and a couple months later I finally finished the firm I sent out to New York and I had an agent and he had sold down the town just command I was very proud of it. I really liked the book and
I thought the firm was just honest I thought just OK you know. I was convinced it was not it was good my first book. Set off with a great deal of hesitation because I mean a time to kill. We print for 5000 copies about a thousand I couldn't give my parcel in the bookstore sure couldn't give away the book one sale and I was really pumped up about being a big author at the time and I was convinced at the time that the farm was sort of a step backwards and if my wife had not intervened and said send the thing off not sure I would have got a New Yorker the fall of the night it sort of languished in his office for a while and there was no great stampede to buy the farm. He showed it to a few publishers sort of unofficial officialy editors and there was I mean the reception was lukewarm. It was just kind of languished in his office for six months. So I never I mean I did not long after I finished the book I didn't really see the commercial
angle to the firm I thought was a pretty good story it was in general have a two part question you know the first it's less serious than the second. I'll try to remember the first part when you think I will always forget for I was always going to write you a letter saying your first name is John my first name is Joe and you have a son and a daughter I have a son and a daughter. You served in the legislature serving in the legislature. You're creative and somewhat creative and you were born if it were if I was for it were it like if it could be 20 it were long lost twin. No but seriously my question is. I worked in the film industry for a little while that is film commissioner for Mississippi. I know that certain times people have an interest in themselves especially with their writers and they come up with the creation and they want to make sure that their creation which is put on film is true to their original vision vision. Have you had that desire
and inclination and in terms of having more control over your film product. Are you going to do a term to kill terrorists in their own Oxford. Yeah. Did you did you exercise more of your your artistic license and artistic control in that project or or do you have such a desire. Well where we're sort of in the middle of it now. I've had three movies firm pelican and Klein and I've had nothing to do with any of them. It was very easy to stay away. It's I've always had a very cowardly attitude toward Hollywood by staying away. If you if I really mess it up. I can see you know don't blame me I didn't make the movie. If they make a really good movie then I can take all the credit as I wrote the book anyway. And by staying away from and I've been sort of insulated. And that still is pretty much my attitude with exception of a time to kill because that
is my favorite book. It's very special and dear and sentimental all that kind of stuff at the time we began negotiating to sell the film much to the kyo. Last August I had and still have the ability at this point in time to get certain things out of Hollywood. Now it's not going to last forever. I didn't have three years ago I may not have it three years from now. Right now I've got him over a barrel and I can get what I won't especially with time to kill they knew when they came to the town to Kiel that there were some rather severe restrictions on it. And with that in mind we still negotiated and I got everything I want approval over the director approval over a certain casting decisions. The big one is script approval and also approval of where they film it.
I wanted to film in Oxford in Memphis and so that fell into place and I got there with that deal every deal is different. The chamber. Which probably will also be film this summer. I have virtually no control but looking back I wish I had done it but it did and it's done. I hope it's a good movie but I treat it same way I treat the firm. You know they've making the movie somewhere. But I have no desire to make movies I have no desire to hang out on. I know nothing about filmmaking and don't want to learn I'm busy writing books. I just don't want to get involved in. It's I don't want to inject myself into it with the time to kill I want to be I want to be able control the script. I know if I control the script and I have approval over it then it's hard to mess up the story. And that's really all I want. Beyond that I don't. I may change next year we had saw the film much of the rainmaker yet. I saw the film much tomorrow I know I could get script approval in certain things and so I'll probably get it just to show my and get it.
But you know again years from now it won't be that way. Every deal has been different and I'm still learning how to work. I've been burned yet I've been lucky. Congratulations on your literary successes. Thank you all proud that you're missing. Thank you very much. One question. A time to kill was originally titled Death Metal is that correct. Well you know tell us a bit about the evolution of the name from little to the time kids or you mention it. It was a working title. We don't know where it came from. I mean let me look at it. I started writing a book over 10 years ago and it had to have a title you know I don't think I've had one for a long time and some had. Evan I like short thought also. The first thing my new agent in New York said was the title got to go. And I said OK time's got to go. And so
we went through a bunch of them over a period of a year I guess trying to find out the right one and tonic you know was 10 15 choices deep and we got to it and really we were close to publication we had to have a title for it and it was sort of a sort of not my first pick. It fits now but it was a hard get in there. The firm was always a title The Pelican Brief was almost simply the brief which would have worked. The client was always a title The chamber was almost in the row death row was called the room and I was determined even to have a shorter title in the firm. I want to I want to call it the row and you talked me out of it. Rainmaker was always a title so sometimes I had it when I started sometimes without the book I'm about to write now down walls and we hope to have a full rainmaker strikes a lot of people as as what.
But what is a rainmaker. I read a book about a book on him you know it was bad. Well you get all the time in legal circles. The two areas I've heard a lot more among lawyers among lobbyists rainmakers a person who can bring in the business and it's quite quite common and in those two circles I'm not sure about others probably. It was a term I was very familiar with. So were you a rainmaker when you were a lawyer. I was the rainmaker. I was a lawyer I was a paralegal. I was a secretary. It was a one man office so I was everything. Now this fascinating story about the rainmaker worry goes out to the old folks home and sits around and does what it was it called gazer war. These are law did you practice your law did you have to do that. Well the first chapter about the right makers it is a very accurate recollection. Of course I had Law School call legal problems of the elderly and it was a
non required course was an elective very easy to our course and we would have back then I'm sure they still do it would save all of our easy stuff for the last semester. A bunch of us were getting married and we were just looking for a way to goof off anyway and it was a two hour course required no workin you know. We lined up for it. The only hard thing about the course we have to go at these senior citizens buildings not nursing homes but community centers where these seniors would come for a daily meal in speeches and songs and all that. And we have to go meet with them and and hear their legal problems and give advice and advice. Advice is always pathetic but we did what do we you know how did you get through the course. Plus we have advice for him with third year law if you know anything and for that reason we're scared to death. Just more facts and they are afraid of what these people would lay down before us and they look at us we had some sound and looked intelligent they thought we had possessed great wisdom and we were scared to death. But that's. But
in doing it I met quite a few people who who were the victims of insurance fraud. And also you'd see all kinds of crazy stories about wills and bring their wills with them. And so that's where the idea kind of came from. We have you know you know on those television talk shows where they where they take phone calls from the outside world. We have a caller on the line. Caller are you there. I think we have a caller on the line. We do John. Yeah Barry. Yes yes or no and it really is really work that well we don't have that strong right now and I'm not going on a national. Just wanted to send my best human reunite. Well it's good to hear your voice will be in the best to you. I spent eight hours at Lemurian today signing books and then we talked about you and your book and we tell a bunch of Willie stories John Adams did with John Abend are not a brochure around American
restaurant and I've had a quiet moment for our fashion. Right Mike are everywhere. I mean if you found without a tall stack let me know I'll call you know you get some books and they're there as I was signing my pharmacy up at the front counter of the bank from France I store on Fifth Avenue and you are surrounded by 16 people about your new book and I manage. To complain about it. Well right now it looks like the book's really selling is as well as could be expected in a hit with a one these days really I'm going to I'm going to publish a book. They're going to print a couple million copies and nobody's going to show it by Donald what I'll do the and I'm going to bet I know some fun. I started my career on this trip. Think it's your investments your first wanted time to care which as you know rocked so much really you when you read it before anybody else did. Years ago I took it then that is the original connection isn't that the book at there will be
more rather sad future on an ad right. Right right you're glueing legislature and Willie was live in Oxford but he was in Jackson lot and we talked about it one night a HAL in males and in the book Willie read it and liked it. In Short of that after I had an agent who wanted to handle the book Why did no one in New York agents. So I drove down Oxford one night had another long dinner with Willie and I had Perry and I said Willie I whose ears I just name can you check him out for me in New York and Willie made some phone calls and and came back and said the guy's reputable and again still my agent he said what I remember saying that. Yeah I mean he's negotiate everything ever since and you're going to measurement are people asking about you and I say you love you right. Yes you're right now what else is there will and I run Iraq that magazine. That's what America we're doing real well with it. It grows every month and I'm very proud evidence going to be a
bigger magazine next month and next year. But I'm much more an office Yeah editor and I think you are on to something. I think this is. Magazine could be one of the best in the country. We're determined I got that one. If you want us on the phone call an astronomer I have I have one suggestion for John. OK Brad I want you to buy the Chicago Cubs and make me the manager I was. Thank you sir thank you very much for calling us we'll ask about this rain maker This is what Entertainment Weekly said smoother more confident a minus. USA Today said it's going to be the most popular book since the pharma. These are positive reviews. Yeah I'm really worried about them because like the last few books have been trashed and they all say oh well so now I'm getting good reviews and I'm worried about sales. It's not typical for me when I want to
coach third base. Your characters carry the story I'm really interested in what you go through in giving them their names and names. They come from everywhere like a lot of come from obituaries. Because the people are dead and they can't see you. They run the whole name you get some really great indigenous names in which Where's the telephone books. I'm always looking for odd names weird names you can't get too weird they get to be names you can the average reader can identify with. You can't use real common names because you know you see them every day so you won't you've got to strike a happy medium somewhere with a name. And I'm always struggling with that but you know I would say I'd say most of them come from the telephone books. I'd just like to thank you. About four years ago when the fire you know was not
real property you took the time and effort to sign about 30 books for some class 9 and some judges that you went to law school with and they appreciate it very much and occupies a private place in your home is doesn't mean they're welcome to come. I wish I had time to do more than there are thankfully a lot of books out there now and I realize I can send books for the rest of my life and most people are very understanding that when I can't get around to it. But we would love myriad advice and books for a long time and we were reminiscing about those days back when the signings were not as long and we could we could enjoy visiting more and signing books but I guess it's kind of pricey but there's it to surprise you how popular those signed books become valuable I wish I had those thousand books back. Yeah. I kept a sold 900 of them. I kept a
hundred and a few got misplaced and I gave some away. I'm down to about 50 now and they're buried in back yard and we don't give away any more. I'd like to know about the editing process when you finish a book and you take it and you get to love it. How different is it from from your finished product to the publication date. And how difficult a process is that for you. Difficult because by the time I finish the book I'm really sick of it unless I want to do it redrafted five times. It's probably the most crucial part of the book because the first time the editor and I have the same editor the guy who did the farm is still my editor. It's really crucial for him to get his hands on and invariably start cutting. We cut you know every book and from the time he gets the first draft in until it goes to pray as I'll do four five maybe even six different drafts of the book in about six
weeks because we invariably up against a deadline to get the book finished and get it to the press. So I mean no disrespect but I'd like to talk about editing. It's really painful. It's no fear your wife played a big role in editing the latest book. Now she has to backdoor ways Edington really is of no help whatsoever. She she she gets involved in writing the book she's really good at reading the original ideas the original chapters and telling me what she thinks is wrong right. You know the characters or the plot are but one really. We get down to the crunch time of editing and re-editing there's not a lot she can do. We get the final copy edited manuscript back to go through one more time. Then she we sit around a table somewhere and I'll read one page and give it to her. And we go through the whole book again. And it's quite tedious for that reason I have no desire to ever go back and read anything I've written
because I've you know written him so many times and read them and I'm really proud of him but I'm sick of him and you know how being and I then yeah. Let's go to the movies. All right we've got a little movie compilation here of some of the moments from some of the films that have been made from from your novels. Watch the marquee. It's provable. You find out. Being attacked while you've got enough to do all. The game we did for each other player so that they read. The IRS keeps changing the rules so we can keep getting rich teaching them. It's a game one you just played very very well. With your beer. I sort of wait for the room I hear it's good. There are these good down here.
You deserve a taste of all when talk about the brain. And when I told that priest I'll take my chances. You boys attempted to interrogate a child outside the presence of his mother without her consent. He specifically asked if he knew the law and you said no state as well your reasons. Yeah the lawyers I'd like to confer with my client and maybe a few people not office tomorrow. I think if the damn thing from you boys fight the truth expect to get I can't use mine again. Good news today. Was backed by a lot and I. Are. Each I wonder I wonder what's it like to be sitting in the movie theater at the first screening of the firm and
the firm. Yeah. There they've all been different the first farm was of course first one and we watched it in the worst possible place in the world. It was all of Willie's real ritzy glitzy New York premieres with 5000 strangers. We have a tuxedo and long dresses. Now I know you hate it because when you nobody is looking at you and it's just miserable. But we knew going up there we said OK look you know for the first 30 minutes let's don't look at each other you know because it was it was very emotional. It got very emotional real fast to realize that you know there was. And two he becomes bigger than life. When you see it on the screen and. When we would see certain scenes in the movie. That happened to be in the book. I. And realizing that some of the some of the things we could even remember you know where we were when those things are written in so firm
with all of its shortcomings and all the things I'd like to change about the movie. That's all it was all outweighed by just the sheer excitement of being there and seen it and. And I always look back on the movie with a lot of smiles. I mean I guess I'd like to change some things. Pelican Brief what we saw at the White House and private screening with about 20 people and there was a lot more fun. We had popcorn and you know and the client was about a year ago Joel Schumacher the director brought a copy of it to Oxford and we rent out a theater and it was Rene and myself and both kids and we sat and watched the movie just the four of us and and liked it immensely. And then Joel was sent back he was scared to death he was going to leave the theater while we watched it but we made him stay and watch it with us. And I'm glad he did and he was glad he did. Favorite of the three. Well I mean I really have to have to watch what I say because all three do order among friends you know.
Yeah. And that you can run into. I know how things get repeated. I've had three really good director Sidney Pollack good to firm Alan Pakula did the Pelican Brief and Joel Schumacher did the client and I know him all you know. Not real well but I got to know him while we do the movies and I would never want her to fail and so I like when they're on the other side. That's how I chicken out and don't answer the question. You got to meet some really neat people. Got to meet stars that you just got three saying that you never read your books again. He hated them. So I'm interested in knowing these books do you read and who do you enjoy. I love three William R's. Degree the kind of stuff I don't write I don't read a lot of legal books or lot of suspense when I do I like to read. Robert Ludlum is almost a childhood favorite when it comes to good suspense and it's been on.
John le Carre is a favorite. I usually read try to keep up with other young Southern writers most of whom have been published for the first time in the past 10 years and living in this part of the country you get to meet them because they're going to come through Square Books in Oxford. We're going to come through a myriad here in Jackson when you get to me. You know you can go to the bookstore here in Oxford and meet great writers a lot of men just starting off. And so I have to try to keep up with what's happening in Southern modern Southern fiction with will from people I've met. I love pick on Roy. He's got a new book coming out June twenty eight. You get the wrong date which was the only air date for this. It's also pub date for convoys and thought straight you know. Yeah. Do you ever read your fan mail. And if so what I did last interesting letters alternating between I stay interesting story.
I read it for a long time and then respond where could I read it and answer it myself for a long time. Up until a couple three years ago we just got to be too much. I mean it's. Now with a new book coming out it's sometimes 100 letters a day and it's just it's impossible to to to keep up with me have a full time secretary annals of my own and I mean there's no way I can read. I used to get a kick out of you for the fun of read it when I had time and see what people said about the books and you get some strange letters and maybe a scary letter every now and then and it's probably best just to ignore. I dislike them but it's it's reality. You do one of your books you refer to the name pinky. Where'd you get that. And it's good to know the kid's name is Josh. You put on my baseball team last year and his nickname was king and that's hanging out in the book. I've used all my baseball player the scrambler names up and
use them all of the books. That's where you get what book was then. Yeah and I think you know what it is so you hear he think OK he's in town to kill. I've no idea. I mean how do you know you were I got it from your father. That's sad. That's what I get for about dad's name in a phone book yeah I got a few days when you were talking about letters that you've received and some of them a little disturbing and some of them make you will. Why did you leave Oxford. Well it's you know I guess everybody dreams of going off and hiding for a year. I mean you know it'd be fun to do and that's what we did. We moved Oxford five years ago before the firm was published and we bought a farm and built a house on the edge of town that has become home. We both grew up in South Haven which is about an hour from Oxford we both went to school I would law school only as my wife had run a graduate work there and it was always one of our favorite towns
and so we were delighted to move back there. And it's it will always be home. I don't know I don't care where we go where we live a box will always be home but we felt the urge to get away for a while and go hide and rediscover some privacy and get our kids back to ourselves and that's what we've done. They do enjoy this and I would like baseball for a good bit. I know that you have to with your success and everything has it made it difficult for you to be about with it or you know not really sometimes I think the other coaches are saving their best pitchers from these and I don't ever really ask them but I've been suspicious before. But I'm coaching right now we won last night. We were too into coaching team shows and the great thing about little league baseball. I mean I love to coach my kid plays and coaching for six years now.
When I'm on the field coaching the kids you know what it's like to get everything else in the world except those 12 or 13 kids who are on your team in trying to make sure you provide some kind of leadership for them is nice if you win. But it's not everything but I've found I can't say it's total relaxation because I get pretty uptight and I secretly dwell on the losses long after they do. I would hate to write a novel and coach the kids at the same time. Now I wouldn't know I would even try I have to do it in off season. You know I've never done it. I've never think I've ever written during baseball season. William Morris Oxford American and I was wondering if you tell us a little bit about why you chose to make the decision to get involved in the magazine publisher I have no idea. Mark spun off the air through the actual Americans an old friend of mine Mark. Helps it my books.
After I finished the book and before us in the book in New York Mark goes through it once or twice. The manuscript and through that relationship we became friends and he started the Oxford American a couple of years ago and it was a great magazine but it needed help financial help and some guidance and some business. Savvy and that's where I kind of helped out there. I had no desire to ever be a magazine publisher. I don't know what a publisher does but I'm a publisher and I'm a hands on publisher of the magazine as Marx and you know I look at some of the stuff that we're getting we get a lot of submissions now and if I like a story he'll now talk about it in a while I can will talk about that too. It's fun to watch you grow is something very American about watching a small venture like that get started with nothing and take off. And we're in process now of building it and bridge dedicated to quality and I think it's going well. Thanks for asking.
I have two questions one do you plan on coming back to Oxford. We come back all the time. I mean to live. I can't say I mean I learned a long time not to predict you know long range what might happen ever thought I'd leave but we're taking it one year time and right now we're very happy. Still hiding in I mean as long as we're happy we'll stay where we are but we're back all the time anyway. Do you have any advice for a would be author Don't quit your day job. I'm serious treated like treated very much like a hobby and and don't try to write the book in 90 days. Taking the time to kill took three years firm took two years and those are by far the longest periods of time it took me to finish a book. But given the habit of doing a little bit every day I would have never finished the time to kill and I'm not sort of
secretly adopted a strategy of making myself do at least one page a day. If you do a page a day in the course of a year you've just about finished a novel and you just not very well a very long time for writers. And that's that's probably the best advice. But the motivation to get to the first page and the motivation that you use you start writing at 5 o'clock in the morning. What's that well why do you want to use a couple chapters the first couple chapters were written very late at night after. I guess we had one key of the time I was a lady. And once he was in a bed once and I was in the bed I had to stay up late and in the first couple three chapters are written like that. And once I realize it was my go somewhere I got in the habit of going to the office early. You need a certain time a certain place to do that every day as well. But why why though really did you start. I mean what was the book. What made you the story.
My motives were pure it wasn't money. I had I had a story. I had a great I thought what I thought was a great courtroom drama based on something I'd seen in court one day and I kept thinking you know you take the store you had a few plots and twist and I would love to be that lawyer representing the father who got his own measure of ravine. Angie what did you see in court that saw a little girl testify a little girl who'd been raped and and it was you know terribly emotional thing to watch. And I remember thinking of that will you know that was my daughter. It be hard not to. To do something and still feel that way. And then I thought well what if the father did that and what if I was a lawyer and what if that same jury sitting over there was going to pass judgment on my client. They're all parents and they'd love to do what my client did to write this. You know it was fun to think about it was a very compelling issue the idea of retribution vigilante justice and
and I could just see myself as a lawyer trying the case and that back then I was doing a lot of criminal trials and things like that. And I mean I knew I knew the system and I knew about a lot of it and so I suddenly had this story. And the first the first page of a time to kill is the first thing I ever wrote and it was just just sort of floated out. I basically have two questions number one all of your your stories are about the long haul obviously because you know about that have you ever gotten ideas from other people or thought about writing about something else or would it be a mistake for an author write about something he doesn't know. First question second question is how much research is involved in writing a book such as the chamber. I think it would be a mistake at this point to try something else. The books are working at it.
And right you know you write about what you know. I mean I hate to go have to research against Leeds in the U.S. question research. I don't like to research. It's just I hate to stop the creative process and go check a fact or go check a hotel in the city or whatever side I use just fictionalize everything. I have no interest whatsoever in writing outside the law right now. One of these days I think I'll write the legal thrillers on one hand and the four county novels on another maybe go back and forth because there are a lot of ideas in both areas when you win you know you have to do is watch TV and you're inspired all day long to write stories about lawyers. I mean it's it's endless in our society. Can't get enough of it obviously. The second part the most fascinating research I've done in any book has been the chamber because I went to parchment to death row. And I went to the gas chamber and they locked me and strap me down and shut the door. And there's a little switch they hit that just makes a hissing noise nothing comes out.
And I think it's really funny. You know what. And it got you in is really funny. But yeah I met the executioner. So I mix the chemicals I talk to the inmates I talk to the guards I talk to it was sort of a lazy way to research because it was terribly interesting was terribly depressing but it made such an impact it was once you go there a few times and do that it's easy to write about because you can't forget it. I'm assuming your children are quite young. What is the name of your favorite children's book. I have it I think may be a children's book. Wow all of my kids reading my daughter's reading roll Dall and she's reading the oh what's a little ouse on the prairie all the books my son is not reading. He's a sixth writer he's these 11 my daughters and
my son is really embarrassing my son from school now brings home books. His classmates are reading and want me to sign an autograph. He has read none of them has no desire to reading album but his friends are reading him and they sent him home by TA who's like a pack mule with books I've read. But he got here as it occurred to you he could be selling them. Would you know where she was that innovator was he was doing something when I was with played baseball. Any book you write now is obviously going to be made into a movie. So when you begin to write that book and develop your characters in the past have you had famous people in your faces when you develop the characters or were they real people that you knew or were they just totally fictitious because when I read them they become who I think should be and you know cast in the role of the movie I have learned I am really
lousy at casting these things. I dont watch a lot of movies I cant tell you the last current love a good movie like everybody but most of them are pretty lousy so I get frustrated with movies and I watch a lot of them which hurts especially now with time to kill because they call me all the time now with names of actors to play certain roles and I and all these people all the way. No I said well listen you they will see news moves in and I every day get a packet with five or six movies you know for some actor actress and I got to watch these things and tell him what I think about the only person I've cast that that's worked who's worked with Julia Roberts in the Pelican Brief because when I wrote the book she was 24 years along right here she's good looking long legs you know you can narrow it down pretty quick. And now I didn't I didn't know if we were going to sell the movie rights this was you know a few books back and it was very odd to see how you know it all fell
into place and she was she was in the movie. So who are you thinking about as Jake and in time to kill. Who would be your perfect choice. Well that's a pretty sore subject of the three movies you've seen. I say well don't we decided not to use it. An older actor Jake can be anybody from 30 to 40. We're not going to use an older established star with a big name because when you get somebody like that in a movie you expect them to win the case whatever. And that's not Jake. And so I would go in with a 30 or 35 year old actor. And we have not agreed on one and it's. It's been frustrating because they'll call me the somebodies name and I'll say no I don't like you. If I happen to sing these movies and they'll say OK who do you want. And I have nobody else to give it as far as far as casting the rest of the most right on casting was it was Julia Roberts is that what you thought when you looked at the screen and saw other
people did you think oh man he's perfect she's perfect that's just right. I thought that a bit a few times in the three movies I thought Tom Cruise was fun from when I saw the film much of the firm they told me at the at that time they said we have every intention of offering it to Tom Cruise and so I always knew Tom Cruise would be Mitch average in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago that you were going back into the courtroom to do to be attorney for a family that lost a family member in a railroad accident. Will this be the last time that we see you in action as a lawyer. Yeah. The case took the case about four years ago and at the time I thought it might take a case or two a year just to kind of stay sharp. You know the law as it turned out it's the last one I've taken in. We'll probably go to trial sometime late summer early fall in Brookhaven and. Once this one's over I assure you it's a last one.
Yeah and you've been working at it all along. I've been working here for four years. And I hope my clients watch. I. I mean I can't say otherwise. What do you tell them how many billable hours in this job you got on a contingency fee. Is it it could be like you've never done this. The whole theme though of the rainmaker and it raises some serious issues about tort reform and if Congress has its way would a case like this ever be able to be tried. I know what they're what they're considering doing with tort reform is placing some rather severe restrictions on the rights of people to sue and to recover and when I was in the legislature I fought tort reform for I mean I was a trial lawyer OK. That's why that's my background. And Tor for me is nothing but an effort by insurance companies to save money. And what they've done evil and the doctors in a lot of well-meaning folks hospitals and manufacturers
and the like then on their side to present to the American people saying we're getting killed by lawsuit abuse and that's what they call it now. I can really pontificate on this if you will we only have four and I really don't want to talk about it will give us a feeling for this trial this summer you're going to really be there you're going to be the guy and you have been there before with you. But this is a different guy a whole another guy so 55 like you know is going to say something you're going to have everybody. Well the good thing about Mississippi we do not allow cameras in courtrooms. You know we have kept our brains. But what they're watching in Southern California is a perfect example of why you don't put cameras in courtrooms. This you know close to that debate after this trial they don't belong there. And most jurisdictions we don't have it. Mississippi you can't get near a court with a camera. Thank goodness our judges won't allow that. This was not going to be on TV. And once the once a jury selection once the trial starts all this other stuff is going to go away.
It's going to come down to the facts. The case would be traveling a week. They can't pick two jurors in Southern California in a week. We'll pick our jury in one day and we'll get on with the trial. What you're watching at there is la la land that's not the way you trial lawsuits. So the question about time to you would publish your produce galleys. You know I don't know what a galley was when the book came out I know there were such things is Advance reading copies. I never saw one. What they did and I've seen them later I don't having They even a graph of the book the galley sheets from the back page and then ban them together in letter size paper right now about 11 sheets and they put the book jacket taken to the front of it and it's really shipped out and I never saw him. Years later I was in a bookstore and a guy had one he showed it to him it's the first time I'd seen one. But they never sent me one. So it was really.
In Oxford when you were with Stephen King he said money was no longer the issue when he was writing. Have you gotten to that point or when do you think you'll get to that point. And when do you think you'll get back to writing the kind of books like the first book was a loaded question. I don't know how to answer that. I'm very concerned about book sales because know when I publish a book now that the book is going to be purchased by a lot of people and they're looking for a certain level of entertainment for two or three days a week from me that's what they become accustomed to. That's what I'm known for. And I want to
deliver I mean I want to produce I want to satisfy the readers. So to gauge that you have to monitor sales you have to live with the rainmakers being studied probably as we're talking right now about people in New York to see sales patterns a book came out two weeks ago. They want to know how the books do and what parts of the country and sales of converts into dollars real quickly. Obviously I would not write a book right now if I didn't think it would deliver what I'm expected to deliver. I want to I want to I want to top the last book sales not as a not out of greed it's just it's fun to see if you can beat the last time out. The money's often nice Sure but you reach a point pretty quick we don't want to think about that anymore you know not worried about it and it's fun too. It's fun to publish a book like the rainmaker and lo and behold you get good reviews. You
know it happens about every three or four books now. That's that's fun to do but you want to deliver that type of book or that type of store that have entertainment every time that you want to get better and I want every book to be better. So the the money question have I been very honest if I didn't start this for money I started because I had a story. It quickly converted into money with the firm because it was the work was too hard and I said if I'm going to work as hard I'd like to get paid for it. I had no idea what was coming. I had no idea that. Thank you for spending this hour with us tonight. We have mightily enjoyed. The book is terrific the books a big hit. Thank you. Please come see us again. Thanks John very much. This southern expression special is made possible in part by a grant from North Park
Mall providing options for shopping in central Mississippi.
- An Evening with John Grisham
- Contributing Organization
- Mississippi Public Broadcasting (Jackson, Mississippi)
- AAPB ID
- An Evening with John Grisham: Southern Expression Special.
- Media type
- Moving Image
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Mississippi Public Broadcasting
Identifier: MPB 29606 (MPB)
Format: Betacam: SP
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- MLA: “An Evening with John Grisham; Southern Expression Special.” Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-60-31qfv0t5>.
- APA: An Evening with John Grisham; Southern Expression Special. Boston, MA: Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-60-31qfv0t5