Tag: John Grisham

Author Q & A with John Grisham

Interview with John Grisham by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (June 18).

John Grisham’s story that took him from small-town lawyer to master of the legal thriller is a tale that even he couldn’t have imagined.

But the incredible success he’s experienced since his first novel was published in 1988–which would lead to 30 bestsellers and counting–is strictly nonfiction.

With the release of his latest work, Camino Island (Doubleday), Grisham takes a recess from the courtroom and goes beachside in what he is calling “a great beach read.”

He’s also hitting the road for the first time in 15 years with a book tour that will bring him to a dozen cities nationwide, including Square Books in Oxford and Lemuria Books in Jackson.

caminoCamino Island is a book about books, booksellers, bookstores, and the rare book business. In this fictional account of the dramatic heist of four original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the Princeton University library, most of the story unfolds in the quiet resort town of Santa Rosa, Florida. Main characters Bruce Cable, who owns a popular book store there and Mercer Mann, a hopeful young author, square off in a high-stakes tale of espionage, betrayal, and theft–all within the mysterious world of the rare books trade.

When Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was released 29 years ago, and, in his words, “was a flop,” he decided to give it one more try before abandoning his dram of becoming a writer. With the blockbuster success of The Firm in 1991, he’s never looked back, releasing a book a year ever since.

JohnGrisham_credit Billy HuntBorn in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1955, Grisham spent most of his childhood in Mississippi, and went on to earn an accounting degree from Mississippi State, and then a law degree from Ole Miss. He was working as an attorney in Southaven and serving as a member of the Mississippi Legislature when he began writing full-time.

All of his books have became international bestsellers, and he now has more than 300 million in print worldwide. Nine of those, including A Time to KillThe FirmThe Pelican Brief, and A Painted House have become successful films. His writings also include the nonfiction work The Innocent Man and a collection of short stories, Ford County. He has also written a series for young readers that features 13-year-old character Theodore Boone offering legal advice to his classmates.

When he’s able to take a break from his writing desk, Grisham enjoys devoting time to charitable work (including his Rebuild the Coast Fund after Hurricane Katrina); and his lifetime passion of baseball, as both a local Little League commissioner and the developer of six Little League ball fields on his property.

Why did you decide to do another multi-city book tour after 25 years–and why did you wait that long?

grish lemuriaThe last big book tour I did was in 1992, when The Pelican Brief came out. I was living in Oxford at the time, and I knew Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, and Larry Brown. They were always hanging around the bookstore (Square Books), and they talked me into doing a big book tour that turned out to be 35 cities in 34 days. It was not fun and I didn’t think it was productive. I told my publisher I can go back to Oxford and write books or hit the road and do publicity.

So, I never did a tour like that again, but I did continue to have signings at five stores: Square Books, Lemuria, Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo, a store in Memphis and one in Blytheville, Arkansas for about 10 years. those five were really helpful when A Time to Kill came out, and they really supported me. So, it’s been 15 years since I’ve done this, and this time it will be 12 cities.

How has your writing changed since A Time to Kill came out in 1989?How have you changed?

There have been no deliberate changes in my writing, as far as the style, procedure, and process. I write every morning for a few hours, and I write a certain number of words each day. As far as how I’ve changed–I’ve aged 30 years.

Camino Island is the story of a grand-scale heist that leaves the original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s four novels missing–and it weaves a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale of the world of rare books. Why did you choose the works of Fitzgerald as the target for this crime?

The fact that Fitzgerald had fewer manuscripts–he had published four novels–was a huge factor. And I’ve always been a big follower of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald. They were all born about the same time (late 1800s-early 1900s) and were the greatest writers of that generation. Fitzgerald had the fewest manuscripts, and they were all in one place, the library at Princeton. Faulkner had at least 40. He was very meticulous about his manuscripts and took care of them, and that would be a lot to try to steal at one time.

Do you collect rare books?

I’ve been collecting rare books for probably 25 years–a lot of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald. There have been several dealers I’ve known and worked with through the years. My wife actually bought a copy of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury from (Jackson’s Lemuria Books owner) John Evans for me.

Tell me aobut your relationship with bookstores and booksellers–have bookstores been a special place for you?

They still are special to me. When I’m traveling I usually try to sneak into a bookstore and see what all is for sale, see if my books are selling. If they have a coffee shop or cafe, that’s a nice touch. I go to bookstores and talking with booksellers is something I always enjoy doing. Bookstores are dwindling in numbers now, and many are fighting to preserve them.

What was the hardest book for you to write, for whatever reason? What was the easiest?

Easy, and fun to write and without much research–would be Calico Joe. I love baseball and really enjoyed writing that one. Camino Island was fun–the world of the murky and mysterious world of rare books and how much they’re worth now. The Chamber was probably the toughest to write. I spent a lot of time on death row in Mississippi doing research.

Is there a topic, a style, a genre, you haven’t tackled yet, but want to?

There are a couple of books based on things I might like to write about. One is a sort of fictional memoir of my childhood and life, like in (my novel) A Painted House. It would be going on in Memphis about a 15-year-old boy who thought he was going to Vietnam, after seeing his friend come home in a box. That’s something I think about–kind of personal stuff. Who knows, I still might write it.

You have another book coming out in October, another legal thriller, this one about student debt–a very topical subject now. What can you tell me about it?

Not much–I have a rule not to talk about a book while I’m writing it. It’s about law students. It’s still untitled.

Your first book was rejected by many publishers. What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

It was turned down by about 15 publishers and 15 agents. That’s not unusual for a first-time author. And what I know now that I didn’t know then: everything. I knew nothing then about writing or getting published. I was a state legislator and a small-town lawyer, barely 30 and so naïve.

Oxford’s Square Books owner Richard Howorth told me you were very persistent in getting your first book published–and that you wanted to sell “lots and lots” of books. Considering that you have a degree in accounting from Mississippi State, does that kind of determination come from your accounting side, or would you say it was strictly ambition?

I think it was ambition. I had practiced law 10 years in Southaven. I was looking fo a way out because I knew I wasn’t going to make a lot of money. After 10 years of working hard, I wrote A Time to Killin 1989 and it was a flop. I said I will do this–I will write a book–one more time and see what happens. I wrote The Firm, a book that I thought would be more commercial. The fact that movie rights for that book were sold before it was published was a fluke deal that could never be repeated–it was a lucky break that would only happen once.

Long-term, what do you see in your future?

I’m 62 years old. I’m still enjoying this immensely. I certainly have no plans for a career change, or for slowing down. I intend to write one book, maybe two, a year.

First Voyage with a John Grisham Book

I’m going to be real honest here: I’ve never read a John Grisham book and I had never really thought that I would. But when I found out that Camino Island, his newest book–released today–deals with a bookstore and stolen F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, I became interested and wanted to get my hands on an advance copy.

Camino Island begins with an intense moment, right in the middle of a gang of thieves staging the heist of the F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the Princeton library. In what I can only assume is Grisham’s typical thriller writing style, he is able to pull the reader in right away with this scene.

Bruce Cable, owner of an independent bookstore on Florida’s Camino Island, always has his hand in buying and selling rare first edition books in addition to his ordinary stock. Here’s where the true book nerds get hooked. There’s constant book talk, authors and book titles are dropped here and there throughout, and I’m pretty sure Bruce’s first edition rooms may or may not have come from our very own Lemuria. Grisham paints a pretty picture of Bruce Cables’ bookstore, Bay Books. As a book lover, it’s very fun to read about.

Mercer Mann, a writer who has recently been laid off from her teaching gig at UNC and hasn’t written in months, spent her summers on Camino Island with her beloved grandmother Tessa, but hasn’t returned in years since her death. Mercer is approached by a woman who is working for a very mysterious company and is offered a large sum of money to move back to Camino Island and work undercover. Mercer’s mission consists of infiltrating Bruce Cable’s inner workings of his bookstore and first editions deals, as well as working her way into his circle of literary friends. Mercer has to get close enough to make sure Bruce hasn’t started to dip into the black market of stolen books, while also keeping his trust. Things begin to get pretty intense, but Grisham wraps everything up in perfect style.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is not a legal thriller; it’s more of a crime novel. I think that new Grisham readers will find this book very entertaining and I think die-hard John Grisham fans will find this book refreshing. This book is going to give every book lover a new, and maybe first, look into the bookstore world. As a bookseller, I can definitely say that Grisham did a great job building this world in his writing and as a first time Grisham reader, I can definitely say he writes an entertaining and gripping novel.

If you’re going on vacation this summer, this is the beach read for you!

beach photo

Grisham’s ‘The Whistler’ balances social issues, storytelling

By Jim Ewing. Special to The Clarion-Ledger

whistlerNovelist John Grisham keeps churning out winners that manage to wrap social issues, the law, and intriguing characters into an explosive mix, with his latest, The Whistler, sure to be a controversial bestseller like many before.

Avid readers may recall his previous “issue” book Gray Mountain (2014) served as much to bring attention to the rapacious practices of coal mining destroying families, communities, and the environment, as it did to simply tell a gripping yarn.

The Whistler carries on that social issue imperative, following his previous more typical lawyer tale Rogue Lawyer (2015), by taking on casino gambling on American Indian reservations.

The locale is Florida, with its rich history of corruption. The culprits are a shadowy band of Southern criminals called The Catfish Mafia, which funds its web of lucrative, money-laundering strip malls, golf courses, gated communities, and condos with a crooked casino it helped found on an Indian reservation through murder and intimidation. The scheme relies on a circuit court judge all too willing to take bribes.

Enter a single woman lawyer named Lacy, mid-thirties, worried about the ticking of her biological clock, working for the sedate and respectable, if not boring, state Board on Judicial Conduct. She is suddenly thrust into the heart of the corruption and violence by a whistleblower.

The result is a masterpiece of criminal enterprise exposed in a methodical page-turner made all the more evocative for its subject matter. Tightly written, well crafted, the novel moves at a fast pace with whiplash plot twists.

The controversial aspect of “Whistler” is the unique nature of casino gambling as practiced on Indian reservations. Grisham portrays the tribe as being split initially on whether to allow gaming; some wanting the cash it would provide to bring them out of poverty; others worried that it would morally destroy the community. Both prove true.

Once the casino is up and running, many in the tribe suspect that corruption is taking place but are intimidated into silence by the fact that each member of the tribe profits to the tune of a check for $5,000 per month. The casino’s wealth has also provided good schools, roads, a health clinic, and jobs.

It provides an ethical dilemma: blow the whistle and risk losing everything–or look the other way and allow corruption, intimidation, even violence to flourish.

Grisham weaves his storyline through both the emotional and psychological aspects of this dilemma. He deftly describes the laws that govern tribes and casinos and how they as sovereign nations under treaty are — and aren’t — subject to judicial review or criminal restraint.

As a consequence, The Whistler provides not only a good read but serves to educate and provide plenty of fodder for discussion.

The Whistler yet again reveals Grisham as a premier mystery writer.

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including his latest, Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them.

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