As a young boy in Arkansas, John Grisham dreamed of being a baseball player. Fortunately for his millions of fans, that career didn't pan out. His family moved to Mississippi in 1967, where Grisham eventually received a law degree from Ole Miss and established a practice in Southaven for criminal and civil law. In 1983, Grisham was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served until 1990.
While working as an attorney, Grisham witnessed emotional testimony from the case of a young girl's rape. Naturally inquisitive, Grisham's mind started to wander: what if the terrible crime yielded an equally terrible revenge? These questions of right and wrong were the subject of his first novel, A Time to Kill (1988), written in the stolen moments before and between court appearances. The book wasn't widely distributed, but his next title would be the one to bring him to the national spotlight. The day after he finished A Time to Kill, Grisham began work on The Firm (1991), the story of a whiz kid attorney who joins a crooked law firm. The book was an instant hit, spent 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise.
With the success of The Firm, Grisham resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives to focus exclusively on his writing. What followed was a string of bestselling legal thrillers that demonstrated the author's uncanny ability to capture the unique drama of the courtroom. Several of his novels were turned into blockbuster movies.
In 1996, Grisham returned to his law practice for one last case, honoring a promise he had made before his retirement. He represented the family of a railroad worker who was killed on the job, the case went to trial, and Grisham won the largest verdict of his career when the family was awarded more than $650,000.
Although he is best known for his legal thrillers, Grisham has ventured outside the genre with several well-received novels (A Painted House, Bleachers, et al) and an earnest and compelling nonfiction account of small-town justice gone terribly wrong (The Innocent Man). The popularity of these stand-alones proves that Grisham is no mere one-trick pony but a gifted writer with real "legs."
Good to Know
Back to Top
A prolific writer, it takes Grisham an average of six months to complete a novel.
Grisham has the right to approve or reject whoever is cast in movies based on his books. He has even written two screenplays himself: Mickey and The Gingerbread Man.
Baseball is one of Grisham's great loves. He serves as the local Little League commissioner and has six baseball diamonds on his property, where he hosts games.
Back to Top
Here are some highlights from our exclusive 2004 interview with author John Grisham:
On his prolific pace:
"I hear writers say it really is hard to let go -- it's really hard, first of all, to start putting the words on the paper, and then once you've finished the thing, it's hard to send it off to New York -- that it's like letting go of a child. I'm just the opposite. When I start writing, the words and ideas come real fast, and once I'm done, I can't wait to get the thing off my desk, out of my house, off to New York, and published -- because I'm already writing the next book."
On being a lawyer vs. writing about them:
"I closed my law office 13 years ago, and it was the happiest day of my life; I have not missed it for one moment. It's so much fun to write about lawyers, but I never enjoyed being a lawyer."
On how his life as a lawyer affects his writing:
"I was so unhappy in that profession I would dream of ways to get out of it," he says. "I think that's just a memory I will take with me forever, because most of my characters -- most of my heroes or heroines -- are looking for a way out, or in the end they ride off into the sunset. Not always, but in 17 books it's happened almost all the time."
On comparing himself with his favorite writers:
"I love to read people like John Steinbeck and William Styron, and people like that; some Hemingway, some Faulkner. I'll read a great novel, and I'll say, 'I'll never be that good!' I have to recognize my own limitations. I think where I am real good is putting a story together -- putting a plot together -- and being able to hook the reader fairly early on in an engaging story, and make the pages turn."
On a reason he's always loved to write:
"I think it's just this fascination I have with escapism -- with being able to just chuck it all, and walk away."
On one of the secrets to his inspiration:
"A hyperactive imagination, which I guess I was born with."
On the characters of his prior books:
"I forget about these people so fast. I get embarrassed all the time because I'll be at a bookstore signing books, and somebody will ask me a question about The Partner, or The Brethren or something I wrote five or six years ago, and I can't answer the question because I don't remember what happened. I really tend to forget about them real fast because I'm always thinking about the next book or the next two books or the next movie."
On "the good life" as a writer:
"Hey, I'm the luckiest guy in the world -- I really feel that way! I get to work about six months out of the year writing a novel, the other six months, I watch baseball games, raise my kids, stay on the farm with my wife and the horses, and live a very easy life -- I'm very spoiled."
Back to Top