You’ve probably heard of John Grisham, who is the author of bestselling books like The Firm and, of course, one of my new favorite books, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. But did you know that he never wanted to be a writer? In fact, writing was only a hobby for him as a lawyer in Mississippi. So what turned this small-town lawyer into a bestselling author?
Mr. Grisham was inspired to start writing when he heard the testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim in the courtroom. After hearing her story, Mr. Grisham decided to write a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had killed her attackers. This story would later turn into A Time to Kill, his first novel. In an interview with Bill Moyers (link at the end of the post), Mr. Grisham talked about how he managed to squeeze in writing a novel while still working as a lawyer. “I would wake up at 5:00[am], and I’d be at my office by 5:30[am]. That was the only quiet time of the day… And I’d go to the office and make some strong coffee and sit down and start writing. And I didn’t know, I mean, I’d never written before. My goal, when I started the book, was just to finish it. ‘Cause I’m always starting a new project and never finish.” His novel was written on legal pads, and once he finished a chapter, he’d let his wife, Renee, read it. She gave him advice on plotting and pacing the story. Three years after beginning it, A Time to Kill was published in 1984 by a small publisher. Only 5,000 copies were produced, and Mr. Grisham himself bought 1000 of them. In the interview with Bill Moyers which was done in 2007, he mentions that he still had 50 copies or so of A Time to Kill! After publishing his first novel, he knew he wanted to write so he quit his lawyer job and started writing full-time. He published his second novel, The Firm, and it became a NY Times bestseller, staying on the bestseller list for 47 weeks. Mr. Grisham is one of only three authors to sell over 2 million copies of a book in its first printing!
Mr. Grisham went on to publish many more books including The Pelican Brief, The Summons, and his newest book, Sycamore Row, and now makes a habit of writing one book a year, usually writing it from August to November. He uses outlines to help plot out each of his chapters. Mr. Grisham is a self-taught writer, but believes his story-telling talents are God-given. He’s a Christian, and he strives to keep his books clean. In an interview with powertochange.com, Mr. Grisham said, “When I started writing, I made the simple decision to keep it clean. The decision was based on my Christian faith and a certain lifestyle I’m trying to maintain, and I’ve never been tempted or pushed to write otherwise.” His favorite authors are Mark Twain, Pat Conroy, John LeCarre, and John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s works had a great influence on Mr. Grisham when he read them in high school. He especially loved Steinbeck’s clear style.
I personally admire Mr. Grisham’s discipline in writing his first book and appreciate that he keeps his books clean. I also enjoy his writing style immensely. In fact, I’ve already ordered the rest of his Theodore Boone series and The Firm from the library. I can’t wait until they come in!
Mr. Grisham’s website can be found here: http://www.jgrisham.com/
This was a really helpful biography I found about Mr. Grisham and contained lots of links to other interviews with him: http://shaffersnotebook.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/john-grisham-20-years-of-writing/
The Bill Moyers interview I quoted can be found here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/archives/grishamexcl_flash.html
Thanks for reading!