Interview: John Grisham

In last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, there was an interview of John Grisham which I thought was interesting, because of some of the points he made.

According to Wikipedia, John Ray Grisham, Jr., born in 1955 is an American lawyer, politician, and author, best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books have been translated into forty-two different languages.  He graduated from Mississippi State University before attending the University of Mississippi Law School in 1981, and practiced criminal law for about a decade. He also served in the House of Representatives in Mississippi from January 1984 to September 1990.  He began writing his first novel, A Time to Kill, in 1984, and it was published in June 1989.  As of 2012, his books had sold over 275 million copies worldwide.   A Galaxy British Book Awards winner, Grisham is one of only three authors to sell 2 million copies on a first printing, the others being Tom Clancy  and J K Rowling.  Grisham’s first bestseller was The Firm. Released in 1991, it sold more than seven million copies.  The book was later adapted into a feature film of the same name, starring Tom Cruise.

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The interview took place in his loft office in Charlottesville, Virginia.  His interviewers (Peter Foster among them) had tried, without success, to operate the front door intercom.  Coming ’round from the back, Grisham told them, “Sorry, guys, tha’ thing’s been broken for a while. Y’all come round this way”.  There are no agents, flunkies, or receptionist to retrieve his visitors.  His office, where he once hosted a fund-raiser for Hilary Clinton in 2008, is decorated with posters from the movies The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client.  There is also a black and white photo from 1993 showing fans queuing around the block to buy a copy of The Client at a Memphis book store.  But Peter Foster says that Grisham recognizes that the world of his heyday has faded, both in the bookstores and in films.  Grisham says that Amazon is drumming the book stores out of business, and the films are no longer being made.  There are five films in development, but “these days the financing always seems to fall through . . . Hollywood doesn’t want to make those sorts of movies any more.”

Foster said that Grisham seems to be genuinely grateful for his monumental success (he still earns $10 million a year), but he is like the big league athlete whose time has passed, but who is conscious that the world has moved on.

As of last week he had a Twitter account, but only because his publishers made him open one.  He says, “I can’t think of anything worse than stopping several times a day and sharing my thoughts and activities with a bunch of people, and I damn sure don’t want to know what you’re doing, so just leave me alone.  I have a Twitter account, but I don’t mess with it.”

He views the rise of Amazon and ebooks in much the same way, equating Jeff Bezos with the ‘Robber Barons’ of the 19th century who established monopolies in order to crush the competition.  “Amazon is driving prices down and they say, ‘We’re good guys, we’ll sell more and everybody makes more money.’  What I want to say is, ‘Hey, I had a very nice career going before Amazon.’

Grisham gets up every morning at 7 am and writes until lunch time.  Every January 2nd, he writes the outline of a new novel, and the process ends on July 1 when he delivers the manuscript for publication in October.

He is a Democrat with some strong political views.  He says that in American politics, “the money is just so rampant and corrosive.  We should call it corruption.  You’re actually buying votes, that’s what you’re doing.  But it’s all legal.  It’s a rotten system and it’s getting worse every year in this country.”

The plot of his next novel is inspired by the shootings of black teenagers by white policemen.  He says he wants to explore the flaws of a criminal justice system in America that imprisons its population at five times the rate of Britain and most other developed countries.  He says that the system, “treats black teenage boys and white teenage boys so differently for the same crimes.  Always drugs.  We have a million black guys in prison now for non-violent drug offenses.  One million.”  He said that the system also comes down too hard on non-violent white collar criminals like Martha Stewart.

I agree with most of what Grisham said, but the article mentions remarks he had made earlier in the week about “old white guys his age who once had too many drinks and looked at some child pornography” ending up in prison.  The case to which Grisham probably had reference didn’t involve ‘some child pornography’; it involved a lot of pictures of children being sexually abused.  In my view, ‘old white guys’ like that ought to go to prison!  Also, I have little sympathy for Martha Stewart who made false statements and obstructed the investigation into insider trading.

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