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If you like John Grisham's story, you might also like:
Tom Clancy,
Khaled Hosseini,
Norman Mailer,
Frank McCourt,
James Michener
and Amy Tan

John Grisham's recommended reading: The Grapes of Wrath

John Grisham also appears in the video(s):
So, You Want to Be a Writer Vol.1,

So, You Want to Be a Writer Vol.2

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring John Grisham in the Achievement Curriculum section:
So You Want to be a Writer

Related Links:
John Grisham

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John Grisham
John Grisham
Profile of John Grisham Biography of John Grisham Interview with John Grisham John Grisham Photo Gallery

John Grisham Interview (page: 2 / 3)

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  John Grisham

Was there a person who inspired you?

John Grisham: I had the benefit of some very good high school English teachers. One in particular when I was a senior in high school. I was a jock, okay. I was not a student. Although I enjoyed reading, that was about it as far as academics.

But she forced us to read good books and good writers, particularly good American writers. We weren't too thrilled to do it initially, but she taught us how to do it. Through that, I discovered some of my favorite authors, particularly John Steinbeck. Once I had gone through all of Steinbeck's books, I realized that I had had a wonderful experience.

I remember reading a lot of Steinbeck in high school and thinking, "I'd love to be able to write this clearly." At the same time we were having to read Faulkner. So we had Faulkner on one hand, and Steinbeck on the other, and Steinbeck looked remarkably clear, compared to Faulkner. I can't say that when I'm in Mississippi, but I can say it here.

What was the teacher's name?

John Grisham: Francis McGuffey. She's still teaching, and we still correspond. She comes to my book signings in Memphis when I'm there. I send her an autographed copy of every book. We're still friends, still buddies.

What particular books meant a lot to you when you were young?

John Grisham: I read a lot of books when I was a kid, just for the sheer fun of reading. All the series of mysteries and books like that.

The first book I remember that really grabbed me was a book that Miss McGuffey made us read, a book called Tortilla Flat by Steinbeck. And when I read it, I really enjoyed the book. And so I went to her and said, "This is really -- I like this." And she was shocked that I would show any interest in what she was making us do. So she said, okay, read this. And the next one was Of Mice and Men. So she sort of fed the Steinbeck books to me. When I read The Grapes of Wrath -- we saved that for last -- I knew that was a very powerful book. And I don't know if it had anything to do with my writing style, or me as a writer, because I wasn't thinking about it back then. It had a lot to do with the way I viewed humanity and the struggles of little people against big people. It was a very important book for me.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Was there a moment in your career that really stands out?

John Grisham Interview Photo
John Grisham: There have been some wonderful phone calls from New York. The biggest phone call yet was the first time, a truly magical moment. After a year of being turned down, my agent called one day in April of '88 and said, "We have a publisher for A Time to Kill. It's going to be a book." At that point it had been turned down by 30-something publishers. Everybody had said no to it. He found a very small press in New York, and they wanted to buy it. That was a huge moment.

Another time, he called and said, "We've sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount." It was totally unexpected, because at that time there was no book deal, it was just in manuscript form. Those are big moments. I don't know if you sort of get jaded, or callous to success, but it's still terribly exciting. It's still hard to believe.

The Firm was published four years ago, so it's been awfully quick. The Firm was not the first book, but it was the first book anybody read. My career is still in its infancy and it still feels brand new. Something happens every day that makes me stop and try to remember where I am and what's happening.

Tell us about your family and your friends.

John Grisham: It's easy to remember friends.

When A Time to Kill was published, it was an unknown author, unknown book, unknown publisher. There was no money for promotion, so I tried to sell the book myself. And I went to a lot of book stores in the Memphis, mid-South area and a lot of them had no time, you know? They didn't want a new author, especially one with a publisher they'd never heard of. But there were a handful who opened their doors and said, "Sure, come in. We'll try to sell some books, and we'll have a party, and we'll invite all of our customers."

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

And, you know...

It's hard to forget people like that. And it's fun now. I go back every time. I've gone back with every book. There are five stores. I call them -- they're my home stores. These are friends of mine, and I can't imagine publishing a book and not going back to their stores. I mean, now the book signings last for, you know, ten or 12 hours, but you know, it's still fun.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

It's tiring, but it's only once a year. I don't do it every day. And there are worse things in life than signing lots of copies of your own books. I'm still gratified that people show up and wait in line to get a book signed.

Are there personal characteristics that you think are important for success in every field?

John Grisham Interview Photo
John Grisham: I love to talk to kids and ask them where they're going to college, and what they want to study. And so often it's all planned. They know exactly where they're going, what they're going to do and where they're going to be ten years from now. I don't want to dampen their enthusiasm, but I want to say, "You can't plan everything." I never planned to write books, it was not something I ever thought about. I thought I'd be a lawyer for the rest of my life. It's important to have goals and to work hard for them, but life has a way of presenting opportunities that you don't really notice at first. Success a lot of times depends on whether you make a change and try something that you hadn't planned, something new.

I give commencement speeches occasionally to colleges and high schools, and I usually dwell on that, tell the students, "Get your education and work hard, but don't race toward the age of 22 or 23 when you're out of college, and you've got the credit card, and you've got the BMW, and you want everything right then at the age of 23, because you're not going to enjoy your education." I tell kids to stay in school until they're 30 years old. Their parents hate me for it, but nobody really takes you very seriously until you're 30 anyway. You need to spend a lot of time in school.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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This page last revised on Mar 23, 2009 11:42 EDT
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