While in Aspen, John Grisham takes the time to look back
John Grisham retired from politics in 1990 after six years in Mississippi State House, shortly after publishing his first novel “A Time to Kill”, planning to focus on writing books. and leave public life behind.
Ironically, the novels – which have become some of the most widely read in modern history, quickly defined the genre of the legal thriller and made Grisham one of the most famous writers on the planet – gave it greater flair. -public form that he would never have had in an elective mandate.
He has used this platform wisely over the past three decades, fearful of sacrificing his work on the page for the power of celebrity lures.
“You have to be careful when you have a platform,” said Grisham, who will be the guest of honor at the Aspen Words Book Ball at the Jerome Hotel on Tuesday. “You can’t turn a platform into a chair of intimidation. You can’t assume that your readers always share your policy. You cannot succumb to the urge to preach all the time.
That said, Grisham has been a strong advocate for death row inmates, campaigned to exonerate those wrongly convicted through Project Innocence, and worked on related issues around mass incarceration. Many of his books, like “The Guardians” of 2019, have also touched on these issues, and others like “The Appeal” have looked at broader legal corruption issues.
“If you read what I write with anti-death penalty stuff, wrongful convictions, and mass incarceration issues that are close to my heart, it’s pretty obvious what you know on what a sad street I am, ”he said. “I just don’t like waving a lot of flags.”
Grisham also often lends his fame to raise money for charities and groups like Aspen Words.
These days, Grisham writes two types of novels – problem-oriented and entertaining ones, although both are compulsively read.
His latest is an entry in the latter category, “The Judges List”, and will be released in October. It marks the return of Lacy Stotz, who was first featured in Grisham’s 2016 novel “The Whistler” investigating crooked judges in Florida. The new book finds her chasing a judge who could be a serial killer.
It’s an old-fashioned thriller, a fun page-turner that brings back a clever, funny protagonist from Stotz that readers – and Grisham – love to hang out with in a no-frills pot.
“I’ve written a number of pretty heavy books on issues and wrongful convictions and issues that are close to my heart,” Grisham said. “And after doing a few of those in a row I’m like, ‘Let’s take a break and just have a good old-fashioned detective story with no looming social justice issue that I want to expose on.'”
Grisham makes no claim to writing both types of books for a wide readership.
“My wife is very good at saying, ‘Stop preaching for a while and just write a good old thriller,’ and that’s what it is,” he said. “Lacy’s books are about escapism and thrillers.”
Grisham has brought back only a handful of protagonists during his career, the most popular of them Jake Briggance, the lawyer for the small town of Mississippi in “A Time to Kill”. Briggance remains Grisham’s most autobiographical character – back in “Sycamore Row” (2013) and “A Time for Mercy” (2020) – and one of the few he’s been forced to resurrect on the page.
“It’s rare that I go back and think of a character,” Grisham said. “Most of my protagonists are dead or in jail or something, and I can’t go back. But Lacy I wanted – I fell in love with her when I first wrote about her. She’s cool, smart, hip and frustrated, and I always wanted to come back to her.
Grisham has been publishing about one book a year for over 30 years now – 28 of them are No.1 bestsellers and it has sold around 300 million copies – creating consistently satisfying and original stories of court dramas or more obscure areas of law.
Typically writing from around 7 am to noon for five days a week, always aiming to achieve 1,000 words per day, he has maintained remarkable consistency. For most of his career, Grisham began a new legal thriller on New Years Day with the goal of ending in July.
“It sounds like a crazy schedule, but it isn’t,” he explained.
If he can move forward with his regular 1,000 word daily clip, he will continue to finish one book a year.
“I can’t imagine not doing this,” he said. “It’s just a 35-year-old habit now. … I haven’t yet found anything else to do during those early hours to occupy myself. There is nothing else.
He has a list of book and story ideas he wants to access, so he doesn’t expect to be slowing down anytime soon.
Grisham, 66, spends a lot of time with his grandchildren, he said, and often takes writing breaks to travel with his wife, Renee, often arranging trips around book festivals like the festival This week’s Autumn Words literary and writers’ conference in Aspen. . He is a relatively recent convert to the joys of life in the mountains. The Grishams spent a week in Aspen in the summer of 2014 and “just fell in love with the area”, returning there regularly since then.
“We don’t do very well in the snow, being from Mississippi,” he said. “But summer is a delight, and we were won over by the scenery, the city and the way of life.”
While the quality and production of Grisham’s novels has been stable, what has not been consistent – and few would have predicted – are the film adaptations of Grisham’s books.
In the 90s, Grisham’s first seven novels were all adapted into films that were major cultural events, his books attracting the best and most popular actors and directors to direct them. From Tom Cruise in Sydney Pollack’s 1993 adaptation of “The Firm” to Robert Altman’s “The Gingerbread Man” in 1998, Grisham’s magnificent first seven books have served as fodder for some of the best and most popular blockbusters. from Hollywood.
This film series is still revered by critics and reviewed by audiences decades later (“The Firm” is one of the films covered by the popular Ringer podcast “The Rewatchables”). But his books are no longer suitable. None have hit the screen since 2004, as Hollywood has largely given up on adult dramas and legal thrillers.
“I miss it,” Grisham said of the adaptations. “They were all huge hits and life was crazy and fun and good. Movies sold more books and it was easy. I would finish a manuscript, my agent would take it to Hollywood and sell the rights and make the movie. And, my boy, has that changed! “
Grisham estimated that he currently has six or eight plans in development to make his books suitable for film or television, but many have been dormant for years. He’s got some hope that books will hit TV – like his non-fiction “The Innocent Man” did on Netflix in 2018 – but the days are gone when he could expect to see a Joel. Schumacher or a Francis Ford Coppola make a lush cinematic version of his book with the best actors alive, simply because no one makes those films anymore.
“It’s all cartoons and ‘Spider-Man 10’ and stuff like that,” he said of the Hollywood landscape today.
And while this industry has changed, the popular novel itself has also moved from the center of culture. The novels gave way to the proverbial conversation of water coolers and cocktails on serial television. This is true even in Grisham circles, he noted.
The days are behind us when a new novel could be omnipresent in casual conversation and on beaches, commuter trains, airplanes and nightstands in the United States. The next generation of emerging writers won’t have a titanic popular novelist like John Grisham among them, or more likely to be a social media content creator or video game creator.
“We are moving away from books and reading,” Grisham said. “And that worries me, although I’m not sure what I can do about it as a writer. … This is the present. It’s the future. It’s not good for the books, but it is who we are.
Grisham recalled his first true TV show binge a few years ago, becoming addicted to “The West Wing” and watching all 107+ episodes over three months – a nighttime habit for him and Renee. But the experience motivated Grisham to create something that could be so compelling for excessive reading: -driven. ‘”