John Grisham answers readers’ questions in TIME Magazine’s “10 Questions for John Grisham.”
Is the criminal-justice system broken? (Leslie Moyer, Wichita, Kans.)
It is a mess. More than 100 people have been sent to death row who were later exonerated because they weren’t guilty or fairly tried. Most criminal defendants do not get adequate representation because there are not enough public defenders to represent them. There is a lot that is wrong.
You recently wrote your first nonfiction book, The Innocent Man. Will you write more like it? (Anne Sherwood Kansas City, Mo.)
No. Nonfiction is too much work. I’m too lazy to do all the research. I actually never thought about [writing nonfiction], but when I saw the story, I knew I had to write it.
You always root for the underdog. What drives that? (Tom Roberts, Yangzhou, China)
I was a lawyer for 10 years—a short time, but it molded me into who I am. My clients were little people fighting big corporations, so it was a natural thing to not only represent the little guy but also to pull for him—it’s the American way. That is, until the little guy gets to the top, and then we can’t wait to see him fail. [Laughs.]
Your stories typically feature at least one slimy attorney. Are most lawyers like that? (Grace Hall, Rosedale, N.Y.)
Not a lot. But there are enough of the slimy ones to juice up the profession and create a lot of good stories. Nobody wants to read about the honest lawyer down the street who does real estate loans and wills. If you want to sell books, you have to write about the interesting lawyers—the guys who steal all the money and take off. That’s the fun stuff.
Has the legal world ever reacted negatively to your work? (Diana Parrish, Boston)
There have been tons of negative reactions. I have been routinely trounced by lawyers and legal critics, but I couldn’t care less. A huge part of my readership is made up of lawyers, and every book was inspired, in some part, by something that really happened.
You churn out a book almost every year. Does that impact the quality? (Cynthia Moyer, Salt Lake City)
I don’t think so, because if I had more time, I wouldn’t use it. I’d wait until the last three months and write the book. I learned how to procrastinate in law school, I perfected it as I practiced law, and now I am an expert. I’ve written stuff when I had plenty of time, and it wasn’t very good.
Do you try to put Christian sentiments into your books? (Steve Bohannon, Philadelphia)
I’m a Christian, and those beliefs occasionally come out in the books. One thing you really have to watch as a writer is getting on a soapbox or pulpit about anything. You don’t want to alienate readers.
If you had to be one of your protagonists, who would it be? (Luis Garcia, Celaya, Mexico)
I keep going back to Rudy Baylor from The Rainmaker. He got out of the legal profession, found a girl, packed up his car and said, “I am out of here.” That is what I always wanted to do when I was a lawyer. I never wanted to go back to the office.
You are a big baseball fan. What was your reaction to the Mitchell Report on steroids? (Ava Reed, Los Angeles)
It was probably the darkest day in modern baseball history. For the rest of our lives we will look at the inflated statistics and some of the so-called stars who put up those numbers and doubt the authenticity. Hopefully, it is behind us, but I am not sure it is.
You used to serve in the Mississippi House of Representatives. If your friend Senator Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, will you join her Cabinet? (Joseph Saucedo, Seattle)
I would not re-enter politics under any circumstances. I asked Hillary at a fund raiser in front of a thousand people if I could be appointed as the U.S. ambassador to France, so I could live in Paris. She said no. That is the only job I want, so I am out of luck.
If everyone read A Time To Kill I think they would come away with a better understanding of racial relations. Was that your intention when you wrote the book? (Ed Turner, Indianapolis, Indiana.)
Nah. When I wrote the book I didn’t even know if it was going to get published. I had no idea what impact the book would have, especially among black Americans. I’m thrilled that it has. It’s a very accurate portrayal of racial relations in the Deep South.
Do you think your writing has changed over time? How would you compare A Time to Kill with A Painted House? (Julie Njeri, Nairobi, Kenya)
There are moments when I seriously try to assess what I am writing and how I am writing. There has been no deliberate effort to change anything. I still aspire to write a high quality of popular fiction. If you read The Appeal and went back and read The Firm, I am not sure you could tell a difference in the writing style.
Would you ever consider writing a series? (Patricia Livingston, Atlanta, Ga.)
After 12-15 books, you start thinking about writing something different. That is one reason I wrote Skipping Christmas, Bleachers and Playing for Pizza—books with no lawyers. I have thought about a series, but not seriously. I don’t have the idea—I am waiting on the inspiration.
Do you ever get writer’s block? (Julius Ogunro, Lagos, Nigeria)
I have the opposite problem. Every year in late spring-when it is time to start writing a book-I have so many ideas. There are always a dozen bad ideas that never take place. If people knew how easy it came, they would really hate me. [Laughs.]
Would you ever write about the case in Mississippi involving Dickie Scruggs? (Brian Hansen, Baton Rouge, La.)
It is really strange, because The Appeal—which comes out in two weeks—is about politics and sleazy legal stuff in Mississippi. The timing could not be worse. I would not write about those guys because I know all of them and I would never go there. Honestly, truth is far stranger than fiction. Nobody would have believed The Innocent Man if I had written it as a novel. And if I wrote the story that I think is unfolding down there as a novel, people wouldn’t believe it.
What do you like to read for fun? (Martin Trafoier, Schlanders, Italy)
My goal this year is to read every book by John Steinbeck. I read most of them years ago as a student. I just finished a Mark Twain binge. It’s hard to read good fiction when I am writing, because if it is really good I catch myself sort of inadvertently imitating a great writer.
What is your favorite book? (J. Matts, Cleveland, Ohio)
It is a tough one. For years I said it was A Time to Kill, because it was the first one. But I think the book that is going to stick with me forever is The Innocent Man.
My mom thinks you are better looking than Tom Cruise. Why didn’t you star in The Firm instead? (Durriyyah Usman, Islamabad, Pakistan)
It is very simple-I have no acting talent whatsoever. It is amazing what you can do with photography these days, so don’t be too impressed.
Source: TIME Magazine