Heralded lawyer-turned-bestselling-author John Grisham is hard at work on his October novel, The Whistler (Doubleday), a thriller about a dangerous investigation into high levels of judicial corruption. We asked him about the forthcoming work and a career that has seen more than 300 million books in print worldwide, translated into 40 languages, and adapted into nine feature films. Though Grisham will not be at BookCon in person, his publisher, Penguin Random House, will be giving away 100 leather-bound signed editions of The Litigators, which was set in Chicago.
What do you want fans to know about your new book?
I haven’t written it yet. I’m working on it, but can’t talk much about it.
The book is still due out in October, right?
That’s what they believe at Doubleday. I’m just not sure how right they are.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
It has not happened in 30 years. I have the opposite problem. I have so many ideas, I’m thinking about which book to write next.
Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions?
I do have some rituals. I start every morning at 7 or 7:30 in the same place—my little office where it’s dark and cozy—with a cup of the same really strong black coffee. It’s my little cocoon. There’s no phone, or fax, or Internet. And no music. I’ve tried writing with music on, but I find it distracting. Those first two hours are the best time of the day. I take a break about 9:30 or 10 for a light breakfast, then I start losing interest around 10. By 11 or 12, I’m ready to quit. Your brain is cooked when you write hard for three or four hours. I really don’t enjoy coming back to it after that—it’s no fun in the afternoon.
On January 1 of each year I start a legal thriller and allow myself until July 1 to finish. Then we publish in late October in time for Christmas.
Do you enjoy a favorite snack when you’re writing?
Never. My office is 30 yards from the house, so I might have breakfast or lunch with my wife.
Who is your “first reader,” if you have one, of your work in progress?
My wife of 35 years, Renee, not only reads my first draft, she reads ideas. I’ll put together a two-page summary of a book, and we’ll talk about it. About half the time she’s not impressed. You have to have complete honesty from someone reading your work, and she can be blunt at times. She loves to take a big red marker to make notes. That leads to some healthy discussions around the house.
Is there anything that is a sure writing distraction for you—something that will always pull you away from your writing work?
Not if I’m scheduled to be writing. I can’t think of anything short of an emergency that would pull me away. I play a lot of golf, but it’s always in the afternoon.
Do you have a favorite bit of publishing lore that has been written about you?
There’s not a lot of drama in my life. But when my first book, A Time to Kill, didn’t sell, I told Renee, if my second book doesn’t sell I’m going to take up something else. I hustled up and got The Firm finished—it took two years. And in the fall of 1989 I got the luckiest break of my life when someone got a bootleg copy of the manuscript and it surfaced in Hollywood. We sold the movie rights to Paramount before there was even a book deal. Doubleday told me the buzz was great, but I didn’t even know what that meant. I was a smalltown lawyer. It was nerve-wracking to think it was going to sell. When the book hit #12 on the New York Times bestseller list, I closed my law office so fast I barely turned the lights off.
Your new book, The Whistler, is set in Florida. What was the most surprising thing you discovered about that state while researching the book?
There are so many colorful characters in Florida. There’s a lot of money, development—not all of it good—and corruption. Carl Hiaasen is a great friend, and he’s written about it for years. He shakes his head at things that happen there. I’m just scratching the surface, but Florida is not pretentious, it is what it is.
Do you read reviews of your books?
Somebody usually sends some of the good ones. But as a rule, I don’t read them. Life is too short. I’ve worked hard and, hopefully, I’ve reached the point where I’m “review proof.” I joke with Stephen King that we’re almost to the point they leave us alone.
Would you want to have the life of any of your characters? And, if so, why?
I don’t think so, but Jake in A Time to Kill is a pretty autobiographical character. As a young lawyer I was dreaming of the big case, trial, headline, and was struggling to pay the rent. I will always relate to him as the character closest to me. And A Painted House is fiction, but it’s pretty much a childhood memoir about the first seven years of my life on a cotton farm in Arkansas where my grandfather and uncles would tell all kinds of tall tales.
What’s your favorite baseball play/moment of all time?
When I was a kid, every night we listened to the Cardinals on the radio. Even when we were playing ball, there were five radios going in the bleachers tuned to the Cardinals. We all knew what the Cardinals were doing, and we would relive the game from the night before when we were out on the sandlot. When I was 13 years old, my dad walked in and had tickets to a three-game series for the Giants and Cardinals. It was September 1968 and my dad, brother, and I took off to go see them at Busch Stadium. It was pure magic.
Do you have a favorite of all your book jackets/covers?
I took a good look at all the hardcover books here on my shelves, and I would say Sycamore Row. It’s just beautiful.
This article appeared in the May 14, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.