John Grisham

in conversation with Elaine Petrocelli

Recorded May 27th, 2020

Share this event

Get Camino Winds–and other John Grisham favorites–directly from Book Passage:

Log in or register to watch the archive.

John Grisham in conversation with Elaine Petrocelli
Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Share this with someone who loves books.

John Grisham is the #1 New York Times bestselling author whose latest release, Camino Winds, brings readers back to paradise for a little sun, sand, mystery, and mayhem.

Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, John has written one novel a year and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 300 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 40 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, A Painted House, The Runaway Jury, and Skipping Christmas), as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.

The Innocent Man (October 2006) marked his first foray into non-fiction, and Ford County (November 2009) was his first short story collection.


“I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial.”

–John Grisham

Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, John Grisham was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi, law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby—writing his first novel.

Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker, as a child John dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn’t have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.

One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, John overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, John spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.

That might have put an end to John’s hobby. However, he had already begun his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career—and spark one of publishing’s greatest success stories. The day after John completed A Time to Kill, he began work on another novel, the story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.

The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed John’s reputation as the master of the legal thriller. His success even renewed interest in A Time to Kill, which was republished in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Dell. This time around, it was a bestseller.

Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, he has written one novel a year (his other books are The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, A Painted House, Skipping Christmas, The Summons, The King of Torts, Bleachers, The Last Juror, The Broker, Playing for Pizza, The Appeal, The Associate, The Confession, The Litigators, Calico Joe, The Racketeer, Sycamore Row, Gray Mountain, Rogue Lawyer, The Whistler, Camino Island, The Rooster Bar, The Reckoning, and The Guardians) and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 300 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 40 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films (The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Chamber, A Painted House, The Runaway Jury, and Skipping Christmas), as was an original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man. The Innocent Man (October 2006) marked his first foray into non-fiction, and Ford County (November 2009) was his first short story collection.

John took time off from writing for several months in 1996 to return, after a five-year hiatus, to the courtroom. He was honoring a commitment made before he had retired from the law to become a full-time writer: representing the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. Preparing his case with the same passion and dedication as his books’ protagonists, John successfully argued his clients’ case, earning them a jury award of $683,500—the biggest verdict of his career.

When he’s not writing, John devotes time to charitable causes, including most recently his Rebuild The Coast Fund, which raised 8.8 million dollars for Gulf Coast relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also keeps up with his greatest passion: baseball. The man who dreamed of being a professional baseball player now serves as the local Little League commissioner. The six ballfields he built on his property have played host to over 350 kids on 26 Little League teams.

Visit the Book Passage website to have any of John’s books delivered right to your door.

You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:

Camino Winds

camino winds

The Guardians

The Guardians

Gray Mountain

Gray Mountain

Get ready to join John in conversation, Wednesday, May 27th.

In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation.

Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any that match your interests.

Feel free to add your own question. Then spread the word to make sure others have the chance to help move your question to the top of the shared list.

  • 13

    votes

    With hindsight, if you hadn’t become a lawyer or a writer, what do you think you’d be doing now, or what would you have liked to have done?

  • 11

    votes

    Do you use outlines when you write your novels?

  • 10

    votes

    Which of your novels in your personal favorite?

  • 8

    votes

    In your fictional stories, are your wonderful characters developed from people you know or have met?

  • 8

    votes

    How are you able to write such wonderful books so consistently, year after year? Do you ever think of taking a year off?

  • 6

    votes

    What’s your favorite film adaptation of your writing?

  • 5

    votes

    If you had to spend time alone in quarantine with a character from one of your books, who would you choose?

  • 5

    votes

    When your book “The Testament” came out, I recall that you said that you drew upon your experience visiting The Pantanal region in Brazil for that novel. As BookPassage is a major Travel Writer’s book store, can you tell us about your international travels “off the beaten track” including your journey to The Patanal UNESCO World Heritage Site?

  • 5

    votes

    What is your daily or weekly writing routine when you compose your first draft? At what point do you let other people read it and give notes?

  • 4

    votes

    Please share your getting ready to write process? Sitting at a certain desk, by the window, keyboard or pen and paper, etc. what gets you started?

  • 3

    votes

    How is your family doing during this terrible time? How are you making it through the spring without baseball?

  • 3

    votes

    Has there been any update on the two men who were accused of the murder of Donna Denice Haraway?

  • 3

    votes

    Will you ever write a sequel to ‘the Broker’?

  • 3

    votes

    My son went to Harvard Law School. How, if any, did Harvard Law School assist you as a novelist?

  • 3

    votes

    Do you plan on writing any more books based on sports

  • 3

    votes

    What’s it like being you? What do you spend most of your time thinking about, both before and during the pandemic? How do you spend your time? What are your priorities and what are your worries?

  • 2

    votes

    How about a sequel to The Guardians … Cullen Post and friends have more stories to tell (I am sure) ….

  • 1

    votes

    What are your recommendations for independent booksellers to do more business? I first met you in 1991 when you signed “The Firm” for me at the Oxford Bookstore in Atlanta. It was the best bookstore in Atlanta and was done in by the chain bookstores and the Internet. I still support independents whenever I can and love Book Passage.

  • 1

    votes

    As a child who grew up on The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown, I was excited to see you write legal thrillers for kids. Will there be more Theodore Boone books–or another series?

  • 1

    votes

    Do you feel close to your characters when you are writing them? Is it easy to let them go and move on to the next? Are there any that stick with you and you wish you could spend more time with?

  • 1

    votes

    Have you ever felt threatened by any of the corporations and injustices that you have exposed?

  • 1

    votes

    Are you familiar with the Birmingham, Alabama Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson’s memoir “Just Mercy”? I would imagine it would inform your stories of freeing innocent death row prisoners.

  • 0

    votes

    One of the reasons you are my favorite author is that your plots deal with the extreme inequality in our society from a legal point of view. Might you include our pandemic as a factor in a future novel?

  • 0

    votes

    As a pilot of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, I enjoyed that one of your protagonists flew that plane, and was startled that his was sabotaged to do him in. My plane doesn’t have a fuel pump and wondered about that. Are you a pilot?