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Posts Tagged ‘John Grisham’

A Letter to Readers from John Grisham

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Grisham_Sycamore Row A letter to readers from John Grisham about Sycamore Row.

When A Time to Kill was published in 1989 it sold a few copies around Memphis, Jackson, and a couple of other hot spots in Mississippi, but it was unnoticed by the rest of the world. As an eager rookie, I was dreaming of royalties, foreign rights, a movie deal, and perhaps a larger publishing contract. None of these things materialized, not in 1989 anyway. The book was ignored; my tiny publisher printed five thousand copies, and we couldn’t give them away. The Memphis newspaper trashed it and the Jackson paper refused to review it.
But it proved resilient. My second, third, and fourth books followed quickly, along with their movie adaptations, and somewhere in that frenzy A Time to Kill was discovered. One day in the summer of 1994 I caught myself gawking at the New York Times bestseller list—all four books were at the top, with A Time to Kill number one in mass market. By then, it had sold five million copies.

And the book has remained popular. Its own movie version was released in 1996, did well at the box office, and in all likelihood it’s somewhere on cable tonight. Today, after thirty books, A Time to Kill is still the bestselling book I’ve written. And it’s by far the favorite, at least according to those who get close enough to offer an opinion. Countless times I’ve heard, “Hey, I like your books, but the first one is the best.”

More often than not, this is followed up with a quick, “How about a sequel? Another story about Jake and Lucien and Harry Rex?” To which I usually respond, “I’m waiting on a story.”

And so I’ve waited. For over twenty years I’ve thought about Jake Brigance and the characters in his world, and the aftermath of the Hailey trial. I’ve wondered how Jake was doing in Clanton, a deeply divided town, with the Klan hot on his tail, his home destroyed by a firebomb, his friends carrying guns to protect him. How were Jake and Carla coping as they picked up the pieces and started over? Did the Hailey trial make him a star, a lawyer in demand? Or was he still struggling to pay the rent?

I’ve gone back briefly to Ford County in other books, but never one involving Jake. Harry Rex Vonner, one of my favorites, has made a few cameos here and there, but nothing of substance. Lucien Wilbanks has appeared occasionally, but only in passing.

When I finished my second book, The Firm, my plan was to return to Clanton for another story. Then, I would write another legal thriller. Back and forth, back and forth, I would carve out my turf on the literary landscape with two kinds of books—the legal thrillers and the Ford County novels. Surely, somewhere in there I could find my niche and sell some books. The sudden success of The Firm, though, changed things dramatically, and I felt the urgency to pursue the legal thrillers. And, after twenty of them, I still enjoy piecing together the plots and pursuing the issues.

But Jake has never been far from my creative thoughts. Two years ago, a novel began to take shape. Unlike A Time to Kill, a story inspired by real events, this one has no basis in truth. Now that Sycamore Row is finished, I’m not sure where the idea came from, at least not in fact. I suppose the inspiration comes from the characters because, in writing it, I often felt as though I was having dinner with old friends. It was a delight to catch up with them, to hear their voices again, and to remember how they were thirty years ago. I hope they haven’t changed much.

My wife, Renée, wasn’t too keen on a sequel and her reason was simple: When I began writing A Time to Kill in 1984, I was the hungry young lawyer looking for the big case. I was struggling at the office and wondering where the clients were. We were living the life of Jake and Carla in a small town in Mississippi, just getting by and trying to survive. Happy, ambitious, but not sure the law was our ticket to success. That was a long time ago, and Renée worried it would be difficult to recapture the authenticity of that writer’s voice. So much has changed. She was also worried about the possibility of a cool reception to a sequel. “They rarely work, you know?” She said more than once. “Fine,” I said, “we just won’t call it a sequel.”

And so we’re not. Renée read the first chapters of Sycamore Row and was soon on board. The story came together nicely and writing it became a pleasure. As always, it took about six months, not a long time in the writing business, but long enough. The last six weeks are usually tedious and tiring, and the deadline looms and I grow a little tired of my characters. Not so with Sycamore Row. Almost daily, I was tempted to, as we say, “chase a rabbit,” or, in other words, pursue some long- winded and colorful tale involving Harry Rex or Lucien or another character. I could have written a thousand pages, but at some point the story had to end.

So I saved some material for the next time out.

John Grisham Charlottesville, Virginia October 15, 2013

Be sure to check out our RHRC book club questions for Sycamore Row here!

Reader’s Guide: SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Grisham_Sycamore Row John Grisham takes you back to where it all began. One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Now we return to Ford County as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tensionin Sycamore Row.

Questions for Discussion

1. How is the novel shaped by the place in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it were set elsewhere? In a big city? In the North?

2. How is the novel shaped by the era in which it’s set? How would the story be different if it occurred today? How would the existence of cell phones and the Internet change this story?

3. If Seth is of sound mind and not unduly influenced by anyone, why do you think he attempts to right his family’s wrongs in this manner—through a posthumous letter and a holographic will— knowing that it will provoke such intense conflict? Are his actions considerate of Lettie? Are they unfair to his family? Do they put Jake in an unnecessarily difficult position? In the same situation, what would you have done?

4. Do you think the verdict—all five parts of it—was correct? Do you think Judge Atlee’s modification of the verdict was fair?

5. Do you think Judge Atlee was a good judge? In the instances where he allowed legally questionable evidence to be presented, did he make the right choices?

6. On page 92, Lucien and Jake debate the differences between the Carl Lee Hailey trial and the upcoming Hubbard trial. Jake tells Lucien, “That was all about race. This is all about money.” Lucien replies, “Everything is about race in Mississippi, Jake, don’t ever forget that.” Who do you think is right? Are they both right?

7. How does the theme of forgiveness shape this novel?

8. Public opinion can play a significant role in influencing juries and, therefore, verdicts—but public opinion isn’t necessarily shaped by objective facts. How did gossip, exaggerations, rumors, and out- right lies (both printed and spoken) shape the trial outcome?

9. What role did memory play in the legal proceedings? For Lettie? For Ancil? For the jury?

10. What did you learn about the legal process in reading this novel? Did it change your perception of lawyers or America’s judicial system?

11. Who in this novel exhibits selflessness? Who exhibits selfishness? Are there characters who exhibit both? Who is the hero of this novel?

12. How responsible are we for the actions of our ancestors?

Book clubbers! Be sure to stay in touch with John Grisham on his Facebook page. You can also learn more about his events and upcoming news on his website!

Giveaway Opportunity: THE RACKETEER by John Grisham

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Grisham_Racketeer Bookclubs beware: The Racketeer by New York Times bestselling author John Grisham will keep you engaged until the last page.

“Exhilarating . . . surprising . . . ingenious.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

In the history of the United States, only four active federal judges have been murdered. Judge Raymond Fawcett has just become number five. His body is found in his remote lakeside cabin. There is no sign of forced entry or struggle. Just two dead bodies: Judge Fawcett and his young secretary. And one large, state-of-the-art, extremely secure safe, opened and emptied.

One man, a former attorney, knows who killed Judge Fawcett, and why. But that man, Malcolm Bannister, is currently residing in the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland. Though serving time, Malcolm has an ace up his sleeve. He has information the FBI would love to know. Malcolm would love to tell them. But everything has a price—and the man known as the Racketeer wasn’t born yesterday.

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A reading group guide for John Grisham’s FORD COUNTY: Stories

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Ford County“These stories were revelatory. They showed how much verve, suspense, instruction and moral ambiguity Mr. Grisham could pack into bare-bones plotlines. He could accomplish in 40-page virtual synopses what he normally does in 400-page novels.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

1. How do the small-town lawyers in Ford County compare to some of the high-powered attorneys featured in John Grisham’s other works? What struggles and temptations do they all have in common?

2. When Roger, Aggie, and Calvin decided to travel to Memphis to give blood in “Blood Drive,” what were they each hoping to gain? Was Calvin the only one who lost his innocence on the trip? What ultimately was your impression of Bailey—the character we only meet through hearsay?

3. In “Fetching Raymond,” Inez Graney and her sons Leon and Butch don’t see Raymond’s situation in quite the same way. What accounts for the difference between Raymond and his brothers? What determines whether someone will end up on the wrong side of the law?

4. John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, recounted the story of Ron Williamson, who was sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of an Oklahoma waitress despite a spurious trial. In the fictional Raymond Graney’s case, we’re told on page 75 that he confessed to Butch, and that Butch and Leon knew their brother had ambushed Coy. Nonetheless, was it right for Raymond to receive the death penalty?

5. What drove Mack Stafford to go to such great lengths of dishonesty in his “Fish Files” escape? Was his life in Mississippi beyond salvage? Did he do any real harm in executing his brilliant plan?

6. What is Sidney Lewis’s best ammunition against Bobby Carl Leach? What really ruined Sidney and Stella’s marriage? Did money put it back together again at the end of “Casino,” or was something else at play?

7. In “Michael’s Room,” was Stanley in fact facing enormous lies of his past, or had he simply presented a different version of the truth in the courtroom? Why did Jim Cranwell lose his case? Could any amount of legislation have ensured a victory for him?

8. How did your perception of Gilbert Griffin change as you read “Quiet Haven”? What were your first impressions of him? Were you hoodwinked as well? Could someone like him dodge prosecution forever?

9. What does “home” mean to Emporia and Adrian in “Funny Boy”? What does their friendship prove about the people who make Clanton’s most powerful families feel threatened? What is Adrian’s greatest legacy to his newfound friend?

10. How do the residents of Ford County imagine city life—Memphis, San Francisco, New York? What determines whether they fear it or crave it?

11. What does Ford County tell us about the nature of small towns? What makes them safe havens? What makes them dangerous?

12. Whose lives are changed for the better by the legal agreements and maneuvers described in Ford County? What is the most significant factor in whether the law is a force for good or evil in these stories?

13. Tort reform has received much publicity in recent years. Discuss the question of damages raised in stories such as “Fish Files,” “Michael’s Room,” and “Quiet Haven.” When should an injured person be entitled to financial compensation? What should drive the dollar amount of that compensation?

14. Adrian reads much fiction by William Faulkner, who also created a fictional southern locale (Yoknapatawpha County) as the setting for many of his works. How does Grisham’s take on small-town Mississippi compare to Faulkner’s? What aspects of Ford County have remained unchanged since Grisham created it for A Time to Kill?

15. What makes Grisham’s approach to storytelling so appropriate for short fiction? Linked by time and place, do the stories in Ford County form a novel, in a way?

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