From The Archives: A 2008 Conversation With Barbara Walters
A conversation from the archives with Barbara Walters about her 2008 memoir "Audition," a story of family challenges, celebrity gossip and blazing a trail in TV news.
John Grisham’s first novel was “A Time to Kill,” a thriller about a young, Mississippi lawyer who defends a black client charged with murder. It remains one of the bestselling novels of all-time. Since then, Grisham has written 34 more books. His latest features a criminal defense attorney who carries a gun and lives out of a bullet-proof van. Self-described “rogue lawyer” Sebastian Rudd rails against police corruption but isn’t afraid to game the system when he needs to. The story features three different trials and tackles several controversial topics, including mass incarceration and the death penalty. Diane and bestselling author John Grisham discuss his latest novel.
Reprinted from ROGUE LAYWER by John Grisham. Copyright © 2015 by John Grisham. Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. John Grisham's books have sold more than 300 million copies in 42 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films, including his first one "A Time To Kill." Grisham's latest legal thriller features Sebastian Rudd, a criminal defense attorney who carries a gun and lives out of his bulletproof van. Rudd takes cases no one else will and doesn't trust the police or the government.
MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled "Rogue Lawyer" and has already climbed to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Author John Grisham joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And John Grisham, how good to see you again.
MR. JOHN GRISHAMAlways a pleasure being here.
REHMThank you, John. You know, you've just said to me that this book took you three years to write, whereas usually, you turn them out in what?
GRISHAMTakes about six months. I usually start -- I have these little rules I play by and I start writing a book every year on January the 1st with the goal of finishing in six months. And I normally do. So it takes about six months to write a full length legal thriller. This book is different because I started playing around with it several years ago. I had the idea. I didn't know if it was going to be a novel or what, or a long story or a collection of stories or whatever.
GRISHAMI loved the character and I wanted to have a book that was character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. You know, my plots are pretty intricate and suspenseful and all that and I still enjoyed doing those and piecing those things together. But I had the idea for this. "Radical Lawyer" was the original title. "Rogue Lawyer" you can call him crazy, whatever, but he has all these adventures in the legal system. And he's a lawyer who's at war with the police, the prosecutors, the politicians, you name it, the establishment.
REHMAnd here's what got to me as I began reading and you're going to read for us in just one second. As I began reading, I thought, oh, well, this is not going to be a novel. It's going to be several episodes of what happens. But boy, you trick us 'cause you bring it all together.
GRISHAMWell, and that took some work. It was going to be six or seven or eight sort of independent short stories that I might sell as, like, installments in an eBook. I got the idea through television. We have all these great TV shows now that you can binge on.
GRISHAMI thought, okay, you can order all the episodes you want. You can watch them all at one time. And I thought, okay, well, let's do that with the episodes for the eBooks and maybe have six, seven, eight, you know, for 2 bucks each, you can buy one, two, three or all eight of them, whatever. That was sort of the original idea. That didn't get very far because the story developed and I was able to tie the episodes together into a full blown novel.
REHMOkay. So read for us, introduce us to Sebastian Rudd.
GRISHAMHere is part one. It's called "Contempt." Page 1, Chapter 1, Part 1, here's our guy. "My name is Sebastian Rudd and though I am a well-known street lawyer, you will not see my name on billboards, on bus benches or screaming at you from the Yellow Pages. I don't pay to be seen on television, though I am often there. My name is not listed in any phone book. I do not maintain a traditional office. I carry a gun legally because my name and face tend to attract attention from the type of people who also carry guns and don't mind using them.
GRISHAMI love alone. Usually, sleep alone and do not possess the patience and understanding necessary to maintain friendships. The law is my life, always consuming and occasionally fulfilling. I wouldn't call it a jealous mistress as some forgotten person once so famously did. It's more like an overbearing wife who controls the checkbook. There's no way out. These nights, I find myself sleeping in cheap motel rooms that change each week.
GRISHAMI'm not trying to save money, rather I'm just trying to stay alive. There are plenty of people who'd like to kill me right now and a few of them have been quite vocal. They don't tell you in law school that one day you may find yourself defending a person charged with crimes so heinous that otherwise peaceful citizens feel driven to take up arms and threaten to kill the accused, his lawyer, even the judge. But I've been threatened before. It's part of being a rogue lawyer, a subspecialty of the profession that I more or less fell into ten years ago.
GRISHAMWhen I finished law school, jobs were scarce. I reluctantly took a part time position with the city's public defender's office. From there, I landed on a small unprofitable firm that handled only criminal defense. After a few years, that firm blew up and I was on my own out on the street with plenty of others scrambling to make a buck. One case put me on the map. I can't say it made me famous because, seriously, how can you say you're a famous lawyer in a city of a million people.
GRISHAMPlenty of local hacks think they're famous. They smile from billboards as they beg for your bankruptcy and swagger in television ads as they seem deeply concerned about your personal injuries, but they're forced to pay for their own publicity. Not me. The cheap motels change each week. I'm in the middle of a trial in a dismal backwater redneck town called Milo, two hours from where I live in the city. I am defending a brain-damaged 18-year-old dropout who's charged with killing two little girls in one of the most evil crimes I've ever seen.
GRISHAMAnd I've seen plenty. My clients are almost always guilty so I don't waste a lot of time wringing my hands about whether they get what they deserve. In this case, though, Gardy is not guilty. Not that it matters. It does not. What's important in Milo these days is that Gardy gets convicted and sentenced to death and executed as soon as possible so the town can feel better about itself and move on. Move on to where exactly? Hell if I know, nor do I care.
GRISHAMThis place has been moving backwards for 50 years and one lousy verdict will not change its course. I have read and heard it said that Milo needs closure. Whatever that means. But you'd have to be an idiot to believe this town will somehow grow and prosper and become more tolerant as soon as Gardy gets the needle. My job is layered, complicated at the same time it's quite simple. I'm being paid by the state to provide a first class defense to a defendant charged with capital murder.
GRISHAMAnd this requires me to fight and claw and raise hell in a courtroom where no one is listening. Gardy was essentially convicted the day he was arrested and his trial is only a formality. The dumb and desperate cops trumped up the charges and fabricated the evidence. The prosecutor knows this, but has no spine and is up for reelection next year. The judge is asleep. The jurors are basically nice, simple people, wide-eyed at the process and every so anxious to believe that their lies -- to believe the lies that their proud authorities are producing on the witness stand.
GRISHAMMilo has its share of cheap motels, but I can't stay there. I would be lynched or flayed or burned at the stake or if I'm lucky, a sniper would hit me between the eyes and it would be over in a flash. The state police are providing protection during the trial, but I get the clear impression these guys are just not into it. They view me the same way most people do. I'm a long-haired, roguish zealot, sick enough to fight for the rights of child killers and the like.
GRISHAMMy current motel is a Hampton Inn located 25 miles from Milo. It costs 60 bucks a night and the state will reimburse me. Next door is Partner, a hulking, heavily-armed guy who wears black suits and takes me everywhere. Partner is my driver, bodyguard, confidante, paralegal, caddy and only friend. I earned his loyalty when a jury found him not guilty of killing an undercover narcotics officer. We walked out of that courtroom arm in arm and have been inseparable ever since.
GRISHAMOn at least two occasions, off-duty cops have tried to kill him. One occasion, they came after me. We're still standing or perhaps I should say, still ducking.
REHMJohn Grisham, reading from his brand new book titled "Rogue Lawyer" in which we got to say you do not paint a very pretty picture of our entire not just legal system, but system of justice, whether it applies to petty thieves, boxers, child murderers, anybody. It's all in the fix. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about Sebastian Rudd, his cases, his outlook and his ex-wife.
REHMSo now you've heard a little about Sebastian Rudd, the central figure and the title figure in John Grisham's new book titled, "Rogue Lawyer." You, John Grisham, have also partnered this guy with a woman with whom he has a son. She turns out to having had a child that they named Starcher. She had left him for another woman.
GRISHAMIt's complicated, really complicated. And I wasn't sure what was going to happen when I introduced the ex-wife into the mix. But I've had far too much fun watching them fight.
GRISHAMIt's really, you know, as a novelist, you have the luxury of just creating all the things you can possibly think about with people and with plots. I've been happily married for 34 years.
REHMI know you have. I know you have.
GRISHAMSo I don't know how -- I don't know what you do. And although, as a lawyer -- you know, I was a layer for 10 years and I handled a few usually uncontested divorces, but they would get messy. And people -- the fights were so emotional and they're so nasty. And so I thought, okay, how can I dream up some conflict here? You know, you got to have some women involved in your story.
REHMAnd this one is...
GRISHAMAnd this one is something. But she's also a lawyer.
GRISHAMAnd they didn't mean to get pregnant when they were -- they were splitting up because the marriage was, you know, awful. And they were in the process of splitting. She already found somebody else. He didn't know about it. And she drops the bomb one day that she's pregnant. And by then, she's kicked him out or he's left. They can't stand each other. And so she has a child. When the child's born, he's not even around though. Sebastian, you know, he doesn't even know it. So he has no control over the kid's name. He hates the kid's name. He...
GRISHAMHe hates the wife. He hates -- he doesn't like her new partner, although he finds her very attractive. It is complicated.
REHMBut you know what? He does some questionable things.
REHMTalk about the kinds of things he does for his clients to deal with the powers that be. I mean, at one point, he pays a clerk so he can get the right judge to try his case. How often does that happen?
GRISHAMWell, I never did it. You know, the guy -- the clerk wants -- his fee is $3,000 cash to assign it to the right judge. I think I read about that happening, you know, at some point, in some big court system years ago. I never saw it. It never happened, you know, in my life. Sebastian's philosophy is very simple. If the -- and in the course of the book there are three different full-length trials, which is -- there's more courtroom stuff in "Rogue Lawyer" than any book I've written -- three different trials. And he makes the point, because he's in court all the time, when the police and prosecutors start cheating -- when the good guys, the authorities start cheating -- and they cheat all the time -- then he's going to cheat. And...
REHMHe's got to cheat in order to keep up with them.
GRISHAMHe doesn't mind cheating. He's going to cheat, whatever it takes. Now, he's not going to, and he makes the point: If I get caught, I go to jail. If they get caught, they get reelected, or they get promoted to the, you know, the bench or whatever. That's the way it is, in reality. But it's -- the cheating is -- it doesn't bother him. If they're cheating, I've got to keep the playing field level. And that's Sebastian's philosophy.
REHMYou talk about three major issues in this book, mass incarceration, the death penalty, and the so-called warrior cops.
REHMNow, the Renfro case...
REHM...is the one that deals with the so-called warrior cops. Explain how you presented this and whether this is based on something that may have happened.
GRISHAMBased on a real case involving an elderly couple who had a computer, laptop -- they didn't fool with it much -- and the kid next door was online, piggybacking their server, doing some bad things. And they didn't have passwords, security, whatever. And the state police mounted a, you know, sting operation. They checked their -- traced to their computer, their server. And so they did what they typically do nowadays with these SWAT teams, instead of sending a couple of cops over and knocking on the door and with an arrest warrant or whatever, they go crashing in at three o'clock in the morning with, you know, everything but grenades and tanks and whatever.
GRISHAMAnd they actually they roughed up -- in real life, they roughed-up the old couple. The gentleman had a heart attack and I think later he died. Just a horrible case and they had the wrong house. They get the wrong house all the time. That's not unusual. There are dozens of cases in this country where SWAT teams go in, you know, like they're Navy Seals, and they get the wrong house. And a lot of states have even passed laws that say, well, you can't hold them responsible for that. They're out of control. The military hardware these police units have and...
GRISHAM...there is tanks, all this leftover Pentagon stuff, all the stuff from Homeland Security. It's a huge problem. We have lost so much of our protection, our rights as citizens because of the military tactics of so many local police departments.
REHMSo in your book, what happens to this elderly couple?
GRISHAMWell, and Mr. Renfro, who's a Vietnam Vet and a great guy, a real soldier in earlier times, he -- when they kick in both doors at the same time and they shoot his dog...
REHMHe and his wife are sleeping.
GRISHAMThey're -- it's 3:00 in the morning. They're sound asleep. They lived in this house for 30 years. And when the SWAT team comes in the front door and back door, they shoot the dog -- which they always enjoy shooting the dog. If the dog barks, you know, he's a threat, so they always kill the dog.
REHMThe dog is lying there, hardly even barking.
GRISHAMThe dog is minding -- they got the wrong house. They shouldn't even be there. So Mr. Renfro, who owns a couple of guns -- and the cops would later say he was so heavily armed they had to go in with, you know, a Seal team -- and he gets a pistol. He thinks he's being attacked. And he is. He thinks it's bad guys and not the police. And he starts shooting upstairs when he sees them and they fire back and they kill his wife -- and instantly. And they shoot him. He shoots one of the policemen, doesn't hurt him. So he goes to trial, Mr. Renfro goes to trial a year later. And Sebastian, because he knows the tactics of the policy, he read about the case, he knew about the case immediately because (word?) had saw it on the news.
GRISHAMAnd so Sebastian approaches the family -- they're in shock -- and he says, look, the cops are covering up right now. This is what -- it's their playbook. This is what they're going to do. I know it because I've been there. And what you better do is file a civil lawsuit immediately so you'll have access to their records. He knows how to play the game. And he finally talks Mr. Renfro into it, after the funeral of his wife that he couldn't go to because he was in jail, he takes the case. And that's -- so that runs out through most of the book, I think. You keep going back to the civil trial. And then finally they have his criminal -- Mr. Renfro's criminal trial. I'm not going to tell you how it ends. And then later they get around to the civil action.
GRISHAMBut it's, again, it's a story told to exemplify the problem we have in this country with the military-style police departments we have. They have far too much equipment. They have far too much gear. They don't always know how to do it. They're not always properly trained. A lot of them are 25-year-old cops who are not well trained, who have been playing video games for too long, and they just -- their idea of fun is to go kick in doors. And it's, you know, it's out of control.
REHMOne thing that happens early on -- this was hysterical, because it comes out of what happened in Mexico -- you have a guy who's on death row. In other words, he is lying on the table. He is ready to get...
GRISHAMIt's his final night. He's minutes away from his execution. He's a gangster and he's hire Sebastian to handle his appeals. And Sebastian told him, you know, nothing's going to work for you, because you killed a judge. And when you kill a judge, all the other judges take offense. And his appeals fell through and you know, he was slammed all the way through. And this is his big night, you know? He's about to get the needle. And Sebastian's visiting with him. And I'm not going to tell how it happens, but the -- a miraculous escape. And it's, you know, this kind of humorous relief. But...
GRISHAM...you know, the guy gets away. But he's going to come back, you know.
GRISHAMHe's going to come back and something.
GRISHAMBut there's never been a successful escape from death row. I think -- Virginia had one a few years ago and they got them all. I'm not sure anybody's ever gotten off of death row, especially moments before the execution.
GRISHAMBecause security is so tight. So I thought, okay, how would we do it? How could you do it, okay? So that's how I...
REHMJohn Grisham, you have got one heck of an imagination.
GRISHAMIt's pretty frightening. It's a kind of a sick imagination. The -- yeah, it's hyperactive. But also, you know, go back to the warrior cops. I just watch the news.
GRISHAMYou watch, and I watch lawyers, trials, lawsuits, courts, decisions, appeals, police, things like that, not closely. It's all over the news. And you take something like that, you feed it through kind of a hyperactive imagination. And that's what I do for a living, is come up with these stories.
REHMBut you were a lawyer yourself. Why did you leave the law?
GRISHAMWell, I was about to starve. I mean, it was not very profitable. I was a lawyer in a small town in Mississippi and did it for 10 years. And about half -- here's what happened, about half-way through -- I was 30 years old -- I got the bug to write. And I started writing what would become "A Time to Kill." And once I had this dream of writing full time -- I didn't know if it would ever happen -- the law really got boring. And then suddenly, with my second book in 1990, "The Firm," I could walk away and write full time. And it happened very, very fast. And I've been writing ever since.
GRISHAMI mean, it was just -- I didn't plan to say -- I didn't wake up one day and say, okay, I'm tired of being a lawyer. I'm going to start writing books. It was a gradual move into another field that has been a whole lot more fun than practicing law.
REHMSo you and I have been doing what we are doing, respectively, for about the same number of years.
GRISHAMWhat, you have 36 years?
GRISHAMOkay, this is book number 35, so.
REHMHow about that?
GRISHAMOkay, I'm going to publish two books -- I'll catch you next year. You'll be 37. I'll publish one book -- a kid's book in the spring. I'll come back a year from now with the next novel. That'll be 37. We'll be tied.
REHMA kid's book. Tell me about the kid's book.
GRISHAMIt's a series I started about five years ago. It's called "Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer." And it's about a kid who's 13 years old. He'll always be 13 I think. He's an only child. Both of his parents are lawyers in a small town -- a small fictional town. And the first book was called "Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer." He thinks he's a lawyer. And he has an office -- and his parents practice law together in a small town -- he has an office. He knows the law very well. He knows the judges. He knows every policeman in town. He -- it's this idyllic little town he lives in. And he gets in a lot of trouble because he gives legal advice to his friends and just a lot of adventures.
GRISHAMI published five of them. I'm half way through with number six now. So I write those in the fall and it'll come out around June the 1st -- now, that's been the schedule. And then, when, you know, after Christmas, I'll get bored and start the next legal thriller. So that's kind of my schedule these days.
REHMSo a lot of people want to know why there hasn't been another movie.
GRISHAMYou know, it's a very complicated question. I'm not sure I have all the answers. But it's -- we have not had a movie made in 10 years. And if you go back and look at the success of the early movies -- and I had nothing to do with them, I just write the books and somebody else makes the movies -- "The Firm," "Pelican Brief," "Client," "A Time to Kill," "Rainmaker," even "Runaway Jury," those were -- all came out in the early- to mid-1990s. They were all successful movies with great casts, great directors, big box-office hits. They made them fairly quick, most of them after the book was published. And it was easy back then. And, again, everybody made money.
GRISHAMAnd they're still on TV somewhere tonight. You know, you can catch them somewhere.
GRISHAMAnd if you go back and say, okay, the material hasn't changed that much. The stories are, well, obviously still good. They still find an audience. They're very, very popular. And a lot of it is because nowadays -- there are several factors. You can't get financing. The studio system is broken. They'd rather spend -- the latest James Bond just came out, okay? They spent $300 million to make that movie. It'll gross $2 billion worldwide or so, or something like this, some huge number.
GRISHAMThe studios would rather spend that kind of money -- $300 million for James Bond or Spiderman or something that's going to gross, you know, $1 billion in China and $1 billion in the rest of the world, than to spend $50 million on a, you know, good, adult suspense novel that may only gross $200 million. So the money's -- you can't get the money.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers and -- but, first, a tweet. Can you talk about your 28 rejections before landing your first book deal?
GRISHAMIt was a classic submission, rejection routine I went through way before the Internet, when you had to copy 500 pages and send them off to New York with return postage and hope you hear something. And I went through 14 or 15 agents, said no, and about that many publishers, with "A Time to Kill." It was called something else back then. And that went on for a year or two. And then finally an agent called one day, like one of those great phone calls, and said I want to represent you. He took the book in the spring of 1987 and he kind of resubmitted the book. And he got probably 30 rejections himself. This is a well-known agent.
GRISHAMSo the book was just getting -- and he gave me some great advice. He said, I'm going to sell this book eventually. While I'm doing that, you go write another one. And by the time I sell the book or by the time it's published, you'll have the second book written.
GRISHAMAnd that's exactly what happened. And then when "The Firm" came out in '91 -- "A Time to Kill" did not sell when it came out. They printed 5,000 hardback copies and never went back for more. And when "The Firm" came out in '91, you know, it found an audience quickly. And so people suddenly saw I had written another book. And so the people -- there was a huge demand for "A Time to Kill." And now, 20-some odd years later, it's the best selling of all books, "A Time to Kill."
REHMSo what's your advice to young writers really longing to get printed?
GRISHAMWell, don't start submitting before you're finished. And that's a common mistake. And don't...
REHMWhat? People do sort of halfway through or a paragraph?
GRISHAMWell, yeah, halfway through or they submit the first draft. And, you know, you just -- you can't submit the first draft. You've got to finish it. Let it sit for a while. The most important thing is to have somebody who really loves you, read the book. It can be your spouse, a friend, a teacher, whatever, a parent. You know, somebody who wants you to succeed, who's going to be honest with you. And if you have more than one, you're lucky. Let them read it. And then go back and redo it and work on it before you start submitting. So often, there's such a rush to get published, that young writers get in too big of a hurry and they submit stuff that's not quite ready.
REHMSo how much did you change "A Time to Kill" from first writing until it was finally accepted?
GRISHAMI did not rewrite much of it. I cut a lot of it.
GRISHAMBecause I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. I didn't know what I was doing. I was a lawyer and that was my first thing I'd ever written. And so the manuscript was 900 pages long -- it was very, too long. And I had a great editor who finally bought the book. I think Bill Thompson, who also discovered Stephen King, he cut a third of it. And it's still too long.
REHMJohn Grisham. His new book, I assure you, is not too long. It's titled "Rogue Lawyer," and will engross you from the first page. Short break here. We're going to take more of your calls, your emails, tweets. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. John Grisham is here, this extraordinarily prolific writer, whose new book is titled "Rogue Lawyer." Let's go to the phones and to Johnny in Dothan, Alabama. Hi there, you're on the air.
JOHNNYHi there, and thank you for taking my call.
JOHNNYIt is an honor to talk with you, as well as John. John we are, we're big fans here. We have a book club. We've got several of your books. I would like to segue back to a book that you did that became a movie that was "A Time To Kill." It seems like you a part two book called "Sycamore Row."
JOHNNYWe fell in love with that book. We fell in love with the characters. The lawyer that was in "A Time To Kill" came back at the same town to represent a young lady who was willed a little money and an estate.
JOHNNYThis book, it touched our hearts here in Alabama because we are aware of several families who have a family member who was a maid and that was willed money, and the family protested. Man, you bring it on home. And there's one more book that we really loved, and my son's high school, they debated this book in their Debate Team Club, and that book was called "Gray Mountain."
JOHNNYAnd the reason why they debated it, they debated it based upon how the free market works when it comes to coal mining. If you would, would you talk about those two books, as well as hopefully and preferably make a movie on those two books?
GRISHAMWell, first of all, thank you so much. "Sycamore Row," when "A Time To Kill" came out in '90, in '89 and again, as I said earlier, it was not picked up until the early 1990s, and the movie came out in 1996. The movie was very well-done. It was, you know, a popular film and all that. Over the years, when people can get close enough, they'll say something like, something always very nice, you know, just like you, just very nice people out there who enjoy the books.
GRISHAMBut they'll say, hey, I really like all your books, but that first one was really special, "A Time To Kill." When are you going to -- when are you going to do it again? When are you going to bring Jake back? And, you know, for 20 years I've thought about going back to Ford County, back to those characters that I love because Jake is very autobiographical. That's the way I practiced law in Mississippi. And I would always say, well, I've got to have the story first. You know, I've got to wait until the story hits me.
GRISHAMAnd so the story hit one day in thinking about Jake and the characters back there, and the story really took place, and so I wrote "Sycamore Row" and published it two years ago. The book last year was "Gray Mountain," and I wrote that book because I became aware -- I live in Virginia now, and some of the worst mountaintop removal coal mining takes place in Southwest Virginia. And flying over the area, I was astonished at the level of destruction, and I began doing research and was able to put together a novel that would highlight the problems in Appalachia with coal mining.
GRISHAMAs far as movies, again they're very hard to make these days. I'm not sure -- we don't have a deal for "Gray Mountain." There's a deal for "Sycamore Row." It's controlled by Warner Brothers. I don't know what they're going to do. I'm not in charge of that. So you know what? The movie business these days is so...
GRISHAMSo crazy and frustrating, so I don't even worry about it anymore. I sell the film rights and hope it happens.
REHMYou were on this program for "Sycamore Row" two years ago, and just to bring you up to date, in 1998, a Texas death row inmate Martin Gurule escaped from the Huntsville Prison complex in Texas. It was the first successful escape from death row since 1934, and John Grisham has a brand new novel.
GRISHAMThank God for the Internet. You can check these facts and Google so fast.
REHMBut you know, you...
GRISHAMI just read that. It's a great story. I've been to that prison on two occasions in Texas. How they escape, I'll never understand that, but it's a true story. The guy got out. They never caught him. They found him dead under a bridge. I'm reading right here from Google, so we know -- but I'm inspired by having a brand new story to write about.
REHMIsn't that great?
GRISHAMThank you, Diane.
REHMTell me how you feel about the death sentence.
GRISHAMI'm opposed to the death penalty for a bunch of reasons. First of all, morally opposed because I don't think, you know, the state has a right to kill people. If killing is wrong, how can we sanction killing? If you look at the way it is applied, it is so unfair to -- it varies from state to state. It varies by race, by the race of the victim, but all these -- and the system is so broken, the criminal justice system, there are very few guarantees that protect -- you know, I'm on the board of the Innocence Project in New York. We're up to 350 DNA exonerations.
GRISHAMAnd a bunch of those are guys off of death row. I wrote a book about Ron Williamson, the only nonfiction book I've written, the innocent man that came out 10 years ago. Ron was on death row in Oklahoma. He was completely innocent, later proven by DNA. You know, the cops had bungled the case, or the prosecutors had bungled the case. He is on death row, and they send for him one day to take him over to the warden's office for this very dramatic meeting with the warden and all his little minions, and he reads his death warrant.
GRISHAMAnd he asked Ron, you know, what are we supposed to do with your body? And Ron said, I don't care. Send to my sister after you kill me. But, I mean, he came within five days of being executed off death row and completely innocent. So, you know, I've read so many...
REHMEven the most heinous crimes is what people always say, even then you don't believe in the death penalty?
GRISHAMI don't believe the state has the authority, moral or otherwise, to kill people. no, I don't -- you know, luckily I have not been the victim of a horrible crime. I'm not sure how I would handle that. But, you know, as a matter of law and rule of society, I don't think that we have the right to impose our wishes to kill people on society.
REHMAll right, and let's go to Flushing, Michigan. Hi Allison, you're on the air.
ALLISONHi Diane, it's a pleasure to be on your show. I listen all the time.
ALLISONAnd I'd like to say thank you so much, Mr. Grisham, for your stories. They're incredible, and I enjoy seeing the movies. I enjoy reading the books. It's great.
GRISHAMThe pleasure is mine, Allison.
ALLISONAnd I'm really excited about your new book because it's so important that we start looking even more closely as this whole warrior cop thing. I don't know if you're aware, if you handle it in your book, but instead of incentivizing people returning from wars overseas into going into the post office, the way it used to be done, they're now incentivizing them to go into police forces, which places individuals who have been trained for just that kind of military action in charge of policing in the United States. And it's just a recipe for disaster. So thank you so much for, you know, handling that topic in the kind of audience that you have.
REHMAll right, and the other -- one of the other issues you deal with is mass incarceration, which President Obama is certainly trying to do something about. What do you think ought to be done?
GRISHAMWe've lost our minds. Sebastian makes that observation in the book when we have these tough laws passed by tough politicians, three strikes you're out, whatever, you know, to the war on drugs, the war on -- we're losing all these wars. We have one million young black men in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, and what happens is that once they are convicted, they are felons. They get out, so you can't discriminate against them legally, under the law, because they are African-American, but you can because they're felons. So they can't get jobs, they can't get benefits, they can't -- you know, they're branded by society.
GRISHAMWe have thousands, we have thousands of innocent people in prison. I learned that when I wrote "The Innocent Man." Okay, I learned that working with the Innocence Project in New York. There are thousands of innocent people in prison. Some have been on death row, not very many fortunately, but they're there. I know they're there. Aside from the innocent people, there are tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in prison who are serving sentences that are far too harsh and far too long.
REHMAnd how much of that is because of money and the fact that the prisons have been privatized?
GRISHAMWell you -- that's another issue, the privatization. The problem is, it goes back to the laws. And so I was in the state legislature in Mississippi 30 years ago, and it's pretty easy as a politician to see, you know, the laws that come, that are proposed, and they're tougher, and they provide, you know, tougher sentences for drug dealers and -- it's easy to sit there and vote and vote and vote and just pile on these tough laws with mandatory sentences.
GRISHAMWe've taken the discretion away from judges. They have very little discretion. These sentences are mandatory, and they're -- and they're very long. And so you end up, what we're realizing now, finally waking up in Washington, both sides, that this is a very, very expensive operation we have here, our penal system. As our prison population ages because of these long sentences, it becomes more and more expensive.
GRISHAMAnd so we're trying to, you know, we're having the first dialogue about maybe cutting back on the number of people we put in prison.
REHMIf you had stayed in politics, do you think you could've done something about that?
GRISHAMNo, I was in the state legislature in Mississippi and one of 122. I had a very small voice. And back then, probably the same way now, probably the same way in most states, you have to serve a long time to have any real seniority or impact upon the legislation, and I just didn't have the patience for it.
REHMAll right to Lisa in Raleigh, North Carolina. Hi there, you're on the air.
LISAHi, thanks for taking my call.
LISAMy family has lived in Ada, Oklahoma, for about the last 40 years, and my uncle is actually a pathologist. He's partners with the guy that was in your story, "Innocent Man." And I was just wondering, first of all, I think that you got the town correct in your book, and I'm just wondering if your new book has any connection as far as, you know, exposing how cops are and how the system has come from that, "The Innocent Man."
GRISHAMSure, "The Innocent Man" was a real eye-opener for me as a writer but also as a lawyer. I practiced law for 10 years, had a lot of criminal clients. I never had a single defendant who I thought was wrongfully convicted. Where I practiced at the time, I knew the policemen. They were straight-up. They were straight-up. The judge, we had a couple of seasoned old judges who, you know, you better not come into court with some half-baked evidence or fabricated or some lying snitch or whatever. The judge wouldn't put up with it. I mean, it was a real clean system.
GRISHAMAnd I think that's the way it is in most places, but I was sort of naïve. Once I got into Ron Williamson's case out of Ada and began realizing all the things that went wrong with his conviction, I realized that the same factors are there in almost every wrongful conviction, whether it's an inadequate defense council, it's junk science, it's jailhouse snitches, you know, false confessions. They're all there. It was a real eye-opener for me. And it's not just Ada. It's -- there are a lot of places like that.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. As I sit here looking at you, listening to you, watching you move, I think about your energy, your imagination, the way your mind works. What were you like as a little kid?
GRISHAMA daydreamer. My mother says I spent a lot of time daydreaming. And I read a lot because of her, and, you know, very normal childhood. We grew up in various towns in the Deep South, and it was...
REHMHow about your dad?
GRISHAMMy dad was -- when I was born in Arkansas, my dad was a cotton farmer, and he got away from that as soon as he could. He had a house full of kids, and we left the farm and never looked back. And he worked really hard when I was a kid and was always working, wasn't around a whole lot. I mean, he was always home every night, but he had -- you know, he worked double shifts because he had house full of kids.
GRISHAMBut it was a very warm, loving family environment. We were always in church. The church was an extension of the family. We were active in schools. Even though we moved a lot, I think moving really helped shape the personality because, you know, I made friends real easily. And it was a wonderful childhood.
GRISHAMPretty good student, never, you know, top of the class, preferred athletics over academics, loved sports, played a lot of sports, dreamed of playing, you know, like every kid, for the Cardinals. I didn't quite make it. But yeah, it was a good way to grow -- never thought about writing. Again, we were avid readers, but the writing came out, came later in life.
GRISHAMCame out of nowhere.
REHMAnd what about you and your wife, children? How many?
GRISHAMOur son is 32. He's a lawyer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
REHMDoes he like the law?
GRISHAMHe does so far. He's been doing it for a few years. And our daughter lives in Raleigh. Lisa, if you're still listening, our daughter lives in Raleigh, teaches school in Raleigh, and she has -- we've just found out recently that in February, we're going to become grandparents. So the first grandchild is on the way.
GRISHAMAnd we're very excited about that.
REHMWell, your next novel may have to have a grandchild in it.
GRISHAMI'm sure this little kid is going to inspire me in ways I've never dreamed of. He's already very much an inspiration, and he's four months away.
REHMWell, everybody is going to wait for your next one. And have you begun it?
GRISHAMNo, I'm halfway through with the next Theodore Boone book. That'll come out next spring sometime. I've got two really good ideas for the next novel. I'm playing around with them. I had a great idea last month that I'd -- I typed up a two-page treatment for another book out of Ford County. John, if you're still down in Dothan listening to us, there's a Ford County novel I thought was going to be brilliant, and Renee gave it the thumbs-down. She didn't like it. So I said okay.
GRISHAMOh yeah, yeah, she's...
REHMShe's your first reader.
GRISHAMYeah, and if she doesn't like them, they're not going to get very far. So -- and she was right looking back, some...
REHMWhat do you think she'll think about this guy escaping from the death penalty?
GRISHAMYou know, she's so used to seeing stories like this, and I get all excited, you know, and I'll drive her crazy talking about it. She's listened to that stuff for 35 years, so she's not going to get excited about it.
REHMWe'll see what happens. John Grisham, always good to see you.
GRISHAMI'll see you next year for year 37 and book 37, right?
GRISHAMOctober of next year.
REHMLook forward to it. John Grisham, the book is titled "Rogue Lawyer," and thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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