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Author John Grisham has sold nearly 300 million books worldwide. And nine of his novels have been made into movies. But Grisham wasn’t always a famous writer: The son of a Mississippi cotton farmer, he became a country lawyer and served in the state legislature. But at night he wrote fiction, and in 1989, published “A Time to Kill.” Grisham followed this two years later with “The Firm,” which was later made into a hit movie starring Tom Cruise. His latest novel is about a crooked judge, an Indian casino and a young female lawyer determined to get justice. It’s already hit number one on the New York Times’ best-seller list. Please join us for Diane’s conversation with author John Grisham.
- John Grisham Bestselling author of more than 30 books, including one work of nonfiction, a collection of stories and four novels for young readers
Read a featured excerpt from "The Whistler" by John Grisham
Excerpted from “The Whistler” by John Grisham. Copyright 2016. Reprinted with permission from Doubleday. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. John Grisham is one of the world's bestselling authors. He sold nearly 300 million copies of his books since "The Pelican Brief" was published in 1992. But he's also an important social critic. In his latest novel, he tackles judicial corruption. Set in the panhandle of the Florida, it's the story of a whistleblower, a crooked judge and a young female lawyer who tries to catch her. The book it titled, "The Whistler." It's already climbed to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. John Grisham joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd you are always welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. John Grisham, it's always good to see you.
MR. JOHN GRISHAMAlways good to be here, Diane.
GRISHAMFor the last time, can you believe...
REHMFor the last time.
GRISHAMYou don't have to quit, do you?
REHMYou know, I'm not quitting. I am not even retiring. I am simply stepping away from the daily microphone.
GRISHAMWell, as one caller said about 20 minutes ago, that's still not enough.
GRISHAMWe like the daily Diane Rehm.
REHMThank you. 25 years ago, when you started writing, did you ever think 300 million copies?
GRISHAMNo. No. I don't know what I was thinking back then. "The Firm" was published 25 years ago, 1991, and it was terribly exciting to see the book become popular. It changed our lives. I stopped practicing law and quit politics and all that kind of stuff and knew that from then on, I thought I could write full time. My only dream, I guess, was to get the next book finished and the next one and to sort of establish myself, hopefully, with the first two or three and that happened.
GRISHAMAnd then, the movies hit. The movies of "The Firm," "Pelican Brief," and "The Client," came out in the span of 12 months, from the summer of '93 to the summer of '94 and they really spurred book sales and things were really crazy and those movies are still, you know, somewhere on cable TV tonight.
GRISHAMAnd still selling a lot of books. So it was a pretty crazy, fun, fantastic time in our lives and it's hard to believe it's been 25 years. But you know, I have to do something every day so I write and the books pile up.
REHMBut take us back 25 years ago and before to your practice of law and your service in the state legislature.
GRISHAMI practiced law for only 10 years in a small town in Mississippi, my home town and the town I was from, the town my wife is from, where our kids were born, where I got elected to the legislature from that district in 1983 when I was 28 years old, which ought to be against the law in every state to elect someone that young to go serve in the state house. But I was young and idealistic and busy as a lawyer. Not that profitable, but I stayed pretty busy.
GRISHAMAnd I was driving up and down the interstate three hours away to the state capital and back and I didn't have a lot of time to write, but I had this story that I thought would make a very compelling courtroom drama, as played out through the eyes of a young attorney, very much like myself, in a small town in Mississippi.
REHMAnd where did that story come from?
GRISHAMHanging around the courtrooms. I wanted to be a trial lawyer and that's where I studied. That's where I really thought I was going to belong one day was in the courtroom. So I stayed there a lot and witnessed some things in a case I was not involved in, but another case and it inspired me to twist some facts and create this courtroom drama that I became obsessed with. And I had never written anything before in my life. And one day, in about 1984, '85, I said, okay, I'm gonna start writing this and just see how far I can get.
GRISHAMAnd it took three years to write "A Time To Kill," and when it was published in '89, it was a small unknown publisher in New York and the book flopped. I mean, it didn't sell and...
REHMIt really didn't sell at all?
GRISHAMWe printed 5,000 hardback copies and we couldn't give them away. I mean, it was just -- it was a nonevent. And I was pretty discouraged by that. At the same time, I had this other idea I was working on and I told Renee, I said, look, I'm gonna do this one more time, okay?
GRISHAMYeah. I'm gonna do this one more time. It was secret little hobby for a long time. I'm gonna try to write a book with a broader commercial appeal and try to make it, you know, more popular because "A Time To Kill" is a pretty heavy book. I mean, it's...
REHMIt's very heavy and...
GRISHAMYeah. I probably couldn't write it now. But I'm doing it one more time. And if that doesn’t work, then I'm done with this hobby. I'm going to something else or just, you know, buckle down and practice law for the rest of my life or maybe become a judge. And then, again, 25 years ago, when "The Firm" came out, everything changed almost overnight.
REHMSo did you, having gone into the state legislature, did you not have any political aspirations to go further?
GRISHAMSure. When you get elected at the age of 28, you obviously have aspirations. My motive, though, for running was to try and help improve the public educational system in the state of Mississippi at the time. And when I grew up, I was very much aware that our school teachers were the lowest paid in the country and we were the only state with no public kindergarten system. And so some friends of mine in law school and myself, we said, okay, let's run for the legislature. Let's get elected from our home towns and let's try to change this.
GRISHAMAnd that was my motive for getting elected. And all that happened, but along the way, pretty soon I was sort of disgruntled with the job because it was a lot of time away from home. It's, you know, it's not that financially rewarding and, you know, there's so many people who are looking for higher office. Every state legislature is full of guys who want to be governor or whatever and I just...
REHMYou did not -- you weren't going there.
GRISHAMNo. One of my best friends from law school was eventually elected governor of Mississippi, Ronny Musgrove, a few years later so there were those people there who really wanted to seek higher office. I just thought the field was too crowded, the work was too hard, the job was too insecure. And, you know, Renee's at home having babies and I'm trying to practice law full time and I just thought, you know, I'm not -- I don't want to do this anymore. I wanted to quit after my first term, four years, and I ran for reelection. I got reelected in 1987 and then, sort of half-heartedly went through the motions of the job.
GRISHAMBut by then, I was writing and dreaming of getting published. And once that dream captures you, it's pretty compelling.
REHMWhen "The Firm" came out, who published "The Firm"?
GRISHAM"The Firm" was published by Doubleday, a guy named David Gernert was the editor who bought "The Firm" in 1990 and he soon became the editor in chief of Doubleday and he wanted -- his first day on the job, he offered a multi-book contract that really shut down the law office. At that point, I said, okay, I know I don't have to practice law anymore now. And I was off and running. And David Gernert later became my agent and has been for the last 20 years.
REHMI wonder, thinking about those early years with Renee and raising children and trying to do all these things, that couldn't have been easy for a man who had a family.
GRISHAMI didn't think it was -- I didn't see it as being easy or difficult. I mean, everybody else was doing it. We were all having kids and raising families and there was a -- my friends were all young lawyers. We were doing the same thing. The hard part was getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning and trying to find time to write for an hour or two. And that became a habit that went on for many years, five years. The first two books, "A Time To Kill" took three years, "The Firm" took two years.
GRISHAMThey were written back to back over a five-year period. Most of it at 5:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the morning, 7:00 in the morning, at the office trying to squeeze in some time before I went to court. I can recall being in court several times at 9 o'clock in the morning exhausted because, you know, writing takes a lot out of you. And, you know, I was tired all day long because I just wasn't getting a whole lot of sleep, but I was, you know, driven. I loved those stories.
GRISHAMI wanted to write the books and I was just hoping and praying something would happen.
REHMDid you ever see or did you just imagine what happened in "The Firm"?
GRISHAMYou mean the actual story?
GRISHAMNo. Everything is based in reality from somewhere. When I was in law school, I always knew I was going back to my hometown to practice law and run for the legislature. I knew that when I started law school. That was my plan. And so I didn't interview with law firms looking for jobs. I was going to go back and try to hire on with a local firm or whatever. I had a friend, though, who was a top student and he was interviewed -- had a bunch of interviews.
GRISHAMHe would go off to New Orleans and Atlanta and Houston and Memphis and come back after the weekend visits and tell us all about his -- the firm he just visited. And he visited one firm and he said, you know, that was a strange place. I got the impression that once you joined that firm, you never leave.
GRISHAMAnd that stuck with me.
REHMJohn Grisham's newest book, a really, really good read, is called "The Whistler." Short break, right back.
REHMWelcome back to a conversation with one of my favorite authors, John Grisham. His latest is titled "The Whistler." Tell us a little about this plot.
GRISHAMIt's the first time I think I've used the state of Florida. It's a fictional town, county, judicial district, fictional everything. And the backdrop is an Indian casino in the Florida Panhandle, which is, again, is all fiction. There are casinos in Florida, mainly in the southern part, owned by the Seminole Nation. And they're doing very well. So I created my own Indian tribe, my own judicial district. And it's about a judge, an elected judge who is real cozy with some crooks who helped the Indians build a casino. And it's -- there's a lot of skimming...
GRISHAM...a lot of bribing, a lot of corruption. And our hero or heroine is a young lady, 35-year-old female lawyer who works for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. Every state has some type of an agency or commission charged with the duty of investigating allegations of judicial corruption and they vary radically from state to state. No two states are even remotely the same. So I created my own Board on Judicial Conduct, which is an actual name used by some states -- not in Florida. So everything's fiction, okay? I just fictionalized all of it.
GRISHAMBut Lacy, our hero, works there and her job is to investigate and track down complaints. And she gets wind of this incredible corruption scheme. And she gets kind of sucked into it and is in way over her head real fast, because there's some really nasty characters on the other side.
REHMAnd the one thing I liked about this, particularly, is that Lacy is so tough.
GRISHAMShe's very tough. She's very single. And she enjoys being single. She's 35. She is tired of all the questions about, you know, do you have a serious boyfriend? Are you going to get -- stuff like that, she hears from her family. She's very independent. She's tough. She, you know, she gets roughed up pretty bad...
GRISHAM...physically, in an accident that was supposed to be an accident that was not. And she survives that. She survives the tragic loss of her colleague and best friend, once the bad guys start getting antsy. And she makes a comeback and she pieces the case together and she prevails. If you'll notice, I did not kill her off, as I often do. So she might be back, okay? I kind of wanted to structure the book...
GRISHAM...in such a way...
GRISHAM...that Lacy can come back and investigate another case one day.
REHMNow, the question about the Indian casinos...
REHM...the Native-American casinos, how much pushback did you get from that or have you received from that? Because in your book, I mean, there's cooperation among the gangsters, among those operating the casinos, the hotels, the neighborhoods. It's a mess.
GRISHAMIt's also fiction. I mean, you know, this is fiction, okay? I don't have to be accurate. I have to be plausible. I said upfront, this is all fiction. And, look, in my books, I have made bad characters out of lots of lawyers, judges, law firms, insurance companies, banks, gun manufacturers, tobacco companies -- there's a long list.
REHMAnd the judge in this case.
GRISHAMAnd the judge, yeah. So, you know, when you're writing fiction, you've got to have great bad guys.
GRISHAMThat's a key to good suspense. You've got to have some great bad guys. And the Indians are not all bad. There's been some reaction to the book by the Indians. They seem awfully touchy about this. And I don't think they understand that that this is a work of fiction. And, you know, just because I -- one of my characters says something in a book, doesn't mean I believe that to be true. That means that character may believe that to be true.
REHMHow much investigation or research did you do about the Native-American run casinos around the country?
GRISHAMWell, a fair amount. There's a lot of stuff published. I went to a few. I talked to some industry insiders. And, you know, it paints a dark picture of this one, particular tribe. But overall, you have to say that Indian gambling now, I think is large or bigger than commercial -- regular commercial gambling, casino gambling. And it -- the Indians have done a really good job of using their money wisely. They've built schools, hospitals, roads, parks, college funds. They take care of their own. They give -- the dividend scheme that I have in the book, each member of the tribe gets annual or monthly dividends from the winnings, earnings. It has lifted so many Native Americans out of poverty. So I would say that the good outweighs the bad.
REHMHow about with the judge? I'm really interested in her. She is a hoarder of riches.
GRISHAMThoroughly corrupt. You know, she got a taste of the big money and she loved it and she just couldn't get enough of it. And that happens to people. Now, having said that, let me also say that, in this country, in 230 years, we've had very few cases of judicial corruption -- judges actually taking money under the table. It's just -- our system is very clean. We, again, very, very few cases in our recorded history of judges taking bribes for favorable rulings. I said, under the table.
GRISHAMWe also have a system where they get money over the table, which I don't like, in the form of campaign contributions. In 30-some-odd states in this country, we elect judges, which is a terrible idea. We elect supreme court judges, we elect -- we allow those judges to take huge campaign contributions and then rule on cases involving the people that gave them the money. Okay, that's -- you can't call that a bribe, but I don't know what else you can call it. Campaign contribution, I guess that's what you call it. But it's, you know, that's a terrible system. And I wrote about that in a book called "The Appeal" that came out six or seven years ago, to expose the fallacy of judicial elections. We should not be electing judges.
REHMOne of the other ones I loved so much was "Runaway Jury."
GRISHAMYeah. In "Runaway Jury," I had great fun going after the tobacco industry.
GRISHAMYou know, I'm not sure they felt that was fair. But I don't care. Again, when you're dealing with a fictional landscape, you can do whatever you want to do. It's not supposed to be true. If it's, you know, you could be somewhat accurate. Don't be intentionally misleading. But, you know, who can really defend tobacco companies?
REHMBut, surely, you are influencing people and know you're influencing their thinking about tobacco companies in a book like "Runaway Jury."
GRISHAMWell, yeah. But when it comes to tobacco companies, what else can be said? I mean, it's all -- the bad stuff's already been said. It's been said for 50 years. I couldn't think of anything new. You know, that was a tobacco trial. And at that time, no smoker, dead or alive, had ever won an addiction case against a tobacco company. And I was fascinated by that. And so we put together a scenario where that could happen.
REHMYou said, we. Now, do you have help at this point?
GRISHAMI don't have help in the initial phase of creating the idea. I pretty much do that on my own, look -- always looking for ideas, always looking for -- I'll watch a trial at a distance, through the newspapers and television, magazines or litigation or court cases or whatever, and with an eye of maybe changing a fact here or a fact there. And -- or I'll pick an issue and try to weave a novel around that. When I have a real good idea, I pitch it to Renee. And...
REHMShe's your first editor.
GRISHAMOh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, she hears the ideas.
GRISHAMIn fact, she hears so many of them, she gets tired of them. And she'll veto a fair number. And I'll argue with her for a while or even, you know, a few months will go by and I'll keep tweaking it, trying to get the idea right. And if, you know, if you can't pitch an idea -- if you've got an idea for a story, whether it's a book, a TV show or a movie, if you can't pitch it in like 30 seconds and hook somebody and make them believe in it, you're probably in trouble.
GRISHAMAnd then so I get about, you know, here's a funny story. I mean, you ask about "The Firm." Many, many years ago, I had just finished "A Time to Kill," and Renee was in the kitchen cooking. And I said, hey, I've got an idea for you. Listen to me. Give me your attention. I said, okay, here's the deal. A young law -- a young associate finishes law school. He goes to work or a law firm set in Memphis, of all places, not one of your big, powerful Washington or New York firms. And he joins a firm that's secretly owned by the Mafia. And once you join the firm, you can never leave. That was my spiel, just like that. And this guy's behind you saying, please don't leave us.
GRISHAMDiane has fans out the window saying, please don't leave us. And that's what we say, Diane, please don't leave us.
REHMOh, that's so sweet. Thank you.
GRISHAMVery nice. Anyway, I made that pitch. And Renee just stopped and she said, wait a minute. Do that again. And I did it again. And she said, that's a big book.
GRISHAMAnd that was "The Firm." So that's the way I get the ideas going. And, you know, once she likes the idea, I'll talk it to death. And she'll finally say, just go write the book and, you know, bring me bring me the first hundred pages whenever you get them finished and I'll start editing. So...
REHMNo, but how about helpers on the outside, working with you, doing research for you, that kind of thing?
GRISHAMSome of the research is fascinating. In "The Whistler," it was fascinating to go to casinos.
GRISHAMIt was fascinating to talk to people inside the casinos and find out, you know, secure -- I mean, they're fascinating places. The security, the ways to cheat a casino, you know, can it be done? What are they looking for? You know, what happens with -- when somebody starts winning too much or...
REHMBut, John, you haven't answered my question. Are there other people helping you?
GRISHAMWell, I'll get to that in a minute. I just want...
REHMOkay. All right.
GRISHAMSo, it's -- the other research is, for example, I've been to death row in a number of states. In this 25-year journey of mine, writing books, that's fascinating. So that kind of research is enjoyable.
REHMWhat you do.
GRISHAMWhat I do. The stuff I really don't like is having to research the law. I mean, I was not a good researcher in law school.
GRISHAMI tried to avoid it for 10 years when I was a lawyer. And what I'll do is I'll hire -- we live in Charlottesville. The University of Virginia is there. They have this great law school.
GRISHAMThey have these great law students.
GRISHAMAnd I'll hire one every two or three years and just give them a list of things to go check. And they're really bright kids. And I get to know some of them and they give me this great research. And I, you know, I pay them for it. They're happy to get the work. And I don't have to worry about the research. It's always good. So that's how I do my legal research.
REHMSo then do you run that by Renee as well?
GRISHAMThat goes into the novel. And once I've got the novel probably about half-way finished -- it takes about six months -- and once I start writing, I don't bother her. She doesn't want to read it anyway at that point. When I'm about half way through, she'll read the first half and we'll talk about it. You know, there's always things she likes, things she doesn't like. She's really tough on the female characters, because it's just hard to write, you know, inside the head of a woman -- for me, anyway. And she, you know, she'll make a number of suggestions and I'll keep going. I'll change things and keep going.
GRISHAMThe last month or so, when we're looking at a deadline, I'm going back and forth, it gets down to where it's chapter by chapter. And, you know, there are some pretty healthy discussions along the way.
REHMAh, that's good. John Grisham, his latest thriller is titled "The Whistler." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John Grisham, you have made a lot of money. I mean...
GRISHAMAre we on the air?
REHMYeah. We sure are.
GRISHAMWell, we're not going to talk about money, I can promise you.
REHMWe're not going to talk about money? I mean, what have you done with your money?
GRISHAMWell, saved a lot of it. Built a little league baseball park. We feel very fortunate to be where we are, Renee and I, and we give a lot of it away. There are a lot of charitable ideas that we have or organizations that we like to support. And we have our own little foundation that we sit down, each other, four or five times a year, and we write every check. We look at the requests for grants or the requests for gifts or whatever. We plow through those. We do it ourselves. And that's work but it's also enjoyable. We, you know, we live quietly and privately and normally. And that has never changed. And the money has not spoiled us.
REHMSo you are part of the 1 percent of the 1 percent, we should say. Is that fair?
GRISHAMI guess, yeah. I don't know how you define that, but...
REHMSo how do -- what do you think about a multi-millionaire or multi-billionaire being elected our next president?
GRISHAMCan't we avoid politics? After the past 18 months, can't we just avoid it and not talk about it?
REHMYou'd rather not.
GRISHAMI'm just sick of it. I'm just, you know, I'm tired of the campaign. I'm tired of politicians. I'm tired of all the talk. I'm tired of the election. I, you know, I've taken a break from newspapers and television and...
REHMHave you really?
GRISHAMYeah, temporarily. I'll get -- now, I'm addicted to newspapers, so I'll get back to them. But for the, you know, for the last week or so, for the next, hopefully, the next few weeks, I'm just going to stay away from that stuff and try to finish a book. I'm reading more these days, more fiction. And I've just read some really good books that I enjoy.
GRISHAMWell, I just finished a great debut novel called "The Nix," N-I-X, by a first-time author named Nathan Hill, that really blew me away.
GRISHAMA really fun book called "Rogue Heroes," just came out last month by Ben Macintyre. It's non-fiction. It's a story of the -- really the forerunners of Navy Seals and special forces in World War II, the British SAS unit that was put together to fight behind the lines. It's an adventure story. It's just pure adventure. "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead.
GRISHAMReally, really good.
GRISHAMSeveral. Oh, I'm reading John le Carre's Memoir, "The Pigeon Tunnel." He's one of my favorite writers. And I'm almost finished with that. What else have I read lately? There's a story called -- a book called "The Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann, true story. Talk about the Indians, it's a story of the Osage Indians in Oklahoma, who had a bunch of oil on their land. They became very wealthy a hundred years ago. And the white people took the money away from them by killing them. It was -- it's fascinating.
REHMAh, what a story. John Grisham, his latest is titled "The Whistler." We'll be back after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones for John Grisham, all about his latest thriller, "The Whistler." To Ernie in Santa Fe, New Mexico, you're on the air.
ERNIEHello, yes, I'm here. Hi Diane.
REHMHi. Go right ahead, sir.
ERNIEYes, hello, Mr. Grisham.
ERNIEIt's a great honor to speak with you today. I just want to just give you the encouragement to do a better job of understanding the real side of our industry. We know that you're a great fiction writer, everybody knows that, and your success speaks for itself, but the comments made on "CBS Good Morning" a couple weeks ago were way off-base, and today I'll just thought I'd give you that encouragement to say to you, we welcome you to our industry, we'd like to invite you to come see us, and it would give you a real -- as far as we -- we never can get back in our casinos the way you apparently have, but if you ever see anybody printing money, I mean, you really need to report that to the federal authorities or our casino operators, our managers.
ERNIEWe spend $426 million on regulation every year. If you drive into our parking lot, you are immediately on camera, and the real important part about this is not only do we protect our industry that -- because you're right, there is a lot of cash, but every single, right to the penny, is accounted for by our people, by the state officials and the federal officials.
ERNIEIn addition to that, Mr. Grisham, there's a -- there's probably another story of all the crimes that we've helped to solve by cooperating with local authorities. Tribal government gaming is doing a solid job in regulation, but more importantly, 600,000 jobs nationwide, half of those being from non-tribal members in a time where our economy has been tough, we're really doing a good job, and I just encourage you sir to come by and see our facility.
ERNIEI would love -- I'd love to help writing those stories, even your fiction ones. I'm a decent writer.
GRISHAMI want to say, Ernie, thank you, thanks for your call. I hear your point. Your point is well-taken. But please keep in mind that, you know, this is fiction, okay, and again, your point is well-taken.
REHMAnd that's it. Okay, let's go to John in Fayetteville, Arkansas. You're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, John.
JOHNTwo questions for you. I wanted to see if you would compare, contrast Diane Rehm to your high school English teacher. And number two, I wanted to see if you would consider looking into the way the judges are elected in Arkansas and the current situation on how that may be changing, where it's not as corrupt as it currently is.
GRISHAMWell my high school English teacher is a lady by the name of Francis McGuffy, who I'm still in contact with, and she's a dear, sweet lady. She was a great teacher, and she taught me to appreciate literature. And as we know, Diane Rehm is in a class all to herself. And again, we can't believe she's actually voluntarily going to leave us five days a week. So she says she's not going away.
GRISHAMAs far as Arkansas is concerned, I have not, you know, done research there in judicial elections in a long time. I did a few years ago when I wrote "The Appeal," but you have problems in virtually every state where you have elected judges, and it's just -- at some point -- it would be so easy to fix this system with a bipartisan committee that reviews and appoints judges and save a zillion bucks and save a lot of -- save the campaign and get better people on the bench.
REHMAnd here's a question, an email from Anna. Would you consider writing a novel that lays bare the electoral college and how politically involved/partisan its members are?
GRISHAMI'm not sure I could write a novel that would sustain, you know, 400 pages on the electoral college. I'm not sure how thrilling or suspenseful it would be. It would be -- what I'd love to do is just write, a simple law, that would ban -- that would ban the electoral college because it's outdated and serves no useful purpose. Why not just the person with the most votes win the election? Why not let every vote count?
GRISHAMIf you are a Republican voting in D.C. or Massachusetts, your vote does not count. If you're a Democrat voting in Utah, your vote is not going to count because, you know, for obvious reasons. Whoever wins the state gets all the votes. And that's -- again, it has no useful purpose in our system today. Just ban it. I think Barbara Boxer filed a bill yesterday just to ban the electoral college. Not going to happen, but it should.
REHMHere's an email from Michael in Michigan. I've read many of your books. I've seen every movie made from your books. Personal favorite, "Runaway Jury." Do you have a favorite film, or do you feel that any of the films were not really true to the story you were trying to tell?
GRISHAMWell, I've been lucky with Hollywood. I've had nine books adapted to film, and eight of them were enjoyable, and that's not a bad record. The truth about Hollywood is when you do...
REHMWait a minute. What was the one that wasn't?
GRISHAMWhat was the one? "The Chamber" was a train wreck from the very beginning, and it just was not a very good film, and it was not well done, and nobody went to see it, and I was kind of happy nobody went to see it because it was so bad. So that was my one bad experience with Hollywood. So I've been lucky.
GRISHAMAgain, when you deal with Hollywood, you have to be realistic. It's going to be something different. It is very difficult to adapt a 400 or 500-page novel into a screenplay that's 120 pages and a two-hour film. And it can be done, it's done all the time, but it's not always that easy. Something is always going to be left out, something's going to be changed, and you have to know that up front. It's going to be something different. I don't get too close to it. I keep my distance. We deal with good people that we -- that have made good movies, hope...
REHMBut you just have to let it go?
GRISHAMLet it go, let it go. My -- I don't want to go -- you know, I don't go to the set and hang out. I go and meet everybody one time and then go home and wait for the movie to come out.
REHMNow why might not "The Whistler" be made into a movie?
GRISHAMWe -- I think it's been 10 or 12 years since the last movie. It is very, very difficult to get a movie made today.
GRISHAMI don't know -- well, why. Okay, first of all, Hollywood does not make too many smart, adult dramas. That's just not what they do these days. They'd rather spend $200 million making a, you know, cartoon for the Chinese audience than spend $50 million making a good, smart, adult drama based on a good book. It doesn't happen.
GRISHAMAnd looking back, we talked about the movies a while ago. Those first four or five movies that came out 20 years ago, they all had -- "A Time to Kill," "Rainmaker," "Runaway Jury," they all had big casts, they all had big box office draws. Everybody made money, okay. And the movie were made fairly quickly after the book came out. The book was fresh, the paperback was fresh, the adaptation worked, the movie came out, and it was so easy.
GRISHAMAnd why that model doesn't work today I really don't know. The studio model is fairly broken, I think. They want to make the big adventure flicks, the cartoons, "Spiderman" for 15-year-old boys. That's what they make, and it's just -- it's very difficult to get one of these movies adapted.
REHMOkay, if this book, "The Whistler," were being made, who would you choose to play Lacy?
GRISHAMWow, the first one that comes to mind is Emily Blunt because her agent called yesterday and said that he wants her to do it.
REHMIs that right?
GRISHAMWell, we get those calls all the time, but it's -- and really when the book comes out, the first month or so the book is out, the phones rings a lot.
GRISHAMThere's a lot of interest in have you sold the film rights. We'll actually even send the book a month ahead of time to certain people in the industry that we know. Sometimes we do that, sometimes we don't. But the phone is going to ring a lot initially, and then the phone calls kind of go away, and then years go by, and nothing happens. And, you know, I've even got four or five books under contract now. They are in development. I'm not sure what that means. I think it means that nothing is happening because nothing will be filmed, to my knowledge, even next year.
GRISHAMSo again, it's just -- and I can't do a thing myself to get the movie made. If I gave away the film rights, which I'm not going to do, if I wrote the screenplay on spec, which I'm not going to do, then that still would not help get the movie made. So it's frustrating, but I've realized I can't control it, so I just move on and write the next book.
REHMAll right, let's go now to Mauve in Elkins, Arkansas. You're on the air.
MAUVEHi, you're getting it a lot from Arkansas. I really appreciate the voice and complexity brought to people who don't have a voice, like in "The Rainmaker," where people were being exploited. I wonder if you ever thought of the toxic loop I'm sure you have as you've been a prosecutor and in the law, legislature, between prisons and a person who gets incarcerated for drugs and the -- how the system, especially with privatized prisons, you can just be in the loop.
MAUVEAnd in Arkansas, our recidivism rate keeps climbing. I've got family members who have been incarcerated, and they first got into the problem of the money, you know, money interest that -- not looking at the end results like foster care and recidivism and destruction and family and communities. And it's not just Arkansas. It's rural, poor all over. So I'm just putting that out there and wondering if you've ever thought of doing anything on that.
GRISHAMYou know, I think about it all the time. I think about it all the time because that involves issues close to my heart. The draconian sentences that we hand down to people for small drug offenses, especially the second and third times, for non-violent, our prisons are in a -- we have a million people in prison today for non-violent drug offenses, and that cost is enormous.
GRISHAMI really want to go after private prisons one day in a book and expose that. Nowadays we're locking up people who basically have not committed a crime but who can't pay their court costs and fines. So they've become debtor prisons. And because these private prisons need people in prison, we lock them up and with no regard to what happens to the families, to the children. It's a big, thick novel waiting for me to write.
REHMAll right, let's go to Dave. He's in Chandler, Arizona. You're on the air.
DAVEThank you, good morning.
DAVEI was driving across country listening to the audio book of "Gray Mountain," and I wanted to comment. I've listened to several of your books on audio, and your readers are absolutely fantastic. They make the books come alive. And my -- as I was listening to that, I also listened to an NPR story on the Democrat that was running for governor in West Virginia, Jim Justice, and about his mining company and the fines that he has and safety violations.
DAVEAnd it seems like that he was taken right out of your book, or your book came to life with the similarities between his operations as described and some of the things you talked about in "Gray Mountain." And I would very much like your perspective, thank you.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Do you want to talk about that?
GRISHAMYeah, first of all, thanks for your comments about the audiobooks. They -- we try our best to hire, you know, the really talented actors to read those things, and I've actually read two of my books for audio, and it is very difficult to do. I hope I never do it again. It's just really -- it takes a certain amount of talent, theatrical flair, whatever, to pull that off, and it's not easy, and so thank you for your comment.
GRISHAMWhen I researched "Gray Mountain," I spent a lot of time in the coal fields, and I realized that there are a lot of bad actors, there are a lot of, you know, reputable companies who do a lot of things I described in the book. I did not pattern my characters after anybody in real life. But I also tied in what I discussed a while ago with judicial elections.
GRISHAMThere have been some famous cases where coal operators contributed heavily to supreme court judge races in Appalachia. So all those issues kind of came together in "Gray Mountain," but I'm glad you enjoyed it.
REHMYou know, I have read, and with my husband read, one of our books, but I read them all. However, the difference is that you've got to change voices. You've got to create a fiction, whereas we were creating reality, and that is a huge difference. How did you do that? Did you literally change your voice?
GRISHAMI couldn't. I don't know how to do that. It was terrible. I mean, I read "Bleachers," and I read "Ford County," and I said I'm just not going to do this again because I'm not trained to not only change voices but remember all the characters and their voices. It's really not that easy to do.
REHMYeah, yeah, yeah, so what are you working on now?
GRISHAMWell, I'm working on a book that's sort of a stand-alone mystery that I am probably two-thirds of the way finished with, kind of playing around with it. I get bored in the fall. I turn a book in July, we edit, and then -- and spruce it up and polish it up, and "Whistler" was finished in the middle of August. They print the books in September.
GRISHAMUsually by the middle of September, I'm bored, and I start thinking about something else to write. For the past several years, I've written a Theodore Boone book for kids. That series now has six books. I didn't have a good story for Theo this fall, so I didn't write a book. I've got one for next year. But I had a different idea for a non-legal-thriller-type mystery that Renee and I kind of cooked up driving to Florida last year.
GRISHAMWe had this idea, you know, we were playing around with. So I liked the idea. I'm writing the book now. I'm probably going to finish it by the end of the year or not. If I can't solve the mystery, I'll just put it -- I'll say okay, nice try, I'll come back to it in five years.
REHMSo you're obviously not getting up at 5:00 in the morning to write these. What time are you starting and finishing your day writing?
GRISHAMWe -- you know, we wake up usually around 6:00 and drink coffee together, and by 7:00, 7:30, I'm at the desk.
REHMFor how long?
GRISHAMWell hopefully until noon. I would love to do it until noon. After you write hard for three or four hours, though, you need to take a long break. Your brain kind of gets fuzzy.
GRISHAMBut if I write for four hours a day, that's going to be, you know, six, seven, eight pages in the manuscript, which is a lot, and you've got -- excuse me...
REHMTaking a drink of water.
GRISHAMYou do that for five days in a row for six months, and the pages, that's the schedule.
REHMThat's the schedule.
GRISHAMThat's the schedule.
REHMWell, John Grisham, it's been such a pleasure to talk with you over all these years.
GRISHAMThe pleasure is mine. I can't believe you're leaving us. We've enjoyed your show for years. It's always smart and fun and well-read. You have a huge audience of some two and a half to three million people and including Renee and myself. We always enjoy your show.
GRISHAMAnd we can't believe you're leaving us.
REHMWell, you've got to start listening to podcasts because I'm going to do one once a week. John Grisham, his new book is titled "The Whistler," already number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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