New York Times best-selling author John Grisham is coming to JMU on Wednesday, October 17, for the first John Grisham Writers Hour event where he’ll hold a conversation with one of his favorite authors, James McBride. Grisham spoke with WMRA’s Chris Boros.
WMRA: Whose idea was this event and what can we expect?
Grisham: Well I have a buddy, his name is Inman Majors, who’s the creative writing professor at JMU – he lives in Charlottesville – and we have a gang of writers here in Charlottesville who get together occasionally to talk about books and writers and all this kind of stuff. And so he pitched an idea of having a series at JMU where I would invite other writers to come in and spend an afternoon and talk to the students and talk about writing and do an event on stage where we would sort of interview each other. So here we are, this is the first one.
WMRA: Why did you decide to be part of this? What do you think you might get out of being involved with this?
Grisham: Well one thing I learned last year – in June last year I published a book called Camino Island and I toured and it was the first time I had toured in twenty some odd years. And I went to twenty different towns, book stores, and everywhere I went I invited local writers to come in for a visit, an interview, and we did a podcast and so we recorded it all, and I really enjoyed meeting so many other writers because writers work alone, you never collaborate so you don’t really get a chance to meet other writers. And I really enjoyed meeting all these other people from around the country and so I thought I should do with more often. And there are a lot of writers I still would like to meet and not really interview, just have conversations with and so that’s how the idea came up to do it at JMU.
WMRA: And tomorrow you’ll be speaking with author James McBride. Tell us about him and why you like his writing.
Grisham: I met James probably ten years ago at the Book Festival here in Charlottesville. We hung out for a little bit. He’s a really funny guy and has a great story. He won the Pulitzer probably ten years ago for a book called The Color of Water. And just a fun guy to be on stage with – we really hammed it up the first time we were together and vowed to get together again and I haven’t since him since then in ten years so it’s just another good reason to do this.
WMRA: Do you think you’ll be hamming it up with him tomorrow?
Grisham: You know what? These things are always funny. Our goal is first and foremost to have fun. And we talk about books and writing and movies and other writers, and we intend to really engage the audience – the students, some of them ask questions – and so that’s kind of why we’re doing it. It should be a lot of fun.
WMRA: You’re such a prolific writers, you’ve written over twenty-five novels. When do you find time to sit down and read a book?
Grisham: It’s always a challenge. I never am able to read as much as I want to read. And often times when I have time to read I can’t read the stuff I want to read. I have to read so much non-fiction because it’s the stuff I write about – death penalty, wrongful convictions, legal issues. And to write about that stuff you have to do a lot of research and it’s fascinating but I rarely have time to kick back and read a big fat novel at the beach.
WMRA: You’re at the beach reading case studies.
Grisham: Yeah. I keep telling my wife I’d love to take off a year and do nothing but read but I’m not going to be able to do that because I’m writing all the time.
WMRA: So this event tomorrow, do you think it’s for someone who like your books or is it more for someone who is into the author you’re speaking with?
Grisham: Both. But probably also for people who dream of writing. And we normally attract avid readers – middle age people who still dream of writing who enjoy listening to two writers talk for an hour and a half about books.
WMRA: Do you remember the time in your life when you were still dreaming about being an author?
Grisham: Oh yeah, when I was writing my first novel – mine was not a childhood dream, mine was not a dream I had in college, it came later in life but when I started writing the first book I would walk into a book store and see all of these beautiful books on the wall and think to myself “who wants to hear from me?” It was sort of depressing but it’s part of the process and I managed to keep writing and finish that book and finish the next one. But yeah, there’s always a time in your life when you have great self-doubt and the secret is to kind of overcome that and keep going.
WMRA: You’re at the point in your career where you don’t have to write. You could retire and never do this ever again so I have to imagine you do it because you love it.
Grisham: I do it because I love it and I do it because there are so many issues I want to expose or to write a novel about it, so I’m still very much driven by a lot of the bad things that exist in our system.