||John Grisham was sitting
in court one day, listening to testimony from a young girl who had been
raped, wondering what would have happened if the girl's father had killed
the rapist and had been compelled to stand trial for murder. His courtroom
musings grew into the plot of his first novel, A Time To Kill. Grisham's
background provides few hints of his future as a bestselling author. He
and his four siblings had more emotional advantages than physical advantages.
The Grisham kids never realized that their parents didn't have a lot of
money, and the author simply remembers being "well-scrubbed and loved."
Grisham's first love was--and remains--baseball. He played all through
high school and also during his first year of college, but he eventually
realized that he was not cut out for a sports career. Instead, he earned
a degree in accounting and then went to law school. The choices he made
back then make it possible today for Grisham to write for half a year and
then spend the other six months coaching his children's Little League teams.
In 1983, two years after
graduating law school, Grisham was elected as a representative
to the Mississippi legislature. He served a four-year term and was re-elected
in 1987, but resigned in frustration. He had wanted, he says, to make changes
to the state's educational system, but he felt he was fighting a losing
battle. Already Grisham had started arriving at his law office at five
in the morning, just to work on the manuscript for A Time To Kill. Grisham
mailed the finished copy to 16 literary agents and the agent who
signed him on submitted the manuscript to more than 20 publishers. Over
a year later,Wynwood Press bought it for $15,000. (A Time to
Kill did not become a bestseller until it was reissued as a
paperback in 1992.)
Grisham's breakthrough book
was The Firm, a runaway bestseller that propelled the author into fame
and fortune. He was having a good time along the way, though, and often
expressed gratitude for his good fortune. His sudden rise must have inspired
him. He wrote his next bestseller, The Pelican Brief in just 100 days.
Grisham novels easily lend themselves to movies. (Read the description
of Darby in The Pelican Brief and try not to picture Julia Roberts.) Of
his eight books, five have done well as feature films. These days, Grisham
no longer practices law, but writes one book per year. Every afternoon,
he tends to the six ball fields on his property, cutting the grass, and
chalking the lines. He routinely coaches at least three Little League teams.
Last season, his property hosted 350 children on 26 teams.