I took advantage of an opportunity to hear John Grisham speak at Princeton University in an interview format. Princeton had invited him as his novel Camino Island, his 30th, opens with a theft of F Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton’s Firestone Library. He was very engaging and offered us a look into the mind of an author.
Some insights I found particularly interesting:
⇒ He grew up reading Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway who all influenced his writing, particularly Hemingway with respect to economy of words. He reads widely, not just in the genre of legal thrillers, as he’s interested in seeing what other writers are doing.
⇒ Although he is always on the lookout for plot ideas, his stories are mainly fueled by his overactive imagination. His books often deal with social issues of concern to him, particularly injustices in our legal system. While he does research his novels, he prefers interviewing people rather than engaging in bookish research.
⇒ He purposely did not visit the Firestone Library to scope it out for his novel because he didn’t want to reveal details about its layout and security lest he give people ideas. Someone compared his description of the library to its actual layout and said he got everything wrong, which is what he had hoped to achieve.
⇒ It took him three years to write his first novel. He was a practicing lawyer and disciplined himself to write every day to complete it. When he finally finished the draft and submitted it to publishers, it was rejected and rejected and rejected until a small publishing house that was just starting out picked it up. Then, his editor said the novel was wordy and had to be cut by 30%.
⇒ While legal thrillers are his bread and butter, he does like to take a break and write other genres.
⇒ His comment about his career: He is a best selling author in a country where no one reads.
His advice to authors:
⇒ Read widely.
⇒ Write at least one hour every day.
⇒ Economize on words. Writers tend to be wordy and try to impress with “thesaurus vocabulary.” Use words of three syllables or less, but make sure it’s the best word.
⇒ No prologues, please. He believes they are usually well written and perform their function of enticing the reader, but then chapter one seems to be unrelated to the prologue, thus throwing the reader off.
⇒ Writing a breakout novel is hard for young authors as he feels they need to experience life, its ups and downs and setbacks, in order to write stories of depth.
Time for me to take a break from reading fantasy and delve into John Grisham’s novels again.