Best Selling Author John Grisham at Princeton

Credit: (Mandatory) Carrie Devorah / WENN 2005

Credit: Carrie Devorah / WENN


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.












The Literary Mushroom

The other day on my early morning walk, I came across mushrooms that had, no doubt, come to life with all the rain we have had. They are intriguing as one day I walk a field and there are none, and the next day they have sprung up overnight. Emily Dickinson captures this mystery with these simple lines:

Anne H Campbell 2017

“The mushroom is the elf of plants,

At evening it is not;

At morning in a truffled hut

It stops upon a spot”

Not only do they appear magically, but the variety seems endless. The mushroom I found yesterday is gone today, but another kind has emerged somewhere else. Continue reading

George Macdonald’s Malcolm: Too good to be true?

As an author, I often come across the advice that protagonists should not be squeaky clean but should be flawed in order for them to be three-dimensional. I thought about this as I was reading George MacDonald’s The Fisherman’s Lady and The Marquis’ Secret, two novels that follow the rise of Malcolm MacPhail from fisherman to marquis. I doubt, however, that Malcolm would consider his new title a step up, for in his mind a person is to be judged by his moral rectitude, not by his station in life. That, of course, is an invitation for the reader to judge Malcolm’s character, and at first, my sense was that he had no flaws. As a result, I didn’t find him to be an engaging character.

Malcolm’s positive traits are many: hardworking, loyal, dependable, honest, truthful, respectful of women, unassuming, longsuffering (to a point), and on top of all that, humble. I could list even more! He is respected by his community, and most of the women are particularly fond of him because he is not afraid to face ridicule when he joins them in their tasks as fishermen’s wives. For a fisherman, he’s well educated and reads Shakespeare in addition to the Scripture. The Bible is not just another tome of literature for him, however. He is God-fearing and seeks to live according to the Bible. So, I’m thinking this guy’s too good to be true. Continue reading

Update on sequel to Sword of Deliverance

I have come to the end of drafting the sequel to Sword of Deliverance, which is a way of saying that I am far from finished. It is currently fermenting, proofing, or simmering—whichever culinary metaphor you like. But here’s what I can tell you about it.

The sequel chronicles what Brandan calls, at the end of Deliverance, his journey back from a very dark place. While he and Meredyth have come through their ordeals, problems lurk below the surface waiting to bubble up, particularly psychological issues. One of Brandan’s is a condition called moral injury, which is, briefly, damage to one’s moral integrity. This disorder has come to the forefront because of returning veterans who are wrestling with the fact that they have committed acts that go against their moral beliefs. Symptoms include guilt and shame, self-condemnation, an inability to forgive oneself, and difficulty with personal relationships.

Caveat lector: For those who have not read Sword of Deliverance, from here on this post hints at plot spoilers. Continue reading

Book Review: The Confessions of X

What can I say in praise of The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe that has not already been said? Evocative. Poignant. Bittersweet. Beautifully wrought like a fine mosaic. True-to-life. When I finished it, I could only sit, tears welling up and trickling down my face. To do anything else would have been to deny it the reflection it deserves.

The Confessions of X is a fictionalized memoir of the only woman Augustine of Hippo loved. He refers to her in his Confessions but never names her. When we finish her memoir, we still do not know her name, just her nickname, Naiad—water nymph—given to her by her childhood friend, Nebridius. In that regard, she stands for all the nameless women throughout history whose lives were intertwined with the lives of famous, powerful men. The last haunting words of her memoir could be her epitaph as well as that of all women like her. Continue reading

Don’t judge and author by her appearance

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I think that adage could be applied to writers as well: “Don’t judge an author by her appearance.”

This occurred to me after a recent conversation with a person I’d met for the first time.  I got around to telling him I had self-published a fantasy novel, and he asked what it was about. So, I started my pitch: “It’s about Brandan who is an assassin for Lord Wulfgar.” Before I could continue, he said, “I’m a good judge of people when I meet them for the first time, but I never imagined you were the type to write about an assassin.” If it hadn’t been my first meeting with him, I might have quipped, “Did you think I would write steamy romance novels?” Oh, but wait. I probably don’t look like I write them either. But say, what does a person look like who writes steamy romances? Or novels about assassins? Or horror stories? Continue reading