John Grisham went from being a small-town Mississippi lawyer to a literary sensation in 1991 when his second novel, The Firm, was published, sold well millions of copies, and was later adapted into a movie. He has since written dozens of No. 1 bestsellers. Today, Grisham67, lives on a farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia, and, in addition to his writing, serves on the board of the Innocence Project. He published his forty-eighth book, The Boys from Biloxi, in October.
I don’t wear socks except in January.
My first real job was in a nursery, watering rosebushes for a dollar an hour. It was the most boring job in the world. But I was taught to be there promptly on time. Take the lunch break properly on time for thirty minutes. Work eight hours. Those are great lessons for a twelve-year-old kid.
Whenever we moved to a new town, our first stop was the local First Baptist Church to join. But the second stop was the local library to see how many books we could check out.
My father was all for the Vietnam War. Gotta go fight the commies wherever you find them, you know? Well, as I got older and I approached the age of eighteen, the war was not over. And he got quieter.
I played one year of junior college baseball. And I sat the bench. So I went to a bigger school down the road and tried out. In the fall of 1974, I walked on at Delta State University. And I got cut. It was time to give that dream up.
You know how boys are. We’re stupid. Looking back, I wish I had gone to a school as a freshman and stayed in one place for four years and got the full dose of college life. Didn’t work out that way. No regrets—especially, you know, fifty years later.
You can’t make any money as a small-town lawyer. Because you’re dealing with people who have problems that are enormous for them but they can’t pay your fees for their divorce or bankruptcy or whatever the problem is. You’ve got to help them, but you don’t always get paid.
The greatest trial lawyers I’ve ever met spending hours and hours writing their opening statement. That’s the first story they tell the jury. They will go over and over and over telling the story. They’ve got it memorized. And that’s something I still do.
Don’t write the first scene until you know the final scene. If you know the final scene, it’s hard to get lost.
The goal is a thousand words a day. My goal for every legal thriller is a hundred thousand words. Each year on January 1, I’ll start a new one, with a goal of finishing by July 1. I’m almost always on time.
When you write about lawyers and law firms and trials and courts and juries and judges and appeals, there’s no shortage of material. I’ve yet to sit down in thirty-five years with nothing to say.
You watch a baseball game on television and it’s so easy to say, when a guy makes an error, that it looks bad. But to get to that point? You’ve got to be great. And right behind them are the guys in Triple-A—and you’ve got to be so good even to get there.
There are so many Innocent people in prison. And most white people don’t believe that. Black people know it’s true because they’ve lived it.
It’s fairly easy to send an innocent person to prison. It’s very difficult to get one out.
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov 2022 issue of Esquire
My parents taught me lying just makes it worse. And it still does.
After so many books, I could quit and say, “Okay, I’m retired. I’m not going to write anymore. Sorry.” I’ve never thought about doing that.
Sex is just pure physical satisfaction. You can find it almost anywhere. Love is far more complicated and far more meaningful. Combine the two and you’ve got everything.
I laugh and tell people, “I’m a famous writer in a country where nobody reads.” It’s a good level of fame because you have the brand name to sell books but people don’t recognize me.
I don’t want to die with a bunch of money in the bank.
God hasn’t changed. I probably changed.
Each spring I buy a pair of real light khakis for the summer and I wear them every day until my wife yells at me. When she sees a hole or stain that won’t go away, she’ll yell at me and I’ll get another pair. That’s the way I dress.
I’m not afraid of snakes—as long as I can see ’em and get away from ’em.
The great thing about being a writer: You’re not expected to dress nice. You can wear anything to any party because you’re a writer.
It’s insanity for anybody my age to pick up golf, because I really suck at it. It’s a lot of fun being out there with friends, and I’d like to improve. But I don’t want to practice.
Want more Esquire?
Get Instant Access!
Brian O’Keefe is the Executive Editor of Esquire. An award-winning writer and editor, he was previously the Deputy Editor and acting Editor in Chief of Fortune.