Whether you’re an avid reader, cinephile, or just someone who walks by a bookstore window every once in a while, chances are you’ve heard of author John Grisham. From classics like A Time To Kill — his first novel — to his latest thriller, Camino Island, Grisham continues to create stories that are at once enthralling, suspenseful and provocative, while shedding light on issues within the American legal system and exploring the intricate ways people’s lives collide with eachother in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
Camino Island, released on June 6 by Doubleday Publishing, begins with the heist of several F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton University. The stolen works’ black market trail inevitably leads to bookseller Bruce Cable’s store in the sleepy Florida town of Santa Rosa. Mercer Mann, meanwhile, is an out-of-work young novelist sent on a mysterious mission to infiltrate Cable’s inner circle, until she finds herself immersed in a dangerous, thrilling drama that threatens to cast a shadow over sun-soaked Camino Island.
In conjunction with the release of his new book, Grisham has taken to the road for the first time in 25 years, making appearances at independent bookstores from Vermont to Tennessee. Xpress caught up with the prolific author during his stop at Malaprop’s on Thursday, June 15, to discuss the importance of local booksellers, novel-writing in the age of the internet, and what keeps him going after all these years.
Mountain Xpress: This is your first book tour in 25 years. What made you decide to hit the road this time around? What is the value of these tours to you as an author?
John Grisham: The value is meeting the booksellers and saying “thanks.” It’s a tough business, and they’re under siege from internet shopping: Amazon puts enormous pressure on local booksellers. Plus, I love bookstores — I love to go in and hang out in them, especially when they have good coffee and a cafe.
I’ve been thinking about [this tour] for a number of years. A bestselling author should hit the road and tour, meet some of the fans and readers, say “thanks.” It’s a lot of fun.
This current tour focuses on independent bookstores. In a world where purchasing a book is only a click away, what is the importance of local, independent booksellers?
You’re never going to replace the bookstore. In fact, we see the number of independent bookstores is increasing. They got wiped out 25 years ago by the big chains, then a bunch of them got wiped out by the internet. But they’re fighting back, and what we’re realizing is that people love bookstores, and people really love great bookstores, like this one.
The kids love to hang out in the children section; others come to drink coffee or eat lunch, hear authors and buy lots of books. If you have a vibrant community, like you do [in Asheville], and a great art scene, you’re going to have great bookstores. The community is what keeps them going.
These day, consumers have a seemingly endless options for entertainment, between Netflix, television and the internet. What do you feel the good, old-fashioned novel offers people that other media can’t?
Well, you know, it’s a very intimate relationship between the author and the fan, the writer and the reader, because you share so much time together. It’s a one-on-one experience. If it’s one of your favorite authors, you feel like you know that person.
It’s different from my perspective: I know when I write a book, a lot of people are going to read it. If I thought about that, I’d probably be intimidated, so I can’t think too much about that.
I don’t get to meet many of them — that’s another reason to tour: to meet some of these folks and listen to them. They want to talk about their favorite book; they want to ask a quick word of advice about this or that. It’s still personal, and it’s very intimate, unlike so many other forms of entertainment. And it’s not going to go away; we’re always going to have books and readers, I hope!
The literary world itself has changed with modern technology and ways we communicate these days. What opportunities do digital resources like the Internet offer a writer?
Well, I’ll give you one example: I’m going to sign books here for four hours, and then at 5 o’clock, we’re going to have a discussion, which I do after every signing now, that will become a podcast. We’re visiting 13 stores, and we’ll have 13 podcasts — the first one will be released next Thursday [June 22]. When all of them are up there, people can go there and listen to Ron Rash and myself talk about writing, our publishing history, our process, how we do the writing, Where we get our ideas….
I’ll have probably 20 authors with me when it’s all said and done. That’s a lot of information for people who want to know — and that’s the benefit of the internet: more places to sell things; thousands of literary magazines online; more places to get stuff published. There are certainly advantages.
Thirty novels into a storied career, what keeps you writing? What’s your inspiration?
I don’t look at it as inspiration to keep working; it’s just something I do. I do it everyday — write three or four hours. It’s still enjoyable, and I still have the ideas.
If the ideas dry up, I’ll stop writing, but a lot of my books deal with social injustice, issues and problems in our legal and penal systems. There are a lot of problems, a lot of stories, and a lot of issues that can be discussed and fleshed out in a novel. And I plan to keep doing that, as long as I stay healthy and enjoy writing.
This may be a bit of a stock question, but what is your advice to a young writer who might be overwhelmed or doesn’t know where or how to begin?
When you get your story — whatever your story is — make sure you’ve got a good story, with a good beginning and a good ending. Once you’ve got that, make yourself write one page per day, at least. No excuses, no exceptions. You can’t put it down; you’ve got to write one page a day. Nothing is going to happen as a writer until you’re doing at least one page a day.
It’s that simple: you’ve got to produce.
Camino Island, John Grisham’s latest novel, is available for purchase at Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe in downtown Asheville. For more information on the author and the novel, visit jgrisham.com or knopfdoubleday.com.