FAITH AND FAME CAN BE FRIENDS: JOHN GRISHAM’S LIFE
Just finished reading John Grisham’s 1999 novel, The Testament. The story is about a cranky old billionaire who nullified his will and disinherited all his known children and ex-wives before jumping to his death from his skyscraper. The guy gave all his wealth to an unknown and illegitimate daughter, which inevitably precipitated some intense legal battles. Heard of Grisham before but had never read his work. Loved the humour and faith components in this one, so I decided to research the man.
Grisham is an award-winning American novelist, the latest of his numerous wins being this year’s Lucien Barrière Literary Award. Grisham has 39 novels to his name and over 300 million copies sold. He has also penned some short stories and nonfictional works. His net worth is estimated to be $350 million.
Some of his recent novels are Sycamore Row (2013), Gray Mountain (2014), Rogue Lawyer (2015), Camino Island (2017), The Reckoning (2018) and The Activist (2013), The Fugitive (2015) and The Scandal (2016) from the Theodore Boone Series. Grisham is so prolific that since 1991, he has been writing at least a novel a year and in 2013, he released three. He has degrees in accounting and law, has practised law and served as member of the Mississippi House of Representatives.
An article in Christianity Today cited Newsweek magazine as calling Grisham a “commercial supernova.” Composing legal thrillers is his trademark (although he has written other stuff as well), and that is not surprising as he was an attorney for nearly a decade. Quite a few of his novels (e.g. The Pelican Brief and The Rainmaker) have been turned into feature movies, a few like The Firm and The Client have inspired TV series. The Philadelphia Inquirer once remarked that “John Grisham may well be the best American storyteller writing today” while the Atlanta Constitution quipped thus about how his books make compelling reading: “Each book jacket should bear a warning to consumers: ‘Detrimental to sleep. You may read all night.”
In the Christianity Today article earlier mentioned, I found this interesting tidbit: “Grisham committed his life to Christ when he was eight years old. He remains dedicated to living according to biblical principles as he copes with the fame and wealth thrust on him since 1990.” Awesome! I learnt that he has gone on mission trips to Brazil and those stints must have helped in the excellent account of the character, Nate O’Riley’s adventure in the tropical wetland over there seen in The Testament.
In another article on Gospel Light Minute web site, Grisham recounted how his mother led him to Christ as a child and called it “the most important event” in his life. Grisham, who is a Baptist, still teaches Sunday School, contributes heavily to churches and charitable organisations and participates in missionary work abroad from time to time, not only to share the gospel but to remind himself of how deprived many others are. Wise move really ’cause it’s easy to become conceited and uncaring as the millions roll in. In fact, he thinks he was made so financially successful to be able to support God’s work and philanthropic organisations substantially. Get that! He was asking, “God, why me?” before coming to that conclusion. The guy doesn’t think he’s made it because he’s super smart. Oh, and he does all the spiritual work and giving with his lovely wife, Renee.
Something else I picked up: Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers before an unknown publisher, Wynwood Press, accepted to release it.
Glad I looked into the life of this great man. Showed me that faith is not a hindrance to success. With the prevailing evil in the world today, some people seem to think that for a novel to be worth its name, the author must lace his or her writing with profanity and orchestrate one or more orgasms and deadly violence in it. You just can’t seem to escape the vulgarisms, steamy and gory scenes in books (and in the movies).
However, Grisham proves that you can write relatively wholesome fiction, yet it can be most entertaining and land on the bestseller list. (The language in his books is not entirely kosher because it reflects the diverse characters’ fibres, but it’s stuff that we encounter in public on a daily basis.)
Grisham’s stand on these matters has not gone unchallenged. Mike & Amy Nappa of Nappaland Communications observe that, “Grisham … has fought hard with publishers and producers to keep his books and movies as clean as possible.” Entertainment Weekly reveals that, “His highly public tirades against what he sees as overly violent and excessively sexual entertainment have landed the author on the front lines of skirmish upon skirmish, doing battle with some of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood.”
But that does not mean that Grisham shies away from the dark and seamy sides of life. He confronts issues like corruption, greed, parental neglect, alcoholism and drug addiction, building convincing characters and plots that show their deleterious consequences. However, he doesn’t always paint a hopeless picture. His books, my research shows, often help the afflicted and downtrodden to be heard and sometimes have redemptive endings as in The Testament where O’Riley found strength in God to overcome his addictions. His 2015 short novel, The Tumor, which he described as the most important book of his writing career and gave away for free, dwells on the use of a new therapy called focused ultrasound for the treatment of diseases. He is helping to raise funds to promote research into this non-invasive form of treatment for malignancies.
Grisham’s life also shows that you can remain in faith while raking in the millions. Faith and fame can reside side by side in your life if you find ways to keep yourself grounded. For him, it’s his closeness to his family, commitment to living by the Bible, charity work and missionary activities. One can add maintaining close relationships with ordinary people away from the celebrity crowd.
Faith and politics are not incompatible too. As stated earlier, Grisham was once a legislator (for about eight years) and is currently an activist. The issues he campaigns for include the overturning of wrongful convictions and the elimination of capital punishment (my views differ on this one). But I daresay we don’t need to fold our arms as a demonstration of our piety in the face of issues that concern us and the world. I follow Rev. Franklin Graham’s Facebook page and I wince at the virulent attacks he receives from Christians who feel he is misguided when he addresses current controversial issues and urges believers to take a stand. I haven’t read where the Bible says we should not try to exert influence on earthly affairs, especially by speaking out in a civil manner and exercising our franchise.
And for anyone worried about not getting a big break yet, remember Grisham was turned down 28 times before someone took a little chance on his first work (a contract to print just 5,000 copies)!
I hereby include some Grisham quotes. Quite a few of them concern the craft of writing and I’ve taken the liberty to add commentary to them.
Some inspiring quotes from Grisham’s work:
“Quitting is not the answer. Life is not fair, and you can’t quit every time something unfair happens to you.” – The Activist
“My children know nothing of Christmas. They have so little, and want so little, it makes me feel guilty for the mindless materialism of our culture.” – Skipping Christmas
“They say a woman marries a man with the belief she can change him, and she can’t. A man marries a woman with the belief that she won’t change, and she does.” – Gray Mountain
“I’ve loved you all my life. Even before we met. Part of it wasn’t even you. It was just a promise of you.” – The Firm
And here are some that are plainly his (with my comments in brackets):
“Jesus preached more and taught more about helping the poor and the sick and the hungry than he did about heaven and hell. Shouldn’t that tell us something?”
(Each of us needs a very active social conscience in today’s selfish and materialistic age.)
“Stephen King reached out to me twenty-five years ago and taught me some valuable lessons. In return, I’ve tried to be generous with my time over the years with young writers. I’ve given them my email and said if you need someone to talk to, I’ve been through it.”
(Guiding the young, teaching them trade secrets, is crucial. Makes no sense to be so great and not pass it on.)
“I always try to tell a good story, one with a compelling plot that will keep the pages turning. That is my first and primary goal. Sometimes I can tackle an issue-homelessness, tobacco litigation, insurance fraud, the death penalty-and wrap a good story around it.”
(This is very important because a novel is first and foremost for entertainment. A loss of focus regarding this creates disharmony of purpose which could ruin the work.)
“One thing you really have to watch as a writer is getting on a soapbox or pulpit about anything. You don’t want to alienate readers.”
(Related to the last quote and so true! Subtle is the way to go, especially if you write about faith which easily gets many people up in arms.)
“When you write suspense, you have to know where you’re going because you have to drop little hints along the way.”
(Honestly, this cannot be said loudly enough. I read some mystery books and I get so angry. When the authors are busy complicating the plot, they sometimes forget to drop relevant hints with the result that when everything is resolved, I just don’t buy it. It’s not believable at all!)
“My mum was never too keen on TV, so we kids all went to the library and got books out. Right from the start, I loved the works of Mark Twain. Every time I read about Tom Sawyer, I’d go out and do something low-level naughty, just like him.”
(Very important seeds must have been sown through those library books for Grisham to end up crafting popular fiction without taking any course in creative writing. Mark Twain’s books are humorous and yet they sometimes deal with important issues like racial injustice and poverty, same as Grisham’s books. And I guess having played childhood pranks, Grisham is able to write fluidly about his characters’ shenanigans.)
“An outline is crucial. It saves so much time. … With the outline, I always know where the story is going. So before I ever write, I prepare an outline of 40 or 50 pages.”
(This is cool and requires discipline. However (this is not humble me contradicting an accomplished writer like Grisham), but I doubt that it’s always possible to know where the story is going ab initio. Sometimes, you take it as it comes. If it doesn’t develop fast, you mull over it until it picks up momentum and goes the way you feel it was meant to go. But this is just an aside and isn’t meant to undermine the importance of having an outline for one’s writing.)
Now that I’m a big fan, I’m into my second Grisham novel, The Appeal. I will certainly read more and perhaps I’ll tell you about them. You are richly blessed in Jesus’ name!
Hope you enjoyed reading this post. Care to share what you’re taking away from it?
Photos of Grisham’s books and his portraits used in graphics are from Grisham’s Official Facebook page
Emily Yahr. (June 30, 2017). “Why did Hollywood stop making John Grisham movies?” The Washington Post.
Gospel Light Minute #33. “John Grisham: Accepting Jesus Christ Was ‘the Most Important Event in My Life’”
“John Grisham”. Wikipedia
“John Grisham Biography” (and Quotes). The Famous People
“John Grisham Is Letting You Download His New Novel as a Free eBook”. Open Culture.
“John Grisham Net Worth”. Celebrity Net Worth
“John Grisham Quotes”. A-Z Quotes.
Mike & Amy Nappa. “Inside Look @ John Grisham”. Nappaland Communications
Will Norton, Jr. (October 3, 1994). “Conversations: Why John Grisham Teaches Sunday School”. Christianity Today. Vol. 38, No. 11
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