John Grisham

Dear Yearbook committee,
I received your invitation to the class reunion of the UM graduating class of 1981. I am overjoyed to see you all again, and I also accept your invitation to speak at the opening ceremony. As per your request of an autobiography, I wrote a short synopsis of what I feel has affected my writing the most. Hopefully, this will fit in well enough with your scheme for the reunion book. I hope you enjoy.


Each one of us has a different road to take, and what we do before and after we make our decisions determine whom we are. So, I hope that I can assist you in assessing me and my writings through this paper, and, thus, I can help you see not only me, John Grisham the writer, but also me, John Grisham the man.

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I was borne in Jonesboro, Arkansas on February 8th, 1955 (www.randomhouse.com/features/grisham/). My family was relatively large, and, unfortunately for us, we were rather poor, but we were never really knowledgeable about it. We were always happy, bouncing, and hyper children. We wouldn’t stay in one town for a large amount of time. We would go to multiple towns for my father, who was in search of a stable carpentry job. At each stop, we would set our valuables down wherever we may be staying and then my mother would take us to the local library. We’d each get our own library card and 3 or 4 books (Pringle 1). Our education came before everything else in my parents’ eyes.


Ultimately, we settled in a little town in Mississippi. I didn’t really care for writing very much, but my real passion was baseball. Education didn’t really rank high on my list, despite my parents best efforts. One of my language arts teachers later said that she saw promise in me but I didn’t want to develop it. I would occasionally read classic authors. My personal favorite was John Steinbeck.


After high school, I then went to Mississippi State and attempted to become a professional baseball player. After I realized that I didn’t have what it took to make it in professional baseball got a degree in accounting (Jebb 1). I then married my sweetheart Renee Jones from my hometown in Southaven, Mississippi. We had two children who are now 20(Ty) and 18(Shea) and bought a wonderful house on the outskirts of Southaven. After we settled in, I went back to school at Oxford at University of Mississippi. It was there, in 1981, I got my law degree (Pringle 1)
I started a 1-man firm in Southaven. Starting with criminal law, I took a couple of cases. My first murder case was rather intense in itself. My defendant shot his wife’s lover 6 times in the head. We pleaded self-defense, considering the victim shot the defendant with a .22 caliber pistol (even though the round bounced off the defendant’s chest)(Pringle 2) I started taking civil cases as well.


Ultimately, I found law to be boring. I often found myself dosing off and finding myself sitting next to a person who I didn’t like representing them in cases that were ultimately a waste of time. So during slow periods, I called a friend of mine to make an unscheduled vacation (I told my wife I was going to New York to file some paperwork on this particular occasion). It was here that I began my first real attempt at writing. As my college friend and I entertained ourselves by sitting in on court cases, we happened upon the most striking case I have ever heard. A white girl was raped and beaten by a rather large and intimidating man. The defense had to call their last witness, and they called the victim. It was by far the greatest display of human emotion I have ever seen, and as I watched, I thought to myself, “What would I do if I was that child’s father? How would I handle it?” Instantly, I developed a plot for a story. It was too good and I had to write it down (Pringle 26). On what legal notepaper I had, I started scribbling down notes to, from and during our little trips to a farmhouse in Pennsylvania. These notes I later organized, and finally produced my first, and most powerful in my opinion, book, A Time to Kill.


I made the setting of the story a little county named Ford, where the population was 74% white. Two men named Billy Ray Cobb and Pete Willard are known as the two rednecks that have no socially redeeming value. After getting drunk, they kidnap a young girl named Tonya Hailey. They drink and rape her all night long, and afterwards, they leave her for dead. However, they suspect that she isn’t dead because “Niggers generally don’t die after kicking, beating, and raping (Pringle 26).” The offenders are caught. Carl Lee Hailey, Tonya’s father, discovers what happened to Tonya and knows exactly what he should do. The novel tracks his every move up to the point where the prisoners are being transferred outside to a vehicle. This is where Carl Lee takes his fatal shots at Billy Ray and Pete. From this point on, the focus of the novel is Carl Lee’s trial.


As the novel progresses, we see all the parts of a real hearing: Preliminary hearing, bail hearing, Grand Jury deliberation, arraignment, Hearing for motions, and then the trial. I felt the need to do this, because most novels don’t dive into all aspects of law. I also felt compelled, because I am known for my legal expertise and accurate portrayal of courts (Gale). Our hero is Jake Brigance, a wise “street lawyer” who is proud of whom he is. He is glad to defend the average person who is in need of help, inverse of the big firms who support the big clients (Jebb 4265). I mostly modeled Jake after myself at the time; a young, handsome lawyer who may not get paid a lot, but tries as hard as he can to win. However, anyone who has experience in law can tell you that it is a very dirty business. I know this just as most of the law profession knows. Therefore, I never portray my characters as completely wholesome. Jake does anything he can to win. He hires a psychiatrist to say that Carl Lee could have been temporarily insane at the time, which is a well-known lie. He also attempts to bribe potential jurors whose names come from a list he illegally obtained.


Even though Jake may seem bad, Jake and Carl Lee’s foes are far worse. The lead antagonist in this story is the District Attorney. Progressively more evil than Jake, the D.A. eventually becomes a suspect for leaking information to the reborn K.K.K. resistance about the case. These hints make it a possibility that the D.A. is completely corrupt. The K.K.K. is also just as evil; threatening jurors and attempting to bomb the house of Jake Brigance. This hinted that the D.A. could be as evil as the K.K.K. itself. Jake + the antagonists aren’t the only dishonest principles in this novel. The book itself is full of deception. Jurors lie to stay in the pool, ministers hide relief money from churchgoers to that it can be given to the Hailey family, and the sheriff brutally and illegally obtains information from suspects in the Carl Lee and Brigance Bombing cases.(Jebb 4226)
The reasoning behind all this dishonesty is because I feel like not only is the world untruthful, but the law system is twice as worse. Instead of painting a picture of a pristine legal system with no flaws and problems, I painted a picture of the real legal system; brutal, unrelenting, and devious. Even though this maybe the uglier side of life, my personal experience in the tax law community showed me that the conclusion is ultimately correct (Pringle 2).


After the success of The Firm, A Time to Kill was re-released and received a great response. This not only prompted me to write more, but also increased my desire to write books that would sell. I focus on highlighting the law process and the principals of a classic thriller: a singular principled hero who tries to fight an overwhelming force. Even though I may write this way to attempt to make a profit, instead of an artistic release, I still feel like I am entertaining the readers and serving my family (Pringle 21)
After a few books, I decided to write The Runaway Jury. Instead of my standard focus on a lawyer or a law student, I decided to make the protagonist Nicolas Easter, a potential juror in a tobacco case. I like to tackle the big subjects (Tobacco, gun control) because not only are these topics the things we think of every day, but they are also things that may apply in all or individual lives, especially tobacco. So, in this novel, the center case is a lawsuit against the Big Four tobacco companies (Big Five in real life). Considering that the big tobacco companies haven’t lost a lawsuit yet (both in the story and in real life) they are the obvious favorites in this legal battle (Jebb 6312). To improve their chances, they companies hire Rankin Fitch, a hotshot jury consultant who knows every dirty trick in the book. First of all, he illegally obtains a list of the potential jurors. Using
Investigators, Fitch photographs, tracks and examines every potential juror. From what he learns, he orchestrates the selection of a jury that should favor the tobacco companies. However, what he doesn’t realize is that not only did he select a weak jury instead of a bias one, He also admitted our hero, Nick Easter.


After selection, Rankin Fitch really goes to work in an attempt to secure the verdict. He uses his inside information that he obtained in order to bribe, threaten and control the jury. My major idea for this premise was the historic 1988 case of Horton v. American Tobacco. In this real case, Horton, a World War Two veteran, lost his lawsuit against the American Tobacco Company. After the case is finished, the plaintiff’s lawyers claimed that the defendants hat intimidated and coerced the jury to a mistrial. I actually had Nicolas Easter refer to the case in a conversation between himself and some other jurors, saying that his case was similar to the Horton v. American tobacco case in that, “There was some pretty outrageous behavior before the jury was picked and after the trial started.” (Jebb 6313)
The fact of the matter is that this story isn’t very new. Smoking has been a problem for many adults as well as children. I feature a tobacco executive in my story that is much like the mysterious executive who claimed that he had proof that the companies knew for a long time that nicotine was addictive and harmful. I also address underage smoking. Most of the jurors admit early on that most of them were presently or at one time smokers, and all of those that admitted that also admitted that they started smoking at a young age. I felt like this topic has to be addressed, because this is definitely one of the biggest issues that face us today (Jebb 6313).


In the end, Nick Easter is paid by Rankin Fitch in order to have Nick swing the verdict to the side of the tobacco companies. What Rankin doesn’t know is that Nick is actually an anti-tobacco activist who has been using false identities to track and hopefully affect tobacco litigation. Nick swings the jury in the favor of the plaintiff, who gets the first win against the big tobacco companies.
Months after the book was released, a Florida court also found in favor of a anti-tobacco plaintiff for $750000 (Jebb 6313). This shows that not only are these important issues being fought, but they are also being won. Underage smoking and smoking in general are things we must combat. Young people die every day due to first-hand and second-hand smoke, and I think that we are finally on the path of righting the wrongs that have existed for far too long.


Another issue I tackled in this novel was the issue of jury effectiveness. In the past few years, we have seen the cases of O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. Both cases had substantial evidence against the defendants (Simpson in the former, the police officers charged with brutality in the latter), but the defendants still got mistrials and clear records. This brings us to think that the possibility of juries being tainted with is far too great. But the real question is how do we combat this ever-present threat?
I have been renowned through writings as a levelheaded man who has the ability to “show the readers the schemes of the bad guys along with those of the innocents,”(Brashler 192) a well as being known for my ability of creating the ultimate thriller novels. Even though I appreciate the good reviews and the purchases that they create, I still feel like I try to address the issues. Hopefully, you may now feel like that is the man I really am.


Work Cited
Brashler, Bill. “John Grisham.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research, (Year not given), Vol. 84: 191
Jebb, John F. “John Grisham.” Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz, Ph.D. Osprey, Florida: Beacham Publishing Corporation, 1996, Vol. 2: 1
Jebb, John F. “The Runaway Jury.” Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz, Ph.D. Osprey, Florida: Beacham Publishing Corporation, 1998, Vol. 11: 6312,6313
Jebb, John F. “A Time to Kill.” Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz, Ph.D. Osprey, Florida: Beacham Publishing Corporation, 1998, Vol. 7: 4225, 4226
“John Grisham.” DISCovering Authors. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in student resource center. Detroit; 2004
“John Grisham.” John Grisham: The Official Website. (No Date Given)