Grisham conducts book signing

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Author John Grisham was in Blytheville last Monday at That Book Store to autograph copies of his latest legal thriller, King of Torts.

Grisham found it hard, if "not downright impossible," to stay on the topic of his new book, as members of the press quizzed him about his soon to be realeased Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, A Painted House. The made-for-television movie, based on Grisham's best selling 2001 novel, is slated to air on CBS April 27.

"We are working on having a movie premier in Jonesboro, possibly at Arkansas State University, in mid-March," Grisham said. "I have seen the rough cut of the movie and am very pleased with it. The scenes are so realistic. There is a lot of cotton, and a lot of mud.

"Many of the scenes in the book come from stories my father and grandfather told me," Grisham said. "It brought me pleasure to see the scenes brought to life in the film. I actually picked cotton and saw the floods come. I played baseball with the Mexicans in Black Oak. Although this book is fiction, I drew from many of my own experiences.

"A Painted House is my favorite book, and it took me two years to write. I can normally produce a legal thriller in about three or four months. This book is special, and I gave a lot of time to details, because they were particularly important to me. I have been told that it had about 14 subplots in it.

"I hope to do another book of this type in about five years, but it will not be a sequel to A Painted House. It will still draw from my life experiences and family stories, but will have different characters and it will probably be set in the 1960's. I am anxious to get back and revisit that timeframe."

When Grisham did get a chance to talk about his newest book, King of Torts, he explained that it was a story whose hero and villain are the same, a young man with the tragic flaw of greed; a story whose suspense arises not from physical threat but moral turmoil, and one that launches a devastating assault on a group of the author's colleagues within the law.

"I had to slant the view of tort law against lawyers to illuminate the problem," Grisham said.

Mass tort lawyers are Grisham's target, the men who win billion-dollar class-action settlements from corporations selling bad products, then rake fantastic fees off the top, with far smaller payouts going to the people harmed by the products.

The book's main character, Clay Carter, is a lawyer at the Office of the Public Defender in Washington, D.C., when he catches the case of a teen who, for no apparent reason, has gunned down an acquaintance. Clay finds out that a bad drug caused the teen--and others--to kill. The drug corporation is willing to pay Clay $10 million to settle with all the murder victims at $5 million per, if all is accomplished on the hush-hush; thus avoiding a trial and possibly much higher jury awards.

After briefly examining his conscience, Clay quits the OPD, sets up his own firm and settles the cases. Clay is crowned by the press the new King of Torts.

The tension is considerable throughout the book but has a gentle ending. It appears that Grisham's aim is to educate as well as entertain with his fierce moral stance. Readers have found themselves clinging to Grisham's words every step along the way of this powerful and gripping morality tale.

"I have my two brothers, my three aunts, and Mom with me today," Grisham said. "I always enjoy visiting the five bookstores on my tour, as it is not work and takes on a party atmosphere.

"Writers have to fight the urge to be reclusive, and give up their privacy," Grisham said. "This gets me out with friends and supporters. Talking with my readers helps keep me grounded."

Grisham still loves baseball and softball. He plans to spend the spring watching his son play baseball for the University of Virginia and his daughter play high school softball.

"Baseball fans don't bother you, because they come to watch the game," Grisham said. "I can just relax and enjoy myself there, which I do as often as possible. Out of a 56 game schedule I probably see about 50 games."

Another Grisham novel that has been adapted for film, Runaway Jury, is due to be released this fall.

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