Book Talk: John Grisham on America's summer sport

NEW YORK Thu Apr 19, 2012 2:32pm IST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bursting into the U.S. national baseball consciousness in the summer of 1973, a rookie named Joe Castle endears himself to spectators and opposing teams as he smashes records while maintaining his own small town sense of wonder with the game.

"Calico Joe" is the 25th novel from prolific author John Grisham, 57, and though set against the backdrop of major league baseball, it is more an exploration of forgiveness and the relationship between a father and son.

The son of a construction worker and a homemaker from Jonesboro, Arkansas, Grisham's dream was to be a professional baseball player. But after working as a criminal defense and personal injury litigator he found his feet as a novelist.

Grisham has now sold more than 275 million books worldwide, and been translated into 40 languages.

Grisham spoke with Reuters about the book, his success, living the American dream and his own goals and aspirations.

Q: What's the book's premise and what prompted the topic of baseball?

A: "It's a baseball story about a little kid who grows up. His father was a major league pitcher who has an altercation with his childhood hero. (Baseball) is my favorite sport."

Q: Is there anything autobiographical?

A: "Nothing autobiographical. My father is still alive. He's a great guy and a wonderful father. I have a hyper-active imagination trying to make a story happen."

Q: Who do you want it to appeal to? Who will it appeal to?

A: "Everyone above the age of 12. It's a baseball story but I want it to sell billions. Writing is not fun if you are not selling, if no one is reading your stuff. First and foremost it will appeal to baseball fans -- men."

Q: How long did you work on this book?

A: "The first notes were jotted down five years ago. I tinkered with it over the years, then the bulk of the writing began February a year ago and I finished it in September."

Q: What is your typical work day?

A: "Writing from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., writing pretty much non stop. Then I go to my office, about 20 minutes from my house, for the business end of writing. On a good day I play golf for nine holes, then a glass of wine with my wife on the porch. It's a tough life."

Q: What do you hope the reader will take away? What did you hope to achieve?

A: "I'm not concerned with what they take away, I want them to be entertained. That's my goal."

Q: Is this the book you intended to write?

A: "Yes, it's a story that works very well. When I had finished, I knew I had nailed it."

Q: Are you surprised at your success in the U.S.? Do you understand how well known you are around the globe? Does that surprise you?

A: "I always have been for 20 years and have never taken it for granted. I'm still surprised by it and at the same time, still afraid it may go away. Not fear, but a lot of insecurity about how long the books are going to remain popular. I never take the success for granted or the popularity.

"Global success is hard to believe. You write one book in one language and that it is a success is gratification enough. But I watch the thing move around the world in 40 other languages, places I've never been to, it's a strange thing."

Q: What or who was your inspiration?

A: "As a kid, I had heroes and wanted to be a professional baseball player. When I was a lawyer, there were lawyers I wanted to be like. I always liked Mark Twain, he is a literary inspiration. Other writers inspire me to keep working and getting better. Mark Twain and John Steinbeck are two of my favorites."

Q: Why do you do write novels?

A: "If I didn't work for three or four hours each morning, I don't know what I would do. For many years I wrote for money, I can't say that now. Now I write for the enjoyment of creating characters and plots in different kinds of books that people find irresistible. I have a very loyal following, why quit now? I can't imagine doing anything else."

Q: Have you lived the American Dream? What is the American Dream to you?

A: "I'm living the American dream 10 times over. To start with very modest beginnings and through hard work, big dreams and ambition, to succeed. There's financial success but it's about family, friends and life. You can have that dream happen if you work and get a lucky break occasionally. It can happen."

Q: Do you have unfulfilled dreams and aspirations?

A: "I can't think of an unfulfilled dream. I've just been too lucky in life so far. There are places I want to go and I want to master the French and Italian languages and would love to improve my golf score. But they are small daily challenges, there is no big goal out there. I'm 57, fairly young and in great health so there should be something else I want to do. I will probably find that one day."

(Reporting By Nick Olivari; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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