The following program was a production
of the Fairfax Network Fairfax County Public Schools.>>What would you do if you witnessed a
crime and didn’t speak up? What would you do if you were the one falsely accused
of a wrongdoing? These are the kinds of questions that motivate an imaginary
character called Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.>>This legal whiz kid become private
detective can keep you on the edge of your seat and just might keep you out of
court in the process.>>Unless you w ant to be in court.>>Well hey the mastermind of
Theodore Boone is in the studio. So stay with us for the next edition of Meet the
Author with John Grisham. [music] Welcome to Meet the Author. Today our
guest is author John Grisham. Yep that John Grisham. Now if you’re my age
you know him as the author of books like The Frm or The Pelican Brief.
But now he’s writing to a younger audience with a whole new legal series
featuring Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. John, thanks for being here. Welcome>>My pleasure happy to be here.>>Now before you ever thought about being an author you
had dreams of playing major league basball, right?>>Pretty serious dreams not
a whole lot of talent, but a lot of ambition. I didn’t get very far.>>So the important question is what position did you play?>>They always stuck me in right field because that’s when they put the weaker
players. I couldn’t play the infield and I couldn’t pitch but I love the outfield
and the right-field was my position.>St. Louis Cardinals, Cardinals. Grew up a Cardinals fan. In the deep south where I grew up, back in the 50s and 60s, St. Louis was the
nearest team that a huge radio network and from Texa s to Florida and most of
the Midwe st. They owned the radio airwaves and we listened the Cardinals
every night, grew up with them.>>Big doubleheader today with the Pirates … so are there any lessons that you can take from the
baseball diamond and apply to writing or trumped wanting to be an author?>>I never thought it like that.
The baseball went away early on. Just after high school I realized I
couldn’t — I saw a 90 mile an hour fastball one day and I said I don’t want
to see that again ’cause it was a blur. And I got that’s when I got out of baseball. And I finally got serious about studying. Got serious about law school. Even as a kid though I didn’t think about writing. It was not, it was not this was not a childhood dream or something I
studied or something I wanted to do. It just kind of happen later in life.
>>Well one of the best parts of this show is that we get questions via email or phone
calls so let’s go to our first e-mail question. This one comes from Cowpens
South Carolina “why did you decide to write teen books when your previous
novels were geared towards the adults?”>>It’s a very good question and a simple
answer. My daughter’s a school teacher in
Raleigh, North Carolina. And about five years ago over dinner she said,
she asked me if I could write suspense for kids. And we grew up with a lot of
books in the house and she’s a big reader. And she’s really pushing reading
on her students. And she said she’s found a lot of books for kids, a lot of fantasy,
a lot of historical fiction, all kinds of books but not any real good suspense. And
I thought that’s an interesting challenge because I’ve written so many
suspenseful novels for, for adults. And I started thinking about it. And I created
this character, thirteen year old kid, Theodore Boone. Because both parents are
lawyers, he’s grown up in a family filled with lawyers, a law office that’s all they
talked about the law. He knows a lot of law and he gets him in a lot of trouble
and he has to get out of trouble. And so it just took off and so it’s been a delightful pursuit of this kid and and the more I
write about Theo, the more stories I can find to write about Theo.>>When you approach stories for a younger audience what’s the main difference in your
approach versus your adult books?>>Year, you have to switch gears. The books are easier to write in one regard because they are shorter. The plots are not as
intricate. The character is not as complicated. The writing style is, is
simpler because you’re writing for, you know, ages 10 through 15. At the same time, it’s hard to get that voice, sometimes. When I was 13 years old it was a great
year for me. I was in the eighth grade and now eighth grade about to go to high
school. I played sports. I was active in self scouting and I love my teachers. And
it was one of those magical years as a kid at the age of 13. And so I keep
trying to remember that voice and how much fun it was being 13 years old.I had to, I had to get back to that mindset every time I go back to Theo.>>Well, you did a great job of it. John’s Theodore Boone series is about unraveling mysteries
just as much as it is about the connection between social issues and the
law. Our student reporter would like to pose this question to our audience. Are
you there Nam?>>Yes Matt I’m here at Robinson High School.
Hey pretty cool that John Grisham is in the studio. Hey Mr. Grisham thanks for
coming. We’d like to pose this question to you
and the audience even though Theodore Boone already knows the answer.
True or false: Juveniles have a right to a trial jury. Stay with us.
That question and many more will be answered soon.>>All right thanks Nam. We’ll get to that answer a little later in the program. But
John let’s go back to the town that Theo bums around on his bike, in Strattenburg. How did you come up with Strattenburg and the courthouse that he spent so much time in?>>Well it’s always difficult coming up with unique or original names. Just start googling. Think of a, think of a name of a town you want to
create and start googling it. And there’s one somewhere or three or four or five. And I worked repeatedly trying to find a name that was truly unique. I
couldn’t find anywhere in America or Canada, that’s easy to remember, easy to
pronounce, easy to remember. And it was a long process and I finally found
Strattenburg. And the state will never be revealed. I won’t tell you where it is.
I’m not sure where it is. There are a few clues along the way but it’s you know
somewhere within a few hours of here, DC. Because because the, you know,
things they do, the little clues I believe. But really the names are always
difficult. In several of my adult novels and legal thrillers, I’ve actually
??? for setting an entire book in a fictional town and they’re doing
the research to make sure it’s fictional. And then when I get checked in New York
they find a real town. So you have to change everything, the town. So far we have found no real Strattenburg anywhere in the world.>>And as far as when you
describe the town and the different buildings in there and the courthouse is
that just all come from experiences in your life?>>Yeah, that’s all fiction. I love
college towns. I’ve always lived in college towns for, for the past 30 years.
And there’s a small college there. The town is 75,000 people which is big
enough to have a lot of things and small enough to still be a small town. It has a
river and a park and a downtown and a great a grand courthouse that Theo just loves,
and he knows all the nooks and crannies and hidden staircases in the courthouse. He knows, you know, he’s always sneaking
around doing something he shouldn’t be doing. So yeah that’s all fiction. That’s
just, that’s being able to to sit back and just create stories about this kid.>>Well you did a great job explaining it because as you’re reading it you can really picture
everything and can picture where he’s going. It’s, it’s great. Let’s hear from
our student audience. But before we do jot down our phone number and join the
conversation. But first a few questions from students from Twain Middle School
for our special guest John Grisham. [music]>>Which of Theo’s traits do you possess or wish you possess?>>How do you think the book would have changed if Theo didn’t have
such a close connection with Judge Gantry?>>Hi Mr. Grisham I was wondering if there’s a specific trial or events that
inspired you to write the books? [music]>>All right so let’s tackle those questions. Let’s start with do you share any personal traits with Theo?>>Sure. I mean I was raised in a
pretty strict home like Theo where I was expected to behave, do my chores, be on
time, clean up after myself, be responsible. And I was also very active
in scouting, I love that as Theo does. And you learn those lessons in scouting:
honesty, bluntness, veracity, those are all traits that I was taught as a little kid,
you know. My father used to say I don’t care what you’ve done, just be honest about it. Don’t lie to me. Tell me ,we’ll deal with it. But don’t lie to me. And I
remember that as a little boy and I would tell the truth. I’d get in trouble
but we’d get over it okay. And that’s I just learned that lesson. I aught, I
taught my kids that — don’t lie to me, tell me the truth and we’ll deal with it. I
still love you and we’re gonna get through this. That’s the way I was raised,
And it was a, it was a, I was also taught to speak my mind. You know we were, and to, and to think in in different ways. To, to read a lot, to be creative. And I think
Theo has all of those attributes.>>Okay. Let’s tackle the second question
the connection between Theo and Judge Gantry. Tell us a little bit more about
their relationship.>>Well Judge Gantry is Theo’s favorite judge. He knows all the judges, they all know Theo cuz he hangs around the courthouse. For fun Theo goes to
trials so everybody knows him, all the police know him, all the lawyers know him.
Gantry’s his favorite because Gantry is sort of a senior judge in the biggest
courtroom who has the most prestige and is the wisest and the most experienced.
And so Theo just thinks he’s awesome. Theo is always battling though. Do I want to be a
great lawyer or a great judge like Judge Gantry. And there, they have a special friendship.>>And thirdly the specific trials or the situations that Theo runs into, where do those come from?>>Well I was a lawyer for ten years and I spent a lot of time in the courtroom. I wanted to be a courtroom lawyer and and I did a lot of trials. So
the legal stuff really just comes natural. And I also, as I’m writing ,and you
know I don’t have to go research much a little bit but not much because I know
it. Because I, you know, a lot of these cases I did a lot of juvenile court work
when I was a kid a, I mean a lawyer. A lot of it was a volunteer work because that was I kind of had special soft spot for kids who are in trouble and I’d volunteer to represent them in court. Well you hear a lot of stories. And
lawyers would hang around courtrooms and police departments and clients. You hear
a lot of stories. And I’ve used those stories in my adult fiction, still use them all the time still, they’re filed away. But a lot of stories
for Theo, Theo’s future.>>I think that answers a previous question too because Theo helps out his students, his friends a lot, too. Helps them with any issue they may have.>>He does and he shouldn’t.
He cannot practice law but he doesn’t know that. But he’s always careful. The kids come to
him quietly but if there’s a problem at home. One friend had a brother in jail. One friend had a, parents were about to be,
the house was going to be foreclosed. Well trying to explain a foreclosure and
a mortgage to, to kids is challenging. But we got through it, Theo and I got
through because he was able to do it. But he’s always careful to say look I’m not a lawyer. You need to talk to my mom or my dad or
I’ll, I’ll show you, I tell you a lawyer to go talk to you. Like in the first book
the family was facing bankruptcy. Well Theo knew that the best bankruptcy
lawyer was down the street. And he gave the kid the lawyer’s name and phone
number and said this is a guy you got to go to. So he’s always helping out. He gets
in trouble when he goes a little too far and wants to be a real lawyer. Except in
animal court where in animal court anybody can walk in and try your own
case. And, and there are courts like that not animal court, I’ve never seen
animal court. But small claims courts in a lot of jurisdictions, you don’t have to
have a lawyer. You can walk in. The judge is there with a black robe on. You you
got your opponent. You argue your case and the judge makes a decision. But for
bigger stuff you got to have a lawyer.>>We’ve got a couple of emails.
We’ve got a phone call now.>>Let’s take our first phone call.
Go ahead whoever’s on the line.>>Hi hello my name is Lonnie Smith.
Hello mr. Grisham, how are you?>>I’m fine how are you.
>>I’m great. I currently attend Bryant Alternative High School and I will
graduate end of June at the end of this year. I did a research paper last
year and I became very passionate about the reality of human trafficking.
And I was wondering if you would ever write a book about that topic? And the PS,
the beginning pages of A Time to Kill are crazy. It just automatically
hooked me right away. I love it.>>Well thank you for saying that about Time to Kill
It’s, it’s, it’s still very difficult for me to to read that. It’s
something I wrote 30 years ago and I probably couldn’t write it now. What
was the first part of question? I’ve got a short memory.
>>Human trafficking.
>>Oh yeah.>>Actually I have a book coming out next month called Rogue
Lawyer. It’s my next legal thriller for adults. And there’s a subplot in that
story about human trafficking. It’s a fascinating subject to explore. However
it’s so awful. It’s so undesirable, you can’t write too much about it,
People don’t believe how much trafficking is going on. And I’ve thought about many
times taking that issue and wrapping a novel around it which is what I do with
the better books I write. But I’ve always backed away because it’s
such an unpleasant topic. And so I’m still thinking about it but great question.>>Well we mentioned how Theo spends a lot of time in the courthouse .Well have you ever been to court? For many
middle-school students the answer is yes because of field trips. And we’re not
talking about an increase in juvenile delinquency but the opportunity, as I
said, that they get to see firsthand what happens in a court of law, behind the bar.
Let’s take a look. [music] I’m here outside the historic Fairfax
County Courthouse. Built in 1800 this is a good place to explain the roles people
play as officers of the court. There are a lot of players so with a little help from
my MTA friends we’ll show you who’s who and what’s what. Let’s go inside.
>>I just want to tell you this is how I imagined a small-town courtroom. There are two
floors with a special room for the jury upstairs and no technology. My favorite
part is this railing. The expression “passing the bar” comes from a railing
just like this. Its purpose was to physically separate the public from the
officers of the court like that guy over there.>>This is where the bailiff stands.
The bailiff calls the court to order.>>All rise. Court is now in session.
The honorable judge Noonan is presiding. The bench is where the judge sits. And
even though it’s called a bench, it’s more of a big chair and large desk combo
that faces the entire courtroom. After the judge is seated everyone is allowed
to sit down. The judge announces the beginning of the trial and directs the
clerk to bring in the jury. That is if there is a jury not all cases
require a jury’s decision.>>The clerk of court performs a variety of duties. This person is seated near the judge and is responsible for swearing in the jury and
filing papers sort of like an on-site office manager.>>Also seated near the judge
is the court reporter also known as a stenographer. This is the person who
records everything that is said word for word in the legal proceeding. This
becomes the transcript.>>During a criminal trial the prosecuting attorney sits here but stands to deliver an opening statement to the jury. This statement
outlines the facts of the case and anticipated proof. This happens at the
start of the trial before any evidence has been presented.>>This desk is where you’ll
find the defense attorney. This individual appears on behalf of the
defendant who is the person accused of the crime. The defense attorney also stands to deliver an opening statement which
outlines reasons the defendant is not guilty.>>And in these benches, this is
where the jury sits. The jury is a group of people selected to hear the evidence
in the trial and issue a verdict based on the facts.>>After the opening statements
the prosecuting attorney begins to call witnesses to the stand.
Traditionally witnesses were required to actually stand but nowadays they just
sit in a designated area which is located right next to the judges bench.
the clerks swears them in.>>When the prosecutor finishes questioning the
witness the defense attorney may then cross examined the witness to test the
credibility of his or her statements.>>The defense attorney then follows the same pattern calling witnesses, listening to the cross-examination and asking questions.>>After all the evidence has been presented both the defense and prosecuting attorneys deliver their closing arguments. The clerk announces
>>The court will now charge the jury.>>And the judge instructs the jury on the law they must apply in the case. The jurors then go to the jury room to deliberate.
>>The jury chooses a leader. They discussed the trial and try to reach a verdict.
According to Virginia state law a jury ruling must be unanimous. When a verdict
is reached the jury presents it to the clerk who then hands it to the judge. The
judge silently reads the verdict and hands it back to the clerk to read aloud.>>The court is now adjourned
>>The players of a court of law ensure that justice and due process is fair and square. No one should have an advantage. This is
one of the many lessons learned here at the historic Fairfax County Courthouse.
Now back to the studio and our special guest John Grisham. [music]>>Before we go to another phone call, they were in a historic courthouse. How does that
compare to a modern day courthouse?>>Courtrooms are fascinating, no two are
the same. I love the old ones. That’s my home courtroom. When I was a young
lawyer was a historic courtroom. Now with technology that are they’re very very
different. And some have you know modern furniture and you know there’re computer
screens everywhere. It’s different now. I like the old days better.>>Okay we have another phone. Caller go ahead. What’s your question for John Grisham.>>Hi my name is Michaela Moore and I attend the Catholic School in Delaware. I
was wondering what author inspired you the most?>>When you started writing, were there any authors that really got your juices flowing?>>You know as a kid as, a real small kid, I remember vividly
reading Dr. Seuss. My mother made us read or taught us to read it young.
When I was probably 10 or 11 years old I discovered the Chip Hilton sports book series by Clair Bee. It’s about 20 books, all about sports and I love sports. When I
was 12 or 13 I read Tom Sawyer and fell in love with Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn,
and I still read a lot of Mark Twain. No one really inspired me to write. I was
inspired by something that I saw in a courtroom. And I do have heroes,
certain writers that I thoroughly enjoy. It’s, it’s, it’s, kind of tricky though
when you have a favorite writer. When I’m actually writing I try not to read great
books because you catch yourself sort of instinctively doing things or copying
that you, things you wouldn’t normally do. You try to, It’s almost unconsciously
imitate the style of a great writer. And so I had to stay away
from a lot of books when I’m actually writing. I love mysteries, crime fiction,
all kinds of stuff.>>Okay we’ve got another email. This one from Oak Ridge Middle School Naples Florida. They want to know what kind of process do you use
to create your characters?>>Well with Theo the characters are pretty much in place, book after book. Obviously you’ve got the main characters. You have to, you have to
add the new characters to fill out the plot. It’s just a process of thinking,
okay I mean, I’m writing the Theo number six, as I call it right now because I
don’t have a title to go with Theodore Boone. And I’m working on it every day
now. I’m probably 20% done with it. So it’s a it’s an ongoing process every day.
I just drove here to the studio from two hours away. In the hotel I’m thinking
about okay when I work tomorrow I’m at this point in the plot, what’s this
character gonna do. So it’s just something I’m always thinking about when
I’m writing. It’s just a, you know I have a hyperactive imagination. I was blessed
with that when, I didn’t realize it until I was 30 years old. And once I get story going and get the characters going, I pretty much get
consumed with that idea.>>I think we have another phone call.
Go ahead what’s your question for John Grisham?>>Hello Sarah are you there? What’s
your question for John Grisham? if you can say that again Sarah?
>>We would love to know what Mr. Grisham favorite novel is?>>Do you have a favorite?
>>A favorite of my books or a favorite of the, all books?>>Give us both.
>>Okay well I can’t write, I don’t go back and read my books. Well when I’m done with them I’m
done with them. I’ve never been able to go back and read a Theo book.
>>Is there any you’ve enjoyed the process more than another?>>No they’re all pretty much
the same as far as … some of the research is fascinating because I go to a lot of
prisons. I’ve been to death row in a number of states. I’ve traveled abroad a
lot to research and that’s all fun. S,o but the process is, you know, at times
interesting but it’s all basically the same. My favorite book of all time? When I
was 17 I had a real good high school English teacher. And she, she made us read
good books and when I read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck I thought that
was pretty great and I’ve read it ,you know, many times since then. And it’s
probably still my favorite book.>>Very good. Well the character of Theodore Boone might be a literary cousin of the Hardy
Boys, Nancy Drew, and Alex Rider all characters found in mysteries. Now let’s
find out the common elements of a good whodunit.>>Students learn the ingredients
of many things. In chemistry I think of atoms. In music, notes of duration and
pitch of sound. I had some students to share their ingredients for a good
mystery. And here’s what they said. A mystery includes the scene of the crime
like Mr. Duffy’s house on the golf course.>>A mystery includes suspects.>>In a mystery there are red herrings
and those are face clues.>>In a mystery secrets are revealed.>>In a mystery you find clues in the strangest places.>>A mystery includes people who can’t be trusted.>>In a mystery plotline something’s always stolen.>>A mystery includes an
investigator like Theodore Boone.>>What’s in a mystery? All the ingredients in a good book. Now let’s
return to the studio. [music]>>But before we take another phone call so what do you think
all mystery, a good mystery should include?>>Well you gotta have some fake
clues. I mean I read them all the time. And my wife reads a lot of them. And she
claims she could have it figured out by, you know, by the time she gets halfway
through with the book. I don’t believe it. [laughter]
We have these discussions about,
because I’ll stop her sometimes okay how’s it going to end? well that’s ??? Yeah you gotta, you gotta have some good fake clues that are believable. A lot of times you’ll read a mystery and the red
herring is obvious, it’s just too obvious. You say, you know it’s not gonna go that
way. And you know the writer’s going to try to throw you off a few times. So you
know you’re always trying to think one step ahead of the writer. And I love, I
love the book where you just get everything wrong. And if there’s a great
conclusion and you say I didn’t see that coming you know. And that’s what I’m,
that’s what I enjoy.>>And as an author is that one of your goals to try to have it
end in a way that nobody saw coming?>>Well I get irritated when reviewers say
something like, well you know this book is a, is a formula and when we knew by, I
knew by page 10 what was gonna happen. That’s not, that’s not true because I
don’t know what’s going to happen all the time. I don’t write some, a lot of
mysteries. I write a lot of suspense. My books are not classic whodunits you know,
who’s the suspect in the book; where’re the false clues; and what’s going to happen. I
do love the, and I work hard at coming up with the unpredictable ending that just
blows the reader away. You know when I write a adult fiction, in Theo too, I want, I
want the reader hooked in certainly by the first chapter. Often by the first
page or two you know something’s gonna get you really quick. And then it leads up to a
conclusion that you don’t see coming okay? The hard part is maintaining the
tension for 400 pages you know. That’s, that’s the real, that’s where you really
earn your money and you really have to plan the story. And I tell students this
all the time, I don’t care what you’re writing. I don’t care if it’s a paper or research
or short short. You know, you’ve got to stop before you start and think okay
what’s the beginning, what’s the end and what’s the middle. You gotta think through
the whole story you know. I know a lot of writers who just start writing because
they feel creatively, you know ,ready to go. Well a lot of them are fired up for
about 50 pages and they they get lost, get lost in the story. There’s too much
work to waste so much time. So I really stressed to students do the
outlining which is not any fun because you want to get busy with the story. That’s crucial. I taught my kids this. I told my kids, they
never listen to me. The second most important part is to revise and edit
when you get finished. Never turn in a first draft, never turn in a second draft.
Go through it and go through it and go through it, you know, several times. And I have to
do that. I have to go through the manuscripts, 500 pages of manuscripts you know, five or six times after I’m finished. So it’s just part of the process.>>I think we’ve got time for one more phone call go ahead caller. Savanah you’re on the line. Go ahead for
Mr. Grisham.>>I was wondering how long it took you to write a novel.>>You know what a great question. It takes me about six months, usually from January the first to July the first to write a an adult novel. And that’s gonna be, you know, four or
five hundred pages long sometimes six hundred. And for Theo books, as I call them, I usually start around the first of September with the goal of finishing by Christmas, so three
or four months.>>Four months, that’s a good time frame. We got just enough time to
answer the question we posed to you earlier in the show. Nam go ahead and
give us the question and the answer.>>True or false: juveniles have a right to a
trial jury. The answer is false. Judges decide cases involving children.
However there are times when a teenager can be considered an adult under the law.
That means a jury can be called. In these cases the alleged crime is very serious
and so is the punishment.>>Obviously Theo Boone would have known the answer to that question.>>Oh sure, Theo knows everything.>>Just a little bit of time left before we go. Any advice to our wannabe authors out there? Very quickly.>>I have yet to meet a writer who was not a big reader. You got to read,
read. And reading because it makes you a better writer. It also makes you a lot
smarter. The more you read the smarter you are. And so read all types
of books but just read.>>Great advice. Thanks for being here today.
>>My pleasure. A lot of fun.>>Great to have you.
I’m Matt Fetters for the Fairfax Network. Remember keep reading, keep writing
and keep dreaming. [music]