The author talks about the price of fame, bad reviews, Hollywood — and O.J.

By Mark Harris
Updated May 05, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

John Grisham’s The Rainmaker isn’t an autobiography, but the title — jargon for an attorney able to generate gigantic cash windfalls — couldn’t be more applicable to its creator. Immediately upon publication, Grisham’s sixth novel, a darkly funny story about an impoverished young lawyer doing battle with a corrupt insurance company, shot to No. 1 on hardcover best-seller lists, and his 1994 death-penalty novel, The Chamber, has topped paperback lists since March. Grisham’s Midas touch extends to Hollywood as well; movies made from his previous novels The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client have been major successes, and the coming year will bring films of both his 1989 courtroom saga, A Time to Kill (which The Client‘s Joel Schumacher will direct), and The Chamber. In addition, CBS has just finished filming the pilot for a series version of The Client with JoBeth Williams. Although The Rainmaker has not yet been sold to Hollywood, it should break the record the author set with the $6 million-plus sale of A Time to Kill. On a recent trip to New York from his home in Oxford, Miss., Grisham spoke about his critics, his movies … and a certain other trial.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re getting great reviews for The Rainmaker. How sensitive are you to bad ones?

GRISHAM: I was pretty uptight about it at first. The only place where A Time to Kill got reviewed was the Memphis paper — my home paper — and they trashed it. That was a deep wound that has never healed. Then The Firm came out, and most reviews were pretty good. Pelican was painful from coast to coast. I’d read a bad review and want to go out and kill people. The Client was next, and it got trashed — the reviews started talking about the fame and the money. Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides) told me, ”Your life is a whole lot easier if you stop reading reviews.” So I stopped reading almost all of them. If an intelligent reviewer is saying, ”This book stinks,” there are many times where I say, ”Okay, it hurts, but it’s true. Learn from it.” But it got so mean.

EW: Have you gotten a thicker skin?

GRISHAM: I’m learning. Stephen King’s the one guy I’ve met who’s sort of gone through this. We spent a lot of time together in Oxford, and I asked him about critics and negative stories. And he just said, ”It goes with the territory.” Some of the books deserve the bad reviews they get. So if EW says something that’s not too nice one of these days, I’m sure I’ll get over it.

EW: Well, then, let’s give you that chance. Which of your own books would you review most harshly — and which do you like best?

GRISHAM: A Time to Kill is still my favorite. It was written with the benefit of no deadlines — I worked on it for three years. So even though it’s a fast-paced read, it’s more thoughtful and reflective. Two books I’d like to redo, I guess, are Pelican and The Client, because they were written much too fast. The Chamber was my Prince of Tides. I was continually frustrated when I wrote it, because I couldn’t get near what Pat Conroy had done. As time goes by, I think less of all of the books. I’m 39 now. When I’m 50, how am I gonna think about The Firm? I hope I smile.