TODAY | October 23, 2012
>>> john grisham made his first appearance on the "today" show back in 1919 for his second novel "the firm." 21 years later he's become one of the most successful authors of his generation. now his 30th back, an action-packed thriller called "the racketier." welcome back.
>> looked so young. 21 years ago.
>> everyone looked young back then. 30th book, and this is the first time that your main character in a book is an african-american, so i say congratulations, or what took you so long?
>> what took so long, i guess.
>> how was it writing this?
>> i didn't think of him as being black or white . he's a character, a lawyer in trouble, a lawyer in prison. it was a little bit of a challenge, you know, because it was a lot different, but once i got into the story and the plot it was a pretty easy story to tell.
>> when we first meet malcolm bannister he's in prison.
>> right, right.
>> serving a ten-year term, white collar crime . throughout the entire thing he said i shouldn't be here. don't belong here. this is a theme you like to dig your teeth into, the guys who either shouldn't be in prison for legal reasons or the priorities being screwed up in our legal system .
>> well, we have far too many people in prison, non-violent people who shouldn't be there. we have the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world. no one else is even close, and it costs 40,000 a year to incars rate an inmate, and 8,000 bucks a year to educate a kid. we've lost all sense of perspective when it comes to incarceration. i'm not talking about violent criminals. they belong and get what they deserve, but we have a lot of non-violent people in prison that shouldn't be there.
>> this story snowballs and really starts to gain momentum when a federal judge is killed.
>> here's your main character malcolm, and he uses something called rule 35 that a lot of people haven't heard of. tell me about rule 35.
>> every federal inmate knows about rule 35. if you are in prison and can help the authorities solve a crime that they really want to solve, you know something from the outside, can you basically cut a deal.
>> it's a get out of free card .
>> get out of jail free. you may have to go back and testify against this person, drug cases, mob cases, stuff like that, but if you can solve a high-profile crime from inside a prison you can get out.
>> to get to know white collar crime a little better, you studied it, as you do for all your books . you went to prison and actually interviewed some lawyers who were serving time. what was the experience like? what did you learn from those conversations in.
>> well, i've done that with several books . this time i real he to go back and do the research and talk to some guys in prison. well, first of all, just the nature of prison, daily life, how you survive, how you, you know, you take a very powerful rich lawyer and you put him in prison for six, seven years, whatever. that's -- that's some pretty rich material. you talk to the guy about what it's like to lose everything and be incarcerated, you know, you're ostracized and lose your license to practice law .
>> no control over your own destiny myomore.
>> very little, and these guys are broken men, obviously. they are in prison. it's fascinating research.
>> 30 books . how do you keep reinventing the wheel or do you even try?
>> read the headlines. it's given to me every day. i mean, we -- we have so many great cases in this country. we have such a fascination with the law, lawsuits, trials, there's always another story.
>> you're as big a consumer as you are an author?
>> sure. i'm always looking.
>> let me do this. when you come on the website lights up, people always have questions for you, and some of these you've heard and have probably answered before. let me get into a couple. this is from roamsy in salem, oregon. i'm sure you get this a lot. do you ever plan to write any sequels to your books ?
>> i've never planned on it until now, and i'm giving serious thought to writing a sequel to "a time to kill ."
>> why now?
>> well, because it lends itself to a sequel. can you go back and visit jake, our hero in "a time to kill " and tell all the stories from small time mississippi. that was the life i lived for ten years, and i'm very familiar with it. over the years i've been waiting for the great story, some other trial jake could have, a couple years after the trial in "a time to kill ."
>> have you come across it in.
>> finally got the story.
>> by the way the rumor is that story is also coming to broadway, true or false?
>> it's true.
>> when is that happening?
>> casting "a time to kill " now and plan to open on broadway, plan to, in 2013 .
>> all right. this one is another one. this is from andover, massachusetts, gary says out of all of your books which one is your personal favorite, and what's your all-time favorite book by a different author?
>> i'm partial to my first book, " time to kill " because it -- it's very personal. it's become the most popular of all books . books by other people, i don't know. there's so many i like. i go back to the "grapes of wrath" by john steinbeck is a book i still read periodically. read it in high school . i'm not saying it inspired me to write, but i remember thinking i sure wish i could write as clearly as john steinbeck . i love the story.
>> well, you've put out some amazing material. 30 books . this one is called "the racketier."
>> stephen king has written 48. trying to catch him.
>> don't be jealous.
>> so far ahead of me.
>> you're doing well.
>> my pleasure.
>> and the book again is "the racketeer." out today.