PASADENA, Calif. -- Perched atop the publishing world, author John Grisham is refreshingly candid about the relative worth -- both literary and economic -- of his novels, and perfectly willing to offer an assessment as to why "The Client" is his only book to make it to the small screen.
"Most of my books sort of end with people on the run," Grisham said at the Summer Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. "You know, with bullets and dead bodies and that kind of stuff. This is the only one that would lend itself to an ongoing series with people who are in one place, and who are not running."
OK, that's simple enough. Then comes the real reason the novel "The Client" has become the TV series "John Grisham's The Client":
"The TV rights to 'The Client' were included in the movie deal, which happened three years ago," the author explained. "And ... these movie contracts are eight inches thick, and buried somewhere in the contract was the TV rights -- and a lot of other rights -- that I signed away when I signed the contract and took the money."
But now that the series is a reality, Grisham is on board as a "consultant," mainly to offer suggestions for stories; he's not planning on writing any episodes.
"I really don't have time to write them," he said, "and I really don't have the desire to do the writing."
Grisham, of course, is a current member of an exclusive club of 500-pound gorillas who write popular fiction. His legal thrillers ("The Firm," "The Client," "The Pelican Brief," "The Rainmaker," "A Time to Kill" and "The Chamber") all have been enormous best sellers, much like the horror/suspense novels of Stephen King and the political/military thrillers of Tom Clancy. His job at present, he said, and his contractual obligation, is to write one novel per year for the next two or three years.
"That takes a lot of time, and it takes most of my energies."
Before putting pen to paper, Grisham was a Mississippi attorney. And the protagonist of "John Grisham's The Client," Reggie Love (played in the series by JoBeth Williams), is a Southern lawyer, too, albeit a female with a checkered past.
"A lot of the things that Reggie did in the movie, and a lot of the things about her law practice were very similar to what I did for 10 years," Grisham said.
That being the case, when the author got a first glance at the script for the series pilot episode, he sent plenty of notes and recommendations for changes -- and some praise -- back to Hollywood. When he finally saw the finished pilot, he said, "a lot of the things I suggested ... had been listened to. And some of the ideas I had, which were probably not that good to begin with, were ignored. And that's what I sort of expect."
It turns out Grisham's been getting an earful of counsel from another author who's had about as much experience with Hollywood as anyone.
"Stephen King is a friend of mine," Grisham said. "And we talk about books and movies all the time. And he gave me some very good advice a couple of years back: He said when you deal with Hollywood, you get all the money you can up front. You kiss (the book) goodbye, and you expect it to be something different.
"And if you don't like that, then don't do it; don't deal with Hollywood. Nobody makes us sell our books for film. And that really is my attitude when I sell a property now."
And Grisham has no illusions about the status of his work in the pantheon of Southern authors. "I am not a Southern writer," he said. "I'm a writer of popular fiction who happens to live in the South. And that's unusual, because Southern writers, or writers from the South, typically explore geography and history and the tortured history of, you know, stuff I get tired of.
"But for that reason they're much more serious writers, much more serious artists. And they all win more Nobels and Pulitzers than I'll ever win.
"But to be a writer, especially from Mississippi -- a state that's produced a lot of writers -- and to care nothing but to write hopefully a high quality of popular fiction is indeed unusual. But it fits. It's time somebody did it."
Indeed, Grisham views the writing as employment, not a calling or mission, and says he can see the day coming when he'll stop writing novels altogether.
"When I reach the point to where I'm cranking out the books simply because they will sell because of my name, I hope I have the sense to quit," he said. "And I think one of these days I'll quit. I don't know when; maybe two books from now, or five books from now.
"But when I start to decline, and when the books aren't what I want them to be, then I'll stop it and go do something else."