WASHINGTON • John Grisham may be the master of the legal thriller, but he also has solid comic timing - as evidenced during a question-and-answer session last Wednesday at Politics And Prose, where he stopped by on his first book tour in more than two decades.
The bookstore's co-owner, Mr Bradley Graham, reeled off the best-selling author's accomplishments: "The Firm, which ended up on the New York Times bestseller list for 44 weeks..."
"45," Grisham interrupted with a deadpan expression.
The several hundred in the sold- out crowd - many of whom had waited an hour in line for Grisham to sign copies of his newest mystery, Camino Island - burst into laughter. "I stand corrected, your honour," Mr Graham joked. "Do you want to proofread the rest of this?"
"You're doing great," Grisham assured him.
Even after three dozen novels and 300 million copies sold worldwide, Grisham is self-aware enough to get away with a joke about his ubiquity - as well as bring up part of his career that has slowed down. Specifically: Hollywood stopped turning his books into movies.
"It has been 15 years since there was an adaptation," he said. "And they're all for sale."
I’ve been very lucky dealing with Hollywood. I’ve had good success, I’ve enjoyed watching almost all the movies – almost all of them... As writers, we would love to see all of our books be adapted into a good movie. Because we all love good movies.
AUTHOR JOHN GRISHAM
A check on the IMDB website shows the last Grisham book made into a movie was Runaway Jury in 2003, which starred John Cusack and Dustin Hoffman.
Technically, 2004's Christmas With The Kranks was based on his short novel Skipping Christmas, but one assumes Grisham is talking about his legal thrillers.
He added that he has four projects under contract (including The Partner, which was once linked to actor Mark Wahlberg, and The Litigators) that have been in production for years, which, as he says, means nothing is happening. He would be shocked if anything is filmed by next year.
There is also a serious contract for The Rainmaker to be turned into a TV series, he said, although there is no concrete news. And the stories from three years ago that actor Zac Efron would produce and star in an adaptation of The Associate? No update on that front, either.
So, what is the deal? Grisham did not offer any guesses, other than that in recent years, it is nearly impossible to produce any film that is not a superhero franchise.
"Hollywood has changed so much in the last 20 years that it's just very difficult," he said. "It's hard to get a movie made."
"You got to write a comic book," said journalist and author David Grann, also onstage for the Q&A, which was recorded for an episode of Grisham's new podcast.
Grisham agreed that studios "would rather spend the big money on Superman or Spider-Man 5 or whatever".
"As we know, there are so few good adult dramas being made, you can't find one," he said.
He acknowledged that it is especially confusing considering how well the adaptations of his novels did at the box office. "Given the success that the early ones had, it's hard to believe that they don't get that model. I can't control it."
Indeed, his first movies were big hits: The Firm (1993), starring Tom Cruise, earned US$158 million; The Pelican Brief (1998), starring Julia Roberts, earned US$101 million; and A Time To Kill (1996), starring Matthew McConaughey, earned US$109 million.
They slowed down after that: The Chamber (1996) earned US$16 million; The Rainmaker (1997) earned US$46 million; and Runaway Jury raked in about US$49 million. So, although maybe studios sensed a pattern, it is still surprising they would not give it another shot to recapture the glory days of the earlier films.
And if you are surprised that Grisham cares about things like this, he still sounds excited when he talks about the thrill of seeing The Firm on the big screen for the first time.
"I've been very lucky dealing with Hollywood. I've had good success, I've enjoyed watching almost all the movies - almost all of them," he said, adding: "As writers, we would love to see all of our books be adapted into a good movie. Because we all love good movies."