John Grisham : “I never write the first sentence of a book until I know the last sentence.”

From a Washington Post Book World interview by John Feinstein of author John Grisham:

John Grisham’s new book, “Sooley,” may be his 36th novel — and his 45th book in all — but it’s his first about basketball. The novel, which comes out April 27, tells the story of Sam­uel Sooleymon, a South Sudanese teen who comes to the United States to play college ball and hopes to make it to the NBA so he can help the family he left behind. The book is not a thriller, but it shows Grisham’s passion for a sport he’s loved since his days playing on his high school team in Mississippi.

In a phone interview, Grisham, a season ticket-holder for the Virginia men’s and North Carolina women’s basketball teams, was happy to gush about the Cavaliers’ 2019 national championship but reluctant to talk about the previous year, when the team became the first — and only — No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history. He was, however, happy to discuss other matters: “Sooley,” why he loves basketball but not my alma mater’s team — and more….

Q: When you’re creating a plot, do you start writing and figure out where you’re going as you get deeper into the book? Or do you know your ending right from the start?

A: I never write the first sentence of a book until I know the last sentence. I made the mistake of not doing that with “A Time to Kill,” and I got halfway through and was completely lost. I learned that lesson the hard way. Now, I finish an outline before I start writing, Sometimes, I get halfway through the outline and realize I’m lost and start over. But at least I haven’t written half a book already.

Q: You have been remarkably prolific since “A Time to Kill.” How do you turn out books so quickly?

A: I think I’m very disciplined. I’m up and writing by 7 a.m. five mornings a week. I work four or five hours and write at least 1,000 words most days. I have a process. I start a new legal thriller every year on Jan. 1 with the goal of writing about 100,000 words to produce a first draft by July 1. Sometimes, like with “Sooley,” I work on a different schedule but I’m still writing every morning. Then, in the afternoons, I’m free to relax, maybe play golf.

Q: Do you ever sit back and wonder at your success?

A: All the time. I started writing because I was looking for a way to make some extra money. I was a small-town lawyer in Mississippi not making a lot of money. But I never thought for a second that “The Firm” would have the success it had or become the huge moneymaking movie that it became. I’ve often said I haven’t worked a real 40-hour workweek in more than 30 years. I love working on the books I write. It’s never felt like a job.

John Feinstein is a Post contributor who also writes for Golf Digest, Golf World and does TV color on college basketball games. His 44th book, “Mixed Doubles,” a kids mystery, is due out this summer.

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