Author John Grisham details his North Carolina ties, how they work into his writing

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Author John Grisham is still going strong with 43 books and 300 million copies sold. His latest novel, Camino Winds, is a classic whodunit that now sits at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Combined Print and E-book Fiction.

“We always love a good mystery. Who did it, how are you going to figure it out? Are they going to catch the bad guys? And here we go,” Grisham said.

The “here we go” includes a cast of characters Grisham likens to overgrown Hardy Boys. The writer brings back characters, including Bruce Cable, from the first book in the series — Camino Island.

In Camino Winds, the “wind” of Hurricane Leo becomes a central figure.

“The authorities are so distracted with a major problem and there are dead people everywhere, killed by the hurricane. And the floods, and the power’s out. Electricity is out. There’s no food or water,” Grisham said.

“It’s a major crisis, and that’s a good time to kill somebody. You kind of want to capture that aspect of the day or two or three after the hurricane hits and how unsettled things are. Where are you going to find the next meal? So, it’s some of that we sort of lived through with Katrina that I was able to put it into this book.”

Camino Island and Camino Winds — both set in Florida — feature a character, Mercer Mann, who is a former lecturer at the University of North Carolina. There are references to restaurants in Chapel Hill and the Outer Banks. Nick Sutton, a college crime sleuth, attends Wake Forest University.

“We have a house in Chapel Hill. We’re down there all the time. I’ve got a family full of Tar Heels. My wife is a Tar Heel, my daughter is a Tar Heel, my daughter married a Tar Heel,” Grisham said. “They’ve had two Tar Heel babies.”

Grisham’s wife, Renee, was born in Raleigh. They recently contributed to the Carolina Student Impact Fund, which helps meet the needs of UNC students adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The fund helps in a range of ways like helping students who may have lost jobs or needs supplies.

“We have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams in the last 30 years. Thirty years ago, I was a small-town lawyer in Mississippi and really struggling to get ahead. I was 35 years old and not sure I was going to make it or make much of a success,” Grisham said.

“Suddenly, overnight, things changed dramatically for us. The books started getting published. Then the movies came out. We just again feel very fortunate to be where we are. My wife and daughter and son-in-law love UNC. That’s their great love. They volunteer there. They work in various groups around campus. My wife’s on several boards at UNC. It’s we just enjoy, you know, giving back.”

Grisham’s southern roots are apparent to his fans. He pulls from those experiences when writing.

“I think you find exotic and eccentric people everywhere. I’ve never really lived outside of the south, and there are plenty of them,” Grisham said. “It’s a whole lot of fun. I’ve done it for over 40 books now. Collect the characters, and most of them are based on real people in someway, or collages of people or mixes of people. It’s the harshness of life back then. It’s the history, you know? It’s a hard history (with) a lot of suffering. Anytime you have a lot of suffering and injustice in a certain area, you can have great fiction because the stories are just irresistible.”

For fans of “A Time to Kill,” Grisham promised the next entry to the series is coming in the fall.

“Well, since I can’t travel and I can’t go anywhere, I’ve been hard at work on a sequel to ‘A Time to Kill,’ and there was ‘Sycamore Row’ set in Ford County Mississippi — my fictional literary home where I went back to,” Grisham said.

“This book is called ‘A Time for Mercy,’ and it’s another trial of the same characters in the small town in Mississippi and all those good colorful characters we love to read about. And I’ll be finished with that in about a month. It will come out in October. So, I can’t do anything but write. It’s a very thick book — probably too thick. I need to cut it down. These days, people are reading more. Book sales — even with most book stores closed — book sales are hanging in there because people are reading more, and that’s always good.

Grisham believes his brand of writing is helpful for people looking for an escape from the ongoing pandemic.

“We all love escapist fiction, mystery, suspense, or whatever. We all love to get a good book and just go hide — especially when times are pretty rough and frightening. It’s a great way to get away and just leave and go to another world,” he said.

That other world, Grisham hopes, will include a seat in the middle of a hurricane bearing down on Camino Island.

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