Author Returns to Thank Independent Bookstores and Sign Books

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A brilliant young lawyer practices in a small town in the Deep South; respected and beloved, he's elected to the state legislature. He continues practicing law while serving in the House of Representatives for years until a case about rape and revenge changes his life forever.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? No ... John Grisham himself in 1988 when he completed his first novel, A Time To Kill.

A Time to Kill, based on the conversation of a rape victim Grisham overheard in the courthouse, was published in 1989. It had been rejected by a number of publishers before small Wynwood Press took a chance and gave it a modest 5,000-copy printing. Grisham promoted the book himself, toting copies in the back of his car. In 1999, he told BTW that he was "looking for friends and for help, and some bookstores were happy to help … they not only opened their doors to me, but enthusiastically supported me and A Time to Kill."

Grisham hasn't forgotten, and, now, with well over 60 million books in print, he still travels to six independent bookstores in gratitude to those who supported him. Beginning in his adopted hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, and New Dominion Bookshop, he travels to That Bookstore in Blytheville, Blytheville, Arkansas; Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi; Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi; Reed's Gum Tree Books in Tupelo, Mississippi; and Burke's Book Store in Memphis, Tennessee.

Grisham's newest book, The Summons (Doubleday), marks his return to legal fiction and to a story set in Clanton, Mississippi, as was A Time to Kill. Grisham book signings are a rarity and his appearances at these stores are major events. At Reed's Gum Tree Books, which claims the record for Grisham's first signing (45 books), fans start lining up "between three and four in the afternoon the day before," said Camille Sloan, the store's buyer.

On February 18, that hard core of about 25 will be joined in line by another 175 who will be able to meet and greet Grisham starting at 1:00 p.m. and have up to two books personalized. After he signs those 400, he will stay a few more hours in a back room, signing the rest of the store's 3,000 copies. Sloan says that over 1,000 reserve copies had been pre-sold by February 5, the book's laydown date.

Right now, the hottest ticket in Arkansas might be for the February 11 Grisham signing at That Bookstore in Blytheville, said owner Mary Gay Shipley. She and her colleagues were inundated with phone calls, faxes, and e-mails from customers -- near and far -- hoping to secure a ticket for the event. Blocks of tickets were made available over a three-day period, and to ensure fairness, no inquiries were accepted before 10:00 a.m. "We tell everyone we use 'NPR Time' -- when NPR says it's ten o'clock, we start," said Shipley.

At New Dominion, owner Carol Troxell told BTW, people begin lining up at about 9:00 a.m., and the first 200 are given line numbers. They return at 1:00 p.m., and Grisham signs for the rest of the day. Troxell said that Grisham is "very friendly and a lot of fun. He talks to everybody and signs whatever they want in the book. John sets the tone for the day."

-- Nomi Schwartz