Some things John Grisham knows: He got 15 rejections before his first book, "A Time to Kill," was published. He made $9 million last year. He's not James Joyce or William Faulkner. He's an entertainer.
"I'm not sure where that line goes between literature and popular fiction," the mega-selling author says. "I can assure you I don't take myself serious enough to think I'm writing literary fiction and stuff that's going to be remembered in 50 years. I'm not going to be here in 50 years; I don't care if I'm remembered or not. It's pure entertainment."
Grisham is happy to write what he hopes is "a high-quality popular fiction." But that matters not to fans, who gobble every word.
Sometimes he wraps a serious issue around a plot -- the death penalty in "The Chamber," insurance reform in "The Rainmaker," homelessness in "The Street Lawyer." Now the self-styled political junkie and former Mississippi state legislator has written a book that's more political intrigue than legal thriller.
"The Appeal" (his 21st book) tells the story of a huge chemical company that loses a $41 million lawsuit for causing cancer deaths and then essentially tries to buy an election for the state Supreme Court -- where, yes, the appeal will be heard.
"I guess every year now is a political year. ... And it just felt like it was time to write this story," Grisham's says, alluding to how the run for the White House has become a marathon of sorts.
Grisham, who turns 53 on Feb. 8 and still has the lanky look of an athlete who once chased a baseball career, is a big supporter of Hillary Clinton and says the Democrats have been outmaneuvered by the Republicans.
"I think what the Republicans have done in past elections is brilliant. Because, they've convinced a lot of people to vote for them against their own economic self-interest, and they've done that by skillfully manipulating a handful of social issues, primarily abortion and gay rights and sometimes gun control," he says. "And the Republicans have used those to scare a lot of people into voting for Republican candidates. It's skillful manipulation."
Grisham is so addicted to following the presidential race that he jokes he might need rehab.
"My wife and I went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago, and we actually called somebody to find out if they had any results from the Nevada caucuses," he says, chortling almost sheepishly. "And I said this ought to tell us something: 'You know, we're in this thing way too deep.'"
Still, he's able to pull himself away from primaries and polls to indulge fans and tour his new book, already at the top of some best-seller lists.
Grisham's books have sold 235 million copies worldwide, according to publisher Doubleday. Some, of course, have been adapted into blockbuster movies, starring such heavyweights as Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Cruise and Matt Damon.
Reviews of "The Appeal" have been generally positive, though some can be reduced to previous assessments of Grisham: fine storyteller but not a particularly good writer.
"When I start getting good reviews, I worry about sales," jokes Grisham, who says he's learned to ignore reviews.
"It's a better day if I don't read any reviews," he says. "It's the only form of entertainment where you're reviewed by other writers. You don't see rock stars reviewing each other's albums and you don't see directors reviewing each other's movies."
An enduring influence on Grisham's work is John le Carre, author of such celebrated thrillers as "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "A Small Town in Germany."
"He's still my hero," Grisham says.
But he doesn't read a lot when he's writing. "We all want to read good books, and so you read a good book by a really good writer and I catch myself inadvertently imitating him or her. And so you think, `Well, I wouldn't use that word, I wouldn't do that sentence that way.' I read a lot when I'm not writing."
He started this year with the goal of reading everything by John Steinbeck ("The Grapes of Wrath," "Cannery Row," "The Pearl"), who was one of Grisham's favorite authors growing up. And he just finished a "Mark Twain binge."
"I keep up with the other lawyers (who write) -- Scott Turow. I read all Scott's stuff. And I think Scott is really underestimated as a writer. He's really, really good," Grisham says.
Turow recently told The Associated Press that the feelings were mutual: "I am an enormous admirer of John Grisham at every level -- as a person, as a citizen of both the literary and legal worlds and, most relevantly, as a writer. John is one of the pre-eminent storytellers of our time, and the grace and seamlessness with which his stories come together to grip us all is a wonder."
Among other writers Grisham likes: David Baldacci, Steve Martini, Pat Conroy and Stephen King.
"I'll start two, three books a week, rarely finish one. But I'm always looking," Grisham says. "Love to buy books. Love to stack 'em up in the house. We've got a million books in the house."
When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had "these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important."
"The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I'd jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week."
His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed. In the Mississippi Legislature, there were "enormous amounts of wasted time" that would give him the opportunity to write.
"So I was very disciplined about it," he says, then quickly concedes he doesn't have such discipline now: "I don't have to."