within the shadow of the domed capital building of Little Rock, Arkansas,
I pull my car up to the curb outside the home of Grif Stockley, author of
five Gideon Page novels. We go out to the gazebo in the back yard to talk.
The day is heavenly and under tall, mature trees we begin the interview.
I ask for his biographical data, and he sits patiently as I read :
was born in 1944 and raised in a small town (Marianna) in the Arkansas
Delta about 50 miles west of Memphis. My father had owned two plantations,
one in eastern Arkansas and one in Mississippi. By the time I was about
two he had given up farming and moved to Marianna (my motherís hometown)
to become a small businessman. I have two sisters and am the third of
three children. I went to Southwestern At Memphis, served in the Peace
Corps and U.S. Army, and then went to law school (Fayetteville). Since
1972 I have been employed as an attorney by the Center for Arkansas Legal
Services, a non-profit corporation funded by the federal government to
provide legal services to indigents in civil cases."
the paper aside, I ask my first question of him:
Scribe: Can you tell us the evolution of your main character,
Gideon as he goes through the five books?
Grif: Uh. . .I donít know that I would characterize what
Gideon does as evolving. One of my sisters is a Presbyterian minister and
she is always upset with Gideon because he does not seem to be making any
progress. He starts off in the first book in a mid-life crisis and in the
fifth book heís in another mid-life crisis.
I think it has to do with my own view of fiction. My own feeling is that it is not the job of a writer to have his characters resolve things in a way in which the reader can say the people are better. In some way, maybe it would satisfy my editors, but itís my own sense of what reality is like. We donít necessarily get any better as we go through life. Iím comfortable with that, instead of trying to find the silver lining in existence.
Scribe: Why did you begin writing legal thrillers and what or
who were your influences?
Grif: Thatís easy to answer. Iíve been trying to write for
years. Iíd written five unpublishable novels and didnít get anything
published. Finally I went through a stage of writing plays. One got the
worst review in the history of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I
practically had to whip the actors to go back out on stage. It had three
performances. I quit doing that and went back to trying to write novels.
Then I wrote a book and sent the first chapter to twelve agents. One,
Charlotte Gordon, wrote saying "This is totally unpublishable, but
you may have some talent. Have you written anything else?" In the
meantime Scott Turow had written Presumed
Innocent. I thought that book was a superb book. I thought I could
create a southern book like that. I wrote the first chapter of Expert
and sent it to her. Charlotte took real pains with me working on the
manuscript. I donít think without her it would have been published in
Scribe: How did Expert
Testimony change your
Grif: What I settled on was writing in the first person, present
Scribe: I have got to tell you that when I opened one of your
books and started reading it, the first person narrative really bothered
me, but I became absorbed and kept going.
Grif: Well, thatís nice to hear. Um-hum. Not everybody can
write in the first person. I can feel so much more what Iím trying to
convey. Thatís why I do it. But nobody gave me any problems Ė no
editors or anything. All five of the novels are first person.
Grif: (continuing his train of thought) Iíve got a new
fictional book coming out. Itís a non-Gideon Page lawyer novel, put out
by Rose Publishing, an Arkansas-based company. The content is something
that I have been trying to write about for a while. Itís called Salted With Fire, and is
about the trial of a white professor who is accused of murdering a black
professor who has come out with the first book on slavery in Arkansas
since 1957. The book relies on the ĎSlave Narrativesí gathered by
interviewers during the WPA project era of the 30ís, when they
interviewed former slaves.
going to be real interesting to see what kind of reception it gets!
Scribe: What do you like
to see in a legal thriller and how do you construct an Ďinterestingí
plot for one?
Grif: I donít do outlines and quite honestly I donít read
many legal thrillers. My books donít have a lot of traditional action in
them. Gideon is a lawyer who makes a lot of mistakes in his practice, and
these books are more character-driven than action/plot-driven. Gideon has
a lot of things in common with his creator. My agent used to criticize me
for that, but thatís the way I write and I donít want my characters to
be super heroes.
What are you spending your writing time on now?
Grif: Other than Salted
With Fire? Have you ever heard
of the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919?
I assume itís involved with your non-fiction history writing.
Grif: Yes. Basically itís been characterized in history at
various times as a riot, but the estimates of the number of the number of
blacks killed ranges from 25 to 856. Basically what happened in Phillips
County was that blacks had organized a labor union to deal with the
planters in order to get better settlements on their cotton.
had hired a white lawyer from Little Rock named Ulysses Bratton
to represent them. The
whites said that the blacks were planning an armed insurrection and there
was an incident at a church; a shootout where a white guy was killed.
Incredibly, posses came from many towns nearby and a lot of blacks were
killed. Five whites were killed and the case went to the Supreme Court.
Five years later, none of the blacks were convicted and were set free. I
am writing a novel and a non-fiction book on what happened in Elaine.
Scribe: As always, we ask the featured author what he would like
to say to the striving writer?
Grif: I think that itís important for people who are writing and havenít been published to know that their life wonít start the day they get published. A personís life is meaningful and valuable before you get published and has significance. That has to do with the integrity of our own lives. Your integrity is your integrity - whether you get published or not.
Expert Testimony Ė
Simon & Schuster, 1991 Ė hardback. Ivy Books, 1992 Ė paperback.
Probable Cause Ė
Simon & Schuster, 1992 Ė hardback. Ivy Books, 1993 Ė paperback.
Ė Simon & Schuster Ė 1994 Ė hardback. Ivy Books, 1995 Ė paperback.
Illegal Motion Ė
Simon & Schuster Ė 1995 Ė hardback. Ivy Books, 1997 Ė paperback.
Blind Judgment Ė
Simon & Schuster Ė 1997 Ė hardback. Harpercollins, 1999 Ė paperback.
(short story) in Legal Briefs: Stories by Todayís Best Thriller
Writers, Dell Publishing Company, 1999. Editor: William Bernhardt.
L. Hall, raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN, writes crime
mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in horsemanship. His books
are Mid-South based.
Mr. Hall also is a contributing writer for the on-line journal, When
Falls the Coliseum , a self-described ďJournal of American Culture
(or the lack thereof)Ē at http://www.wfthecoliseum.com
A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three institutions of higher learning.