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Featured Author  

 

 

Grif Stockley:

Arkansas on His Mind

 

by Robert L. Hall
© 2000, All Rights Reserved

Almost 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 :

"I 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."

Laying 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 Testimony 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 í91.

Scribe: How did Expert Testimony change your writing style?

Grif: What I settled on was writing in the first person, present tense.

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.

Itís 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.

Scribe: 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?

 

Scribe: 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.

They 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. 


Grif Stockley's Bibliography

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.

Religious Conviction 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.

"The Divorce" (short story) in Legal Briefs: Stories by Todayís Best Thriller Writers, Dell Publishing Company, 1999. Editor: William Bernhardt. 


Robert 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.