Journalism strategies in a hostile marketplace (2001)

Soon after John Grisham finished law school in 1981, he started hanging out at the DeSoto County Courthouse on the town square in Hernando, Miss. He had tried writing a book or two at the University of Mississippi, but nothing came of it. Then one day he overheard the horrifying courtroom testimony of a 12-year-old girl who had been raped. What would happen, he asked himself, if the girl's father became so outraged that he killed the rapist?

Grisham couldn't get this story out of his head. Soon he was getting up at 5 a.m. with a notepad, writing chapter after chapter of his first courtroom drama. It took three years to finish the manuscript, and another year of rejections by dozens of companies, before Wynwood Press published 5,000 copies in 1988.

But there was more to this process than telling a story that was in his head and heart.

"While I was writing 'A Time to Kill,' I read everything that was on the New York Times list," said Grisham, at a Baylor University conference called "Art & Soul" in March, 2000. "Most of it, I said to myself, 'I can do better than this.' A lot of it, I said, 'I'll never be that good.' "

Grisham realized that he was not writing the first legal thriller. So he read the competition and he learned the rules -- the writing style of the marketplace in which he would have to compete. He created a likable hero and then he ensnared him in a dangerous conspiracy. Then he carefully plotted a way to get him out of that mess, with as many entertaining twists and turns along the way as possible to create tension.

"I didn't invent that," said Grisham.

Stephen Carter 2.0 — "God’s Name in Vain" (2001)

A Yale law professor -- and evangelical -- warns about the costs of political involvement. 
God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics Stephen L. Carter Basic, 288 pages, $26

Reviewed by Terry Mattingly

During the 1992 Republican Convention, Vice President Dan Quayle shouted this question to a room full of delegates: "Who do we trust?"

The assembly yelled, "Jesus!"

Quayle had expected to hear, "George Bush!"

This anecdote appears early in God's Name in Vain by Yale law professor Stephen Carter. The question, of course, is whether this is a parable about Christians (a) selling their souls for a place at a worldly table or (b) bluntly confessing that eternal authority is more important than a political endorsement. The answer seems to be--both.

In this sequel to his breakthrough book, The Culture of Disbelief, Carter argues that believers--even fundamentalists and evangelicals--have every right to raise their voices early and often in the public square. He warns, however, that they will pay a high price for their covenants with political principalities and powers.

So, yes, the religious right has softened its rhetoric on moral and social issues in order to dance with the Libertarians in the gop tent.

But what goes around comes around, notes Carter, who openly identifies himself as an evangelical believer in this book. Leaders on the religious left have also walked this tricky path. Long ago, the clergy who led the civil rights movement surrendered many of their most prophetic goals when they married the Democratic Party. How long has it been since anyone heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson preach a prolife sermon?

This would not have surprised C. S. Lewis, whose brief essay "Meditation on the Third Commandment" provides one of the central themes of this book. In it, Lewis argued against founding a "Christian" political party. If it were truly Christian, then it would preach the whole package of the Christian faith and, thus, would be too demanding to succeed at the ballot box. But if it were truly a political party, it would be driven to make the kinds of compromises needed to win elections. Thus, it would not be truly Christian.

Carter concludes, "Religious organizations making pragmatic compromises for victory should ask themselves two simple questions: If we win, what are we winning? And at what cost?"