John Grisham wrote A Time to Kill, a legal thriller, in 1989 while he was a practicing lawyer in Mississippi. While observing a trial in the courthouse near his practice, he witnessed the testimony of a 12-year-old who was raped and beaten, and was thus inspired to write this novel. It was an extremely emotional experience for him, and he began to imagine what would have happened if the father of the girl had decided to kill his daughter's rapist. It took him three years to write the story, with the encouragement of his wife, Renée. The book itself was a suspense thriller, and was John Grisham's first book.
Having finished the last pages, he sent the manuscript to New York and it was accepted by his new agent, Jay Garon, after over a dozen agents had passed. At the same time, Garon told Grisham to start writing another book, which would become his famous bestseller The Firm. In 1988, Wynwood Press bought the manuscript and printed a modest 5000 copies, which sold poorly except for in a few of Grisham's local Mississippi bookstores.
However, after his subsequent novels, such as The Pelican Brief and The Client, established him as a skilled writer of legal thrillers, interest in A Time to Kill reignited; the book was republished by Doubleday and Dell Publishing, and it became a bestseller.
A Time to Kill was adapted into a film in 1996 by director Joel Schumacher, with Matthew McConaughey starring as lawyer Jake Brigance and Sandra Bullock as his assistant Ellen Roark. Grisham's sequel to the novel, Sycamore Row, was published on Oct 22, 2013.