Sitting in the back of a courtroom watching a trial unfold he learned more than his trade. He learned anger and rage and had no place to channel them. It wasn’t his case. Lacking a way to control the outcome, he put pen to paper and A Time to Kill was born. Like many first born, it was a slow, painful, process. It took three years. After all that emotion, time, sweat and tears, the darn thing tanked. Grisham went back to the practice of law, hoping someday he would get good enough at it to quit.
This should be the part of the story where we write the rest is history. Except there’s a twist. Why not, Grisham writes thrillers. Ya gotta have a twist or two. Grisham’s second book The Firm turned into a runaway best seller. The book was optioned, Tom Cruise played the lead and a novelist star was born. Overnight fame (never mind those two pesky years between books) doesn’t get much better than that.
Grisham continued to churn out best sellers and the movies kept calling, The Pelican Brief followed The Firm, then The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker followed a year apart. The guy was no longer practicing law. Or if he was, his partners were shouldering the briefs. At some point, A Time to Kill made its second debut. Looking back, the book was ahead of its time. It horrified the reading public on a visceral level. Much the same way the true-life crime must have horrified Grisham. Horrified him enough to confess that he modeled the revenge shooting on his own desire.
A funny thing happened to A Time to Kill. The book of Grisham’s heart was a book he couldn’t give away. In fact, he claims to have forty or fifty buried in his back yard. These days, you can buy it on Amazon, probably eBay too, or you can go to a rare book store. If you are lucky you can find a first edition, for about $3,000 to $4,500. Talk about the ultimate backlist!
Readers, have you read A Time to Kill?
Writers, are you feeling as hopeful as I am about those early books that only jump off the shelves in earthquakes and hurricanes?