Adam Mitzner, author of A Case of Redemption, is an attorney living in New York City. This is his second legal thriller, following A Conflict of Interest, and he is currently working on his third novel.
For more information please visit http://adammitzner.com, and follow the author on Facebook.
There are lots of blog posts and the like in which first time novelists write about their experiences. But what about the second novel? How does it differ from the first?
Putting aside those who only wrote one book (Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell), there’s a disconcerting number of truly great authors who never again equaled their first novel. Joseph Heller, J.D. Salinger, Charlotte Bronte, to name just a few. In my genre, legal thrillers/mysteries, although you could certainly argue the point, many readers will tell you that the best books of the two giants in the field — Scott Turow and John Grisham — were their first.
It shouldn’t be that way, though. You learn so much writing your first book. The second should build on that knowledge and result in a superior effort. But there are two major things that lurk to impede that forward progress, and of those you must beware:
1. When writing a second novel, you know people will actually read it.
I hoped my first book would be published, and dreamed of seeing my name in a bookstore (or on Amazon), but it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind when I was writing A Conflict of Interest. Frankly, it wasn’t even in the back of my mind, largely because it seemed like such a long shot. But from the first word of A Case of Redemption, I knew that people would read it, judge it, and maybe even tell the world about what they thought with reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.
One of the things I strived for in both books was to create characters that were multi-dimensional, people you could root for one moment and be angry with the next. While most reviewers noted that as a strength, there was the occasional reader who would post a critical review explaining that they liked their protagonists without flaws. I tried my best not to let such thinking creep into my work, but I confess there were times when I could hear the criticism about a choice made by my protagonists in A Case of Redemption by those who like their characters less gray.
2. The autobiography conundrum
It is a commonly held belief that first novels are thinly veiled autobiographies. I hew more to the theory that all novels are thinly veiled autobiographies. That being said, there’s no doubt that I poured a lot of my personal experiences into A Conflict of Interest, and I wondered what else there was to mine in A Case of Redemption.
In Dan Sorensen, my protagonist in A Case of Redemption, I was able to tap into different parts of myself than I’d focused on in creating Alex Miller, my protagonist in A Conflict of Interest. I was also able to consider him as a person separate from me, and thereby make him his own man. In the end, I think of Dan as someone I’d like to be someday when I grow up, rather than a version of me.
* * *
There’s nothing like writing your first novel. But then you get to write your second, and there’s nothing like that either. Although I think I’m prepared to take in stride the inevitable: “I loved your first book, but I didn’t like the second one as much” or, “Your second one was much better than your first,” I confess I’m still a little hopeful that readers will love both books completely and equally.
Although I’d want readers to love both books, it’s more important for me to love both books! You do your best as a writer, you promote your best, and what happens after that well, you have no control of. I do think it’s harsh for people to tell a writer he or she liked the first or second book best, but if I were the recipient of such a remark I’d tell myself that books also have personal appeal and that one or the other book appealed to that person more and the remark had no bearing on the authenticity or the writing. Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back for writing the second book!
What a fun and interesting discussion. I’ll look forward to reading both!
Every one of our novels matter to us. We give birth to them, nurture them, and then send them out in the world. As Adam says, after a certain point, they must stand on their own.
Adam, I love reading legal thrillers written by attorneys. They are the real deal.
Wishing you every success.