Swierczy's most recent blog post made me wonder something. What do you all (readers and writers) think of the various first novels you've read? Published writers, what do you think of your own first novels? Strengths and weaknesses?
I love reading first novels because in some cases it leads to one of those "wow" moments when I discover a great new writer and I can look forward to subsequent books. My most recent such moment was when I read Megan Abbott's debut book. What absolutely fantastic stuff. Needless to say, I went straight out and bought her second and am now eagerly awaiting the third. I love it when that happens. And even if subsequent books happen to be better written, I still always have a soft spot for that first book. That happened with Mr Swierczynski's SECRET DEAD MEN. He might think it's shaky in places, but I adored it and I think it will always remain one of my favourites of his, no matter what brilliant stuff he goes on to write.
I've seen first novels that were wonderful, with subsequent being less so. Some where they get steadily better. Some where the author starts okay, gets great, then peaks and begins to fade. And, happily, those that start great and stay great.
I do wonder if the decline of quality has something to do with the publishing climate we live in. Seems that popular authors are expected to produce a book a year. Or, in some cases, more. Some past favorites eventually felt like they were phoning in their books.
With books costing as much as they do, I move on pretty fast if an author disappoints me.
I think we're our own worst critics so we're tougher on our own stuff, but thank God for that in a way. The last thing I want is for people to always say that my first novel was my best and it was all downhill from there. You should be learning and growing, trying new things, always pushing yourself.
Ah, I love that the name "Swierczy" is starting to stick...
Anyway, my case is a little weird. I wrote SECRET DEAD MEN back in 1998, and it wasn't published until 2005. By the time I finished THE WHEELMAN (in 2004), I felt like I was doing something very different. So while I'm still proud of SDM, I don't think it represents what I'm up to now.
Often I find first novels more thought-provoking and better written than novels by more established writers. Maybe it's because first-time writers put their deepest passions and most dedicated efforts into getting published. I'm generalizing here, but I'm more often disappointed by people who've published a lot of books. I'm thinking of a cozy I'm reading right now that I find amateurishly written with lots of no no's, such as weird substitutions for "said" ("I'm really sick of this," she exhaled.) To my amazement, the author has published about a dozen books with a major publisher, but I'll never read her again.
Reading books as bad as this is weirdly pleasurable, because I know I'm a better writer and the experience gives me hope. (I published my first novel last year, and I love the positive feedback I'm getting.)
The first novel I wrote will be published as the fifth in the PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series. I think it will be the strongest in the series. it is certainly closest to what I wanted to do. This was written when I had only read a couple of Graftons, Burkes and Pronzinis. I wasn't even aiming for a mystery, just an interesting story. Struggling up to 50k was tough.
Overall, I think a fair number of first novels are good because the writer has all the time in the world to put down what they really mean. Second novels might tend toward being rushed. My uninformed opinion.
Steven, how much did you change (if any) from the original version.
I am by no means a writer. But I do remember the feeling I got when I handed in my thesis. I wanted so much to have the chance to rewrite it completely. Don't know if it would have come out any better though.