Well, as I write this, Johannes Cabal the Detective has been out in the UK for six days and North America for just over twenty-four hours. It’s always an odd feeling when something gets released, as I’ve mentioned before. The sense that something amazing should happen on the day grows fainter every time, but never entirely goes away. Still, there have been three reviews I know of so far (The Agony Column, Warpcore, and a very slightly spoilery one at Amazon.co.uk, so you might want to skip that until you've read the novel yourself), all of which have been encouraging.
I believe I have written a decent book. I may be deluding myself – that happens – but I would not have submitted it if it was going to embarrass me by being utter bobbins. Regardless of how things go, though, one thing I am fairly confident about is that, at the very, very least, I have not fallen into the second album trap.
For those unfamiliar with this bit of musical lore, back in the day bands almost always followed the same path to a recording contract. They formed, rehearsed, gigged, and gigged, and gigged. They played working men’s clubs, pubs, student unions, and anywhere else that would have them. All the time, they would desperately hope that somewhere in the audience was an A&R man (artists and repertoire) from a label who would be bowled over by their performance and sign them up to a recording contract. You will note the absence of TV talent shows in this process. I digress.
When it came time to go into the studio, the band would of course choose their best material, the stuff that they know from experience works well when they perform. The first album would be filled with it, because one only makes a first impression once, and they want to be successful.
So, when it comes time for the second album, they have a problem. They’ve shot their bolt, and used their best stuff. There is some frantic writing, but no time to test it on the road, so they hope for the best and put on what they can. This then is the reason why, historically, so many second albums suck gristle.
Something similar can happen in books, as pointed out by Ros Jackson in her review at Warpcore, if for slightly different reasons. The first book was written at leisure, with time to rewrite and polish before any publisher even sees it. On the second and subsequent books, however, there will be deadlines to hit, and the second book is the first time when this new discipline will bite. Thus, there is a good chance that the strain will show. As a famous example of this “You want it when?” syndrome in action, I would suggest J.K. Rowling’s The Chamber of Secrets. It’s not a bad book, but it lacks the playfulness and ingenuity of the first in the series, and with the best will in the world, the plot is essentially The Philosopher’s Stone recycled. To me, that smells of deadline fear. Admittedly, Jo Rowling then had the happy experience of subsequently writing in her own time when the success of the early books gave her more executive wallop than just about any writer I can think of. So, she just sublimated that deadline fear into her writing, used it to raise the Dementors, and let them on their way. That’s my theory, anyway.
I’m happy to say I dodged that bullet simply through experience; I’ve spent years in the games industry writing creatively to order.
The other way books can suffer the dreaded second album syndrome is simply because the first one was the author’s Big Idea, an idea that they have spent years nurturing and improving upon. Once it has gone off into the world as the first novel, sometimes a second Big Idea fails to come along in a timely fashion. The author either ends up writing a jumble of unrelated events, or rehashes the first book with a new wig and dark glasses, and hopes nobody will notice.
Luckily, and it chastens me to admit that it was luck and not razor-sharp judgement on my part, my bright idea was never really all that business with the carnival in the first book. It was the character of Johannes Cabal himself. All I have to do is to come up with dangerous or unusual situations, throw Cabal into them, and then watch him climb out again, usually running up a body count in the process. In fact, that’s what I’m doing at the moment, work wise. I’ve come up with the biggest, most dangerous, and highly unusual situation yet, dropped Cabal in by the scruff of his neck, and... Oh, you’ll find out. Sometime next year.
- Current Location:Thrillsville
- Current Mood: excited