Last night I listened to an interview with Peter Heller broadcast from the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colorado Public Radio.
Heller, author of The Dog Stars and more recently The Painter, was fascinating to listen to, but I especially enjoyed his perspective on the difference between his first and second novel. He delved into the issue of second novel syndrome or the tendency for authors to have a wildly popular first novel, one that comes from a almost effortless creative space, followed by a flat second novel, one that the author struggles to bring to completion.
While wrestling through The Painter, Heller asked fellow writer Paolo Bacigalupi about this phenomenon.
Bacigalupi, after listening to Heller's stresses and fears, responded, "Your job is just to make sure it doesn't suck."
Heller realized that while this second novel was more of a struggle to bring to fruition, this didn't mean it wasn't just as good as his first novel. He decided to rely on his craft and affirmed to himself that he had been writing a long time needed to stop worrying so much.
Although The Painter had to go through many more rewrites than The Dog Stars, Heller said at the end of the day, he could hold up both novels and say "I love both of you guys and I really can't tell the difference in the quality of the finished product ... It makes me think that every work of art has a slightly different method ... and that's comforting."
I love his last line: every work of art has a slightly different method. Manuscripts are like children, each one of them with its own temperaments, struggles and strengths. Our job as authors is to coax the best from these diamonds-in-the-rough, but we can't assume that the there's a rote formula for creation, editing and completion. At the end of the day, our job is to just make sure our finished product doesn't suck.
To hear Heller's full interview (which I highly recommend) go to: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorado-matters-tattered-novelist-peter-heller-darkness-and-light