Here I was working on the next Marly Jackson novel The Violin Case, having panic attacks. Why? Because before this weekend I realized  the first half was so damn boring it put me to sleep and it was MY work.

 

If this happens to you, first blame something else to blow off steam.    Credit



How did I fix it? Well, you can probably guess from the title of this post how: I re-learned the importance of having non-writer friends. They ask questions writers never would, and questions are what make you think. How I got there shows a few things every writer should know.

The first is that you will always be judged by your second novel. Always.Don't believe me? Lets turn to music for a second. If a band has one hit and no others they become one-hit wonders. It's human nature to wait for the second single to come out before you deem it good enough to buy the album. Or download it, let's be modern and honest here. Readers are the same way with authors.
 


This turns out to actually be a GREAT policy.    Credit


  

So too are publishers. Most standard writing contracts are for two books and work this way: you get an advance on your first book. It sells, but not enough to cover your advance. So on your second book you get no advance. If your second book outsells your first and sells enough and sales of your first pick up, that's when you get a new contract. Hundreds of authors every year publish their second book and fade into obscurity because it fell flat compared to their first.

Knowing that, the pressure is on. The Violin Case has to be bigger, badder, more action-packed and erotically charged than Case of the Missing Millionaire. Meep. I've I admitted, most writing is one form of fanfiction or another, and my Marly Jackson stories are long love letters to Dashiell Hammet. Like all fanfiction it has to evolve. I started writing  Case of the Missing Millionaire in the style of The Thin Man, but if you compare plots it's much closer to The Big Sleep. in the end, it shares elements of both, but stands alone as its own beast.

I based The Violin Case off The Maltese Falcon. If you haven't read (or watched the nicely-updated 1941 film version {*swoon* Peter Lorre!}) what are you doing reading my Marly Jackson stories? As with all Hammett's stand-alone novels there was an earlier film version made right after the book came out which was very true to the book. Ten years later they were all remade to be grittier, darker...and more action-packed. One thing the 1941 film did was speed up the pacing of the first half of the story.



Film Noir ProTip: If the film you're watching has this man it, it's good.    Credit


 
So Dashiell and I had the same problem: complex mysteries have to have a lot of foundation work, often making for a slow, sludgy first half. I was tearing my hair out over this until I spoke to a non-writer friend. I told her the plot and had to explain the plot of The Maltese Falcon to her. This started a discussion of how mysteries have changed from Dashiell''s day to ours and how they are faster paced, more violent, and more action-oriented now.

Finally she asked me a question my writer friends never would: if I had to re-write The Maltese Falcon set in modern day, how would I change it? The answer was simple: add more characters after the bird, have more of them die in the first half, and engender more conflict. The woman is a genius, that's exactly what The Violin Case needed.

I sat down with my outline and rewrote it with this in mind. It worked. The last minute re-write does make for a crunch for my ETA of early September, but I'm doing the best I can. This demonstrates one important thing about basing your work off an existing piece. It has to change, to evolve, to be modernized. If you get stuck on yours, apply that principle to the work you're using for guidance by looking at how you'd change the original.



 
Before ever trying to "reinvent the wheel" make sure your source material is deserving of an update. Mistakes have been made.    Credit


 
And who knows? The Violin Case could end up looking more like Chinatown or Farewell My Lovely. Best yet, it becomes its own beast.