First Books

on April 8, 2013

I recently read KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child. This wasn’t the first book I’ve read by Lee Child, but it was his first book, published in 1997. It was one of those things: I started reading Lee in the middle of his Jack Reacher series and fell in love with this books. (I think the first book I read was TRIPWIRE, but don’t quote me on that!) I didn’t read them in order, but with Lee you don’t have to because his books aren’t told chronologically.

I sometimes wonder if authors feel like I do–that over time, their books have gotten better, and thus they cringe a bit when thinking about their earlier work. Then I read something as fantastic as KILLING FLOOR and think, okay, it’s just me. Because this book is just as good as all Lee’s others–it’s “classic” Lee Child. 🙂

The first Lisa Gardner book I read was THE THIRD VICTIM. It was her third single title suspense, after THE PERFECT HUSBAND and THE OTHER DAUGHTER. (She’d written like a dozen romantic suspense novels for Silhouette Intimate Moments under the name Alicia Scott, which are being reissued starting this summer, I believe.) THE THIRD VICTIM sold me on Lisa, and I’ve read nearly every book since. And yes, like with Lee Child, I went back and read Lisa’s first book, THE PERFECT HUSBAND, and found it just as strong and compelling as the later books.

My first Stephen King book was THE STAND — I started with his biggest (and best) book, then went back and read his first book (CARRIE) and almost every book and short story he’s written. With Michael Connelly, I started with the first Mickey Haller book — surprisingly, I’d never read a Connelly book until THE LINCOLN LAWYER, even though my mom has been a long-time fan. And yes, I went back and read a few of his oldies. Tess Gerritsen? My first was THE APPRENTICE, which was I think her fourth or fifth suspense novel (after 8-10 romantic suspense books from Harlequin.) First Catherine Coulter? THE MAZE. First JD Robb? CONSPIRACY IN DEATH. First Nora Roberts? RIVER’S END. First Jennifer Crusie? WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. I remember because the first book I read wowed me.

None of these titles were the first books by the author, but they sold me and I bought their backlists. I remember the first books so vividly, that I had to glom on and read all their others–and most of their books since. They sold me because of their voice, their style, the way they tell a story. Even if their newer books are better, stronger, tighter stories as they became more experienced writers, the voice doesn’t change. And that’s what I love. Voice is what sells me. Voice keeps me going through books that might not be as the last. Voice is what makes each of those authors unique.

There are some authors where I started with their first book and have craved the next book like candy, like urban fantasy author Darynda Jones (FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT) and thriller writer J.T. Ellison (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS). But most of the author’s I’ve read and loved, I’ve started in the middle, and it doesn’t bother me to go back and forth within the series. (The only exception to this was J.D. Robb. I started with CONSPIRACY IN DEATH, and while I bought the earlier IN DEATH books, I haven’t read them yet!)

Then I think back to my very first published novel, THE PREY. I’m about to proofread this book so I can release it digitally in markets where it’s not available. I’m scared to death. I have not looked at or read this first book since I proofed the final book in the summer of 2005. While this book will always have a soft spot in my heart, I fear I won’t like it. After 21 books, I think my writing has improved to the point that I will have a hard time resisting the urge to edit. All I’m supposed to do is look for scanning/formatting errors. Not tweak sentences or rewrite paragraphs or cut repetition (my fatal writing flaw.) Just a raw “proofread.”

The thing is, I don’t re-read my books once they’re published, so doing this proofread is going to be more difficult than it should be. I get that … but knowing it doesn’t make it any easier.

I’ve been thinking about this in particular since I finished KILLING FLOOR and wondered if Lee Child has re-read his first book and what he thinks, if he likes it the way it is or if he would want to change things or tweak sentences. I liked the book just fine–I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And for a first book by an unknown author? Written long before Lee Child was the Lee Child? Well, it totally rocked. No wonder he’s now a #1 New York Times bestseller–it’s all in the voice.

What was the last author you read that you loved so much that you read their entire backlist? Do you care if you read books “in order?” Do your favorite authors get better with time and experience?