11/06/2012 01:51 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

Series on Series: Lessons from Writing Book Two

Frankly, I just wanted to see my name on the spine of a book. That had been my main motivation for at least 20 years, and not a day passed that I didn't read or write something with that goal in mind. So when I finally sold a book (Primary Justice) to Ballantine, part of Random House, the largest publisher in the English-speaking world (then), I was pleased. I didn't expect my first book to be a bestseller. I thought it would be a nice foot-in-the-door that might lead to greater things. I don't think the publisher expected all that much either, given the small first printing. But then there was a second printing, then a third, and then an eighth...

And then I was the author of a national bestseller. And I had a publisher calling me on a regular basis to ask when the sequel would be finished (a pleasant change of pace from the previous 20 years, when no one cared what I was writing). I still worked full-time as a trial lawyer. But somehow I had to find time to create a new novel, in about a fifth as much time as I spent on the first.

Never at any time while I wrote Primary Justice did I perceive this as the first book in a series (and I think it shows). That was the idea of my brilliant editor, Joe Blades. But when I embarked upon the sequel, I started tooling the narrative to accommodate future adventures. That meant, first of all, that Ben needed to start his own office. And more importantly, he needed a supporting cast. We already had Christina and Ben's ex-brother-in-law Mike, but in Blind Justice, we acquired investigator Loving and office manager Jones, two comic but functional sidekicks. I didn't even realize Loving was destined to be a regular when I introduced the character. I was having so much fun with him in the opening scene I brought him back later. I also introduced two other characters who ultimately got left on the cutting room floor, so to speak: the diner hostess who sang country-western tunes while she worked, and the next-door pawn shop owner with a grudge against Ben.

In the first book, I completely avoided what I thought was the cliché of legal fiction, the Perry Mason plot -- the big murder trial. So of course in the sequel, I completely embraced it. And poor Christina became the defendant, in part because I thought it would draw she and Ben together, and in part because I couldn't think of anyone else who would be crazy enough to hire Ben to represent them on a capital charge. I brought back Ken Derek, Ben's nemesis from the first book, which was probably a mistake, but one that taught me a valuable lesson: don't repeat. If you have a success, pat yourself on the back and move on. Don't try to reproduce it.

This is probably the most humorous of all the Ben Kincaid novels, which is perhaps why many readers to this day tell me it's their favorite entry in the whole series. But I also think the plot is much stronger than the first. This time I tried to create and integrate a complex mystery filled with twists and surprises and high stakes. This did not detract from the character portraits, but only provided opportunities to illuminate them. Another lesson learned. I still recall revising this book (often well past midnight) under an extremely tight deadline while also maintaining my 50 to 60-hours-a-week day job, conducting discovery and traveling and arguing motions and all the normal day-to-day activities of the lowest trial lawyer on the firm totem pole. And I had a baby in the house. I was busy.

My editor, Joe Blades came up with this gimmick of putting "Justice" in all the titles, hoping for a series-recognition device like Sue Grafton's alphabet titles. What we could not anticipate was that after the success of the first book, others would have the same idea. By the time this book came out, the stands were flooded with "Justice" titles, which sometimes drowned out my title, which I liked to think of as the "real" Justice. I wanted to call this book Earthly Justice, but the publisher liked Blind Justice. I thought that was a bit cliché (and there was a Batman graphic novel with the same title on the stands at the time), but the publisher prevailed. And let's face it; they knew a lot more about titles, and how to use titles to sell books, than I did.

Blind Justice ended up selling even better than the first book, so there was no rest for this writer -- my publisher wanted a third entry just as soon as possible. My editor, Joe, asked me for an outline for the first time ever. He never said this, but I think he realized that if he forced me to sit down and outline, I might come up with a sound plot a lot faster than I had in the past. He was right. And another lesson was learned, just in time for Deadly Justice...