Thursday, June 28, 2012

Looking Back at Loving Jack by Deborah Blumenthal

         It was my first novel and maybe my best one. I wrote it in about three months without stopping, putting in twelve hour days.  I didn’t know about writer’s block in those days. I didn’t know about the blood and sweat that goes into writing books.  I forged ahead and the words came.  I didn’t revise, I didn’t tear apart every sentence and rewrite it twelve different ways. I simply printed out the book when it was done and carried all four hundred and seventeen pages to the office of one of the top agents in New York City, a woman who was formerly the publisher of one of the major publishing houses. A few days later my phone rang.

       “It’s riveting,” she said, then acknowledging in the next breath that it was fun or “fluff,” to use her word.

       I had no problem with fluff.  It was a page turner, an escapist’s dream, and it held her interest. She told me that when she was a publisher she had bought a novel from a Washington insider.  The author dropped the phone when she heard the size of the advance. And now the agent had high hopes for my book.

     Months later, you guessed it, it never sold. 

     Undeterred by rejection, I wrote another book.  Not her kind of novel, but she sent that one out too.  It didn’t sell either, but the rejections came fast. Her name opened doors and got quick responses. 

      We parted ways further down the line.  Eventually book number two sold.  Fat Chance went on to sell well for a first novel. Since then I have written twelve other books, most of them for children and teens.

       But “Loving Jack,” my first novel, is still sitting in my kitchen cabinet, taking up enough room for a Cuisinart. I haven’t given up on it, but I also haven’t gone back to it in over ten years to give it a fresh, critical read.

      In case you’re interested, here’s the first chapter.  

Loving Jack


ChaptAs usual, the answering machine clicked on and off, non stop. Callers heard her clipped response.

“It’s Claudine, leave a message.” No promise to return the call at her earliest convenience. No reminder to wait for the beep. She didn’t care if the messages got garbled, chopped off mid sentence, or swallowed completely. She had no interest in their numbers, or calling anyone back anyway. Most were from the agency for jobs. The rest were from friends and acquaintances eager to find out how she was. She knew eventually she had to talk to people, but at this point, she couldn’t muster the interest.
She pressed the button, and listened briefly. She smiled when she heard Jack’s quick message:
“Hi babe, I hope you’re okay. You know how to get me.”
Vintage McCarthy. She had gotten to him, and he had gotten to her with his dark flirty eyes and easy smile. But Jack was a long time ago, and she didn’t want the sound of his voice to pull  her back. She fast forwarded the machine. The next string of messages were all from the agency, but no matter what the job, or who the designer, her answer was the same.

Only one thought kept resurfacing every time she thought about going back to work. She had to leave modeling, and do something real. She was tired of playing the mannequin and posing in a rarefied world where she and everyone around her was obsessed with an air-brushed reality, where real problems were soft focused to the point that they didn’t exist.

More and more, she became filled with the idea of moving on to start another kind of life. But she had avoided calling Anne Marie Walthur, not sure how she would explain that she had decided to slip out of the noose of a three-year contract, leaving behind a job that paid millions of dollars for doing little more than staring out at a camera and seducing viewers into wanting the cosmetics she used or the clothes she wore.
To make it harder, she had no idea what kind of work she would do in its place. It was almost laughable to think that she now had a huge bank account, but nothing she could parlay into any other area. Beyond a college degree, she had nothing to put on a resume except, “looks good in pictures.”

Holding a cup of strong coffee, she walked to the window of her Fifth Avenue apartment, and looked out at the sweep of Central Park. As morning approached, the sky faded from black as though the dark was being enveloped by a growing orange flame. 
She thought back over the past year. Leaving Jack, zigzagging the world for international shoots; coping with changing climates and time zones, eating on the run, suffering perpetual jet lag, and then hiding it all in the face of the camera. And if that weren’t enough to leave her tired, worn out and dispirited, life added one more trial by fire: A long delayed night flight to Paris that took off in a heavy snowstorm.

Her way to deal with it was not to. For the past three months, she had cloistered herself in her apartment, trying to shut out everyone and everything.  
Every morning, she was a spectator to a silent soap opera she had created, outside her window, with the curtain going up when neighbors, the unwitting stars, made sporadic appearances on terraces or through windows. She scripted stories about their lives, their jobs, and their loves, and from her safe, unthreatening distance, she watched the stories play out.

She saw a woman with thick black hair water pots of red geraniums on the terrace of the building across from hers. They seemed to flourish under her care. But her flowers seemed to be her only companions. Claudine peered into her apartment, but all she glimpsed was an etched Venetian mirror framed in blue glass, and a pair of deep blue crystal candlesticks in front of it.

Two floors below she saw the French doors leading out to the terrace of an apartment being flung open wide by a woman in high heeled slippers, wearing a flowing white robe. Behind her was a muscular younger man in boxer shorts who wrapped his arms around her waist and led her back in. Claudine  smiled and then looked away. She turned from the window feeling the old nagging sadness spreading over her.

Her apartment had only two rooms, but the moment she saw it, she knew she had to have it.  It was in a grand prewar building with twelve foot ceilings. The famous residents were mostly non residents who stopped by on their way to and from their other homes and other lives. The apartment was at the top, and at one time must have been the upper part of a larger duplex below. Perhaps the early owners didn’t want the second level or couldn’t make the climb. She never found out, but when she heard the price and saw the Manhattan panorama it offered, she left a deposit, on the spot.

Passing muster with the co-op board was no problem either. She had become a celebrity of sorts, but more than that, she was away much of the time. Not wanting to be in partnership with the bank, she paid for the apartment in cash. It was an apartment for one that had been on the market for a long time because of its small size.

A year after she bought it, the renovation was done. Friends described it as like being inside a diamond. The floors were done in polished black granite, and both living room and bedroom were dominated by huge gilt framed mirrors that brought the southwest city vista inside. Everything else was spare,  just two black leather couches in the living room, flanking a giant square stone coffee table, holding a crystal vase filled with yellow roses.

A queen -sized pear wood sleigh bed that she found in an antique store in Provence took up most of the bedroom. It had a curved headboard and footboard trimmed with a thin stripe of black paint. The bedding was white linen, and two plump square pillows were covered with white linen pillowcases outlined with three bands of black lines. The only accent in the room was a leopard needlepoint carpet that covered the floor near the bed.  The rest of the furniture was all built-in to offset the drama of the apartment. It was simple and  stark, with no pretensions. In both rooms, there were fireplaces with ornately carved white marble mantles.

The apartment looked its best on winter nights, when there were fires burning and the crackling glow of the flames glinted in the mirrors.  It was a protective cocoon that she always welcomed coming home to.

Every morning, she dressed in leggings, and a loose sweatshirt and running shoes, and started the day with a run around the Central Park reservoir, just two blocks away. The three mile run acted like an opiate that for a few hours at least, dulled the sadness that seemed to cloud her life.  Running around the soft earthy path never failed to make her feel better. The slight breeze in the air turned the stillness of the water into an impressionistic mirror that captured the reflection of Central Park West’s majestic lineup of prewar buildings. And as if to lend the painting scale, ducks with shimmering emerald green feathers paddled in tandem across the water. 

As she ran, she passed familiar faces. She recognized Tony, the detective who had dated a friend of hers.  He always wore long pants to cover up the holstered gun he wore around his right ankle. She never knew exactly what it was that he did, but he once told her it had something to do with surveillance, “bugs” he said.
“What are you an entomologist?” she joked.
“Not exactly,” he smiled. “My bugs don’t buzz.”
The reservoir was also a meeting spot, the place where a group of young women joined forces to burn calories, but ended up spending more energy on conversation. Everyone seemed to have their own motivations for running, and you could almost tell who was running to and who was running away from.

For the past three months, it was her only activity, except for going out for take-out. Even the briefest social encounter had become a chore.  She had little patience with small talk and hearing friends complain about the kind of things that in happier times she would have sympathized with - a flood in the bathroom, the job that got canceled, or a broken date. She wished for those kind of annoyances, they seemed such a luxury to her. But now she began to think that the time had come to push herself, to get on with her life.

Every time she passed someone with dark deepset eyes, she thought of  Jack. Once she was running behind someone with his build and found herself catching up with him to see his face. He thought she was flirting with him, and started running in stride with her. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, and then sped off before he had a chance to respond.

Jack was the only man that she had agreed to live, yet she always worked hard to keep some distance from him, to maintain her independence.  She didn’t want to depend on anyone, to feel beholden to them. Yet it was his very strength and self assurance that drew her from the start. He had an easy charm that she fell prey to, and his dark good looks appealed to her from the first moment she set eyes on him. 

But in the end, he wanted more of her than she could offer him.  He resented all the spur of the moment trips that took her around the world, and all the attention from the odd  entourages - ranging from photographers to hangers-on - that inevitably seemed to travel with models wherever they went.  He had his career, but he couldn’t accept that she wanted and needed a lot of space to have hers.

She left Jack, and spent more and more time in Paris. She’d have her own life, on her own terms.  She traveled back and forth, but began to miss staying in the New York.  She decided to do one more shoot for Paris Vogue, and then turn down European assignments for a while. More and more, in fact, she had been thinking of giving up modeling, and trying something new. She shared her thoughts with another model from the Walthur agency who sat next to her on the flight scheduled to take off for Paris. Neither of them felt the excitement anymore they agreed. They had done it long enough. It was time to move on.

But she put off talking to Anne Marie, the agency head.  Sometimes decisions make themselves, she thought. And in a way, this one did.

After all passengers were on board Paris bound Air France flight 305 one snowy evening, takeoff was delayed after the pilot asked to have the plane de-iced. Ten minutes later, it was sprayed down again. Finally the plane taxied to the runway, but then waited and waited for takeoff  clearance. All around her, Claudine could hear the comments of passengers who looked out and felt that something wasn’t right.
“We’re in trouble,” someone said, “something is wrong.”
Another voiced a premonition that disaster was ahead.
But then the engines started, and slowly the plane lifted off. Claudine had a sick feeling that the plane was not going to keep going. Suddenly passengers were yanked violently from their seats as the plane veered sharply to the left, and then jerked to the right.
“It’s out of control, it’s out of control,” someone yelled hysterically. Other passengers  started to scream. She heard the high pitched wail of a baby. Instinctively she assumed the crash position, with her head between her legs, and in seconds, the plane nosedived back to the runway slamming into an embankment. She felt a blast of heat fill the cabin, scorching her eyebrows.  The acrid odor of jet fuel filled her nose and throat. She remembered somehow ripping off her seatbelt and stumbling down the dark aisle through the gaping hole of the emergency exit in first class and then finding herself shivering out in the icy cold night waiting for help. Moments later, she saw flashing red lights, and heard the piercing whines of ambulances and fire engines. Someone wrapped her in a blanket, and dazed, she followed them into an ambulance, and was driven away.  Ten of the 310 people on board were killed.

Surviving flight #305 was life’s wake up call. She was being given another chance. Another life. The model who was her seatmate was not so lucky.


Judith Arnold

            I don’t have a trunk. I don’t have a box under the bed. I have file cabinets, but The April Tree wasn’t stored in them, because every time I waded into this novel, I wound up throwing away what I’d written. It took me decades of false starts and self-doubt before I felt ready to tackle the story. During those decades, the only place the book existed was in my mind.
            The first time I tried to write The April Tree (although that wasn’t its title then), I was twelve years old. I feverishly scribbled the story into a spiral-bound notebook. What I’d written sucked—even at twelve, I was a pretty good judge of my writing—and I chucked the notebook into the trash. I started the book a second time in college (with some other title I no longer remember), typing it on my Smith-Corona portable manual typewriter. I’m not sure what happened to that version, except that by the time I graduated, it no longer existed. I started it again about ten years later, when I had a computer and troublesome projects were easy to delete. I wrote a few pages and deleted them, tried again, deleted again, approached, retreated.
            The April Tree, in its many incarnations and under its many working titles, was different from anything else I’d ever attempted. Not commercial fiction. Not romance. It didn’t follow a standard story arc, with intensifying conflicts and black moments and neat resolutions. It contemplated life-and-death issues, but not in a heart-thumping-thriller way. During the years the book incubated inside me, life handed me some rough times and some sad times, all of which helped to inform the story.
            Last year, I finally wrote The April Tree from beginning to end. I guess it took me all those years to grow into it, to find the right way to tell it. Writing it wrung me out, but I did it, and I was satisfied with it, and after dithering for a couple of months, I sent it to my editor. She recently emailed me to say she loved it.
            So maybe, all those decades after I first struggled to put this story into words, it might wind up published. If my publisher ultimately passes on it, I can publish it myself as an e-book. Now that, at long last, it’s written, I want to share it with readers.
            The April Tree is about how four people deal with the sudden, accidental death of a high school girl. Two of the people are the girl’s best friends. One is a classmate who revolves within their orbit. The fourth is the boy who is in a significant way responsible for the accident. The book is dark and intense, exploring the way we use faith and ritual to make sense of the universe’s random cruelty.
            Here is how it begins:

          It was not his fault.
          He willed himself to unclench his fingers, which were curled so tightly around the steering wheel they'd practically fused with the plastic. He imagined that if he ever let go, his hands would leave behind a shadow imprint, like the shadows left on the sidewalks where people had been standing in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. He'd heard about that somewhere, he didn't know where, that people were incinerated where they stood, dissolved into fire, and when the fire died their shadows remained on the sidewalks like photographs of their souls.
          He'd heard lots of things, and he didn't believe any of them.
          For instance, he didn't believe that this wasn't his fault. He knew it wasn't. But knowing was different from believing.
          Remember everything. Remember it so you'll be able to believe it someday. Remember because this is your life, from this point forward. Nothing else counts. This is it.
          Sunlight spilled across the windshield, silver and liquid. Through the glaze he saw trees, the foliage a dozen shades of green except for one rust-colored red maple, the trunks gray. Why did little kids always use brown crayons to draw tree trunks? Like lime lollipops with brown sticks. He used to draw trees that way, too.
          But it wasn't true. Tree trunks were gray.
          Remember this, he ordered himself.
          The road wasn't gray or black. It was an inky blue and the double-stripe running down the center was school-bus yellow. The tennis ball was the nauseating green of anti-freeze. If only he'd seen it sooner—but he couldn't have, because he'd been on the other side of the hill.
          Remember that, too. You were on the other side of the hill. You couldn't see anything until it was too late. This isn't your fault.
          The girls were a muddle of bare shoulders and slender, golden legs. They were wearing shorts, unnaturally white sneakers and sleeveless white tops. He counted three of them standing, but they seemed bound together, moving as one six-legged creature with three heads. He couldn't see the fourth girl, which was probably just as well.
          Not your fault, he told himself. Not your fault. You came up over the hill, and she was running, she ran right into you, you swerved but it wasn't enough. She ran into you and there was that noise, that horrible thunk of metal that resonated in your chest like your heart imploding. It wasn't your fault.
          He was a long way from believing.
Judith Arnold’s current release, GOODBYE TO ALL THAT, has hit multiple bestseller lists on Amazon. Unlike THE APRIL TREE, it’s a comedy. You can find links to it and all of Judith’s available books at her web site:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's in that trunk, girlfriend?

by Samantha Wilde
I have written so many books, half-novels, parts of books, and chapters, that usually, when I come across one, I have no recollection of having written it! The same can not be said of my poetry which I have collected into bulging manila folders; I remember every heart wrenching one of them and generally find them all terrible.

This picture doesn't have anything to do with trunk novels.
It's the cover of my mother's latest and 22nd!! novel.
She's one lady who doesn't need a trunk!

A few months ago, while visiting my mother, novelist Nancy Thayer, on Nantucket, she asked me to look through a chest (it could certainly qualify as a trunk) full of my "junk" so that she could, at last, dispose of the thing. I found a wide variety of treasures hidden inside: an old Middlesex sweatshirt (not the novel, the boarding school, which my brother attended), reams of negatives from my photography at Wellesley College-I'm-a-fine-art-major days, pictures of me from high school in cheap frames, and, you guessed it, a novel.

I began to read the novel. I don't know when I wrote it or why I wrote it or why I never finished it, but damn, it was good! I would share it with you, except when I finished reading it I put it write back into the trunk. When it comes to my writing, I'm not at all sentimental.

My lost novels exists on at least three separate computers, one of which is so old I doubt I will ever recover the file. And on floppy disks, which does me no good because I can't get them to work in a CD drive no matter how hard I try!

One novel I did send out to about twelve agents nearly a decade ago was about a mysterious death at a seminary. I wrote it the summer after I graduated from Yale Divinity School. I actually had two agents for HOLY FIRE. Well, one almost agent and one agent who took it on only to give it up later. I don't blame her either. It has way too much sex in it.

Another winner: THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOSS. God, I'm depressed just writing the title. Thank goodness that one never got published or I would suffer a Sylvia Plath career and a suicide and then I'd be too dead to write this now (although my trunk novels would be posthumously and famously published. I can safely say I'd rather be alive and obscure than dead and famous.)

FATTY has to be my favorite. I wrote it in college. It's still funny, though I can't quite remember what it was about--other than dieting, of course.

I have a host of non-fiction books and starts of books around also, but I think it's safe to say that if you've read this far into my post what you really want is to read some of my kick-ass poetry. (Oh, the short stories! I have those too!) My poems are terrible and primarily about love. I did find ONE that didn't have to do with personal love. It's terrible too, and probably a decade old, but it speaks about my other life--as a minister and person of faith--and so, since it has nothing to do with trunk novels, I will share it with you.


There's a lot of talk about you
some say they walk beside you
some say they have the key
as they assault me on the street.
Many raise sweet voices
as they constrict women's choices,
and there are many,
I know many,
who will never sing a note.

There's a battle out about you
factions preach and shout to love you
some harbor only hate
for those who won't participate.
Some promise true forgiveness
as they slowly rob your business.
Many dwell in peace divine
and I wonder if they're lying,
and there are many,
I know many,
who never fight this war.

So when they ask me if I'm happy
if I have found the Lord--
I am anything but bored,
for in my gratitude
and in my attitude
I would hope that they could see
that I am happy clearly
and I love someone dearly
and I know a mighty power
just who that is, hour by hour,
becomes less clear to me.
But just being able to see
the sun off the snow off the dog
makes me know some God
works in the energies of the world,
designs miracles to be unfurled
and receives without prejudice every prayer
just the silence of listening so rare.
Hallelujah, I'd offer out,
maybe some praises, maybe a shout,
but I would be surprised
if from my lips would rise
a solitary name--

great goodness, great goddess
great natural force
great energy, great synergy
great power of choice,
hallelujah, hallelujah
praise to the skies,
there's a lot of talk about you.
And a little bit is wise.

You have to imagine this spoken, like at a beat poetry slam.
Gosh, it's a good thing I'm working with some new material agent just asked if I could write about seminary!

Samantha Wilde really does enjoy poetry, especially good poetry, loves to write, can't stop reading, spends her days with three small children who are teaching her, ever so slowly (and she's not always the best student) how to really be spiritual. She's an ordained minister, a Kripalu yoga teacher, and the author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME and I'LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS (out in Feb. 2013!) She has never shared this poem with anyone else before, so go easy.... You can learn more at

Tough talking girls from the suburbs
by Brenda Janowitz

So, this cycle we're talking about manuscripts that never got published. Every published author has got at least one or two novels laying around that never saw the light of day. Sad, lonely novels that just didn't gel, or just didn't sell.

Today, I've got the first chapter of a book I called LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP. I was trying to do something different from my first novel, SCOT ON THE ROCKS, and create a protagonist that wasn't me. She was the anti-me. A tough-talking, take-no-prisoners type who was born and raised in Las Vegas.

Problem one: I showed it to my mother, who is always my first reader. I was worried that I didn't quite have the voice down yet. I asked her if it sounded like a tough-talking bail bondsman from downtown Vegas, or if it sounded like a sheltered girl from the suburbs who was merely TRYING to sound like a tough-talking bail bondsman from Vegas. She thought the latter.

Problem two: I debuted a chapter of this in my writing class and the teacher said: This is great! It's just like those Stephanie Plum novels! I said: Stephanie who?! It was only later when I googled Stephanie Plum that I realized that Janet Evanovich had created a cottage industry around a tough-talking female bail bondsman. I didn't think that publishing had room for one more.

I figured this thing was dead in the water. And it probably is. But, just for fun, here goes:


By Brenda Janowitz

Chapter one

“Bailbondsman?” a frat boy who can’t be more than twenty years old asks me.  “But you’re a girl.  Shouldn’t you be called bailbondswoman or something?”

He laughs real loud and his three lookalike friends behind him laugh along even though it wasn’t really that funny and they aren’t here for fun and games, they’re here to post bail for their friend who’s being held for manslaughter—a $500,000 bond here in the great state of Nevada.  They are all dressed identically—each one in a different pastel colored Lacoste short sleeved polo shirt and designer jeans that they probably bought already worn in and dirty.  You can get overpriced crap like that at the Caesar’s Forum Shops.  The five hundred grand probably doesn’t even mean a thing to these kids.  But, to me, it’s everything.  I need that 10% fee to stay in business.

            I lean in real close.  We’re eye to eye, but I can see his eyes go down my neck and land squarely on my breasts.

            “I don’t really think there’s any chance of anyone getting confused,” I reply.  As he nods in agreement, his eyes don’t even come back up to meet my eyes.

            My name is Cat and I’m a bailbondsman.  Or woman.  Whatever.  I’m usually not too concerned with people getting confused about it.  I have been running this business for years now—ever since my daddy died.  
We do it all here, we’re a full service shop:  post bail bonds, cash checks….  we can even notarize something for you if you’d like (my Bounty Hunter Donny’s also a notary).  But the bonds are our bread and butter here, so I mostly cover that stuff. 
My best friend, Heavenly, works here with me ever since my daddy’s old secretary, Dottie, finally retired at 75 years young.  I met Heavenly about five years ago when I posted her bond for her killing her husband.  Really.  She killed him.  Cold blood and everything.  She walked in on him sleeping with some other woman, and ever so calmly walked directly to the bedside table, took out her hubby’s gun, and shot them both. 
I like her style.
In the end, she got off practically scot free.  Heat of the moment and all that.  It’s true.  I know this kind of stuff.  I used to date a lawyer.  You see, if she had gone downstairs to get the gun or hesitated for even one minute, they could have really nailed her because it would have been premeditated.  But, since she moved so quickly and without really thinking, it was the heat of passion, and she was set.  Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?
My daddy was a GI stationed in California in 1968.  He hit the newly built Caesar’s Palace in Vegas on the way back from California to his home in the Bronx after his tour of duty and fell in love with a showgirl.  They spent a blissful three days together until his father called him back home to go work in the family business—a bail bonds outfit right near the Federal Courthouse in White Plains.
            He sent love letters to that showgirl every day for three months.  She never responded, but he kept on writing.  After three months, she finally gave him a call to tell him she was pregnant.
            Inside of a week, he was back in town, married that pretty showgirl in a quickie ceremony, and bought a starter house for them to begin their lives.  Six months later, they gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who they named Elizabeth, after my daddy’s mother.  They called her Bessie.
When my daddy came back into town to take care of my mother, he did the only thing he knew how—bail bonds, just like his daddy had done in the Bronx.  His daddy set him up with a local guy, Louie Stone, who showed him the ropes.  Things were great for a while until Louie decided he wanted to post a bond for the guy who’d tried to shoot Benny Binion in an underground poker game.  My daddy wouldn’t do it—you do not go against Benny Binion in the city of Las Vegas.  It’s just simply not done.  You see, the man is a Las Vegas legend, and you show a man like that respect.  For God’s sake, my daddy played in the first World Series of Poker—Benny Binion’s brainchild—in 1970.  Louie and my daddy parted ways and my dad opened his own shop, Malone and Sons Bail Bonds, right across the street.  (This was before I was a twinkle in his eye and my daddy was positive that his second child would be a boy.)
Business was real tough at the outset, and after a while, that pretty showgirl got tired of clipping coupons and ran off with an LA record exec who has since declared bankruptcy.  My sister was three and I was just a baby.  Our mother never came back, even when our daddy died twelve years later.

“This is how it’s going to work,” I say to the frat boy as he pulls out his checkbook, “You pay me 10% of the bond, I post it for you, and if your friend shows up for his date with the judge, we’re all aces and kings.  If he doesn’t,” I say, careful to pause and make sure I’ve got his full attention, because this is the important part, “you’re on for the whole half a mil.  Got it?”
“Got it,” the frat boy says, eyeing Heavenly, in a microscopic gold skirt and white lace tube top, up and down.  Heavenly smiles back.  Then his eyes turn to me, starting at the top of my white wife beater, traveling down to my used Levi’s all the way to my combat boots.  My usual uniform for the day, all purchased at an Army Navy shop in Henderson, the neighborhood where I live.  I get most of my clothes at that same Army Navy shop, with the exception of my most prized possession—my red leather jacket.  Paper thin and soft as a baby’s bottom, it’s perfect for the mild Vegas weather (except for the summers when it’s oppressively hot, but that’s when I send the jacket to my sister in New York, who brings it to her “special leather guy in midtown” who cleans it up, reinforces the buttons, and makes it look new again in time for September).  It was bought while chasing down a mark with Donny in Italy.  When our mark hit Florence, I told Donny that we had to take an afternoon off to check out the flea market—famous for its top shelf leather goods.  Heavenly had specifically requested that if our mark hit Florence, we get her a pair of leather gloves.  It was there that I picked up my red leather jacket and also nailed my mark—his girlfriend had the same idea to stop and hit the flea market.  We picked them up just as he was trying on a pair of leather jeans.  He was sort of stuck in them and couldn’t run from us fast enough.  I love it when shit like that happens.
“That’s why you’re giving me proof that you can pay the whole half a mil, you get it?”
“Got it,” he says, casually passing me a faxed copy of the deed to his Washington, D.C. brownstone.  His eyes have left me and are back to running up and down Heavenly’s dancer’s bod.  She danced from the time she ran away from home at fifteen until she killed her husband at twenty-five, and she’s got the gams to prove it.
“And if you’re on for the whole half a mil,” I say, directing his eyes back to me, “you’ve got yourself a little date with my muscle, Donny.”
Donny stands up from his desk in the back and looks at the frat boy.  That is, all six foot five, three hundred pounds of him stands up and stares at the frat boy.  Donny’s face wears no expression, but when you’re six foot five, three hundred pounds, your body speaks for itself.  I can see the frat boy trying to hide his fear, in the same way I’m sure he’d learned to when he was being hazed by the older members of his fraternity, but when you’re in my business, you can smell fear a mile away.
Things are black and white in my business, much like life.  You’re either guilty or innocent, you can either pay your bail or you can’t, you either stay for the hearing, or you run. 
My mother, that pretty showgirl, taught me that.  You either stay or you leave.  You show up or you don’t.  That’s just the type of person you are.  One or the other.  It’s practically out of your control.  I’m the type of person who stays, and I try to surround myself with other like-minded people.
“Understand?” I ask the frat boy.  He shakes his head ‘yes’ and Donny sits back down and goes back to the newspaper he’d been thumbing through.
I’ve known Donny since the day I was born.  Daddy grew up with him back in the Bronx.  When he went out on his own after breaking away from Louie, my daddy brought Donny out to Vegas and hired him to be his muscle in the shop.  Most people wouldn’t hire an ex-con, at that time Donny had already done some time for a bunch of petty crimes—fights and the like—and my daddy was the only one in Vegas (and the Bronx, and the greater New York metropolitan area, incidentally) who would give him a shot.  They were closer than just friends, than just business colleagues, they were like brothers.  My daddy was the best man at Donny’s wedding, and served as the godfather to Donny’s little baby girl.  Donny’s godfather to my sister and me, too.
As per my daddy’s will, Donny was supposed to be our legal guardian should anything happen to him.  Unfortunately, at the time that my daddy died, Donny was at the tail end of a five year stint (ten really, but five with parole) in the Federal Pen for killing the drunk driver who had killed his wife and kid.
In Donny’s absence, our daddy’s secretary, Dottie, took my fifteen year old sister, Bessie, and me in until one day Social Services came calling.  I never was sure who turned us in and I try not to think about it too much.  That night, at three o’clock in the morning, my sister grabbed me and her boyfriend and put us all on a bus bound for New York City. 
We got a fifth-story walk up studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen right on Ninth Avenue near the bus terminal.  It was by no means a safe neighborhood, but we had my sister’s fifteen year old boyfriend, Dez, and a kindly Super named Sammy who watched out for us.
About a month before Dottie’s life savings had run out (which Dottie had given to us—my sister’s a lot of things, but she isn’t a thief), Bessie had scored a role on the daytime soap The Sun Never Sets on Tomorrow.  I wasn’t surprised at all when she got the role.  For one—I was twelve years old at the time, and when you’re twelve years old, you tend to think that anything is possible, even impossible dreams.  For the other—by fifteen, her boobs were already bigger than mine are now, and she had the same silky black hair and big blue eyes that I have.  Dez and I found Bessie a fake ID that said she was sixteen and had Dottie mail in parental consents to get her on the set. 
Bessie was tutored on the set until she was eighteen and she somehow got me a scholarship to a fancy Upper East Side private high school.  I don’t know how she did it, but my sister is one of those people who can make anything happen.  From my fancy Upper East Side private school, I was a shoe in to get into Harvard.  They didn’t offer me a scholarship, but by then, Bessie was making enough money as a soap star to foot the bill for me and it was my dream to go.  I know that she never would have paid if she knew that the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get a degree in business and re-open my daddy’s shop in Vegas, but by the time I graduated and told her of my plans, it was already too late.  When we argue, she sometimes tells me that she wants the Harvard money back, with juice.  I try to be careful not to argue with her.

            “Just sign here and we’re all set,” I say to the frat boy with a smile.  Usually, I have Heavenly take care of the minutia like this, but with a bond so high, I want all my “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed.  I cannot afford to lose this money.  The 10% I’m collecting on this bond is enough to keep my lease on the building and the business just barely in the black.  This business is all I have left of my daddy, and it’s not going anywhere as long as I have something to say about it.
            I look over his paperwork as he examines mine before signing.  This frat boy is attaching his two million dollar brownstone in D.C. as collateral for the bond.  I see from his application that these kids go to Georgetown.  I try not to think about the fact that this kid who is ten years younger than me owns more real property than I do as he signs his name—Albert Thomas Finnegan, the third.

I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST. (And, ahem, the very unpublished LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP.) My third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin's in 2013. My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

No Junk, Just a Little SLUSH in the Trunk

By Laura Spinella
Okay, so what I'm really wondering is how long until we Google through all the cute clipart that complements "trunk novels?"  Anyway... when our own Brenda Janowitz suggested the trunk novel theme, it seemed like a topic we could all relate to, sharing the would-be books and what became of them—kind of like spinsters in a crochet circle yapping on about the one that got away.  (I know, speak for myself)  Aside from a universal pitch that was sure to attract readers, writers and, who knows, maybe an editor’s eye, I own the unique experience of having resurrected a trunk novel for a very different reason.
            A few months ago, I was asked to start a writers’ critique group. Hmm, I ’m not a leader by nature. I’ve never aspired to teach the written word.  Writing is tough enough, never mind conveying the hard and fast rules of which the first rule is there are no hard and fast rules. I’ve heard I can be a tough critic.  My children hide essays better than the Easter Bunny hides eggs.  But after receiving emails from what seemed like an eager and genuinely interested group, I said yes. I said yes with the understanding that I would be an equal participant, no more, no less.  With a few more beginners than intermediate writers, I was perplexed as to what I might bring to the table. At the time, I was in the last round of revisions with my agent and THE IT FACTOR.  No offense, but I really wasn’t looking for outside input, not at this delicate juncture.  Then I thought of SLUSH
        This is the novel that was destined for greatness, my sure thing debut after BEAUTIFUL DISASTER had been permanently assigned to the trunk.  This alone goes to show what I know.  So off I went to the critique group, submitting chapters of SLUSH the way a kid might feed koi in a pond. At first, I was tentative—koi might as well be sharks if you’re six. Then there was my fascination at the hungry nibble.  I was amazed, watching my words roll around their mouths as if they actually tasted good. A few chapters in and the group was gathered by the edge, waiting for more.
Okay, maybe this book didn’t suck.
In truth, it never sucked.
Oh sure, it’s riddled with flaws.  They are flaws that this far more seasoned writer cringes at, scrambling to adjust unnecessary backstory and cliché character traits for an eager-eyed audience. And, so far, I’m having a good time doing it. SLUSH is more mainstream women’s fiction than romantic fiction, the genre that stamped my passport to publication. But the enthusiasm of these unexpected readers has refreshed my perspective, at least to the point of hunting up old emails, recalling exactly where that all changed. Agent number one rejected SLUSH outright. I mean, she probably broke a nail in her haste to dial a phone, telling me how much she hated the thing.  More than a decade younger than me—or my protagonist—she couldn't fathom why Lydia Sommers could not get past the drowning death of her three-year old son.  Go figure.  After that I was agent-less, (my choice) managing to get full reads for SLUSH from three major publishing houses. Each offered what I’d a call a positive rejection—complimentary but ultimately passing because… well, you fill in the blank. SLUSH was actually in the hands of publisher four when BEAUTIFUL DISASTER turned up from the trunk, almost by accident.  I’d succeeded, I was there. I could forget about a family saga that takes place in the seaside village of Snow Harbor, Maryland. I could move on from Lydia and Grady Sommers, the secrets that wash ashore decades later—a fateful twist of an ending that even I had forgotten I’d written!  I could forget all this except for a thoughtful group of women writers who have reminded me that maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't.
            This is an excerpt from SLUSH, which was honestly not titled to irritate or mock the publishing masses. For the full chapter read, click here:

The Boathouse
Twenty-four Years Earlier
Snow Harbor, Maryland
          “Well, hello.  I was wondering if you changed your mind.” It was a whisper that stuck to the air like melted ribbon candy.  Audra Bauer stepped from the cabin of the dry-docked sailboat looking sweeter than anything Grady Sommers had ever tasted.
            “Changed my mind? I can’t believe you’re really here,” he said, grabbing onto the boat’s mast as if it was caught in rough seas rather than moored to a pit of dirt. “Sorry I’m late.  I had to take a shower.  I didn’t want to come out here smelling like bucket of varnish.  I was helping my dad with the finish on the tiller.”
            “Oh,” she said, looking past Grady’s shoulder, “should we be expecting him?”
            “Who, my dad?  No,” he laughed.  “They went to Mt. Pleasant for the evening.  That’s why I helped.  I wanted to make sure he got it done.  He won’t have any reason to come out here.  It’s the last piece before he puts her back out to sea.”
            Audra took a few steps closer, glancing around the dim cavern of the boathouse.  “I see.  That was clever thinking, Grady.”
            “I wanted to make sure we were alone.”  He guessed she was as nervous as him, watching her tuck a length of blonde hair behind her ear.  He knew it was a habit, having spent much of his senior year observing Audra Bauer.  She was unattainable. 
 Audra and her father moved to Snow Harbor the summer before.  There was no mention of a Mrs. Bauer, except to say that there wasn’t one, Walter Bauer filling a need as Snow Harbor’s only lawyer.  They were from Philadelphia, which according to Grady’s father made them city people and complicated.  According to Grady, it only added to Audra’s allure. Two gas lanterns cast a glow around her, moonlight threading through the cracks of the barn-like building where Emil Sommers dry-docked broken boats.  On the raw wood ceiling craggy shadows jumped about like little devils on an errand. And knowing what they’d come there to do, the shadows made Grady feel even edgier: looming hell, Audra Bauer, and his father’s voice booming in the back of his head.  He was amazed she didn’t hear it.  Use good judgment and you’ll be fine, son.
            Audra’s voice stifled any lecture.  “Did you bring it?”
            “Yeah, here,” he said, pulling a paper bag from the shadow of his jacket.  “It’s the kind you wanted, right?  Extra-dry.” He smiled, wanting very much to please her. It was part of his image to deliver things, like liquor, as effortlessly as he did the winning touchdown.  It went with being popular.  Just like handsome went with the fact that he’d done it with half the girls in the senior class.  There were girls he’d gone all the way with while parents’ slept in the next room, and ones he’d jaded under the bleachers after a big game.  He’d heard it all, stupefied by his own prowess.  The stories were stunning and empowering.  The trouble was, not a single one was true.  
         Click here to continue... 

 Laura Spinella is the author of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, a 2012 RITA finalist for Best First Book. The novel is also the winner of the NJRWA Golden Leaf and Desert Rose RWA Golden Quill awards for Best First Book, as well as a finalist in the Wisconsin Write Touch Readers' Award. Visit her at 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Novels Eat BRAINS!

by Ernessa T. Carter

I've been trying to figure out how to write this post ever since our current topic cycle of trunk novels was announced. It's not that I never submitted a novel that didn't get published. I totally did. Twice when I was in college. Strangely enough, both query letters were strong enough to get me several requests for partials and one request for a full from agents. Unfortunately the writing was not strong enough to garner me any offers of representation.

Shortly after college, I switched from novel writing to screenwriting. I have several trunk screenplays, and scads of rejections to go with them. But then in 2005, I came back to novel writing, finished my debut novel in 2008, 32 CANDLES, and it sold in 2009.

I have no idea what happened to the hard copies of my college novel and I'm not sure how to go about getting them off their respective hard disks (remember those?).  But in the end, it doesn't really matter, because the truth is, every single thing I write to the end becomes a zombie.

What do I mean by this? I mean, if I finish a thing, I'll recycle and recycle it until it sells in some shape or form. Take for example 32 CANDLES. That started out as a screenplay, which I rewrote twice. Then I finally turned it into a book. My second novel is a floor-to-ceiling remodel of a screenplay I started in grad school. And my third novel is the second college novel, completely leveled and reimagined -- call it Extreme Novel Makeover.

My zombie issue goes so deep that just yesterday, I announced to my writing exchange partner I would start sending her pages from what should have been my original trunk novel next Monday. You see, the very first novel I sent round to agents in college has been the biggest zombie of all. First, I rewrote it as a screenplay twice, then as a TV pilot, then as an adult novel. Now, I'm digging it up again and rewriting it as the YA series I envisioned in college, before YA was big.

Why? I don't know. Something just sticks in my craw about having a trunk novel. As an undergrad, I remember having a very visceral reaction to the story of Emily Dickinson, who lived and died in the nearby town of Amherst. Something just stuck in my craw about someone so talented dying with all of those poems hidden away. As much as I love Emily Dickinson's work, I never wanted to be that person. For whatever reason, I want everything I write to live and breathe out in the open while I am alive.

And when I die, I hope whoever eulogizes me will be able to say, "We checked on her hard drive, and under her bed, and on the top shelf of her closet, and in all her dresser drawers; she left nothing behind."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Story of Z

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I thought about titling this post "The Junk from My Trunk," but that seemed to be too much like putting a sign on my own bottom saying "Kick Me", so.

Like all writers in my acquaintance, I have trunk novels. In my case, some of those are things that pre-date my first publishing deal while others came after. Z: A Novel is one of the latter and here's the story behind it.

I originally came up with the idea in March 2004. My debut novel had come out the previous July, my second was due out that coming July, and I needed something to play with. The Great Gatsby being my favorite novel by a dead author, the thought naturally occurred to me to do my own version. What I came up with was a story about a female writer named Nix Carter (the Nick Carraway character) who returns home to Danbury, CT, after years out in L.A. in order to care for her ailing father. Having lunch while hungover at the mall one day, she's in the company of Tim amd Dahlia Bucket (the Tom and Daisy Buchanan characters), when she sees a man dressed all in black, including a cape. He turns out to be a window washer who goes by the name Zorro. (That's right, in my version, Jay Gatsby is a window washer who may or may not really be Zorro, the hero of legend.)

When I say the book just flew out of me, I'm not exaggerating. In 19 days, I had completed the first draft. It wasn't a long book, being just shy of 67K words, but still, I'd never written something so easily in my life or that made me so happy. It had comedy, drama, romance, adventure, swordplay; it even said something about the tragically xenophobic world we sometimes find ourselves in.

Even though I was happy with it, I knew it wasn't a fit for Red Dress Ink, the publisher I still had three more books contracted to, so I held onto it, content to wait.

A year later, when I switched from Agent 4 to Agent 5, Agent 5 fell in love with Z. But one thing and another happened and Agent 5 never submitted that book anywhere; Agent 5 never submitted any of my books anywhere.

Then came Agent 6, with whom I signed in June 2005. Agent 6 and I got busy selling a bunch of things together - we've actually sold 18 books to publishers to date - and Z was not in the initial mix. By the time we did start submitting it, publishers didn't want to publish anything that could conceivably be labeled Chick Lit; and given that my five comedic novels for adults had been published by Red Dress Ink, any comedy I write - even The Bro-Magnet, which is told entirely in the first-person POV of a man - runs the risk of getting labeled that way. So there were a lot of positive things said about Z by various editors, but no sale.

This March, a full eight years after I initially got the idea for Z, I put it up for sale as an ebook. I'd post the first few paragraphs here, but the truth is, if you follow the link I'll provide at the end of this long sentence, the link will take you to the book's page on Amazon where if you simply click on the image of the book cover, you can read the first 30+ pages of the book for free: link

If you like the sample, you can even buy the whole thing right now for 99 cents - a steal!

Thanks for listening. These are great, exciting times for writers like me. I still have books that are traditionally published and I'm grateful for that - I try to regularly practice gratitude in my life as a writer - but when I've written something that traditional publishing thinks is too quirky or too what-have-you, I can assume all the risk and reward myself.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 24 published books for adults, teens and children. She is currently watching the Mets do really well, yet again, but there are still nearly four innings to go, so. You can read more about her life and work at or read her stupid tweets at @LaurenBaratzL on Twitter. She can't figure out what her own Facebook link is so don't ask.

Tales of the (empty) Trunk Novel

by Christa Allan

So far, I've managed to avoid answering THE QUESTION at every conference, workshop, panel or random gathering of writers I've been a part of for the past four years. Inevitably, the conversation becomes a swap meet of pre-publication battle wounds, the Purple Heart of Persistency awarded to the writer with the most rejected manuscripts before getting "the call." 

 THE QUESTION:   How many books did you write before the one that sold?

To announce to a group of writers that you sold the first book you'd ever written is like telling a woman in labor that you delivered your ten pound baby in thirty-two minutes without feeling one contraction. And it was born potty-trained.

If I'd known most writers don't sell their first novels, I probably wouldn't have bothered to contact agents when I did. Sometimes cluelessness can be its own reward. 

Then, once I signed with an agent, I discovered the real good news/bad news of the internet means there isn't a long wait for the letter from the editor to arrive. In my case, nine publishing houses turned my book down in Olympic gold-medal timing after receiving my agent's submission. Number ten bought it.

That serendipity of circumstances, and I believe God's sense of humor timing, rocked my world. It still does. Especially because I'm decades late for the debutante ball of publication, so my dance card isn't wide open.

 I don't consider what happened "beginner's luck" because I carried that novel in my head for ten years. (In fact, when we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, I carried what I'd written of it in a large zipper-locked plastic bag because I'm old, and I didn't trust my hard drive.) I read books about writing, I joined critique groups, I attended conferences, I entered writing contests. I hopped up and down on one foot for ten hours. ( No, I didn't hop, but I would have if I'd thought it would have made me a better writer.)

But here's what I've learned about not having a trunk book: Writing my second novel nearly paralyzed me because I didn't have "practice." Sure, I knew how to drive, but every curve, hill, winding road, and yield was a new experience. And lt's not even discuss those speed bumps. It was on-the-job training...on a deadline. 

And, on the other side, some of my writer friends are pulling three-book series out of their trunks, blowing the dust off, and slap-happy submitting everywhere. Or they have the alphabet-soup of genres when their agent calls with, "I have a editor who wants. . ."

So, now I find myself with a not-so-empty trunk. An idea that grabbed me, a tiptoe on my part into magical realism, has not yet endeared itself to a publisher. But now I know that, even if it doesn't, I've practiced.

Here's the prologue:

Before I fall asleep, your face is on the inside of my eyelids. When I open my eyes in the morning, you’re gone. And it’s been that way ever since you left.
So how does somebody make that go away? It’s not like there’s surgery for that.
 I mean, really, I can’t function without eyelids. But then it’s hard to function without you.
Maybe if I’d had some choice in the matter.
My Granny Rose says we always have choices about falling in love. Maybe we should’ve just fallen in like.
That would have been so much easier and cheaper. Because, of course, the wedding and the reception still have to be paid for, even if nobody shows up.
Well, we showed up.  Not you.
I should be angry, furious or whatever synonym Roget’s Thesaurus would say is the absolute angriest of angry words. But, really, is there any point in being mad at a dead person?
Maybe. Like if the dead person’s your almost husband and you’ve waited in the church watching the time tick by on everyone’s face and finally you send them home and call the hotel and ask them if they know anyone who needs to feed 350 people that evening.
 I think that qualifies as a legitimate mad.
When the phone rang at three o’clock in the morning, which is never a good thing, there was a wisp of hope. Like the smell of someone’s perfume after they’ve walked through a room and, for as long as the scent lingers, you look around to see if someone’s really there. But then, it’s gone, and you know hope’s just a memory.
That’s when a strange man’s voice told me he thought they found you.
Near the city of Jensen. Fifty miles away. In your car.

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken Glass, The Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans. Her next novel, Threads of Hope, will release in March of 2013. She and her husband live in New Orleans where they're learning how to take care of a home that's older than their combined ages. When she's not filling her trunk, doing "weed the garden" therapy or baking cheesecakes, Christa teaches high school English. She hopes to retire soon. Very soon. You can find Christa at Twitter (ChristaAllan), Facebook, and