Friday, February 25, 2011

Girlfriends Talk About the Books That Got Away

At one time we thought they were masterpieces; now we’re relieved they never saw the light of day. Some we might revive, others are destined to line bird cages.
Almost every writer has one: the book that got away.

A Second Life For a Once Dead Book

Every good writer has a drawer full of possibilities- seeds of ideas, pages of notes, funny stories, great lines, interesting character names, crazy what if's... call it our inventory. But which ones do we actually end up using?Ultimately what we gravitate towards (or should) are the stories that scare the ever livin' crap out of us because that's where the honesty is hiding. And regardless of the plot, or even the characters we develop, what we are always seeking is emotional truth. No point dreaming up a fantastic scenario if at the end of the day it hasn't pulled back the curtain on the wizard.That's why I love to share my "book that got away" story because it has a happy ending.

My very first novel was called All in the Cards and it was never published but it was optioned by Bette Midler for a film deal. After two years in the Hollywood spin cycle, it never happened as a film deal either and the manuscript got tucked away in the basement next to boxes of baby clothes. I thought it was dead forever.Fast forward to ten years and three novels later. I told my editor that I would love to revive it- that the idea of two bickering next door neighbors who have to come to terms with each other still resonated with me. Her response was that it didn't strike her as especially catchy, and then Desperate Housewives went on the air and she said, "Let me take a look."

That original story, rewritten and rewritten again, was finally published in 2008 as DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD. It ended up being a much more honest and poignant story than the original, truly funny but equally heartfelt, and I was so proud that I was able to share it with readers.I have two other works -in-progress that so far have not found their footing but I am inspired to keep going because of this wonderful turnaround... Timing is everything, yes. But so is perseverance and the desire to get it right.

Saralee Rosenberg

Not Sexy Enough

The book that got away? That's simple, it was the book that landed me an agent. It was a historical romance titled, The War Bride. I really loved that book! It was my second completed novel and I spent hours and hours researching it. It was set during the Regency period and featured a Spanish heroine. Unfortunately, the book's setting worked against me (or so I was told). Instead of being set in England, it was set mostly in Portugal and Spain. It was also being shopped in New York at a time when historical romance was seeing a resurgence but the books that were selling were very very sexy. I remember sitting down with my agent to have a talk. She was trying to tell me that she didn't think the book would sell and why (location and lack of hot sex). Jokingly, she asked me, "do you think you can rewrite it with a S&M scene in it?" We laughed and then I sobered up and said "no." And then we laughed again.
Maria Geraci

Slush for the Slush pile

SLUSH… No, not the pile, but the title of my third novel. As I write this, it’s the one winking at me from the desk drawer. Yes, I get the double entendre. And no, the title was not a swipe at the publishing industry. It was deep. SLUSH reflected the various, heart-wrenching themes portrayed throughout the book. Lydia Sommers is reduced to emotional slush after her son falls through a slush-filled pond and drowns. What do you mean you don’t get it? Seriously? That’s okay; neither did two agents and three publishers. Still, it’s the one that will go down as the thorn in my side. I loved that book. I saw the characters as moving, the setting sublime, and the plot captivating. Unfortunately, I was the only one who did see it. On the other hand, this flawed novel was a blessing well disguised. First, it got my foot through a lot of doors. Agent-less, I managed to get three publishers to read the entire thing. While disappointed by their rejection, it did make me think there had to be something to my writing. In a business where you can parlay a speck of approval into a hearty slap on the back, SLUSH’s maybes kept me writing.

My current agent politely rejected it, but offered me encouraging words. It was enough to make me try again and say, “Well, if you kind of liked that, maybe you’ll really like this…” SLUSH melted into a full-fledged puddle when I gave her the draft of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER. I have a few manuscripts that I think about reworking. SLUSH isn’t one of them. Here’s the difference: At some point, all the manuscripts have met with positive comments and suggestions as to how I might flesh out their potential. SLUSH never received that sort of endorsement. Sure, people said nice things about my writing. But they never said anything constructive about the story. Its fate was a given from the start. Really, it’s okay. What else could you expect from a novel titled SLUSH?

Laura Spinella
Too Much Carpool
The novel that got away was the one I wrote when my children were very young. I had no time for research and one reader complained there was too much carpool in it. Agents agreed. When my children were old enough to go to school all day, I busted out of carpool line and got the idea for My Jane Austen Summer. I put the first novel, along with 21 rejections, in a drawer, and never looked back.

Cindy Jones

Writing By Instinct

Ah, the doorstop book! I have one of those. It came between my second and third novels. I wrote my first two novels never having read a writing "how to" book in my life. I just wrote the way I wrote. With #3, I thought I'd be more deliberate. Only, as it turned out, writing advice books at the time were all about structure and outlining and making charts and extensive character bios. And, as I learned much later, I am not that sort of writer. At one point my outline hit 70 pages. Boy, that book was dead on the pages. It had its moments, but no one wanted it. I kept getting told it was beautifully written, which it was, but, you know, pass. It was beautifully written AND freaking boring.{Time passes, and Carolyn contemplates giving up the writing. . .] Then I decided to heck with all these books that said I had to have a plan and structure and know what was going to happen in advance. I went back to the way I'd written my first two books, wrote a different novel the "wrong" way, and sold it. I've never looked back.

Carolyn Jewel

Failure As a Blessing

My first novel was so awful I actually deleted it from my compute like it was a virus. I sold my second novel and then, after having published five novels, the economy got bad, and I wrote two novels out of desperation. Desperation novels rarely makes for good literature, and after some reflection, I knew I had to shelf both. (Many tears and much teeth gnashing was involved.) Ironically, my two failures were the best thing that ever happened to me. Made me slow down and really, truly learn my craft. The novel I’m currently working on comes from a much calmer and wiser place. Although I want it to rock, I'm not nearly as attached to the results any more.

Karen Neches

I Thought of It First

I've got a file cabinet drawer full of unpublished manuscripts and a file on my computer full of novels I started and then abandoned. Sometimes these books fail because the idea of them was better than the reality of them. Sometimes because the characters walked out on me, or the plot fizzled, or I just couldn't sustain the story's energy. Sometimes because the timing was off. My first attempt at writing a women's fiction novel (after I'd published many romance novels) generated a great deal of publisher enthusiasm but ultimately wasn't bought by anyone. Ten years later, a book with a very similar premise came out and was a huge bestseller. When I'd written my book, I guess, the time just wasn't right for that kind of story. Ten years later, the time was right. And of course, I never went back to that manuscript and tried to sell it, because now it would seem imitative of someone else's successful novel.


Adulterers and Disney Don’t Mix

My third ms, THE ADULTERER'S UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO DISNEYWORLD, was the book I thought would make it. It wasn't Editors were interested but didn't like the word ADULTERER'S and liked DISNEYWORLD even less. My fourth book, 'SCUSE ME WHILE I KILL THIS GUY, is the one that actually sold. I still think ADULTERER'S GUIDE has potential. Maybe someday I'll just post it as an ebook.
Leslie Langtry

Writing About Vampires Before Vampires Were Cool

I wrote my first book in high school. It was about an orphaned human girl, whose vampire gang leader brother takes over her guardianship. The girl has to choose between the vampire who has been chosen to mate with her and the high school's basketball star. At the time, I was like, "Vampires in high school? Who wants to read about that?" Sigh. Maybe I should revisit that book...
Ernessa T. Carter

Where’s the Plot?

I wrote many, many beginnings of books. This was when I was dreaming of being a writer. I had great opening scenes, but then I didn't know what happened next. In short, I had no plot.

After many years of reading books I loved, mostly mysteries, I began to see how they were plotted--their structure. When I got serious and decided to make another attempt at writing a novel, I made sure I knew the whole story--beginning, middle, and end. Now I'm working on a thriller and I'm a superstitious. I don't want to talk about it, but it's completely different from anything I've ever written. I'm muddling my way through, trying to get a grip on this new structure. I sure hope this one doesn't turn into the book that got away!

Sara Rosett

No Writing is Ever Wasted

It's always so hard to accept that a book you've worked so hard on, with characters you've come to love, might never see the light of day. I have two such documents on my laptop . . . and here's what I've come to understand about both of them. First, no writing is wasted. Ever. It might get used in another MS, but even if it doesn't, every word I write makes me a better writer. Second, the story isn't necessarily dead, I just haven't figured out the right way to tell it. At some point, I'll either tell it right or realize it's better left untold.

Also, whether it's a complete MS or scenes that I love but I've taken out, I save them all in a folder on my laptop labeled "Crap I took out"--I can go back and revisit it anytime I want. Dumping it in the trash is too final for me. Not that I'm a hoarder or anything . . .

Judy Merrill Larsen

Cringe Worthy

When I was in law school, I started work on a novel. At the time, I'd never taken a writing class, never studied the craft of writing-- I just thought it would be fun to write a book.
And it was! I loved taking a break from law school and getting lost in these characters I'd created. I never finished that book-- things like the New York State bar exam and my job at a large Manhattan law firm kept getting in my way-- but when I finally decided to really give writing a chance, I dug it out. After taking a writing class and really getting to learn the basics of good writing, that book made me cringe! But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those characters.
Brenda Janowitz

Bad Timing

It was the second book I wrote, Falling for Prince Charles, in 1997. It was a romantic comedy about an underachieving thirtysomething Jewish cleaning lady from Danbury, CT, who wins a million dollars in Lotto. She uses the money to fulfill her dream to see London where she meets and falls in love with Prince Charles. Through a series of misunderstandings, no one in the Royal Family realizes she's Jewish or that she's used to having her arm up to her elbow in the wrong kind of toilet water. By the time they do, Prince Charles is in love with her. Did you hear me say I wrote that book in 1997? I did, and sent it out on submission. In August of that year, arguably the most beloved woman of the last century, Princess Di, died.

In September I got a call from the vice president of one of the biggest publishers in the country. We all know that publishing tradition dictates that "no" comes in an envelope - or an email these days - while "yes" comes in a phone call. But she wasn't calling to say yes. She was calling because she wanted to tell me personally how much she loved my crazy book but that she couldn't buy it and no one would be able to. To this day, when I talk about that book, I still get people laughing, saying they would love to read it. Maybe it's time for me to self-publish it on Kindle?

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

My Own Personal MFA

The problem with "The One That Got Away" is the word ONE. I wrote two novels that my agent's never seen. They were my own personal MFA. I then wrote a screenplay, and read books about that craft, which allowed me to learn about plot and character. I'm still learning, and working on my third novel, which has its own little history of getting away from me. I've written hundreds of scenes and characters for a story I wasn't sure how to enter. I think I've finally found my way in, fingers crossed, and tell myself that the hundreds of pages already lost aren't so much wasted as simple a refresher course in the baffling and tantalizing art of fiction.
Sheila Curran

Hopes of Resuscitation

The books that got away: Actually, I have four and a half of them. But 2.5 I still hope to resuscitate one day! My first novel ever, a mystery about a lady golf pro, FINAL ROUND, did he job it needed todo--it sold the series both to my agent and to a publisher. And it served as background for the next five books. When I look back onthat, I'm actually relieved that it never saw the light of day--everything got better after that first attempt!

Roberta Isleib

The Sucessful Series That Got Away

There's a novel out that I won't name...but I very nearly wrote it. About three years back, my agent was approached to see if I wanted to write a new series. The idea presented was intriguing, and I really wanted to take a shot. I knew other writers were being propositioned, too, so I was driven to see if I could come up with fifty pages that thrilled them enough to pick me. It was a genre I'd never tackled before, and I just loved the opportunity to try. I must've written those fifty pages in a matter of days, and my agent submitted it...and they said, "Yes, we'd like you to do this!" But the contract terms hit some big snags, ones we could not un-snag and I finally said, "Let's walk away." When I saw the book was out (and heard about the very generous print run), I got a pang in my heart, thinking, "That could have been me."

But, you know, I've loved every book I've written in the meantime, and I couldn't imagine not doing any of them because each has taken me to a place closer to where I want to be. I truly believe all things happen for a reason, even if we don't know what that reason is at the time. And one of these days, I will read my "book that got away!" I have a feeling I'll see that I wasn't meant to write it, and I hope the writer who did kicks some a**!
Susan McBride

Girlfriend News:

Maria Geraci will be teaching a week long online workshop beginning Feb 28 over at Savvy Authors. The subject is deconstructing the elements of romantic comedy and how to use them to pump up your writing. Here's the link:

Congrats to Joell for winning Tales From a Yoga Studio. Email us at kgillespie (at) knology. net and I’ll send it to you.


  1. I just loved this week's blog and could have read on an on. As a writer, you think you're the only one that has mourned the loss of a book that will never be- a miscarriage of justice you might say. It's not so much that misery loves company that inspired me while reading everyone's tales, it was that everyone kept going and succeeded! We are truly a resilient bunch, and so much wiser for all the bumps and bruises.

  2. Comforting to see that everyone has a book (or two) that got away! Thanks for sharing your stories! Glad to know I am in such fine company!

  3. Susan, you can't tease us like that-- name names!! Tell!!!

  4. Fantastic post! I love knowing that my novel graveyard isn't the only one.

  5. Brenda, my lips are sealed! ;-) Love everyone's stories, btw!

  6. Ladies, thank you so much for this post. I'm writing a novel now that has a very similar premise to a book that recently came out. I'm glad I'm not the only one!! If it ends up never being published, I won't feel bad. The timing will work out eventually!