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 


  1. Love this, Laura!! (And thank you for the shout out!)

    I think you may have to resurrect SLUSH- I'm liking what I've read so far. Hopping over to your blog for some more!!

  2. Great excerpt. I love the title "It Factor." Very intriguing. Are you done with all your edits?

  3. "...a fateful twist of an ending that even I had forgotten I’d written!"

    I love it when I go back to something I wrote a long time ago and it surprises me--it's a great feeling.

  4. That first paragraph is killer! Bravo. SLUSH needs to return.

  5. I love this and I love that you were agentless when you broke through - girl after my own heart.