Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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


  1. Christa, I know I've said it a million times on a million blogs, but I love your voice and writing. And this post is so encouraging! :)

  2. Wow. I really liked that. Just hang onto to it. Maybe some day.

    1. Thanks, Karin. And as the reigning blog queen, do you have any idea what I did to cause those two sections of the blog to be highlighted as they are? I didn't intend for them to be!

  3. Love that, Christa! And I love what you say about the importance of the trunk novel- we writers DO need to write a lot. Now I don't have to feel so bad about the novels I've got in MY trunk!

  4. Ooh. You had me from the start. Love this.

  5. That's a heartbreaking intro...and I loved your answer to THE QUESTION. :)

  6. Love, love, love your prologue, Christa! I also loved your trunk story, another fascinating, "How I got here..." tale, even if your trunk wasn't brimming!

  7. Hi Christa, loved the prologue!

    It's funny how something negative can be a positive and vise versa. I have friends who were dropped and their books went out of print. They were devastated. Now they have a backlog of books ready for the emarket and are laughing all the way to the bank!

  8. Christa, I try not to begrudge other writers' success and I wouldn't call getting a first novel published "beginner's luck" - truth to tell, I think *all* of us who are published are lucky. In your sample, I particularly liked "I mean, really, I can’t function without eyelids." What I liked about it is that despite the narrator being down, she still retains a sense of humor.

  9. I'm with Jessica - you have a very distinctive (and wonderful) voice. I'm also with you oh The Question. I don't like to admit I sold my first ms - or that I signed with the first agent I queried (even if I did rack up an impressive 50-something rejections between submission and acceptance). Great post!

  10. Your prologue to this story is so compelling, Christa! Thanks for sharing it and for telling your answer to that big question...

  11. Thanks to all! I've been in meetings all day and am now taking a break from peeling 20# of raw shrimp--be grateful this is a sensory blog!

  12. Love the prologue! If a publisher doesn't want this book, indie-publish it yourself. I'll buy it!