Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Junk in the Trunk

by Ellen Meister

I have, alas, passed onto two of my three children a Jewish body type of the tush-less variety. I don't know why we evolved this way. Perhaps my people survived by being less appealing to the Cossacks they were running from.

And so I had to explain to my daughter that, sadly, girls like us do not make the rockin' world go round.

There's a line in one of my novels in which a female character misses an appointment and says, "I got a little behind." The man she's speaking to looks at her ass and says, "But you make up for it with your sparkling personality."

We certainly hope so.

At any rate, there's a parallel in my writing life, as I don't have much junk in the trunk there, either. There are certainly plenty of false starts—novels that began with great enthusiasm and died before crossing the finish line—but no complete manuscripts.

Still, there is a book that has been haunting me for years. I've attacked it again and again from every possible angle. Each time I show it to my agent she gently tells me it's just not working. Not that I plan to give up on this book. In fact, it may well be my magnum opus, waiting for the day when I'm wise enough to understand the real story.

In the meantime, I'd like to share with you the prologue that got dropped during the last rewrite. The tone is probably all wrong for the book, but it's one of those darlings it pains me to kill, and since this may be my only chance of publishing it, I'm happy to present it here. I hope you enjoy it ...

©Ellen Meister

            People called her Fitch, at least to her face. But if the deceit bothered her it never showed. Beryl Fitch was not ruled by anger. Anger knew better than to try to get anywhere near her.
            So she was as cool as an early frost when she read that morning's Snark Angel, the book publishing industry's dishy daily blog:
            In an interview in this month's Vanity Fair, Mitchell Krum, author of runaway bestseller THE GEL KING, is quoted as saying "Seven publishers turned the book down, including the infamous Beryl Fitch, who laughed at my proposal, saying it was as interesting as the back of a can of hairspray. Who's laughing now?"
                Beryl Fitch, as readers of this blog know, is publisher at Litton Press, and is as famous for her uncanny ability to spot potential bestsellers as she is for her acid tongue, earning her the spooneristic nickname Feral Bitch. THE GEL KING was purchased by her protégé, Emily Bashe, who left Litton two years ago to join Apollo with her own imprint. Snark Angel imagines Ms. Fitch is sharpening her claws as we speak.
            Fitch closed the tab and sipped her coffee. Slowly. It wasn't the claws remark that made her jaw tighten. And God knows it wasn't the nickname. Hell, she'd been called worse by her own family. No, it was that she had been so wrong about that project. But seriously, a memoir from a mogul of 1980s hairstyling products? How could she have anticipated that a whole generation of readers would trip all over the kitschy appeal of that piece of crap? And how had Emily Bashe been keen enough to see it?
            Her trusted assistant, Travis, knocked lightly on her open door. She looked up.
            "I guess you read it," he said, sashaying toward her. People in the office often said Travis was yin to her yang, the feminine half of her team.
            Fitch put down her coffee and grunted.
            "I have a present for you," Travis said, tossing a perfect bound magazine onto her desk. "It's a special edition of People—Celebrating the 70s." He did a mock disco dance move, a la John Travolta, as he said it.
            Fitch, as Travis knew, was on the prowl for a memoir from an iconic 1970s figure—something that would make THE GEL KING look like yesterday's floor sweepings. But she was seeking something under the radar. Let the other publishers feast on the remains of Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Beryl Fitch wanted to break ground—to define the pop culture gestalt of the seventies in a way that hadn't yet been done.
            "For inspiration," Travis said, pointing to the magazine.
            Fitch absently leafed through the pages—barely paying attention to the boring photographs of Burt Reynolds, Mark Spitz, Suzanne Somers and other seventies celebrities—while she grilled him on the work she had assigned him the day before. Yes, he had postponed the marketing meeting. No, he hadn't heard back yet from Frankfurt. Yes, he had confirmed her lunch appointment and followed up with production about the budget screw-up.
            Suddenly, Fitch froze, captured by an image before her. She raised her hand to get Travis to shut up.
            "What is it?" he said.
            "This." She put a finger on the page and Travis stood to get a better look. It was a reproduction of an iconic poster from the early 1970s. At the top it had the headline, HOW TO RECOGNIZE A J.A.P. (Jewish American Princess). The visual was a full-length photograph of a prototypical Long Island teenage girl circa 1973. The poster, she recalled, had been massively popular, following on the heels of the Jewish princess stereotype that Phillip Roth had written about a decade earlier. He may have identified her, but this poster brought her to life and even changed the lexicon. The word JAP became part of the English language. The persona became an icon.
            "I know her," Fitch said. "I know the woman who modeled for this. Crazy fuck. She was one of the biggest publicists in New York. Haven't heard from her in at least a dozen years." Fitch stood, almost unable to contain herself. "The first JAP," she said, and closed her eyes as if she were picturing the book jacket, the tour, the months on the bestseller list. "God, she'd better not be dead."
            "What should I do?" Travis said.
            "Find her," Fitch said. "Find me a way to contact her. If I know Sherry Diamond, she's been waiting her whole life for this call."

Ellen Meister's new novel, FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, comes out from Putnam this February, and she hopes you'll want to read it. In the meantime, please follow her Dorothy Parker page on Facebook to receive daily quotes and quips from the mistress of the verbal hand grenade. For other info, visit Ellen's website.


  1. I loved it and I absolutely loved Fitch - I'm not sure if I was supposed to, but she was a larger than life character you could just see and hear. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ellen, love this post! And I love your prologue-- glad we got to see it. What's the latest working title on this WIP?

  3. Rebecca, thank you! I liked Fitch, too, and that may have been part of the problem. She was only a minor character. :)

    Brenda, the last working title was Rocky Point (and before that The Cousins Club), but it's all tucked away in the trunk as I work on another proposal! xx

  4. I read your first sentence as "passed out onto two of my three children" and thought, 'Whoa! Problem much?'

    Great post, EM. I'd read that.

  5. So much fun to read Ellen--I loved Beryl too. Maybe she can come back in another life:)

  6. Love the prologue! Maybe Feral Bitch needs her own HEA short story sometime. I'd love to see her match!

  7. I really liked this! Sounds like a fun book. :)

  8. Judging from this excerpt, I have to say your agent is making as big a mistake as Beryl Fitch made with "The Gel King." This is hysterical! Polish it up and submit it!

  9. I'm in with the other girlfriends. I would read this and I think lots of us in the writing world would love it. Curious about the specifics of why your agent doesn't think it will go....

  10. Guess I'm not working either because I think this not-working excerpt is FUNNY!

  11. as one with junk in the trunk, i think the grass is always greener. enjoyed this piece. i second (or fifth) the polish and submit.

  12. Big thanks to everyone for the kind words! I have to admit, the prologue probably gave the wrong impression for what came after, because the book is really not about Beryl Fitch, but about Sherry Diamond and the people in her life. But maybe I need to write a book about Fitch!

    Something to think about ...

    Appreciate the input!

  13. Love, love your voice, Ellen. So sparkling. Thanks for sharing.