Nope. Nope. Nope. I don't have one. No "trunk novel." Unless, um, you count one that never got past six chapters and an incredibly elaborate outline.
You do count it?
Okay, then, the story. And it's a tale of innocence and experience, of great expectations, of hilarity and naiveté and big-time reality checks. And, finally, of education and knowledge and lessons learned for a lifetime.
All from 6 chapters and an outline?
One day, in 19....94? or even before that....I got one. A good idea. I would write a mystery about GOLF, featuring the first female golf pro at an exclusive local golf course, and she would solve a sort of eco-murder-mystery on the golf course having to do with herbicides and miscarriages. (As a TV reporter, I had covered the trial that turned out to be "A Civil Action" so I was full of research knowledge and lots of cool jargon.)
We will not discuss the fact that I do not know how to play golf, don't know how a golf course works, and actually, don't even like golf because my depth perception is so bad I can never figure out where the ball is. But I thought GREENSKEEPER (good title, huh?) would be commercial, and I'm a reporter, had been for almost 20 years back then, so I thought--I write true stories every day. How hard can it be to make stuff up?
What I didn't know: I had clearly never heard the phrase "point of view." I mean, I'd heard it, but had no concept that in a good book, the POV has to be consistent. So when I tell you I head-hopped paragraph to paragraph, that is only in retrospect, because back then I didn't know that's what I was doing.
But no--wait. I read somewhere you were supposed to have an outline. NO problem, I thought. I can do that. So I wrote an incredibly specific chapter by chapter description of what was going to happen, and that only served to make me even more certain that I would soon be a wildly successful author. I thought--who wouldn't love this?
I sent the chapters and the outline to two agents. And waited for the good news. This was--1994, remember. Maybe--before that. Actually, come to think of it, it might have been 1989. Hmm. I wrote it on a typewriter, I remember.
Meanwhile, I sent the manuscript to my father, who is retired from the foreign service now, but used to be the music critic for the Chicago Daily News, and has written two well-published non-fiction books on American music.
He's the nicest person in the world, and infinitely loving. He called, and said--"Honey? I read your stuff. And, uh--" And I am quoting precisely now: "There's this thing called 'voice,'" he said. "And you don't have it."
Which was--a bummer. But I figured, what does he know? He doesn't read this kind of book.
A few weeks later, I got my replies from the agents.
One's letter said, paraphrasing: Wow, this is a great plot, and we love the idea of the female golf pro. But we are sorry to say your writing is just not up to par. (Oh, they didn’t actually say "up to par," I'm sure. But how could I resist? And that's what they meant.) And they rejected it.
I was so flummoxed and disappointed, I just--stopped.
Years later, more than ten years later, when I started writing again, I knew enough to know that I didn't know anything. I was still a complete novice, writing PRIME TIME, but I worked and learned and got advice and read books about writing, took classes and went to conferences and joined Sisters in Crime and MWA. And revised, revised, revised.
And it all worked beautifully. And now my fifth Novel, THE OTHER WOMAN is the lead hardcover title for Forge's fall catalog, and is getting amazing amazing blurbs--Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Scottoline, Joe Finder, Louise Penny, Carolyn Hart, Lisa Unger. (And I am on the national board of MWA, and about to be president of national Sisters in Crime.)
I pulled out GREENSKEEPER, recently, wondering if there was anything I could steal for my next book. Or anything I could learn. And there was. I learned exactly what NOT to do!
And what could be more valuable than that?
What did you learn from your mistakes?
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