When the subject of trunk novels (finished or unfinished manuscripts that have been stashed away before publication) comes up, I have plenty to say. The first book I ever wrote, FINAL ROUND, lives in a trunk. As it was told, Cassie Burdette, a lady golfer whose personal baggage limited her professional success, had the bad luck to get involved with the murder of a superstar golfer.
On the basis of that manuscript, I landed an agent and she sold a 3-book golf lovers mystery series to Berkley Prime Crime. But FINAL ROUND was rejected because Cassie was serving as a caddie, carrying the bag for a man on the PGA tour. They wanted her to be shown as a golfer, not a caddie, in the first book of the series.
"But she has issues," I explained, "that prevent her from playing at that level."
The publisher didn't care.
So FINAL ROUND went in the trunk.
During the time I was waiting and hoping to hear news of a sale, I wrote a second installment in the series in which Cassie falls for a gorgeous professional golfer in the Dominican Republic. Tropical setting, voodoo, a dangerous romance: What was not to like? But my new editor determined that foreign settings weren't selling. Into the trunk it went.
|photo by Daniel Johnson|
After eight mysteries published, I attempted a non-mystery "breakout" book, featuring a jilted real estate agent and the detective from my advice column mysteries. My agent felt it wasn't representative of my strongest work. Thunk, went the manuscript, into the trunk.
|photo by Greg Wagoner|
Next I started a book about a psychologist who was tricked into co-leading a happiness group and finally found happiness herself. I got involved in writing something else and didn't finish it. Thud: on the pile, in the trunk.
And then came the book I fondly call "the homeless baby thriller." But three-quarters of the way through, I got distracted by writing a proposal for the Key West food critic mystery series. And that led to a gallop through seven published novels. So the thriller went to gather dust with the other trunk inhabitants. (Help, help, it's getting very crowded in here!)
|Poco, the original zany Aussie|
Oh, and don't let me forget the children's book about a zany Australian shepherd who gets in trouble with all the neighbors. Trunkward bound after a clumsy first draft.
So though I recently celebrated the publication of my fifteenth book in fourteen years (KILLER TAKEOUT), I've actually written parts or all of 21 books. But there's very good news in this: I've learned more about writing well with each book. And all but the first two are still interesting ideas that I'd love to go back to one day, if life ever slows down. (In truth, I’m working on three things that I feel a little superstitious about, so I’ll wait to tell.)
Someone told me once that he'd pitched a golf mystery to an editor who told him that writing about golf would kill his career. But I’ve survived. And honestly, I don't have a moment of regret. And here I give you the opening of my first ever novel-fresh from the trunk:
FINAL ROUND by Roberta Isleib, circa 2000
The first streaks of sun lit up the golf course like a carpet of emeralds. I rolled my neck in slow circles, easing out kinks left over from a long drive and a series of lumpy mattresses. A palpable hum of excitement and hopefulness hung over the practice range, which teemed with golfers grooming their swings for today's tournament.
Despite the pastoral backdrop, I knew the tension that permeated these early minutes would surge over the next few days. For professional golfers, competition was more than just a game. Take the first tee, where a crowd of fans narrowed the hole to a chute with living, breathing walls. And suppose the only image that flashed through your mind was shanking the ball off the toe onto some spectator's bald head. Or worse yet, making no contact at all. Or maybe the guy you needed to take apart that day was your best buddy off the course. Even so, you had to grind away without a thought about how he felt. No question about it, competition could be murder.
I'd worked hard to get here. Except I never imagined I'd make my appearance carrying someone's bag, not using the clubs myself. And there were things I missed about playing. Like the feeling of striking a shot so pure, so perfect, you knew it was your best. Or say you were playing an opponent who had the game to kill you, but you'd clawed a path to two holes up anyway. Or maybe you were coming down the home stretch all square and your hands felt like concrete blocks, but you needed to chip close to give yourself a chance for bird. And you knocked it stiff.
Yeah, I missed it. Gods knows, I grew up in a family that could make eating mashed potatoes into a contest. Even our dog was competitive: you had to fight him for a place in the front seat of the car. But right now, my job as Mike's caddie was to stay in the background. Kind of a Hillary Clinton to her Bill, only without the humiliating Monica Lewinsky part.
Well, now that I look it, there was a lot of golf in them there pages! I think I improved as I went along:).
Cassie's first published adventure on the LPGA tour, Six Strokes Under, is still available as an ebook.
Jungle Reds, anything in your trunks? Doesn't have to be writing--could be any project you started and didn't quite finish...