The Secrets in my Filing Cabinet

Kate Flora: Recently, I was asked, as writers often are when we identify ourselves as

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Cover for my forthcoming short story collection

writers, if I was published. I replied with modest, down-cast eyes, that I had published eighteen books. Thinking about the eighteen published books, and the short story collection, novella, and ninth Thea Kozak mystery that I am putting the finishing touches on, made me wonder. Including the books that are hiding in my files, how many books have I written, as opposed to those I have published?

Since I spent ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner before my first book appeared, and since I am very serious about the fact that what writers do is write, whether published or not, I have quite a stash of unpublished books. Books we sometimes refer to as “books in the drawer.”

So what is in my drawer? To begin with, three books that I describe as being in a safe which is wrapped in chains, encased in cement, and at the bottom of the sea. These are my practice books. Two books in a series about a law student–representing, I suppose–the oft said idea that all early works are autobiographical. Another book about a New Hampshire school teacher with an irresponsible ex-husband, who moves her sad child to Florida and becomes a dog groomer.

When I first started writing my Thea Kozak series, I alternated those books with a series about Ross McIntyre, a Maine high school biology teacher. So the drawer contains three Ross McIntyre mysteries.

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Cover for my Girls’ Night Out novella

Around the time that my New York publisher dropped the Thea Kozak series, and before another publisher picked it up, I tried my hand at writing thrillers. The only one that got published was Steal Away, published as Katharine Clark, about a child who gets kidnapped. The other thrillers, still collecting dust in the drawer, include Spring Break, about a college student who learns she’s the child of a politician running for President, and has to go on the run when she becomes a potential pawn for the candidates. Spring Break shares drawer space with Teach Her a Lesson, about a school teacher trying to defend herself she when’s unjustly accused of seducing a student, and Runaway, a romantic suspense story about a girl on the run and a man who needs to get married.

No. That drawer still isn’t empty. There’s also the first book in a planned series about a female architect. Alas, this book is missing the ending, and the file is lost so many computers ago that I can’t find it. Of course, there’s also half a sequel, in which her rat of an ex-husband is found nail-gunned to the floor in a house she’s designed, and he’s the prime suspect.

I think that’s all. I believe we’ve come to the bottom of the drawer, but after thirty-five years in this writer’s chair, there might be another that I’ve forgotten.

This past weekend, I pulled out the manuscript for Spring Break, and it was just like reading someone else’s novel. I couldn’t put it down. I have a zillion things I need to be doing, but I needed to know what happened next. It’s my favorite part of writing–this need to get back to the story to see what happens next. This week, I got to entertain myself with my own long-neglected book. Yes, it’s a hokey book and too much bad stuff happens to my brave heroine, but it is still fun to read what I was writing almost twenty years ago.

Writers who are reading this–do you have a drawer full of unpublished books, too?

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13 Responses to The Secrets in my Filing Cabinet

  1. kaitlynkathy says:

    Hi, Kate. I’m impressed that you kept copies and that you can enjoy reading them. Your descriptions all sound good to me. My early efforts, the few that survive, make me wince. Most ended up either recycled into a different book or shredded (yes, they predated my first computer). Since I’m a tad compulsive, I’ve kept count. I’m about to turn in what will be my 60th traditionally published book, but it is the 98th I’ve written since 1976. I count as a “book” each ms. that reached the point where I thought is was complete and started sending out queries on it. Needless to say, many of these efforts never made it past the stack of rejections stage. If I did a major rewrite and tried again, I counted that as a separate book. You don’t want to know how many versions some of these went through! I still have hope for one, a 1920s middle grades book . . .if I can turn it into a cozy mystery with an adult protagonist and maybe move the story to the 1950s, now that the 50s, to my dismay, are considered historical. Are you thinking of revising and updating Spring Break? Now that Indie publishing is an option, there’s no need to let a good story languish in a drawer forever.

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  2. Lea Wait says:

    So believable, Kate! I have only three books that are finished — and, actually, one of those could do with some work on the last third. So maybe two. But there are the others (I haven’t counted) that I researched, wrote synopses of, and either my agent or publisher weren’t excited — or I had anther book under contract I had to write. Four of those books haunt me, and I keep thinking I’ll write (or finish writing) them. When I have time ….

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  3. Liz Milliron says:

    My drawer is not as full as yours. I have one, never-will-see-the-light-of-day book, kind of cozy, very autobiographical (and the first thing I wrote). Then there is another set in Niagara Falls that is pretty decent (I think), but it’s a stand-alone and I don’t know what to do with it. Too busy to figure it out right now.

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  4. kaitlynkathy says:

    P.S. I love your final cover selections.

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  5. I still think Spring Break is good enough to be published. Move it to Washington County, change the office to governor (with a name change to Le Page), mix in some twenty something drug dealing blueberry rakers and you’re good to go.

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  6. Amber Foxx says:

    I haven’t looked at my “drawer” for years. (It’s electronic, not physical.) I knew the first book I completed was just practice and have no expectations for publishing it. And the first version of my first published book is so different, it ended up being another “practice” book. I have mined some of my other unpublished books occasionally for ideas, and there’s one I know has the seed of a story worth finishing.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    Spring Break sounds like something I would like to read, Kate!

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  8. I never throw anything away. But that three-book series about a serial rapist may stay in the drawer a while longer–it’s definitely not cozy.

    Have you had any luck with rewriting any of the early books, knowing what you do now?

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  9. Charlene Fox Clemons says:

    Okay, Kate, I really want to read the one about the ex-husband nail-gunned to the floor! I

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