The Author: Boo Trundle
The Book: The Daughter Ship (Pantheon Books, 2023)
The Elevator Pitch: A piece of irreverent, fictional sponge cake, The Daughter Ship sops up carried shame while describing a woman’s struggle to escape self-destruction.
The Rumpus: Where did the idea of your book come from?
Boo Trundle: The idea came not at once, but in pieces. One thread follows a woman’s recovery from fragmentation into wholeness. That’s just me, my life journey. A speculative subplot features three abandoned children who live on a defunct U-boat. This idea grew out of a metaphor I was using for the main character’s subconscious. And the third thread, which explores inherited shame, grew out of research I had been doing for years about a confederate soldier in my family tree.
Rumpus: How long did it take to write the book?
Trundle: I have four answers, which I will leave unexplained: eight years, twenty-seven years, fifty-five years, forever.
Rumpus: Is this the first book you’ve written? If not, what made it the first to be published?
Trundle: I’ve written three other novels and officially placed them on submission. The first was in 1993. It’s been a long road. Previous to The Daughter Ship, I was writing too wild and disjointedly to tell a complete, compelling story. When I imitated more controlled narrators who tell a story with a singular, authoritative vantage point, my story came out dead. I finally learned to let go and play with my writing using grounding practices like meditation, ekphrastic exercises, stream-of-consciousness, and cut-ups. By literally wrestling down my stories in the physical, concrete realm, I gained access to an internal organizer, a conductor. Or maybe this internal conductor was finally released through doing Internal Family Systems, a mode of psychotherapy. Probably both. I’m just glad this internal conductor has taken over at last. She corrals the splintered voices inside me and gets them to work together and follow a through-line. She got The Daughter Ship to both sing and make sense.
Rumpus: In submitting the book, how many no’s did you get before your yes?
Trundle: If every rejection of submitted work that I’ve ever gotten counts, then the numbers would be pushing 500. But with the actual manuscript for The Daughter Ship, my agent went out very selectively and slowly. For the first round, she sent it to only a handful of editors. Two were intrigued, but didn’t bite, so I took the book back for six months and reworked it. Then we went out again and tried a few more. On this second round, we were blessed to find a warm, wonderful home with editor Deb Garrison at Pantheon.
Rumpus: Which authors/writers buoyed you along the way? How?
Trundle: The concept of a buoy is very apt. Many of my closest friends are writers who have toiled along with me all these years, continuing to write while hovering in varying states of unpublished, unagented, “emerging.” We inspire each other to keep going, which is the main thing. Angel Gunn, Margaret Hutton Griffin, Karla Greenleaf-MacEwan, Joanna Oltman Smith, Marcia LeBeau, Darlyne Baugh, David Olimpio, and others. We strive alongside. I’m also kept afloat by weekly conversations with my writing group: Julia Phillips, Leigh Stein, Claire Dunnington, and Alizah Salario. I’d be remiss to leave out the fellow writer who, years ago, casually told me I would never, EVER get published. We can call her an unnamed buoy with razor-sharp barnacles—not a good buoy to hang onto, but she really kept me going!
Rumpus: How did your book change over the course of working on it?
Trundle: The Daughter Ship started as straightforward realistic fiction, but then I experimented with folding in scientific ideas. I quickly lost control of metaphor. Specifically, I was obsessing over combustion engines, oil, batteries, and barnacles. My friend Mallory Tarses, another writer friend and an early reader, said, “If you’re going to thread so much metaphor throughout the novel, then the metaphors need to add up to something. Maybe they need a plot arc of their own.” I had no idea how to do this. I showed the manuscript to novelist and agent Annie DeWitt, who nudged me to rewrite the book with the submarine at the center. I didn’t want to! But I did. And this was the turning point. The metaphors became active plot elements, and the novel came alive.
Rumpus: Before your first book, where has your work been published?
Trundle: McSweeney ‘s Internet Tendency, Prairie Schooner, The Brooklyn Rail, The Georgia Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Atticus Review, Amazon Singles, Local Knowledge, and others.
Rumpus: What is the best advice someone gave you about publishing?
Trundle: This is something Sam Lipsyte said online, not directly to me—it’s light-hearted in its dark-heartedness, which is typical of Sam: “The bullshit never ends. That’s the main thing to remember. It never ends… The meaning of it all is whatever happened when you were writing, and then the power of what you made. Those are the things that matter.”
Rumpus: Who’s the reader you’re writing to—or tell us about your target audience and how you cultivated or found it?
Trundle: I’m writing to the reader whose passions alternate between self-help/psychology and classic literature. My made-up fiction genre for my work is called “sprit lit,” meaning both literary and spiritual. Sprit lit makes room for what I call a “process novel.” If the writing process is healing, and if this healing process shapes the narrative, then maybe the reading experience can stimulate aspects of the same healing process.
Rumpus: What is one completely unexpected thing that surprised you about the process of getting your book published?
Trundle: I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but I’ve been overwhelmed by how kind and absolutely validating my editor and agent both are. These two brilliant, dedicated book midwives have shown up for me in so many different ways, and on different days, and then sometimes in the same way on the same day. I feel very fortunate. Thank you, Deb and Alice!
Author photograph courtesy of Boo Trundle