Excerpts from a Rejected Romance Novel

(Unpublished Masterpieces and Other Tragedies)

I have always been interested in the lives of other writers, and the lives of the stories and poems they create. Some of their creations flourish in e-book form on Amazon, or find tangible, paper homes on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf; some hide in the large-print sections of libraries. I imagine all of the neglected, unpublished stories, poems, and half-finished manuscripts lingering on old floppy disks; pages upon pages of handwritten notes and journals; illustrated stories written in grade school; typed, double-spaced copies of pretentious short stories shared in creative writing workshops—all of these lost, forgotten words stuffed into desk drawers or crates in the attics, basements, or closets of messy homes (I always envision other writers as messy people). I wonder if these other writers’ current projects are spread out around their feet, literally, the way my novel sits in a plastic bag on top of a bunch of scribbled notes next to my foot as I type this.

What an injustice, when good writing is submitted to literary agents and editors, but rejected for various reasons, and then never published anywhere, almost like it never existed in the first place! What a tragedy, whenever some brilliant but careless modern-day writer forgets to back up her hard drive—she doesn’t trust “the cloud” and doesn’t print anything because she can’t afford ink cartridges—so when she spills coffee all over her laptop, or has it stolen by some guy in Starbucks, she loses everything!

Unlike Ursula Unlucky, who lost all of her precious Word files when that dude stole her laptop in Starbucks, I married a man who meticulously backs up every file I’ve ever created. It’s all saved on, like, three different computers and the cloud (I don’t understand the cloud, but I guess I should be glad that all of my words are out there floating in it?). Some of my stuff definitely should have been lost or erased decades ago—good riddance—but it wasn’t, so here we are. This is the first in a series of ridiculous, bad-on-purpose romance stories that I wrote about ten years ago. Psst! Michelle Grebo is ME. Totally ME. Duh. Maybe in the future I’ll interview her. You won’t want to miss that.

Highlights from Daphne’s Sweet Secret

“Father Ryan was no ordinary priest.” Thus begins Daphne’s Sweet Secret, by Michelle Grebo—possibly the greatest unpublished romance novel of the last decade. Her 259th, and final, unpublished novel is a tale of forbidden love, set in an Alaskan mango orchard in 1985.

Father Ryan is the new priest in Orchardville, battling a secret, sinful addiction to Donkey Kong. “On Wednesday nights, he donned sporty sunglasses, hid his clerical collar beneath his black windbreaker, and rode his bicycle to Moose Hill Arcade. Donkey Kong called to Ryan like a primal scream from her dark corner in the dingy arcade: ‘Feed me your quarters, my son, and I shall feed your basest desires, and make you whole again!  This is my promise to you!’ Little did Ryan know that another princess—a perky, blonde, nineteen-year-old mango-picker with unusually large feet and bubble-gum breath named Daphne Lewellyn—urgently required his skillful touch even more than Donkey Kong’s beautiful, hapless victim.”

Daphne’s parents, the Orchardville mayor and judge, want only the best for their daughter. “Daphne spat on the Harvard application and wiped her shapely rear end with the Yale admissions guide her mother had obtained for her. ‘I love picking mangoes, Mother! It is my passion and my destiny! Take your ivy-league hogwash and shove it where the sun don’t shine! I’m going to the orchard now, and I shan’t return until my fingernails are stained orange and my back aches for the comfort of my firm mattress! Fare thee well!’”

Forty chapters later, a dreadful blizzard forces Father Ryan to ditch his bicycle and seek shelter in the mango orchard. “When Ryan first beheld young Daphne, bundled in her fluorescent-orange parka, bent over a bucket of ripe, fragrant mangoes in the swirling, blinding, raging snow, he blinked his eyes in disbelief. Who was this angel, picking mangoes in a snowstorm? He noticed that her hands were bare, and longed to caress her slender wrists, longed to lick all the sticky, sweet mango juice off her luscious fingers. ‘It’s her,’ he thought, shuddering, ‘the one I’ve been waiting for; the one who shall rip my heart to shreds with her mango-stained fingernails! I must run away before she sees me. But where shall I hide? I cannot take my eyes off of her. I must flee. But I cannot move. My toes are frozen. I must call out to her. But I can’t disturb her. She’s so gorgeous and young and forbidden. I must turn around and leave her to her mangoes. But I cannot. I cannot!’”

Thankfully, Daphne spots Father Ryan cowering behind a mango tree, and hauls him into a metal shed to tend to his frostbitten toes. When they speak to one another for the first time, it is nothing short of magical:

Daphne smoothed Ryan’s damp, wavy brown hair, and said, “I hope your toes don’t have to be amputated. This is the worst frostbite I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t care how many parts of my body have to be amputated. I would’ve stood in that blizzard for hours, just to watch you twisting those mangoes ever so gently, popping them off the branches like dried-up zits,” Ryan fervently whispered.

Daphne smiled shyly. “I feel as though you have seen into my soul. I’m…I’m a little embarrassed, Mr., uh…What’s your name, my darling?”

Ryan closed his eyes and moaned, “I can’t tell you my name!”

“But, why not?” Daphne caressed his cool cheek.

“I am not meant to be with you!” Ryan cried, extricating himself from her soft arms. “Pretend we never met. I must leave you now.”

Daphne blocked the exit. “No. You’re going to stay here, and you’re going to tell me who you are. And then I’m going to show you who I am. Show you in a way I’ve never shown anyone else!”

“No!” Ryan backed away from the fluorescent-orange temptress, trying to ignore her curving red mouth, her clown-sized feet.

Daphne unzipped her parka. Ryan shielded his eyes.  

“I keep my own set of mangoes clean and ripe, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Whoever?” She cackled, and grabbed Ryan’s hands.

Her touch made Ryan giggle like a schoolboy. “I’m a priest,” he wheezed.

“Not anymore,” Daphne said, jamming her tongue into his ear.

(I can’t reprint the rest of the scene here. It gets a little too graphic and messy.  Needless to say, an obscene number of mangoes are involved.)

Father Ryan survives, barely. And Daphne decides that mango-picking is a nice hobby, but that Harvard is where she really belongs. They write to each other, of course—long letters stained with mango juice and tears—but they never see each other again.

Years later, while eating dried mangoes, Father Ryan suffers a massive heart attack. His dying words begin on page 587 with, “Daphne, Daphne, oh, Daphne, Daphne, my love, my heart, my precious mango,” and end, finally, on page 623, with one last, memorable gasp: “O Daphne, Daphne, wherefore art thou, Daphne? Oh my God, Donkey Kong?! I’m coming, Daph-key!”

“In Ryan’s final moments,” Grebo writes with unparalleled grace, “Daphne and Donkey Kong become one, beloved, eternal destination.” These closing words cement Michelle Grebo’s place in literary history as the very best of the best unpublished, unknown romance novelists to ever cross the Missouri River on a Tuesday afternoon while sipping egg drop soup.

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