From a Dusty Suitcase in My Friend’s Garage

… to a full length novel that netted my first publishing contract

By Jeff Salter

[This week we’re blogging about incidents with friends or family which would make a good scene in a book. Gosh, have I got a lulu! The following summary is condensed from the appendix to my published novel, The Overnighter’s Secrets.]

Inspiration for a central thread of my seventh completed novel – The Overnighter’s Secrets – came directly from examining items which my friend Dean Spradlin insisted on showing me.

[In about 1994 those real-life items had been scavenged by dumpster divers and traded to my friend. To protect what he viewed as treasures, Dean placed them in an old suitcase and (during 16 years) shared them with only one other person besides me — Sharon Pullen.]

Dean’s excitement about this material was contagious and we both eagerly examined every scattered fragment in that overnighter — me for the first time with fresh eyes, and him for the umpteenth time with renewed zeal. Together, we searched for clues as to what, if anything, a few might have in common. [By the way, quite a bit of the material was NOT connected — apparently just other items in the same dumpster.] We had everything spread out in the back and tailgate of his 1972 El Camino — and by the time we’d finished examining the items, we both had back aches!


Dean Spradlin (left) and I posing with most of the overnighter’s secrets a few months after we first began our serious detective work.

Through our (may I say, immodestly) brilliant detective work, we established clear and direct links among four distinct sets of material — programs and playbills, clippings and other paperwork, family photos, and a diary. All were linked to an actual vaudeville and silent movie actress similar to my novel character Lynette Harte. About 25 years after the death of Lizette Holdsworth Thorne, someone – possibly a landlord or cleaning crew – discarded items like those in my novel… and perhaps other pieces which Dean never even saw.

What someone else had unceremoniously scattered and trashed in the bottom of that filthy dumpster, Dean and I sorted and recreated into a discernable history. As we marveled at this fascinating woman and (obviously) talented actress – Mrs. Thorne really did work in the same studio as Charlie Chaplin during 1916 – we both developed a hunger to ‘do something’ with those scattered belongings. Dean maintains he just hoped I would appreciate them as he did. But I suspect he knew, deep down, that his interest would be contagious and I’d have to write about it… somehow.

On the evening I first examined the belongings in Dean’s overnighter – April 30th – I posted a message on the International Movie Database (IMDb) seeking information about collectors of photos from silent movie sets… and I mentioned the actress who we’d identified as their former owner — Lizette Thorne.

On July 12th, after I’d written approximately 77,000 words on the first draft of this manuscript, I received a notice indicating my IMDb message finally had a response. I eagerly opened the link and was positively stunned to see a reply from Mrs. Thorne’s granddaughter!

After verifying she was who she said she was, I gleefully told Tia Sanders about my work-in-progress and related how Dean came into possession of her grandmother’s belongings.

As Tia and I began corresponding, Dean freely volunteered to give her all the personal belongings (that we knew were her grandmother’s) including about 75 of the still photos of silent movie sets — which Dean had originally acquired as an investment.

In Mrs. Thorne’s lifetime, these items had been carefully collected and maintained… and now were (presumably) the sole surviving representation of her life and career. Dean and I had the honor of reassembling what we could — and it was being valued again.

To me, it’s practically a miracle. Family mementos were lost, acquired by someone interested in only a portion of them, nevertheless carefully and respectfully protected for some 16 years, moved across the country, shared with a new friend, only barely identifiable to the movie star by our (modestly) very clever detective work. And then: those items served as the impetus for my novel, for which (while doing much other initial research) I posted the IMDb message, which was – some ten weeks LATER – finally seen by the actual descendant of that movie star. I mean, how often do you hear of such things?

To borrow my friend’s phrasing, “It blew me away!”

Inevitably, I suppose – because of our give and take about Lynette’s overnighter – Dean also became the inspiration for one of my fictional characters in this story. I’ll leave it to readers to guess which character. What’s YOUR guess?



Long before Shane acquired the overnighter, a silent movie actress kept secrets there. Is Beth’s terrifying ordeal simply because she unwittingly possesses the overnighter’s secrets? “The Overnighter’s Secrets.” Suspense novel, only $2.99 in digital formats; paperback also available (varied prices); audio version also available (price varies). Clean Reads, 2012.

[JLS # 348]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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11 Responses to From a Dusty Suitcase in My Friend’s Garage

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I loved the story behind this book when I first heard about it. But I have to admit, I didn’t read it for a few years, and until I did, I had no idea that the word overnighter referred to a suitcase! I honestly thought the story was about a person who stayed somewhere overnight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      LOL. I guess it’s an older term… back from when people traveled more by train than by car or plane. And a long time before suitcases had WHEELS of their own!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely loved reading your book and hearing the story about how it came to be is wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Again,Jeff, congratulations on the book; it is a good one! Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone throwing all that history out.It would be so interesting to most people, I think. I can see how it inspired a story for you; you get such great ideas!
    BTW, I just picked up a suitcase much like that one at a thrift shop and my sister has one that has been in my mother’s family for 70+-80 years. In it is stored our grandmother’s wedding dress, made in Italy around 1897 (?). I bet you can’t guess the two colors in the silk brocade.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jbrayweber says:

    I know that there is some sense of satisfaction to be able to reunite Tia with her grandmother’s belongings. Not only that but yours and Dean’s recreation of LT’s life brings her to life. And you were able to share that with Tia, as well. No doubt she cherishes what you’ve done. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Absolutely, Jenn. But, sadly, Tia passed away within about three years of this. She did get to see the book published, thankfully. Don’t know if she ever read it though.
      And, incredibly, after Tia’s passing and I started corresponding with Tia’s daughter, SHE also took ill and died. Very sad. As far as I know, Michael, Tia’s brother and the only grandson of Lizette Thorne, is still living.


  5. Pingback: Introducing: The Overnighter’s Secrets – The Romance Ninjas

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