Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shedding the Past



By Deborah Sharp

Uhff! Pant, pant, pant. Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump. Uhff! Drag. Pant. Drag. Uhff! SCORE!!!

Man, that felt good. What was that, you ask? No, fellow author and Inkspot wise guy, Keith Raffel. It's not an X-rated scene from my new erotic novel. (Reality alert: I'm a Lutheran. I can barely say the word S-E-X, let alone write an erotic novel.) Rather, it's the sound of me hefting a giant black trash bag filled with junk from my office, pushing it down the stairs, tugging it to the curb, and -- UHFF! -- tossing it into the garbage.

Okay, not really ''tossing.'' More like struggling to roll it as high as my knee, so I could boost it to chest level, then lean my whole body into the bag until it finally tumbled over the lip and into the trash can. I admit, I'm not as fit as Beth Groundwater, another fellow Midnight Ink author, and Colorado outdoors woman. Then again, it was a really, really big trash bag.

It's been almost seven years since I quit my reporter's job at USA Today to try my hand at mystery-writing. I don't know why I'd held on to so many notepads, interviews, source lists and the like. It's not like I'm going back into newspapers. Just about everybody I knew in the business has lost his or her job as print outlets continue their slow, depressing, drain-circle toward obsolescence. When's the last time you saw anybody under 45 years of age reading the daily newspaper? (I'm not talking online, where ad rates don't support the cost of news-gathering.)

I just handed in the manuscript for my fourth book in the Mace Bauer Mystery series, Mama Sees Stars. Normally, I tidy my workspace between books. But this was less tidying and more purging. Shedding my old skin. I was like a woman possessed, tossing out those yellowing file folders from long-ago news stories. Some of the reports and statistics I'd collected for articles were so old, the print on fax paper had faded to barely there. Ghost images of forgotten words.

Remember faxes?

I can't even tell you my thought process in deciding which research folders would go, and which would stay. I can tell you that watching the pile grow was satisfying. Bombings? Bye-bye. Gainesville Serial Killer? So long. Riots and Riptides? Out and out. But Seminole Indians and Santeria? Hmmmm, those two will stay; just like Moms Who Kill and Monkeys. You never can tell what kind of trouble my books' Mama character might run into in Florida. If she runs into a monkey on the loose in the Seminole casino, I'm covered.

How about you? When you shed the past, does it feel like you're betraying the person you used to be? Or, do you happily discard things you no longer use? Do you clean your office between each book or big project? Or do you put it off until you can stand the mess no longer?

22 comments:

Alan Orloff said...

Funny post, as usual. (That's a nice dress you're wearing, by the way.)

I'm not sure I completely understand--you get rid of your old stuff? Interesting concept.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hi, Alan. Yep, tossing it all (well, most) feels great! And that lovely outfit in the pix is made from Hefty bags. It's the new me. Like it?

Dru said...

I'm a neat freak so I love when I'm able to get rid of stuff that I will no longer use. I look at it as the chance to buy new stuff that I will use.

Are you done purging?

Lisa Bork said...

Oh Deb, I'm a happy discarder, willing to live a minimalist existence. But I'm married to a packrat. I'm surrounded by all his cr**...ah, valuable documents..as I type right now.

Deborah Sharp said...

Nope, Dru ... I'm not done. I still have another big Hefty bag on the floor of my office, waiting for more junk. PS: as a neat freak, how do you reconcile being a bibliophile? All those PILES of books!

Carol Grace said...

Love your outfit! Hefty Bags is in the fashion business? Amazing what one can learn from mystery writers.
Wish I could toss out old stuff and buy new, it feels so good, but I too am living with a pack rat.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I have a hard time purging, even though I hate clutter and over-crowded file drawers. What if I need that one day...? Good for you!

Deborah Sharp said...

Lisa and Carol: I also live with a pack rat, so while I'm making my side of the office minimalist, his side is a reeking mess of cr--, er important documents.
Kathleen: You won't need it one day. I promise.
Also, full disclosure: That isn't actually me in that Hefty garb ;-) She's 25 years younger, 6 inches taller, and actually looks pretty chic in a garbage bag.

Victoria Allman said...

Living in a small space (boat) means you have to be ruthless about how much you save. The rule is one book bought, one book given away. It makes me sad to see some of my favorite books slipping through my fingers so quickly, but it also means that readers in every port we stop are introduced to new books. I have left Mama books in Spain, France and the Bahamas in lending libraries. The old gal sure gets around!

Darrell James said...

I feel your pain, Deb. Been cleaning out the garage this week. I would love to back a dumpster up and pitch every single thing, but...

One never knows when a used faucet washer and 3' section of phone cord might come in handy. Really.

Alan Orloff said...

Darrell, I see your washer and phone cord and raise you a set of furniture casters and two Chinese cork sculpture boxes.

Lois Winston said...

Every time I toss or give away something because I haven't used it and can't imagine ever needing it again, I regret it afterwards. Why? Because invariably I will need it at some point in the future and have to buy another when I had a perfectly good one sitting around collecting dust. I guess it's my unintentional way of spurring the economy.

Vicki Doudera said...

Deb, for me the hardest part about getting rid of writing stuff (as opposed to old clothes, kids' toys, etc etc) is the whole wondering whether I can reuse the info. Have you ever purged writing files and then wish you hadn't, a la Lois?

Cricket McRae said...

Hilarious post, Deb. And I just purged my office, too! Amazing all the things that went out the door. Now I feel like I can breathe, and really look forward to working at my desk. I even purged books -- but at least I gave them away in a contest on my blog so I know they'll go to someone who really wants them.

Good luck with that second bag. ;)
Hearth Cricket

Deborah Sharp said...

Victoria: Love the idea of you leaving ''Mama'' in far-flung ports of call (not your actual mama, my fictional one).
Darrell: please tell me you didn't save the used washer? What do they cost; like, a dollar? ;-)
Lois and Vicki: Honestly, I can say I've never regretted something I got rid of, whether possessions or writing stuff. If it was really good (either one), you would have used it by now.
Cricket: Great minds think alike. Do you think our fall purge has something to do with the fact both our latest books came out early this summer?

Alice Loweecey said...

I'm a die-hard cleaner-outer. Every so often I'll go through a room and purge everything we haven't used in the past 2 years or so. Memorabilia and books are the exceptions. Please turn away while I close the door on the spare room with all the bookshelves. Nothing to see there... oh, look! Something shiny!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Congratulations for handing in that manuscript, Deb! I love Mama.

And...I LOVE cleaning things out. Too bad I don't do it often enough. :)

Beth Groundwater said...

Fit? Moi? I've been battling an extra 20 lbs on my frame for years, but it just won't let go. And I don't feel very fit right now. Just got back from a 12 mile bike ride from Frisco to Copper, CO and back and my body's crying for the hot tub. Of course, I did manage to finish that bike ride. :) My husband tried to get me to go for Vail Pass, but I refused!

As for pitching office stuff, I tend to do it around tax time. That's when I throw away or shred the 8-years-ago paperwork that we no longer need to save for returns, and I try to use that as an excuse to look at what else I can throw away.

Dru said...

Deb,

I've discovered the world of e-books, so now when I buy books I donate to the library and those that I want to keep, I buy the e-version as well.

Keith Raffel said...

Deb, spent the whole day scouring every bar with 5 miles of Bouchercon for you and Mama. Where are you hiding out? Friends and fans are missing you.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I have been donating my old manuscripts: originals, copy edits, page proofs and such for my published works to the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Greene University. It clears out my office while preserving the value of my work for researchers...I hope. Someday they'll get my correspondence, research files and notebooks, etc. It's easier and less painful to toss things when you feel someone else might find them useful.

Deborah Sharp said...

Hey, y'all, thanks for commenting!
Alice: I'm familiar with the ''don't-peek in-there'' concept. Mine is a hallway closet.
Elizabeth: Thanks for the kind words about Mama.... she loves your Memphis BBQ series, too!
Beth: See, that phrase, ''12-mile bike ride,'' is what I'm talking about, Ironwoman!
Keith: Ha! You'll find Mama anywhere they serve sweet pink wine. As for me, I couldn't make B'con this year.
Nancy: What a great idea to give all that stuff to a library. Maybe I can find one to take mss.'s and whatnot from my Southern-flavored series, too ...