Do writers have more crap in their basements?

Basement Typewriter Text

An old typed short story of mine I found in a box called “The Basement,” which was written in 1990. The featured image for this post, which is the typewriter that appears in the little box to the left, was my second typewriter — Dad bought it in 1987 to replace the old 1960s model Selectric I had been using. It had data storage capabilities and was really quite the thing in its day. It broke my heart to toss it, but honestly, it was broken beyond repair. I loved it to death.

Yes.

Why? We keep everything. Notes for stories, seventeen drafts as a piece went through its critique process, research, books, photographs and other ephemera which may have inspired works, more books, multiple copies and print-outs of magazines, anthologies, and e-zines in which our work has appeared, letters and cards from admirers, notebooks full of advice from workshops, even more books.

Recently, I decided to go through and start lightening my load, and I discovered it’s a great deal easier to toss out those four extra coffee mugs, donate my seventh and eighth salad bowls to Savers and even give away the handbag I bought for my wedding than it is to part with anything that has to do with something I created. I imagine most writers and artists feel the same way.

After all, how do I toss that half-written story (which will probably stay that way) about creepy Mass cards which was inspired by my Dad’s funeral? Those typed-on-onion-skin transcripts of discussions with college friends which served as the basis for an unpublished novel called Stigmata? The 1982 Silver Springs souvenir map which was the inspiration for “Pratsee Takes a Dive”? The Styrofoam butterfly my then-boyfriend (now husband) bought me at the Bronx Zoo—the spark that brought “Deconstructing Fireflies” to life?

And that’s barely getting started. Consider these: I discovered five aging magazines held together by rusted staples. Each contained one of my stories. Four of them are issues of my high school’s literary magazine, The Piper, which were clearly typed by hand, run on a copier, and manually stapled. The fifth, The Great Swamp Gazette—the literary magazine of the University of Rhode Island in the early 1990s—had clearly benefitted from the rise of the computer; it was probably assembled in an old Pagemaker program, and it’s obvious that “fonts” were a new thing because people were romancing them heavily (every page used two or three different ones. Yipes!).

What makes these hard to dump? In this case, it’s not just the fact they contain something I wrote. Their very assemblage is a swiftly-fading memory, and with no print-on-demand, I’ve probably got most of the few in existence. Plus they’re just damn cool to hold. It’s like touching artifacts.

What’s made this process easier, of course, is that times have changed, and now just about everyone has the technology to scan and keep things electronically. It means I don’t have to keep 98 pages of research on the sex life of the bed bug (yes, really) or twelve working drafts of “Jarring Lucas” in hard copy, so I will have room to keep certain fossils like those old magazines. Best of all, I can not only scan and back up—I can share them.

Although I cringe when I read these stories (oh my God the amateurish writing—lots of rolling eyes, tossing heads and shoulder-length auburn hair!), my age at the time (14-19), level of training back then (none except for reading bad 1970s thrillers), and proliferation of crap in today’s market allows me to post them without feeling too embarrassed.

And apparently I’m not the only writer who has too much in her basement—a classmate of mine had scanned a copy of “The Denizen” that she found and put it up on her Facebook page (which was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received). Thanks to technology, it’s good to know we can have our wine and drink it too.

The Denizen – 1985

This was probably one of my favorites, because it haunted me for years afterward—now I know it’s because I was dealing with the youth caregiving situation in my home (the head, obviously, was my mother’s). Eventually, this story served as the inspiration for “Down in the Green,” which I wrote back in 2005 and was initially published in Sinfully Twisted followed by a reprinting in Crimson Highway: A Journal of Dark Romantic Fiction.

Done for Glory – 1986

Clearly, I had been watching Orca before writing this. I’m pretty sure that’s where the inspiration came from, although I did write this shortly after my mother’s death, so on second thought, this could have been me trying to process the loss (kind of a scary observation about one’s 15-year-old self, no?). What’s crazy about this one is, that, like “The Denizen,” the idea came back many years later—in 2006’s “Wailing Station.” What’s even more insane is the fact that “Done for Glory” took second place in The Piper’s 1986 creative writing competition, and “Wailing Station” took second place in Toasted Cheese’s 2006 Dead of Winter Contest (let’s talk creepy!). I guess I speak whale, because after “Wailing Station” was published by Toasted Cheese in March of 2007, it was reprinted in Wrong World®’s I’m Not Going to Tell You Again Multi-Media Anthology and included in an English course syllabus at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire as well as an Introduction to Literature course at North Shore Community College in Massachusetts.

Fever 2000 – 1987

I’ve always been obsessed with volcanoes and the idea of scientific laboratories in exotic locales (yes, really, from the time I was about twelve). I have no other explanation for where I got the idea for this one (although I do remember that I couldn’t think of a decent title for it so I just called it the first thing which came to my head, which explains why the title sucks).

Slithering Serpents – 1988

This title is just plain BAD. I think, had I more wisdom, I would’ve called it “Charmed.” But anyway, it appears that either A, a version I wrote earlier was cleaned up and changed for submission, or B, after it was published I kept screwing around with it. I found a draft, typed on a Brother typewriter with the “cursive” wheel, shoved in the file with the story. I scanned those pages and they appear after the story on the last two pages of the PDF.

The Last Procedure – 1991

I read The Dark Half when it hit the shelves in 1989, and thought the whole idea of an absorbed twin was interesting. So I played with it. Not necessarily with super-awesome results, but I played with it anyway. That’s what counts.

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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on October 7, 2014, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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