Thursday, April 22, 2010

Junk, Treasure, and Guts on the Page

Please Welcome Guest Blogger Alan Orloff


Thanks to Jennifer and the rest of the Cozy Chicks for inviting me to guest blog today. I hope to see most of you in person at Malice in a week or so!

We had a garage sale this past Saturday. It was a cul-de-sac affair; everyone pitched in and made signs and put ads on Craigslist and in the newspaper (I know, retro). When it came time to do the actual selling, we all retreated to our driveways to “hawk our junk”—I mean, “sell our valuable treasures that would look wonderful in any person’s home.”

And while I was sitting there, watching people paw through my stuff, I got to thinking. Hey, there are people here pawing through my stuff!

My old clothes, painfully out of fashion. An old crib mattress, slightly stained. Teetering stacks of assorted magazines (I put Architectural Digest on top). There were old kitchen implements, shoes, unused toys, a juice extractor, an old poker table (I’ve since upgraded), shoes, roofing shingles, my college dorm stereo, my wife’s college dorm stereo, shoes, and plenty of other bric-a-brac (heavy on the brac). While I might have considered those about-to-be-cast off items simply belongings, others might connect the imaginary dots of my detritus and infer certain traits about me and my habits.

Good thing I’d already gotten rid of all my bell-bottoms and tie-dye t-shirts!
But seriously, what were those bargain hunters thinking of me?

That I’d acquired a lot of useless crap? That I never threw anything away? That I didn’t like to do jigsaw puzzles since I was giving away dozens? Or were they thinking that I loved jigsaw puzzles because I’d owned dozens? 

I resisted the urge to ask them.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, at a garage sale, you’ve opened yourself up, allowing complete strangers to gawk at your underbelly and draw conclusions based on your stuff. When you write a book, you’re doing a similar thing, opening yourself up to be examined and judged based on your words and ideas. (When I think of it in those terms, it makes me feel a little weird, so usually I just try not to think about it.)

Of course, each writer has to decide how much of one’s self to expose. Being a private person, it’s something I struggle with from time to time. But…once in a while you have to lay it on the line for the sake of the story.

How about you? How much of yourself do you leave on the page?
(Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go dig out my mood rings and pet rocks. I hear there’s another garage sale in a few months…)
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Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was published this month by Midnight Ink. The first in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit www.alanorloff.com