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…)
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


Sheila Connolly said...

Welcome! You do know that there's an entire species of yard-sale crawlers, who show up at dawn to make sure they get the good stuff? I have to admit I get most of my cookware there.

Every time we write anything, we're putting some piece of ourselves on display. We know some people will hate it (or us). But others won't, and that's what matters.

See you at Malice!

Deb Baker said...

I haven't rummaged for years, but if I might find a mood ring or pet rock, I'm going this weekend! I didn't know how revealing my writing was until family members read my work and started commenting. Scary how much we leave on a page.

Mare F said...

Wonderful blog. I too have a mood ring and forgot to put it out in the last tag sale I will ever have. You are a brave soul. The next sale at my house will be an estate sale.

I look forward to reading your book. Good luck.

signlady217 said...

I still have my mood ring. Although looking back, mine never seemed to work, or maybe it just stayed one color because I pretty much stayed in one mood: teenager mad at the world! :)

Looking forward to reading your books.

Rural View said...

Now I know why yard sales make me uncomfortable! Wonder what ever happened to my dad's pet rock and the talking fish my aunt thought was so funny. (I know - weird family.)

The Hot Heads Groupie said...

I had a garage sale this weekend too. YUCK! I hope to never have another one!

Your thoughts were interesting to me because I shared them this weekend. I felt quite vulnerable having complete strangers rummage through my things and in many cases, declare them unsuitable. Don't you just want to say, "Yeah, I know they're unsuitable too. That's why they're out of my home."? :)

Another irritating thing is to have someone offer you a quarter for something you've priced at 50 cents... when you know you purchased it for $20. Oh well. It kind of made me wish I'd opted for the relative anonymity of Ebay or Craigslist. There is generally more money to be made on those two sites, but it also involves more work...and more discernment. It's only worth the time and trouble to post the really good stuff. Hmmm!

I only write a blog and my name isn't on it. A person could figure out who I am though, if they tried hard enough. For the most part, I write about lightweight stuff, but every now and then I share more. I have a specific target audience I'm writing for, but if statcounter is to be believed, I know there are people outside of my demographic who are reading what I write. It does make me feel kind of exposed sometimes.

Anyway, good post. :) Thanks for sharing!

Alan Orloff said...

Sheila - You're right of course, about some people perhaps not liking us for what we write. But, hey, it's just fiction!

Deb - I still find it fascinating to hear other people's interpretations of my writing. Most of the stuff, I'd never even thought of!

Mare - I think I'm with you about the next sale being an estate sale. After my sale was over, I was tempted to go find a can of kerosene and a match.

Signlady - I have one of those now. A teenager, I mean, not a mood ring. He's usually in good spirits, tho.

RuralView - Big Mouth Bass! I have one of those too. I wish I'd thought to find it and sell it. Creepy.

Hot Heads - It was kinda creepy. And unnerving when they'd pick up something you'd loved years ago, gave it a dismissive look, then tossed it back on the ground. I had to keep biting my lip.

Lover of Books said...

I tried to run a garage sale with a friend. Yeah that went over horribly!

I ended up giving my clothes that no longer fit to my mom who gives to charity cause living in an apartment, I don't feel comfortable just leaving stuff outside.


Heather Webber said...

I tried a garage sale once. Once. I couldn't get over people looking through my stuff--and rejecting it.

Good thing I'm not as sensitive about my books. Oh wait...

Good to have you here, Alan, and I'll see you at Malice, too.

jbstanley said...

Now I wish I still had my mood ring from high school. Problem was - it was always black!

I used to help my grandmother host garage sales and I was always shocked by how many folks would show up at 6 a.m. when our signs clearly said 7!

I loved those times with her and don't think I've ever disguised an emotional experience in a book. If it happened, I use it.

Thanks for coming by today, Alan. You book sounds fab! (Leann's favorite word)

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Alan, after hearing that private investigator speak Tuesday at our MWA meeting, I'm inclined to leave less for public viewing!

Alan Orloff said...

Lover - After our sale, we loaded up the minivan and took a ton of stuff to charity. I think next time, I'll just skip the garage sale and head straight to the charity drop-off.

Heather - For some reason, I think I felt worse when people insulted my stuff than when they insulted my writing. I mean, come on, that's my STUFF.

Jennifer - That's what we were afraid of, so we said our starting time was 8, and got ready by 7. Thanks for inviting me today--you've got a fun (and cozy) bunch!

Joanna - After hearing that PI, I'm going to start wearing disguises and using aliases. From now on, you can just call me John Grisham.

Vicki said...

I'm not one for having garage sales either, but then I also hate to shop so I never attend any myself. I just tend to give my stuff away to Good Will. At least my really outdated clothing can't be rejected there. :)

Kaye George said...

What a great analogy, putting ourselves out there for the world to paw through. I haven't had a yard/garage sale for a long time, which means I need to do it!

I'd still have my lava lamp if a babysitter hadn't broken it.

What I have way to many of are books. But I have a HARD time parting with them!