The Personal Slush File

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
They lurk on my hard drive like zombies, shambling ghosts of truncated stories. Improperly plotted, unevenly characterized, dribs and drabs of little bits that will never see the light of day. For every story I finish, there are probably ten false starts, or things that didn’t keep my interest, or things I had to put down in order to finish something else.

Okay, more like twenty. Or even thirty.

I used to feel embarrassed over the size of my slush pile before the Selkie admitted she had one just as big. And yes, it’s definitely a slush pile. These are stories that, no matter how much I love them, just don’t cut it. They range from wish-fulfillment fics to weird little fever dreams, odd fantasy ficlets and what I call “character studies”, where I follow a character around through an ordinary day and just get to know them.

This week, between everything (the vomiting six-year-old, the brief hospitalization of a family member, and a ton of work leftover from being out of commission during a bad bout of flu), I’ve been looking at my personal slush file. Because every once in a while you do find a nugget of gold in there–something you can dig up and maybe polish. It might turn into a short story, or even a novel. Unfortunately, you have to sift a LOT of it before you get that gold. (Which is why I call it a slush pile or “the graveyard”.)

And sometimes it’s nice to look through things that won’t get published. On the pages in my slush file, the only person I have to please is myself. Shoddy characterization, plot holes you could drive a Buick through, giddy deus ex machina glibly handing over plot advancement by dropping the magic dingus in? Oh, yeah, I’ve done it. I’ve broken the rules with gleeful abandon here on my hard drive. I am guilty of all a writer’s sins there.

Seriously. It’s bad. It’s like Tinto Brass’s Caligula married to overcaffeinated Bulwer-Lytton and seeing both Pamela and the Bad Hemingway Contest on the side in there, with the Jerry Springer show on the sidelines.

You may think I’m kidding. But really, I’m not. It’s bad.

The personal slush file is also a sandbox where I can try new things. The first stabs at paranormal romance or fantasy I ever made were as a result of digging in that sandbox and trying things out. They’re malformed little stories, rarely longer than 20K before they peter out, but they were invaluable. They gave me the confidence to try more, and they showed me where things weren’t working.

The danger in the slush pile is the danger of never quite finishing anything, or of loving stuff so much that you refuse to take edits or get better. The slush pile is your personal playground, true, but it’s like your bedroom. You don’t have to invite anyone in you don’t want; but you also can’t live your whole life there. (You have to come out and deal with the rest of the world sometime, you know.) When all is said and done, it’s your private place to decorate however you want to. It can help inform the rest of your professional life with joy, but it doesn’t belong out there.

And sometimes it’s the place where you crawl back to when you’re exhausted and just need the blankets and the comfort. Sometimes, when you’re tired and the world is just Not Cooperating, the slush pile is a nice warm place to be. You don’t have to please an editor or a reader, other than your own sweet self, and you can do anything you want there. It’s one of the things that makes this job one of the best in the world, in my humble opinion.

So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to dive back in. I’ve got some bad, horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad Twinkie fiction to write for my sole delectation. It involves this super-spy, you see, and a very nice girl next door who just HAPPENS to be a werewolf on the run from the law…

See you around.

We’ll finish up today with news and a contest!

The news: The latest Jill Kismet book, Redemption Alley, is now available for preorder on Amazon.

And a contest to finish off the second launch week of Deadline Dames! Comment on this post, dear Reader (you can tell me about your own slush pile) and if you comment by midnight on Saturday, January 31, you have a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate. How cool is that? (Winner will be picked randomly, with the help of Random.org.) So get your comment on!