Cynthia Baxter Dishes on “Trash”

All the Debs are very happy to welcome popular mystery author Cynthia Baxter to The Debutante Ball!

Cynthia is the creative genius behind the “Reigning Cats & Dogs”series (featuring vet-turned-sleuth Jessie Popper) and the “Murder Packs a Suitcase” series, featuring travel writer Mallory Marlowe.  Cynthia currently resides on Long Island where she is hard at work on her next pair of mystery offerings.  Cynthia is also proud to announce the birth of her brand new book!  – “Crossing the Lion” is being released August 31st.   Click here to pre-order your copy! Both series are published by Bantam Books.  For more information, visit:    cynthiabaxter.com

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Hello everyone, I am honored to be a “Deb for a Day” and I thank you for having me be part of your wonderful blog.  Since I’m here to talk about trash, I’ll tell you I am practically an expert.  Just look under my bed, where you’ll find boxes of fabric, from postage stamp-size scraps leftover from quilting projects to hot pink paisley double-knits from the 1970s.  Open a closet and you’ll be impressed by the collection of out-of-style clothing, some featuring Joan Crawford-size shoulder pads, others with sequins from a long-forgotten and ill-conceived Madonna phase.  Take a peek in my garage, where cartons of housewares that will one day be donated to charity — mugs with cute sayings and toasters that only toast one side of the bread — patiently await the moment I’m finally able to cut the cord.

It’s hardly surprising that my inability to part with things also extends to my writing.  For example, I just finished writing a book that’s nearly 300 pages long.  During the six months I worked on it, I literally saved every single piece of paper that was involved in its creation. I’m talking about every page of every draft.  At least twenty versions of the outline, which kept evolving as I wrote.  Even scraps of paper – junk mail, used envelopes, coupons printed off my computer – upon which I jotted down an idea, a line of dialogue, or a descriptive phrase that at the moment seemed inspired.  (It’s worth mentioning that most of the time these handwritten gems are pretty much illegible.)   Even though I finished the book, that didn’t mean it was time to throw out all those thousands of pieces of paper.  Instead, after typing “The End,” I followed my usual ritual: stuffing them into brown paper grocery bags.  Three of them are now sitting in a corner of my home office, just in case I ever need to sort through all that paper until I find that one sentence, the one phrase, the single perfect word, that I’ve felt compelled to go back and look for. The number of times this has actually happened?  Zero.

I’m fully aware that my inability to part with even a scrap of paper is rooted in insecurity.  I can’t help imagining the panic I’d feel if I ever did have to go back and add something I deleted somewhere in the writing process.  What if I suddenly realize that a piece of sparkling dialogue I once cavalierly tossed out has turned out to be the one thing I need to make my book fabulous?  How would I feel then?  That’s the problem with having a good imagination – which is common in pretty much everyone but is even more pronounced in writers.  After all, we make our living by thinking up crazy stuff.

Another ritual occurs once one of my books has actually been published and I’m holding a copy in my hand.  At that point, it’s finally time to dispose of those shopping bags packed with notes and earlier drafts and obsolete outlines.  Actually, the word “disposing” may be too strong.  What I mean is, I move the bags of paper to the garage, along with the mugs that try too hard and the toasters that don’t try hard enough.   And then I keep them there.  Indefinitely.  After all, one day some archivist or historian or even just a devoted reader may consider them a treasure.

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4 thoughts on “Cynthia Baxter Dishes on “Trash”

  1. Hi Cynthia! I struggle with the same issues. Moving into a small apartment has helped some — there’s just no space for me to keep every little thing I come across. But I still lean toward being a pack rat.

    My beloved greyhound died Wednesday morning, and I spent that afternoon “purging,” because it made me feel brave and Zen-like: I detailed the car, sucking up every last bit of fur on the upholstery and washing away all the slobber on the windows. I donated Stella’s beds and blankets and food to the animal shelter. I packed up a whole trash bag with her vet records (11 years worth) and her two custom-built winter coats, and tossed them outside. The only thing I saved was her collar.

    At three a.m. the next day, I woke up panicked. I couldn’t believe I got rid of everything that reminded me of Stella. When my husband — my knight — woke up to the sound of my sobs, he rushed out to pick through the trash, and returned with Stella’s old fur-covered coats. I balled them up and slept on them, comforted by their smell.

    Sometimes, it’s good to hold onto things, until you’re really ready to let them go.

    On the other hand, I’m fascinated by the concept of non-attachment. Check out this guy, who lives in an 8 x 12 foot house! I imagine he’s almost completely stuff-free: http://vitality.yahoo.com/video-second-act-jay-shafer-20910192

    Thanks, Cynthia, for contributing here. As you can see, your words really made me think! I look forward to reading your books.

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    Thanks for joining us on the Debs. I have to admit, I lean more toward the guy in the 8X12 house so its fascinating to read about people who don’t!

  3. I have a friend who is a professional organizer, and I hired her to come to my house and help whip me into shape right before I started my second book. Something about clearing out my physical surroundings helped me create mental space for that new book! But I still can’t bring myself to get rid of all the drafts of my novels, either… and doubt I ever will. Some things aren’t meant to be tossed! Thanks for joining us here today.

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