(Please give a warm welcome to friend of Murderati Robin Burcell, who is standing in for Toni today.)
In how a writer of international thrillers about covert government agencies and conspiracy theories discovers a dark secret… about herself.
It’s the beginning of March and I have already failed at my New Year’s resolution.
For this reason, I am coming out of the closet, and I am willing to admit my grave secret to the world: I am a horizontal filer. Before you pull out your can of Lysol, rest assured that it isn’t highly contagious—unless you get bitten. Horizontal filers, if you don’t know, are people who usually place important things in the open, because if they file it vertically (as in a real file) they fear they will forget about it. Horizontal filers tend to fall into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind type. And, as you are wondering if it can get any worse (it can), they are probably procrastinators. Which is why they have the IRS. The IRS, as you know, is that not-so-covert government agency that forces horizontal filers like me not only into putting little pieces of paper into a vertical file, but also into sorting them out into organized groups.
This is completely unnatural. If you haven’t guessed this by now, horizontal filers have messy desks. And probably messy countertops. And they hate tax time, which is coming up very quickly.
I’ll wager that horizontal filers who are also writers probably have the same #1 New Year’s resolution. Most of you are thinking that would be to clean the desk, but you would be wrong. It is to find that receipt from your last purchase at Walmart before the 90 days expires and they force you to accept a discounted return price on a Walmart gift card, which, thankfully, has no expiration date, even if you are only getting ten cents to the dollar.
Every year I resolve to turn that clean-the-desk resolution into a routine. And ever year I fail. I clean off my desk, and it stays that way for maybe a day or two at the most. My thinking is that if my desk is clean, I can write books much faster, because it will free my imagination. I suspect, however, that this is an elaborate government conspiracy to get me to clean off my desk before tax time, so that I can find my checkbook to write the IRS a check.
What keeps me from maintaining a clean desk is the piles of papers, magazines I intend to read, business cards from conferences, and everything else that doesn’t get handled that month (like any bill that doesn’t have a late payment penalty). All of these things get shoved in a pile, with the thought that if I didn’t need it this month or next, it can be moved to the side of the desk instead of right in front of the computer in the priority pile. And that is how I discovered the dual purpose of drawers. You can pull them out and use them to pile even more papers on top, like an extended desk shelf.
If the stacks of paper get really bad, I might grab a file box, and shove everything in that, fully intending to go through it before it gathers dust beneath the desk. It may even be how I discovered the plot to my last book, THE BONE CHAMBER, because when I do get around to attempting to clean, it’s a lot like archeology. Layers of things that you can decipher by month and year. Old photos, bank statements, catalogs, conference programs, etc., etc. And sometimes, like in my book, I discover treasures that may actually be dangerous to all of mankind. Unlike my book, anything found on my desk is not several hundred or even two thousand years old. I’m not even that old. Even without Adobe Photoshop.
Every so often, I whittle that mountain of papers down to a short stack maybe an inch thick (which, considering this year started off as two file boxes of stuff, is pretty darn good). It’s that little bitty pile left over that keeps me from succeeding, which makes me wonder if there is the precursor to the zombie virus on my desk, because that pile of papers has a life of its own. I can separate it, move it, bury it in a box and it always comes back. I have not yet tried to fire bullet rounds through it, because there is a law about this in city limits, because the city council has not yet recognized the dangerousness of such a virus. And yet each time, I find myself putting aside the very same pile of leftover stuff as the time before: In it are two Christmas cards circa 2002/03, one to an editor who left the business several years back, and one to my agent. The cards never made it to the mail, and I figured I’d send them the next year. (I haven’t sent out cards since the twins were born in 1995, so the fact I actually partially addressed two envelopes is pretty amazing.) With them are a stack of cards or letters I’ve received, dating as far back as 2000, from people I had always planned to write back to—and clearly never did—perhaps with the idea that I’d let them know about my latest book.
What’s a horizontal filer like me to do? I keep that little pile of things clipped to a clipboard, put it aside—never to be revisited until the next time I attempt to clean the desk. Problem is that the pile on the clipboard grows, propagates, breeds like dust bunnies atop and beneath the desk, and I have to get another box, sometimes even a shopping bag to catch the spillover. Now before you get any bright ideas, I have already tried putting money on the pile to see if it would grow. It does not. The IRS has infused money with the anti-zombie virus—a good thing to know should the zombies attack. Most recently as I worked my way through the papers, all the way down to the annual stack from the clipboard, I ruthlessly tossed those cards and letters. Just threw them all away. They went into the recycle bin with the catalogs and the junk. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. And if my friends and relatives haven’t figured out that I have a new book out by now without me sending notice, they never will.
We’ll see if that keeps my desk clean, or if it’s just wishful thinking on my part. How about you? Horizontal filer? And if so, what is the secret to keeping your desk clean?
Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Visit her website at: www.robinburcell.com/