Thursday, October 22, 2009

Literary Dumpster Diving

by Laura Caldwell

So I have a confession to make: sometimes I engage in the urban pastime of dumpster diving.

No, no, no, I don't send myself headlong into a garbage receptacle searching for food (although the pepperoni Pat's Pizza my neighbors tossed last night looked pretty delish). Rather, occasionally, if there's something good hanging out of a dumpster or left next to a dumpster, I'll grab it. (My neighborhood has a friendly homeless gentlemen who will, for $20, take the loot anywhere you want on his grocery cart).

Once, I found an antique entryway mirror set in carved wood. It's now in my cabin. Another time, I discovered a fantastic chair with questionable stains that I had reupholstered. One man's trash….

So I've been thinking we should have a literary dumpster. You know all those plot points and characters you reject for whatever reason? Let's put them in a literary dumpster and whoever wants them can have them. And if you think they're trash, just leave 'em alone.

Here's a plot point I tossed recently: a man is caught by his wife watching a video and being... uh, energetic. Unfortunately, the video was one he made, secretly, in his 12-year-old daughter's bedroom. On the video, his daughter and a friend are seen changing clothes. The wife wants to have him killed before he can take his fantasies too far.

Before you hate me for this, let me say that the children in the story were never going to learn of the video, nor were they ever going to be injured. Still, I just couldn't go there. But someone else wants it, get out your figurative grocery cart and have at it. Got anything for me?


Anonymous said...

I workshopped a novel that was about concept of using virtual images as a means of managing the problem of pedophilia. In my story, the pedophile was disgusted by his urges, and did everything he could to avoid children. He was successful at managing his urges until he wound up becoming the legal guardian of his niece. The story was about this man's internal struggle, and no "real" children were ever harmed in the story. The editors who read it said that no matter how good the writing was, it would never be published because the pedophile was portrayed sympathetically. And that is a subject no publisher wants to touch.

I was trying to explore the social/moral impact of this type of child abuse. To open a dialogue on how we as a society should deal with pedophiles. Are there ways to contain their urges and prevent children from being hurt? Can pedophiles be rehabilitated? Do they deserve to be?

But it seems like people are not interested in thinking about such that idea is now in the dumpster as well.

Libby Hellmann said...

So you decided to dump it, huh... even after all the brainstorming? Oh well.

Let's see. I not only have ideas that hit the Literary Dumpster... I have entire novels. Like the one in which the female judge who is also the president of her synagogue is murdered, and the rabbi is suspected of doing it. Hmm.

Kevin Smith said...

Here are a few that I filed away...

Stolen from the Supreme Court book “The Nine,” by J. Toobin: he notes that in the past, certain liberal groups, recognizing the increasing conservative bend of the nation’s highest court, took it upon themselves to pay plaintiffs in some instances, just so the plaintiffs’ cases would stop before reaching the Supreme Court. The goal was simply to make sure that the court, given a set of facts unpleasant to the Left, would not have the opportunity to issue a damaging precedent.


A guy who just lost his wife (to death, divorce or just flight) gets a chance to make some money, and, having zero options as far as child care, he can really use it. A not-so-good guy thinking our protagonist is a bad guy, offers $100,000 to make a woman go away (the not so good guy is sleeping with her, but she’s getting too close and he doesn’t feel like losing millions in a divorce if his mistress goes public). She needs to disappear, into a deep hole in some deep woods, but the protagonist can’t quite do it, so the target becomes a hostage and then a babysitter.

Steerpike said...

@Anonymous: I had a very similar idea, in part because of my work in the video game world. It seems to me that there could be a lot of social and psychological commentary in a story like that, not to mention the inherent conflict: where is the crime if you remove the victim from the equation?

I actually wrote about this (in video game context) a while back at my website. You may find it interesting - here.

Libby, I like your concept of an idea dumpster... sort of like a slush pile for writers to share, discuss, and polish together. Some ideas stay in the trash, and others are buffed and perfected.

Anonymous said...

@Steerpike - Great article. Thanks for sharing that.

Steerpike said...

My apologies, Laura - I said "Libby" but I meant you.