David Meigs is a novelist with a background in youth outreach, specializing in ministry to at-risk youth and their families. Though his writing is enjoyed by all ages, his novels provide a unique, life-changing quality, critical for the youth of today. David and his family lives in Seabeck, Washington, where he serves his church as youth pastor.
Blessings from the Ashes, Part 2
What if your home burned down tonight? Would everything you’ve ever written go up in smoke, or do you have a fireproof backup plan? I thought I did. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way what strategies worked and which ones didn’t. I hope you can benefit from my mistakes.
What Didn’t Work
Backup drives—yeah right. A couple years ago, I bought a large-capacity backup drive. I loved how it automatically synced the latest versions of my documents as I slept. Unfortunately, as you might expect, we couldn’t even find the remains of the backup drive in the ashes. Don’t get me wrong; backup drives offer great protection against hardware failure and provide storage for large media files. But unless you plan to keep it located in the safety of a bomb shelter, don’t count on it surviving a fire.
After the fire, one of the kind firemen brought me what remained of my fireproof safe. He gave me a hopeful glance. A quick examination showed that the lock had melted away, along with the plastic covering, but somehow it had survived in amazingly good condition. I would have to cut it open, but at least I had a chance that my backup discs may have survived.
For years (prior to the purchase of my backup drive), I had faithfully backed up my writing onto compact discs and squirreled them away, safe and sound, in my trusty safe. It took me a few weeks to work up the courage to open the safe. When the time finally came, I put on my safety glasses, picked up the heavy-duty grinder, and set about the task of carefully cutting open the safe without damaging the precious contents within.
Here’s what I learned: A safe isn’t safe. They perform as advertised for most jewelry, spare keys, great-grandpa’s pocket knife, or maybe even those important documents; but if it is made of plastic, like backup CD or DVD discs, forget about it. They melt. All my discs were clustered together in a solid brick.
Fortunately for me, my trusty editor had copies of the manuscripts I had sent her, as well as most of the revisions we painstakingly collaborated on together (Rulan, you rock!). Unfortunately, all the finished versions were lost, not to mention the many manuscripts I never sent her. At the end of the day, all that was really lost was my time. What was written once can always be written again, and probably better. Live and learn.
Since the fire, I’ve started using an automated backup service called MOZY. It’s even free if your backup needs are two gigabytes or less, which is more than enough to meet the minimum requirements of most writers. I’m pleased to report that their software runs as advertised, working invisibly to squirrel away my precious files as I sleep. They even offer an unlimited plan for as little as five bucks a month.
Some writers I know attach copies of their manuscripts to e-mails they send to themselves at special Gmail accounts they set up just for this purpose. I did this myself and even managed to rescue a few manuscripts I would not otherwise have salvaged. Unfortunately for me, I got lazy and stopped sending my manuscripts to Gmail soon after I got my backup drive.
Eighty Cans of Chili
Portraying scenes with realistic detail is crucial for any fiction writer. Unfortunately, most of us are forced to write about things we’ve never experienced. To compensate, we do countless hours of research so that everything is just right. I thought some of you might benefit from a few of my experiences during and following the fire.
Even today, remembering the fire as I write this, I am experiencing a sensory overload. My eyes are watering, my lungs are burning, and my mouth is tasting the pungent acrid smoke. Even worse, I remember the invisible vapors of the burning plastic that cut at my lungs as I rushed to assure myself that my precious children and pets were all safely out the door. I remember how quickly my brain started playing the game of coulda, shoulda, woulda. Should I run back inside and gather the pictures, computers, guitars, or our shoes and coats?
It’s a little embarrassing, but I thought I would share this little incident that illustrates how shock can change the confines of rational thought and often times, as it did with me, for weeks after the tragedies we face. About two weeks after the fire, my family was still holdup in the motel. With the exception of a slow cooker, with which we cooked roasts, stews, and soups, everything we ate came from a can or frozen bricks of what passed for food that we would heat in the microwave. Yum.
One evening, I went shopping at the local supermarket. I’ll never forget the strange look the clerk gave me as she started to tally my groceries. Then I noticed that the girl bagging the groceries shared the same odd expression as the clerk. Quickly, I checked to see if my zipper was undone, and then put my hand to my face to see if some kind of nasty, green ooze might be dangling from my nose or mustache. Nope, all was well.
I slowly pushed my cart away, feeling their stares as I went. Once safely out the door, I stopped and pulled out my receipt and began reading. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I had purchased eighty cans of chili. Now, it was a bargain price at eighty cents per can, and the average chili enthusiast might pick up a case—maybe even two. However, I had bought every can they had on display and never gave it a second thought.
That’s when I realized that the shock of experiencing the fire had skewed my thinking in nearly every way. I was in survival mode. In my altered way of thinking, every decision was tilted in the direction of surviving. I was thinking of its nutritional value, the easy pull-off tops, and that if we had to, our family could live a month off this chili alone. Now, I don’t know about you, but eighty cans of chili is at least a two years’ supply for our family, and probably three.
Go ahead and giggle at my silliness. I did. Don’t worry; I am not force-feeding that chili to my wife and kids. I put on a chili feed for my youth group . . . well, actually two chili feeds, and we still had plenty left over for our family. My point is that shock skews our thinking, and can make for all kinds of fun in the lives of our characters.