Wednesday, February 4, 2015
SW Hubbard on Letting Go of Stuff: Treasure of Darkness
LUCY BURDETTE: A new book from SW Hubbard is always a cause for celebration--she's a smart, funny writer with a knack for creating strong characters. I've been hearing about the story behind Treasure of Darkness for a while, so I'm thrilled that it's finally available. Susan's visiting today to talk about where she got this idea--our fascination with 'stuff'. Welcome Susan!
SW (aka Susan) HUBBARD: Who among us has not watched an episode of Hoarders and thought, “At least I’m not as bad as that!” Everyone has too much stuff, except for those owners of minimalist apartments featured in Architectural Digest (and I always suspect they have a back room filled with two Barcaloungers, a stack of unread newspapers, and Rubbermaid crates full of out-of-season clothes).
Letting go of our stuff is hard because each item is more than just the plastic or metal or ceramic it’s made of. Some items are pieces of the past: Throwing away my daughter’s lacrosse stick was tantamount to discarding six years of chilly spring afternoons cheering in the stands. Some items are moral judgments: Discarding those perfectly good shoes that never got broken in is downright shameful when so many people have no shoes at all. Tossing the old waffle iron is fraught with peril: what if I have to make waffles for twenty-five and need two waffle irons to cope? And some items simply aren’t ripe for removal, so they go to the purgatory of the attic or the spare bedroom closet to await their future trip to dump hell.
Still, as hard as editing our junk is, most of us manage to either toss it or at least recycle it via Craigslist or the church bazaar.
But what if you could never let anything go? And what if you kept acquiring more and more? What would happen when your obsession affected not just your own life, but the lives of your family, friends, and neighbors?
And finally, when you’d spent years accumulating so much stuff that every room in your house was filled to the ceiling, what might lie forgotten beneath it all?
Those are the questions I wanted to tackle in Treasure of Darkness.
So I gave my protagonist, estate sale organizer Audrey Nealon, a doozy of a job: find the one needle of value in a grotesque haystack of hoarded junk. In the process, she becomes entangled in the lives and secrets of the hoarder, his family, and his neighbors.
One of the best things about writing fiction is that it gives me an opportunity to grapple with issues I can’t fix in real life. For fifteen years, I’ve volunteered at the Community Soup Kitchen of Morristown. The experience has opened my eyes to the suffering of the mentally ill and the terrible challenges faced by the people who try to help them.
In Treasure of Darkness, I try to shed some light on these dilemmas. Unlike homeless animals and orphaned children, Harold the hoarder is not easy to love. He’s obstinate, unattractive, and tuned-in to a different logic than everyone else. The frustrations of his family and neighbors are totally understandable. Yet Harold’s essential humanity—his interests and intelligence and affections—are still present beneath the shroud of his mental illness. Audrey and her assistants, Jill and Ty, are torn by revulsion, fear, and compassion as they are drawn into Harold’s bizarre world. And, of course, since this is a mystery, they uncover some dark secrets along the way.
You can meet Audrey, her crew, and Harold here, in the first chapter of Treasure of Darkness. The book is available in paperback and on Kindle here.
I suspect you’ll see just a little bit of yourself in Harold. So come clean (so to speak)—what items do you find impossible to throw away?