When Bad Things Happen…

Posted: December 13th, 2023 under the writing life.

Short version:  All my files are gone.

Longer version:   That includes: books, short fiction, poetry, letters, nonfiction, addresses, etc.  Character lists for each piece of fiction (for continuity, very handy to have organized lists for another book or story set in the same universe–by organization, by location, by genealogy, by status (for those who die in the course of  a book) , etc.   Place names, locations, descriptions.   For some, salient physical and historical notes:  age at marriage, age at birth of children, age at which significant injury/illness occurs.  Etc.

Gone. All of it.  Things in print are still there, of course, but as stories, not as organized files where I had been able to look up things like how old Character A was when their younger sibling was born or an older sister died, things that affect characters’ growth & development, deep motivations, reactions, etc.

How it happened doesn’t really matter, except to me and my tech assistant, trying to be sure it never happens again.  A lof it is not recoverable at all, given my aging brain with its memory holes here and there.  Not without stopping writing new stuff to try to rebuild the research library of the old files.  Hours of work spread over nearly 40 years built the accumulated mass,  which  went way beyond what was obviously in the books.

So I have the complete printout of one of last summer’s short stories, and a printout of part of another.   I’m working this week to get them back into digital form, into multiple forms of storage, one of which I hope will still work in 5 or 10 years.   I know people who have whole or partial drafts of others.   I’m not dwelling on how bad this is, but focusing (narrowly for now) on what I can do, which is work from paper to digital, rebuild a file structure, start filling, and at the same time produce clean texts for publication when the next collection should be out.  Not going into gory details because they make my head hurt and take time.  Takeaway: Bad break, but writer is not sitting around moaning…writer is, and will be, at work.


  • Comment by Jazzlet — December 13, 2023 @ 2:27 pm


    Oh no, however it happened I am sorry. I am glad you are approaching it having happened in such a positive way – really the only healthy thing to do – but appreciate that that must be hard. You have my well wishes for the rebuilding.

  • Comment by Patricia Lanigan — December 13, 2023 @ 5:52 pm


    What an absolutely devastating accident to happen! To lose years of in-depth research, the meticulous inter-weaving of your characters’ lives must be heart-breaking. Even if you find bits and pieces on other devices, it’s not the same.

    I admire your stoicism in telling us briefly and baldly, then getting back to writing. I hope your creative imagination may even take advantage of a blurred past and jump your current characters into some more awkward messes and out of them again. I am really looking forward to Horngard I, and whatever follows from that.
    This week of Advent focuses on hope and faith. May you find both in the coming days leading up to Christmas.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 13, 2023 @ 6:28 pm


    Thank you, Jazzlet. After posting this, and after being wakened from a nap by Agent, there are some bright spots in the dark mess. I do have help (Agent, of course) but also the people I hired last spring and this fall are working on a) the website redesign and b) the house reorganization.

    Agent says Horngard 1 can go out to an editor (yay!) and I asked him to send me a copy first, sine I have no files, so he’s going to do that. He thinks it still needs some revisions, but says it’s time to try it in the real world. That’s a boost to my mood and my energy, for sure.

    Thank you for the well wishes, because they’re really needed. Reviving a writing career now six years “dead” is going to require a lot of CPR of the corpus.

  • Comment by Kathleen — December 13, 2023 @ 6:34 pm


    Oh no to the file loss.

    Rah to Horngard 1 going out!

  • Comment by Christina — December 14, 2023 @ 1:45 am


    Oh no! If it would be helpful to have an extra person copying specific info like name/age/location etc. from the published books back into reference lists, I have some free time, an Aspie brain, and copies of nearly all the Paksworld books. Can also proof scanned-to-text pages for scanning errors a la Project Gutenberg, if this would be useful.

  • Comment by Jazzlet — December 14, 2023 @ 6:45 am


    Yay for Horngard I going out to publishers. I really hope it gets picked up quickly 😀

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — December 15, 2023 @ 8:11 am


    I am appalled. Great sympathy and empathy. I do know that you have many rabid fans who will do their own searching if you have need of any information from any of your books. Stay strong and keep up with the sword.

  • Comment by Jim DeWItt — December 15, 2023 @ 1:31 pm


    Is the loss of files a digital loss or a paper loss?

    If it’s digital, there are file recovery services that can recover files that have been deleted or corrupted. I’ve used them for friends and clients and while they aren’t cheap, they can be amazingly successful. One friend lost the scheduling data for the coming year for his B&B. We got it back. Another re-formatted the wrong hard drive, deleting almost 100,000 photos; the service got back 99% of them.

    If it’s digital, let me know in a comment and I’ll post vendors I’ve used.

  • Comment by Linda — December 15, 2023 @ 4:42 pm


    I am one of those rabid fans too. We know you have guts and that you understand persistence. I hope you get some good advice about how to put our love for you and the characters and worlds you have brought to life to use.

    I am thinking of Aunt Grace from the Vatta’s World and wondering if a fruitcake using flours and nuts of your choice would be appropriate as a token of hope for the future? I have only ten more orders to fill before Christmas … I can do one more. 😉

  • Comment by Annabel Smyth — December 18, 2023 @ 10:11 am


    I already said on Facebook how sorry I am that this has happened – but please, please do employ a retrieval specialist, as they are very clever at – well, at what it says on the tin! You should get back a great deal, if not all, of your lost data, unless the drive on which it was stored was physically destroyed. And, in future, make sure everything is saved in a couple of different places – cloud storage is relatively cheap, and a backup copy there is a good idea, plus, too, an external hard drive to which you can back up your data every so often.

  • Comment by William — December 18, 2023 @ 10:22 am


    Oh, no! I’m VERY sorry to hear about the loss!
    As Jim said, some digital recovery services can be very helpful, if that’s your issue. I’m glad you have a tech assistant by your side, and hope that some backup files can be found somewhere. In the meantime, if there’s any hope of recovery, you might do well to use some other system, so that any file fragments would remain untouched.
    As a poor fall back, checking with Agent, Editor, Publisher (and former Publisher, etc.) to obtain any files they have might at least get you copies of the most recently-published works. That wouldn’t get you the letters, poetry, early versions, cross-references, or other unpublished material, but would be SOMETHING.
    Book scanning services might also help for published material.
    Given a collection of source files, it would be possible to process them programmatically, to find each use of each unique name, in context. Of course, it would take considerable effort to distinguish names of people from places, etc. For all I know, some author support software may provide such capabilities already pre-packaged. Having the all-source-file cross-index could at least be a start, even just as a partial reference.
    No technical approach can overcome the sense of loss. I’m impressed that you’re able to view the prospects with stoicism.
    Very best wishes for these challenges, and to your family, M____, R____, and the creatures through the darkest days of the year and for the upcoming holidays.

  • Comment by Nadine Bowlus — December 19, 2023 @ 12:02 am


    As one of the commentors said above.

    Oh! No! to Files gone

    Yay! to Horngard 1

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — December 20, 2023 @ 8:47 am


    I’m late to the party and can only echo what the others have noted. I send my prayers and hope against hope that some data recovery person can manage to pull some data out. Though I have had everything lost too when a power supply started throwing errors and it caused spikes on the hard disk. If it was something like that I am truly sorry.

  • Comment by Pence — December 31, 2023 @ 6:33 pm


    Yay for Horngard. And condolences for the evil machinations of the e-gremulins and the Demon Titivulus (who medieval monks blamed for copying errors. He has greatly enlarged his field of mischief in the modern era)
    May your new year go more smoothly and be e-error free.

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