The Saga of the Crashed Flash Drive

I should've known something was wrong the first time my flash drive didn't save a file properly. I'd been working all morning on my reworking of the Robert Howard story The Fire of Asshurbanipal and when I hit CTRL + S, my laptop spat back an error: Drive not found.

I shrugged and saved the draft to my desktop.

The same thing happened intermittently for the next couple of weeks. I finished the story and felt really happy with it. A few days later, on a Wednesday after work, I plugged the flash drive in to print a copy of the story. Nothing. No flashing blue LED, no recognition on my computer, nothing.

I thought it had to be the USB port so I tried another. Nothing. I rebooted because sometimes Windows can lose a data port (why? no idea). Nothing. I tried another computer, a USB 1.0 port, NOTHING. I took the flash drive to work and plugged it into three different computers. NOTHING.

I had to take a lot of deep, slow breaths. Here's what was on that flash drive:

  • The latest draft of my first novel
  • The only drafts of my second novel
  • The short story I'd just finished
  • At least eight other short stories I've written in the last two years
  • Freelance projects I've worked on
I really didn't know what to do, so I Googled "flash drive failure" and a bunch of other related search terms. I found the same site over and over: eProvided. That site dominated the search rankings for a slew of search terms related to failed flash drives. But the site was so over-optimized I had a lot of trouble figuring out what to do and how to do it. Finally I found a printable form and overnighted it, along with the troubled drive, to eProvided.

Four days passed.

During these four days, I very conspicuously didn't drown my sorrows in booze, even though I really wanted to. I kept reassuring myself that I'd be able to recover all the data somehow. eProvided might come through. I looked through my backups and saw that I hadn't archived anything, anything, since March 2007. I thought about Hemingway and the lost briefcase full of stories (except I'm no Hemingway, and I didn't lose a briefcase, and in any event I couldn't lay the blame on someone else) and how that lost briefcase made him the writer we remember. Maybe everything on the flash drive I lost could be retroactively labeled juvenalia and safely consigned to the maw of digital entropy.

On the fourth day I couldn't stand the wait and emailed eProvided -- "Did you get my drive? Can you save me, please?"

I got back a note requesting $30 via Paypal as an analysis fee. I paid it.

A week later -- seriously, a full week with not a single bender! How did I do it? Mostly, I distracted myself with the stock market. I wanted to follow the business news because it seemed as though something disastrous happened to some company or other, or some national economy, or some zaibatsu or currency, every day. I had no interest beyond prurience and a vague desire to become a millionaire by looking at eight or ten times every day. Instead of thinking about writing, I thought about its antithesis: money. A week later, I got a phone call.

My cell phone rang around noon. I was at work and went into the kitchen to take the call. Bruce, the owner of eProvided, introduced himself. He had a slow, calm voice suspiciously absent of accent that made me think he was either from a square state or maybe had been raised an Army brat.

"Well, I've got some news for you," he said. I noticed right away he didn't label it good or bad.

"What's the prognosis?"

"Well, this drive is totally trashed. Most of the circuits are broken and I haven't even put it under the microscope yet but there's some kind of corrosion that's eaten away just about everything."

There was a long pause. Finally, I asked, "Can you save it?"

"Maybe. But it ain't gonna be easy, and it ain't gonna be cheap." (Maybe he didn't quote Quint from Jaws but this is how I remember it.)

"How much?"

"Well, there's analysis, and I'm gonna have to see if I can rebuild this thing from scratch basically, you think you can get another one of the same lot? It'll take me a couple days at least. I'd say, hmm, $600."

"Six hundred?"

"Plus parts."

He said something about Radio Shack and something about micro-soldering but I stopped listening. In my entire life, I have never spent $600 or more on any single purchase other than my 1996 Dodge Neon, Princess, who is now no longer with us. To put this in further perspective -- the last fiction sale I made paid me $450.

Here's the time to wheel and deal, I thought. Maybe if I explain how I'm nothing but a lowly fiction writer he'll have mercy and cut me some slack. "Listen, Bruce, here's my situation. I'm a writer and everything I've ever written is on that drive. My first novel, my second novel, bunch of short stories... So I need those files. I really, really need them. If you can save them for me I'll be eternally grateful."

"Well, I'll do my best to get everything for you but there's no guarantee. There's a $90 assessment fee and if I can't recover any files then that's all you have to pay, so at least you don't wind up paying for something for nothing."

"Okay." I told him how much I appreciated his hard work and efforts and expertise, still hoping that my words could work a little magic on him and get me a deal.

Instead, he told me, "Well, I work with a lot of people and I have to tell them stuff like this pretty regularly. I have to say you sure do take it better than most."

I couldn't think of any good answer for that. He still didn't back down on the price.

Ten minutes later I sat down and Paypalled him $90. I had to know if I could get my files back or not.

The sun rose and set. Around the world, nine people died of H5N1. Presidential candidates spent hundreds of millions of dollars campaigning. I read some more. I spent about 15 straight days in a state of suspended animation -- going to work, coming home, waiting for Bruce to email me.

One night I was speaking to my buddy Jeff when call waiting beeped. It was Bruce.

"Good news," he told me, and started reading the names of directories. I just about wet myself. I went on and on about how great he was, how much he'd helped me, even made sure he read the directories containing my 2 novels. Huzzah! I buttered him up to the best of my abilities. Then gave him my credit card number so he could charge me another $690 for the recovery. It hurt -- it hurt real bad.

I'd spent a total of $820 on's services. If I can sell two of the stories Bruce recovered for me, I'll at least break even.

I offered to pay for overnight shipping so I could get a CD of the files right away, but Bruce told me he'd just send them the normal way. Which turned out to be first class mail.

Yesterday, the envelope arrived. A single CD with an business card. I ran to the computer and popped the CD in the drive.

Bruce managed to save the following:
  • My first novel
  • My second novel
  • The short story I had been working on when the drive started to fail
  • The previous 3 short stories I composed
  • Notes for my third novel
  • A copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.1
  • A bootleg of an Elliott Smith concert (zipped)
  • Two journal entries
  • My freelance work
  • A set of Dell printer drivers
Here's what got lost:
  • At least 10 completed but unpublished short story manuscripts
  • Approximately 50 journal entries
  • Drafts of 2 screenplays I've worked on
The following short stories that have been published are now extant only in print: Dragon Drop, How I Learned To Fly, Crows, Myrtle Baggs's Boarding House for Young Gentlemen, Heat, Norman Oklahoma, Welcome to Justice 2.0. There may be more but I think my point is clear. Those stories exist now only as print -- only as the finished product. All the scaffolding I used to build them is gone.

I've gotten so used to infinite archiving, to having multiple early drafts of things to look at, that this is a personal disaster of a magnitude I can barely comprehend. Even though so much was saved, so much more is gone -- and not just misplaced, but gone. Extinct.

As much as I moaned about paying $820 for getting these files, I would've paid three times as much to get everything back.

So, let my experience be a warning to you: BACK UP YOUR FILES. If you don't it will cost you a pile of money, emotional trauma, or both.


Misque Writer said...

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ninsthewriter said...

George! Hi! I see you recognized me on Facebook--thanks! And here I found your blog...check mine out too when you get a chance...