Bio Break salutes NaNoWriMo writers!

I would say it’s hard to believe that it’s November again, but this sort of thing happens on an annual basis, so I should stop being surprised by now.  In any case, I am mildly intrigued by the rapid return of this month, and with it, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

As you may recall, last year I participated and won my second NaNo stint.  NaNo’s always one of those events that’s terrific fun to get into, and then it becomes a really long marathon of writing that has a lot of ups and downs and “Why oh why am I doing this?”  It felt great finishing my novel last year, but at the same time, I was just glad it was over, and the final day was a bit of a let-down.  No fireworks, no trumpets, just… yeah.  It was over.

But I am terribly proud of my book, which I still think is fairly amusing and carries with it a lot of veiled references to my college years.  Unfortunately, I cannot participate this year — three classes, two kids, and two jobs makes it a bit tough to squeeze anything in at the moment.  I wasn’t immune to the pull, and my wife even mentioned it a few times, including this morning, hoping that I might change my mind.  If nothing else, doing NaNo together was a great bonding moment between us, and I sincerely hope we can do it again in the future.

While I may be abstaining, plenty of my friends and fellow bloggers are already deep into their first day, and I totally salute and support them.  It’s not just a lot of writing, but a lot of creating, and that can be taxing if you haven’t built up to it.

So in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, today I’m going to present my entire novel from last year to anyone who may wish to read it (although, y’know, don’t be a jerk and plagiarize it).  It’s pretty rough without a full editorial pass, but hopefully it’s entertaining enough to make up for the flaws.

Read away — and write away!

Homecoming — Chapter Four: The Haunted Dorm

If you want to read this novel from the beginning, head over to my NaNo Novels page for the full table of contents.

CHAPTER FOUR: THE HAUNTED DORM

They stood in front of the brick dormitory, bags in hand, as Greg fiddled with his keychain to unlock the entrance.  “Sorry,” he said, with a sinking feeling that that word would become a catchphrase for him this weekend.  He had been in such a funk about the college’s problems that when the inspiration hit him to invite his former friends for homecoming, he allowed his enthusiasm to shadow their possible reactions.  Now Jackson was AWOL, possibly on his way back home, and the girls seemed to be drawn down into a severe funk.  All except Autumn, who actually perked up at the thought of spending a night in an abandoned college dorm.

He had pulled a few strings for his visitors to save themselves the cost of a hotel and enjoy a stay in the dorm that they each, during various years, called home: Kipling Hall.  The 300-room dormitory had been vacant since 2006, although the college occasionally opened it for summer football camps and the like.  Rather than being located on The Row, Kipling was nestled behind the tech center.  The E-shaped building was one of the earlier dorms built, and hence, the first candidate for shuttering when the college made cutbacks.
Continue reading “Homecoming — Chapter Four: The Haunted Dorm”

Homecoming — Chapter 3: A Little White Lie

If you want to read this novel from the beginning, head over to my NaNo Novels page for the full table of contents.

CHAPTER THREE: A LITTLE WHITE LIE

Greg refused to say anything else until they could return to the college.  Trixie begged off from Duke, who told her she could go but, “That doesn’t erase your debt to me, girly!”  Coffee and tea was poured to go, and they headed back up Main Street and to the imposing neo-gothic administration building.

There, Greg furtively glanced around for any observers, but most of the staff had left for the weekend.  He motioned for them to follow him down a flight of stone steps into the cool, damp basement level.  “Nobody needs to know you were down here,” he said cryptically.
Continue reading “Homecoming — Chapter 3: A Little White Lie”

Homecoming – Chapter Two: The Bookish Bean

If you want to read this novel from the beginning, head over to my NaNo Novels page for the full table of contents.

CHAPTER TWO: THE BOOKISH BEAN

Before time itself, the local legend went, there was the Bookish Bean.  Its log cabin facade was at stark odds with the rest of the conservative storefronts, a dash of Colorado among a sea of Midwestern Small Town.  Even the Starbucks a block and a half away was required by city code to match its neighbors to the left and right.  When they protested, specifically using The Bookish Bean as a clear precedent, the council waved away their protest with a vague reference to a grandfather clause and dismissed the motion.

If the outside stuck out like a sore thumb, it was only reflecting its unique interior.  Owned and operated by Patty and Duke Owens — again, for as long as most people remembered, which isn’t saying much — the Bookish Bean was a small labyrinth of rooms, each with a theme unto itself.  There was the firefly room, the sunset room, the Victorian parlor, and another half-dozen more, each with quirky decorations, elaborate wall murals, comfortable chairs, and — best of all — bookshelves built into everything.

Patty was a book junkie, spending half the week out and about the state scouring other bookstores for rare and treasured finds.  She stocked the Bookish Bean with largely unknown authors, often in their first and only print edition, and pish-poshed Oprah’s latest recommendation or the bestseller top 40.
Continue reading “Homecoming – Chapter Two: The Bookish Bean”

Homecoming – Chapter One: Fifteen Years Later

If you want to read this novel from the beginning, head over to my NaNo Novels page for the full table of contents.

PART ONE: FRIDAY

CHAPTER ONE: FIFTEEN YEARS LATER

Jackson sat at the stop sign longer than state driving laws demanded.  Three or four minutes longer than required, to be honest, but with nobody on the road behind him, what did it matter?  Just him and the stop sign, with its bold clear message of “THOU SHALT NOT PASS WITHOUT AT LEAST PAUSING MOMENTARILY TO ADMIRE MY REDNESS!”

He put a calming hand on his waist.  He had no idea why his stomach was so jumpy, but he knew that if he turned onto the main road that headed through town and into the college, it would only get worse.  The mixture of high excitement and anxious dread sloshed around his belly, causing his left leg to jitter unceasingly.

It’s just homecoming, he thought.  Millions of people do it every year.  Nothing more than a dog-and-pony show for alumni before the college crudely asked them to empty out their wallets and “give generously”.  As if repaying student loans wasn’t bad enough.

Continue reading “Homecoming – Chapter One: Fifteen Years Later”

Homecoming – Prologue: A Dunking At The Big F

I have no idea if anyone cares to read my NaNoWriMo novel from last year, but I felt bad sitting on it without sharing, so here goes: I’m going to be posting the entire story, start to finish, on Bio Break.  If it’s not your cup of tea, or if you are just tuning in for MMO discussion, feel free to ignore it.  Consider this the first draft of the book, as I haven’t given it much work other than a spellcheck and a quick once-over, so it’s a bit rougher than I’d like.  I’m also going to be using a “More” tag so that these posts don’t take over the entire front page, so if you’re tuning in via RSS feeds, I apologize for having to click on the link to see it all.

When I went to think of a novel for 2009’s NaNo, I found myself attracted to the idea of returning to college later in life.  College, for me, had great significance and memories, but I’m always a little nervous about returning there.  This novel looks at a highly, highly fictionalized view of what my college homecoming might be, and how people change (and don’t), and what they hold on to out of nostalgia and friendships.

You can view the entire table of contents of Homecoming on my NaNo Novel page.

PROLOGUE: A DUNKING AT THE BIG F

“To a wonderful waste of four years!” Chloe cheered.  The wind ruffled her spiked black hair as she raised her glass to the others.  She sat perched on the edge of a short wall, kicking her feet without thinking about it.

“Four years!” Trixie giggled a little too exuberantly.  Topping the scales at a lean 95 pounds — soaking wet — it did not take much for alcohol to invade her system and start messing with the controls.  She tossed her head to flip her long straw blonde braid over her shoulder.  “And not a minute more!”

The other two stood across from them, a study in contrasts.  Greg was “all elbows” as he often put it, usually after he knocked something down or tripped over any small, hostile object in the way.  His unkempt red hair had no idea what it wanted to be — curly, straight, frizzy, parted, and tussled — and as such was the eternal frustration of his morning grooming.

Continue reading “Homecoming – Prologue: A Dunking At The Big F”

NaNoWriMo: Fin

I think this’ll be my last NaNoWriMo post for the time being.  It was incredibly cathartic to type in “The End” to my tale, and just to know that it was done, I had crossed the finish line, and I could stop writing for now.  Not that I didn’t love it, I did, but I was and still am wiped from the constant need to develop and write more story.

My wife’s still working hard on hers, approaching 60K words with no sign of stopping.  As soon as she finishes and I go back through mine with a quick spell check and read-through for obvious errors, we’ll finally get to exchange works and enjoy the fruits of each other’s labor.

So what did I get out of this year’s NaNo?  What did I learn?

  • Out of all the friends, bloggers and other people who started NaNo with me, very few of them finished.  This isn’t a black mark against them at all — NaNo is very gruelling, and there’s a good reason why less than 1 in 5 cross the 50K mark each year.  In many cases it’s people underestimating the time and effort it takes, and they get snowballed with the wordcount by weeks two or three.  Real life often intervenes as well.
  • My wife is perhaps a much more creative storyteller than me, if what little snippets she told me are any indication.
  • My book ended up being a highly fictionalized account of a personal return to college, a place that meant a lot to me and I miss deeply sometimes.  At the end of my book, one of my characters says farewell in a way that helped me cut the last little cord as well.
  • I genuinely cared about my characters.  There’s a few moments — not tons, but a few — where they say something, or do something, or experience something that I considered to be great storytelling, and moved me in some way.
  • Dialogue, for me, is tough, and I was dumb to have 11 main characters, who always had to keep chatting with each other for every little thing.
  • An outline and notes helped A LOT.  I kept revising the outline, mapping out future chapters, and when it came time to split up my core cast into branching stories, I was able to keep tabs on them and bring them back together without much difficulty.
  • I had a lot of fun taking interesting and quirky experiences and places from college and revising them to be their own legend in the book.

NaNoWriMo: An Announcement

Homecoming: A Comedy of Errands, my novel, is now complete.  50,573 words!

I am elated, zonked and a bit sad.  NaNo is a tremendous time of the year, and I’m terrifically happy that I did it once more.

My wife hasn’t finished her novel, but she’s over 52,000 words right now and still clicking.  We honestly can’t wait to read each other’s works.

NaNoWriMo: Twilight

I haven’t talked much about NaNoWriMo lately, mostly because I’m just limping right now toward the finish line.  I have 6,000 more words to go to hit 50K, and perhaps another 5K past that to complete the book.  I don’t know.  I’ve been slowing down in my writing speed as the month’s gone on — the first week I was averaging 4K a day, the second and third 2K, and now I’m down to 1K if I’m lucky.

I’m not worried about finishing, just ready to be done with it.  NaNo really does suck a whole month away from you, for a good cause, but the “marathon” part of it means that it’s not just a quick burst of fun and it’s over.  It goes on and on and on, and it’s hard to remember when you even started.  I’ve seen a LOT of people drop out, and I don’t have many friends (save Mal and Stargrace) who are still dead on for a win.

But I wanted to talk about one of the most important aspects of why I’m doing this, and that’s to share an experience with my wife.  She’s the one who really got me to do it this year, promising that she’d write alongside me, and you don’t turn down opportunities to go through something like that together.  Besides, I was intensely curious — I knew my wife wrote, but she’s always been painfully shy about it and very protective of her stuff to the point where I’ve read only a little bit over the past five years of marriage.  But now, she’s writing an entire book that I will get to read (and vice versa), and we’ve spent the whole month discussing writing and ideas and egging each other on.

It’s been a huge boon to our relationship.

I’m endlessly tickled that my wife’s inner geek has poured out — I’m the one writing a serio-comic tale with no fantastic elements, and every day she keeps telling me of all of these bizarre things she’s putting into her story.  Penguin zombies (the good ones are Pengbies, and the bad ones are Zomguins), whole towns getting destroyed, radioactive orangatangs, and a viking gnome named Ludo are all par for the course.

We’ve spent time writing together at Panera’s, with our laptops in bed (as our infant snuggles up between us), and even when we can’t sleep.  My wife’s seen the word count thing as a competitive struggle that she must crush me, and until yesterday, I was over 9K ahead of her.  Then she pulled an all-nighter (!) and went from 35,000 to 48,000 in one go.  I am flabbergasted.

Anyway, you probably won’t hear me talk too much more about this until it’s all over, but I thought I’d share a bit about the joy of doing it with a friend or loved one.

NaNoWriMo: Tipping the Scales

writer2I read on the NaNoWriMo website that there are two big milestones (other than the finish line, of course) in this month’s event: when you hit 25,000, and when you reach 35,000.  The 25K is obvious — it’s the halfway point.  But why 35K?   I think it’s because that’s the point where the finish line starts to come into view, where writers look at 15,000 more as chump change and start all-out sprinting for the end.

Yesterday I hit my 35K mark (and my wife is breathing down my neck at 31K, outpacing me by writing 4-5K a day versus my now-standard 2K), and it was a good feeling — momentarily.  If 50K was to be my end point, then certainly I would allow myself more elation, but the truth is that my story is going to extend past that, and I’m worried about that.

Worried because I’m afraid I’ll lose motivation to write past 50,000, worried because if I don’t finish this book by the end of the month, it might never get done.  It’s not enough for me to have hit 50K, I need to have a completed novel in my hands to feel as if I “won”.  NaNo is about these personal goals, after all.

My book has five parts: a prologue, and parts 1-4.  At 33,000, I’ve moved into part 3, which is to be the crucial hinge of the plot, where all of the action comes to a head and big things occur.  It’s going to take a while to get through (part 4 will be a one or two chapter epilogue), and I’ve been refining my outline to make sure that I’m setting the right pace.

I still haven’t gotten to the point where I feel that I’ve tipped the scales and have begun my descent into normalcy again, but hopefully that will come within a week.  The truth is that, two weeks into NaNa, I am bone-weary.  I feel creatively dry, and it took more hours than I care to admit yesterday coming up with my 2,000 words.  I’m freaking out that the ending won’t have the punch it needs, and I’m finding less places to insert comedy.