In eight days I will be starting something that may change the course of my life.
Ok, maybe that's an overstatement. But I'm going to be participating in National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, it will be my goal, along with about 60,000 other people, to write a 50,000-word novel, or at least 50,000 words of a novel. Here's how it works. Starting Nov. 1, you begin writing a brand-new novel from scratch. By Nov. 30, the goal is to have 50,000 words. Pretty simple. Once you're done, you send them your submission electronically. They tally the words, and if you've got 50,000, you're a winner.
It sounds kind of crazy, but what the hell? What have I got to lose? "There is nothing – there is risk," right? The worst that can happen is I start and don't finish (which is highly likely). But if I finish, I may come up with something good enough to get me into a creative writing MFA program somewhere. Or maybe even good enough to get published.
Think that's crazy? Well several NaNoWriMo writers have gone on to have their books published, or so the Web site tells me:
Quite a few! Jon F. Merz was one of Team 2001's winners; his NaNo book The Destructor was published by Pinnacle Books in March 2003. Lani Diane Rich, sold her 2002 NaNo-penned manuscript, Time Off For Good Behavior to Warner Books, and it came out to great reviews in October 2004, and won the Romance Writers of America RITA award for Best Debut Novel eight months later. Her 2003 NaNoWriMo novel was published by Warner Books as Maybe Baby in 2005.
We had several sales of NaNoWriMo novels in 2004 and 2005. Sarah Gruen's Flying Changes began as a NaNoWriMo novel. RebeccaAgiewich sold her 2003 NaNoWriMo book, Breakup Babe to Ballantine in 2004; it'll be hitting stores in May of 2006. Dave Wilson sold his 2004 NaNoWriMo Manuscript, The Mote in Andrea's Eye, to Five Star/Gale; it'll come out in June 2006. In fall of 2005, Gayle Brandeis sold her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Self Storage, to Ballantine in a two-book deal. Around the same time, Kimberly Llewellyn found a home for her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Cashmere Boulevard, at Berkley Books. It's due out in summer 2007.
Francesca Segre sold her 2003 NaNo manuscript Daughter of the Bride to Berkley Books; it came out in March, 2006. Also out this year, Jenna Bayley-Burke's NaNoWriMo novel Just One Spark came out with Mills and Boon in May.
So people have done it before. Granted, the odds aren't very good, but I think I have a leg up on the competition. Last year, of the approximately 60,000 who entered, slightly less than 10,000 finished. If I finish, that puts me ahead of the game.
Also, I'm remind of some advice I got from an article by Stephen King that Kordik emailed me a while back. King talks about talent being necessary to succeed as a writer. It might seem conceited for me to consider myself talented. Of all people, I probably have the most doubt about my own talent. But King says,"If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented." I've never actually paid a light bill with money I've gotten from writing, but I have paid credit card bills, so I say that qualifies.
In eight days, I'll set my pen to paper and try for the first time to write a novel from the beginning. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I already have one novel started. But it's pieced together from a few semi-(or mostly)-autobiographical short stories I wrote in college. This will be something different. A new story, written from beginning to end.
Here's what I'm thinking: A young man (a writer or journalist?) returns to Chicago after living in London to find that his family is coming unhinged. (As you can see, I have trouble shedding the autobiography. The London and Chicago stuff, not the family coming apart.) It sounds generic, I know. But I think it will give me a lot of latitude to develop interesting characters.
And by the way, thanks to Ryan Holler for telling me about NaNoWriMo in the first place.
SONG OF THE MOMENT:
And So It Goes - No Strings Attached
As some of you may have gather from reading the poem I posted this week in "The Unfinished Complete Works ..." my cousin Dawne died from liver cancer last week. She was diagnosed about four and a half years ago, when she was around 32. She had a long battle that included surgery and numerous rounds of chemo therapy. My brother told me the doctors said this type of cancer, which is typically found in men in their 70s, has a 100 percent mortality rate within five years.
It's hard to figure out how to feel about the death of any person. If it's something unexpected like a car accident or a heart attack, it can hit you with an enormous amount of grief due to the suddenness and the fact that you haven't had any time to mentally prepare yourself for the reality of the person's death. But with a long slow disease like cancer, it leaves plenty of time - sometimes too much time - to come to terms with the fact that the person probably won't be around much longer.
Dealing with the death of a relative becomes much more troublesome when you realize, despite the fact you've literally know them your entire life, you might not really know them very well at all. My cousin Dawne was almost 14 years old when I was born. By the time I was old enough to really be aware of my surroundings, she was in college. Her husband Randy, who she started dating in high school, is just as much a part of my memory as she is.
That brings me to the question of what I really know about Dawne. I know she was in band in high school. She played a woodwind instrument, I think. I know my cousin Sandi, her younger sister, played the clarinet. Maybe she played trumpet. I don't think so though. That's what Randy played. She went to Illinois State and majored in psychology. She married her high school sweet heart and worked with high school kids with behavioral disorders before she left work to raise her sons, Trevor and Brendon. She spent most of 30s battling a rare form of cancer.
But how much does a list of facts about a person really say who they are or who they were? For the last few years, I saw Dawne and her family about twice a year. Christmas Eve was our time to get together with Mom's side of the family, and we always saw them then. We also saw them at least one other time for the past few years for game night, the subject of that poem. We talked. She'd ask about what was going on in my life. I remember a few years ago she mentioned she used to babysit a girl who was now at U. of I., and said something about setting us up, I think. I don't mind that it never happened. I'm not one for set ups. She never talked about her cancer. And I never brought it up.
It's hard to say how much of what I think about when I think of Dawne now was shaped by the things I heard people say about her over the last few days. But if I had given it the thought I probably should have before she died, I would have come to the same conclusion. She was an eternally positive person. She always smiled, and she had an amazing smile. Even when she was battling cancer, she managed to make it seem like everything was going well.
When I saw her at our cousin Kathy's graduation party in June, she didn't look very well. She was thin and frail. Her hair was short from chemo and her belly was bloated. But listening to her talk, you wouldn't have thought much of anything was wrong. You would have thought she could have gone on living another 50 years. And if life was fair or there were any justice in the world, she would have. But she never let her cancer bring other people down. She was always lifting other people up, even when it was us who should have been lifting her spirits.
I've always considered family to be an important part of my life. And it's sad to me how little I feel I really knew about Dawne. Wakes and funerals are supposed to be sad. And this was no different. There were tears and grief. But it also was different. There was also laughter and smiles and joy. I feel like I got to know my cousin better by being around people whose lives she was much larger part of than mine.
SONG OF THE MOMENT:
The Saints are Coming - Green Day and U2
I just realized now as I was typing that that this song was performed at the Monday Night Football game on the day that I last saw Dawne before she died.