NaNoWriMo, last year and this

1 Nov

The website where daily word counts are posted!

I’d been tempted by NaNoWriMo for a long time, but last November I plunged in. For those unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month is an international self-challenge for writers, deviling them to see if they can reach a total of 50,000 words in a month–a novel-in-the-rough, as it were, something to be polished later. I began last year as an undercover collaborative writer–an online British friend and I were to write a joint novel with a 100K goal. Our pen names, Vyvyan Smythe and Smythe Vyvyan, demonstrated our mirrored goal. Alas, what I thought an excellent beginning drove poor Smythe mad. He could not stand not having total control over the characters, and dropped out early in the game. I thought our styles meshed extremely well, and assured him that one day we would both finish and publish American and British, male and female versions of the joint story, and hope that will still come to pass. While I didn’t meet the 50K goal (and thus “win” NaNoWriMo), I made it more than half way, and hope to finish the first draft this summer. It’s set in the near future, in a world where there is no fossil fuel, and its common contemporary byproducts, such as plastic and polyester, are sought-after collectibles.

Good God, It’s Plastic! was Smythe’s title, but I had great fun researching possibilities of what travel might be like, how jobs and cities and apartment buildings might function (the return of the pneumatic tube for the mail!). And I loved our light-hearted rollicking tone, as a spunky Philadelphian researcher/tailoress joined forces with a haughty English nouveau aristo in hunt of a great treasure thought to be in West Africa. Adventure, cautionary tale, futuristic look, it was a mashup of Neal Stephenson (early) and Douglas Adams, with a little jasper fforde and Georgette Heyer thrown in. An extract is below.

In April, the same organizers sponsor a screenwriting challenge known as Script Frenzy! and I threw myself down that rabbit hole, too. I hadn’t written a script since I was in my 20s, and conceived this as an HBO-like series. Three episodes are written, all fact-based, regarding New Orleans in 1845, in all its Creole glory. I pored through research to base it on reality, dredging up records from and looking at links to Cuba and Haiti. I love a great research project in a new direction, and I’m hoping to pitch this at someone. If nobody catches, perhaps it will metamorphose into a novel.

I proudly finished ScriptFrenzy!, and I hope to make it through NaNoWriMo this year. Both of these projects directed me toward writing discipline; I not only worked on them, I concurrently whipped out a great deal more professional writing than usual. They also created a hunger for writing companionship. There are large online components, where you can interact with other writers having common interests, as well as write-ins, where you can meet up with others in your region for companionable tap-tap-tapping in libraries and coffeehouses. I didn’t get to any of the write-ins for last year’s NaNoWriMo–bad weather and my schedule, plus non-driving, put the kabosh on that. When ScriptFrenzy rolled around, I organized several write-ins at the Old Arcade, Trinity Cathedral’s Cafe Ah Roma, and the CSU library, and met some interesting folks whose company I really enjoyed. I’m hoping Ohio City or downtown might be destinations this time around, too.

So am I writing about Cleveland? About New Urban issues again? Nope. This is a historical novel, the second in a series of mysteries set in West Africa in the 16th century, the broad historical facts providing a framework for mostly invented characters. It seems appropriate to mention on this All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, that witches will figure prominently in this novel. I’ll share some nuggets with you along the way, but don’t worry–the blog isn’t going to contain my daily paragraphs.

Are you NaNoWriMoing? Do you need a writing buddy?

Okay, okay–here’s a taste from last year”s novel. This is from the middle of Chapter Two, and provides a taste of the main characters, as well as casual references to the world they find themselves in. Remember–it’s unedited!!!

Now Kitty (for Katherine Marie Bolitho was her formal name, reserved only for moments of severity) was not feeling as self-possessed as she appeared, though her impatience was genuine enough. She had endured an Atlantic crossing that had tossed her from one side of her stateroom to another, and if she were never to suffer the vagaries of the wind again, it would be too soon for her. She had been forced to abjure the many delicacies and luxuries of the voyage, forced to listen to gay laughter and flirtatious conversations as her fellow passengers swept by her door to reach the lounge and bar. She had risen early (for really, he surely hadn’t expected her to rush over the minute she arrived!), and left the hotel as soon as the dark lifted, hoping to banish any thought of tardiness from the mind of her erstwhile patron. This barechested, pale-skinned youth countered all her expectations – was there really no other Thompson Davis in this house? ‘
A kindly father perhaps, or, better yet, a grandfather to chuck her under the chin, outline his requirements, then urge her on to excesses of tailoring?

Thompson exited, presumably to fetch the tea, and Kitty gave full rein to her disapproval. Lights were blazing, even in upper hallways (of course, she thought, it was possible there were little Davises and a spouse roaming around, as yet unseen, though a wife surely would be up and about) and a steady source of heat could be felt, emerging from hidden ducts – a surfeit of it, in fact. She was conscious of feeling some of the discomfort the American Middle Class often feels in the strongholds of the Very Rich, though she otherwise felt cosily warm in a rather delightful fashion.

In Thompson’s absence, she peeked into the hall, seeing some open rooms beyond – all well lit, by neither candlelight nor oil lamp. There was nary a coin-fed heater nor a gridcycle to be seen. Aside from hospitals, the clipper, and her current hotel, Kitty had never been in venues without any source of self-generated electricity – it was strangely unsettling. Perhaps the man had a phalanx of servants cycling in his basement, but she suspected not. Who was this Thompson Davis to thumb his nose at the necessary conventions that bound the whole world? She had assumed, given his interest in her dressing gown – and yes, if he liked her dressing gown so well, why was he wearing an ancient, threadbare model? – that he might be a fellow neo-Baroquian. Perhas she had built too much on the assumption that his careless expenditures – five overseas telegrams in the two days it took her to prepare, the grand cabin on one of the Baltimore Clipper Line’s best ships, the charming boutique hotel with its Czech & Speake toiletries – were the whims of an older eccentric (perhaps a famous stage actor or other performer with money to burn on the quest for distinctive new attire). Kitty had had customers like that before, and the part of her that had managed to push herself to attempt that one abortive shipboard dinner was the part of her that hoped to encounter Richard Jametal, dazzle him with her own costume, and convince him he needed a new ensemble for his next round of stage perfomances.

Kitty found the appointments of the room before her startling in their lavishhness. Antiques (admittedly dusty or cluttered with books) littered the room. Her brows lifted when she realized the chairs and sofa were upholstered with patterned polyester, rather than the polished cotton she first had supposed. The fabric could have been salvaged from some attic’s abandoned textile bolts, but if Kitty knew her Visual Culture (and she did, having excelled in her graduate studies), this set dated in its entirety from the Oil Age.

The warmth began to unmake the practicality of her cozy woolen gown, if not its quirky splendor. She regretted having left her fan back in Philadelphia, never having expected near-tropical conditions in London. She sought her handkerchief and began to dab daintily at her forehead and chest.

While Kitty was making her observations, Thompson was bustling inefficiently about in the kitchen. He remained puzzled why anyone would want to drink anything but his excellent coffee, but wanted to make up for his faults as a host. Admittedly, he could never recall if the tea went into the cup or the small pot (he decided on the pot), whether milk or lemon should be presented (neither were in his refrigerator, neatly solving that problem), and how long the leaves should remain (let them stay for a while!). In the meantime, he made a healthy start on the paper’s crossword. Eventually he foraged for a tray (only one, his own breakfast tray, usually got an airing, and he was uncertain at first where he had stored the others), fished out a cup from the drying rack, and headed back to Kitty.

“I rang round the corner to the patisserie, thinking you might like a croissant with your tea.” Thompson was impressed with his own thoughtfulness, but his visitor seemed distinctly unimpressed.

Kitty despised his French affectation – possibly because his accent was execrable – even as she admitted to an affection for croissants themselves. Certainly there were French emigrés everywhere (Philadelphia was awash in them – how much more so this nearby haven?), and they were putting their linguistic stamp on those around them, but she suspected the shop he had telephoned was probably called Joe’s Bakery or something similar. This Davis with his self-satisfied smirk would of course insist on calling it a patisserie, if only to emphasize the divide between them. He no doubt considered her nothing but a seamstress, albeit an extraordinarily skilled one.

He set the tea tray down and poured out, presented her with a cup after slopping some of its contents all over his dressing gown in what most certainly would have been a painful fashion, though it could hardly distress the garment itself any further. She sat and gazed into its frightful depths – had the man actually steeped the tea for the full ten minutes he’d been gone? Or, considering its tar-like state, had he actually percolated it? She skimmed the numerous tea leaves still floating on its surface (truly, what was wrong with a tea bag?) without even a blink. In fact, the tea itself had receded immediately from Kitty’s thoughts, for the unworthy brew was sloshing about in a metal container that was considerably more notable. A tall, slender, brushed steel mug, it was lined with plastic and an insulate meant to keep its contents warm. It was an exceedingly rare antique example, trademarked with the red shield and cannon that stood for one of those damned British soccer teams – Chelsea, was it? Or Arsenal? He probably had a complete set emblazoned with every world club somewhere in this hothouse. Unlike similar ones belonging to other collections, however, this one was not locked away, emerging only for regular dusting. No, it was casually presented to her, as if it were a chipped ceramic cup. Ostentatious as could be.

It was then she decided she might have to hate him, though his tea (strong enough for Christ and all the Apostles to walk on!) did smell unexpectedly delicious.

With his visitor apparently in a stupor, gazing fixedly at her tea, Thompson turned his mind to more pressing matters, such as a swift return to his library and the atlas. A plan had begun to coalesce in the kitchen, and once the patisserie’s delivery boy had been, he could excuse himself to dress, leaving Miss Bolitho to her breakfast (he’d yet to meet anyone who didn’t get lost in a tray of Aimée’s pastries). That was sure to give him a few moments to pause in the library, plot his next movement vis-a-vis the breaker yard, and devise a scheme to get this admittedly skilled seamstress out of his house and to her needle, while he dealt with more important issues.

Truth be told, Thompson had more than a slight blind spot when it came to the fairer sex, alternating between considering them impediments to his daily progress and becoming dumbstruck in their flowery, fulsome presence. He had, in fact, something of a blind spot with people in general (his mother attributed it to having been tutored at home, while his father considered it part of general ineptitude), but his ineptness when it came to women went a long way toward explaining why he had never realised that Aimée did not actually have a delivery service – except to his house.


One Response to “NaNoWriMo, last year and this”

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