March 27, 2013 by drandmrso
Camp NaNoWriMo, that is! It’s a wonderful, magical land where all the crazies go during April and/or July to join in a month-long novel writing challenge. My first such endeavor was November’s NaNoWriMo, which is the more formal (but still quite informal) parent of Camp NaNoWriMo. Campers set a personal writing goal for the month (mine is 30,000 words), whereas November contestants are charged with writing 50,000 words. I squeaked by with 50,105 words and came away with a solid start to my first novel. The Ephraim House is about a woman who inherits a house in Door County, Wisconsin, and discovers its seedy ties to Prohibition. I’d like to think it’s funny, exciting, intriguing, and enjoyable–but I’ll let you decide for yourselves, I promise.
The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get in a daily habit of writing and put as many words on the page as possible–regardless of whether those words form terrible writing or great prose that will change the course of humanity (mine tended toward the former). During Camp NaNoWriMo I will be filling in some of the gaping holes in my plot, figuring out once and for all which characters I want to keep, and writing a thrilling ending that will include incredible chase scenes and a big reveal.
But there’s a hitch.
The unexpected side effect of writing a novel in huge bursts and not touching it in between: I’ve actually forgotten a great deal of what I wrote back in November. So to prepare for the weeks ahead, I’m going back and re-reading my first draft. But, of course, I can’t just leave things be, so I’m also doing some editing and re-writing. Want to read a sample of what I’ve been working on? Great! I thought you’d never ask!
Note: some of you are avoiding reading excerpts of my book because you don’t want to ruin any surprises for yourself later on. That’s awesome, but the section below literally contains the first paragraphs of the book, so it won’t spoil anything. Cross my heart.
The beginning of The Ephraim House as written in November:
Puffs of frozen breath appeared from Hallie’s mouth in precisely timed intervals of three seconds as she chugged along the lakeshore path. When she reached the Memorial Union Terrace she stopped to stretch. The normally jovial green, yellow, and orange tables and chairs were hibernating in the depths of some campus building and the remaining picnic tables were covered by linens of fresh snow. Hallie stood facing the frozen expanse of Lake Mendota, watching a group of bundled-up college kids scurry out to icehouses. As she pulled on her arms and legs and rolled her ankles, she replayed the conversation from hours before.
“This is Hallie,” she said.
“Hi, honey. It’s Mom,” replied the voice on the phone.
“Mom, why are you calling me at work? What’s wrong?”
“I need to tell you something, Hal. Can you talk?”
“It’s Aunt Anita, isn’t it. Oh, God.” She sank into her chair and dropped her head to her arm.
“Yes. She,” she paused and found her breath. “She’s gone.”
The next few minutes were hazy in Hallie’s mind. She had taken off her lab coat and scrubs, pulled on her jeans and sweater, waved to her boss through his office window and somehow had driven home and collapsed on the couch. After an hour of staring at the patterns in the throw pillow, she felt the need to run. Run far.
She had started on her typical loop around the Capitol building, then headed west and meandered through campus, and now was tracking back through the flat trail where the woods met the shore of the lake. The temperature was 30 degrees—not bad for early January—but falling quickly as the sun slid down behind Picnic Point. Just as she did with every run, she focused her attention on controlling her breath. One, two, three. Breathe. One, two, three, Breathe. But her mind, of course, came back to life as soon as she stopped on the terrace.
She turned around to face the Union. She remembered playing cribbage and sharing a pitcher of beer with her friends here when she was an undergrad. Catching the bus home to Milwaukee outside the front doors. Waiting in line for Babcock ice cream for what seemed like hours on the hot, sweaty days between the end of spring semester and the beginning of fall. Could all of that really have been ten years ago?
Not horrible, over all. But it flies in the face of a couple of tried-and-true writing rules: a) running is overplayed and b) don’t jump into flashbacks too soon in the story. Here’s the shined-up edited version:
“This is Hallie.”
A slow breath crackled over the line. Then, “Hi, honey. It’s Mom.”
“Why are you calling me at work?” Hallie snapped off her latex gloves. Out of habit she rubbed a thumb and forefinger together, cringed at the chalkiness.
“Can you talk, Hal?” The words were too calm, too soft. A swarm of stars clouded Hallie’s eyes.
“It’s Anita, isn’t it?” She groped for a chair and sank into it.
“Yes. She…” Another slow breath. “She’s gone.”
A small voice called Hallie, Hallie from the phone, but there was nothing more to be said and soon a dial tone droned in the background of Hallie’s thoughts. She pulled off her lab coat and stared through the thick pane to her boss’ office, simultaneously willing him to turn around and to spontaneously combust. A tap on the glass pulled his attention away from a crossword puzzle. “I have to go,” she mouthed. She did not wait for a response.
The bus snorted to a stop in front of her. The trip home was both agonizing and comforting: the smell of a homeless man to whom she’d once given a blanket, the obnoxious chatter of sorority girls, the violent screech of the breaks followed by a relieving hydraulic hiss. She disembarked and walked the three blocks to her flat, ignoring slush puddles in her path. Her apartment, the second floor of a Robin’s egg blue Victorian house, was the same apartment she had occupied since graduate school. Each August, when the entire city regurgitated its renting population, shuffled them around, and neatly swallowed them up again, she got the feeling that she had been forgotten in the chaos; allowed and required to stay in that apartment one more year. Ten Augusts, had it been?
Hallie poured herself a glass of Pinot Noir. Then another. Anita. Aunt Anita. The woman who had taught her how to grow tomatoes, how to hem her jeans, how to drive a stick shift. The woman who had never cared what the rules were—never mind breaking them. Aunt Anita was dead.
So much better, right? Thing is: that took me over an hour–just those few paragraphs! Anybody who says editing is the easy part is lying. Anybody who says the first draft is the easy part is also lying, though, so I guess it’s kind of a moot point. And while neither part is easy, the end result is (I’m hoping) totally worth it.
So how about it, writerly friends? Who’s coming to Camp with me?