NaNoWriMo: Inspiring the aspiring novelists in the Miami Valley
By Tim Walker
It should come as no surprise that novelists, like other writers, can be a bit … well, eccentric. They sit, after all, for hour upon hour, struggling to fill empty notebooks and blank computer screens with the thousands of words necessary to advance their plots and bring their characters to life. They create entire universes inside their heads, and then populate them, all in manuscripts of not less than 50,000 words. They attempt, through their art, to capture nothing less than life itself in cold black and white on a printed page. And they do it all alone.
Until November, that is.
In addition to Black Friday, the coming of November each year brings with it an intriguing literary event: National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo by the writers who frequent www.NaNoWriMo.org, proudly emblazoned on its splash page as “30 days and nights of literary abandon!” What the website provides is a forum for those aspiring novelists who participate in the annual event to commune, network, inspire each other and publicly track their word counts for the month – their goal being a seemingly impossible 50,000 words in 30 days.
Over the years, Dayton has produced its share of celebrated writers. Past literary giants from this area such as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Natalie Clifford Barney, Erma Bombeck and Virginia Hamilton continue to be read and to inspire, as do current greats like Katrina Kittle, the brilliant and talented author whose five books include “The Kindness of Strangers.” Paul Freeman Wexler is an amazing writer who deserves a wider audience – his surreal “In Springdale Town” is a treasure. Gina Penn is another talented local author – her just-released horror novel “The Dark Layer,” like her short story collection “Learning to Fly,” are not to be missed. Both can be purchased at your favorite online e-book retailer (the novel is $2.99 and “Learning to Fly” is only 99 cents, so do a local lady a good turn and check them out).
Now, also stepping forward to join in the Miami Valley’s longstanding literary tradition, are the wonderful writers I met through the 2011 NaNoWriMo event. All are talented and committed, all approaching their work with absolute seriousness. I’m speaking from experience when I say this, folks – you may think this a gimmick, but trying to write 50,000 words of any damn thing, let alone fiction, in 30 days is no easy task. I take my hat off to anyone who can manage it.
This is Meg Overman’s second year as the NaNoWriMo municipal liaison for the Dayton region. She is 25 and from Piqua, and has hit her November goal for three years in a row now. She is also raising a one-year-old, and is currently in graduate school, going for her master’s degree in literature.
“The story is about political and elemental upheaval in a fantasy world,” she said recently when asked about her novel. “It’s told from several perspectives as different groups work to gain the upper hand and push their own agendas. The main characters are four young women whose decisions affect and ultimately change their world.”
“The novel I worked on this year is the first in a series of four,” she continued. “I’ve been working with the story on and off for about seven years and am finally novelizing it. I was incredibly excited to hit 50K on November 15. By the [November] 30th, I had 70K. The book still isn’t finished, but I’m still working on it.”
70,000 words in 30 days. In graduate school. With a one-year-old. And you can’t find time to write? Really?
Chelsea Gibson is another NaNoWriMo participant, and a nursing student at Wright State.
“When I write, I typically write science fiction, but this year I’m trying out my first foray into fantasy and it’s really fun,” she explained. “To me, the best thing about NaNo is that it just challenges you to write, at least a little bit, every day for a month. It’s really great for people who tend to get discouraged about writing — it just challenges you to keep trying.”
Chelsea’s November word count was 50,025. She describes her novel as a hodgepodge of genres she finds interesting: fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, superhero, western and samurai.
“My novel is about an immortal whose task it is to hold all worlds and dimensions in balance,” she said. “When he is poisoned by his evil nemesis and can no longer complete this task, the different worlds begin to crash together – so samurai and dragons appear at 21st century Harvard University, spaceships appear in the sky over the Pacific during WWII and intelligent dinosaur species appear in a Victorian London populated by superheroes.”
Cyndi Pauwels, of Yellow Springs, is another “winning” NaNoWriMo participant – “winning” being hitting the 50K goal for the month. Cyndi, who has written several novels and been published in a variety of venues, ended up with 50,023 words for the month, completing a 78,408-word first draft of a novel entitled “Fatal Error: AYBABTU (All your base are belong to us)”. Cyndi’s blog at cpatlarge.blogspot.com is well worth your time, and has some great posts on the November event.
Celebrate reading, and writing. Enjoy and support the work of our local writers. National Novel Writing Month takes place annually each November, so prepare yourself for next year.
For more information, visit NaNoWriMo.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.