Local scribes take part in an annual writing marathon to dash off a novel in 30 days. Can they do it?
How many times have you said to yourself, “I should write a book?” Well, this month, 200 Memphis writers have pledged to do just that.
“I basically kind of wanna be like J.K. Rowling,” says 25-year-old Adrienne Devine. “Yeah, I would like to have that kind of situation.”
By day, Devine waits tables at the Solana, a retirement community in Germantown. But she says deep down she’s a writer, and this month, she takes one step closer to her goal of getting published. Devine is one of about 300,000 people around the country who have pledged to write novels in the month of November. It’s called National Novel Writing Month—NaNo for short—and the goal is to write 50,000 words before December 1st. So how’s that going?
“It’s going,” laughs Devine. “According to the official word count, I am about four- to six-thousand words behind. But it’s OK. There was one time I was 15,000 words down, four days out. So it can be done!”
To participate in NaNo, you sign up online. Through the website, you’re plugged into a lively community of about 200 local writers, a loveably nerdy bunch who offer each other advice and encouragement. I met Tommy O’Leary at a so-called “Write-In” at Gibson’s Donuts.
“Accountability is the main thing,” says O’Leary, “because writing is usually a very solitary act. So the only person you usually have to account for is yourself, and it’s easy to go weeks or months without writing. But at least now you have the word count; you have the group. So, you wanna be able to say, ‘Oh, I hit the 50 thousand; I beat my goal; I did all of this.’ So you kind of have bragging rights at the end.”
When I spoke to O’Leary on November 12th, his novel was just starting to take shape. Tentatively titled My Short Order Life, it’s about a big-city consultant who inherits a small-town diner and falls for one of his employees.
So…what is it with Americans and writing novels? I mean, it’s not like we talk about the Great American Oil Painting or the Great American Differential Equation. John Pritchard is a Memphis writer whose third novel, Sailing to Alluvium, was published by New South on November 1st.
“For me and for a lot of writers,” says Pritchard, “the novel is the Holy Grail. And the hope of finding that is not a vague one. The hope is that after one is gone, after we die, people will read our books and therefore read us, read the writer.”
Pritchard knows how difficult it is to get published. He says he wanted to be a writer from the age of 14, but he didn’t get his first book deal until he was almost 65. When it comes to writing, Pritchard has just one piece of advice.
“Keep everything that you write,” urges Pritchard. “Keep everything that you write. A lot of it will be utterly no good, but some of it will always be good.”
When I check back in with our writers, they’re having a bit of trouble. After getting off to a strong start, Tommy O’Leary realized he’d created a fictional diner without any cooks. Meanwhile, Adrienne Devine was struggling to write a sex scene between a human spaceship officer and a liaison from an alien race. The problem, she said, was mechanical. Click below to hear a short excerpt:
In spite of difficulties, both writers say they expect to meet their December 1st deadline. And who knows? Maybe, if the gods of prose are smiling, one of their novels will get picked up for publication. But no use worrying about that now. For now, it’s time for another cup of coffee, and back to work.
“So it’s just kind of…You make people up in your head,” says O’Leary. “That’s what you do as a writer. You’re a grown-up with imaginary friends, is what it comes down to.”
“And a grown up with enemies you can’t do anything about,” adds Devine. “Because the writer’s answer to ‘you made me angry’ is ‘fine, I’ll stuff you in my novel and kill you off.’”
John Klyce Minervini is a writer who lives in Portland and Memphis.