The merry maniacs at the Office of Letters and Light are off and running again, assisting thousands of volunteer lunati…er, writers all over the world. The challenge? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, specifically the month of November.
Just the first draft, of course…
To give you a vague notion, 50,000 words is the length of Brave New World, Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In other words, a little on the short side for a novel these days, but plenty of room to express literary genius, if there happens to be some lying about.
Not any too likely, in my case, but you never know until you try.
My darling wife did did it successfully — in 21 days, too — last year. It looked like so much taquito-fueled mad fun that I’m joining in this year, in my Copious Free Time.
In between moments of sheer panic, I intend to have a rollicking good time doing this, but there is also a larger end in view. When I was in high school, I read the essays of the existentialists, and had an awful time trying to figure out what they were saying. I remained mystified until I read The Stranger, Metamorphosis, and The Fall, particularly the first of those three. Fleshed out in story, the pieces of the philosophy began to fall into place. Then, as now, existentialism struck me as a bad idea — not merely a misstep, a sticking-a-roman-candle-in-your-eye-on-a-drunken-bet bad idea — but the real lesson wasn’t about existentialism at all: no amount of exposition brings an idea to life as well as a story.
I had read enough bad fiction with a moral, though, to be suspicious of deliberately trying to convey a message with a story. Surely, I thought, it would be impossible to do it on purpose. One would have to tell the story for the story’s sake, and let the moral leak out as it would.
That romantic delusion came crashing down when I encountered the work of Andrew Vachss. He’s a man on a mission, and meant his first published novel to be “a doctoral dissertation without the footnotes.” Did I mention that he’s now published more than twenty, plus a couple collections of stories, the odd graphic novel, and so on? Clearly it’s possible to do it on purpose and succeed. (By the way, Vachss’ work is not for the faint of heart. I believe in what he’s doing, but I was compelled some years ago to purge my library of his work because of the way he goes about it. Fair warning.)
Like Camus, Kafka and Vachss, I have some things to say that I believe are better conveyed in fiction than in my usual essays and articles. The ability to actually write more than a scene at a time has been an elusive target for more than ten years, and NaNoWriMo has a reputation for turning people like me into novelists.
I’d appreciate your prayers. If you want to make taquitos for me, I won’t say no to that, either.