Nanowrimo novel, chapter The Ghosts of November, part 1

I’m less than a week from launching into my fifth Nanowrimo novel, and I’ve been thinking about my previous November novel efforts. Remeniscence seems to be the companion of brainstorming, lately.

So here’s a brief summary of my first attempt. I’ll follow up with summaries for the other three in seperate posts (having discovered in writing this one that I’m going on at much greater length than I originally expected). I’ll describe both what the story was supposed to be about and what it ended up being about according to the evidence I produced in the respective November.


The story of Ed Powell, a depressed, single 20-something computer geek conscripted by his maverick publisher Aunt Janis to ghost-write some children’s books as part of some guerilla pseudo-kid-lit campaign. Ed shared an apartment and some sort of buried romantic history with Laurie, a bright and silver-tongued girl who never learned to read.

What was supposed to happen: Ed, after some initial hesitation, starts in on the kids books, and bolstered by some initial success and validation really gets into it and into himself, but as that progresses some hereditary stripe of schizophrenia goes early-onset and Ed starts to lose it. Based in large part on the cloistered and co-dependent relationship he has with Laurie, and the dissolution thereof, Ed finds himself increasingly introspective, mentally unbalanced, chemically dosed, and in every respect becoming the sort of scary monster no parent would want their kid in contact with. His books are extremely popular, however, and Aunt Janis handles his pseudonymous PR brilliantly. Eventually, Ed, who has been seeing the ghost of his long-dead and very-very-crazy father at the supermarket and around town, goes to his childhood home (itself a painful haunted place in his memory — his mother shot his father one evening when father attacked her in a schizo rage), where he ends up shooting the ghost in the darkness, who it turns out is his estranged uncle and hence the resemblence. Then, Ed flees to a cabin and self-destructs while spilling out the story that is the novel. Or something like that.

What actually happened, insofar as I ever wrote it down: Ed got as far as writing one kid’s book, while completely drunk. The book was about an Alaskan moose who died, along with everything he cared about, in a nuclear attack on Anchorage, and who then went on to haunt, um, something or other. Ed and Laurie squabbled a bit. There were some flashbacks, and some vague and foreboding flashes forward — who was conducting this narrative and when was never pinned down — and later on in the story there were some strange jaunts off into a tangential near-future sci-fi world of outlaw psychics. At about 17,000 words, I ran out of energy if not ideas.

I hadn’t done any significant amount of writing for a few years before I started in on this first attempt. I’d done some incidental writing for the college paper, but short of that I’d been very lazy for pretty much the stretch of my higher education, having gotten into a curriculum (Computer Science) that didn’t require that we ever even write English sentence except on the occasional mid-term. Trying to churn out a novel was a fairly intense method of literary (or even lexical or syntactic) self-discovery, and while I feel I was definitely better for having made the effort, the actual results weren’t much to speak of.

Fun facts:

Ed Powell‘s name was a real pain to settle on. Eventually, I started writing and had to, within a few days at least, call him something. Edward is my middle name, and the character was in many superficial respects a vingette of the Josh Millard of 2001 — post-degree early-20s Computer Science major languishing away in unrelated and unsatisfying grunt work while messing about with programming as a hobby. As for the surname Powell, I’ve always been fond of Powell’s books; in high school I spent a fair amount of time having lunch at fastfood joints on SE Powell Blvd; and it was a bit of punnish memorial to my late friend Emma Howell, the chutzpah and literary trappings of Ed’s Aunt Janis being in some small part an imagined version of Emma in her fifties, had she lived that long.

Ed made a brief cameo in the next year’s novel (attempt), as a thoroughly strung-out chemical casualty at a party, and played the (so to speak) straight man to a short comedy bit.

Stalker w/ Doll

Stalker w/ Doll

When I walked into work the other day, a co-worker greeted me with this: “did you see the man?!”

What man?

Oh. This man. He had, it turned out, followed her downtown and into our building. Followed her all the way from the Gateway transit center out in SE. Scared the crap outta her. She gave me the basic rundown when I first poked my head into the basement cubby where we work, and so I walked around the building and, lo, there he was: guy in a blue jacket and a cap with gray hair and a doll.

He was off his meds, I hear, and pretty severely retarded even when he’s not. He got picked up and taken to a medical facility after a lot of handwaving by our supervisor at building security. Strange morning. On the one hand, please do not stalk and scare the hell out of people. On the other, poor bastard.

Carl Sandburg (Sufjan Stevens cover)

Brian and I have been talking about cover songs, and one of the things we both liked was the the notion of covering something of Sufjan Stevens’ latest album, Illinoise. There are several just incredibly good songs on the album (I think John Wayne Gacy, Jr, a fantastically economical portrait of said serial killer, is my favorite), but one we agree on as performable is (actually the second half of) “Come On Feel the Illinoise,” wherein Sufjan sings about a dreamtime visit from Carl Sandburg.

So this is a quick and weird rendition I recorded last Monday at the practice space. Lots of warts, vocals are strained — I wasn’t recording because I was excited to record, I just felt like I ought to because, well, I was in a crappy mood and doing something seemed like a healthier response than doing nothing.

Nanowrimo novel, chapter I’m Writing, I’m Writing, I’m Writing a Novel

It’s nearly November, and that means it’s time to write a novel, or fail trying. The impetus: National Novel Writing Month, a sort of double-dog-dare that I’ve taken part in every year since 2001. The goal is to produce 50,000 words in the space of November, which is a very foolish goal; but then, the whole enterprise is wonderfully, willfully foolish. Much more background can be had at the Nanowrimo site.

Each year, I have started a novel, and in the last four years I have finished one 50K mess and aborted three others which collected together would be about 50K additional words. I haven’t found a system, nor certainly even a successful formula — my one 50K winner happened in 2003, and I have since returned to failure. There is something humbling about launching enthusiastically, manically, into a creative venture like this only to find myself two weeks in, thousands of words behind, and rapidly losing momentum.

But I’m doing it again anyway. I have a few ideas kicking around, but nothing firm, and I’ve got about a week to psyche myself up, and I’m going for it, and it’ll be happening in something resembling real-time right here.

Stay tuned.