November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online community and yearly event where writers make the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. This year, I’m encouraging you to burn the frigging thing down.
Read how here . . .
Here’s a bit from my #nanowrimo story #7, a retelling of the headless horseman. Poor unsuspecting Cleora! I am severely behind on my nano word count at 31,825 words today, but I’m having a lot of fun researching this story so I don’t quite mind.
Here's the original tale, one of my favorite American folk tales:
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
by Washington Irving
FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS
OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER.
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
CASTLE OF INDOLENCE.
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.
My #6 story for #nanowrimo is after the Japanese fairytale “Willow Wife.” I’ve adapted it into a near-future story of friendship and the challenges of our worldwide climate change.
Here is the original story:
In a certain Japanese village there grew a great willow tree. For many generations the people loved it. In the summer it was a resting place, a place where the villagers might meet after the work and heat of the day were over, and there talk till the moonlight streamed through the branches. In winter it was like a great half-opened umbrella covered with sparkling snow.
Day 11 of #NaNoWriMo and I’m on to my fourth fairy tale retelling. This one is quite dark. It imagines a world where fairies have been eradicated as part of a holocaust and fled underground. But a fairy anthropologist wants to find them to offer help.
Here are two tales that this idea stemmed from:
Origin of the Hidden People
Two Legends from Iceland
Once upon a time, God Almighty came to visit Adam and Eve. They received him with joy, and showed him everything they had in the house. They also brought their children to him, to show him, and these He found promising and full of hope.
An excerpt from my fairytale retelling of "The Country Where Death is Not." In my version, a young man hunts for a place to bring his dying mother. He is seeking a place to call home, a utopia, you might say. But what he finds is much darker than he expected.
This is the original tale, from Sudan:
The Country Where Death Is Not
There was a man with his mother. The mother was much afraid of dying, therefore she wished to go into a country where there is no death. The son said, "Where is a country without death?"
Day 8 of #nanowrimo, 2,300 words. Finished up my Beauty and the Beast (with lady Beast, set in the Scottish moors) retelling and on to a lesser-known fairytale, “The Town Where Death Is Not.” If you haven’t read this gory little tale, I highly recommend googling it. 😈
I got a bit behind on updating my website and trackers because of house maintenance stuff yesterday, but here are the excerpts from day 3 (the ending of Mrs. Winkle - a take on Rip Van Winkle from a woman's POV) and day 4 (Beauty and the Beast):
I have 1793 words so far on my first NaNoWriMo story, a retelling of Rip Van Winkle from a woman’s POV. Here’s today’s excerpt:
“The city was harsh and dirty, and sometimes beautiful, but those days were few and far between. She’d never known anything different than the city, with its staggering heat, pulsing voice of music falling out of cars, and tremble of planes passing low overhead late at night. The city was progress and destruction and rebuilding and progress. It wasn’t a place for daydreams.”
This #NaNoWriMo, I'm writing 10 short stories, all fairytale retellings!
The fairytale genre has always fascinated me, even from a very young age. This is probably the case with most speculative writers, and also with people of my age who grew up in the golden age of Disney. Drawing inspiration from authors like Carmen Maria Machado, Shirley Jackson, Naomi Novik, Helen Oyeyemi, and Gregory Maguire, this November I'm focusing my short story writing on fairytales. As the month goes on, I'll update here with the list of fairytales I'm retelling. To begin with, I've focused on fairytale tropes as story seeds.
1. Rip Van Winkle
2. Beauty & the Beast
3. The Country Where Death is Not
4. Origins of the Hidden People
5. The Girl without Hands
6. The Willow Wife
Check back for more updates as my month of writing progresses. I usually try to post excerpts from my stories as the month goes on, both on my blog, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you want to add me on the NaNoWriMo website, my username is Hwally.
Well, I've done it folks. I won NaNoWriMo! This morning I copy + pasted all ten of my short stories (including a flash fiction I threw in for fun) into the NaNo website and verified my 50,941 words written in November.
NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. It's exhausting. I can feel the tired in my bones y'all. I have read barely anything this month because I've spent all my mornings writing. I wrote during World Fantasy Con, which was an adventure, I wrote while sad and unmotivated, I wrote with exhilaration today as I pushed myself past the finish line.
I don't know if I will do NaNoWriMo again next year, but I have gotten a lot out of doing short stories instead of novels. There's something really fun in knowing that you only have to live with that story in your head for three days and then you get to let it go, even if it's unfinished or imperfect.
Here's a last excerpt from my dino story, just for you:
I hike myself up onto Darla’s back and kick her into a run. My eyes are burning with dust, my heart is a stone jostling in my chest. Faster, faster. We break the second field, planted with new corn. There’s the gate. In the distance I can see the uncultivated lands of what was once the border. Dissected plains, dark, loamy soil. I swear, urging Darla on. I try not to hear the sounds behind me, creaking wood, the roars and battle screams of dinosaurs on a rampage. I keep on, keep pushing Darla on. My flock needs me. I’ll have to find a way for us to survive until the dinosaurs are past. We’ll need food, grass is a rare commodity. We’ll rebuild. That’s what we do, humans. We survive. We’ll come back and put up more walls, I’ll breed stronger dinos.
And then I’ll go after Ambrose and put a bullet in his head myself.
I interrupt your regularly scheduled NaNoWriMo updates to bring you this interview I did with The Daily Author podcast over at Wooden Pants Network. I had a good time chatting about writing outside the box during NaNoWriMo and my writing process.
We know NaNoWriMo as a month for novel writers, but I'm here to say that you can break the rules and write anything in November, as long as you're meeting word count goals.
It's day 28 of NaNoWriMo! My word count for today was 2104. I'm trying to boost my word count in these last few days so I can make my goal. I'm about 5k away, but I think that's doable!
I've been enjoying NaNoWriMo a lot more this year since I've been writing short stories. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever have the gumption to finish a complete novel. Working at a fast pace like this has it's limits but in the end it's been terribly enjoyable.
Here's an excerpt of Story #10:
I’m not concerned with all that though. The past is in the past. Right now I’m concerned with a hot cup of chicory and washing the green blood of a just-hatched Riojasaurus off my hands. I leave the baby to her mother and walk back up to the house. The girl, Carmen, is sitting in the little storefront I concocted by building out the porch, thrumming her fingers.
“Girl, stop that thrumming,” I snap. I can’t stand idle hands, not in this time we’re living in. Going to the little sink and little camp stove, I bring a pot to boil and drop two chicory roots in. They look a bit like the wilted teeth of a dino. I’ve got lizard on the brain.
Day 21 of NaNoWriMo and I'm on Story #7 with 1624 words today. I need to play catchup this week but I keep hitting a wall. However, I will persevere!
Day 20 of NaNoWriMo and I've broken 30k! Woohoo! I'm on Story #7 now, which is about personality transplants. It's a nice change to work on a solidly SF story for a while after my rather difficult historical fiction short story.
1925 words today!
He blinks, looks down at the wood. “I don’t know,” he murmurs, and brushes the soft strands away from the knife edge. “If you hadn’t come in I don’t know if I’d even have known what I was doing. I came in here because I needed to get out of the house—to smell the air. And the wood was just sitting there and I got the idea then that there was something in the wood—an animal. So I decided to cut it out.” He smooths the knife over the wood and I can see the beginnings of a snout there.
Day 19 of NaNoWriMo and I've written 1189 words on Story #6. I'm technically supposed to be working on Story #7 but I am behind because this is another historical story with a lot of research to be done. Spent most of the day studying the letters and journals of Virginia Woolf in an attempt to get caught up.
Here's an excerpt:
Inside that strange reflection there was something else with her—the ghost of herself. Ghost Virginia moved behind her, smiling with a comfortable ease. Ghost Virginia is beastlike, furry-faced, with great wings. The real girl went from room to room, finding Ghost Virginia in the windows, in the glass, in the pools of water from a fresh rain in the morning. Ghost Virginia would not have let herself be caught in bed in the morning. Ghost Virginia would not have let herself be lifted onto the slab outside the dining room door. Ghost Virginia would have slapped away his wriggling fingers, like snakes under her ghostly shroud, she would have bit off their heads.
Day 18 of NaNoWriMo. I'm working on Story #6, which is a historical fiction about Virginia Woolf. Only 733 words so far today. I'm not sure if I'll be able to come back and add more, but I did some good research too so that's fine.
Here's a snippet for you:
We are seeking a barrel grinder. Not the ornate, decorated kind. That would not do. For our love we require a squinty-eyed man with a skinny girl doing the work of drawing in a crowd, the man’s long fingers wrapping around the handle and cranking away, the girl with a too-bright smile and her hands flung open to the sky. We require the music of London—street criers and a man selling vegetables and another hawking sandwiches.
I took a brief break from updating for a week or so to clear my head, but I'm going to try to get my posts updated, if only for my own sake :) Today I managed 2,476 words.
Here's an excerpt:
I don’t say that Zara suffered from migraines and hyper-stimulation syndrome. She gained forty pounds in mere weeks. She lost hair, chunks of her glorious hair clogging up the drain and I’d clean it out, on my hands and knees next to the shower, convincing myself this is what I wanted in life. She was constantly thirsty, I’d bring her tap water with no ice, because anything made her feel full, and she’d vomit it up, just pure water and stomach acid. Zara’s skin went hard and dry, and once she cracked a joke about how now she was turning to rock. That’s when I knew it was time to give up trying.
Oh November, you cursed month. It's day 10 of NaNoWriMo and here's my update! I wrote 1984 words today and 1631 yesterday. Look at me, all keeping on track. Yesterday I got home from working in Houston with a sore throat and sent myself to bed early. This morning I managed to pull myself back out of bed and knock out my words before doing an interview for a podcast. Tomorrow I will be working at the Writer's Family Reunion at Writespace and I have to drive in with my husband in the early early morn, so we'll see how long this lasts, ha.
Here's some pretty words for you to enjoy from my WIP story #4:
At the head of the group is one man who doesn’t look like he belongs. He’s got gold hands. About one in a hundred people on the train wear some kind of burn-wear. It’s not that uncommon, just feared, especially when it’s like this man’s wear. The gold hands are luscious, liquid gold seeping up his fingers and ending in seeping rivulets at the top of his forearms. It doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking himself, with sharp blue eyes and dark hair that’s shaved beneath its long locks.
It's day 8 of NaNoWriMo and I'm still (mostly) on track. My story is definitely trickier than the previous two (sex, drugs, and mood rings, anyone?), but I think I'll figure it out. Yesterday I hit 1327 words and today 1642 words. A bit short of my goal, but I hope to catch up over the weekend.
Here's an excerpt of Story #3:
“You can create nightmares?” I ask, starting to get the point. I step back to the case. The nightmare ring is a slim black band. The ring Jonas pointed out as death is pale white and set with a single pearl. “What are the space and time rings for?”
I had a good word count day today, thanks to some words I had pre-written that I worked into my current story (We're on Story #3 now!) so my count for today is 2284.
Here's a teaser:
I kneel over his unconscious form and bring my hand to his face. I place my fingers over his thin skull, the finger with the mood ring on his temple, cradling him like a lover, I slip into the deep basement of his subconscious.
I'm late on updating today as my phone decided to die this weekend and I had to go get it fixed. However I am back up and running!
Yesterday I wrote 1143 words and today 1958.
I've found that in some cases, it has helped to break my NaNo sessions into two parts when I have the time. My new story is somewhat research-heavy, so this has given me time for reading.
A short excerpt!
Amelia set her head against the wood of the car’s open window frame and began to dream. Her body swooped beside the car, her arms held out, her hair a ribbon behind her. Skin tingling, she shot towards the sun. The atmosphere was like the barrier of water in a swimming pool, glass meant to be broken. Amelia’s body shot through it, headed toward the stars, which lived behind the sun. Like great floating marbles, the stars called to her body. If she drew close enough to one, it took her into its molten gold core and like the pit at the center of a peach she curled up and became hard, brittle.
For Day 3 of NaNo, I caught most of my words at random parts of the day, which is interesting. I've finished draft of Story #1! (Woohoo!) and have moved on to Story #2. This one's got a lot more historical context, but I will likely be able to return to that later. For right now, I'll just be fleshing out the story.
A tweeny bit from today's writing:
Jenny though about how when she was in high school her brother crashed his car on her birthday. She thought about how he once told her, “You’re so lucky.” She tried to think of something good, some memory that was pleasant or at least not so bad. She couldn’t place anything, her mind was a sieve for bones.
It's NaNoWriMo Day 2 and I'm already feeling the burn. This morning the hotel we're staying at for World Fantasy Con had a fire alarm test at 6am, so we blearily stumbled out of bed at 8 to find coffee. Thankfully, we found a little french cafe and I was able to get in 1,213 words. Not as much as yesterday, but that's all I'm going to have time for I think.
Here's a bit of today's writing:
“It’s all damp now,” Chao said, running his wet fingers over the little house. It was a coffee shop. Once it was down in the lake, all the little ghosts would swarm into it and fill its windows with filtered light, smeary and hot, and they’d stand on the stoop and drink coffee and talk to each other.
Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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