You see, there's this thing called "National Novel Writing Month," which is pretty much what the title says it is. During the month of November, participants try to write 50,000 words of fiction--in other words, a Nicholas Sparks-length manuscript. Did I mention that you do that in a month? (If you're interested or curious, check out www.nanowrimo.org for more info.) The program is free, and generally attracts the desperately bored, the clinically insane, and lots of English majors who harbor delusions of grandeur (that's me).
Approximately three days before November 1st, 2009, several of my friends informed me that they had signed up for the NaNoWriMo challenge, and encouraged me to join them. "It is one of my life goals to write a novel," I responded, "but this thing starts three days from now and I have no plot to speak of."
"No problem!" responded my friend Melanie, who was a non-participant. "You should take that poem 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes and turn it into a novel." (You can read it here.)
Well, I must have been mentally impaired that day, because I took this suggestion to heart and created a NaNoWriMo account. You see, I simply wanted to write a novel for "practice," just to prove to myself that I could. And so on November 1st, I began writing. And writing. And writing some more. And researching. And writing even more. I set my story in 1721 England, and made my highwayman a young nobleman who finds himself penniless and outside the law after losing his inheritance in the South Sea Bubble (an 18th century stock collapse). To support himself and to exact revenge on certain government officials, our hero, Edmund, becomes both a Jacobite messenger and a highwayman. On his travels, he meets a certain innkeeper's daughter named Bess...and, well, you can figure out the general ending from the poem. I decided (quite cheesily) to name my novel Stand and Deliver, after the famous highwayman's challenge.
I must say, I learned a good bit about 18th century English history and daily life from my research, and had quite a bit of fun creating Edmund's story. In fact, I didn't get to the actual events of the poem until the last week of November. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
To stay on track to hit 50,000 words by November 30th, NaNoWriMo-ers must write around 667 words per day. This I tried for the first week and a half of the month, but found that I was falling behind since there would inevitably be at least one day a week during which I couldn't take the time to write enough.
On November 11th, I received my very first e-Harmony communication from Spike. (Little did I know then how important he would become!) I took a few minutes, responded to his questions, and sent some of my own--which he answered within an hour. And then, NaNoWriMo ate my soul. I started to write 1,000 words a day for six days a week, so that I could have one day free to do other things and to recuperate.
You must understand: I was working full 40-hour weeks, and generally wasn't able to sit down at my laptop until 7:30 or 8:00 at night. Then I'd rack my brain for inspiration and type until midnight or 1:00 AM. (Yeah, I'm a fairly slow writer.) Basically, my life consisted of work, meals, basic household chores, coffee, and NaNoWriMo. I'm not the only one; some call it "National Chain Yourself to Your Laptop Month." For our purposes, though, the takeaway from this explanation is that I completely forgot about e-Harmony and all of its users. Including Spike. Yes, I know. I forgot about my one and only e-Harmony match who was serving his country in a war zone. I feel terrible; no need to rub it in.
The good news is, I "won"! I hit the 50,000 word mark, and wasn't even completely finished with my story. I took the first two weeks of December to complete my novel at a much more leisurely pace. Then, when I could look at my laptop without feeling that my head was on the verge of exploding, I returned to my normal computer activities. Like e-mail. And e-Harmony.
See? My efforts were NOT in vain.
It is with much sheepishness that I admit to you that I finally got back to Spike (who, recall, had been waiting on me since November 11th) on December 14th. Luckily for me, he hadn't said "to heck with this one!" and kicked me off his list of matches. And by Christmas, we were writing lengthy emails to one another. Obviously, all's well that ends well. Over the course of time, though, Spike found out exactly why I hadn't responded to him for a month. "Ah!" he exclaimed, pointing a finger at me. "I wondered why you didn't respond to me for so long. I thought maybe you'd decided you didn't like what you saw on my profile. Now I know that it was National Ignore Spike Month!"
Here's the "book cover" I created for my NaNoWriMo profile.
I really didn't have any defense. But I'm glad I allowed Stand and Deliver to take possession of my mind, body, and soul for 30 days. Because I did prove to myself that I am capable of writing a novel. Mind you, I'll never be publishing Stand and Deliver. It's essentially a long string of drivel, with a few decent passages and ideas thrown in. Believe me. This is not false modesty. I'm in publishing. I know. My next novel, though...well, hopefully that'll be a different story. (It'll also be a Regency romance. But that's beside the point.)
CreateSpace, an online publisher, offered to print one free proof copy for each NaNoWriMo winner. Here's mine:
This is a graphic of the front and back covers--I used my cover image and a CreateSpace cover template.
While I was taking awkward self-portraits with my proof copy of Stand and Deliver this evening, Spike walked into the room unbeknownst to me.
And here I am, looking quite haggard, with the finished product! It arrived about a week ago.
this is my rival. This is what caused me to be treated so callously last November. Stand and Deliver, we meet at last. May the best man win!"
Stand and Deliver. I do feel compelled to qualify this by stating that I'm not proud of the quality (Meg doesn't do her best work at midnight), but if you've read this far in the post, I think you deserve to see some of what I've been talking about. In this scene, Edmund finds out from an innkeeper that Bess has died.
“A good morning to you, sir. I trust you’ve passed a pleasant night,” Edmund forced out. Although the last thing he wanted was to engage in polite, frivolous conversation, he knew he must not give the other man the least cause for suspicion. He stretched his legs out in front of him, and appreciatively took the mug one of the serving maids had just brought.In conclusion, I will never ignore Spike for a month again. Not even for the sake of my in-progress Regency romance.
“A pleasant night,” the innkeeper replied slowly. “Yes, I did, myself. But I cannot agree that it’s a good morning.”Curious despite the exhaustion he felt, Edmund finished a draught from his ale and looked up. “Why, what’s amiss?”
“Something terrible. Up in Torshill. Fellow in the corner brought the news not an hour ago.”
The innkeeper gestured toward the back of the room, where a man Edmund hadn’t noticed was slumped over his table, head in his hands, mumbling to himself. Edmund squinted, then stared in surprise. It was Tim, the taciturn ostler from The Crown’s Rest. Feeling a bit uneasy, he asked the innkeeper what had happened.
“Tragic, it was,” the man replied, face grave. “You know The Crown’s Rest…”
Edmund nodded shortly, his apprehension growing.
“A troop of redcoats showed up there yesterday—no warning—said they were there to catch a highwayman. Knocked the innkeeper out. Took over one of the rooms, and kept his daughter with them. A beauty, I’ve heard. Apparently this highwayman did come, but the girl warned him with a shot.” The innkeeper stopped.
That was the shot Edmund had heard. If not for it, he might be dead now. Feeling an upwelling of pride in Bess but carefully keeping his face blank of anything but mild interest, Edmund asked how she’d managed to do that.
“That’s the tragedy. She was tied up, along with the gun. When she shot the gun…well, she killed herself to warn him. They must have been lovers, and no one knew…”She killed herself to warn him…killed herself…
Edmund’s face grew ashen beneath his tan, and his chest tightened strangely as he tried to understand, to breathe. It wasn’t possible. Before last night, Bess alone could connect his true identity to his activities, and no one outside The Crown’s Rest knew of his involvement with her. There was simply no way that the redcoats could have known he’d be returning…and yet he was being told they had known just that.
Jerking his eyes from the point on the far wall they’d been fixed unseeing upon, Edmund forced himself with fading hope to look into the innkeeper’s grave face. He saw with a sickening sense of certainty that the man was telling the truth…and why wouldn’t he? He had no idea that he had just informed a man of the death of the woman he loved, of the brightest point in his life. A low moan, despairing and involuntary, escaped from Edmund’s white lips.
Feeling a rivulet of liquid run down the back of his right hand, Edmund looked down and was distantly surprised to find that his hands were trembling violently—with anger as well as grief, he realized—and that some ale had sloshed over the rim of the mug. Carefully setting it down on the table, he automatically inserted his hand into his pocket, placed a handful of coins—he didn’t know or care how much the amount was—in the innkeeper’s palm, and walked as if in a fog towards the door. The air itself seemed to press on him with a crushing weight. His brain could comprehend only one thought, that Bess was gone, that she had died for him, and that he hadn’t even known.
Red, searing self-hatred flashed through his mind as he remembered how relieved he’d been when that shot had warned him. That shot…that shot had killed her. Edmund savagely bit the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. He didn’t notice the serving maids who had to jump rapidly from his path, or hear the innkeeper’s confused, “Sir? Sir, you’ve left your cloak…”
Gritting his teeth and blinking rapidly against the strengthening rays of the sun, Edmund pushed through the door and half-ran to the stables.
Gideon, he knew, was spent. The ostler was leading a fresh, saddled horse to the stable’s entrance, though—presumably for another traveler. Well, no more. Roughly, Edmund pushed the man aside, vaulted into the saddle, and galloped out of the inn yard, the ostler’s shouts pursuing him.
He should ride south, he knew, or west. Anywhere but north, towards Torshill. He did anyway, savagely pushing aside the voice of reason inside his head. If Bess was dead, there was nothing he could do to bring her back, and an attempt at revenge would surely fail. He knew that, distantly, but he didn’t care.
All he could see was her face. He had loved her. Loved her. And he had promised her that he would return. His hands tightened convulsively on the horse’s reigns. He would find the bastard who had taken Bess…tied her to a musket… The mental picture that resulted from that thought made him think he might explode, unable to contain the impotent anger that coursed through him. It burned through his veins, invading every corner of his body. He was utterly helpless, and it was killing him.