It was a dark and stormy month... 

From cyberspace, National Novel Writing Month looked like a real organization. From inside Chris Baty's apartment, it looked like a bunch of thin people in bad sweaters, bent over their laptops, cranked up on Frito-Lay products and Red Bull energy drink.

If you graphed the progress of National Novel Writing Month's hegemony, it would look like the lines epidemiologists use to illustrate the spread of dangerous viruses. Two years ago, Chris Baty wanted to write a novel. As something of an in-joke, he…

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