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.

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Perhaps because blogger culture has a strong affinity for science fiction and fantasy, many of the novels in progress are in the sword-and-sorcerer vein. But there are exceptions. A fifth-grade class from Florida is collectively writing a novel about a pack of mutant monkeys on motorcycles who attack a group of kids on a field trip, complete with such timeless dialogue as "Ahh! We're all going to die! I am never going to be a teenager!" But there's really no prototypical novel-in-progress, and many Wrimos focus on topics close to home: "I survived the summer the way that all collegiate English majors survive their summer jobs ... by promising myself that someday I'd write scathing essays about the horrors of K-Mart that would cause nationwide consumer uproar which would lead to the downfall of Martha Stewart's wicked empire."

The overall tenor is perhaps best summed up by the guy who simply posts: "Please allow me this euphoric moment: I'm writing a freakin' novel!"

November 6

No movement truly has arrived until it has a T-shirt. Now NaNoWriMo not only has shirts, but hats, teddy bears, beer steins, and mousepads. The problem is that Baty had nothing to do with it -- a Wrimo in Maryland has simply set up shop by downloading the "No plot? No problem!" logo and sending it to online merchant CafePress, which will graft it onto just about anything. Almost simultaneously, a Wrimo in Hawaii launches another line of unauthorized merchandise using a logo he's created.

Baty is torn. On the one hand, he assumes the merchandising is intended as a gesture of goodwill and group pride, not to make money. But his desire to retain control wins out. Baty sends both participants polite notes asking them to take their sites down and promising that NaNoWriMo will print an official T-shirt at the end of the month. Much to his relief, they comply. "Ultimately, it doesn't hurt anything to have them selling these T-shirts, but at the same time I spent almost three years working on this project and essentially what they would be selling is the NaNoWriMo name," he muses. "And then I hear those thoughts in my head and I think, 'Oh my God, I sound like somebody from Coca-Cola.' I don't want to have to be thinking about these things."

But he is, at least subconsciously. Baty has begun to have literal nightmares about copyright law, server crashes, and hackers. In one, people had accessed the server and were setting up accounts for themselves. Baty had gotten out of bed, still asleep, turned on the lights and was on his way to the laptop in his living room before he realized that, as they say in crummy novels, it was all a bad dream.

November 7

One week in, real life is producing nightmares of its own for some Wrimos. Due to academic pressure and family emergencies, Catherine Plato drops out. Tim Lohnes, a veteran of two previous NaNoWriMos and a friend of Baty's, had craftily planned to build up a surplus of words by exiling himself to a hotel room for a weekend of nonstop writing. But Lohnes, who also volunteered his data-entry skills during the sign-up frenzy, almost immediately had a flare-up of chronic repetitive stress problem with his wrists. He hasn't written anything for days.

Teresa Corragio, whose fairy-tale-esque novel is tracking the romantic adventures of a three-legged spider, is having better luck. Unlike the majority of Wrimos, childless twenty- and-thirtysomethings, Corragio has three daughters. Consequently, most of her writing is happening on the bench during the kids' gymnastics lessons, at the muffin shop by the ballet studio, and on teachers' couches during music lessons. What does her family think of having a NaNoWriMom? "A self-imposed deadline is a tricky thing to explain to a nine-year-old," she says.

Brian Murphy has every reason to quit; only five days into November, he and his boyfriend of seven years broke up. But Murphy, who dropped out of NaNoWriMo last year at 2,300 words, presses on, and he writes his breakup right into his novel. "It would be easy for this month to be kind of a big crazy blur of emotions, but every single day I've been writing," he says. "This has been probably the biggest month of my life since my relationship started seven years ago -- that was the last time things seemed so magical and exciting and wild -- and I'm going to have a 50,000-word document of this really momentous point in my life." Like hundreds of other Wrimos, Murphy also is taking advantage of the slumping economy. His employer, Excite@Home, is in bankruptcy procedures, and he expects his job to vanish any day. In the meantime, he's working from home, where there's not much to do and his laptop is tantalizingly nearby. "If I end up getting laid off," he says, "I can't wait to tell them that I spent the last month writing a novel."

November 10

The T-shirt makers were one thing. The corporations are another. Baty's been getting increasingly urgent e-mails from online vanity press iUniverse and laptop word processor maker AlphaSmart, businesses for whom a captive audience of 5,000 amateur novelists looks mighty tasty. Both are very eager to do business with Wrimos by giving them discounts. AlphaSmart also has offered to donate a laptop and give NaNoWriMo $10 for every unit sold through the site; iUniverse offered to publish the winner's manuscript for free, until Baty carefully explained that NaNoWriMo potentially has thousands of "winners."

Baty's cautious about the idea of business partnerships; he's protective of his organization and a little queasy about the idea of kickbacks. He also feels unprepared for the legal maneuvering involved in arranging a contract. "I never thought in my whole life I would say this sentence: 'People are wanting to partner with my Web site.'" He shakes his head. "I feel like I'm just growing up so fast, like I'm having to wear the dad's trousers and pretend I have some plan for this."

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