NaNoWriMo – 30 –

Yet another National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to an end, and both Susie and I (in Florida and Columbus, respectively) are trying to recover.

I am skeptical (at best) about the effectiveness of Twelve-Step programs, but the “one day at a time” concept does have its uses, and NaNoWriMo bears out its usefulness.  Every evening (mostly evenings, sometimes afternoons), I sat down and faced the laptop like it was some type of adversary.  When I logged onto Microsoft Office and pulled up my manuscript, I did it with an emotion akin to dread.

Trying to write a certain number of words per day (1667 per day is necessary to produce 50 thousand words in 30 days) is a lot like visiting a nudist colony: The first few minutes are the hardest.  I know that when I began typing, that magic number of 1667 seemed so far away.

But, as the session progressed, I usually was able to get into the activity, and when I saw I had made my quota for the night, I almost had a feeling of disappointment–“You mean I have to stop now?”  Of course, I didn’t, but I wanted material to fill the next night’s session, and not have to scramble.

The manuscript now sits on my hard drive and on my Microsoft SkyDrive.  I am following the advice of Stephen King, and I am letting the project “marinate” until after the first of the year.  NaNoWriMo is not ashamed to say that the goal is quantity, not quality, so I am sure I overran the manuscript with verbiage and asides that will have to go.  Some word-padding techniques can stay.  (For example, I did not use contractions, except in dialogue.)  Truthfully, I have no qualms about not touching it until January.  I am sure I am going to look back over it and wonder what the hell was I doing writing such-and-such?  (Susie has read excerpts of it, and so far I have received her seal of approval.)

Another thing her project and my project have in common is that they are both incomplete.  As you may recall, I decided to make NaNoWriMo the subject of this year’s manuscript.  Thus, I began with a brief prologue, and each chapter afterwards represented one day in the contest: “Day the First,” “Day the Second,” et cetera.  I stopped at Chapter V, “Day the Fifth,” so once this book comes out of lockdown, I have 25 more chapters to write.  Susie says she is two chapters away from those beautiful words THE END.  (I will end it, as a tribute to my former typesetting days, with – 30 -, which I have often thought should be my epitaph–my name, and underneath it, – 30 -, carved on my tombstone.)

I took a page from Jim Bishop when I used these chapter titles.  In his books The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Christ Died, he broke down the book into hours–each chapter represented one hour of the day he covered.  In his one and only novel, Honeymoon Diary (I met him in 1979, and he said, “Oh, Jesus!” when I told him I had read it), the titles were “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” all the way up to “The Thirtieth Day.”

Sleep has been the biggest casualty of NaNoWriMo, although my sleep patterns have been erratic for years.  I can’t lay the blame solely at the feet of this contest.  I am constantly dozing off on buses, or anywhere that I lack new stimuli.  And, as before, I can doze off straight into REM sleep, which means falling asleep and straight into dreaming.  Unless I have specific plans, on weekends I do not set an alarm.  (Even on Sunday; if I am awake in time to catch the bus and go to church, I will; otherwise, I take it as a sign and I’m content to “worship in bed.”)  So, every weekday morning, there is this Dagwood Bumstead scramble to get out of bed, into the shower, dressed, and out the door in time to catch the bus in time.  But, these past few weekends, I am wide awake before dawn, unable to get back to sleep.  Yes, I’ll toss and turn a while, but it’s a losing battle to try to get back to sleep.  And this is after not retiring until 2 or 3 a.m.

I took it easy the rest of yesterday, after submitting my manuscript to http://www.nanowrimo.org, where their template verified that I had enough words.  Yesterday was the Ohio State-Michigan game, and I was thankful it was in Ann Arbor, since the presence of drunken idiots would have been even greater had the game taken place at the ‘Shoe.  So, I thought it prudent to stay indoors, where I watched some DVDs of Homicide: Life on the Street and read.  (I kept my computer use to a minimum, since I had enough of my keyboard to last me awhile.)

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided for the first time since 1868, and this will not happen again until 2070 (Susie will probably be experiencing this).  The coincidence that Black Friday occurred on a sacred holiday did not deter the shoppers.  We here in Columbus did not experience the brawling, gunfire, and stabbings that some communities had.  I, for one, kinda sorta boycotted the whole thing.  I went to two record stores, Spoonful Records and Records Per Minute (RPM), and bought some albums there–I kept my money local, and supported friends of mine.  The haul was not overwhelming, since I didn’t buy any new material.  I stuck to the dollar bins, where I could find much of the music of my teen years.  (As if my weirdo credentials weren’t already well established by high school, my favorite groups in high school were The Alan Parsons Project and Seals and Crofts!)

“Buy nothing day” was so much easier in the years when I was usually stone broke.

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Backhanded Honor

Last night, while Susie watched in bemusement, I scooted another milk cartonload of my books up to my worktable, opened BookDB2, and went to work cataloging.  (This project is going at the speed of Snoopy’s attempting to read one word per day of War and Peace, but it gives me something to do besides scroll through Facebook endlessly.)

I did hit a milestone last night.  I didn’t note the exact time, but I entered Book #200 at some point in the evening.  I hadn’t really been keeping track, but I did see the counter reach 200.  As usual, I had the Library of Congress’ catalog open in one window and OhioLINK’s in another, searching for call numbers.  (Most hardcover books published in the last 15-20 years include them just inside the title page, but most published before then don’t.  There’s never an always and always an exception, however.)

The book I entered was a paperback novel, This Man and This Woman.  It is significant because it is the only novel written by Jim Bishop.  (He published it in 1963 under the title Honeymoon Diary.)

Bishop was my first literary idol.  Here is his biography, from the St. Bonaventure University’s Jim Bishop Archives.  His claim to fame with me, however, is that his book The Day Lincoln Was Shot was the first “grownup” book that I read from beginning to end.  I checked it out of the Washington School library in Marietta when I was in fourth grade.

The cover of the edition of The Day Lincoln Was
Shot that captured my attention at age 10.

Part of the interest, I think, came from the fact that my parents had the Bantam paperback of his book The Day Kennedy Was Shot, which would be the first of many books on John F. Kennedy’s assassination that I would read over the years.

What intrigued me most was the way Bishop told the story, in both the book about Lincoln and the one about Kennedy.  The Day Lincoln Was Shot begins at 7 a.m. on April 14, 1865, as President Lincoln steps from his bedroom and goes to his office.  It ends just over 24 hours later, when the surgeon general declares him dead.  Each chapter of the book represents one hour of that day, and the titles are “7 a.m.,” “8 a.m.,” etc., along with two chapters of background.

Later that year, I tried my hand at a “The Day” manuscript, describing a day trip Dad and I took to Wheeling (I was 9½ at the time) one Sunday to see his brother and his family.  I came home with a bad case of gastrointestinal flu, diagnosed by a midnight visit to the emergency room once we were back in Marietta.

I went on to read The Day Kennedy Was Shot, as well as The Day Christ Died, both of which were told in the same hour-to-hour format.  The library did own a copy of Honeymoon Diary, and I read it, despite being turned off by the Harlequin Romance-ish title.

Bishop spoke at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in Marietta in 1979.  I hurried through delivering The Marietta Times and ran, my clothes still smudged with ink from newspapers, to the Hermann Fine Arts Center on the Marietta College campus, because I read a small item in the paper saying there would be a reception for him.  I managed to get close to him, and shake his hand.

Speaking with him was a delight.  He was pleased that I had read his “The Day” books, and we spoke about another book of his, The Murder Trial of Judge Peel.  He was surprised that I remembered a line from a 1973 column he wrote about the last words of some famous and infamous people.  The line quoted the final words of a criminal just before he died in the electric chair: “Dump my body on the D.A.’s doorstep.”  When he introduced me to his wife Kelly, I quoted his words about her in the dedication of The Day Kennedy Was Shot: “My wife, my assistant, my life.”

And I mentioned that I had read Honeymoon Diary.  His smile evaporated, and he shuddered a little.  “Oh, my God!” he whispered.  He patted my hand, as though offering condolences.  “I’m so sorry.”

How much he hated Honeymoon Diary didn’t register with me until the early 1980s, when I read his autobiography.  He mentions the book only once, describing it as “an ugly, gauche, tasteless work.”

In the end, I suppose I honored him by letting a work of his be the 200th book I entered.  He died in 1987, aged 78, though I still can imagine him thinking, “But why did it have to be that book?”