I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but here it is: I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year.
My trepidation is not for lack of interest — I love NaNoWriMo. My first outing resulted in the first draft of my novel Hagridden, which in turn led to my Oregon Literary Fellowship and a research trip to Louisiana. My third attempt has turned into a handful of pretty damn fine stories in a strong story cycle, which I worked on again this summer while on a writing retreat. And last year’s effort gave me the beginnings of several really interesting short pieces I ought to be working on now.
Except I haven’t had the time for writing I’d like to have had. I’m teaching five classes on three different campuses; on one of those campuses, I serve as faculty advisor for a film club. I edit two different lit magazines, and this past month I served as fiction judge for a university creative writing competition. I have a chapbook coming out in a few weeks, and I’ve been prepping for a reading to coincide with its release.
And on and on.
So why am I giving up what little free time I have left to pound at the keyboard in a furious attempt to knock out 50,000 words in 30 — though, given my schedule, FAR fewer than 30 — days?
Well, aside from the fact that I should be doing this anyway (I’m a writer, damn it! Writers write!), I also have a story to tell. A couple of months ago, my mother-in-law, who is a librarian and also works for her local genealogical society, came across a book about a psychopath cowboy waging a one-man rebellion in northeast Texas just after the Civil War. Thinking about my own Civil War novel set down in Louisiana, she thought I might be interested in this true story about a crazed gunslinger in Texas, and she sent me the book.
The story is about Cullen M. Baker, and while his life has been accounted for — and fictionalized — many times before, including the Louis L’Amour novel The First Fast Draw, the book my mother-in-law sent me is more of a cursory overview of Baker’s life. It’s a tight little account of the weirdest (and probably embellished) episodes in the life of a man some consider the first outlaw gunslinger of the Wild West, a legendary figure who served as a real-life model for other famous figures like Billy the Kid and Jesse James. And it is the nature of this telling of Baker’s story — brief, episodic, unconfirmed — that got my brain turning. I realized how many details I wanted to change, what information I would have added to the story, which characters I was most interested in. And the more I read, the more I began to see someone completely different from Cullen Baker, a set of characters and a connected narrative that might be based on stories about the man but which has taken on a life of its own.
I began to see my next novel.
And there’s no better excuse to start that draft than this coming month.
I don’t know if I’ll actually have the time to “win” NaNoWriMo this year (I fell short last year), but the story’s in my head now, the characters developing before I’ve even put words on paper, so I figure as long as I’m writing something, I might as well write this, and I might as well write it now.
So pull on your boots, clean your sidearm, and saddle your horse, gang. We’ve got a story to tell!