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30 Nov

The aftermath – Well, it’s over. In fact, it’s been over for nearly ten days now. I finished my 2005 NaNoWriMo novel (note that the novel will only be online until the end of the year; if you are reading this later than that, be thankful—you have been spared the horror) last Monday evening, and I’ve spent the past week or so in a state somewhere between a daze and a stupor. It actually took a few days to get used to not writing every day after doing so for three weeks. Some of my friends and family pointed out that I still had an entire third of the month left to continue to write, but I would have none of that. After all, what’s the point of putting yourself through noveling hell for three weeks if you can’t spend the last week or so laughing at—um, I mean encouraging everyone who is still scrambling to get to 50,000 words?

“...a good story is not really necessary to write 50k words. The only thing that is necessary is determination.”

I was originally going to title this entry “Lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo,” but I decided to skip that for something more melodramatic. Besides, I haven’t written a journal entry in over a month, and I’m most likely going to drift away from this point (if I ever actually get to it, that is) before the end. Last year’s wrap-up entry was very well organized, with subheadings and analysis and a list of statistics at the end. I think it reflected how organized I was, and how well I had planned everything for my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. In the same way, I think my haphazard approach to the wrap up this year is fitting, considering how utterly unprepared I was for my second assault on the 50k peak.

The ever-eloquent Kevin posted this one-sentence summary of my novel: “The story follows the adventures of college-aged Chris through Italy, and offers us a parallel adventure through a fantasy realm—the magical world inside Chris’s journal.” If I ever get a novel published on dead trees, Kevin is writing my back-cover blurb. When I read that summary, I thought, “Wow, that sounds awesome. I would totally read that.” Unfortunately, I had already written it, and it didn’t turn out to be as awesome as I was hoping it would be.

That’s not to say it sucked completely. Either all three people who read it were lying to me just to make me feel better (not necessary, by the way), or it did have some redeeming qualities. And, to tell you the truth, I had a lot of fun writing it. I feel guilty about admitting that, kind of like how someone might feel guilty about admitting that they enjoy kicking the dog or tormenting small children. Throughout the three weeks I spent writing it, I kept asking myself the question: “Is it morally right for me to have this much fun inflicting such a poorly written piece of fiction on any pour soul that might happen to stumble upon my site?”

I think the reason it was so much fun to write is because I based it on my own experiences in Italy in the spring of 1994 (just in case you were wondering when exactly the novel was set—although I did give a number of clues, like the use of lire and a comment about the Chunnel not being open yet). I spent a semester in London and traveled around the Continent during spring break. Throughout that semester I kept a very detailed journal and took lots of photographs. I still have the journal and the photographs, and they were invaluable resources. I also had the internet, which was another invaluable resource. I spent an hour or more each day doing research—but I love doing research, so that was fun too.

However much fun it was to write, though, the truth is that I had no idea what I was going to write about what I sat down in front of the computer on the first of November. In my last journal entry, I talked about the brick wall I felt I was hurtling toward. Well, when November started I hit that wall at a dead run—and was rather surprised when it crumbled and I fell through it into the uncharted territory beyond. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and broke out the cheese.

The cheese, of course, was beginning the story by writing about my main character writing a story of his own. I even made fun of him making the protagonist of his story a writer. I like to do this in my NaNoWriMo novels, poke fun at myself by poking fun at my characters. This probably delights no one else quite as much as it delights me, but I’m the one writing the 50,000 words, so I’m prepared to cut myself some slack. Anyway, the point is that the whole story-within-a-story thing was just a way to get started, a priming of the pump, so to speak. I really hate to quote the story here, but I think the following paragraph shows how serious I was about the device.

The problem with making his protagonist a writer in medieval times was that writers had to be fairly educated, which ruled out the old “peasant boy discovers hidden power and rises to fame and/or fortune” story. Monks were educated, and they certainly wrote a lot. He chewed on his pen some more. But who wants to write about a monk? ‘Thelonious woke up before dawn, donned his coarse habit, and walked slowly to the great hall for a day of prayer and meditation.’ Yeah, that was exciting. No monks. He needed something a little... jazzier.

I thought that was hysterical, but I’m also known for my desiccated sense of humor. I had every intention of dropping Thelonious when I figured out what I was writing about, but until then he was a pretty nifty, if cheesy, way to pump up my word count. You can imagine my horror when people started mentioning how much they liked the story-within-a-story, and I realized that I was doing to be saddled with Thelonious the minstrel for the rest of the novel. (Oh, I should also note that the paragraph contains a jab at my writing buddy, That David Guy. Poking fun at him is almost as enjoyable as poking fun at myself. Sorry, David. And congrats for finishing your novel.)

Of course, the crowd of people (since they do say that three is a crowd) demanding more Thelonious was not the only reason I stuck with him. The main reason, really, was that it took me until day 13 to actually discover my story. I lost interest with Thelonious and Gizem after that, which is why they got such short shrift toward the end of the story. I feel badly about that, in much the same way as I might feel badly about stepping on an ant. Sorry, Mom. I know you were looking forward to seeing what happened to them. Maybe I’ll pick up with their story in the Workshop next year. No promises, though. You remember what happened to my last Workshop fantasy story.

In the end, I think I discovered a story worth telling. I didn’t actually do a very good job of telling it, but I managed to start with nothing and end with something, however little. Even after I found my story, though, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to resolve it properly. I was going back and forth, not sure how to wrap things up and bring the novel to a close. I did have a backup plan, just in case I got to 49,900 words and couldn’t figure out how to end it. It was something I had been considering from the start—something I vowed I would do if I couldn’t get my act together. Fortunately(?), I didn’t have to resort to this drastic measure. However, I’m not one to let even the tiniest bit of creativity go to waste, so in that spirit, I present you with the alternate ending of, um... (pauses in horror as he realizes that he still hasn’t titled his novel) my novel:

Chris and Penelope met in the tribune of the basilica.

“You ready to go?” Chris asked.

Penelope pointed back toward the transept. “I saw some stairs leading down back there,” she said. “Let’s go check those out.”

They walked back to the transept and found stairs on either side. After climbing down the stairs by the statue of St. Andrew, they found themselves in a small chapel. They followed the passageway that led away from the chapel. The walls were white and the ceiling was low and barrel vaulted.

Chris flipped through his guidebook. “These are the grottoes,” he said. “The tombs of the popes. I think Pope John Paul II is that way.” He pointed toward the right, past an altar. He began to walk in that direction, but Penelope stopped. She walked over to a figure standing by the altar.

“Hello, Steve,” she said calmly.

Chris looked up. Steve and Penelope faced each other in front of the altar, and neither seemed to be looking at him. He tried to shuffle slowly over to the former pope’s tomb, but Steve looked up and called to him.

“How nice to see you again,” he said, holding out his hand. “I don’t believe I caught your name last time.”

Chris walked up sheepishly and shook his hand. “Chris. Sorry, I was a bit preoccupied at our first meeting.”

Steve nodded and then turned back to Penelope. “So, have you come to your senses yet? Are you ready to come home?”

Penelope took a deep breath to calm herself, but before she could reply, the silence was broken by the loud, slapping sound of feet on the marble floor. All three turned to look down the hallway at the small figure that approached.

“A penguin?” queried Penelope.

“In the Vatican?” gawked Steve.

Chris shrugged. “Maybe it’s just a really short nun,” he said. Penelope and Steve looked at him. “With a beak,” he added.

The penguin waddled across the floor toward them. It was wearing a belt, and a small, metallic cylinder hung from the belt, swinging back and forth. The penguin stopped in front of the altar and looked up at the three of them in turn. When he turned to look at Penelope, his eyes wandered up and down her body appreciatively.

“Hey babe,” he said. “These guys boring you?”

Steve’s mouth dropped open. “It talks!”

“Well, actually....” Penelope glanced back and forth between Chris and Steve.

“Just as I thought,” said the penguin, and he began to flap his wings back and forth. “OK, fellows, leave the lady alone. She’s coming with me.”

Steve stepped forward and drew himself up, towering over the penguin. “I don’t think so. She’s coming with me.”

The penguin let out a barely audible sigh, and then with blinding speed he unclipped the cylinder from his belt, turned it on, and cut Steve’s legs off at the knees before anyone could move. Steve screamed out in agony, and Chris stared as the lightsaber-wielding penguin reached up and severed Steve’s head from his neck with a flick of his wrist. Chris turned to run, but the penguin leaped up onto the altar with surprising agility, tumbled through the air, and sliced Chris in half before the tomb of Pope John Paul II. Then he retracted the blade, clipped the lightsaber back onto his belt, and reached up a wing to Penelope. She took it, and they walked back to the stairs as the pieces of Steve and Chris lay charred and smoking on the floor behind them.

“I didn’t know there were any penguins in Italy,” Penelope said as they walked through St. Peter’s Square.

“We’re not indigenous to the area,” the penguin answered. “I’m just here on vacation. We usually prefer cooler climes. How’d you like to join me for a trip south?”

Penelope smiled. “Sure!”

When they reached the Via di Conciliazione, the penguin reached up a wing, whistled, and shouted the word probably recognized in more languages than any other word: “Taxi!”

A cab pulled up and they climbed into the back seat. “Termini Station,” the penguin said. “And step on it.”

So, there you have it. The ending that could have been. I was almost looking forward to writing that, even as I was hoping I wouldn’t have to. But now it’s been written, and I feel that the novel is truly finished, for better or for worse.

At the beginning of this entry I alluded to lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo. There were two major lessons, and they are actually pretty simple:

  1. I’m not that great at writing without a plan, but
  2. Even without a plan, I can still write 50k words in three weeks.

This confirms two things for me. For starters, I will definitely have a plan next year. I don’t care if I spend the entire month of October agonizing over plots and stories, I will have a plan come the first of November. This year also proves that a good story is not really necessary to write 50k words. The only thing that is necessary is determination. That’s all. You don’t need to be a good writer, you just need to be able to sit your butt down and pound out two thousand words a night (although, unless you’re adept at typing with your butt cheeks, you might want to make sure that your hands sit down along with your butt. The rest of your body, brain included, is optional).

I guess that about wraps it up for NaNoWriMo this year. My apologies to those of you expecting a detailed analysis of the novel, but there was really nothing to analyze, just two blindingly obvious lessons and a whole bunch of pain.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, if there was nothing to analyze, why did it take you ten days to get around to writing this entry? What have you been doing all that time?”

That’s a good question, and I suppose it deserves an answer. As I mentioned above, I spent the first few days in a dazed stupor, trying to figure out what to do with myself now that it was over. My wife and I went out to dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant last Friday. It’s been a while since I’ve had really good Italian food, so it was quite nice. I like to think of it as a little reward for finishing the novel, among other things.

On Saturday I got my hair cut. This may not seem like a big deal, but I haven’t had an official haircut in a few years. Sure, my wife did trim my hair from time to time when it got too long, but I can only remember that happening two or three times. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a significant change in hairstyle, and I must admit that I was nervous when we walked into Lee Chul Hair Kerker (site mainly in Korean; although I find the German meaning of “kerker” amusing (“dungeon” or “prison”), the site claims that it means “to get bigger”—kind of like how “danger” means “sweet thing” in Korean, I guess).

We were a bit concerned that they might find my curly hair difficult to handle (seeing that Koreans do not have naturally curly hair), so they set me up with the top haircutter. To make a long story short, she did a pretty good job. At least, that’s what everyone has said so far. My mother-in-law says I look like a movie star. My sister-in-law says that my “image has softened considerably” (translation: I look less scary). I’m just trying to get used to having less hair (“less hair,” by the way, is relative—I still have quite a bit of it). I had contemplated shaving my beard as well, since I was going to be changing my style anyway, but I decided to keep it so people don’t mistake me for a girl. And no, I am not self-confident enough yet to post photos of the new do.

On Monday my wife and I spent the morning at the immigration office. Not exactly my favorite place to spend a Monday morning (or any morning, for that matter), but a necessity once every two years. At least up until now. I’ll probably have more information on that front at the end of the year. Suffice it to say that I hope to be moving up a notch on the food chain here.

And here I am, with only a few hours officially left in NaNoWriMo. The journey doesn’t end there, though. As I mentioned in my last entry, I decided to take on the responsibilities of Municipal Liaison for Korea, so I’ll be hanging around until the very end and cleaning up after everyone has gone home. We have planned a “Thank God It’s Over” party for this Saturday, to be held at an undisclosed location where considerable amounts of alcohol will probably be consumed. We had a similar gathering last year with four people, and hopefully we’ll get a few more this year (so far eight have confirmed).

And that’s what I’ve been doing with my November. Altogether, I would have to say it’s been a fairly productive and highly insane month. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year, and I’ve already started compiling my list of people whom I’m going to start bugging on October 1, 2006, and continue until they relent and join the herd.

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