It was about 10 o'clock Sunday night when I saw a tweet that reminded me of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to you hip folks in the know. I've had a friend or two who've done it in the past and it always fascinated me. What a neat idea! Go balls to the wall for the month of November, crank out 50,000 words of your novel's rough draft, and BAM. Feel all accomplished and whatnot when it's all over. All in the month's time. Something like 1,666 words per day, if you do the math. It's a brilliant way to jumpstart a novel, if, like me, you've always wanted to write one, but never had the motivation or ass-kicking to do it. But, like most things that are daunting and scary and require focus and drive typically outside of my comfort level, I've never done it. I'd watch friends stay up until the wee hours, cranking out chapters and plots and editing and rewriting all in the name of making the November 30 deadline of 50,000 words.
FIFTY-THOUSAND WORDS IS A LOT.
If you'll look at my 2011 bucket list, you'll see "Begin legitimate work on a novel–5,000 words" on the list. Five-thousand words. "Legitimate work." Heh. Holy shit, I'm an amateur. Five-thousand words is NOTHING according to NaNoWriMo. It's, like, three days' work.
As I sat in my living room Sunday night, soaking up the post-breakup blues by the glow of my dopey jack-o-lantern, I thought, "When the hell else am I going to do this?" Here I sat, single, unemployed, bored, stressed, with more time on my hands than I care to admit to. NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT.
So I logged onto nanowrimo.org, created my profile, and committed to the challenge. Fuck.
For years I've had scenes in my mind for a novel I'd one day probably never write. I love storytelling. I just don't know how to put scenes and plots and characters and 50,000 words together in a coherent, enjoyable fashion. In fact, as of now, my story has no plot. None. I have absolutely zero idea where it's headed. But last night I sat down and cranked out almost 1,700 words. A prologue. An introduction. An opening scene.
OH MY GOD I HAVE A PROLOGUE.
I've created a character with history and problems and a pretty epic crisis. My prologue basically starts readers at the end, and the rest of the story must bring us up to speed on how she got there. Problem is, I don't know how she got there. I have absolutely no clue where to go from here. But here I am! One-thousand seven-hundred words in!
Even if I never hit 50,000 words, I'm goddamn proud of my prologue. I am. For the first time in the history of ever, I just wrote. I created a story. Something that could completely falter and end up a failure, or something that I can fine tune and rip apart and master over the course of the next few years. NaNoWriMo is the beginning. Just 48,300 words to go in the next 29 days. In a month I could have a start on something I've always, always wanted to do.
Take that, life.
And I didn't think I would do this, but what the hell? Here are the first 1,300 or so words of my yet-to-be-named, yet-to-have-a-plot novel. This is not the entire prologue, but pretty close, and the roughest of drafts you can imagine. I left the absolute final scene out of this post, although you can likely imagine it for yourself. And as far as the rest of the novel, you'll just have to sit on the edge of your seat for the next seven years until I figure out what the hell happened and why. Be kind:
If Charlotte Townes knew she was going to die on November 7, 2009, it wouldn’t have mattered to her in that moment that she’d heard the same goddamn song on the radio three times. Flipping the radio station in her car wouldn’t have been so top of mind. Could she, in theory, blame the Black Eyed Peas for her death? Charlotte would probably want to know that, had she known that on that particular Saturday she would die.
Making matters worse, not that death at the hands of the Black Eyed Peas can seemingly get worse, her destination was the last place she wanted to be. Strange how that worked out. The last place she wanted to be was the last place she’d ever try to go. But there she was, on her way.
“Shit,” she muttered under her breath, glancing at the clock on her dashboard. 2:19. She was already going to be late and she was only halfway there. She rolled her eyes at how they’d react when she walked in late, chipped purple nail polish on her fingernails, an old t-shirt from God knows where, and a pair of running shoes, still muddy from last weekend.
Punishment for making me do this on a Saturday, she thought to herself, while she checked her reflection in the rearview mirror. Twenty-nine years old and still sprouting zits on her forehead.
She turned up the radio then and made a mental note of everything left to do at home. The digital cable box had to get returned to the cable company. She’d stopped paying her cable bill weeks ago, and needless to say, aside from their money, they wanted their equipment back. It’s the least she could do. They’d get their money. Eventually. Jon was coming over tomorrow to help move furniture, which made her smile. He was always so good to her, even though she admittedly treated him like shit.
Mental note: Stop treating Jon like shit, she decided. At least for tomorrow.
She had to laugh. How do things get so absolutely out of control? How can one person, one woman, make entirely so many poor choices in such a short amount of time? Is it possible that by the time she’s 30-years-old, she will have made every mistake possible?
Charlotte nodded to herself as she pondered the question, inspecting her fingernails. She couldn’t even keep her fingernails under control. She had just painted the damn things two days ago.
She realized then she forgot to pick up her prescription before leaving town, and all she could do at this point was sigh. She blamed Tracy for this one. Tracy and her ability to numb one’s mind with thoughtless banter. Charlotte didn’t even remember what the phone conversation was about, although it was likely one man problem or another. Tracy was good for that – calling to bitch about which man she’d slept with the night before and how disgusted she’d been with his wardrobe.
“He can probably be trained,” Tracy would say, generally to herself, although Charlotte sat on the receiving end of the phone conversation. Charlotte hated talking on the phone almost as much as she hated Tracy’s dating habits.
All of this was neither here nor there, and Charlotte could only focus on the fact that it was another brainless phone conversation that left her driving right past Walgreens when she should have turned in. Not that Charlotte could necessarily judge anyone’s dating habits since her own love life was in shambles. Was there something worse than shambles? If there was, surely her mother had found the word to describe Charlotte’s poor state of love affairs. Her mother was a topic she couldn’t even bring herself to think about, not after their conversation yesterday. Their mother-daughter relationship was one filled with as much hate as it was love. Charlotte wasn’t one to throw the “h-word” around too lightly when it came to familial relationships, but damn, she hated her mom that day.
Charlotte turned the heat down just a touch, realizing how warm it’d gotten in her Toyota Camry. The car wasn’t much of a looker, but it certainly did the job. She never fixed the dent in the rear bumper leftover from last winter, much to her dad’s disapproval. But as she often told him, “The car still gets where it’s going with a crack in the bumper.” Why no one else understood this logic was beyond her. Although, with that said, she’s the asshole driving around her irritatingly affluent hometown in an 11-year-old car with a cracked bumper, amidst the Prius and Volvo drivers of the world.
The thought made her smirk. “Assholes”, she grumbled. She loved her car. It’d been new to her once, ages ago. Her 19th birthday. The down payment had been a gift from her parents. She immediately named the car Blue, which seemed pretty unoriginal given the car’s deep blue color. But Blue also happened to be Charlotte’s middle name, much to her chagrin as a child. Unfortunately, amongst her family and legions of childhood friends, Blue became a quick nickname, and eventually one that grew on Charlotte, and eventually her Camry.
She’ll never forget the conversation she had fifteen years ago with her mom about choosing Blue as a middle name. Her older sister was named Emily Jane, how the hell did she get stuck with Charlotte Blue?
“Charlotte, blue is the color of the ocean. The color of the sky. Blue holds promise. It holds mystery. It holds beauty. Just like you,” her mom told her, sitting across the kitchen table, taking a pull from her cigarette.
Charlotte was just fourteen at the time, but she was convinced, at that moment, that her mom was fucking crazy.
Blue had been good to her in 11 years. Countless road trips, endless back-and-forths between her parents’ modest home and her college campus two hours away. The windshield was littered with state parks stickers, which she was too stubborn to remove year after year. The bumper littered with miscellaneous running stickers and an Obama for President magnet that she proudly flashed around her conservative hometown.
Never mind that her car desperately needed an oil change, something she was habitually bad about doing. She liked to play that game where she’d see just how far she could push it before her car engine exploded. She looked at her odometer and cringed as she realized she was nearing 7,000 miles since her last oil change. She immediately added “oil change” to her to-do list.
On the radio, the afternoon hosts were debating the death of Michael Jackson, which, to be honest, Charlotte had completely forgotten about. He’d been dead since summer and that seemed ages ago now. A documentary had just been released that chronicled his preparations for a tour he never got a chance to start. Charlotte was never much of a Michael Jackson fan, but she once pulled off an incredible Thriller Halloween costume when she was 12, red leather jacket and all. Just then one DJ was making the argument that Michael was alive, arguing his death was faked so Michael could scurry away, having been consumed by millions and millions of dollars of debt. Charlotte flipped stations. Half the stations weren’t coming in clearly, so with irritation she tuned the radio back to where it had been before. Commercial break.
She finally took a minute to take in her surroundings. Though she despised where she was headed, she sure did love the drive. It was an alarmingly sunny day, and Charlotte was pissed she left her sunglasses on the kitchen counter. She sometimes forgot the sun shone during the winter as well. Sunglasses just felt out of place to her outside of the summer months.
She noticed her gas tank was getting low, so she made a plan to stop in the next town for gas. And coffee. Boy, she could use some coffee, she realized. Last night’s wine was doing her no favors this afternoon.
Coffee and a gas fill-up were on her mind when the first few notes of that wretched Black Eyed Peas song made their way through the speakers.