3 Day Novel Memories

Normally, Labor Day Weekend brings about thoughts of family reunions, cookouts, and the beginning of school (not to mention the economic and social contributions of workers). But for the last few years, it has had very different associations for me. I think of long nights, early mornings, and typing until my fingers ache and my eyes dry out. You see, Labor Day Weekend is the official time-frame for the 3-Day Novel Contest.

It was shortly after the formation of the Weaklings, my writer’s group, that one of our members told us about the 3-Day Novel Contest.

“You write a novel in three days,” he said, as though that were something that could be done. Some of us had already been working on novels for three years at that point.

“What?” said the rest of us.

We looked up the information online. Sure enough. One novel, three days.

Of course, outlining and character development ahead of time were not against the rules. The only real rule was that you couldn’t start the “Once upon a time…” until midnight between Friday night and Saturday morning and you had to be done by midnight between Monday night and Tuesday morning.

And so I outlined. My story idea that first year was about a dystopian world where sound was illegal. The main character gets caught up in the underground movement to overthrow the government. Action ensues.

I remember that year fondly. Writing it was fun, but the best part for me was the outlining. When I explained the bones of the world and my storyline to my beautiful wife, she caught the vision right away and helped me think through a lot of the details.

“What about cars? How do people get around without making any noise?” she would ask.

“Electric cars, Maglev trains, and very quiet shoes. Besides, people aren’t really allowed to move around outside of their cities anymore,” I would say.

“What about babies?” she would say. “Babies can’t help but make noise.”

“When a woman reaches a certain point in her pregnancy, she has to go to a sound proof birthing facility where she will stay with her child for ten years, living in relative sound freedom while the kids are taught sign language and warned of the dangers of sound. This way, the father role can be assumed completely by the government.”

“How about pets? Do people have pets?”

“Sure, but they have to get them from government-approved pet shops after their vocal cords have been removed.”

“What about their claws on wood floors?” she would ask. “Click, click, click.”

“Booties,” I would say.

Issue after issue, we thought about how to create a silent world. And I must say that I really believe that many of our ideas would work. They would require a tyrannical government, but that was okay because my story had that too.

And then fellow Weakling, Andrew Rogers, contacted Ann Byle, a writer at the time for the Grand Rapids Press and got us a story in the newspaper (read it here). Suddenly, it was more than just a private thing my writer’s group was doing. Now it was a real thing. It was something that told the world that I was a writer, not just someone who dabbled in stringing sentences together.

And then the actual weekend came.

It was my first attempt at writing something longer than a short story. I was already more attached to my characters than I realized, because by the end of the novel when some bad things happen, I felt like a monster forcing my characters to deal with the evils I had designed for them. It was the first time that I felt bad about being mean to a fictional person.

During the weekend, the Weaklings all stayed under one roof. We woke at odd hours to start writing, we ate when someone was appointed to cook, and we shouted out word counts and save reminders often enough to spur each other on to longer and better novels.

And when it was done, we all had first drafts. They were terrible first drafts, but I remember thinking at the time that any of us could have won the contest. It wasn’t too far out there that one of us had written something amazing.

We’ve done the contest every year since.

Except for this year. This year, we are all taking a break from new novels. This year, we are honing our existing novels, prepping them for publication, and grooming our platforms.

But next year, we will all be famous published authors, and, if our book tours permit us, we will hole ourselves up again for another 3-day Novel Contest.

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Check out the other Weaklings’ blogs below for their 3-day Novel Memories.

For all the times I’ve mentioned “3-day Novel” on my blog, click here.

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100 Word Challenge | Being clear is essential to…

Connover lingered by Greg’s headstone. Why did he kill himself?

What didn’t his co-worker have that Connover hadn’t wanted first? The promotion, the new BMW, Emily.

Many times he’d imagined Greg’s death, but when he heard Greg boast of his exploits with the girl of his dreams, it was himself he wished dead. Now this.

Maybe it isn’t a coincidence, said a wicked thought. Maybe there was a reason that Greg got what you wished for yourself. Maybe you were the reason. Maybe you could test it somehow.

How? thought Connover.

Want something specific. Being clear is essential. To test this, you’ll need proof.

Hmm…

The Future of Books | A Response

I recently attended the Baker Book House Youth Pastors’ Breakfast. I’m not a youth pastor; I was there because I work for Baker Book House. But I still got to eat a delicious breakfast (catered by the coffee shop that will be in our store when the renovation is complete, Icons Coffee) and listen to the guest speaker, Thomas Bergler.

Bergler is associate professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University and the author of The Juvenilization of American Christianity (read the article that preceded the book here). His presentation at the breakfast was great if a little heady for eight o’clock in the morning. He went through the history of youth ministry and touched on the reasons why modern American Christianity resembles the youth rallies of yesteryear much more than the traditional models which had served for many hundreds of years. But the most interesting thing that he said, the thing that stuck in my mind, he mentioned in passing.

Photo Credit – John Reeves

Bergler quoted the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan when he mentioned that “the medium is the message”. What that means is that the way that we experience a message becomes part of the message and interprets how we receive that message. A message may be something you listen to, something you read, something you watch on the big screen, the small screen, or the stage, and in each instance, though the message is the same, the reception of the message will be different. The medium leaks in.

Think of any book that has been made into a movie. When you are reading the book, your mind is free to imagine the distinct facial characteristics of the characters. When you see the movie that was based on that book, this power has been taken away from you, but you may be better able to understand another aspect of the story that wasn’t readily apparent in the book.

Recently, Andrew Rogers, an employee at a major Christian publishing house and a friend of mine, posted a video on his blog introducing some up-and-coming developments in the e-book industry by a company called IDEO. Take a minute and go watch the video. It’s pretty cool. After the video, Rogers asked the question, “Does the future of books presented here by IDEO excite you? Or not? Why?”

Since the “media is the message” concept was still fresh in my mind when I watched the video, I couldn’t help but see that this turn in the publishing industry will help users experience content in a new and entertaining way, just like the television introduced a dimension to a radio world. But just like the television and the radio, I believe that there is room in the world for both forms of publishing.

E-books in general and IDEO’s presentation in specific present us with a brand new medium for messages. This medium is more interactive than the traditional book, it’s true. But saying that one model is better than the other, placing expectations on them to perform in a certain way, is like comparing apples and oranges, and then complaining that a caramel dipped orange tastes gross.

The printed word has been around for a very long time, and I am confident that it will be long after e-books have planted the seed for the next major innovation in new mediums comes to fruition.

I am not frightened by the e-book. I am excited to see how the medium enhances the message. I would love to write a book for an interactive medium like this, but it would need to be intentional. A screenwriter for a television show writes television screenplays, he doesn’t write 800 page novels for each episode. Writers hoping to succeed in the IDEO e-book world will need to write with their medium in mind, lest their message fall flat because it could have been better as a non-gimmicky traditional book.

In conclusion, the loud voices that herald the downfall of the traditional book model in favor of the e-book remind me of the first video that MTV ever played. Sure we have music videos, but we still have radio too.

50 Words, 1 Character | 4 Examples

The other day, I announced a new Flash Fiction Challenge, but I didn’t give you any examples. Consider this post the remedy for that wrong. Below you will find my 50 word character introductions to the main characters of my last three 3-Day Novel entries plus one that I will be writing soon.

If you haven’t done so already, check out the challenge and enter your own 50 word character description!

Daniel O’Ryan – Fathered by a demon, raised in an orphanage, and more powerful than he knows, Daniel O’Ryan is about to start his freshman year at a new school, the prestigious Blackwood Academy. But when his powers begin to manifest, Daniel must decide who he truly is, man, demon, or something more?

Ezra Stone – Ezra Stone blames the Union for his wife’s death in the birthing center. If only he could have been with her, he might have done something. But laws in the silent society dictated that she go alone to sound-proof facility. Soon, Ezra’s grief will make itself heard around the world.

Quentin Roosevelt – Youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Quentin is eager to get into the Great War. But when his bi-plane is downed over France, Roosevelt is given the chance to fight an even greater war. Faking his death, Quentin sets out for the mysterious artifacts that grant mastery over time itself.

Connover Swofford – It seems that everything Connover Swofford wants, someone else gets. But when his depression hits a new low, and his successful co-worker commits suicide, Connover realizes that it isn’t just the good things that happen to those around him. Can he use his new-found powers to improve his own lot?

I’ll be posting my thoughts to this excellent post by Andrew Rogers on my blog tomorrow or the day after. Stay tuned!

Tell Better Stories

A friend of mine recently sent me this video. It was a good refresher to see it again. The publishing team I work with at Zondervan watched it together some time ago. We’ve also spent hours discussing the future of books and different times. It’s an ongoing conversation in book publishing and retail circles everywhere right now. Before giving my thoughts on the video and the ideas it presents, I wonder what yours are?

Specifically, my question for you, the writer of a future book, does the future of books presented here by IDEO excite you? Or not? Why?

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I am unsure where the boundries are when it comes to new people and practical jokes.

It was the summer after what should have been my final year at Western Michigan University. I had completed all but my internship for my the requirements of my major, and I just landed the perfect job at YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin in Middleville, Michigan, my hometown.

I was to be the Visiting Groups and Weekends Director for the camp. This put me at third in line to inherit leadership of the camp behind the director and Assistant/Summer Camp Director. Like all great camp jobs, YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin would provide me with nice housing and free food, plus a small amount of money so I could buy things like clothes and Tom Hanks movies. But best of all, the job would count toward my internship requirements.

My job was to coordinate the visits of all outside groups to the camp during the summer. YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin is the official camp for all YMCAs in the Greater Grand Rapids Area, which at the time meant around five or six different youth centers. Each center would send a group of kids to the camp once or twice a week. And then there were the groups on the weekends: boy scouts, girl scouts, youth groups, future farmers of America, and so on. So, while the camp was already full with kids staying at summer camp, kids visiting for day camp, and kids attending horse camp, it was my job to squeeze in these outside groups, giving them varied experiences using the camp’s many resources.

But I digress. I was setting up my office when a package came in the mail for the Visiting Groups Director. I opened it to find an informational kit dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. There were brochures, there were diagrams, there was even a VHS tape for sufferers of IBS. I was confused.

I took the package to the Summer Camp Director who had just been promoted from the job which I now occupied. She instantly recognized it as part of some program associated with Women’s Health that a visiting group had signed up for. Why they sent it to the camp instead of to the group who had visited was a bit of a mystery, but that was the explanation for why we got it.

As I was in her office, getting this explanation, the Camp Director welcomed me to the camp. Outside of the initial interview, this was the first time we had spoken.

“Welcome to the team,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Hey,” he said. “Did you see the thing about the camp that was on the news the other night?”

I told him that I hadn’t. He handed me a VHS tape.

“You should watch it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I heard that it was a nice piece and it might help you know a little more about the camp. Just return it to me when you are done.”

“Sure thing,” I said.

I took the VHS from the Director and the IBS package back to my office to finish setting things up.

The next day, I took the VHS from the IBS packet and put it into the sleeve of the VHS that the Director gave me and gave it back to the Director. That night, he popped the tape into his VCR, ready to see the great news story that everyone had been telling him about. Instead, he watched about five minutes of a video for sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fast-forwarded it a bit, rewound it a bit, and finally popped the tape out to look at the label.

Sure enough, it was not the video he had lent me. Now, he was confused.

He found me the next day. I asked him how the news story was. He laughed.

“When I first saw what it was,” he said, “I was confused. I double-checked the sleeve, but it was the one that I let you borrow. Then I looked at the video itself and I thought ‘Did the new guy really just make me watch a video about IBS after meeting only once before?'”

“I did,” I said. “I did.”

“Well played,” he said. “That was a risk, you know. But you made me laugh. I’m glad you are here.”

I was glad to be there too.

Book Club Report | A Game of Thrones

Well, the book discussion was last night. I can proudly say that a good time was had by all who attended, both of us. With legitimate excuses, the others who I expected to show up were unable, which left the responsibility of filling two hours with intelligent discussion about George R. R. Martin in the capable hands of my friend Bruce and myself.

By the way, if you don’t want any spoilers for A Game of Thrones, you should stop reading this post and go read A Game of Thrones. But I digress…

After claiming a booth in the back of Graydon’s Crossing, Bruce and I started off the evening with genial conversation. By the time we were done shooting the breeze and settled into the idea of looking over the menu, our waitress has visited the table three times to see if we were ready to order. The fourth time was the charm, however. Bruce ordered the Beer City Pale Ale, a drink that was the collaboration of 10 local breweries in celebration of the fact that Grand Rapids, Michigan was recently crowned “Beer City, USA“. I couldn’t make up my mind, so I got a sampler of three beers, the Beer City Pale Ale, Dragonmead Sin Eater, and Magner’s Irish Cider.

Once the drinks got to the table, our discussion began. Bruce had painstakingly taken and typed up notes for all of the points and themes that he wished to discuss, only to leave them accidentally at home. He did remember the chart that he found though, which proved invaluable in discussing the different characters and remembering all of their names.

We discussed our views on who the main character of the novel was and whether Martin gave us any heroes. Bruce made the case that Eddard Stark was the main character of the book, as most of the plot revolved around him and his struggle to act morally in increasingly evil scenarios. I thought that the true hero of the book was Tyrion Lannister, as his character develops from being the court fool to being instructed to rule over his nephew, the new king. Tyrion’s ability to rise to the top of whatever situation he is in, to inspire others to follow him, and to overcome his brokenness puts him in the hero spot in my opinion.

We talked about what Martin was trying to say by showing that Eddard’s strict moral code led to his downfall, while Tyrion’s flexible morality meant his survival. We didn’t really come to a conclusion on the matter, assuming that the theme had not fully played out by the end of the book one and that we would be able to better see the author’s intentions further into the series.

We talked about how surprising it was that Martin allowed the book to be made into an HBO mini-series, given his views on fan-fiction and allowing others to have control over his characters.

We discussed the different points of view that were used to tell the tale. We both enjoyed the fact that we got to see the story through so many of the character’s eyes. And jumping from conflict to conflict kept the story interesting and fast-paced. We talked about the fact that While most of the Starks got to present the story from their own lips, Robb and Rickon were left out. We see their stories through the lens of either Jon, Bran, or Catelyn. Also, Ser Jaime Lannister was notably absent in the narrator’s seat. The reasons we came up with were that the characters of Rickon and Ser Jaime were mostly one-dimensional (they don’t undergo any great change throughout the book) and narration from their perspective would have been tiresome. For Robb though, we are held at a distance, I think, because he is undergoing too great a change to portray well from his own perspective. At the beginning of the story, Robb is pretend fighting with sticks, but by the end of the story, he is taking on Ser Jaime and leading a group of battle-hardened warriors and ends up being named “King of the North”.

This led to a discussion on the different claims to the throne by the end of the book. With Robert dead, Joffrey takes the throne, though he is not Robert’s real son. The rightful heir of Robert is a bastard working in an armorer’s shop. Though with that knowledge being secret to most, many of those in the realm  believe that Stannis Baratheon will challenge Joffrey’s kingship and take it by force, but then who claims the kingship by Stannis’ younger brother Renly. And that is leaving out the fact that the Baratheon line was only just established on the throne after the Targaryen line has been exiled and Daenerys is fast-approaching to reclaim the empire for herself. But very little of this will matter when the Others overcome the wall (across which another character has claimed to be King Beyond the Wall) and reign down their undead terrors upon the living.

After this, we discussed the leadership styles and some of the differences in the societal structures between the kingdoms, the wall, and the plains. We talked about our favorite scenes and favorite quotes (“Mercy is never a mistake” – Eddard Stark) and what really happened in the tent when the maegi took over care for Khal Drogo.

In the end, we both agreed that George R. R. Martin knows how to tell a good tale. And since I got the second book in the series for my birthday, I’m looking forward to digging into the continued story.

That, however, is not the next book club selection. For anyone wishing to join next month’s book discussion (and digitally contributing in the comments is good too), we’ll be reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs.

We decided to alternate fiction with non-fiction, and both of us liked the idea of reading Chabon. It’s also topic-appropriate, since Bruce and his wife are going to have a baby, and my wife and I just had another one.

Long post today. Just the way it goes sometimes. Anyway, thanks for reading!