Belonging to All Things Story
One day my revered Shakespeare professor Dr. A. Fred Sochatoff says to me, “Miss Kinneavy, please don’t try and make a living as a writer. Be, I don’t know, a nurse.”
Well, it’s 1976 and I’m a feminist. I reject the only careers historically open to women–teachers, home makers, and nurses. No way am I being any of those. Plus, being a nurse requires a left brain, of which I have none. But if not a writer, what?
I’d wanted to be a writer since I read my first sentence: See Dick. And my second sentence: See Jane. I was, like, six, and it took two sentences for me to get engrossed in all things story.
My feelings were really hurt by Dr. Sochatoff because I interpreted his comment to mean, “Don’t think you can write anything really good and artistic. You will fail and be poverty stricken.” So instead I became a very successful writer of other people’s stuff: reports, testimony, proposals for funding, you name it. And for about 30 years I have supported myself and helped support my family as a writer.
But Dr. Sochatoff’s comment haunts me. If it’s true that you’re supposed to write what you love to read, then I should be writing a Color Purple or a Cold Mountain or at least a Hunger Games.
Then in 2008 I thought, screw you, Dr. Sochatoff. I’m writing a novel. This was when I learned about National Novel Writing Month: Nanowrimo.
Nanowrimo was started maybe 20 years ago by some people who were tired of whining about how they always wanted to write a novel but just didn’t have time. So November became the month in which you would commit to writing 50,000 words. That’s one thousand, six hundred and sixty six words each day: Thank you Bill Gates for word count.
In 2008 I’m testing out whether I could be a stand-up comic, and it just isn’t a good fit.
a) Try to find parking anywhere near the Topaz.
b) If your relatives come see you, you feel duty bound to buy them drinks, so it gets expensive.
c) I kinda suck at it.
So I channel my stand-up ambitions by making my main Nanowrimo character a comic who kills it all the time. Her name is Bootsie Kincaid, and the working title of the novel is “The Heckler Gets His.”
The good thing about Nanowrimo is that it’s all about the word count, not the content. There’s no time to edit. But I still have to write the story. While I have a root canal. While I’m still writing for other people, shuttling my daughter to school, EATING. And the novel doesn’t go all that well. It’s just as hard to write stand up material for Bootsie as it is for myself.
I make her husband this macho guy who drives in monster truck competitions, which I know nothing about. Her best friend is in the NSA, which, back then, I also know nothing about. And when the guy stalking Bootsie so he can heckle her winds up dead in a parking lot where she’s working, I’m not sure what to do next. Did she kill him? If not her, who? Police come on the scene; her husband hires a private detective to find out who this guy really is and what he really wants.
I wind up dead in the water. Not only did I know I wasn’t writing the great American novel, I get stuck and really aren’t writing any novel. I finish at 27,000 words with no denouement in sight.
In 2011 I decide to try Nanowrimo again. The only problem is that on October 31st I still don’t have a clue about a story.
Then I’m talking to my brother Mike on the phone and he says, “Did I tell you about this wedding I went to last weekend?”
“Who got married?”
“You don’t know him, he’s somebody I work with. Anyway, he met his wife while she was digging through his trash looking for stuff to sell on eBay. And she is so into eBay that her sister gave her one of those wedding cake knives, and she sold it on eBay BEFORE the wedding.”
So on November 1st I begin writing my novel, Addicted to eBay. And I don’t just want to write 50,000 words: I want a finished novel. So I have my main character Lenore meet her future husband Ben, and she gets her two best friends to help her find stuff to sell on eBay. But one of them, Sissy, gets stuff from shady pawn shops and Lenore ends up unknowingly selling stolen goods. Then her other friend, Angela, starts helping little old ladies empty out their houses, which their heirs don’t like, so the local police get involved. Then Lenore’s grandmother turns out to have an early painting of Roy Lichtenstein’s in her attic that’s worth $15 million. Lenore gets accused of stealing the painting, her relationship with Ben is on the rocks, and on November 29, all of my characters are in jail. And I have 24 hours to get them out.
And this amazing thing happens: I write for 10 solid hours. I drink barrels of coffee and eat tons of chocolate. I hammer away at the keyboard at my usual 120 words per minute. And ideas just jump out at me: Have Sissy threaten to drag the pawn shop owner’s beloved brother, who’s a career marine, into the fray, so that she agrees to stop testifying against Lenore. Have Grandma find an old photograph of her and Lenore’s grandfather standing in Lichtenstein’s studio in 1946 that proves she bought the painting. Have grateful little old ladies storm the jail. Have the main characters all get rich when the painting gets bought up by the Frick. And let Lenore’s sister impersonate somebody else and challenge Lenore in an eBay auction to get her cake-cutter back, with Lenore having to pay her $1,000. It is just a brilliant ending, at nearly 51,372 words.
So is this a deep and literary novel? No. But it IS whole and complete. And it’s not the last one. So take that, Dr. Sochatoff.