I told myself I shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I have last year’s novel sitting on my computer, still unedited and indeed even unread (by me, anyway—Steve has read some of it). Last year’s novel was a really personal book. It was a mutt—a conflation of several stories in my own family’s history combined with a little bit of Shakespeare. I want to return to it, but in some ways, writing it took a lot out of me, and I can’t tell if I’m afraid it’s bad or if I’m afraid it’s good or what. I know I need to look at it, though.
I really enjoyed NaNoWriMo last year. I enjoyed participating. I enjoyed reading other people’s forum posts and keeping up with my writing buddies’ progress. I enjoyed reading the #nanowrimo tweets of my friends, too. I have a few Twitter friends participating this year. Writing can feel kind of lonely, and it’s fun to do it as a community.
The story I’m writing this year is interesting to me. I took a course in Celtic literature in college. We spent about half the quarter—UGA used to be on a quarter system rather than a semester system—studying ancient Irish mythology, and then we switched to Welsh mythology. The stories are wonderful, and in my estimation, every bit as good as their more popular mythic cousins from Ancient Greece and Rome. We read stories from all four cycles: the Mythological Cycle, the Historical Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Fenian Cycle. My favorites were from the Ulster Cycle—stories of Cú Chulainn. We read Thomas Kinsella’s translation of the Taín Bó Cúailnge, which Kinsella titled simply The Tain. We also read stories collected in Early Irish Myths and Sagas, and I remember having to go to the library to read stories from a book our professor had on reserve in the library. I can’t recall anymore what that book was, but she had tried to order it for us to purchase in the bookstore, but the order never came through.
Other writers have found inspiration in these ancient myths. Morgan Llywelyn, for instance, has written several books about them. One idea I had was a straight historical fiction-type retelling of the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows, which is one of the most popular of the Ulster Cycle stories. However, it’s a pretty sad tale. It ends in the deaths of the lovers, and I didn’t really want a sad ending this time round. I don’t have anything against them, but the end of Deirdre is pretty bleak and sad, and I just wasn’t feeling all that dark this month, I guess. I also wanted a little bit of spookiness in the story. I think that’s the influence of the R.I.P. Challenge. I didn’t know if I wanted ghosts or some other kind of supernatural element, but I settled on that creepy sense of déjà vu that some folks attribute to prophecy and others say is due to reincarnation. I will state here that I don’t believe in reincarnation, but it makes a pretty fun literary device. I do think some strange things can be passed down the generations, maybe some kind of residual memory that serves as a connection to people. I think it’s why we respond to certain types of art more than others. I think we tend to like the kinds of things our family has always liked. I know that sounds weird, and maybe I’m not explaining it well. Anyway, Ireland has an amazing, rich mythological past that is begging to be adapted into speculative fiction.
So, my Deirdre Evans is a teenager living in modern day Londonderry, Massachusetts (which I don’t think exists), the grandchild of immigrants from Northern Ireland who came to America because of the Troubles. She is a junior at Ulster High School, and is being a little aggressively pursued by big man on campus and football player Connor, but she meets and falls in love with a boy name Nate, who goes to Alba High School and is a guitarist and singer for his band the Sons of Uselessness. I admit it is a little bit of a silly premise, but I’m having fun with it. As the book progresses, Deirdre comes to realize that she is reliving the tragic events of the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows, and this time, she needs to try to make sure it doesn’t end so tragically for everyone involved. Obviously, the trouble is that it’s so crazy on the surface that she’ll have a hard time convincing others that she’s right.
Anyway, the weird thing is how easily it’s coming out. I don’t know whether to just be happy about that or if I should be worried it’s really bad. The idea came to me in the eleventh hour. Literally. I was at a conference for Georgia independent school teachers in Atlanta, sitting in a session on using speculative fiction, when I came up with it. It was right about 2:00 P.M. or so on the day NaNoWriMo started that I finally had an idea I thought I could use. We’re on day 6, and I have managed to meet my word count each day—one day it took me an hour! I wrote some 1500 to 1600 words in an hour! I’ll start to second guess myself. For instance, my character Deirdre will look up something on Wikipedia or check out Facebook, and I’ll tell myself maybe I shouldn’t put that in there, but the fact is that I teach teenagers, and these are two extremely popular websites with them. So what if it dates the novel? Is that bad? Aren’t a lot of classics we read now really tied to the times in which they were written, but still somehow speak to us years later? Anyway, I became convinced that references to these types of websites would be interesting to teenagers. And I also decided that if I were to pursue publication, and my publishers didn’t agree, it could be edited pretty easily. Right now, what I need to focus on is telling the story I want to tell. Maybe it’s just something you get better at the longer you write. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll have trouble later, so if it’s flowing now, I should just be happy about it and try to get ahead as much as I can to make up for down days. One thing I know it isn’t is classic literature. It is, however, a pretty decent story that I think would appeal to YA audiences.
photo credit: Flabber DeGasky