From the Sublime to the Funtime

Sunday afternoon I participated in a Japanese tea ceremony, a contemplative, educational cultural event.  Later that same day I attended the Sonoma-Marin Region of Nanowrimo’s Thank God It’s Over party—a cultural event also, of a different culture.


Our thoughtful and capable municipal leader Debbie reserved a room at the Petaluma Round Table Pizza Parlor.  I had never been there, but when I walked in with Lillian it felt like I had slipped through a time-portal.  I had been there, just not at that geographic location.  There was a Round Table in my home town in the 1970s and 80s. (It’s a sushi restaurant now.) It had exactly the same brownish shag carpet, the same patterned linoleum, the same salad bar in the middle of the downstairs room.  The dark fake-wood paneling was the same, as was the narrow staircase with the hundred-eighty-degree switchback at the landing.  The long tables with backless turquoise padded benches were the same.  I guess if something works for you, you don’t mess with it.


Debbie had reserved part of the large L-shaped room upstairs, the Excalibur Room, for the Wrimos, and had a table by the stairs with name tags, a pen, and the Nanowrimo logo.  She asked us to put our names and our username so people knew who we were.  Many of the regional folks had hung out on the forums during November, so usernames were helpful.  Lillian generously bought dinner; a Maui Zowie—also a blast from the past, except I didn’t remember bacon crumbles on the Hawaiian pizza I used to order in the dark ages.  Margaret joined us.  We’d seen her at a few of the library write ins.  Margaret has a sardonic sense of humor and is writing a detective novel with a schizophrenic detective.  It’s dark humor, not meant as a procedural, and sounds hilarious.  A few minutes later we invited James to join us since he was at the table behind us by himself.  James’s story is about an independent film director who is bipolar and currently off his medication, trying to make a film.  Margaret and James were amused and intrigued by my idea of North America—the United States—balkanizing into separate nations, which is, in my opinion, the least original thing in my book.



There were about 20 wrimos there, which I thought was a good turnout.  I talked briefly to Elizabeth, she of the raven-and-wolf-themed paranormal romance. 


Debbie had a program in mind, and after most of us had finished eating she got into it.


First she and another wrimo read their worst sentence or paragraph written during the month of November.  Remember, this point is word count, not quality.  Debbie’s was recursive and funny.  A younger woman at the back of the room, who I also think had garnered some acclaim for having a high word count during the month, also read one which I don’t remember well. 


Then Debbie asked if people would like to read excerpts.  About nine of us agreed to.  One lady read—or performed—a hilarious section from her novel, where the characters are being introduced as they make a Zodiac raft ride to an island (presumably,though not stated, in Puget sound) to study Orcas.  The viewpoint character is female first person and everyone else on the raft is male.  Our author-reader was an excellent performer, and I nearly had to put my head down on the table once, I was laughing so hard.


Another woman read a section from her police procedural about domestic violence.  “Idiosyncratic Goldfish”  shared a bit from her steampunk novel with its beautiful and mysterious heroine Lady Samantha Fortune.  As a bonus, she gave a clear description of what steampunk is (Victorian sensibility with the technology carried forward to 20th century levels–steam driven tanks, ships, airships, etc). James read a charming scene from his book.  I read a short section from the first third of mine.  I had been starting to worry, because everyone at the beginning was funny, but then the domestic violence author read and I felt better.  She was a good person to follow.  I had to take off my glasses to see the page, so I couldn’t see faces, which meant I wasn’t very nervous at all.


Lillian read a section from her fan fiction.  The dialogue was great and she created the feeling of embarrassment a young man might feel in a certain situation.  She also did a great job of introducing her main character who functions somewhat as the antagonist in her piece.


Debbie and another woman then handed out buttons and prizes for things like:  “Most caffeine consumption,”  “Longest stretch during the month without writing,” (won by the eleven year old boy behind me); “Best example of putting your relatives in your book” (won by Elizabeth for the delightfully eccentric Ava);  “Secret novel writing—you wrote at work,” and so on.  The competition was not rigorous.  Whoever got their hand up first won.  The “dry stretch” was the only one that was quantitative.  Lillian originally won for three days when she was sick, but she hadn’t heard the boy behind me.  When she asked him how long he’d gone and he said a week, she handed over the button.


There were some buttons left over and Lillian presented me with one for “best writing buddy.”  I was touched and very appreciative.  It’s the “I Eat Novels for Breakfast” button and I just may find an occasion to wear it to work.


The event started at six and we left a little after eight.  It had rained while we were inside the pavement was wet, but it clearly hadn’t rained hard and it was dry all the way home. 


Great fun!  Spending an evening with a group of total strangers is like purgatory to me, but this group was so friendly and encouraging that they soon felt like old friends. Wrimo does create a sense of community.  Write ins are continuing at book stores and libraries and probably several groups will continue, springing up from Sunday’s event. 


If I think about what Nanowrimo’s value is, other than good fun and a way to jump-start your writing, I think about the eleven year old at the table next to me.  He got about halfway through the word-count.  He had a mom who supported him, but he also had the website and the community.  The novel isn’t dead; it’s sleeping in the hearts and minds of young people like him.  Let’s keep that safe.  And let’s have some fun!  Mark your calendars, November, 2010.  Can you write 50,000 words?  I think you can.



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