A novel idea

Halloween has come and gone, hardly noticed here in chocolate land. Yesterday, the schoolkids traipsed by my house at lunch wearing normal clothing. It was so sad. Nobody got to wear a costume to school. (The Swiss don’t celebrate any holidays or birthdays at school, to be fair. School is for learning, not for partying.) Last night, despite my brimming basket of specially-purchased candy (I made an extra trip) we only had one group ring the doorbell. I even had a candle-filled pumpkin on the windowsill to beckon them in.

Maybe I got a bad reputation for what I did last year, when the village kids came trick-or-treating on October 30.

Come back tomorrow night, I’d said, genuinely shocked when they showed up at the door. I didn’t have any candy! (I can’t buy it more than one day in advance or I eat it all.) Today is not Halloween! The date is not negotiable!

Or maybe they remembered the year before, when I’d tried to explain Halloween etiquette. You have to say “trick or treat,” I instructed. I waited until they complied. And when you leave, you’re supposed to say “happy Halloween!”

In any case, it appears they’ve learned to avoid the snarky American lady with the ceramic pumpkin in the windowsill.

Never mind. More candy for me. Now it’s November, and as soon as I’ve saved my health by unloading the excess candy on my former office mates over at EPFL, I’m going to get down to business.

I’ve done a rash thing. I’ve signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Although the name is misleading (it’s not limited to Americans or US residents), I think the overall idea is good. You’re supposed to crank out a novel in a month. You “win” if you manage to write 50,000 words. Nobody judges your work and there are no literary prizes involved. I love winning.

How hard can it be? I figure at 1,000 words a day, it’ll take me  50 days — oops. November only has 30 days. Recalibrate.

Hey, at 2,000 words a day, I’ll get five days off!

I already crank out nearly that in translations and blog posts every month. And I’m planning to refuse work for the next 30 days and hijack my blog, at least for a couple of posts, for excerpts from the developing novel.

Here’s the premise: Twenty-something writer in university communications office (gee, I wonder where I got that idea?) interviews highly reputed scientist professor x who is studying hot topic with big medical implications. Postdoc comes in during interview, meets writer, there’s chemistry. They start dating, writer discovers by accident that there might be more going on in professor x’s lab than meets the eye, and postdoc is not who he claims to be. Writer’s geek friend in the IT department (who is secretly in love with her) helps her uncover the secret using sophisticated hacking techniques and unsophisticated sneaky spying maneuvers. Things quickly get really weird and scary for writer who nonetheless saves the day (and keeps her job).

I just counted all those words – that’s 118 towards today’s total!

What do you think? Would you like me to post a few excerpts as I go? I might eventually put up the whole shebang on another part of my publishing empire site. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

I’m going to need help coming up with names, because I’m really terrible at that. I’ll need a name for the main character, for professor x, for the head of the communications office, for the geek in the IT department, and for the evil postdoc. (He has to be Swiss, though, keep that in mind.) The setting is in the US. I’m just not comfortable with all the language issues that I’d have to deal with if I set it here in Switzerland. If I pick a name you suggest, I’ll send you a free copy once the book is published! Hopefully this NaNoWriMo will get my butt in gear so it won’t be a decade before that happens…

While we’re on the topic of writing, I found a really cool website the other day, called Nieman Storyboard. It’s “a project of the nieman foundation for the study of journalism at harvard” (no caps) that basically deconstructs really good writing to see why it works so well. You get twice the bang for your buck: first, you find out about some really fantastic writing, and second, you find out why it’s such good writing. I’m hoping some of it will rub off on me.

David Dobbs’  deconstruction of Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair article about the Greek Financial crisis knocked my socks off. I learned more from Lewis’ article than from all the newspaper stories I’ve read up to this point. It’s just so much more interesting to read what he writes. If you’re curious about the European debt crisis, read the Vanity fair article. If you’re interested in writing, read Dobbs on why it’s so great.

That should keep you busy for a while! I do promise, however, to write a post on junk DNA soon. I have some interesting stuff to share. And update you on my barefoot running progress (or lack thereof). Man, there aren’t enough hours in a day, even with daylight savings’ time…

Image: Marwa Morgan

5 thoughts on “A novel idea

  1. Journalist: Sheila Dahlgren
    Postdoc: Michael Xi
    Computer nerd: Ned Stanton

    Hopefully we’ll hear from you before Christmas! Good luck!!

  2. Possibly a bit reminiscent of the scientific intrigue that takes place in the lab–The novel is “Intuition” by Allegra Goodman???? I am looking forward to reading your book. Please post excerpts.

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