I founded and moderated a group called Pencils! Writing Workshop in Norwalk, Connecticut, from 2003-2009. One of our members, Nanette, introduced the group to NaNoWriMo, and a gaggle of us participated. We had a great time, but the best times were our weekly Friday Night Hang-Outs. Here we are after our first four days of writing, November 5, 2004, at Black Bear Saloon in SoNo (South Norwalk, the city’s entertainment district). Back Row, from left: Jen, A.J., Jill, me. Front row: Nanette, Tammy.
Yes, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year for the first time since 2009 (which I don’t really count, because I signed up and then never did anything, so let’s just call it 2008, ’kay?). Even though writing is a priority in my life and rises above all else—when I need to write, I stop everything and do it—NaNoWriMo seems to be one of those writing projects that I have to be in the mood to do, because for me, it’s about more than writing.
It’s about community, camaraderie, and freedom. Freedom to just write whatever you want, because you can. Freedom to make your entire life about whatever book it is you’re working on, and to never leave that fantasy no matter what’s going on in your reality. My first participation was in 2004, and I’ll never forget the wild sort of “I really don’t care if this is even literate, much less publishable” abandon, the days I spent hanging out in certain locations where the book was set, taking pictures; the Friday evenings I spent drinking wine after a long day of abusing the keyboard. NaNoWriMo not only taught me how to let go and write—a philosophy I still use today—it taught me how to have fun again. The same fun I used to have when I was writing stories about underwater universities and killer monsters from beneath the sea when I was a kid. The same fun that reminds me, this is how I got started on all this crap in the first place.
I have lots of NaNoWriMos-Past documentation in my basement—screen shots, all kinds of good stuff—but it all proved difficult to locate. I did, however, find pix of all the gathering fellow NaNoers and I would do every Friday night in November. Here are some fun pix from the heydays of my NaNoWriMos past: 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. If you want to follow my progress, check the counter on the right of the homepage of my website, or friend me/be my writing buddy at the username kristipetersen. Oh, yeah…and check out my YouTube series NaNoWrimo 2013 on my channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/KristiPSchoonover/videos. Want a preview before you dive in? Head on over to this page: http://kristipetersenschoonover.com/about/projects/nanowrimo-2013/
Here we all are later that night, clowning around with cigarettes. For the record, I think only one or two of us smoked.
This was the following year, Labor Day, 2005. It was early September, but we rented a house in Maine to start strategizing for that year’s NaNo and hash out some ideas. For the record, Bad Apple would come out of 2005’s event.
Thanks to all our planning, November 2005 was a rockin’ NaNo! We wrote like fiends from Saturday on and gathered to do some serious partying on the Friday nights. This was our first gathering of that year, in the same place—the Black Bear Saloon—where we’d kicked off the 2004 event. Friday, November 4, 2005.
Friday, November 4, 2005. The guy in the picture was a relatively new member of Pencils! Notice the file in the lower right hand corner—it contained all my research and notes for Bad Apple.
Tammy hides while Erica takes notes. Friday, November 4, 2005.
There was a great nightclub in SoNo called Martini’s (it’s not there anymore). They were having a costume party on Friday, November 11, although I’m not sure why. Anyway, we all dressed up as our favorite writers or fictional characters. I went as Anais Nin. I don’t remember who Nanette, on the right, went as. We had a really great time…so great I don’t remember a lot of it, so boy was it fun rediscovering these photos!
Left, AJ, and Jill.
Me and Jill. Jill went as Lolita; that novel had been a Pencils! Writing Workshop Book Club pick earlier in the year.
Nanette. Do you think she needs another glass of wine?
Jill and a friend walking toward the car. I only included this because I thought her Lolita costume was spot-on!
We had a mid-week party that year, too. Tuesday, November 15, we all dialed it back a notch and had dinner and drinks at Tammy’s house. It was a nice change of pace, but we were all starting to panic as the month was half over.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005. Sadly, this photo and the one above are the only two I took that night. I remember us staying until the wee hours (I might even have slept over). Those were good times!
Friday, November 18, 2005. I was in my third semester at Burlington College, and we would, at every residency, have a Friday Night Reading Series (we had some clever name for the event; damned if I can recall it now). Bad Apple, which I was still in the throes of finishing, was just about all I was working on, so I presented the complete opening scene to gauge the shock factor on its ending. It was met with more than just a positive response (it even surprised me)! For the record, Bad Apple would be edited and revised three times before it went out for submission, and three more times once Vagabondage Press Books bought it…but the opening scene, in essence, changed very little. It’s very close to the way it was originally written and presented that night.
Who doesn’t love NaNo swag? I’m one of those chicks that buys a lot of it! Here I am on November 17, 2006, sporting a NaNo temporary tattoo. I don’t think they sell these in the store anymore.
By 2007’s NaNo, many of the old Pencils! Workshop gang were pursuing other projects or doing other things. There wasn’t, at the time, a Fairfield County Region, so I found some people through the forums and we sort of “formed” our own. Eventually, one of the NaNoers I met did get a Fairfield County Region formed—and to this day he does a great job, and keeps at it year round. (Aside: Fairfield County is so large there really should be a “northern” region and a “southern” region; most of us up Danbury way don’t want to drive what amounts to an hour or more for write-ins…this year I’ve got a couple of friends who are doing this, so it’s likely we’ll do our own thing). Anyway…here was one of our first “unofficial region” gatherings at Rocco’s Restaurant in Brookfield, Connecticut. It was our “Kick-Off” party, October 28, 2007.
Me and Rob. I’m not sure, but I THINK that was his first NaNo. We both have plans to tie up loose ends with Read Short Fiction this year so we can have the whole month of November free to NaNo.
The receipt. Don’t ask me why I took a photo of this, but it’s a fun memory now.
November 4, 2007: Our write-in was at the Borders in Danbury (long gone, building still vacant).
One of our favorite write-in spots was the Starbucks up in New Milford. We met there on several occasions. November 11, 2007.
Rob writes on his NEO at the New Milford Starbucks. I was so enamored with it I bought one, too. I’ve written more than a few good short stories on it since then, among them “Bridging Christmas.”
A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.