NaNoWriMo is always a busy time of year, even without the 50,000 word commitment, and as my fourth NaNoWriMo kicks into gear I find myself halfway through the first semester of a graduate degree at the University of Oklahoma.
I’m taking “Writing the Screenplay” which requires me to write a feature-length movie by mid-December, and I’m taking “Category Fiction” which has me reading 12 novels in 14 weeks. I’ll be writing a major paper (15-20 pages, worth 25% of my grade) over Die Trying, a novel by Lee Child, and that’ll be due the day before Thanksgiving break.
Knowing I’d have a major paper due late in NaNoWriMo, I decided to get an early start on it (probably for the first time in my academic career). So I spent last week finishing up our last Fantasy novel (A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, which I highly recommend), and then dove straight into Die Trying.
I read it in two days, and over the weekend I got a rough draft of my paper written. I’m pretty proud of myself. I also found myself having to fight the urge to buy the next book in the series — for the first time this semester.
At this point, we as a class have read six books: How to Train Your Dragon, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, The Cinderella Deal, First Lady, Hunger Games, and A Curse Dark as Gold. I’ve really like four of those (all but the two Romance titles in the middle). I’ve recommended them. I’ve defended them in class discussions.
Mainly I’ve defended them against one particular classmate, Jordan, who’s the most outspoken aside from me. And he’s viciously critical. I’ve learned over these few weeks that there are readers who expect extraordinary things from every book they pick up. He’s one of them.
He’s also become a good friend. After class we’ll walk to the parking garage together, carrying on a conversation we didn’t have time to finish during the 75-minute period. And last time, as we were walking, I asked him how he could be such an avid reader if he hated books so much.
He tilted his head, and said,
I don’t hate them. Oh, I can be critical, but it’s because I’m always looking for the best. The only time you’ll hear me say, ‘This book is awesome!’ is when that’s the best book I’ve read — by that author, or on that topic, or in that genre. Once I’ve read that, though, everything worse than that book is just okay. It might be better than average, but if it’s not as good as the best, I can’t really sing its praises.
I guess I’m way more of a cheerleader than that. I enjoy finding the positives in the books I read, even if they’re only mediocre overall. I enjoy spotting an artist’s genius, even if I have to do a little digging to find it. So, six books into the semester, the only two we’ve agreed on were the two we both intensely disliked.
But then, as I was writing my paper on Die Trying last weekend and trying to resist the urge to buy the sequel, something struck me: that was the first time all semester I’d felt that urge. Even Hunger Games left me astonished, impressed, excited about her vivid fantasy world…and entirely uninterested in reading the sequel.
Instead, it made me want to write a post-apocalyptic adventure. Jeremy Fink inspired me to write a coming-of-age young-adult mainstream novel (that I’ll probably be working on in November). How to Train Your Dragon had me chomping at the bit to dust off Taming Fire and get it ready for primetime. A Curse Dark as Gold, which I told the whole class I’d loved, really just made me want to try my hand at a historical fairy tale. Die Trying is the first book that actually made me want to read — all the rest just made me want to write.
Lucky for me, I’ve got a whole month dedicated just to that. I’m ready to go. I’ve been ready since late September. NaNoWriMo, here we come!