Writing Right with Dmitri: A Day in Hooverville, and What We Learned There
All through November, nine writers laboured over the magnificent opus '30 Hours in Hooverville', a 200+-page novel that is full of excitement, adventure, and really wild things. I described it to Robbie Stamp as 'Ulysses Meets Dr Strangelove'.You can read it online if you like. We learned a few things from this experiment in group writing. For one thing, none of us will ever trust Caiman Raptor Elk near explosives again. For another, Paulh learned how to spell Punxsutawney.
One of the first things you'll notice about the resultant 'novel' is the diversity of voices and points of view. They're all describing more or less the same place, but they all see it differently. To some people, the town might seem dull. Certainly it is so to Arsenio Philpotts. The china shop owner is frustrated. He believes he and his relatives are meant for better things. A lot of his story involves his regrets, hopes, dreams, and ambitions. It is perfectly all right to write a character into a story who desperately wants out of the story. You just don't let him out, which makes it fun.
Some of the newcomers are confused about the town: Lola Latour, the French bookshop owner, is often befuddled by the curious customs of the locals, especially those jack-o-lanterns. Mayor Schmidt, who is British, thinks everybody else is close to insane. She's also frustrated by the lack of ambition of people who don't seem to care about the town's lack of progress….
Over in Misty Mountains State Park, Wynken de Woordesmyth, the park ranger, is in a world of his own – one largely of his creator's making. Strange creatures abound. Some of them may be a threat…. He is conscientious and self-reliant, but often concerned.
Fireman Fred and his crew, on the other hand, are happy as pigs in clover. They're a self-actualising lot, ready for action at short notice or no notice at all. They're noisy. If it gets too quiet, they get antsy and start climbing buildings or blowing things up, or at least making chainsaw music….
Speaking of music, Wlad Winzekowski, the peripatetic keyboardist, is on his own personal journey, playing organs, keyboards and pianos from one end of town to another. He and Lola have a little romantic subtext going.
As far as romance is concerned, our Brit biker is trying to rekindle his – if only those politically-correct bikers wouldn't insist on turning his personal quest into a comedy of errors….
Through it all, Sandy Beeches, the pastor of the First Church of Nighthoover (did I mention we invented our own religion?) and Sheriff Rowdybush remain calm and professional. So does Wilhelmina Schreckenghast, who serves countless tasty waffles and keeps a sharp eye out for rogue worshippers of the Great Dust Bunny….
Now, this story came together beautifully. It's got suspense. It's got humour. It's got more than a little satire. It has science fiction, magical realism, and stream-of-consciousness arty reflection. It's audiovisual. Okay, it's got everything in it but the kitchen sink. I'm sure, when the movie comes out, the scene where the cow gives birth during the Air Force bombing of the fake town will go down in cinema history… I want my character to be played by Adrian Brody, he has keyboard credentials…
It's amazing that it came together, really. Going in, no one had a clue what they were going to do. All they had was a street plan, an area map, a couple of lines of character, and a daily prompt. That it turned into a satisfying story is a tribute to the writers' sensitivity to one another's cues, their imagination in visualising the scenes, and their ability to turn everyday observation into good narrative material. I was delighted all the way.
It is true that if your favourite tool is a hammer, everything will look like a nail. It is equally true that some writers will always look at a story prompt and see a detective story, a social satire, an interior monologue, an urban fantasy, a science fiction tale, or an opportunity to blow something up. This is not a bad thing, or a good thing. It is merely a Thing. But practice makes perfect, and we spent our November productively.
I'm sure thousands of novels were at least started in November. I have no desire to read any of them. The value of the 30-day 'write every day' exercise is in the 'exercise' part. We got ours. We had fun. We got to know each other better, both personally and artistically. My deepest thanks to everybody who participated, and to all 2 of our outside readers. See you next year.