National Novel Writing Month: Plague

November is National Novel Writer's Month. November is also my wife's birthday, and she celebrates it by celebrating the entire month. For November 2015 that meant doing anything she liked from binge-watching early seasons of America's Next Top Model to trying out new restaurants to watching the final installment of Mockingjay (she's been waiting for a year) to reading Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles to riding her eliptical while watching The Office (Andy Bernard is a mook) to orchestrating her birthday tea (Only two friends made it to a spread for 20, so lots of food for us Graysons) to hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson speak in Nashville.

Sharilyn's Birthday Tea 2015

This November she added National Novel Writer's Month. During National Novel Writer's Month the writer who takes the challenge must plan, write, and complete an entire novel (50k-word minimum) during the 30 days of November. The day before the challenge, Sharilyn read an article in The Tennessean about a single case of bubonic plague in the United States. She mused to me "What if one of the outbreaks of the Black Death of 1349 started with a zombie bite?" It was Halloween morning, she was experiencing The Walking Dead episodic withdrawals, and she hadn't yet made up her mind what to write. Sounds legit.

So she started writing the next morning. Shutting herself in our bedroom at her desk, Pandora set to the emo-melanchoia of Gregorian chants, and a lit candle for mood (my contribution), she began to write. And out came this character: Anselm, 15-year-old oblate of St. Benedict's in wherever-you-like-it England and first-person narrator of a journal covering a stressful few weeks. The story begins in medias res with a great many brothers vomiting out both ends of themselves because of a strange onslaught of illness. It's unfathomable to imagine the grief involved in the passing of so many good men. But it's probably twice as unfathomable to imagine the mass perplexity when the buried brothers won't stay buried.

Because we have six school-aged children, Sharilyn can only write when they aren't around. It doesn't really work any other way. So she would disappear around 9:00 a.m. on weekdays (after drinking a cup of tea and reading the paper), finally emerging just as the first wave of kids were getting off the school bus and coming up the drive. Within a few days she was on a roll, emailing my 17-year-old daughter and me each chapter as she completed it. My daughter, an A student & high-school senior who spends her school hours texting me doodles in the margins of her school work and Sharpie-dark landscapes of trees and wildlife on her fingers and forearms, read each chapter during school hours. Katie kept up a steady stream of text-critiques to her mother that at times got so passionate (in regard to the several plot twists Sharilyn sprung upon us) that to this day I've been barred from seeing those conversations.

Twice during the month when we were graced with company, I pulled out my iphone and read part of a chapter, our visitors snatching reverently curious glances at my wife as though they suspected she ghostwrote Harry Potter (she didn't). While I don't want to say too much about the story, I can say a little. Yes, the story is narrated by the private pubescent thoughts of a kid who is at the monastery because he doesn't get along with his mother. No, the story isn't encoded with some hidden meaning beyond "Buy the book here". Yes, the story takes place in and around a monastery and two castles in the English countryside. No, the story isn't a time-travel novel where monks use laser guns or where scenes are interrupted by the sudden presence of a T-rex. Yes, the story has a bit of romance (as much as an oblate can muster). No, the story has no erotic nudity (sorry to you sorts who are into that kind of thing).

In all honesty, it took Sharilyn into the second week of December to finish the novel. Thanksgiving break was entirely devoted to a vacation-style schedule. But my wife's biggest reward in all of this was her reading in the local paper that Fanfest.com, an event company that coordinates The Walking Dead fan events, has set up shop in our little town of Franklin, Tennessee. We've shown up twice to the shop, but it's is still under construction.

And the title of her book? Simply Plague. You can get it here. Tell me what you think!

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