If you’ve been hanging around our Official 2011 NaNoWriMo/Figment Group, you’ll recognize Chris Angotti as that group’s esteemed founder. He’s also the director of NaNo’s Young Writers Program, a Jay-Z fan, and the proud author of his own 2010 NaNo novel. For a little writing break treat, we posed questions to Chris about all of the above and also got some behind-the-scenes dish on NaNo success stories, from the best-seller The Night Circus to books by elementary students about talking pickles.
First thing’s first, what are your personal NaNo stats from this year and past years? Any titles we should be looking out for?
CA: Oh man, starting off with the hard ones! Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I’m a little behind on my novel for this year—about 10,000 words, and my goal is 50,000. At this rate, according to the stats on the site, I’d finish on December 15th. Time for a few coffee-fueled writing marathons, in other words.
Last year (my first), my book was called Digging for Something, and it will probably never, ever see the light of day. I hit my word-count goal, but I haven’t revisited the manuscript at all. But that’s okay! The point is that I made it through and experienced my first November victory. That should make finishing this year easy… Right?
What’s your novel about this year? How’s it going?
CA: My 2011 novel is called Bloodstains Across Stacktown, and it’s about the world’s worst teenage punk band in a small town in Ohio. (It’s comedy, not horror, despite the name.) It shifts between 1984 and the present day, when the now-grownup members are convinced that they were actually really good and try to stage a reunion.
I like the plot, and I’m having a lot of fun with the characters. I’m also pursuing many loose strands in Stacktown, the book’s setting, in hopes that they can become their own self-contained stories when I revise.
You direct the NaNo Young Writers Program. How young are the youngest writers you work with? With the younger kids are there particular themes you notice in their books?
CA: The youngest writer I’ve heard of was four years old, and he dictated his story to his very patient mother. And in schools, we have kids as young as kindergarten. In many cases, they write group novels or have very modest word-count goals . . . But what a great learning experience to stick with an extended narrative at that age.
Theme-wise, the young ones are all over the map. I’ve seen novels about talking pickles, bunny adventures, and astronauts traveling to stinky-cheese planets. If there’s one thing that unites all of these, it’s that their authors clearly have a lot of fun writing them.
CA: Are you trying to get me in trouble with our participants? I can’t play favorites! I will just say this: When I read the summaries and excerpts on our site, I’m impressed by all of them. When I was the age of many of our writers, there’s no way I could have applied myself to the task of writing an entire novel in one month. But these guys have invented completely original characters, worlds, and plots, and are actively bringing them to life. That is just so, so awesome.
Why do you think NaNoWriMo resonates with writers so much?
CA: I think the major reason is that we provide an outlet and encouragement that just plain works. We’re not asking everybody to write a novel every month; you just gotta set aside 30 days of the year, and that feels doable for people. And when they join up, they also find this ridiculously supportive community of like-minded writers. With a good, strict deadline and about a quarter-million novelists (our estimated number for this year) spurring you on, it’s hard not to feel the energy of NaNoWriMo.
We also show that writing a novel is accessible. It’s not just for the famous author or the person who went to grad school; it’s for everybody—and especially kids and teens, since they’re basically the most imaginative people I know. One of NaNoWriMo’s big slogans is “The World Needs Your Novel,” and we totally believe that. Everyone has unique ideas waiting to get out there. I’m proud we can help the process.
We’re all pretty crazy for The Night Circus. Can you tell us about how that went from NaNo novel to bestseller? Any other NaNo success stories we should know about?
CA: The idea for The Night Circus came from Erin Morgenstern’s 2005 NaNoWriMo novel. It actually began as a tangent: she felt like her characters were boring, so she sent them to the circus. In her revisions (worked on during the next Novembers), she made the circus the main setting of the novel and arrived at the bestselling book you can read today. Her story is totally in the spirit of NaNo: going with the flow and having fun as you write.
Our other major success story is Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, which was also a bestseller and recently became a movie. But aside from Erin and Sara, about 90 other NaNo-novels have been put out by big-time publishing houses, and countless others by authors and smaller publishers. I’m waiting for the first Young Writers Program novel; it’s gotta be just around the corner.
Do you have a favorite NaNo dance break song or guilty snack that you rely on to get you through the tough stretches?
CA: Funny you should ask, as my boss just drove up with 100 pounds of candy that we’ll be feeding novelists at our fundraising Write-a-thon. A fair amount of this will somehow make its way to my desk, I’m sure. And if I’m writing in a café, you can bet I’ve got coffee and a cookie next to me.
Any words of encouragement or advice for Figment writers who are on this wild NaNo ride this year?
CA: Just keep writing. If you’re having a tough day, push through it, hit that daily word count, and trust that the next session will be better. More importantly, have fun! This is your month to take risks and be imaginative. The finished novel will be there to revise and perfect later on, but NaNoWriMo is the absolute best time to have the time of your life writing it.
Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? Join Figment’s official NaNo Group to participate in adrenaline-filled writing sprints, tag your story nanowrimo11 to get a spiffy new badge, and keep it up!