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NaNoWriMo Inspires Arizona Authors All Month

TOM MAXEDON: The month of November means many things for different people from honoring veterans, to perhaps hearing "Jingle Bells" too early in the stores, or maybe deciding whether to skip this year’s Thanksgiving to avoid that uncle who’s always right about politics. But for writers in Arizona and around the world, the month means composing 50,000 words for the annual NaNoWriMo. No, it’s not a variant of the Orkan greeting from the classic TV sitcom “Mork and Mindy." NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It began 20 years ago with a small cadre of fiction writers and has become the signature yearly challenge for aspiring authors the world over. 

KRISTEN SCHUMM: Just don’t hit your delete button. Don’t hit backspace.

MAXEDON: Keep the motion forward?

SCHUMM: Keep the motion forward.

MAXEDON: Schumm is an IT engineer who tends to plot her writing ahead of time. Born and raised in Mesa, she serves as a volunteer liaison for the Easy Valley NaNoWriMo community and has stepped up to the word processor six years running to participate.

SCHUMM: I am by nature a very analytical person, and I think I apply that to both areas. Also, I find IT work very much inspires me to write horror.

MAXEDON: Schumm hopes to make it to the marketplace with her work as an author and says NaNo is a good challenge to help realize her goal. Fifty thousand words — in a month. That’s the mandate for those who want to wear the Viking helmet, part of the NaNo logo. For Theresa Munroe who lives in Youngtown, and has taken the challenge 12 years running, there are many ways to get to the finish line.

THERESA MUNROE: With NaNo, 50,000 words equals about 1,667 words a day. And I like to be a little ahead of myself, so in case something goes wrong, I have a bad day, or can’t write, I don’t get too far behind.

MAXEDON: She’s what NaNo communities call a “pantser,” someone who flies by the seat of their pants. So, where might these flights of fiction fancy fall? Perhaps at a writers’ expose with a book of your own, like so many of those juried authors from Arizona who exhibited their wares last Saturday at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix.

JERIANN THACKER: Well, we’re in the book business and without authors, we wouldn’t have books. And so, not only do we want to support our readers, we want to support our local authors, give them exposure and hopefully provide interest for people and find their new favorite author.

MAXEDON: Thacker is Adult Services coordinator for Burton Barr and organized the event, which grew from 31 authors in 2018 to nearly 70 this year. The energy in the room is palpable, and it’s not likely because everyone is still dosed on sugar from Halloween candy. Darryl Dawson, a video editor by day for a Valley TV station, has achieved success in writing horror.  

DARRYL DAWSON: It’s strange, but it seems like everybody enjoys that little fright. It makes them feel more like a human being really. 

MAXEDON: The range of attendees was impressive, from the very young …

CHARLES FENDERSON: What’s your name?

KAI: (Laughing) Kai.

MAXEDON: … to those with more experience like Rika Duhamel who has a full-ride scholarship to ASU next year for creative writing.

RIKE DUHAMEL: This is my first year participating.

MAXEDON: How are you going to deal with the deadline pressure of getting 50,000 words completed in a month?

DUHAMEL: Part of it’s definitely attending the events at the library. Like every Saturday, libraries around Phoenix are holding write-ins. It’s like a two hour session where everyone who’s attending it can just show up and have a space to write.  

MAXEDON: And in this second-floor library space, it was anything but quiet as those who attended were energized — even if they didn’t quite know what they walked into at the time, like Phil Chevalier and his daughter.

PHIL CHEVALIER: We just happened to come here by accident. This is the first time both of us have been to this library. I figured, let’s go check it out. We came down here and I was like "whoa, there’s an event going on." I guess it’s a book fair or a book theme going on, but it’s nice.  

MAXEDON: And diverse, with every genre imaginable, including historical fiction.  

MARCIA FINE: I’m very interested in epigenetics, which is the new science for the 21st century about how trauma affects us and, in some ways, can alter the genes and that trauma can be passed down in families.

MAXEDON: Fine’s novel “Paper Children” is based on her personal family history reflected in nearly 100 World War II-era letters written in Polish and sent to her grandmother by other family members.

FINE: They’re the letters her family sent her when they were trapped in Warsaw. And you can even see the Nazi insignia on the outside of the envelope.   

MAXEDON: Whether you’re a professional writer or not, we all have a story. And it’s not too late to try to start telling yours. Even if you are several thousand words behind the NaNoWriMo community that started telling theirs Nov. 1.

To hear more, visit word.kjzz.org.

Tom Maxedon was the host of KJZZ’s Weekend Edition from 2017 to 2024.