Not Quite a Novel: Sørina’s #3DNC Report


The Coffee Pot.

The three-day novel contest is over again for this year. We survived, happily, with deeper friendships and great work accomplished. I at least am amazed that we have managed to make this dream come true three years in a row in the face of enormous obstacles. And, as is usual for me, the work is barely beginning. Here are the stats of what was accomplished, a narrative of the weekend, and a plan for what to do next. 

8 Ekphrasians participated in some permutation or other of this intensive writing retreat, composing well over 100,000 words collectively! These words were written in community, alone, in the woods, in a cabin, at a retreat center, at home, in various states of euphoria, inspiration, or drudgery.

IMG_2594* I began a new novel, a murder mystery. I wrote 27,005 words, but only got about 15% of the way into the plot. The story takes place over a 20-hour period, and I only got my characters through the first three hours. They kept doing things that weren’t in my notes!
 * Sharon wrote an entire play. It is called Love’s Labours Happily Ever After, and it blends fairy-tale characters with Shakespearean plot lines from Love’s Labour’s LostMidsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and As you Like it. She completed a full draft at 17,000 words. She also worked through a book about structuring fiction and wrote her outline for her next book!
* Betsy
roughed out the entire plot of her novel, Demae’s Story, writing what she calls the skeleton of the story at 24,000 words.
* Steph is the only one who paid the fee and entered the contest for real. She wrote most of the story she had planned.
* Jeff spent the time working on a play called “Hail Mary.”
* Andrew worked on a novella and wrote about 18,000 words.
* Marian wrote a complete children’s story, called “Piccalilli.” (Which I love, by the way). She wrote a journal, did lots of homework, practiced her lines for two roles she’s got in upcoming plays, and edited some of Aakroveil, the novel she completed earlier this year.
* Devon planned to spend the weekend editing her personal narrative.
If this year goes like previous years, most of us should have complete manuscripts by Christmas, then spend any number of months or years revising, revising, revising. (I also plan to start The Four Senses, my 2013 #3DNC production, over again from scratch. Sigh).


The situation room, with a map of my cemetery setting.

Unfortunately, most of us had a very interrupted weekend. I traveled up to Massachusetts on Monday to be with my mother, who had unexpected heart surgery. I did get home late on Thursday, and Betsy and I made it up to the cabin on Friday evening, but we didn’t really start working until Saturday morning. Marian got cast in two plays and had rehearsals until late Saturday afternoon, so she arrived Saturday evening. Sharon got cast in one play, is directing another, and had both a funeral and a wedding to attend on Saturday. So she and Betsy worked at home on Friday, then Sharon joined us on Sunday. We all left by 7 on Monday evening. Next year, we all want to join the official contest, get up there earlier, start right at midnight on Friday, end at midnight on Monday, and leave on Tuesday. I plan to develop a plot for a novella that can be completed within 30,000 words.

But what a beautiful time it was! The Coffee Pot, the cabin owned by Betsy’s family, where we have the retreat, is an idyllic location. We enjoyed it thoroughly. We didn’t push ourselves, sleeping eight hours a night, going for long walks, swimming (and washing) in the creek, having hour-long intense conversations. Sure, we could have written more words if we hadn’t taken those mental-and-physical-health breaks. But I think we are happier people for those times. And now we have all those words there, ready for the adding and editing. Stay tuned for selections and for posts by the other Ekphrasians!



Ekphrasis Report, 03.03.14 – Commas, Short Presentations, Musical Performances, Asyndeton

March’s Ekphrasis gathering began with Sørina H. leading a workshop on the proper use of commas. As several of the group’s regular members are currently working on long-form narrative fiction, Sørina has been offering some instruction on different English techniques. Several people brought in sample sentences from different works, punctuation removed. After the workshop, several people presented works. The group had been asked beforehand to bring works that could be presented in three minutes or less, rather than the much longer chapters from our respective novels that have marked many of the recent gatherings.

Jeff H. started us off with a page of cryptic notes that he didn’t remember writing (but which was clearly written by him). He found it in a folder on his computer, apparently.

I presented a short work of prose that I’ve been working on, and the group then had a lively discussion as they worked to interpret the meaning behind the piece. I listened to the discussion, but did not participate in it, which was a very interesting and fruitful experience.

Josh L., a frequent attendee but first-time presenter, brought in a series of his photographs. We talked about his composition style and shooting techniques.

Sharon G. unveiled an acrylic painting she’s been working on for several months, a still-life which pictured several different types of glass vessels.

Marian B. read us a short story she’d written called “Steph,” which was inspired in part by Steph H, another person present that evening. It was a funny story, which claimed to be full of inside jokes, but ended up being quite accessible to everyone who heard it.

Betsy G. finished the non-musical presentations for the day with a poem called “The Battle of the Galloping Sausage,” a rousing epic about a food-fight.

The group then moved into the room with the better piano, and the musical performances commenced. Betsy and I have been working (in a very languid manner, I grant) on a duet performance of the song “My Eyes” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which we presented to the rest of the Ekphrasians. I sang the part of Billy and Betsy sang Penny’s part, and I accompanied on the piano. We’d planned to perform the song with microphones, but it seemed that only one microphone was present in the building. We decided to muddle on anyhow, and sing it without any amplification. This proved to be a mistake. Our execution on that first attempt might have been the best we’d ever performed (extra impressive since we hadn’t sung together since the middle of January), but heartbreakingly, the audience could not hear our beautiful voices.

We decided to try again, and attempt to share the microphone. I moved the bench over so that Betsy could sit next to me and hold the microphone. What followed was not exactly terrible, but did include several false starts and two abortive restarts of the final verse.

Finally, I performed a song I’d written, accompanying myself. The song was a reprise of a longer song from an album I’ve been working on. I hope to make a rough recording of it this week and upload it here, so that all of you gentle readers can enjoy it.

After that, people trickled out slowly. The remaining attendees had an impromptu sing-along party, performing songs from Les Miserables, Frozen, Once More With Feeling and several other works, until the night eventually wound down to a close. Overall, it was a very good meeting.

#3DNC: Jeff’s prologue and first chapter

It had happened again. The Dream. It had been recurring every night for the past six weeks. There were minor inconsistencies here and there, but several factors always remain the same.
Rochelle is always there. I miss her more and more every day.
Robert is also there, and he is arguing with Rochelle about Star Wars. He claims Empire Strikes Back is the best—which it is—but Rochelle disagrees. She says that all about Yoda it is. Robert says it’s the best because it has the most Han Solo and nobody in their right mind could ever think it was all about Yoda.
And then there’s the third man. I call him Orson Welles. Not that he looks anything like him, but…you get it, don’t you? Or you don’t, fine. Whatever. I don’t give a flying leap. O.W. is always giving a speech about why he doesn’t tip waitresses. It sounds vaguely familiar, but I’ve given up trying to guess if I’ve heard it before and just assume that I’m remembering it from my previous dream.
Anyway, in the middle of everyone talking, suddenly Robert grows stiff and starts coughing. He grabs at his chest, moaning in pain. Even though I’m worried, I laugh at him. Every time. Makes me a sucky friend, I guess. O.W. keeps right on talking and ignoring Robert until eventually Rochelle yells at him to shut up and hits him with a beer bottle. I finally manage to control my laughter and then we all turn to see what’s happening to Robert. Rochelle suggest heartburn and Mr. Welles recommends antacid. The end result is always the same. Robert falls to the ground and stops moving, stops breathing. Rochelle wonders if he is dead and then suddenly his chest bursts open and out leaps…a dinosaur?
I forgot to mention, there’s always this creepy guy filming us. I’ve never seen him outside of the dream, but O.W. seems to know him. At least, he knows his name. Hefé, he calls him. The dream always ends with O.W. telling Hefé to stop filming.
The only major change between dreams is that I don’t always wake up in a sweat.
I’ve told no one about my dream. I don’t know why. Maybe I think it would frighten anyone else. Heckleberries, it frightens me. But it shouldn’t, really. After all, it’s just a dream.


Plymouth Rock
This was one of the sweatless awakenings. Thank goodness, I thought. I was in the car with my family and Robert on our way up to Plymouth Rock and it would be quite embarrassing to perspire in their presence. Although, I doubt Robert would care overmuch. He’d been my best friend since the move. My older brother Elmer, on the other hand, would tease me about it for weeks. He’d probably ask me which boy I’d been dreaming about that would get me so worked up in a sweat. Gosh, he could be so immature. You’d never guess he was heading off to college in the fall. Sometimes I wonder if he ever really aged, or if he’s still a little boy inside, wanting to play in the sandbox with all the other kids. He’s certainly more rebellious than I am, and I’m a teenage girl right at the height of the angsty stage of life. I’ve often heard my parents refer to me at the angel in the family, while Elmer is the black sheep. Personally, it bothers me when they say that. I’d rather see a sheep that’s black over an angel anyway. I mean, when an angel tells you what to do, you gotta do it, but when a sheep tells you what to do, you can just tell it you can’t understand what it’s saying. Which would be the truth, so long as you don’t speak sheep.
“Are we there yet?” It was me that had spoken. But don’t worry, I’m not some irritating little kid that you want to strangle every five seconds; I’m sixteen. The question was not a loud inquiry to my parents, it was a soft one to Robert, who was sitting across the car from me in one of the chairs in the middle of the car. Elmer sat in the back and our picnic lunch sat in the way, way back. Not that we had a rear-facing—or, “rumble”—seat anymore, that was our old car. When we bought this minivan, all the worlds I’d imagined while riding in the car backward died out like stars, or something. I guess bugs die out pretty quickly too. Especially that one kind of fly, that only has a twenty-four hour life cycle. What is it called? Fuscrew it, I don’t know.
Anyway, so I asked Robert if we were there yet and he didn’t reply. I noticed that he had his headphones in, so I tried to guess what he was listening to. Kids in the Way? Nah, too dark for a bright sunny day like today. Anberlin? Nope, they’re not good road trip music. Relient K? They’re fun and talented and Robert enjoyed seeing them in concert when we won tickets to go see them(on my birthday, no less! Best birthday present ever!!! Matt Theissen’s hair was glorious, so abundant you could have fit a cow in it. Although, why anyone would want to hide a cow in their hair is beyond me. Also, they ended up playing “Up and Up” which is Robert’s favorite by them, as well as “Be My Escape”, which is my favorite song ever!!! Whoa, two uses of bold ever‘s followed by three exclamation points in the same rabbit trail. Righteous!). Having decided that they were most definitely the band he was listening to, I reached out and took one of Robert’s earbuds and put it in my own ear. I was greeted with what sounded two knives being rubbed together while a third knife was stabbing a victim to death and we could hear her screams.
“What is this junk?” I asked Robert.
He looked up at me, shrugged, and said simply “I like heavy music some times. This is The Polygons.”
“Mmhmm,” I nodded, “Well, I’ve just been sleeping; do you know how much further we have to go?”
“Just half an hour, sweetie.” That would be my mom. Of course she was listening in on our conversation. “Would you like me to style your hair for the rest of the trip?” she offered.
“Mom,” I rolled my eyes, “I don’t need to do anything with my hair when all we’re doing is looking at a rock.”
“But it’s an important rock,” she said defensively, “You’ll wanna look your best.”
“Why?” I raised an eyebrow. I was so happy when I first learned to do that. “In case George Washington is there and asks me to marry him?”
A smart reply followed, “Actually, George Washington was not one of the original pilgrims who landed at Plymouth—”
“Shut up!” I snarled.
Again, you’re probably thinking I’m horribly bratty and rebellious to speak that way to my mother, but actually, it was my brother who had piped up, and it was he I was silencing. After I’d snapped at him, he gave a satisfied smirk and opened up his book again. How could he read in the car and not get carsick? It’s so unfair! Besides, he’s using his ability to do so to read Ted Dekker. I mean, really, can you get any lower than that? If I was able to do what he could, I would be reading classics, like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables, not trash about murders and alternate universes and such.
After a brief silence, Robert piped up. “I hear Plymouth Rock isn’t even that big.”
“Where’d you hear that piece of rubbish?” asked my dad from the front. That was my dad, always trying to put Robert down. I don’t know why he hated him so much.
“Have you ever seen Plymouth Rock?” I queried.
“No,” he admitted.
“Then how would you know that he’s wrong?” I retorted. That shut him up for a while.
Okay, so maybe I do have a bit of a rebellious side
After what seemed like hours, but was only half of one, we finally reached our destination.
“Anyone want half a piece of gum?” my mom asked.
“Mom, stop taking only half the stick,” whined Elmer, “Nobody wants the other half!”
“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d love to finish it for you,” volunteered Robert.
“Here you go,” said my mom, delighted. I just rolled my eyes. That was Robert, always sucking up to my parents.
“And here we are,” announced my dad triumphantly.
We all took a moment to gaze upon the majesty of Plymouth Rock and ponder its significance in American history—hey, is that a butterfly? So pretty!
It was Elmer who broke the silence. “You know what? Robert’s right, it’s really not that impressive. I’ll be in the car.”
“Come on, son,” chided my dad, “we just got here. Stick around for a bit.”
“Why?” Elmer wanted to know, and to be honest, I was wondering the same thing.
“Because it’s history, man!” uttered my father, going off on one of his over-dramatic tangents, “Culture! You have to appreciate it while you’re young! Lord knows I didn’t fully comprehend the significance of history when I was your age.”
Elmer smirked, “Then I guess I’ll just wait until I’m an old fogey like you to appreciate it. See ya.”
Elmer strolled off toward the car. My dad followed him, still trying to reason with the boy. The rest of us just sort of hung out and waited for them to come back. Eventually, we realized that they weren’t going to and that my dad, despite his claims to the contrary, was probably just as bored as Elmer and in all likelihood, they’d slipped off to have a burger or something.
Around the time I figured this out, my mom decided to move off to a distance to admire the rock from a new angle, leaving Robert and I alone.
“So this is Plymouth Rock,” I said.
“Yup,” he agreed.
“And what spiritual significance have you gleaned from this enlightening experience?” I inquired dramatically.
Robert smiled. “Never take part in a Kirschbaum family trip.”
“I wish I could choose to opt out,” I groaned.
“You were born into the wrong family, Marie,” Robert remarked. Then he reached into his mouth, pulled out the piece of gum he’d been chewing, and flung it at Plymouth rock. The white glop stuck to the rock as if determined that it should be part of history too. For a moment, I stood in shock, nearly furious as my friend for defacing such a significant monument. Then I looked again and realized it was just a rock with a piece of gum attached. I turned to Robert and we both burst out laughing. I high-fived him, and we turned to go back to the car.
“Smile for the camera!” a voice called out. I hate random crowd photographers, but Robert and obligingly turned to face the camera and smiled. The man pressed his finger on the button, but there was no flash, no beep, no noise of any kind. To my surprise, I noticed that he was not photographing us, he was filming us. I was immediately taken aback, but then my shock multiplied tenfold when I realized that he was the man from my dream. Hefé.