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Friday, October 25, 2013

Emily Bronte, Mormon Women, Samurai Warriors, and the Vegan Black Metal Chef: It’s Nanowrimo Time!

November is “National Novel Writing Month,”  “Nanowrimo” for short.  You set a goal to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in thirty days.   You create a profile on the Nanowrimo website, and officially begin to write on November 1st.  Upload the words you write each day, and the site keeps track of how many more you need to write to reach your goal.  At the end of November, you have written a future bestseller. ..or something like that.  J  Easy, right?  Er…not really, but I was game.  Hey, I’m a wannabe writer, right?  So, a couple of years ago, I took the plunge.

Enter LaNelle, a young, attractive Mormon woman who speaks Swahili and hates her dead-end job.  Enter Dagger, a young metal music aficionado, gourmet chef and lover of Italian food who is trying to emulate his hero, the Vegan Black Metal Chef.  (The “VBMC” is a real guy; check out his website.  It’s hysterical!!  And, his recipes literally rock).  These first two characters are from our own time.  The next is not.  Enter Kenji, a seventeenth-century Samurai warrior about to commit ritual suicide.  How do the paths of these three characters cross?  More importantly, what does Emily Bronte have to do with all of this?

Here’s the deal.  I hate Wuthering Heights.  It’s not a love story, as so many movie and TV adaptations would have us believe.  In my mind, it’s a story of revenge among selfish, small-minded characters.  I decided to mock it.  Yes, I know, some people consider this to be one of the greatest nineteenth century books ever written.  And yes, I think the Bronte sisters are all brilliant.  I don’t care.  I hate Catherine and I hate Heathcliff.  I’m glad they both died in the book.  Negative, much?  Of course!  But when it’s Nanowrimo time, you can do whatever you want!

LaNelle, Dagger and Kenji are snatched from their own times and homes and plunged into the world of Wuthering Heights, where they interact with each other and the classic book’s characters in interesting ways.   My writing was terrible, my plot went nowhere.  I didn’t get to be a “Nanowrimo Winner,” by reaching 50,000 words, having only reached about 40,000 by November 30th.  But I had fun.  I even plan to finish the story.  Some day!

Here’s the website if you decide to take the plunge and write your own novel.  Come on, I dare you!  And, following is an excerpt from my own pathetic attempt at novel writing the first time I “did Nano.”

PS:  Please don’t think that my description of LaNelle is meant to mock Mormons.  First of all, I am one!  What I wrote was more my way of mocking myself and some less-than-positive attributes I sometimes see when I gaze into the psychic mirror.  Greatly exaggerated, of course.  :-)




By:  Rebecca Bischoff

August 21st, 2011
7:15 p.m.
Allentown, Pennsylvania        

Dagger adjusted the flame and tossed another handful of sliced garlic into the pan.  The eerie yet head-splitting strains of “Haunted Mama” by Outer World, his favorite band, pounded in the background, beating in time to the winter storm that rattled the glass in the window frames and howled with a desperate cry.  Dagger could have sworn the storm sounded like a giant, starving animal trying to claw its way inside the cluttered kitchen.

Onion and garlic sizzled in extra virgin olive oil.  Dagger took a deep breath, savoring the pungent scent that filled his mouth and nose, whipped long, midnight black hair out of his eyes and screamed:


The words hurtled into the air as Dagger looked directly into the web cam, attached to its wobbly tripod.  His blog:  “Dagger:  Purveyor of Ancient Wisdom, Metal Music Maniac, Italian Gourmet Chef and Notary Public” was becoming more and more popular.  He had a total twenty-four followers now, not counting his mother, and he’d been dying to add another cooking demo video to his blog. 


His fresh tomato and basil pasta sauce was coming together nicely, and Dagger head-banged in time to the music, pausing once to pull a fallen hair out of the frying pan.  His mother kept telling him to wear a hair net while he cooked.  As if.  He checked out his reflection in the shining door of the microwave.  A hair net would completely ruin the look he had long ago perfected.  Long, straight, black-dyed hair framed a face that had been artfully painted white, with eyes and lips painted as black as his hair.  He smiled at himself.  The white makeup accentuated his long, hooked nose, which Dagger had always thought of as heroic-looking and masculine, and the eyeliner made his dull brown eyes seem mysterious and brooding.  He turned his smile into a snarl and swiveled his face back toward the camera.


He switched off the camera and turned his music up.  Another video to upload to his blog.  Another sure hit, maybe even more popular that his “mushroom gnocchi with sautéed spinach” video had been.  And soon, he’d have so many followers his blog would go viral.  He’d be famous.  So, fame wasn’t really what he was after.  He truly didn’t care how many other people on the planet were aware of his existence.  But the power that went with fame, well, that was another matter.  If he became famous, maybe someone would finally listen to him. 

Not bothering to wash his face, Dagger shoved aside old lesson plans and high school history textbooks to clear a place on his kitchen table, and sat down to eat his well-deserved meal.  He sighed as he bit into his first bite.  Ah, perfect.  Wind continued to howl, sounding vaguely like a chorus of voices singing his favorite medley of metal music hits from the eighties.  Well, howling, he had to admit.  His second bite was halfway between the plate and his waiting mouth, but the perfectly al dente pasta never touched his lips.  At that exact moment, the wind struck Dagger’s tiny box of a house with such force that all the eastern-facing windows exploded inward, sending minute, razor sharp bits of glass flying.  Shrieking in terror and ducking under the table, Dagger cowered and screamed. 

And in a second, it was over.  Silence fell suddenly, with a sense of finality, like the fall of an executioner’s ax.  Well, silence would have reigned, if it weren’t for the fact that Dagger was still screaming, a high-pitched, terrified sound, like that of a squeamish little girl fleeing from a worm.  Finally realizing that it was silent, Dagger allowed the screaming to trail off with no little amount of embarrassment.  It finally ended in a soft squeak. 

Glass crunched beneath him as Dagger slowly edged out from under the table and got to his feet.  There was no more wind.  It was still dark, but a strange, pale glow illuminated his ruined kitchen.  The smell of garlic cooked in oil, and of freshly torn basil leaves and sautéed tomatoes mingled with a pleasant, rich odor of wet plants and damp earth that wafted in through the empty window frames.

Dazed and more than a little confused, Dagger shuffled his way through broken glass and scattered cooking utensils and opened his front door.  And screamed, again. 


August 21st, 2011
7:15 p.m.
Three Pines, Washington

           LaNelle took a deep breath and stood.  It was time for her special Sunday fireside presentation to the local Young Women’s organization, and she was anxious to start.  Her lesson was carefully prepared and displayed on the screen of her new smart phone.  Her iPod was propped up on a little lace cloth-covered table, playing appropriate soft Church music for background atmosphere.  The quotations she’d printed out were already given to the somewhat reluctant girls who would read them when asked, her list of twenty-two scriptures was neatly printed on the board, and a little white basket holding a pile of googly-eyed wooden frogs covered in handmade lace stood proudly on the table, next to the iPod.  Each girl was to receive a frog at the end of the lesson as a reminder of what she had learned.  The tiny sign:  “Accountable Amphibians Never Frog-get to Choose the Right,” was attached to each amphibian’s backside.

Nine pairs of eyes, belonging to nine young girls, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, stared up at LaNelle.  They’re so young, she thought.  LaNelle considered herself to be much more mature than any of the girls who sat before her.  After all, she was twenty-five.  At her age, she’d earned a college degree (liberal arts), had a career (checkout clerk at the local grocery store; liberal arts degrees don’t get you very far) and had even served as a missionary in Kenya, where she learned to speak passable Swahili.  (Learning Swahili was a bonus, but still didn’t help advance a career much when living in a small town in the United States). 

Only nine girls, LaNelle thought, as she double-checked her lesson on the screen of her phone.  This class is so small.  We used to have at least forty girls when I was in Young Women’s.  I’m sure more girls are supposed to be here, she concluded critically.  Well, she’d soon fix that.  This must be one of the reasons she had felt so sure her recent impulsive move from Utah to this tiny town in Washington was heaven-directed, and decidedly meant to be.  She was sent to help these girls.  After class she’d get a list from the Young Women’s president of all the girls and make sure every single one made it to class next week. 

LaNelle cleared her throat and attached her best “I’m so happy to be here” smile onto her face.  Some of the faces that looked back up at her appeared friendly, but most of the girls’ faces wore looks of impatience and boredom.  Well, LaNelle would change that as well, she thought, no doubt about it.  It was her job today to teach them the importance of making choices.  Well, of making the right choices.  And the “making of right choices” was apparently something that was completely foreign to these girls, thought LaNelle, as she critically surveyed the girls’ clothing, while attempting to keep her expression neutral.  Most girls wore outlandish outfits that were either too short, too tight, too revealing, or a combination of all three.  LaNelle was uncomfortably reminded of the contestants of a reality show she had glimpsed the other week.  She’d watched for about five horrified seconds before she’d turned off the TV.  The contestants of that show seemed to be trying to wear as little clothing as possible without getting arrested.  She’d instantly fired off a long email to the network, demanding they immediately remove that show from the airwaves.

  Help me, Heavenly Father, knock some sense into the girls’ heads,” LaNelle silently prayed.  And she began to speak, trying to ignore the vacant stares from the few girls who looked in her direction, the complete lack of interest from the remainder of the group, and the wild howling of the wind outside as it tore against the church building, rattling the windows, like a vengeful Satanic beast trying to claw its way inside.

“Who has quote number forty-five?” LaNelle asked, sweeping her auburn hair back from her perspiring forehead.  This group was a tough one, tougher than she’d anticipated.  She forged ahead, knowing how important her lesson was.  She finally thought she’d started to make some headway when one of the girls raised her hand, but the girl only asked to be excused to go to the bathroom.  When all twenty-eight of the other girls raised their hands in unison, LaNelle felt a dark, swelling sense of frustration and anger build inside her.  How could these girls not understand how important it was for each one of them to be here?  They were so obviously making some very, very wrong choices.  The wind increased in intensity outside, causing many of the girls throw worried glances toward the windows. 

“No, you may not all go to the bathroom.  You’re old enough to hold it for a few more minutes.  Now who has quote number sixty-seven?”  LaNelle shouted.   The girls rolled their eyes and settled back down into their seats.  LaNelle was about to go in search of the bishop, sure that he could talk some sense into these girls, when a window blew open and a strong gust of air tore into the room.  Girls screamed and popped out of their seats, tripping over each other as they raced for the door.  LaNelle gripped her phone and grabbed her iPod, stumbling against the little table as she did so.  Tiny lace-covered frogs bounced from the basket and were caught in the whirling air, flying all over the room.  The frogs pelted the still-shrieking girls who clawed each other out of the way as they tried to escape. 

“Wait, girls, at least take one of the frogs,” LaNelle shouted, “take an accountability frog!”  The wild wind whipped her hair around her face and roared in her ears, drowning out all other sounds.  And then, suddenly, the wind was gone.  Silence rang in LaNelle’s ears, a thick, complete, almost reverent silence.  LaNelle clutched her phone and iPod in one hand and reached up with her other, trembling hand, to unwind her hair from around her face.  Where were the girls?  Did they all leave?  Finally managing to pull a final, uncooperative strand of hair from over her eyes, LaNelle blinked, looked around her, and gasped. 

“Oh, my, HECK!”  she shouted.


August 21st, 1579
7:15 p.m.
Kobe, Japan

            Kenji sat cross-legged before his little writing table.  A breeze kicked up and shook the thin walls of his house, causing him to lose concentration and glance around in surprise with furrowed brow, as if he had forgotten where he was.  Exhaling slowly, he dipped his brush into the pot of ink and continued to write, forming the characters slowly and with precision.  Composing his final poem of death had been far easier than he had thought.  Finished, he set paper, pen and ink aside.  He felt calm, almost empty, as though all emotion and thought were draining from his body, drop by drop, like the crimson blood that would soon flow from his self-inflicted wound.  He was glad for the feeling of numbness that enfolded him, shielding his wounded heart as his armor had once shielded his body.  There was no more pain, even at the thought of his wife, fled to be with another.  There was no more pain, even at the thought of his son, whose black eyes glowed with mirth and whose smile…a sharp twinge, like the knick of a knife blade, stung Kenji’s heart, and he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.  He knew he was lying to himself.  But that didn’t matter anymore.

            His tiny bird, Shiro, flittered about and chirped in his cage, possibly agitated by the still-rising wind, which now howled and moaned like an angry demon god, demanding blood as payment.

            Yet my death is just.

            I should never have faltered.

            The howling wind knows.

The wind will have its payment, Kenji mused.  The Samurai who dislikes battle does not have his heart in the right place.  He raised his short sword and turned it this way and that so that the blade caught the light of late morning.  A true warrior should never turn his back on his master’s commands.

He opened his robe and bared his chest and stomach.  Kenji did not fear death.  He knew that a samurai should never allow the moment of his glorious death to pass by, holding his own life too dear.  He was a warrior, born of a long line of great warriors.   He owed a great debt to his ancestors, and to his master.  His actions had dishonored them all.  He would reclaim that honor with this act of seppuku, the ritual taking of his own life.

            Shiro chirped wildly, now flinging its tiny winged body against the sides of its cage which hung from the ceiling, so that the cage wobbled and swung from side to side. 

            “Courage, my little friend.  A warrior knows when it is time to die.”  Kenji heard the soft chuckle in his own voice and vaguely wondered at it, but dismissed the questioning thought as soon as it entered his mind.  He whistled softly to his caged songbird, a few notes, low and sweet.  The tiny bird calmed enough to settle down at the bottom of his cage, but puffed its feathers and twittered anxiously as the wind increased in ferocity outside. 

            Kenji raised his short sword.  His death would not be quick.  He had no friend, no witness with him to deliver the decapitating blow that would mercifully hasten the end.  His lifeblood would drain away slowly, and he would likely die in agony.

            So be it, he thought, tensing his muscles in preparation for the mortal blow.  As he did so, the wind shrieked like a furious dragon.  Shiro frantically beat against the sides of his cage.  Kenji closed his eyes.  In one quick movement, his sword descended.  The sword descended, but he felt no pain.  He felt the muscles of his hands and arms move as he plunged the short blade into his stomach, but there was no other sensation except for the sudden buffeting of a cold, cold wind that whirled around his body, lifting him into the air.  Then, suddenly, the wind stopped.  In a death-like silence, Kenji was falling, falling, falling.  Into nothingness.  So this was death.  But then, in an instant, sensation returned.  Kenji felt cool, damp earth beneath his feet.   He clasped his hands, feeling for his sword.  His hands were empty.  He reached out before him and felt moss-covered rocks beneath his fingers.  Birds cawed noisily overhead.  He breathed in the scent of rain-dampened earth.  He opened his eyes, and gasped.





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