Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
I joined NaNoWriMo for the first time last November and had a fabulous time, but after my novel was done I didn’t let anyone read it. Zero people. Committing to writing a chapter for the Community Novel and knowing it would be published was a way to force myself to let other people read my work.
What do you like most about the premise and characters in this year’s Community Novel Project?
I like that the setting of Julia’s stories is right at the end of the Jazz Age when America was entering a dark time. That feeling of uncertainty suits her story. Julia is an intriguing character but it has been hard to get her to talk – she doesn’t Speak Easy.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
Thrilled! It put the two characters I needed together and gave me the perfect opening for their conversation.
What is your favorite and least favorite addition that you contributed to this novel in your chapter?
After eight chapters a bunch of plot lines have emerged but authors haven’t always had time to relate them to each other. My job was to tie them all together. To do that I had to let Ronni recap some events and reveal things to Julia that we, the readers, already knew. I worried about boring readers with too much backstory and repetition. My favorite addition is the method I picked for getting rid of Billy’s body. I rejected several other plans as being too gruesome.
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I hope Ronni and Pete get together. She is wound a little tight and I think his easy confidence would complement her. Since Julia’s story is set in 1930 I would love to see the introduction of John R. Brinkley, the “Goat Gland Doctor”, who ran for governor of Kansas that year. Just for fun.
How did you write your chapter – in a burst of inspiration or carefully outlined?
I tend to get the answers to plot problems when I am brushing my teeth or doing other mundane tasks. I also like visual cues. I spent a lot of time staring at pictures of an old scrap book on Etsy, Google Earth images of the Café Holliday (the site of Mike’s Mirage), and watching film footage of the building of Topeka High on YouTube. If I stare long enough the story comes to me. I wrote the chapter in two sessions, everything up to Julia’s story first and then the rest a day or two later.
Any memorable stories to share about your writing experience?
Nope, but I’m seriously considering taking up Elaine’s habit of wrapping my head in a scarf and chanting “Swami Bawami” after 42,000 words. Sounds reasonable to me.
What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?
Restraint. I tend to want to tell things right away – “Wow! You should hear what I did with Billy’s body!” – but that doesn’t always make the story fun to read.
What is your writing background? What do you usually write? How was this project different?
I am new to fiction writing, last year’s WriMo novel having been my first serious attempt. Is it wonderful or scary that the TSCPL would turn a chapter over to me? I am much more used to academic writing and can throw around words like “exegesis” and “hegemony” until readers beg for mercy. After years of writing nap-inducing doorstops it is fun to write for pleasure.
Are you crazy enough to do this again next year?
Marian Rakestraw is a relative newcomer to Topeka, having previously lived practically everywhere else. She joined NaNoWriMo and took up the isolating, nerve-fraying, confidence-rattling task of writing fiction as a fun way to meet new people. It worked wonderfully. She compulsively seeks education and has multiple academic degrees. Her husband is notably spectacular and together they have two charming children and a zaftig dog.