Winner, winner, chicken dinner – NaNoWriMo 2011

My first attempt at NaNoWriMo turned out to be a successful one. I passed the 50k mark today and validated my manuscript.

I learned quite a bit about my writing process, in addition to winding up with a manuscript that I think has great potential.

Turns out the worksheets and outlining were incredibly helpful, and not evil incarnate, as I first suspected.

I feared that all the pre-planning would stifle my muse, but it actually served to get me back in touch with her much more quickly when I sat down each opportunity I had to write.

I didn’t get the opportunity to write each day, and I never wrote at the same time each day, but having the goal of writing every day, knowing I had a deadline and a word count to shoot for each day was incredibly motivating.

I am trying to figure out how to maintain this focus and drive and balance it with the needs of my other works, such as the ones that need editing and revising, plus marketing the ones that have already been published. I put all of that on hold, excluding the re-release of Josephine: Red Dirt and Whiskey and the publication of that novel in paperback. That was all I did as far as writing goes except for NaNoWriMo.

Here’s a sample of the manuscript that began on Nov. 1. Keep in mind, please, that there has been no editing!

Thank you for reading and following along with my first adventure with NaNoWriMo.


Nelson and Cora: The Beginning

CHAPTER ONE: Nelson’s Chair

McGinnis Plantation, Kentucky, 1866

Nelson rocked back gingerly in the wooden chair. He knew too well from last time that slow was best. The chair tilted a bit further, a few creaks, but still doing fine. He didn’t let himself relax yet, but a small smile was growing at the corners of his mouth. A little further back, it was at this point last time that the chair collapsed. Nelson was trying not to rush. Finally, he had the chair leaned all the way back. He relaxed his legs and let the chair rock forward. A few more creaks, but for the first time since he began building rocking chairs, this one didn’t break. His smile beamed now and he rocked back again, less carefully. A few more times and he was rocking at full speed.

“George, come look at this, will you? It works.” Nelson yelled into the sitting room where his brother George was sitting by the fireplace reading the newspaper.

The calendar said March and spring, but it was still soggy and cold outside. The fireplace was roaring and George had buried himself into the chair, with his feet propped up on the ottoman. He was reluctant to move, but Nelson called to him again.

“George, get in here. I did it.” George smiled at the sound of Nelson’s voice. He got up, folded his paper, and stepped over the dogs that were sleeping on the rug in front of the fire. His father and Nelson both had a love of dogs and made sure that they were treated better than most people. George leaned down and scratched Apollo behind the ears. A large Mastiff, Apollo didn’t move more than he had to, but he was a loving dog and rolled onto his side for George to scratch his belly.

“Not now, Apollo, big brother has pulled it off,” George grinned as he talked to the dog and walked from the living room into the dining room where Nelson was now rocking as fast as he could, back and forth, in the wooden rocking chair he had built.

George leaned against the wall and watched. Nelson was rocking so fast now that his smile looked like a flash of white teeth. “Well?” Nelson asked without letting up, “What do you think? What do you think of your big brother the craftsman, the furniture maker, now?” Nelson was almost yelling to be heard over the loud swishing of the rocking chair moving back and forth, gathering speed, and the sound of his feet clomping against the floor with each push back.

“Impressive.” George continued to lean against the wall watching.

“What?” Nelson raised his voice even higher.

“I said ‘impressive’.” George was trying not to laugh.

Their father, Randall, came in from the study, his office. “What is all the noise?”

But, he didn’t need an answer. He stopped and stood in the doorway and watched Nelson rocking, faster and faster.

“You finished it. Good for you, son.” Randall McGinnis said.

“What? Dad, what? I finished the rocking chair.” Nelson yelled to his father.

Randall McGinnis smiled and nodded. He looked at George standing against the wall and they both laughed. Nelson continued to rock. Mattie came in to the dining room with plates of food for the table. She was used to Nelson’s activities, and she sat the steaming plates of food on the table before she stopped and turned to watch him.

“Mattie, Mattie, look at this. Look what I did.”  Nelson had turned his head to the side to face her as he yelled. “Rocking chair, from nothing, this rocking chair.”

Mattie wiped her hands off on her apron. She had been with the McGinnis family since before Mr. Randall and Mrs. Analisa had married. She had cared for Nelson and for George since they were born, first as a slave, then as a free person. When the slaves had been freed, she had gone to Mr. Randall and told him that she would like to stay with her family. Mr. Randall understood immediately that she meant to stay with him and the boys. He talked to her about wages, living arrangements, and they agreed.

When Mr. and Mrs. McGinnis were out of the house on business, Nelson, George, and Gertrude would sit in the kitchen and eat their meals with Mattie. Nelson would tell stories about going to the market in town with Mr. Randall and make them all laugh with his impressions of the men they met there, waiting to weigh in their cotton or sale the hemp and tobacco.

Mattie looked at Mr. Randall across the room and yelled to be heard over the roaring of the rocking chair, “Nelson did that himself?”

Mr. Randall nodded. And then his focus moved from Nelson whirring back and forth in the rocking chair to the movement on the stairs. He checked his pocket watch, but he already knew the time. Mrs. Analisa came to dinner at 6:30 every evening, unless it was a holiday and there were guests in the house.

Analisa lightly ran her hand down the banister as she walked down the stairs from her bedroom to the dining room. It was so loud that no one could hear her footsteps, but if there had been silence in the house, Analisa’s approach would still have been a quiet one.

Mr. Randall moved from the doorway of his office, across the dining room, being careful to avoid Nelson who was not slowing down, and stood at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for Mrs. Analisa.

Mattie went back to the kitchen to get matches for the candles. Time had snuck up on her since she had stopped to watch Nelson. The candles were to be lit in their candleholders at exactly the same time each day, no matter what. Mattie had never liked the large candleholders. They were so big and heavy.

The sound of Nelson yelling at his mother to look at the rocking chair made Mattie smile. She pushed open the door and saw Mrs. Analisa look at Nelson and then back at her while she lit the candles and then Mattie watched Mrs. Analisa gently pick up her husband’s pocket watch and check the time. Mattie quickened her pace, lit all the candles for the table, and hurried back to the kitchen. She knew she would probably get a talking to later, but not now.

“Ma, I made this.” Nelson was screaming now.

Mrs. Analisa winced slightly. She whispered into the ear of her husband and he patted her hand. She never could abide loud noises.

Nelson didn’t see any of this and yelled to her again, “Ma, I made this chair.”

Analisa nodded and took her place at the table. Nelson started slowing down. But then, George turned to see if Gertrude was coming down the stairs yet. George, when he was home, and Nelson all the rest of the time, always went up to get Gertrude for dinner.

“Gert,” George went to the staircase “come look at what Nelson made.”

Gertrude was Mr. Randall’s niece and she had come to live with them when she was only a child. Her parents were both dead. Her father of dysentery in the War and her mother died of pneumonia six months later. Union soldiers found her alone in the house. No one knew her mother had died and news of her father’s death, Mr. Randall’s brother, had only just reached the McGinnis Plantation. Mr. Randall might not have gone at all to check on his brother’s family if it weren’t for Gertrude. His brother fought for the Union, and Mr. Randall was staunchly on the side of the Confederacy. In fact, once his brother came out on the side of the Union, Randall McGinnis said he no longer had a brother.

But, he did go to see about his niece, and that’s when he found out that his sister-in-law had just died, leaving Gertrude an orphan. The soldiers who had found Gertrude had taken her to the church and left her there. Mr. Randall didn’t have to do much searching to find her. In the first of many peculiar things related to Gertrude, when Mr. Randall had gone to his deceased brother’s house, there was a note from Gertrude on the table, stating where she was. It wasn’t addressed to anyone, but it said that the Union soldiers had taken her away from her home, that her mother had died in bed, that her father had died from DYSENTERY in the WAR, written in capital letters, and that she was estimating they would take her to the church, and she signed it in large block letters “GERTRUDE MCGINNIS, daughter of Thomas and Annie McGinnis, niece of Mr. Randall McGinnis”.

So, Mr. Randall went straight to the church, talked to the pastor and showed him the letter. Gertrude came in, took one look at Mr. Randall, hugged him around the waist, grabbed his hand and said she was ready to leave. She was a naturally affectionate child, but Randall McGinnis was not an affectionate person. She didn’t seem to notice one bit.

Mr. Randall had three sons, the oldest Nelson, then George, and then a baby who passed away right after he was born. The name on the headstone was Baby McGinnis, son of Randall and Analisa, brother to Nelson and George. But, that had been a long time ago, and when people talked about Randall McGinnis, they said he had two sons, and he usually didn’t bother to correct them. Analisa did not mention the son who had died, ever. When she talked to other people at all, besides the members of their family, she rarely mentioned either of her living sons either.

Gertrude grabbed George’s hand and skipped down the last few steps, then quickly looked up to make sure that Mrs. Analisa had not seen her. Gert never called her anything other than “ma’am” or “Mrs. Analisa” when she spoke to her at all, even though she was her aunt. Analisa never corrected her or told her otherwise.

George laughed at Gert and squeezed her hand. She walked as quickly as possible without running to watch Nelson in his rocking chair.

When Nelson saw her, he yelled “Gert, look here. I finished it.”

Gertrude yelled back “It’s pretty, Nelson. It’s so pretty.” She yelled so loudly that Nelson could hear her with no problem over his stomping and the swooshing of the chair, and yelled back to her.

“Thanks, Gert!”

Gertrude and George stood one on either side of Mr. Randall and watched Nelson continue to rock. Mrs. Analisa was sitting at the table, looking back and forth from the three onlookers to Nelson and at the empty chairs at the table.

The sound started quietly. It took awhile to grow louder than the rocking, but then they could all hear it. Nelson started slowing down. The sound kept growing. Nelson tried to throw his weight forward to stop the rocking, but it wasn’t working.

It happened so fast. The creaking grew louder, and then a loud boom which was followed by a thunderous crack and a thud. The rocking chair had collapsed, and Nelson was sprawled on a pile of wooden pieces. Everyone in the house, including Mattie who had come to the kitchen door to investigate when she first heard the creaking, sucked in their breaths. The noise of the rocker collapsing was so loud, it seemed to echo in the house. Nelson hadn’t moved.

Gertrude and George moved closer to him. It had been a violent collapse. Suddenly, Nelson jumped to his feet, clapped his hands together and laughed, “Ha ha, a roaring success!”

Gertrude and George and even Mattie in the kitchen all laughed. Mr. Randall stuck out his hand to Nelson and led him to the table. “Son, you did it, a rocking chair that worked. At least for a while. Much better than before.”

Gertrude and George took their places at the table. George stopped laughing enough to say “if that chair held up that long under those conditions, I think it would last a lifetime in regular use. Job well done, Nelson.”

Mr. Randall said “here, here!” and Gertrude smiled at her cousin Nelson. “You did that, Nelson. You made that from nothing.”

Mrs. Analisa sat silently watching each of them. Finally, they had all calmed down enough to be silent and Analisa asked her husband, the same at each meal, if he would say the blessing.

They all bowed their heads and Mr. Randall said the prayer. Gertrude waited until her uncle had finished the blessing and right before he said “Amen” and she said “And, thank you, Lord, for Nelson’s rocking chair and making it a roaring success.” They all smiled, except for Analisa, and said a hearty “Amen”.


About melindamcguirewrites

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ------ William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950
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6 Responses to Winner, winner, chicken dinner – NaNoWriMo 2011

  1. DM says:

    Why is this no surprise? Congratulations to a very fine writer.

  2. E. Wing says:

    Congrats =D

  3. Pingback: Sesame Literary Club Presentation | melindamcguirewrites

  4. Pingback: The Question’s the Thing | melindamcguirewrites

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