11:58p, Thursday, November 29th, 46,889.
I’m done for the night. I wrote just over 7,000 words today. I have 3,000 left to go to hit 50,000, and I have until midnight Friday to do it. I’m not worried. I will dance a victory dance and marvel at the fact that I’ve done something that I thought was impossible, at least for me.
[NOVEMBER 30th UPDATE]
But that’s not really the end of it, obviously. I mean, no one thinks they have a viable manuscript – as is – upon reaching the magic number. (Some folks, however, do seem alarming inclined to think they are close to finished though. I don’t want to be one of those people.)
After all my years of dissecting novels and studying the craft, I know different. I know that a salable novel in my chosen genre is somewhere between 80,000 – 120,000 words long. For this project I settled on a goal of 90,000 – 94,000 for the finished version. In a manuscript of that length, there should be roughly 72 distinct “sections,” divided between the viewpoints of 4 major characters, and including at least one separate but related subplot. (A section is pretty much what you think of when someone says “scene,” but there are few more guidelines that apply.)
Did you know that the books you read had such equations hidden within them? They do. I’ve checked. Even when the author doesn’t know the math, he or she ends up mirroring this classic structure. Apparently it’s as old as literature. Even avant-garde lit works both within and against these particular rules.
I started this project, on November 1st, knowing only the math. (isn’t THAT ironic?) … Well, To be truthful, I knew that, and the fact that it was going to be set in the hotel where I work.
Because I came in pretty much cold, I’ve been working up a section map, otherwise known as an outline, as I go. (The current word count on that, by the way, is 3,200 words.) Thanks to a couple of hours of intense figuring and brainstorming early on, I realized I could devote about 800 words to any given section before I had to move on, so that I’d get somewhere near the end of the story by the time the deadline came.
Of course that means I’m merely making a sketch of what will be included in the final section, but the process does three important things:
- gets the cliches out of the way
- builds the bones for the story
- occasionally results in a startlingly good shred of flesh to wrap around those bones.
I will hit the 50,000 mark somewhere within the 62nd section. The ending will be in motion, but I’ll still have 10 more sections to go before I can type ‘THE END (of draft one).’
So. Right now I’m trying to decide if I should push for that tomorrow, or if I should just enjoy the accomplishment of committing 50,000 words in 30 days to (virtual) paper.
I’m thrilled and proud that I know I’m going to do this thing, but I’m also sobered. This is what writing is. And, sometimes, I don’t know why I do it.
Do you have any idea how viciously I’m kicking myself for not doing this when I wasn’t working a full-time job?
I’ve delayed writing about an experience I had in the old hotel for too long. Already, some of the details of the event are slipping away. I can’t remember what night of the week it was, for example, or what the weather was like. I have no recollection of what else was going on my life at the time. I can’t forget, however, exactly what I saw, and heard, inside room 217.
I know that I was working the overnight shift. The hotel was nearly full. It was late. A sixty-something gentleman came in, wanting a non-smoking room for two nights. This presented me with a dilemma. We did have one available non-smoking room, but I knew it was reserved for the following night. Hotel management would frown on me splitting the guest’s two-night stay into two different rooms.
(The hospitality industry hates to accommodate a guest’s consecutive-nights stay using more than one room because doing so raises housekeeping costs. When housekeeping cleans a room from start to finish, it takes about a half hour. When they do a stay-over, it takes about ten minutes.)
So, I lied. I told the gentleman we had only smoking rooms remaining. I also told him that the intensity of the smoke smell in any given room depends largely on how recently the carpets had been cleaned and how heavily the latest guest smoked. I suggested we go have a look at – or rather a sniff of – one of the available rooms, to see if it would work for him. He agreed to my suggestion. When I checked the computer for an empty smoking room, 215 came up.
While the gentleman and I climbed the stairs and walked along the hallway, he told me he was taking a road trip on his Harley, which he was enjoying immensely, but that he was missing his boxer dog. Already inclined to like this polite prospective guest, I warmed to the conversation. As I was telling him about my own dog, I kept an eye out for the room I wanted to show him. Still describing the boxery features of my cross-breed, I stopped in front of room 217. I rapped on the door – because hotel clerks are taught they must ALWAYS knock – then unlocked and opened it. I stepped into the room and reached for the light switch. My hand froze in mid-air.
All the lamps in the room were off, but – because the security light in the parking lot was glowing through the drapes – I could clearly see the bed closest to the window … and what I saw was not the smooth, made-up bed I expected. Instead, I saw the silhouette of a man who had just thrown back the covers. The room was shadowy enough that I couldn’t make out many details of his appearance. The figure was male, I determined, because its shoulders were broad and its hair was close-cropped. I remember thinking, Either his pajamas are awfully snug or he’s naked. In the instant I saw him, he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to me, but he was using his arms to push himself up and off the mattress.
I gasped and stumbled backward, into the chest of the gentleman who was trying to follow me into the room. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry,” I said to the figure on the bed. I spun and pushed the prospective guest into the hallway. I pulled the door shut behind me, stopping just short of slamming it. My heart was hammering. I looked up into the surprised eyes of the gentleman and said, “There’s someone in there. I just walked in on a sleeping guest at two-thirty in the morning.”
I must have looked as panicky as I felt because he lightly grasped my arm and guided me away from the door. We stopped in front of room 215. “I thought you said we were going to room 215, but then I thought maybe I was miss-remembering when you walked past it,” he said. “I should have spoken up when I saw the sign on 217 that says it’s non-smoking.”
I believe I responded with, “I am so fired.”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” he said gently. “Maybe we didn’t even wake him up.”
“He was getting out of the bed. He must have heard the knock, and was coming to the door.”
“Well, he’s not coming out–” His words were cut off by the distinct sound of the guest in room 217 flipping the security lock to the engaged position. We both stood silently, staring at the door. After a few seconds, he resumed speaking. “See? He’s just going to go back to bed. Maybe he thinks he dreamed us coming in.”
I wanted, more than anything, to run downstairs to see who was in 217. I was hoping it was occupied by one of the construction crew guys. I imagined one of them would be most likely to forgive me, and to not complain to management. I still had to deal with the guest in front of me, however, so – after knocking and waiting a long time to ensure 215 was empty – I showed him the room. He found the scent inside acceptable and agreed to rent it. We headed toward the front desk.
When we came to the end of the hallway, I looked down into the lobby. A fully uniformed police officer was standing at the foot of the stairs. Of course, I immediately assumed the guest in room 217 had called the cops; I was only surprised by his quick response time. On shaky legs, I descended.
The cop nodded at the gentleman and me, then gestured toward the sofa in the lobby, where a young man was trying to sit up straight. “We can wait until you’re done,” he said.
As quickly as possible, I checked the gentleman into the hotel. The last thing he said to me, before heading upstairs was, “I’m sure it will be okay.”
The police officer beckoned the unsteady young man to the desk. He explained he’d found him passed out in the middle of a local bar’s parking lot. Because the young man had not attempted to drive – and seemed to have resources with which he could pay for lodging – the cop didn’t want to haul him all the way over to the drunk tank in the next town. He asked me if I minded renting him a room. I didn’t. Under the cop’s watchful eye, I guided the young man through the process of checking in. The officer then told me he’d escort the young man to the room, and see to it that he got settled in.
After they departed, I had a moment to check to see who was in room 217. I flipped through the file of room cards. The slot for room 217 was empty. I checked the computer. The register showed that room 217 was unoccupied and available for rent, but reserved for the following night. I realized, with shock, it was the same room that I’d lied about, the one I’d said we didn’t have. Incredibly, it took another moment for me to really parse that it was most definitely supposed to be vacant.
More than an hour passed before I summoned the courage to go back upstairs to check the room. The door yielded to my keycard. the room was empty. Both beds were immaculately made up. There was no sign anyone had been in it since it had last been cleaned.
I spent the rest of my shift trying to figure out what had happened. I contemplated the possibility that my own guilty conscience had betrayed me. I told myself I’d led the gentleman to that room because I’d felt bad about not offering it to him. I’d imagined a figure in the room because some part of my unconscious mind realized that I had been about to reveal my lie. I considered my own nature. I call myself the paranormalist, for God’s sake – It’s obvious that I want to see a ghost. Probably I’d just conjured one in my mind. Even after rationalizing the sighting, however, I couldn’t convince myself that the thing I saw was imaginary. It had been solid and it had acted realistically. At the time of the sighting, a paranormal entity couldn’t have been further from my mind. Most persuasively, I knew that I had not imagined the sharp, unambiguous sound of the security lock being engaged.
Days passed. I confessed what had happened to a coworker. I asked her if there were any stories associated with room 217. She said there were not – at least none to her knowledge – but that everyone got the creeps when they passed the weird stairwell that was directly across the hall from its door.
Finally, on a day off, I convinced my husband to come to the hotel with me, so that I could take the photographs you see in this post. Nothing strange showed up in any of the pictures.
By that time, I’d come around to believing I’d imagined the sighting. In order to convince myself, all I needed to do was replicate the sound of the security lock without actually engaging it. We tried to force the door to make the sound the gentleman and I had heard while we stood in the hallway that night. Repeatedly, we left the door just slightly unlatched, so that it might click into place under its own weight.
It didn’t work. The only way we could duplicate the noise was to have my husband stand inside the room with the door closed then flip the security lock.
It wasn’t long after that I was transferred to my new hotel. I haven’t had the chance to pick up a shift at the old place, but I intend to. Some winter’s night, when the hotel is all but empty, I want to unpack my ghost chasing tools and investigate room 217. As long as I’m at it, I’ll go after room 107 too.
I’ll let you know what happens.
WriMoProg: 12 +30 = 42/80 (updated – I’m at almost 10,000 words now)