News and updates about Gordon's fiction, available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, courtesy of Oghma Creative Media.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Who the hell is Mary Hansard?

I had a very peculiar thing happen to me while working on my work-in-progress, a fall-of-civilization novel called In the Midst of Lions that I swear was not inspired in any way by 2020.  (In fact -- true story -- I first came up with the idea for this book when I was in college.  Which was a lot of years ago.)

I've been kicked into high gear on this by NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- a rather daft undertaking that occurs every November, in which authors are challenged to write the first draft of a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days.  This is my eighth time participating, and I've gotten to 50K five of the eight times, which isn't too shabby.

This year I was disinclined to participate.  I have not been writing much, mostly from a combination of depression over the political situation and frustration at how poorly my published novels have been selling lately.  The result has been lousy concentration and focus, and writing only very intermittently, which any good writer will attest is the way to go nowhere fast.

I got my arm twisted, in a friendly and positive way, by my fellow writer, blogger, and Twin Brudda From Anudda Mudda, Andrew Butters, whose blog Potato Chip Math should be on your regular reading list.  Andrew said -- rightly -- that signing up would be a much-needed kick in the ass to my motivation, so with some misgivings I signed up.  Thus far I'm ahead of the game; three days in, the target is 5,000 words, and at the closing bell tonight I had 5,830.

But what I want to tell you about is something that happened yesterday.  The main characters, a bunch of academics who are very used to the easy life, are caught up in a sudden societal collapse.  I'm always interested to think about how perfectly ordinary people would act in extraordinary circumstances; this is kind of the crypto-theme of all my stories, actually.  In any case these four professors from the University of Washington end up having to flee the rioting and violence on foot, crossing the Washington Park Arboretum, a two-hundred-acre garden south of the campus, on their way to a safe haven.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Joe Mabel, Seattle - Arboretum Bridge 01, CC BY-SA 3.0]

Completely unexpectedly -- not only to them, but to me -- they meet someone in the Arboretum.  Here's the scene where they come across her:
Cassandra was the first one to spot her—a woman sitting cross-legged with her back to the trunk of a fir tree, watching them approach with a broad smile on her face.  She was perhaps forty years old, and the most remarkable thing about her appearance was how completely unremarkable she looked.  An oval face, even features, light brown hair in a loose ponytail, neither particularly attractive nor at all unattractive, she was the kind of person you might pass a dozen times a day and never notice.

But here she sat in the Arboretum as the world collapsed around her, apparently unconcerned.

“Oh, hello,” she called out in a pleasant, melodious voice, and waved.

Soren exchanged a puzzled glance with Cassandra, who shrugged.

As they neared, the woman stood, moving a little awkwardly, but with no evident self-consciousness.  Soren jerked to a halt until she raised both hands to show that she was unarmed.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said.  “I mean no harm. In fact, I’ve been waiting for you all.”

When I finished writing this, I said -- and I quote -- "what the fuck just happened?"  She was not part of the original plot.  The idea was that they'd cross the Arboretum, dodging snipers and rioters, and reach their goal safely.  But suddenly there's this... this person, sitting there waiting for them.

Oh, and her name is Mary Hansard.  Don't ask me where that came from.  Her name came along with her character, waltzing into the story from heaven-knows-where.

I know I tend to be a pantser (for non-writers, authors tend to fall into two loose classes: pantsers -- who write by the seat of the pants -- and plotters -- who plan everything out).  But this is ridiculous.  I honestly had no idea this character even existed.  Now I have to figure out (1) who the hell Mary Hansard is, (2) what role she's going to play in the story, and (3) how she knew the four fleeing professors were going to be coming through the Arboretum.

I would love to know where this kind of stuff comes from.  I mean, "my brain" is the prosaic answer, and is technically right, but when this sort of thing happens -- and it's far from the first time -- it feels like it came from outside me, as if the story already existed out there in the aether and I just tapped into it somehow.

I also know enough that when this occurs, it means something is going really right with the story.  When I've had these sudden shifts in course, following them usually leads to somewhere interesting that I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.  But to say that it's a little disorienting is a vast understatement.

So NaNoWriMo continues, and tomorrow I have to get my 1,666 words written to hit my daily goal.  And in those words, I have to parse the role of the mysterious, ordinary-looking Mary Hansard.

Let's hope she continues to talk to me.  Because what she's said so far has gotten me really curious.

1 comment: