Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day Seventeen: Interview with a NaNoer -- Part I

Today, I am pleased to have as my guest, Deni Hansen-Gray Weber. I first met Deni a few years ago when we were both volunteers for Rest Ministries, an online support outreach for people with chronic illness. Recently we reconnected on Facebook. This is her first time participating in National Novel Writing Month, and I thought it would be interesting to get her perspective, as a first-timer, on what has become an international phenomena.

Donna: Deni, thank you for joining us on Creative Muse Journal today. Perhaps you could begin by telling us a little about yourself.

Deni: The “non-NaNo” me is a jack-of-all-trades. At 58, I’ve gone down a lot of different paths. I’ve lived in Indiana, near Chicago, all my life, and went back to school at the age of 43 for my doctorate in psychology. Unfortunately, by the time I finished school and got licensed, my body decided not to cooperate, and I am disabled and home bound. I love anything creative. I homeschool my grandkids who we are adopting in December. For someone who has “nothing to do,” my life is pretty full!

Donna: It certainly sounds like it is. Having homeschooled two of my own children, I know the amount of time and commitment that takes. Tell our readers, how did you first learn about NaNoWriMo?

Deni: Having recently re-met Donna on facebook, I was reading one of her posts and saw her mention NaNo. I had heard about it last year and had no clue what it was – so I wrote to her asking about it. She filled me in and suggested that we could be writing buddies, and I was sold on it.

Donna: With your busy schedule and health challenges, why did you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo?

Deni: Probably because I love a challenge and I love to write.

Donna: Had you done any writing before this and, if so, what kind of writing?

Deni: I think I’ve written things all my life. I was a rabid journal keeper for many years. I started writing short stories and poems when I was a teen – always kept them mostly to myself though, as I’ve never really felt they were good enough for anyone else to read. I wrote because I was writing for me. I have two unpublished books tucked away: one a suspense novel, and one kind of a cross between self-help book/story about how our family made it through the difficult days after the murder of my only daughter who was pregnant when she died. I really needed to write then! Today, I write devotionals for the chronically ill. Some are published through Rest Ministries and some on my own site.

Donna: It sounds like writing has been a big part of your life and seen you through an unthinkable personal tragedy, yet you've been able to draw strength from that to reach out to help others. How is what you're writing for NaNo different from what you usually write?

Deni: NaNo is different because I really had no goal to start with. I was willing to let the story go wherever it needed to, and it was for sheer fun. I enjoyed the challenge of the word count – this time aiming for more. This is probably the longest thing I’ve written. It got obsessive for me though. (My family will attest to that! lol!)

Donna: It does tend to take over our lives for the month, doesn't it! Would you tell us a little bit about your NaNo novel and what influenced your choice of genre?

Deni: I love the writings of Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters. I enjoy the innocence of those “romances” and knowing that there is usually going to be a suspense-filled book with a boy gets girl, or girl gets boy ending. I decided to try my hand at updating that type of novel and setting it in Chicago in the 1940’s. I love the old black and white movies from that era, and I “saw” a lot of my novel in my mind as I was writing it. There is a Christian approach to the novel as well, but not overtly – just in the message of the book itself. As for the plot summary, this is what I have written on the NaNoWriMo site:

Set in the 1940's just after WWII, a young girl journeys to Chicago from her small farm town to try to forget the boy she was to marry when he came home from overseas. Having learned of his death during the final offensive of the war, Charlie's relatives think a change of scenery will help her deal with her grief. Charlie (known as "Honey" to her friends) finds out that grief isn't any easier to handle there, and that trying to survive the "big city life" is harder than she expected. Used to farm work, obtaining work in Chicago is difficult until she inadvertently becomes the assistant for an advertising executive in one of the city's most prestigious firms. Finding her boss to be tyrannical, she struggles to keep pace with his seemingly impossible demands until an unexpected event brings her into the spotlight of Chicago's clothing designers, and she finds that success doesn't necessarily bring happiness.

Donna: What have some of the problems been in trying to write a book in a month?

Deni: The biggest problem (seriously) has been my posture. I have spent so much time hunched over my laptop, words flowing out of my fingertips, that I have had problems with my neck, back and arms! Once I get started, I hate to stop. I have more problems stopping my writing than starting. My family hears, “Just a minute while I finish this … (line, paragraph, chapter)," and then I emerge hours later!

Donna: Has it been difficult trying to fit such a project into your day-to-day life, and how has homeschooling affected your ability to do NaNo?

Deni: Being homebound and fairly disabled, one of the things that I can do is type. I’m fortunate that I don’t have the demands of a job like others do, so time is not really an issue. It has helped that I homeschool my grandkids and they are involved in the young writer’s group – so they are tap, tap, tapping away along with me.

Donna: What kind of response have the children had to the idea of trying to write a book? What have they set for a word count goal for themselves?

Deni: While both kids were a bit leery of the whole project, when they realized it would count as “school,” they were willing to give it a go. Using guidelines on the young writer's site, my 7th grader has set a 7,000-word goal for himself and the 2nd grader is undertaking 1500 words. We are using a speech recognition program for her and she really enjoys story telling. NaNoWriMo is going to become a permanent part of our yearly curriculum!

Donna: What have the benefits been of writing with your children? Do you feel they have motivated you, and if so, in what way?

Deni: It gives us a “common” interest. “Read this, Mommy and tell me what you think,” is heard pretty frequently. They check my word count on the adult site – and I check theirs. It’s a fun thing to be doing together.

The young writers site has great downloads for the kids, and that has helped them (and me) break the novel writing process down piece by piece. When the kids were in public school there was a criteria for writing a book each school year; however, they did not get the education really necessary for writing a book. The downloads we printed out are very thorough, explaining how to flesh out characters, what the parts of a story are, how to pace themselves, how to use descriptive words. Teaching them those things has helped my learning curve as well. Writing a novel is not as random as I first thought it was.

Reading what they write, listening to how they think, is helping me to know them better, and also makes me want to have a real novel at the end of this, setting an example for them. Next month? We move on to proofreading and editing!

NOTE: Please join me again tomorrow for part two of my interview with Deni. I look forward to hearing your comments, as well.


  1. I think it's great that you're doing NaNo with your children. Usually such an undertaking means less time with family. Sounds like fun.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pat. One of the beauties of homeschooling (and it's not for everyone) is that you do get more together time. Also, the schedule is a bit more flexible because you don't have a large number of kids in a classroom. When I taught my own kids, after having taught in a private school and subbed in public ones, I definitely appreciated the advantages as well as the challenges. Hmm...topic for a future blog, perhaps.