Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Marathon Month - Part Two, the Marathing

Thursday night, I'd just heard a kind-hearted (and slightly hammy) audience cold reading one of my radio play scripts.  The story they read was the basis of what I was about to write in Huntsville, Ontario, for the 12th Annual Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I was already hopped up on positive energy and adrenaline, because of all the Facebook chatter in the weeks leading up to the Marathon, and because of all the funds my mother and I had already been able to collect for the YMCA Literacy Programs - which is the whole reason why we put ourselves through this silly marathon in the first place.

I have to say, I have some of the awesomest, most generous friends and family a gal could hope for.  Between my mother and I, we raised $847.50.  That's almost $500 more than what I raised last year.  To put that in perspective:  the person who raised the most last year had collected just over $600.  In total, the Marathoners of 2011 raised roughly $8600, and that was the best year we had ever had, by far and away.

And, thanks especially to Tobin's efforts, we were able to get commitment from TELUS to match up to $500 - each.  So that was an extra $1000 right there.  Tobin raised I think about $600 as well.

This year's goal for donations was $10,000.  Between Tobin and I, we were going up to the Novel Marathon with almost 25% of this year's goal.  I was psyched for this marathon.

But you know what?  I only came in at second place for top fundraiser.  The top prize (the Remy), went to someone who raised over $1300.  (Tobin and I had both said that we would not count the TELUS matched contributions toward our totals, otherwise I would have had a fighting chance.)  I did win a fancy handwoven / handspun scarf though - which I've barely taken off since Saturday night.  I'm even wearing it now.  Fortunately for the rest of the public, that's not the only thig I'm wearing.

It was Tobin's first time at the marathon, but he knew a few people already, like Kevin Craig, Sandra Clarke, and fellow newbie Marie-Eve Girard, so I'm sure that put him somewhat at ease.

But for me, I remember Friday night as a period of much leaping into arms.  It was a family reunion.  I only get to see these people once - maybe twice - a year, but I think I keep in touch with them more than I do my own cousins.  I've watched many of them move from "unpublished" to "launching this year" or "launching a second book".  And as you've read in a previous interview, I was actually in the same room with Kevin Craig the moment he got the call from his agent, telling him his first book had just been accepted.

We goofed off, we kibbitzed, we introduced ourselves, and we met Nancy West, who is the Team Lead of the YMCA Literacy Programs.  I wish I had recorded what she'd said, because it was one of the best and most passionate summaries of the problem and the solutions.  Every dollar was assigned, and so much more had to go undone for want of money.

And then, after the intros were done, the games began.

I'd had two goals for the start of the marathon:  be the first with ten (I failed - Susan Blakeney beat me by THAAAAAT much), and to close out the night with 50 pages.  I didn't get to fifty either, before my eyes fell out onto my lap.  After all, I hadn't slept more than 90 minutes since Wednesday morning, so I was already pooched.  So, Tobin took me back to my hotel room, and I crawled into bed watching Stephen King in Creepshow.  By the way, Comfort Inn - probaby one of the best stays I've had in a hotel in a long time.  I didn't hear anything from the neighbours until Monday morning.

Unfortunately, my head was still abuzz, and despite my best efforts, I didn't get to sleep until well after 2:30, almost 3:00 in the morning.

The very next morning - around quarter to seven - Tobin gave me the wake-up call.  I was so out of it that when he said "Get up!" I said, "Yes ma'am!"  I'd had little more than 4 hours of sleep.

Saturday was one very long day of massive typing and stuff.  To my discomfort, there were six people who were already ahead of me in terms of word count, and they maintained that lead.  There were others who were typing lockstep with me.

Jackrabbits like Susan and Kevin, they scare the pants off me - they were at 150+ by Saturday afternoon, leaving me pretty much in the dust.  Kate Wheatley was a surprise contender, too, staying hot on my heels every step of the way - and Tobin, too, which really surprised and impressed me. 

But I've got one advantage they don't:  stubborn, old-fashioned stupidity. 

I went out later with friends to celebrate and goof off, and there I got to hang out with the likes of Kevin Craig, Cheryl Cooper, and Shellie Yaworksi (sorta - she was at the far end of the table out of yell-shot).  I managed another hundred pages, when I came to a natural break and decided to call it a night.  Back to the hotel I went - this time on foot - and by the time I got there, I was SO full of ideas I couldn't sleep again.  I had just over three hours of sleep that time.  Maybe four.  I think "zoning out in the middle of a conversation" could count as power napping.

I got on a roll during Sunday, and I knuckled down.  Despite my best efforts, the fatigue was starting to kick in, but I was still going at a good clip.  I really, really liked where the story was going, I liked how the characters were developing, I liked the suspense, the gradual revelation of neat stuff - and the IMAGERY!  Wow!  If I wrote half as well as I hoped I did, if the words did the imagination any justice, I may very well have come up with some of the best animated imagery I've ever written.

And then someone (LORI TWINING, I'm LOOKING AT YOU...!) asked me why I was the only one who hadn't done an all-nighter yet.  All the cool kids had done it, and it was fun every time.  Had I realized that Tobin hadn't done an all-nighter, and yet he was a cool kid, I would have turned down the dare.  Instead, stupidly, I gave into peer pressure and buckled in for an eleventh-hour all-nighter.

Now, to be fair - up to that point, I'd only had a rough sum total of 9 and a half hours of sleep since Wednesday night. 9.5 hours of sleep spread out over 72 hours.  An all-nighter with that little sleep beforehand?  That's DUMB.  I will not do that again!  EVER!  By dawn, I was sick to my stomach, and I ended up only writing 15 pages.

On the other hand, there were some awful laughs the night crew enjoyed, the night crew being Kevin, Marie-Eve, Lori Twining , myself and Monika Moravan.  (I'm probably missing a couple.  If I missed you, I'm sorry, but I'm amazed I can remember this much.)

Of course, those 15 pages are probably the most deliberately surreal of the lot, and MAN - hello character development - did I have fun with them.  But considering up to that point my cruising speed had been about 800-1000 words an hour, 15 pages (less than 1100 words) over eight hours was a bit of a let down.  Tobin drove me back to the hotel, and I was asleep before the door was closed.

Two hours later, I was up again, and back at the desk.

Believe it or not, I wrote 72 pages on the last day.  There's no logical, rational reason for why I could write so much on such a sleep deficit, but it certainly does explain why I was physically incapable of verbal speech by dinnertime.

The marathon isn't won on Saturday or Sunday.  The marathon-aspect of it doesn't really kick in until Monday.  The ability to push on when you're already past your limits, that's when the most prolific is won.  (For the record, I wasn't even trying for quality, so if most prolific is the only thing I win, I'm happy.  And if I don't win that, all the better - I won't have to defend my title for the fifth year in a row.)

In the end, I wrote a total of 312 pages between Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 p.m.  To give you an idea:  2009 = 300, 2010 = 305, 2011 = 250 (with best in adult category), and this year, I came in seven pages better than my personal best.  All that, and only on 11.5 hours of sleep between Wednesday night and Monday evening.

That's a fancy, mathematical way of admitting insanity.

In the end, there was not one thing I didn't enjoy about this marathon.  It was, without a doubt, a success from six weeks before it even started.

Because in the end, we raised $14,572.50 - almost 50% more than our total year's goal.

And I cannot wait for next year - because if my hopes pan out, next year's going to be the best one ever.

13's the charm.

The Marathon Month - Part One

I apologize for being offline again for a while there, but July has definitely been a marathon month for me, even before I went to the marathon.

The first week of July was relatively easy, except for a small problem I'd noticed cropping up.  The main database (and some of the ancillary databases) had...well...blown up.  I still don't know what happened, but suffice it to say, a report that was taking 5 seconds longer every week suddenly jumped to 20 minutes longer, then 40 minutes.

On the upside, my mother was in town, and she plied me with breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day.  There was some bad stuff that happened when she was down (her wallet stolen), but some pretty good stuff too (every penny of the stolen money was returned by the bank before the end of the week - including the thief's ATM charges!), and handmade French toast makes any bad day better. And, on the day of her birthday, I took her out to watch Brave, and then we went out for dessert.  I just realized right this minute that I have a candle in my purse that I could have used.  I don't know why I have a candle in my purse.  I just do.

Which brings us to the second week of July.  My mother had gone out to the Eastern Townships to visit family, while I, lucky old me, got to work on rebuilding the database from the ground up.  Understand, this is no small feat:  it took 60 days to build it in the beginning, and this time around, I had to fix it and improve it at the same time - to say nothing of the ancilliary "feeder" databases I had to repair and upgrade at the same time.  And I had three days to rebuild it from the ground up.

So, in 30 hours between Sunday evening and Tuesday afternoon, I rebuilt more formulae than I care to remember, on minimal sleep, with testing completed and many successful conversions.

It was a three day work-week, that's why the push.  I was due in a car Thursday morning, packed and fueled.  And all of my mothly and weekly reports were due before I left.

So you can imagine, I'd already put in a stupidly busy, frustrating and tiresome week, and all that on minimal sleep (averaging 4-6 hours every night but Wednesday).  I was already in marathon mode before I'd even gotten in the car.  And boy, was I glad my mother was in the car with me.

Oh - and the Wednesday night, once that last report had gone out, I shut down the computer, and between my mother and I, we started the process of a) making the apartment ready for company and b) printing off materials for the next day.  That process continued into the Thursday morning, in preparation for Brendan Gallagher's arrival.  No, not the hockey guy.  Mady's son.  By the way, B - awesome job, seriously.  You even washed dishes that you hadn't dirtied.  Above and beyond the call of duty there, bud.

Thursday afternoon, we left an hour behind schedule, but with enough time that we could drive at a comfortable (and legal) speed.  And as soon as we were in the car, I was a giddy, chatty basket case, because the fun was just about to begin.

I'd first had idea for the "Thursday Thing" shortly after hooking up with some high school and work friends of mine by Facebook.  My time in town was limited, and I wanted to catch up with friends new, old and really really old, so I thought, hey why not meet up with them all at the same time in the same place?

My mother and I chatted about it, and we decided it would be a cool idea to turn the coffee klatsch into a fundraising event, and she would invite some of her friends and family too.  My mother also suggested that I read something.  I insisted that I couldn't do it because I didn't have anything officially published.  And I couldn't very well do a book launch for the story I hadn't even written yet, now could I?

And then I thought, "I mean, I only have radio plays published."

And then I thought, "Well, that would be boring, and tiring, if only one person read all the parts."

And then I looked at the guest list, and grinned like Snidely Whiplash.  It's probably the first and last time I'll have known my audience so well, in advance.

Also, thanks to Tobin Elliott for making the reservations for us.  They gave us a table with 8 seats.  We needed 14.  How AWESOME is that?  I have a hard time getting 14 people out to an event with established authors.

So, then we all ordered our coffees and our snacks and sat down, and that's when I sprang the surprise on them.

What I said was that, during the marathon, I was going to write about characters I'd first conceived of back in 1992 - a twenty year old story idea - and what had inspired that:  Orson Welles being the unknown voice of the Shadow, an era in which The War of the Worlds inspired panic in some highly imaginative listeners, and so forth.  Most of the guests there had heard of radio plays, so they knew what I was talking about, so that made the introduction pretty darned easy.

Then...I asked for volunteers.

We needed seven actors, most of whom played dual roles.  Sean Stafford, the husband of my colleague Tracey Webster, took two of the most important roles (hapless robber Red, and scatter-brained genius Dr. Bairns); Tobin Elliott played the part of Flynn, Captain of Police (and a taxi driver); Gary Whitbourn played the main role of Sheldon Webb; Norma Jean Thibodeau played opposite him as Miss Linda Vie Kaine; Tracey Webster played Kaine's secretary Francine, and "Woman getting into cab"; and fellow marathoner Sandra Clarke picked up the role of "Announcer" and "Man getting into cab".  I had the odd pleasure of playing the bad guy, Mad Matty Brown - who turns out to be far more insidious in the book than in the play.

See, I didn't tell them about the Fog of Dockside City, about his character, about his history, nothing.  It was revealed during the reading.  No one had any idea of what to expect, and no one had read the script in advance.

I had goosebumps, which I'm sure is appropriate for a "cold reading".  But I can't tell you how amazing it was to hear voices come to life outside my head for a change.  I can't tell you how freakishly cool it was to hear people - who had never read the script before - reading the characters so faithfully to the way I had imagined them.

And because the others at the table were given scripts so that they could follow along, there was no need to strain to hear each other.  They could follow along - even adding sound effects, music and shrieks where applicable.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) the cafe was deserted except for us and the staff, so we could get a litte hammy without any risk of embarrasment.

It's amazing what more you learn when you hear a radio play, compared to what you learn by listening.  I'd already known about having contrasting characters and voices; I'd known about having easy to pronounce names.  But what I think doesn't always match with practical reality.  During a cold reading without any introductinos, "BAIRNS" gets read as "Barns", "Bains" and "Bairns" at random (and I lost count of how many times I'd written "BRAINS" during the first draft).  So I changed his name in the book:  the nutty doctor is now called "Zanx", which is about as distinct and easy to pronounce as any name I've ever made up.

And it's amazing what more you can put in.  Sean played as much of his role on script as off.  Seriously, if he doesn't go looking for some way of capitalizing on his radio-voice, I'll go back to the Durham Region and kick him in the bum.  One of his killer ad libs was the ironic death-scene exclamation, "How interesting!"  It worked so well with the character that, darn it, that line is now in the book, and I'll defend keeping it there.

Anyhow, fun was had by all.  I had a ripsnorting blast, I really did.  And I was so inspired and excited - first this, and then the marathon the next day? - I didn't sleep more than 90 minutes Thursday night.

So, with the exception of Wednesday night, I had not had a full night of sleep since the first week of July, and I was headed up to the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

I was about to find out just how little sleep the body needed to survive, and just how badly sleep is needed.

But that's for part two.