Someone recently asked me a spin on the old “Where do you get your ideas?” question. Upon hearing that my novel, The Platinum Ticket, had been shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett Prize, they asked, “So how did you come up with the story? How long did it take to write?” Well – let me see…
The 3 Day Novel
In June of 2006 (at least I think it was June), I was driving somewhere and on the radio was an interview with one of the people who run something called The 3 Day Novel Contest. The whole idea began in 1977 when some writers in
challenged one another to write a novel over the upcoming Labour Day Weekend. It caught on and became an annual event. Vancouver
At the time, I was spending my days selling packaging and retail displays and hadn’t written anything of note for years. I figured I’d give myself the gift of a complete weekend of guilt-free writing (with my wife’s permission, of course).
Because a goodly portion of professional sales is alone time in the car travelling from one customer to the next, I was able to think about a potential story quite often leading up to the long weekend. It was a story that had been dancing around in my head for years, but I’d never made myself sit down and get it down on paper.
Friday at midnight was the starting point. In preparation my wife had cleaned my office, moved the coffee-maker downstairs, set me up with snacks both sugary and healthy (she is a nurse by training, you know) and told me that I wasn’t allowed to let myself become distracted. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have done the 3 Day Novel thing if it hadn’t been for, not just the support, but the whole hearted encouragement of my wife.
At the stroke of midnight I started. At the time, my typing was atrocious. It’s not much better now, but at least I know where most of the letters are. I had decided I would be writing my three day novel longhand. The first page spilled from my pen, then the next and then another. It had been so long since I’d written fiction that the words erupted from me.
The next three days were a blur. I drank way too much diet coke and coffee, ate far too much beef jerky and chocolate, spend too little time sleeping (I think about 7 of the 72 hours were spent sleeping) and finished with a neat little novella of just around 21,000 words.
This is how The Platinum Ticket was born.
2006 – 2010
My 3 Day Novel didn’t win the contest – wasn’t even short-listed. It didn’t matter. That little novel rekindled my desire to write. I sent it off – edited only for spelling and technical stuff – and it met with rejection. It seems no one wants to publish novellas nowadays – that is unless you have four of them and your name is Steven King and even that only happens once every twenty years or so.
I moved on to other writing and The Platinum Ticket – both the original hand written version and the lightly edited printed copy – was shelved. It was shelved, but not forgotten.
Every so often, while walking the dog or during a drive or in the shower, I would revisit the story in my mind and start asking some questions. They were “so, what happened next?” and “okay, then what happened before?” kinds of questions. Before I knew it, a little flesh was appearing on my skeletal novella, in my mind’s eye, at least.
October 10th, 2010
During my children’s swimming lessons, I had started writing a story (a future novel or series of short stories in the making) about a family business and I decided that what might make this story really work was if the there was a family curse, as well. I wanted something real and medical, but it had to be devastating and horrifying for the victim for it to qualify as a true generational family curse.
My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and though I was young and distant from the toll it took on her, I remember when I was in my early twenties having my grandmother make me a sandwich with absolutely no idea who I was. This was well into the illness, but my father had watched – again from a distance – my grandmother slip away by degrees. The most horrific thing for her, he told me, was knowing that she knew she was slipping away and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Alzheimer’s has a genetic element. If ever there was a family curse with some fearful teeth, Alzheimer’s is it.
It was while doing research on early-onset Alzheimer’s that I came across an article about Terry Pratchett and his donation of one million dollars to the Alzheimer’s Society. From there I jumped to his website and on his website, I saw something about a writing contest of some kind. The full description of the contest and rules are here. My immediate thought was another 3 Day Novel story –
Herne, but is firmly planted in this Earth with no historical changes and taking place about 20 years ago. Herne
Then my mind drifted back to The Platinum Ticket, sitting lonely on it’s shelf. I took it down and reread the 21,000 words for the first time in an age. It was a skeleton in dire need of some flesh.
I’d need to be quick about it, though. The deadline for the completed novel of no less than 80,000 words was December 31st 2010 – just a little over two and a half months and with Christmas thrown into the mix for good fun. It wasn’t going to be easy and it was going to take everyone’s buy in.
At dinner that evening, I told the family what I was thinking. I told them that 60,000 words in a little over two months was a lot of writing and that it might mean that I’d be disappearing many evenings to be in the basement in the attempt to get it finished on time. All of them – even the dog – were behind the project 100 percent.
October was filled with false starts and generally getting into the mindset required for sustained writing. November was fairly productive, but if my pace remained where it was I would miss the word count by better than ten thousand words. December everything came together.
As I ploughed through the paragraphs in the back of my mind I knew that there were some days that would have to be sacrificed. There are some familial duties that just can’t be shirked. Fresh snow and tobogganing with young children is one of them. Christmas Eve and Christmas day are two others (although I did get some writing done on both).
Next was the 7 hour drive up north to visit the in-laws after Christmas.
“Damn it,” I told my wife. “Without those seven hours, I don’t know if I’ll be finished by the 31st.”
“Who says you need to lose those seven hours,” she said and took me out to buy a power inverter for the car to run my laptop. “I’ll drive – you shut up and write.”
And write I did. During the entire trip north I typed away while all around me my wife, my kids and my dog pretended I wasn’t even there. I was still typing as we pulled into the in-laws’ driveway.
I said a quick hello to my mother-in-law then took my father-in-law aside.
“You know your office over top of the garage?” I asked.
“You don’t suppose I could just kind of take it over until I’m finished this book, do you?”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t plan on usin’ it for the next few days.”
I took that as a “yes” and headed out the door with my laptop. From that point on this was my routine:
Up around 7:00 am and out to the office to write. Around 8:30 am someone would come and get me to come in for breakfast. A thermos of coffee would be waiting for me to take back out with me (have I said something about how nothing happens without unflinching support from one’s loved ones?). I’d hammer away at the book until 1:00pm or so when someone would call me in for lunch. Then back out until dinner. After dinner back out until at least 11:30pm.
In two and one half solid days of this routine I figure I wrote close to 30,000 words – and not just 30,000 words – 30,000 good solid story words.
Late on the 29th of December I finished the story, but I wasn’t done yet. I stretched and went into the house and collected the dog for a little walk down the sideroad. When I returned, I grabbed another coffee and headed for the door.
“I thought you were finished?” my wife said.
“The story, yes,” I replied, “but now I need to edit.”
Just about a day and a half to edit 93,000 words. I was really too close to the work to edit for story and structure and wording. All I could hope to do was find spelling and grammar mistakes and anything that really stuck out like a sore thumb. A word of advice – if you can help it, don’t ever try to edit a complete novel in 38 hours – it’s just not healthy.
On December 31st the book was as done as it was going to be and I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally, I was spent. There was on last hurtle – e-mailing the book to Transworld Publishers before the midnight deadline. I did, of course, remember that midnight comes 5 hours earlier for my friends in the
and planned my time accordingly. The in-laws only had dial-up internet at the farm so I waited until we went into town to my brother-in-law’s house to e-mail the story. UK
After making certain that I had included all attachments and required information, at 2:03 pm I hit the send button, breathed a sigh of relief and reacquainted myself with my family.