This post, by Chuck Wendig, originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 11/21/12.
Chris Baty, ladies and gentlemen: the founder of NaNoWriMo is here just in time to save you and your novel. I met Chris as the Crossroads Conference down in Macon, GA, this year, where the both of us were guest speakers of the con (and what a kick-ass con it is), and damn if he isn’t the nicest and most inspiring dude. Which tells me he’s probably a serial killer, but that’s okay. Who isn’t? Chris harnessed the power of his niceness and inspiration and focused them on an interview here at terribleminds. Find his site at chrisbaty.com, and you will find him on the Twitters @chrisbaty.
This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or as long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.
Almost a decade ago, one of the most active members of the NaNoWriMo message boards died in a car accident. I’ll call her Mary. Mary lived in a small town in Michigan, and on New Year’s Eve, she was driving alone on an icy road when a deer jumped in front of her car. She swerved and skidded, slamming into a tree. We learned about the accident when the executor of her will posted a note about her death on the NaNoWriMo forums.
Everyone was stunned. Mary had been a vital, hilarious presence in the NaNoWriMo message boards. She’d always gone out of her way to be encouraging to everyone, and had been particularly generous with younger participants. Mary had a lot of virtual admirers spread out all over the country, and none of us really knew how to deal with her sudden absence.
A week later, the first bit of weirdness appeared. A fan of Mary’s had posted in the message boards, saying she’d contacted the mortuaries in Mary’s town because she’d wanted to send flowers to the funeral. And none of them were hosting a funeral for Mary.
Thinking “Mary” might have been a pen name (or that Mary was being buried elsewhere), this person called Mary’s local newspaper to get the details of the woman killed in the New Year’s Eve crash. Which is how she learned there had been no New Year’s Eve crash.
This weirded everyone out. I sent Mary an awkward email asking, in essence, if she really was dead. She didn’t respond. Shortly after that, a longtime member of the NaNoWriMo community decided to take matters into her own hands. She found Mary’s phone number online and called it. To her surprise, a woman answered.
“Mary?” the caller asked.
“Yes?” the woman said.
The caller hung up and immediately posted details of the interaction on the NaNoWriMo site. Mary’s sister, who had never posted on the site before, responded quickly, saying that she had been packing up Mary’s house and had answered the phone. The name thing had been a misunderstanding.
This was fishy enough that, by the time someone found Mary alive and well and posting on another other message board one week later, most of us had already accepted the fact that she’d faked her death, creating the executor and sister to sell the lie.