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50,000 words in search of an author

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

No this is not about the presidential election.

The introductory quote is, as any English Lit major could tell you, the opening sentence of well, you know, that Famous Novel by that Famous Author who I’m having a dickens of a time remembering the book they made into a movie about the hostile takeover of the government and the advent of the Reign of Terror.

No, I told you already this is not about the presidential election.

This English Lit major saw the movie. Ronald Colman and Isabel Jewell, all stoic and courageous, paraded through the jeering horde in a cart on their way — with the other suckers and losers — (SPOILER ALERT) to the guillotine.

I first saw the 1935 classic as a freshman in high school, then again in a college film class. Never read it all the way through, though; I was mesmerized by that iconic 120-word opening sentence.

Scanning the Cliff Notes version was a far, far better thing I did than I’d ever done before.

That enormous and eloquent first line — the length varies slightly depending on where you copy and paste them from — was enough to stupefy many an English Lit major who had the intention and pretension to pen their own classic which, someday, would get high school freshmen out of classes for a few hours to watch the inevitable film version.

It is also what we here in the newsroom call a Three-Quarter-Fattig, so named after a beloved retired reporter who never met a run-on sentence he didn’t like (though he never stooped to putting “in short” in the middle of a 120-word sentence) or had change for a dollar.

But I digress and, in doing so, have hunted-and-pecked my way to word No. 416 — unless you’re not giving me credit for the copy-and-paste job.

Why does this matter? Because, as any English Lit major could tell you — regardless of their hopes, dreams and eventual writers’ block — we’re smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo.

For those of you who studied subjects that actually led to fame and financial independence, NaNoWriMo is neither a folk classic by The Weavers nor a vulgar insult on Ork.

It is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, during which those who sign up attempt to reach the goal of hunting, pecking or scribbling 50,000 words over the 30?

wait, 30 days have September / April, June and November over the 30 days of this month.

Although, you’d think these valiant would-be wordsmiths would be better inspired by not resorting to shortening National Novel Writing Month into a mumble-mouth moniker in the first place.

After all, if “you’d” in the previous sentence were written out as “you would,” you’d be one step closer to the goal.

In case you’re wondering, the Famous Author would have to spin 416 more 120-word TQFs to reach 50,000 — which NaNoWriMo organizers set as a threshold to be considered on the writer’s way to a novel.

And no, you can’t just write the same word “WHY?” for example 50,000 times.

There have been upwards of 600 novels that have come out of the annual writing project; for instance, the acclaimed “Water for Elephants” was hatched from one such word-salad embryo.

I saw the movie. Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, who lost their minds over each other not their heads at the guillotine.

The good folks at NaNo-WriMo — it really becomes addicting to say, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious — sponsor the event to help people loosen up and bang the keyboard through according to the .org the “transformational power of creativity.”

Of course, we’re more than a third of the way through the 30 (scrolls up) 30 days of November, so if you were to undertake this challenge now you’d be — 50,000 divided by days left when getting around to reading this, carry the one, this little piggy ate roast beef — a lot of words behind the pace.

Actually, if you’re reading this on the date of publication, Friday the 13th — for the last time, this is not about the presidential election — you’d only have to write 2,941 words a day to finish in time.

Heck, that’s just 746 fewer than Molly Bloom’s one-sentence soliloquy in “Ulysses” (never saw the movie), whose protagonist Leopold Bloom of Dublin has the same name as the New York accountant in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” as opposed, I suppose, to James Joyce’s “The Producers.”

The tales of Dublin and New York, however, are far different from those in the two cities in that Famous Novel by that Famous Author — the one Saturday Review critic James Fitzjames-Stephen in 1859 called “a dish of puppy pie and stewed cat, which is not disguised by the cooking.”

We’re plugging through our own age of foolishness and epoch of incredulity — OK, that was about the presidential election — but if that Famous Author was not to be deterred by Fitzjames-Stephen’s grotesque rebuke so, too, should those hardy proto-novelists seeking NaNoWriMo laurels refuse to be cowed by the intimidating task of stringing together 50,000 words as they feel the transformational power of creativity.

Heck, I could do that in my sleep. In fact, I think I just did.

There’s a run on run-on sentences at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

Robert Galvin