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Shirley Link & The Safe Case: A Nanowrimo child

Nanowrimo is a national one month love-a-thon where writers expectorate as much as they can in the month of November. When I first heard about it I dismissed it as a wonderful opportunity to barf on the scary white page.

Still, there was something appealing about gathering my ideas, choosing the one I liked best, and seeing where it went at 1666 words per day. Hey, Stephen King can blurt out pages like a laser printer so maybe it’s all about frame of mind, right?

My first Nanowrimo was a disaster. I adapted a favorite story of mine called Repo. Jack, the hero, is an Iraq War vet who enlists in the army to escape the family’s repo business. When he comes back from war, two friends poorer, he realizes what a bunch of materialist pigs we can be and decides to repo after all — two-fisted Military style. I actually developed the story with Nathan Fox, the comic book artist on Todd McFarlane’s Haunt series. He told me many times that he was excited to read it when I “finished” the book at the end of November.

Yeah, right.

Let’s just say the story suffered from poor planning and an author who was too entranced with the word count ticker, and not concerned enough about, well, you know, not sucking. I stopped reviewing my draft when I got to the part where the protagonist is trying to repo a mountain. I enjoyed the month of November though, so that’s something. November is usually reserved for flu and extended family visits, after all.

The following November I decided to go in more prepared. I’d read about Michael Moorcock’s method of writing a book in three days. Some of his plan is fluffy bunk, but the part I glommed onto was “have an event every four pages“. That sounded right to me. So I plotted out a short story about a teenage detective named Shirley Link.

It went very well. I stuck to the outline, with its ten swift chapters, focused character development and hooked chapter endings. It started out formulaic but as I spent December and January with the story I spotted places to make Shirley smarter, funnier, teenage-ier. I enjoyed revisiting, tweaking. My one month lark had become a consistent part of my weeks.

Then something happened that Nanowrimo folks may be familiar with. I forgot about the story. It was overtaken by more “serious” projects. Projects that were more positioned to garner praise from my peers. I mean, wasn’t Nanowrimo just an exercise? Like a mantra that got me to a better place as a writer? Surely, it wasn’t an end in itself!

Shirley, it was. (haha)

This last March a friend of mine asked, “Hey, what happened to that Nanowrimo story you wrote?” And you know what? I’d forgotten all about it! Talk about a mental block. Well, whenever I run into moments like that I need to ask myself, what am I afraid of? What is so scary about Shirley Link that I would love writing it and then forget about it? I decided to dive back in, even though my bigger project (titled The Camelot Kids) would need to be sidelined. As 2012 went from fresh-faced baby to middle age-bellied I realized I was sitting on my first complete book. It passed muster with some peers and even delighted a couple of kids. My November affair hadn’t yielded a bastard. No way. I was going to be a good poppa!

So I set out to make it happen. My wife, Robin Hoffman, illustrated the cover. I got InDesign help from a buddy. I went through eight proofs on CreateSpace (that’s a whole other post!). And finally, I pulled the trigger.

I’m writing this post only days after Shirley Link & The Safe Cases launch day, so the ending isn’t written to this story. But no matter what, I’ve loved the process and I’m happy to call Shirley my first fully realized creation. She’s a doll, and smarter than me, so she’s permanently my favorite.


Ben Zackheim’s first book, Shirley Link & The Safe Case, was self-published as a testament to the changing digital marketplace that he witnessed firsthand while working in the games business. He’s a strong believer in the individual’s power to get their work out there. He’s scheduled to begin teaching classes in digital marketing at New York’s School of Visual Arts in 2013.

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