Nanowrimo Spotlight: Al Stegall

Good morning! Nanowrimo started on a Saturday morning this year, and here we are, back at Saturday morning, ready to go again. If you’re participating, I hope you have a great wordcount to show for the week. Today’s spotlight, Al, can be found under yangnome on the Nano site. And I’m pleased to host an interview with the man behind a key element of Nanowrimo lore–but more on that later.

How long have you been doing Nanowrimo?
2014 is my 11th NaNo season and 10th year as ML in Monterey, CA. Overall, NaNo has been a wonderful experience (if not, why would I keep subjecting myself to it year after year?). Sometime in late Oct 2004, I read someone’s internet post about Nano, clicked on a link to the site and signed up. At the time, I believe the NaNoWriMo slogan was something about writing your one day novel now. The basic premise was that many people have a story they’d like to tell one day, why not sit down and make that dream a reality. In 10th grade (about 13 years or so before my first NaNo) my teacher had us write the first chapter of our one day novel. This idea had stuck with me over the years, so I decided to use NaNoWriMo to sit down and write the thing. On Nov 1st at midnight, I started working on my novel and within a few hours I had knocked out about 6,000 words—far more than the 1667 requirement. Then I went to bed and never opened the document again.

I’d written myself into a corner and since I didn’t have a community around me for encouragement, I didn’t continue. Over the year though, the idea of writing a novel (and particularly NaNoWriMo stuck with me. I knew if I was going to succeed, I’d need to find others like me to help bolster each other along. A got in touch with NaNo HQ and arranged to start a region in my home town. That next Oct, I reworked my concept to something slightly different, with similar themes, but a more workable story. I started anew on Nov 1 and within about 7 days (taking a couple days off) I’d crossed the 50k line and pressed on to finish the novel at about 79k words. That was both a blessing and a curse. It showed me that the 50k goal was easily achievable, but that knowledge also fed into my natural propensity to procrastinate. Over the last ten years, we’ve built a great supportive community in our region and each year help push each other to success.

My favorite NaNo memory is a conglomeration of memories between 2005 and now. That story I worked on in 2005, was a very dark and gritty novel about a political prisoner in a north Korean prison camp. That novel forced me to go into some dark places. One night, I was participating in an online word war chat when I wrote a scene where the MC witnessed a prison guard bash another prisoner with a shovel, leaving her for dead. It was a pretty graphic and depressing scene and after the 30 minute word sprint, to clear my head a bit during the break I shared what had happened in the scene. We went back to do another sprint and upon returning, another member of the chat had unexpectedly had a character killed with a shovel. Then, another sprint and a shovel death unexpectedly appeared in another novel. Thus, we discovered the Traveling Shovel of Death (TSoD).TSOD_trading_card_front_450 Once you’d heard about the shovel, there was no escape. It would show up in your novel. I posted about it in the forums, and TSoD began appearing in novels around the world. This has happened year after year and continues to bring a smile to my face. A couple years after the first thread, the link to TSoD was placed on the front page of the NaNoWriMo site as a highlight and the thing went viral. Then, a couple years ago, TSoD even got its own trading card. TSoD has brought death to countless millions—entire universes even—across time, dimensions, etc. It brings a smile to my face to know that I am in some way responsible for so many character deaths.

What are you writing about this year?
I haven’t decided yet. Most years I’ve had an idea ahead of time, or maybe a new idea grab hold of me sometime in October and I’ve run with that. Only once did I go into Nov not knowing what I would do (actually I showed up at our kickoff with an idea I’d been kicking around throughout Oct, but as we started our word war a new idea came to me and I ran with that.)

I’ve gone through some personal changes over the last four years, which have directly impacted what I write and my motivation behind my writing. I’ve been considering writing a young adult book about an American born Egyptian teen who throughout the course of the book examines his Muslim faith against the Bible. I’ll either do that, or I’ve also been tempted to rebel and work on some non-fiction stuff I’ve wanted to write for some time, but have been putting off. This morning, I was thinking about using the 50k goal to populate a website skeleton I set up with articles I’ve been meaning to write, but talking about the book idea again I want to do that. While writing this all out, I think I’m convincing myself to do both…100,000 in November? Am I crazy?

What is your favorite book – you have to pick just one!
The Bible—but that is cheating since there are 66 books in it. Having to choose one is difficult, but Isaiah would be in the top group. For fiction, again a hard choice, I’ll say Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

What advice would you give to all your fellow Wrimos?
Make sure you start on your project. Seriously, the only failures in November are those who say they’ll do it and don’t even start (and this is the largest percentage of people!) Second keep writing. You may hit a wall, but push through it.

Here’s an easy way to get high word counts. Figure out a short term goal for your character, think about an obstacle to that goal, set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write. Don’t stop to think, don’t stop to do anything, just words on virtual paper. When the timer goes off, stop. Rest for 15 minutes. During that time, figure out your wordcount, update it on the site, go to the bathroom, grab a drink. When 15 minutes is over, start with another 30. Even a slow typist can easily knock out the 1667 words for the day in three 30 minute bursts and many will get way beyond that.

Find a local community to support you. Writing can be a lonely endeavor and the encouragement and accountability of a supportive community makes all the difference.

If all else fails, kill a character…with a shovel!

Sneaky Ninja question! What social class, if any, are you a part of?
I am a wretched sinner saved by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That might sound trite, but it is the only class that defines me.

Al Stegall has participated in NaNoWriMo for the last 11 years, during which time he has written dark, dramatic stories of social injustice, obscene, deeply-depraved satires that would make his mother blush, and more recently various forms of Christian fiction. He is personally responsible for the death of countless millions of characters across thousands of NaNoWriMo novels.

Thanks, Al, and good luck with this year’s Nano!

4 Responses to Nanowrimo Spotlight: Al Stegall

  1. Wow, great story! Makes me wish I was participating in NaNo this year. That’s how my story started, actually, as a NaNo in Nov 2012. I only got about 2 weeks and 10k words into it before stopping, realizing I had no idea what I was doing or where the story was going. I set it aside, but it inspired me to take a writing class, which eventually set me on the path to the novel I am now writing. The roots of my current novel trace back to that first NaNo experience. I’m nearly done (2 years later!) and it will come in at around 80k words before revision. I wish I could write as fast as Al.


  2. […] Nanowrimo Spotlight: Al Stegall ( […]


  3. […] Nanowrimo Spotlight: Al Stegall ( […]


  4. After reading this, I added a shovel to my current nano. Only the threat of death, though. It’s a comedy. (I’m bitterwarrior on nano.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: