THE CRAZY GRAD STUDENT WHO THINKS SHE HAS TIME TO WRITE A NOVEL

Author's Note: The title and this story resulted from my 2006 NaNoWriMo experience. Though you may notice certain similarities between Mary Anne and myself, I only wish my fairy godmother would have shown up to stop time in order for me to complete my NaNo novel. At some point, I hope to actually complete this one, but in the meantime, please let me know what you think of this surreal little tale

Mary Anne stared at the empty computer screen, almost certain that it was staring back at her. She tapped her pencil against the case of her laptop and wondered if that could possibly hurt the computer.

Focus, girl, she told herself. Focus. This novel isn't going to write itself. A sudden whir of the hard disk answered, as if taunting her.

Plot. Characters. That's what I need, she said to herself. But who am I kidding. I'm in grad school; I don't have time for this. I should be doing my Shakespeare paper right now.

"To Nano, or not to Nano, that is the question," she said out loud, and then laughed, feeling quite a wit. No one else was in the room. She could laugh at her own lame jokes if she wanted to.

But just as quickly as it came, her good humor left her. "What I need - is a plot," she said, flicking the pencil between her fingers, trying to mimic a majorette's baton. "Can't have a novel without a plot, after all."

Setting down her pencil, she clicked the Internet Explorer button on her toolbar and Yahoo's main screen came up. Perhaps she would find some inspiration online. But, as she scrolled through pages at Barnes and she only grew more despondent. All the good stories had already been written. "Yeah, good luck coming up with the next Mr. Darcy or Rhett Butler," she sighed. "Heck, I couldn't even come up with Stephanie Plum. How great IS that anyway - naming all your books in order with numbers in the title."

She looked at Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books and wondered why she couldn't have a mind that worked like his. Detectives solving fictional murders and disappearances, affecting the outcome of classic books - that's brilliant. Why couldn't I have thought up something like that? Why can't I kidnap Jane Eyre right this instant?

Uh, November would be a good month for plagiarism, she thought. But I don't want to be the next Kaavya Viswanathan - or even the next James Frey. "Though if I could get an Oprah deal...

"No. Focus," she reminded herself, but surfed on over to where she had once had moderate success writing fantasy stories, anyway. "Who am I kidding, I can't even come up with another K' Adorna," she sighed, recalling the heroine of her most popular story and its three sequels. If only she hadn't killed off K'Adorna and her mate, Galorn, in the last epilogue.

She briefly considered resurrecting them, Sherlock Holmes style, but shot the idea down, vehemently. All she needed was to have to write more about that bratty daughter of theirs, Galorna. Mary Anne hated Galorna with a passion only rivaled by her affection for Ben and Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. She wondered why she'd ever listened to reviewers' demands to see K'Adorna and Galorn's children.

And then, returning to tapping the casing of her laptop, she wondered why she'd chosen to kill off the parents, when it was the daughter she couldn't stand.

No matter. What she needed now was a really fresh, really creative idea that would get her through the next 30 days of writing. She knew from previous experience, 50,000 words didn't seem like an awful lot of words to write in one month's time - except when you were deep in the middle of writing them. December 1 would hit and she'd wonder what she'd been stressing herself out about all month - unless she woke up Christmas Even and discovered she'd flunked out of the English program she'd tried so hard to get into. Why, exactly, WAS she doing this, anyway? "I'm insane," she muttered for about the fifth time since turning on her computer an hour earlier, "Certifiably insane."

Maybe she needed to build her novel around a deep theme. Oppression. Injustice. Slaughtered manatees.

No. No. A real idea. Something big. Something bold. Something that had never been done before.

"Fairies," she said, suddenly - and just as quickly took it back. "No, that's a terrible idea. Everybody does fairies."

She turned to the battered copy of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" sitting on the desk beside her. "Even The Bard did fairies."

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, pencil still in hand. "It's not like this is something I'm going to want to publish someday. I just want to have a little fun in the middle off all this stress from school. I just wish I could come up with this fantastic idea, and write something no one else in this competition is even going to dream of.

"I wish," she said, thinking of Shakespeare - and with one final tap of her pencil eraser on the keyboard, "to write something fantastic and silly and romantic and heroic, all together."

"Well that's not so hard to do," said a very proper-sounding person from within her computer. "Goodness, the fuss you make of it. Why these things practically write themselves!"

Mary Anne scrunched up her nose. She had imagined that, of course. She hadn't realized she was putting herself under enough stress to begin hearing voices - but perhaps she had a low genetic tolerance for the stuff.

There was a knock, sounding just as if someone was rapping against the inside of a window. "Hulloo dear," the mellow voice from within her viewscreen sounded off again, "I'm sure you can hear me. Wake up, dear. It's time to get writing."

Mary Anne took a deep breath and forced herself to open one eye, and then the other. The web browser had disappeared from her screen, replaced by the head and shoulders of purple-cloaked cartoon character that - for the life of her - looked exactly like Cinderella's...

"Well hulloo dear," the figure smiled, "I'm your fairy godmother and I'm here to answer your wish."

"Exactly what wish was that?" Mary Anne stumbled, trying to recall all the mutterings of the last hour. The reality of the situation had yet to hit her. She was only hoping the cartoon made no mention of the rats and asses she'd mentioned in connection with her least-favorite British lit lecturer.

The round woman's rosy cheeks beamed with delight. "Why the wish you made just now, of course. The one about your novel..."

"Or lack thereof," Mary Anne mumbled.

"Fantastic, silly, romantic and heroic," the cartoon, marked them off on her fingers, one-by-one. "Why that's no trouble at all."

Mary Anne arched a brow, and leaned her elbows against the desk. "Fantastic, silly, romantic and heroic? That's impossible. No one could do it. That doesn't even sound good when you say it a second time. It sounds like a ridiculous book no one would ever want to read."

"Well, certainly it would be a silly one," her fairy godmother admitted, nodding rather earnestly.

Mary Anne shook her head, "Forget it. I don't really want to write that book. In fact, I don't think I even really want to do Nano anymore. Forget everything." Her eyes were drooping - and she hadn't even begun taking notes for the Shakespeare paper yet. Her noon class the next day suddenly loomed before her. "I knew this was a stupid idea," she said, snapping the lid of her laptop case shut with a decisive "click" and turning to "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"What fools these mortals be," she quoted rather ironically, flipping to Act I, Scene II and the play's introduction to Bottom the Weaver cum actor.

But before she could even focus in on Quince's first line, "Is all our company here?" a blinding flash filled her living room.

"That was rather rude," said the voice at the center of all of it. "I travelled all this way - through Fairyland and Neverland both - to get here to help you, and you won't even bid me a proper goodnight?"

It took Mary Anne some time to gather her chin off the floor once she realized the rather plump and dowdy figure of her fairy godmother no longer inhabited her computer screen - but was now standing - all five feet of her - a few inches away from her couch. "Y-y-you're real," she finally stammered, "but how?"

The fairy waved her wand, sending a cascade of sparks down into the pile of Mary Anne's carpet. "It's complicated - and of no matter to our present situation. I am here to help you write a better novel - by any means necessary."

"But," Mary Anne said, staring downward to make sure her carpet didn't start smoldering. "I didn't even KNOW I had a fairy godmother."

The figure - who had become decidedly more lifelike once she was no longer pixelated - sighed. "Most people don't, dear. We don't show ourselves until we're desperately needed."

"And - coming up with a great idea for Nanowrimo counts?" Mary Anne felt her voice rise in pitch, uncertainly.

Her fairy godmother put her hands on her wide hips. "Well it certainly does if you're protege is going to become a world-famous authoress."

"It does?" Mary Anne felt herself sit a bit taller in her chair. "I am?"

"Well, if I have anything to say about, you will," the fairy said with a satisfied nod, "Now, where to begin."

Shakespeare was still open across Mary Anne's lap. "Well, I'd love to start writing this world-famous blockbuster - but right now I've got other things to do. My paper's due at noon tomorrow and I haven't even started. I was just procrastinating earlier. It was better not being able to come up with a topic for some dumb Internet challenge than not being able to come up with a topic for a paper that's worth a quarter of my grade."

Again, the wand sent sparks dangerously close to Mary Anne's upholstery. "Plenty of time for that, love. You'll have all night to write your paper. But, first thing's first." The glittering light emanating from the wand changed colors from white to a strawberry pink.

"Um, how can I spend all night writing my paper if you're going to show me how to write my novel first," Mary Anne questioned.

The fairy's laughter changed the color of her wand sparkles from pink to blue. "Oh my, I do have some explaining to do," she tittered. "I nearly forgot to tell you that time as you know it has stopped - and we have all eternity to make sure we get your book EX-AACK-ET-LY right before your life resumes and you need worry about class."

"All eternity?" Mary Anne gulped.

Her fairy godmother nodded knowingly. "These things take time. We can't expect to craft the Great American Novel without some work, you know.

"Now, where to begin... And where is my other wand?" She began waving the sparking wand dangerously close to Mary Anne's face as she searched for something up her voluptuous sleeve. "Ah, there it is. Now...

She winked at Mary Anne and withdrew a wand that was twice the size of her original. Drawing it about her in a circle, she enveloped both of them in a light even brighter than the one she had appeared in. "Kafkaesque!" she shouted above the sudden roar of a thousand voices. "Dickensonian!"

And then, Mary Anne and fairy godmother both, were whisked out of the comfortable living room and off to lands unknown.