Please note: This was published over a year ago. Phone numbers, email addresses and other information may have changed.
Ready, Set, Write
Photos and Story by James Hill
Cascade Campus Spanish faculty member Jan Underwood wrote her first published novel in just 72 hours and won an international contest. “Day Shift Werewolf” is available at bookstores across Portland, in PCC bookstores and through the 3-day novel contest website.
My book started out as a band name. It’s a game my teenage daughter and I sometimes play: making up monikers for musical groups. Urban Lobster. Uncle in the Grunt. Day Shift Werewolf.
It’s a good name, isn’t it? Day Shift Werewolf. The phrase stuck with me, and I began to wonder: how would a werewolf end up on the day shift, anyway? And what would that be like for the poor fellow?
“The quotas have been going up every year. Time was when most of us made a decent living by putting in a reasonable number of hours. Guys like Lobo, and Jack, they were table setters. And I was one of them. A little on the low side, but nothing to be ashamed of. And the work environment was supportive; it wasn’t this cutthroat competition. But then they started bringing in these big beefy guys, driven, ambitious businessmen who want to get rich. They’ll do their wolfing at, say, a rock concert, where they get twenty or thirty bodies a night. Those guys make a killing.”
Warren the werewolf started hanging out in my head. But I was busy, teaching a full load, serving as chair of the Spanish Department at PCC, and being a single mom. Warren didn’t have an opportunity to get out of my brain and onto the page for at least two years. Then, in the late summer of 2005, I discovered the International 3-Day Novel contest. This literary marathon takes place over Labor Day weekend every year. It’s based in Vancouver, B.C., but contestants can do their writing anywhere; judges trust writers to stick to the 72-hour limit. The would-be novelists may start with an outline (although I didn’t), but must pen all their actual words during the timeframe of the contest.
Some contestants imagine they will stay up ’round the clock, swilling coffee and writing in a frenzy. I decided to take a more conservative approach: I wrote eight to ten hours a day, slept normally, ate square meals and took stretch breaks. It’s important to have a functioning brain, I decided, to complete a project like this one. I even kept the caffeine to a minimum.
Still, that much writing in that little time takes the brain places it has never visited before. The madness and audacity of attempting to write a novel from start to finish in three days can lead to startling creativity. My werewolf and numerous other monsters — a zombie with ADHD, an obsessive-compulsive witch (too many cats), a demon with a hidden human — were all given life over that long weekend. Satire and horror were not areas I’d dabbled in before, but they turned out to suit me.
Like a 26-mile run, the 3-Day Novel contest is both excruciating and exhilarating. And not only did the contest experience launch my writing career, but it allowed me to discover a new writing method that worked for me. I am tackling my second novel in short, intensive bursts during breaks between school terms. The contest taught me something my students probably already knew: there’s nothing quite as motivating as a deadline.