Sunday, November 24, 2013

ChaNoWriMo


In the writing world, November is a special month, although a generally crazy month.

It is known as NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. During this month all of those who have a passion for writing are encouraged to cast caution into the wind and blitz out the novel they have always dreamed of writing. It is something anyone, from any walk of life can participate in. All it takes is commitment and time management. The link for the website where you can sign up is (nanowrimo.org).

For those who take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, the number 50,000 signifies both a hated overseer and a inspiring target. As this process is about getting those who want to write, to write, everyone is given a target, 50,000 words, that they are to reach by the end of the month. Over the course of November you are to type out 50,000 words of your chosen story.

Since the target is all that matters you are not encouraged to edit and rewrite as you write, but simply charge forward until you finally scale that 50,000 word tall peak. The rest of the year can be spent tweaking and rethinking, but November is purely for writing. So you take your idea and see whether it can take you to 50,000 words or not.

I participated last year and used November as a chance to start a story I had always imagined but never gotten around to really fleshing out. My story was titled “The Legend of the Chamurai” and takes place over 600 years after a great warrior makahna or spiritual fighter receives a vision foretelling the doom of her people. Along the way, conquistadors and Japanese samurai make appearances. Ferdinand Magellan appears in a cameo at one point.

As Ancient Chamorros believed in ancestral worship as their religion, they saw the world around them as filled with the spirits of their ancestors. These spirits give guidance and good fortune, and so my story tries to give life to this possibility, placing the worlds of the living and the dead side by side. Makahnas (today known as suruhanus) have the ability to harness the power of the spiritual world and cast spells, summon monsters and create shields of protection.

Famous taotaomo’na figure such as the white lady and Gadao are there, as are less known spirits such as Anufat and Gamson. Even the infamous trickster spirit Ukudu plays a role in the story.

I reached my goal of 50,000 words and have been eagerly awaiting November to come again so that I can continue my story.

This year is different however, because I am currently the program coordinator for the Chamorro Studies major program at the University of Guam. The purpose of the program is to preserve, study and promote the knowledge, language and culture of Chamorros. So this year’s NaNoWriMo has a visibly local twist for me, and I am encouraging people to join me and participate in ChaNoWriMo, or “Chamorro Novel Writing Month.”

Participating in ChaNoWriMo is just as easy as NaNoWriMo, with one expected difference. For NaNoWriMo you can write about anything, for ChaNoWriMo, you have to take special care to weave throughout your story things that are representative of Chamorros. In other words, write a story that will use the Chamorro language, history and culture as core parts of how the plot unfolds.

This can mean that you write a story entirely in Chamorro, or it can mean just the dialogue is in Chamorro. Or it can just be a promise to use Chamorro words as much as possible in the dialogue or the text.

But these sorts of things can be spell and incidental. The inclusion of a minor character from Guam, the use of “Hafa Adai? here or there, or as most films and novels do it, you just mention Guam randomly at some point. For those who want to participate in ChaNoWriMO, you have to go a bit further. You have to really find a way to represent creatively Chamorros. This means finding a part of the Chamorro story or the Chamorro experience that doesn’t receive as much attention and highlighting it. Or it can mean taking something that people are already familiar with and writing about it in a completely new light.

For example, I am looking forward to someone updating the traditional “suruhanu/suruhana” figure. Suruhanus can help people in many ways. They have natural remedies, sometimes offer midwife service, can be experts at massage, and can also be our link to the spiritual world. When you are at a point where an illness seems to have no cure or where some supernatural mystery cannot be answered, you turn to a suruhanu to help you.

I can’t wait till someone writes a series titled, “CSI: Suruhanu.” In it, families and the police when faced with crimes or mysteries that cannot be solved or have some unfathomable dimension, they’ll call in the services of CSI: Suruhanu, who can use his mental fortitude to analyze clues, but also his connections to his “ga’chong” in the taotaomo’na world for finding the truth. If this concept doesn't interest you, take some other aspect and write a similar transformation for it.

The Chamorro Studies Program Facebook page will be offering more information on how to participate in ChaNoWriMo. To receive these updates please like it on Facebook. 

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