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November is National Novel Writing Month (also known as, in what might be the worst acronym ever, NaNoWriMo). Participants are challenged to write their own novel of 50,000 or more words entirely in the space of one month.

Mid-valley libraries already are gearing up to help NaNoWriMo participants, with a variety of events to help writers plot out their novels and, during November itself, weekly sessions in which writers can gather together, power up their laptops, and pound away on their keyboards. (That person in the corner of the room, scratching away on legal pads with a fountain pen? Good for you, sir or ma'am. Good for you.)

Since the event started in July 1999 in San Francisco with 21 participants, it has grown to include more than 200,000 people signing up on its official website each year and taking a shot at what has been called "the marathon of the writing world." (This would be more of a valid comparison if, after running a marathon, you immediately were compelled to go back and rerun the course, modifying how you ran the race at every turn. To be completely fair, NaNoWriMo organizers encourage writers to use the months of January and February — the program calls these the "Now What?" months — to revise and edit their initial drafts.)

No one judges the novels; in fact, the way to win is to certify, on the event's website, that you've written 50,000 words during the month of November. But some of the novels created during the event actually have been published; the best-known example likely is Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants."  

The ground rules say that you can't start writing your novel until midnight on Nov. 1. But that doesn't mean you can't do some preparation beforehand. In fact, it might help to work up some character sketches or to even outline the basics of, you know, the plot. 

And if you're stuck for plot suggestions, feel free to steal some of mine. They're free for the taking. Just be sure to mention me on your acknowledgments page and, when your book sells to the movies, would it kill you to list me as an "associate producer?" Nobody knows what those people do anyway.

I should add, of course, that any similarity between any of these plots and real events or people is completely coincidental.

Here we go:

• "The Waverly Duck Candidate." The gigantic foam duck, weary of its long winter layovers, breaks out of its warehouse and is persuaded to run for the Albany City Council on a platform emphasizing diversity. The duck wins in a landslide — and that's when the real high jinks begin!

• "The Long Process." In this ingenious mix of Raymond Chandler and Franz Kafka, a down-on-her-luck private eye is hired by a real estate developer to find out whatever happened to a proposal he had for a subdivision. The path turns dark and dangerous, leading to a final terrifying confrontation with a mysterious body known only as "The Council." The sequel possibilities are endless.

• "Where Have All These Cats Come From?" Adorable stray cats descend on a comfortable home as if drawn there by some feline magnet. Cute and fuzzy for the first half, but a darker design slowly becomes apparent.

• "Where Have All These College Students Come From?" Adorable hard-working college students descend on a peaceful small town as if drawn there by some educational aspiration. Cute and engaging for the first half, but the plot needs some work in the second half. A sequel possibility: "How Am I Going to Pay Off All This Debt?"

• "The Ballot." Jim thought it would be fine to sign all those initiative petitions thrust in his face at the farmers market; after all, that's how democracy works, right? Then he injured his back trying to remove the resulting 400-pound ballot from his mailbox. Can Jim's friend Cory help him decipher the various ballot measures before time runs out? 

• "Treasure of the Taxing District." In this provocative and timely thriller, government scientists race against time to concoct increasingly arcane taxation schemes. The action sweeps readers from City Hall to the halls of Congress in this sequel to both "The Long Process" and "The Ballot." 

• "The Coach's Millions." The coach of a college athletic team, frustrated by the team's record and his own performance, walks away from a multimillion-dollar contract payout — oh, scratch that one. No one would ever believe that plot. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times. Email him at


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