Our Stories

Taking the NaNoWriMo Challenge

Writing a novel is no easy task, even for someone who writes professionally. So try creating a novel in just one month. And to complicate things further, try writing it in your second language.

This is the challenge Associate Professor Lora Yasen issues each fall to her creative writing students at Tokyo International University of America (TIUA). Through a partnership between Willamette and Tokyo International University (TIU) in Kawagoe, Japan, TIU students spend a full year studying in Salem and fully integrating into Willamette classes and the community.

Yasen teaches English as a Second Language, and her students spend their first semester honing their English skills. Then in the fall, she challenges them to take those new skills and write a novel through a program called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Thousands of writers nationwide take the NaNoWriMo challenge every November to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel in one month.

Yasen sees it as a perfect assignment for her TIU students, many of whom have never written more than five pages in Japanese, much less a book in English. "I thought my students could use something like this where they didn't focus as much on grammar and spelling," Yasen says. "They relaxed and just wrote and wrote."

Last summer, Yasen's students participated in a similar contest called Script Frenzy that asked people to write a 20,000-word screenplay in a month. Two students, Marino Omori and Naoya Enomoto, succeeded (read more about their screenplays). This fall, her class of 12 all attempted the novel-writing. Here are excerpts from some of their stories.

"Bing-Bong." The doorbell rang at that moment.

"Wait, Anthony. Someone is at the door," Nico said to Anthony. He put down the telephone and opened the door slowly.

"Hello, food server Nico." A postman stood in front of the door. Nico thought the postman looked familiar. "You've got some mail," he smiled.

Nico felt something was weird.

"Thank you," said Nico. "Have a great day." As soon as Nico got the letter, the postman left.

"What's this?" Nico looked at the green letter. He noticed that this letter was sealed by protection software that could not be stolen. His thumbprint was the key to open the letter.

He thought this was strange because he hardly got letters. He looked at the back. Then, his eyes opened very wide. His hands started shaking.

"Hey! Hey, Nico! Are you listening to me?" From the phone, Anthony raised his voice. Nico walked back to the phone with unsteady steps.

Nico picked up the phone again, but he couldn't grab it. "Nico, I'm so hungry. May I ..."

"A ... Anthony," Nico interrupted with a wavering voice. "Have you heard any big news about me?"

"What?" Anthony seemed to be surprised.

Nico thought he should open the letter. "I've got a letter just now," Nico says slowly, "but ... this is from Mr. King!" Mr. King was the king of the Internetian world. Nico had only ever seen him on TV. He only knew Mr. King has long mustachios.

-- Miku Tanaka

There was a couple, a woman and a man. They were sitting on the ground and looking up at the night sky, stars, and planet shapes. There was nothing anymore. There were no trees, no animals, no river, no mountains, and no people. There was only the reddish ground.

"I've decided to stay here," the man said. He sounded sad.

"I'm okay. I don't think you are my true love. You don't comfort me," the woman said in a monotone voice.

"I thought you were ..." He was not smiling.

She didn't say anything. Her blue eyes looked up at the sky. Then the woman stood up and said, "Goodbye."

She left, and he was still watching the sky.

In a white room, Ana woke up and opened her blue eyes. She slept on a hard bed. However, she didn't know where she was and she didn't know who she was.

An old man, dressed like a doctor, came into the room.

-- Shigeki Nakajima

Feina opened the refrigerator and wondered what to cook for breakfast. Feina used to prepare a two sunny-side up egg sandwich, two cups of banana milk, and some fruit. But now, her father is here. And Shenfu's Chinese culture was totally different from her Japanese husband, Shin. It took a little while for her to think what she should do.

In Shanghai, they could eat meat for breakfast. Like spiced ground meat and noodles, fried gyoza, steamed meat buns, wonton, and some leftover food they couldn't finish eating last night.

But in Japan, they usually have yogurt, bread with jam, fruit, natto beans, and some healthy food.

Shenfu didn't really like that stuff. He said bread didn't make his stomach feel full. Also, he thinks yogurt is decayed milk and it's gross.

Feina prepared spice ground meat noodles that is also one of her favorite breakfast, egg sandwich, and banana milk.

Shin finished shower and put on his gray suit on his white shirt. He tied his light blue tie with slanting gray lines that Feina gave him for his birthday present. He looked perfect. Actually, he always looks perfect. He passed the baby's room and made a gesture to Shenfu. It means let's have breakfast.

They walked down to the dining room, and breakfast was already prepared. Shin sat on the seat that he usually sat. He started to read the newspaper and have breakfast.

He had a bit of egg sandwich and said, "What are you guys eating? Noodle?"

"Yeah, it's spice ground meat noodle. I love it. Do you want to try it?" Feina asked.

"Wu-uu, of course not. We don't eat meat for breakfast honey. It's so heavy for morning. I can't believe you guys can eat it," Shin said with giving a wry bitter smile.

-- Huiling Zhao

Yasen's creative writing students returned to Japan in December. The newest group of 114 TIU students arrives in Salem in early February.