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help, i need somebody
ain't too proud to beg
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Three days.

It's a little more than three days, actually. Friday midnight through Monday midnight. Maxing out on the definition of a day, to be sure, but if you're going to do something "over the Labor Day weekend" you're certainly going to want to make that weekend as long as you possibly can.

I'm going to write a novel in three days.

Did I come up with this (brilliant? cruel? cruelly brilliant? brilliantly cruel?) idea all on my own? Hardly. Actually, not at all. Anvil Press did. (http://www.anvilpress.com). Apparently they do it every year. And every year they get takers. You pay your 25 bucks and you sequester yourself and at the end you emerge ... well, you might emerge any number of ways, but you do what you have to do. Then you turn in the book. And they publish the winner.

Apparently there are a lot of people who don't think writing a novel in three days is an impossibility. I have just declared myself one of them.

And I need some help.

The rule is, you can't start before Friday midnight. So I'm not starting to write anything before Friday midnight. But you can (and I am going to... what am I, nuts?) start thinking about what you're going to write before you start writing. And I know what the novel's idea is. I know the main characters. I know, also, that I need a gallery (shooting? peanut? art? you decide) of minor characters to populate the landscape.

That's where all y'all come in.

The landscape that needs populating is a college. Many of us have seen such landscapes. Many of us recall quirky, freaky, eccentric, inherently fascinating professors, graduate students, undergrads, faculty wives/husbands, and departmental assistants. Heck, even maybe there's a math genius janitor ... oh, wait, that's been done. But there are others. I know there are others.

So tell me about them.

Use the discussion feature, or if you'd rather, e-mail me directly. Give me quick sketches of the kinds of nut-clusters I know are out there. No real names, of course. All who contribute, whether I use your suggestion or no, will get an acknowledgment in the novel's acknowledgments should the novel ever appear anywhere (like in print!) where acknowledgements can be acknowledged.

And wish me luck...


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


a helping hand, lent
giving, giving up, and giving advice
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 3.6.06

books are not babies
part i: approaching the launch
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 4.4.12


joe procopio
8.30.00 @ 10:55a

OK. I, under the impression that I was smart, took a course in Differential Equations. Three days into it, our barefooted, bald-headed, stankin, French professor points at me and says, "You. I dunnut like you. You will fail zees class." Then the little scrub ran with it, to the point where I would go in to see him after tests to explain my logic (a common practice that usually resulted in an additional point or two) and he would take more points off for wasting his time. continued...

joe procopio
8.30.00 @ 10:59a

I ended up with a D. The funny thing is I saw him a couple of semesters later, late at night outside the library. Would you believe he saw me, I spotted recognition in his face, and he turned around and trotted away? Oh, yeah, he wore bicycle shorts to class a lot too. Did I mention he smelled like week-old Frenchman?

Put that in your novel and smoke it.

And good luck, babe!

adam kraemer
8.30.00 @ 12:21p

Wow. JL, unfortunately, you and I had basically the same professors, I think. My cousin had a moment, though, on the first day of a geology class. The professor walked in, picked up a piece of chalk from the chalk board, looked at the class, and announced "Calcium." He then took a bite out of it, put it back down, looked at the class, and announced, "Good for you."

juli mccarthy
8.30.00 @ 2:18p

There was a dwarf who used to follow girls around in college. No, really. He would pick a new girl -- someone kind, who would say hello to him in a hallway or scold a bully who was needling him -- every week or so and make her life hell until someone else who didn't know his ways offered him a kind word. He ended up being auctioned off in a charity Dating Game on campus for something like $600.

jeffrey walker
8.30.00 @ 3:40p

We have a guy like that here. He wanted to be autioned off, but the "powers that be" would not let him because we knew no one would bid and we didn't want him looking foolish (for fear he would be on top of the library tomorrow shooting at all of us). Anyway, he sent an e mail to everyone in the law school AND everyone at the med school looking for a date to a banquet here.

he got one. but there's no great story there.

jeffrey walker
8.30.00 @ 3:45p

How about a story where a mad scientist tries to prove that monkeys can get a college degree, and sends a pack of genetically altered monkeys to college? They could organize a fraternity called "Alpha Gamma Banana." There could be inter-species romance, and the problems of monkeys being unable to get credit cards, and not having ID to get into the bars!

michelle von euw
8.30.00 @ 4:24p

I swear I went to college with Richard Hatch Jr -- he was always being really sneaky about the student council goings on, and was a study in Machiavellian technique. I guess that's what you get for going to school in DC. On a related note -- I guess this means you aren't available for a movie on Sunday!

joe procopio
8.30.00 @ 4:37p

I'd like to just take a moment to reiterate that Jeff Walker is the funniest person I know. See the post 2 above this one.

jael mchenry
8.30.00 @ 4:43p

Everyone: thanks for the bits. Keep 'em coming!

joe: we have learned from you this week two tidbits about jeff: he's the funniest person you know, and he weighs a buck-twenty-four. Good to know.

michelle: depends on the movie. And where's your column?

jeff: if you don't watch futurama, you should.

michael driscoll
8.30.00 @ 7:05p

My college experience included a nurse turned journalism professor who sang to us. This particular journalism professor touted her book on Underground Atlanta (tourist trap) for an entire semester. During the semester she sang to us the original jingle for "put a nickle in the nickleodeon" and litterally acted out the whole thing (like I don't know what a nickle looks like going into a slot!). I laughed so hard I had to leave the room, and go home. Her book? It was a pamphlet....32 pages. Seriously. I still hate her to this very day for making me pay for that class.

michael driscoll
8.30.00 @ 7:09p

My business communications professor used hand puppets to show proper and improper communication between the CEO and executives of a ficticious company. She also told us her husband was 10 years younger than she and they played D&D in the woods regularly. I wrote an article about her in the school newspaper re: the decline of the business department. She somehow thought it was a compliment. Too much storming the castle if you ask me.

michael driscoll
8.30.00 @ 7:14p

OOO, one more. I had a lit professor who brought in his celebrity brother-in-law. Yes, I met Patrick who was the painted-face hockey guy who dated Elaine on Seinfeld. He ended up on Dave's World and is now the handsome gentleman on the M&M commercials. I liked that class.

jack bradley
8.30.00 @ 7:47p

I think you should use me. At least, the college aged me. Refer to "The Hard Way" for a brief description of my rebellious, nose-ringed, green-haired ways. Oh, and I also got to see The Cure when they were still a garage band. There were only about 100 of us, all dressed in black, who went to see them play somewhere in Durham. I smoked something I shouldn't have and ended up in New Jersey two days later with $200 in my pocket that I didn't have when I left home to go to the show. I still don't know what happened that weekend, but it was obviously fun and profitable.

jack bradley
8.30.00 @ 7:50p

Oh, and my Calculus teacher was only a teaching assistant my Sophomore year. He came to class stoned all of the time, used colored chalk to draw graphs (not for clarity, but because that made them pretty.) and made us answer the question "What is your teaching assistant's favorite rock band?" for extra credit on our final exam. Hey, wait...didn't we have to answer that question to sign up here at Intrepid, too?

c j
8.31.00 @ 7:28a

You want college characters? I have known some college characters. How about we start with my computer programming professor who began every class with a 30 minute rant about educational beauracracy. Then there was my Sociology professor who used to give us pop quizzes during which he would walk around muttering under his breath, "No cheating. No cheating." My Accounting teacher looked just like one of the characters from 'Ski School'. A short funny looking man with a very high pitched voice that could call dogs. And have you ever tried to learn German from an Egyptian to whom English was his 4th language? Ah yes, and speaking of my German professor...he also taught the local Hypnosis class. He used to pop in Shirley McClain videos to teach from. An Algebra teacher (luckily not mine) enjoyed seating the women in the front of the classroom so that he could look up their skirts. If you were one of the lucky chosen, you were guaranteed a

c j
8.31.00 @ 7:29a

good grade. And those were just the teachers!

adam kraemer
8.31.00 @ 12:12p

I'd just like to get a little off topic (because that never happens) and give props to CJ for the "Ski School" reference. I'm probably the only person in the world to ever e-mail (and receive responses from) its two stars, Dean Cameron and Stuart Fratkin. Both have their own websites, and both were in a short-lived TV series called "They Came From Outer Space," which only guys ever seemed to find funny.

You may return to your regularly scheduled discussion.

tim lockwood
8.31.00 @ 9:30p

Two characters: 1. I had an accounting instructor who looked just like Rick Moranis, and acted just like him, except I think he took the Evelyn Wood Speed-teaching course. Wound tighter'n a spring on a cheap set of chattery teeth. continued ...

tim lockwood
8.31.00 @ 9:43p

and 2. I never had this instructor, but was witness to it. The woman taught a "freestyle" dance class for the "continuing-ed" students. She wore her dancewear (tights, leotards, ankle warmers) everywhere. She would hold her classes in the student union. There would be plenty of new-agey pseudo-ethnic music and middle-aged overweight folks doing really bad folkdances in the commons area. She used phrases like "release the tension" and "feel the fluttering" and such.

lila snow
9.1.00 @ 5:18a

One of my writing professors was this old lady we called Dr. E. She was at least 80 or 100, and she used to flirt with all the young men. The semester I had her she had a huge crush on this one guy, who's mom was in the hospital. She had some old lady friend at the same hospital, so she would see him there, and then she'd mention it in class, as if they'd had a secret meeting. In the meantime, she was nasty as all get-out to the girls/women in the class. It was the only B I got in a writing class, but I got her back by marrying the guy she had a crush on (20 years next month). I guess I could end this by saying love conquers all, but not for that horny old girl.

travis broughton
9.1.00 @ 12:32p

Gee, and here I thought I was the only person who went to college w/ freaks... Ok, not really.

The Nutty Professor, Part I:

We already have the quirky math prof (above) wearing cycling shorts. I had the same guy. Except half the time he rode a unicycle to class. And sometimes he rode it in class.

travis broughton
9.1.00 @ 12:37p

The Nutty Professor, Part II:

So one day a guy in the class (Linear Algebra, I believe) ran out of letters on the board while doing a generalized 4x4 matrix calculation. So he makes up characters. And it goes a little something like this:
Prof: "What in the hell is that???"
Guy: "It's a squiggle."
Prof: "A SQUIGGLE?!?!"
Guy: "Yeah, I ran out of letters, so I made some up."
Prof: "Class, for homework tonight I want you to memorize the entire Greek alphabet"
Some girl from a sorority then proceeded to sing the Greek alphabet to the class.

You can't make this stuff up.

jael mchenry
9.5.00 @ 9:33a

For those who are interested in the resolution of this little gambit, I have now successfully completed The Collected E-mails of Mercer Pershing. It's just over 51,000 words, or 133 pages, long. (Why do I feel like I'm describing a baby?) I used several of the suggestions above, including the green-haired nose-ringed kid, the chalk-eating professor, and last but not least, the super-intelligent monkeys. Thanks to all.

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