Started in 1999 by a handful of San Francisco Bay Area friends who "wanted to make noise" and "didn't have anything better to do," the project has grown into a veritable literary movement. Last year, nanowrimo.org — now organized by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light — registered over 250,000 participants; more than 35,000 of them would become "winners" by uploading a fictional work of more than 50,000 words by November's end.
Here in Rhode Island, the local chapter is going strong, according to liaison Andy Affleck, a mobile app developer by day for the startup Ozmott. Affleck — who, himself, is writing a futuristic thriller involving trillionaires, terrorists, Japanese fisherman, and giant floating cities in the ocean — says it's not too late to start your own novel, though you'll have to produce more than the standard NaNoWriMo daily quota of 1667 words. Right now, writers are gathering in the "Rhody Wrimos" Facebook group and at regular "write-ins" from Newport to Woonsocket. In Providence, they meet on weekends in the basement of the Athenaeum.
And what better buffet of inspiration for a DIY thriller fan than the November 15 panel at Brown? Not only have the participants sold warehouses worth of books, they're known for sharing trade secrets.
Steve Berry has recorded free podcasts that explain how the second words in his titles — "Romanov," "Templar," "Paris" — offer what he calls the "Oooh Factor," a subject that triggers immediate, hungry curiosity when announced to a crowd. The third word in his titles — "Legacy," "Link," "Prophecy," "Betrayal," "Deception" — links the "Oooh Factor" to a high-stakes "So What? Factor" in the present day, he says. On YouTube, R.L. Stine preaches four essential ingredients for a horror novel — worry, shock, surprise, and humor. And Lisa Gardner offers tips in the "Writer's Toolbox" section of her website. Her lesson, "The Villain: Developing the Diabolical Prima Donna," reads: "Diabolical laughter? Passé. Fat and ugly? Overdone. The truly chilling villain is a psychopath, the charming, brilliant boy-next-door."
But in Providence, the biggest thrills have always come from the headlines. A hepatitis scare that begins at a pizza joint off Thayer Street. A hidden apartment tucked away in a Providence Place parking garage. A $75 million dollar, state-sanctioned heist — I mean, "loan guarantee" — to fund the design of a digital fantasy world called "Amalur."
And then there is the Hay Library, itself. Though the thriller archive materials have yet to arrive, Horrocks assures me that, when they do, everyone — not just Brown students — will have access. "That's our job," he says. "We have such vast collections that there's a social responsibility to have it open to all who are interested."
In the meantime, you may want to head over to that marble-encased palace of literature, anyway. From the boxes of drafts by local thrill king H.P. Lovecraft; to the tall-ceilinged reading room monitored by security cameras and the busts of past Brown presidents; to the lock-and-key archives upstairs, where letters by Abraham Lincoln and an original death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte are archived, the Hay is an inspiration factory. When you arrive, ask a librarian about the Hay's collection of books bound in human skin.
The Brown University thriller panel will take place on November 15 at 6:30 pm at Salomon Hall, followed by a reception and book signing in Sayles Hall. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Amy Atticks (Amy_Atticks@brown.edu, 401. 863.6913).