William Dietrich gets down to business during The Novel: Live! at Hugo House. Photo by Olivia Margoshes.

When I first heard of The Novel: Live! I envisioned a group of writers huddled around a computer while one of their own sat typing to a chorus of sharp gasps and choice expletives. How else would 36 people crank out a novel in six days? “I wanted something wild and nutty that would get people excited,” said author Garth Stein, co-conspirator behind this week’s marathon book-writing session at Hugo House.

Inspired by New York’s annual marathon reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stein recruited his fellow Seattle7Writers, a cadre of nationally acclaimed authors, even his mom (“She’s typing up a synopsis”) to take turns crafting sections of the story. When I arrived at Hugo House yesterday, Day 1 of Noveling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author William Dietrich was nearing the end of his two-hour stint at the computer. As he typed, his words were projected onto a giant pull-down screen behind him:

So they prowled through the desk. As before, much of it seemed like Mayan code to both of them, a bunch of numbers and accounts that gave no clue as to whether to Angeline Hotel was solvent or bankrupt.

So far, the story depicts the life of Alexis Austin, who lives on the top floor of her mother’s Seattle hotel. There are caskets in the basement (next to the washing machines) and an old hippie resident with a pet crow named Habib. Clearly, one of the strengths of the novel will be its reflection of styles and genres as diverse as its authors. How diverse? Dietrich pens historical/mystery novels. Sean Beaudoin used to write for the Onion. Robert Dugoni deals in murder, treachery, and legal thrillers.

“In a lot of ways it’s easier than writing a whole novel,” said Stein, who’ll take his turn on Thursday. “With fiction, anything is possible. You’re all by yourself. Here, though, you have a preexisting scenario that other writers get to draw from.” For a full list of participating writers, as well as a live feed (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise) of the author up to bat, visit thenovellive.org. To witness the magic in action, head over to the Hugo House between 10am and 10pm, now through Saturday. Once finished, the novel will be edited and published in the spring as an e-book; tips and donations benefit Writers in the Schools, which places local authors in public schools as a way to spark interest in reading and writing.

UPDATED 10/15/10. Open Road Integrated Media, a company that publishes and markets ebooks, announced today that it will publish the novel produced by Novel: Live!

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