Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Blog Of The Plague Year

As you may have noticed, I rarely post a blog entry the day after writing one. Maybe in the olden days of bragging, I'd do it, but ever since my highly successful New Year's resolution, I haven't felt the need. Well, except for January 3rd, and that was because of the Junior Library Guild selecting the dead and the gone, which truly was worthy of its own blog entry.

But after posting yesterday's blog entry, I received a half dozen excellent comments, mostly on plague and hanging issues, and I received a couple of e-mails as well. I thought about responding at length in the comments section, but decided to blog instead.

I'll start with plague. Both Anonymous Nancy and Caroline have informed me that plague can be transmitted from a dead person to a live one. Drat, drat, and double drat. I can't have my roving band of players go into a town where everyone's died of the plague, if they, themselves, could get it from some nasty indiscriminate flea. Do you realize there are people out there, who actually expressed doubts about the science in Life As We Knew It? All I need is for plague experts to get ahold of Possible Third Book and point out that all my characters should be dead by page 112. Triple drat.

What I'm thinking I might do instead (and feel free to comment) is have the troupe go into a town where they're scheduled to perform, and find the town is completely deserted. That could be very spooky. It could also be good for my troupe if there's been some stuff left behind, clothes and maybe even food. They would never find out what became of the townspeople, which means the readers never would either. I have no problems with that, but if any of you think that would be bothersome, let me know.

[My mother said, "You're writing this book by committee," and I pointed out to her that I've pretty much written all my books by committee, between editors, and copy editors, and other folk in the publishing house making suggestions for improvements. Plus, I have been known to ask friends for advice while I'm writing.]

Onto the hanging. Paige Y., Anonymous Glen, and Anonymous Nancy all liked the hanging idea, but Janni thought the farmer would simply slit the throat of the guy stealing his food, and and Caroline agreed. In addition, I received an e-mail from a regular blog reader, pointing out that lynching is a part of Southern history, and I need to be sensitive to it as an issue.

I guess the reason I didn't think of it as lynching was because my image was from Western movies, where race isn't an issue, and most of the hangings portrayed are done within the law.

The truth of the matter is I love my hanging. I love the idea of this kid not believing it could actually happen to him, and I love the readers making the same assumption. I also have an image of Caitlin not believing it, and one of the other kids saying, "You've never seen a hanging?" in a state of total skepticism, and Caitlin replying, "Of course I've seen hangings, but never of anyone I knew." A lot of my Caitlin image these days is a girl who has been relatively protected from what's going on, and now having to cope with the various horrors that everyone else takes for granted.

Some of that I could handle with a quick brutal death (throat slitting), but I'd lose the sense of shock the readers would feel when the guy actually does get hung. I keep picturing all these young teens humming "Reprieved" from Threepenny Opera, as they cheerfully await the last minute rescue. And then I traumatize them.

It takes so little to make me happy.

So I've been coming up with reasons why the farmer wouldn't just slit the kid's throat. I have three, of which I favor number three:

1. There's a bounty on lawbreakers, and the farmer will be rewarded for bringing the kid in (this seems to me to be a very dubious means of enforcing laws).

2. The kid is grabbed on the farmer's front porch, and the farmer is going to slit his throat, but his wife tells him not to, since she'll have to clean all the blood off the floor, and it would just be less messy to have him hung.

3. The farmer grabs the kid, holds a knife to his throat, and says that while he's tempted to slit the kid's throat then and there, he's a law abiding citizen, so he's going to take him to town to let the criminal justice system do its job.

Caroline also suggested that a more practical way of dealing with food thieves is lock them in jail and throw away the key, letting them starve to death, but I think public execution would be a more popular way of handling that, and any other, crime. We're talking a civilization with a Writer's Guild strike and no American Idol. Sad times indeed.

On a far happier note, I received an e-mail from my editor yesterday. She assured me that Harcourt intends to stay in business, and I had no cause for concern. And here's the extremely fabulous way she started the e-mail:

I’ll admit that I no longer feel as if I can read your blog because when I finally get to read P3B I want to be thoroughly surprised, and you are giving WAY too much away for it to be a safe place for me to be hanging out.

So it looks like all systems are go for P3B! It'll be many months before I'll know if P3B will actually be 3B, but in the meantime, and with your help, I can keep on plugging along and destroying all humanity, with a smile on my face and "Reprieved" in my heart.


Paige Y. said...

Lynching IS a part of Southern history and that's one of the reasons why a hanging will resonate with your readers (I would make sure, however, that the boy you are hanging isn't African-American). Many people of the South approve of capital punishment and so it's an entirely appropriate thing to do in the book. (Let me hasten to add, while I am from North Carolina and wish to live nowhere else, I personally am very much against the death penalty.)

Thinking more about it, I agree with you that the hanging has a Wild West flavor and that's what I thought of the first time you wrote about it. Hanging for robbery was also a very common punishment in Medieval Europe.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Thank you, Paige Y. and my apologies for having referred to you as Paige V.

I just went back and changed the blog entry, so that you'll be identified by your rightful initial (those of us named Pfeffer should be more careful about misspelling other people's names!)

Paige Y. said...

The Y is for Ysteboe -- talk about a last name that nobody can spell (or pronounce for that matter)! When I'm ordering something by phone I have gotten used to slowly spelling out my name. It doesn't matter -- I still get packages with all kinds of spellings. I would bet Pfeffer has the same issues.

janni said...

Maybe the farmer slit the last kid's throat, and that did no good at all--someone else came and went after his food--so now he wants to make an example of this one. :-)

Or maybe he is a law-abiding guy.

Or maybe killing the kid himself would be uncivilized, but he can still look at himself in the morning if someone else does it. Plenty of folks like that in our world, too!

Anonymous said...

Again, to my way of thinking, hanging makes sense, but if it is too much of a political issue there is more than one way to kill a criminal. Stoning? Pressing? Draw and Wuarter? Tar and feather? Maybe the Law of Hammurabi has to be put back into existence; an eye for an eye. In some countries, I believe that a criminal will have a hand or a limb cut off, but I suspect you have already thought of this.

Another reason why the farmer wouldn't slit the boys throat right away is religion. In the first book, you had the very religious young lady not eating, but you haven't touched upon it all that much other than that. (Forgive me if my memory is incorrect.) So, how would people feel towards a G-D that allowed all this to happen? In my opinion, it would go one of three ways: One, they would turn their back on religion, two, they would believe in the allmighty all the more so thinking this catastrophe would be because of something they did, and, three, they would start a new religion. If you go with three or two, then it's just part of their belief that it's wrong for them to kill, but right for society as a whole (considering the apres-luna world) to do so. There wouldn't be any discussion of why the farmer didn't kill the boy right away as his moral code wouldn't allow him to even think of doing so.

Now about the plague... Since all your people are living in a world which already had it's version of the super-flu years earlier, why couldn't the people who survived be immune to it? Couldn't that be another reason why they have lived so long besides being in the relatively right place and time when the moon was struck? Just a thought.

One day I will have to figure out a way to remember my user name and password on this site. I just hate being referred to as...

Anonymous Glen

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi again to Paige Y. and Janni and Glen who wishes to dump the Anonymous-

Isn't life great? Think of all the brain cells sacrified to decide why some poor food stealing kid wouldn't just get his throat slit but instead gets hung. You put all of us together, and by gum, we could solve three quarters of the problems of all humanity.

Well, you could. I no longer give advice, so even if I figured out all those solutions, I wouldn't be able to tell people what to do.

Meanwhile, madcap blogger that I am, I'm off to blog again. My brain's been very active, especially this morning, and I see no reason (except maybe good taste and a sense of propriety) to keep my creative process to myself.