Thursday, March 20, 2008

An American Drogedy

I'm still fussing over the Possible Third Book (soon, I believe, to have a working title to call its own). I had succeeded in cutting thirty pages, but ten slipped back in when I wasn't looking. There's a scene I almost cut a few days ago that is starting to look vulnerable again, because I'm planning on adding a scene where Caitlin, my poor suffering drog, gets a solo number (a rewritten version of "Hard Knock Life" from Annie).

As one who is frequently wrong, I've mastered the art of rationalization. Lately, I've been expending a fair amount of energy explaining to myself how this grand country of ours (aka The United States Of America) could devolve into a country that combines some of the more heinous historical aspects of (in alphabetical order), Cambodia, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and The United States Of America. Forgive me if I left out one of your favorites.

Here's the issue: I set P3B originally four years after the start of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. That means the U.S. had a mere four years to go from, well, life as we know it to (as my UK publisher put it) 12th century feudal Europe.

My problem was that I carry over one character each from LAWKI and d&g into P3B. The LAWKI character, Jon, was less of an issue. He just pops in as a messenger to let us know what's up with his family (and also what's up with the country), so his age isn't really a problem.

But the character I bring over from d&g is an important character in P3B, and I wanted her to still be a teenager. People don't actually talk about their ages in the P3B world, but Caitlin's perception is the troupe (with the exceptions of Derrick and Jimmy, who are in charge) are teenagers, about her age (just short of sixteen when the book begins).

(By the way, if you should play the Susan Beth Pfeffer Blog Parentheses Drinking Game, you'll be very drunk very soon. I made a vow to cut down on ()s once, but clearly it didn't take.)

So I stretched things out a little by deciding the d&g character could be seventeen, not sixteen, which gave the U.S. an extra year to become so horrific. But even so, we're on a fast track.

Fortunately for me, I am a world class rationalizer. First of all, I decided the United States is a fast track kind of joint. It doesn't take us that long to make a mess of things when we so choose. This may well be true of other countries, but I've never lived anyplace else.

Then, with the power invested in me, I determined that what's going on in Caitlin's part of what used to be the U.S.A. may well not be happening in another part of the country. Once I decided that, then P3B lost all its identifiable geography. It's better if this land of tiers and drogs isn't identified as Maine or Mississippi. I even flirted with the idea of not making it the United States at all, but the LAWKI/d&g characters forced me to keep P3B here (also, and this is one of those little jokes that make me very happy, all performances, including Caitlin's halftime exotic dances, end with the singing of "God Bless America").

But then I came up with the greatest rationalization of all. We are talking world class PhD thesis level rationalization.

I decided countries are like people, that stress affects nations just as it affects individuals. It's impossible to look at world history and not see examples of mass hysteria (the Salem witch trials) and mass paranoia (McCarthyism). I decided the post LAWKI/d&g United States suffers from mass depression. No sunlight, constant cold, drought, famine, disease, the death of millions, including a family member or two, and no Paris Hilton to distract us. Heck, I'm depressed just thinking about it and I have complete control.

If I'm in charge of keeping my country alive under such circumstances, then I push hardest when my people are weakest. That would be in the first year, when people still know what they're missing and are convinced there's nothing they can do individually to save themselves.

Give starving people a little bit of food and you'll end up with people who'll do whatever you ask with the promise of a little more food merely for obeying.

And if those in power think that the best way to guarantee their own survival is by recreating 12th century feudal Europe, then you push when your people are physically strongest (although not very strong) and emotionally weakest. The next thing you know, there are tiers and drogs and the occasional traveling troupe of performing indies.

Is any of this is P3B? Not a whit. In theory the book is written for kids (although I suspect Caitlin's sideline as a stripper will keep P3B out of the classrooms). Even adults might not find the process by which the United States goes from freedom and comfort straight to gender repression and slavery all that interesting (for all I know, none of my slowly gained readership has made it past the third () in this entry). But just as I've loved just about everything else involved in P3B, I've thoroughly enjoyed figuring out how things went from great to ghastly in a mere five years time.

One good thing about controlling the world though. I have promised myself no matter how bad things get, I will never outlaw ()s!


Anonymous said...

You know, I got the feeling from Life As We Knew It that the U.S. Government was coming back and that all was bright on the horizon. I hope you show in P3B what happened to squash that ray of hope.


Marci said...

No stripper numbers. Won't further the plot and anything that keeps this out of classrooms hurts sales, which won't make your publisher happy, won't make your agent happy and ultimately won't make you happy either.

If Caitlin has to suffer, make it school appropriate suffering. Though actually, Alice got into trouble for making a poster for a book that she took out of the high school library that had the guy become a male prostitute in the end (at least I think that was what it was and as you see I use () too!) The book made it into the library but she got into trouble in the classroom. She also turned it in late which didn't help.

If you want your characters to suffer, make it cold, gray, depressing and windy. Constant wind howl can cause not only depression but stark raving madness. And you can use stark raving madness in a classroom. Stark raving madness sells books.

Anonymous said...

Funny. I cannot imagine that the name 'Caitlin', refers to anyone over the age of 13. I know it's an ancient name, but it sounds so young to me. And 'Caitlin' as 'drog'? No matter. But I still dislike 'drog'. So many adults are reading these books, and for teenagers, too, it just seems too young, if anything.

I agree that there should be no stripper scenes.

I thought I knew what was going on in the book. Now, I have no idea, but that's probably due to the upcoming full moon.

Anonymous said...

Now let's not be too hasty in our comments about the stripper scenes. Susan, after all, is a professional writer.


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Glen, Marci and Anonymous-

I'm working (in my mind and on my computer) on the P3B (soon to be officially known as Since The End Of The Time Before- now that's going to be a killer to come up with a nickname for), and will announce all changes and revisions in my next blog entry (most likely Monday). It's been hard to get any work (or anything else) done this week, since I've been watching the Turkish TV coverage of the World Figure Skating Championships (while listening to the British commentators) nonstop.

In the meantime, for anyone reading this comment to whom this is an appropriate wish, Have a wonderful Easter.

Dawn said...

Hi Susan!
I just caught myself up on your blog entries. Work insanity has kept my away...

I have to say I think it is very interesting to have Caitlin perform erotic dances with the troupe. To me this seems a natural evolution...or devolution of the state of the nation. Since The End Of The Time Before (wow, that's hard to say) it seems to me that the culture of the USA has become more primal and I could definitely see Caitlin strutting her stuff. A girl's got to find power where she can and maybe this is one way for Caitlin to regain some perceived power?

I say this of course as a public librarian who will be sure to put this book on the shelf regardless of sensitive situation.

Good to be caught up! Can't wait to see some detailed notes on Since The End Of The Time Before.


Anonymous said...

Where's my happy post-Purim greeting?

By the way, does religion enter into P3B as it did in LAWKI? Again, I could see people going both ways; either strongly turning toward their faith or blatently turning away from it.

And shouldn't their be a religion based on the moon popping up?

Never got into figure skating (although the Mrs. loves it), but today I turned on gold and was mesmerized. Does that mean there's something wrong with me?


Paige Y. said...

I think the U.S. could change fairly rapidly. In the series Jericho, the U.S. goes to pot in a matter of months, with its citizens losing all sorts of rights (although for my taste, a matter of months is too quick).

I too like ( ), and I especially like it when I can embed one ( ) inside another (that comes from taking Basic Programming on an Apple IIe when I was a senior in high school in 1983 (you just make sure that the ('s and the )'s equal out in the end)).

Anonymous said...

Like the King's New Clothes, I have to say it... Am I the only one here who notices a change in the blogsite?

Glen A.N.O.N.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Dawn, Glen and Paige Y.

Happy belated Purim to one and all.

I'm going to be discussing Caitlin's late career as a stripper in my blog entry, which I'll start momentarily, so I'll just answer the religion in P3B question.

For the most part, I kept religion out of P3B, because if I got into at all I'd get into it way too deep. A few characters mention praying, and there is a reference to a regular Sunday prayer service the troupe has. There are a couple of times in the book when Caitlin listens to sermons intended exclusively for drogs, which mostly focus on the importance of obedience and gratitude.

But I think that's it. I tried very hard not to mention God, because I made conditions so wretched that I didn't feel any diety should be held responsible.

All right. I'm off to blog and to admire the blog's lovely new look.