Thursday, April 10, 2008

By The Rivers Of Babble On

When last I wrote, I didn't have much of an idea about the third book and I didn't have a cat on my lap.

Well, both of those things have changed.

The cat is Emily and she isn't even sitting on my lap; she's standing, resting her fairly substantial rump in the crook of my arm. The things I put up with.

Back to literature. I spent at least twenty four hours floundering. I had several wonderful scenes, but I wasn't at all sure I could use them. They were very dark and not necessarily appropriate (curse you, sex and violence!). I was feeling the weight of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

Shamefacedly, I must admit that I've taken to calling LAWKI/d&g, "The Future Classics." Sometimes I even call them the FCs. I'll try hard not to call them that here, but I make no guarantees.

But then, in a rare burst of sensibleness, I thought about what LAWKI/d&g were really about, which is family. My immediate response was a sullen, yeah, well that's the problem, because if Luke has any kind of family he's not going to need to get to Pennsylvania and hook up with the LAWKI family. Which is true.

But there are different kinds of family in this world. I have friends who I think of as family (and I'm even more fortunate because I have family I think of as friends, but that's neither here nor there). What Luke needed wasn't necessarily blood kin, but people he was connected to and concerned about.

Yeah, I know this would have been simple for you, but it was a real breakthrough for me. Because once I realized that, everything, and I mean Everything, fell into place. Even some of the noiresque stuff works. And the ending...If such be possible, the ending has gotten even better.

The book now has three basic sections, the first and third bookending the middle and far longest part of the book. In the beginning, we meet Luke. His mom (Lisa) is long dead, and his dad (Dad) died four years before the book begins. When Dad died, Luke was immediately taken to the mines (he was about 12 at the time). At the start of the book, Luke is in a death match, the winner of whom (who is not supposed to be Luke) will be liberated from the mines. Luke wins, gets liberated, and is encouraged to get out of the area, cross the river, and move to the east (where he will eventually find his family).

Luke hooks up with a business that transports people to the river. He travels with a married couple and four other teenagers, Hannah and her indentured servant Pet, Ethan, and Rachel. All of them are planning to cross the river, which is never done casually. Hannah is doing it because she's part of an arranged marriage. Ethan is going to avoid being recruited (kind of a draft dodger). Rachel is going because there's no education available for teenage girls west of the river. Luke is given food and protection in exchange for work, so he's both of the group and outside it. And the climate changes started while Luke was stuck in the mines, so when he sees blue sky and stars for the first time, the others have already experienced it.

Since the idea is only two days old, I can't tell you much about what happens on either side of the river, but I do know some stuff. The way it works with the powerless is that you're contracted for seven years of labor (Luke in the mines, Pet as a servant). Then, if your employer is satisfied, your option is picked up for another seven years (so Luke would have had to work in the mines for another ten years, and Pet would have to be an indentured servant, or "serv" for about ten years as well). After that, you're on your own, but after that, you're most likely dead.

When it comes time to cross the river, Luke finds out that he'll need a fair amount of money, to pay for transportation and some kind of papers that he doesn't have. Then Hannah gives him the money, explaining that to get it, she sold Pet's contract (or, if you want to look at it that way, Pet). Hannah is very pleased with herself for having come up with such a creative solution to Luke's problem, and for what she regards as a real act of charity, but Rachel and, as of the moment, Ethan are appalled (I haven't worked Ethan out yet, but currently he's idealistic). But Luke accepts the money and crosses the river.

Alas for Luke (but good for the readers) he develops a conscience and starts feeling guilty. Here's where things get a little tricky (curse you, sex!). I know (at least right now) that Luke and Ethan are both having sanctioned sex with Pet. But I can't exactly spell that out and keep the potential school market. But I do want it clear that Luke feels some connection with Pet, because I want him to talk about all this with Alex when he finally meets him (the exact details of which I've yet to work out).

Somewhere on the eastern side of the river, Luke and Rachel shake Ethan (although it is possible that Ethan refuses to cross the river and chooses to look for Pet instead, even though this means he stands at risk of being recruited). Then, for reasons yet to be worked out, Rachel doesn't go directly to school, but accompanies Luke when he meets the LAWKIs. Because I want Miranda to open the door, and Luke is just frozen with fear and longing, and Rachel steps in and says she's Rachel, and Miranda falls all over her, convinced this is Baby Rachel. Eventually, of course, the misunderstanding is cleared up, but Luke, who is already Outsider Incarnate, feels that much more alienated. But by book's fabuous end, Luke is accepted for who he is and more importantly can accept his family for who they are (I'd tell you who they are, but I haven't worked that out yet, although I am amusedly considering the possibility that Miranda is married to Brandon the figure skater).

In addition to minor stuff like figuring out plot and characters, I need to do research. Here's what I currently know about the Mississippi River: It's long. I've got to locate those coal mines and work out routes, travel agent kind of stuff. And figure out what things look like 16/17 years later. My brother has volunteered to push the moon out of orbit (well, he said he'd go to the library and see if he could find something about the moon), so I don't have to worry about that. I'm always willing to power share, if it means less work for me.

Speaking of which, I'm title hunting again. Various of you pointed out that Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone are both five word, single syllable, titles, so I'd like the third book to have a title like that. Suggestions would be much appreciated.

Well, Emily is no longer on my lap, so I suppose I should get up and do something, like take a nap. There are some perks to being old, self-employed, and the author of Future Classics, after all!


Anonymous said...

Lisa died =( RIP Lisa! How did she die? =(

And not Miranda and Brandon... Miranda and Dan of course =P haha!

Anyhow I love what you have come up with so far! I especially like the part where Miranda thinks Rachel is baby Rachel. Haha. =) This book sounds awesome!

Meg said...

I agree with Caroline, the book does sound really awesome! I had *one* problem with a tiny part of it, though, and spent the day at work today thinking about this in the back of my mind (sorry, this is going to be a bit long)...

Being from the West, I remember we studied in school that most of the coal mining done in the West is surface mining, not the traditional coal mining down in the ground like you automatically think of when someone says "coal mining". Coal deposits out west often tend to be more towards the surface, and any coal buried deeper generally tends to be really small amounts, and is considered not worth the expensive, time consuming operations to do the underground mining.

I wasn't a particularly science-y girl in school, but I definitely remember that. I did a quick google search to make sure I was remembering correctly, and came up with things like this stating that 90% of the coal mining done west of the Mississippi is done as surface mining, so it looks like I am remembering correctly (and mining hasn't changed that much since I was in school).

I don't know if they cover this much still in schools, and if it would jump out to modern kids the way it did to me, but 15-20 years ago in California this was definitely covered in general classes.

Given the fact that you wanted Luke down in the ground when the skies cleared and to not have seen the stars, this might throw a wrench in your plans. If he's been working in surface mining, he would've been above ground during the climate change, so that causes problems with that option.

*However*, I thought of two options which may work for you. 1) if you are really tied to *coal* mining, it could be that all the surface deposits are totally tapped, and given that it is totally easy to come up with gobs of free labor, it'd make sense to start going after the smaller veins in the ground because the money factor isn't so huge without wages to pay, plus it is now incredibly lucrative to mine for coal, so they may totally consider it worth the higher costs.

Option 2) is to consider a different type of mining, if it's more the *mining* you're set on. Mining for metals like gold, silver, etc., would be done underground in traditional below ground mines, and metals like these would have a great value in their practical applications, and there's a lot of gold and silver out West. And other metals too.

Additionally, there are lots of old, abandoned mines which still have small amounts of precious metals left out there, and since the mine systems are already established (albeit, quite old), this would mean less usage of precious resources to build the mines (timber for framing of shafts, tools being dulled by digging, etc.), if they are going into already established, now abandoned mines and gleaning the leftovers and/or harder to get bits. Additionally, since the mines are already started, it'd be easier to expand already existing mines just by digging further into the existing mines. That would make this type of mining totally plausible.

So, yeah, this is what I was thinking about all day while I answered the phones at work. Other than my little coal mining thing there, I really, really like how this book is sounding so far. I am really excited about how this will turn out!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Caroline and Meg-

I haven't decided how Lisa died. It's so easy to kill characters off (especially when I want them dead many years before a book begins). As long as illness is rampant, anyone can die anytime (which is something I think I'm going to use in the third book as a plot complication).

Ah romance. I have to admit I had trouble with Miranda and Brandon, but I couldn't see Dan coming back (much as I might have wanted him to). So as of the moment, Miranda's married to a guy she met when they were both in an apprentice program.

For a few glorious minutes this morning, I married Rachel off to Jon. I thought this would be tres romantique, but then I came to my senses. You really can't have a book with three teenage girls and end up with one of them sold into who knows what, another in an arranged marriage, and the third married to guy 14 years older than she. You just can't. So now Rachel decides to return to one of the d&g characters, and study/apprentice there (I'm loathe to go too much into the d&g characters in the third book for fear of spoilering).

Now onto the mines. This may come as a shocker, but I know nothing about mines. Well, next to nothing, since I have seen some coal mining movies over the years.

But my image of the mine Luke emerges from is based on the horrible coal mining disaster in Utah, where a lot of the reason why the miners couldn't be rescued was because of how far underground they were. So I figured some western mines had to be pretty deep.

My brother the (political)scientist and I discussed mining when he offered to move the moon for me. We figured with all the earthquakes I've unleashed, things have shifted about a lot underground. Which could also help with my mining setup.

I really prefer coal to anything else, because I see coal as so essential to the post LAWKI/d&g world. Coal fuels power plants, and with sunlight essentially non-existent, artificial light and alternative heating sources are, along with water, the most important things needed for society to survive.

I'd also like Luke to come to understand how important coal is. I want him on a coal fueled train, and possibly a coal fueled boat. Steam engines are very big in the world I've created.

I am very appreciative of the thought that Meg, and the rest of you, put into my ideas. If I didn't welcome your input, I wouldn't be blogging about what I'm writing or thinking about writing. I know how to come up with plot and characters, but I have so much to learn about what goes into these stories. I'm really very moved when you take the time and effort to help me out.

Dawn said... we have sex slaves? I have to say...this is a sharp turn of events. I am really not so sure I can feel like Luke is a hero if he is having "sanctioned" sex with a slave. Kind of ruins any sense of heroism for me.

Your characters are usually so strong and well, moral. I find it hard to swallow having a main character who would essentially rape a slave.

Am I totally misinterpreting something here? I feel kind of sick all of the sudden...