It's hard being the author of future classics.
You think I'm kidding, don't you.
In the olden days (a couple of weeks ago) I could write a book and not worry if it might somehow diminish the reputation of my future classics, on account of a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't written any future classics. Those were happy times, madcap and carefree.
But now I'm burdened with the weight of fulfilled potential. All those people throughout the years who'd whisper about me, "Someday she's going to write one of those future classics," now have the satisfaction of whispering, "What an overachiever that Susan Beth Pfeffer turned out to be."
Okay. Nobody's whispering anything. Or if they are, they're whispering about my rather peculiar fashion sense or the effect of gravity on my jowls. And I'm still left with the burden of writing a third book that connects with Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, even if it doesn't turn out to be a future classic also.
Here's what I know about the third book. First of all, whether Harcourt ever even reads it, it's the third book, not the possible third book. At some point I'll give it a useful nickname, but until then it's the third book.
Secondly, it's about a boy named Luke who's the son of Dad and Lisa from LAWKI. He's 16, maybe 17 years old, he lives west of the Mississippi, and the book is about his journey back east to Matt, Miranda, and Jon, his other family, who he's never met.
Third, somehow he meets up with members of the Morales family, from d&g. If I can pull it off, and maybe even if I can't, the last one he meets will be Alex.
Fourth and last, I know how the book ends. Luke is back in PA with the family, accepted as their brother. Miranda gets out her diary, and the last line of the third book is:
"Lisa is pregnant," Miranda began. "Dad called around 11 o'clock to let us know..."
Here's what I don't know: Pretty much everything else. So it's a good thing I'm not in a hurry to write the third book. I'm busy in April and most likely I'll be busy in May and I'm definitely busy in June, so I'm thinking the third book will be written July/August. Unless, of course, Harcourt tells me before then that they're not interested (but I don't think they'll make any decision that soon).
I have two key issues with the third book, sex and violence. Neither LAWKI nor d&g has a lot of sex in it (like pretty much none), and on the whole very little violence. Lots of dead bodies in d&g, but not much violence. I have no idea how d&g will do, but LAWKI is making its way into school systems, which makes me very happy. I love hearing how whole classes of kids are enjoying the book. I want those kids to want to read d&g and the third book also.
But when I think about life 17 years after LAWKI/d&g, I see a society with ritualized violence and massive amounts of sexual oppression and exploitation. Which are great fun to write about, if not to live through.
So I've come up with several plot twists and turns that I adore and reject. I think I can get away with some violence (this is America, after all, and PG13 is violence inclusive). The sex is a more complicated situation. First of all, I have to have at least one strong teenage girl character in the book. Miranda has Matt and Jon, Alex has Bri and Julie. Luke needs someone. I don't want to give him a sister because that's too strong an echo of the previous two books. But if it isn't his sister, and he's traveling from out west all the way to Pennsylvania, and he's a living breathing teenage boy without adult supervision, then there's going to be sex.
My current plan is to pretend the book is a post Hayes code movie. Characters can have sex just as long as it's off screen and never acknowledged. Which eliminates a perfectly lovely pregnancy subplot I invented on the streets of New York this weekend.
So I'm still working on the feel of the book, reconciling the changes that would have happened to the world in the sixteen or so years since the end of the future classics, while staying true in tone to those books, with their matter of fact, reasonably easy to identify with, narrations.
No matter what, I love the ending. All I need are the 335 pages to precede it.