Friday, May 2, 2008

Meanwhile In 2022 (Give Or Take A Few Months)

The last few weeks, I've been so busy, what with spring cleaning and Passover and mother stuff and Maine and a visit from Joyce and Lew, that I haven't been focusing on the third book. This isn't to say I haven't been thinking about it, because I certainly have. But I haven't had much clear the brain time, and when I have, I've been bumping into the same concern, how to make the third book the story I want to tell while keeping it true to Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. Not to mention good and without that pesky sex.

It's been a fun battle. On the one side there's that starred Booklist review over to the right, which says, "The story's power, as in the companion book, comes from the readers' ability to picture themselves in a similar situation; everything Pfeffer writes about seems wrenchingly plausible."

(Have you noticed, by the way, how another one of those reviews says heartwrenching? I guess d&g is a wrenching sort of book. Which is certainly better than a retching sort of book).

But on the other side is Children Of Violence by Doris Lessing (bet you didn't see that one coming). For those of you who haven't read Children Of Violence, it's five volumes of realistic fiction about growing up in what was then Rhodesia. But somewhere in the fifth book, the main character moves to London (she might have already moved there; it's been decades since I read it), and then, in a dazzling bit of future Nobel laureate writing, the story continues into the future, and becomes sci fi.

Now, apparently LAWKI and d&g are sci fi, so for the third book (still called The World We Live In, although I also call it The 400 Page Epic On The Evils Of Capitalism) to be sci fi isn't exactly Nobel laureate startling. But if The World We Live In is set seventeen years after the start of LAWKI/d&g, which is my intention, then the readers won't be picturing themselves in a similar situation. Because there's no way the situation can be similar. Not with all those volcanoes I got erupting.

It's the loss of the mundane. Do I commit to writing a book that isn't about how to get the laundry done or do I figure out a way of sticking to what worked in LAWKI/d&g?

As of the moment, I'm dumping the laundry and going with the saga of Luke (although a kinder, gentler Luke) making his way back to Pennsylvania and the family he never knew. What I'm trying to do is keep a reign in on my more creative plotting. The other morning, I came up with a fabulous subplot for Rachel, the second lead. Fabulous, that is, if I want someone to think V.C. Andrews is doing the writing. But, no insult intended to the late yet prolific Ms. Andrews, once I end up in her territory, I kind of lose the chance of being good. Fun, sure, and popular, maybe, but bye bye good.

And I like those starred Booklist reviews. They make me feel literary.

Another of the problems I've had is Miranda, now thirty three years old. I haven't had trouble picturing the various d&g characters in Luke's world. I haven't even had trouble picturing Matt and Jon. But Miranda hasn't felt right to me. I know her as a sixteen year old stuck in a house, fantasizing about her baby sister.

So this morning I decided to push Miranda out of the house, and give her seventeen more years of life. I've been planning on a third person narrative with multiple points of view, and I certainly knew Miranda's would be one. But now we're seeing her way before she meets Luke. I'm not sure the readers are going to know it's Miranda. They may just think of her as a widowed doctor (see, that way I can call her Dr. Pickanewlastname, instead of Miranda) until the appropriate time to reveal who she is and how she fits into the story. But as soon as I gave her a career and a life, she started being part of this new world I'm creating. Which made me feel a whole lot better about things.

I'm thinking about writing the third book this summer, when I have a stretch of time without too many interruptions. Of course it's possible that by July, Harcourt will be telling me they're never ever going to want a third book, in which case all this thinking will have been for naught. Worse still, they might tell me that in September, after I've written all 400 pages about the evils of capitalism. Given that possibility, I'd better have a story I'll really enjoy writing, somewhere between Doris Lessing and V.C. Andrews. No sex, but no laundry either.


Dawn said...

I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that I would welcome a kindler, gentler Luke. I understand that the world stinks but I like my heroes to be nice. That's just me though.

I can not wait to read this book. I am certain that Harcourt can not wait to publish this book. Hello---positive reviews for D&G are everywhere! I have to say that when I was describing D&G to my co-workers I often used the term heart wrenching. It is a hard emotional read for sure, but well worth it.

I am still intrigued by the Caitlin saga. Any thoughts about what you are going to do with that story?


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Dawn-

Now that I have my actual hardcover copy of d&g, I've been reading arbitrarily selected sections (stick my finger in the book and see where it opens to). Whoo- that's one wrenching book. A couple of times I've laughed out loud (I am my own biggest fan), but mostly I've been noticing how upsetting things are.

I guess I'd forgotten.

What I have been liking is how unsaintly Alex is, especially when he's dealing with his kid sister Julie (no saint herself).

I don't know how nice I can make Luke to be; at this point, I'm just aiming for more sympathetic and vulnerable.

I did come up with a nice bit of business this morning though. Miranda's going to be a doctor, and it occurred to me Luke might not like doctors- he might see them as tools of the mine owners, and thus be even more uncomfortable with Miranda (who is already uncomfortable with him). Nothing is easy 17 years later (especially since I keep forgetting, it's going to be 18 years later).

I don't know what's going to become of Caitlin, although I have no regrets about having written the book. It gave me a sense of how things might be in the post LAWKI/d&g world, and besides, it was fun to write.

I never mind wasting time if I have fun doing so!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you combine the book you already wrote with the one you want to write and shift back and forth through time a la Kurt Vonnegut. That shouldn't be too hard, should it?


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Glen-

What a great idea! I am now calling the book the 700 Page Epic On The Evil Of Capitalism.

My alternate title is There Will Be Boredom.

I couldn't take the guilt of all those trees dying for my sake. I think I'll keep Caitlin on the backburner, and focus on 17 (or is it 18) years after the start of LAWKI/d&g.

That should be suffering enough for one epic.

Anonymous said...

'Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape.'

I love the above movie quote - which I may or may not have gotten wrong - so do you think you can possibly use it in the third book? Maybe right after the scene where Luke comes across the half-buried Statue of Liberty?

Many thanks!


Anonymous said...

I just finished "the dead & the gone". Like "Life as We Knew It", it was one of those compulsive reads: i.e. I had to finish it/had to find out what happened, yet was disappointed when it ended.
And glad to know there will be a third book: as, because "dead & the gone" is a companion book rather than a sequel, I still wondered "what happens next".
I am an adult (age 50) but I sometimes read good young adult fiction: and both of these books qualify in my opinion as not only good but outstanding.
They make us think about the characteristics that help people to survive. They describe terrible things: but with hope.
I await the third book eagerly.
It makes me wish I had a time machine and could fast forward to 2010 to get it.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Laurie and welcome to the blog-

Pardon me while I behave in a totally immature fashion:

HA HA! I'm older than you are!

Okay, now that that's out of my system, I can say I'm looking forward to finding out what happened to the characters from LAWKI and d&g also (and thank you for your kind words about the books). They're all going to be grownups in The World We Live In, with the focus on Dad and Lisa's son Luke, and Miranda's stepdaughter (currently named Grace). But our answers about what became of Miranda and her family and Alex and his will be answered.

2010 seems so far away. But I think I'm going to enjoy the next two years enough that I'll skip the ride on the time machine!