Thursday, July 24, 2008

Not Kentucky, Because There's A Volcano There

My editor hated what shall forevermore be known as Christy's Idea.

Actually the first twenty minutes or so of what was an hour and a half, starting at 5:30 not 3:30 brainstorming session, pretty much consisted of what my editor doesn't like.

Okay, a certain amount of that time was spent on what I don't like, like coming up with idea after idea only to have my editor not like them.

Then we went to work.

We danced around sequel/not sequel. We finally agreed on not sequel. So we'll never know what happens to Miranda and her family, Alex and his.

I didn't want to go through what I called And Then The Volcanoes, And Then The Flu again. My editor didn't want to go much past where Life As We Knew It ends. We compromised (quite satisfactorily as far as I'm concerned) on starting the action somewhere around mid-February (the dead and the gone ends at the very end of December; LAWKI ends on March 20, but there aren't that many diary entries in Feb. and March).

My editor felt it was really important that the readers have a sense of what the main character's life was like before the world ends. She said that even though not that much time is spent pre-catastrophe in LAWKI and even less time in d&g, the readers still see some background. She wanted that connection to what was while coping with what is.

(I think that's going to be the working title- What Was/What Is. I like the /. It's like the & in the dead & the gone.)

I pointed out, a few times, that if the book starts ten months after the start of LAWKI/d&g, we'd be past the what was. We waltzed around that for a while.

She liked episodic. I liked episodic. The people who voted on the poll liked episodic. So we agreed to episodic.

We discussed (at far more length than it merited) whether tomatoes could be grown in a hothouse without sunlight. I finally pointed out this was my world and if I said they could, then they could.

Finally we worked out a structure. It turns out we both love structure. As of the moment, all we have is structure, but the structure is a great starting off point.

Here goes: What Was/What Is will be about a girl starting ten months after the moon gets nudged towards earth. But it's also going to be about that same girl a few months before the moon gets nudged. The book will go back and forth between the two times (I sure hope Harcourt uses different typesets).

Something Big And Bad will happen to the girl in the What Was part (my editor used the word Victim; I know because I wrote it down in the totally incoherent notes I took). Of course everything Big And Bad happens to the world in between What Was and What Is (and I have no idea what is going to happen in terms of food, shelter, and those nasty volcanoes in the What Is part of the book, but given that the idea is about two hours old, this doesn't worry me). I think it's essential that the What Was section be every bit as involving as the What Is section.

LAWKI and d&g both end with the main characters doing something that allows them to be rescued. What Was/What Is has to end differently, some kind of big bang emotional resolution, with the readers understanding that whatever happened in the What Was has allowed the heroine to cope/survive/succeed in the What Is.

My editor (and I think this is very funny) said she wasn't going to be in the office tomorrow. I said it was going to take me more than one day to figure out plot, characters, setting and incidents.

There are several things I love about this third book concept. First of all, while it isn't a sequel in terms of Miranda and Alex, it is a sequel for the world. People who are curious about what happens next will find out (and once I know, I'll be sure to tell you). It won't be a brother/sister volume to LAWKI/d&g, but it'll be a cousin, Episodic on their mothers' side. It will be a standalone, but with any luck, anyone reading it first will want to read LAWKI/d&g. It will be very hard to work out the storyline, and challenging to write (I'm thinking that I may write the What Was section in its entirety before writing the What Is part, and then cut and paste them together, making whatever changes I discover need to be made), but I love figuring that stuff out. Who is this girl (I decided girl because boys are harder for me to write, and this is going to be quite hard enough, thank you very much) and what did she go through and what is she going through now and what is the world going through. Not to mention where. Somewhere not in the northeast, and I'm thinking maybe suburbs.

As it happens, I have nothing scheduled for the next three days, so I'll do a lot of thinking. And looking for states without volcanoes.

I'm off to check Popular Baby Names. Maybe if I know what this girl's name is, I'll sense what Big And Bad thing happened to her in the What Was of her life.

Possible Third Book Number Eight, here I come!

10 comments:

wild-force71 said...

I'll miss Miranda and ALex, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I'll be eagerly awaiting What Is/What Was. {WI/WW ?} And a third sticker bookplate maybe?

Aoife

wild-force71 said...

Oops. I mean WW/WI. Sorry.

Suzanne said...

We don't have any volcanoes in Minnesota! And there's a nice big river to help whatshername survive.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Wild-Force71 and Suzanne-

The big news is I'm thinking maybe the book should be called What Is/What Was, rather than What Was/What Is.

From such decisions millions are made. Not by me, alas.

Whatshername is at least temporarily Sarah. It's a name with gravitas (it's also my Hebrew name, but that's pronounced Sahrah, so I never think of it that way).

I'm almost absolutely positive I have the What Was section under control (when I'm absolutely positive, I'll blog about it), so now I just have to end the world some more. And come up with plot and characters and setting.

Speaking of setting, I think Minnesota would be too cold. Under the best of circumstances, Minnesota is prone to the cold in winter, and thanks to those pesky volcanoes, it's not the best of circumstances.

And after an unshakeable decision not to get a kitten, I'm dreaming about getting one.

Librarian D.O.A. said...

I was really hoping to see Alex and Miranda meet and go on to survive whatever comes together. :(
Pssst just email me and tell me what you think their fate "would have been" *wink*

Minnesota really is too cold. And in the summer it is too hot and muggy. I think people would move inland from the disappearing coastlines to just such a paradise- like place.

D.O.A.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Librarian d.o.a.-

I never really saw Miranda and Alex hitting it off, although in version number six (The World We Live In) they were related by marriage and good friends.

I remember at one point wanting to fix Miranda up with Alex's friendly rival Chris Flynn. And it's funny to think of a romance between Alex and Miranda's friend Sammi.

That's the pleasure of fiction. You can do whatever you want with those people and they can't ever object!

sarah said...

It's funny you mention looking through baby names -- I might have mentioned -- I work in a bookstore and today I was shelving / organizing / whatever and got totally caught up in the baby name book section. I looked in practically every one of them for the names I'm currently using in my as of yet untitled novel. Ha.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Sarah-

When I was in high school, I got a names for the baby book (called Names For The Baby). I used it for decades (I still own it, although I haven't looked at it in years).

I love the Social Security site for popular baby names. I'm usually satisfied with the top 100, but when I need to, I go to the top 500 or even the top 1000.

I look for names that are classic yet appropriate for the timeframe of the book. Unless there's a reason to go with a completely unusual name, my goal is to make the names sufficiently ubobtrusive that kids don't question them.

Sarah is still working for me as a name for the main character, but I don't know who she is yet. She may end up not being a Sarah at all.

Linda Jacobs said...

I can feel your excitement and it's rubbing off on me! I love reading about your thought processes.

It must be so hard for a novelist to let go of characters. As a reader, I have a hard time and I didn't even birth them! But, it sounds like you've turned that corner and are willing to let Alex and Miranda take care of their own lives, as they are very capable of doing.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Linda Jacobs-

I do seem to be saying goodbye to Miranda and Alex fairly easily. I guess that's because I've written so many versions of what happens next to them that I don't have unanswered questions about them.

I have an idea for the What Was part and an idea for the What Is part. My current plan is to e-mail my editor Monday and let her know what I'm thinking. If she likes the idea(s), I'll work more on them. If she doesn't, I'll have to come up with some other concepts.

Either way, I'll let you know.