Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How I Came To Write Life As We Knew It

This past weekend was a good time for me to be nostalgic.

Well, it would have been a good time for me under any circumstance, since my agent caved in to my begging and pleading and told me how much my royalty check for the three moon books was going to be. Considerably more than my fantasy amount, but I admit I kept my fantasy amount extremely low.

Unfortunately the check went in the mail on Tuesday and because of Thanksgiving, there was no mail on Thursday. Until I held the check in my hot little hands, I wasn't going to believe what my agent told me.

 I spent much of Friday nervously waiting for the mail. Since my chair swivels, I swiveled it around so I could stare out the window. Which I did, for several hours.

When the check came (and my agent hadn't lied about the amount, thank goodness) I zipped over to the bank and deposited it gleefully. And I turned the chair around.

Royalty checks don't make me nostalgic (except when they're so tiny I get nostalgic for when they weren't so  tiny, which was not the case with this royalty check), but nostalgia hit me hard on Saturday, because that was the sort of anniversary of the day I came up with the idea for Life As We Knew It. It was Thanksgiving Saturday of 2004 that started the whole business.

Here's how it happened, complete with a historic recreation.

I was sitting in my chair watching TV. That very chair, but a different TV, so the historic recreation ends right there.

There was nothing I wanted to watch. It was about 3:50 PM, and I wanted to keep the TV on, so I scrolled through all the cable stations, which I intended to dump New Year's (and I did, so it's a good thing this happened before then), looking for something to watch.

One of the multitudinous Cinemax stations was showing the movie Meteor starting at 4 PM. I didn't care that Meteor is not on anyone's 10 Best List. I didn't even care that I'd seen Meteor in the past and knew it wasn't on my 10 Best List. I changed the channel and watched it from beginning to end.

108 minutes later, I turned off the TV. At least I probably did. I don't really remember if I kept the TV on or not, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is 108 minutes after I started watching Meteor, I said to myself, 'I wonder what it would be like being a teenager living through a worldwide catastrophe.'

My mind began to race. Who was the teenager? What was the catastrophe?

I decided immediately the teenager would be a 16 year old girl and that the book would be her diary. I wanted the immediacy of a diary. I named her Miranda right away, for Miranda in The Tempest. Then I gave her a big brother, because I have a big brother, and a little brother, because I didn't want Miranda to be the youngest in the family. They became Matt and Jonny. Almost immediately (I am still in the chair, so it really happened fast), I gave Miranda a mother, who I wanted to be like a real person and not just the mother of the heroine in a YA novel. So Mom got political almost instantly. And she got divorced just about that fast, because I didn't want Miranda to turn to her father all the time for help, so he couldn't be around.

I knew before I got out of the chair (and it was suppertime, so I probably didn't linger) what the catastrophe was going to be. I wanted something that would affect everyone on earth, so the book wouldn't be about Miranda escaping from danger. I call those the leaping the lava scenes, where the main character leaps over a river of flowing lava. Those kinds of scenes are beyond my writing capabilities, and I never believe them anyway. I'd stay on my side of the lava river and build a nice home there.

So there were going to be no big dramatic moments. Instead I wanted to focus on the everyday stuff, which movies like Meteor never discuss. What happens to schools? What happens to cable, the internet, the mail system? And how do you get your laundry done? I am a firm believer in clean underwear.

I've always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides. I figured if I moved the moon a bit closer, the tides would go crazy. I plopped Miranda in Pennsylvania then for two reasons. I needed her inland, so I wouldn't have to describe those tides, and I was tired of setting all my books in New York.

So the moon moved closer, the tides went crazy, and Miranda was far enough away that she wasn't going to drown. And I started working out all the bad things that could happen, what I called a rolling catastrophe.

Around then, I probably plopped supper in the microwave. The first and most important order of business had been completed.

I spent three weeks doing the pre-writing, and then a couple of months writing the first draft. I loved writing Life As We Knew It. It was enormous fun being in Miranda's brain while I threw as many bad things as I could think of her way. I practically had to force myself to stop working in the evenings.

My recollection is I only told my brother, my friends Christy and Joyce, and my cousin Ellen that I was working on a book. I was doing it on spec, with no guarantee it would be published, and I didn't feel like telling people about it and having them ask what was happening. And it was a good thing I kept it to myself, because it took close to a year before my agent found a publisher for it.

Then I had to tell everybody. I had lunch with my friends Marci and Carol and I told them and they said, "Who are you dedicating it to?" I said I didn't know, and they said, "Then dedicate it to us." And that's what I did. Now they're stuck getting copies of every single version.

I lead a life of great good fortune. But even I am struck by how fortunate I am that that particular Saturday I decided to keep the TV set on!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The First Twelve Revised Pages Of The Shade Of The Moon

I've been meaning to post the first twelve revised pages of The Shade Of The Moon for a while now, so you can see the difference between a first draft and a revised with the help of an excellent editor draft, but my printer died after a long illness, and then I bought a new printer which works, but I got distracted by the various vicissitudes of life (ha! I spelled vicissitudes right!!).

I don't want you to think I'm unvicissituded right now, but I finally remembered that I intended to scan the revised pages and bring them over here. So I have.

For those who like a compare and a contrast, here are the original pages.

And here are the revised ones:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Oh Grump...

I wrote an entire blog entry announcing that my publishing house has finally decided on a name for the fourth moon book previously known as The Shade Of The Moon, and I used  different font sizes and different colors and all kinds of interesting visuals, not to mention a certain amount of sarcastic verbiage and one perfectly fine footnote, only to have the entry mostly vanish, leaving behind only the font sizes and the colors but none of the sarcastic verbiage or the perfectly fine footnote, and the whole thing has put me in an even more grouchy mood than normal, because all those fonts and colors looked pretty dumb without the verbiage, etc. so I deleted the whole thing, and  I still have to tell you what the official title for the fourth moon book is.

So without fonts and colors, here goes:

The Shade Of The Moon

Feel free to supply your own sarcastic verbiage, or even a footnote or two, if you're so inclined!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

If Henry VIII Had Been Running For President, He'd Still Be Married To Catherine Of Aragon

I'm not one of those people who think Daylight Savings Time should be a 12 month a year kind of thing, but Scooter it seems is one of those cats. Instead of waking me up at the fairly civilized hour of 7:18 AM, he's now hopping on the bed in full purr mode at 6:18 AM.

I have a rule that I don't get out of bed before 7:00 unless something really interesting is going on, and Scooter usually falls back asleep after a few minutes of adoration. So lately, I've had a lot of time to think.

Naturally, the past couple of days, I've been thinking about the election and how Nate Silver and I knew Mitt Romney was going to lose. Mr. Silver focused on poll results, and I on sperm results.

In the past 50 years, there have been 10 presidents of the United States. All 10 had daughters. Indeed, 5 out of the 10 had nothing but daughters.

Mr. Romney, with his 5 sons, was doomed to defeat.*

Since realizing that took about 1 minute, I still had a lot of time to kill before getting out of bed. So then I thought about how  Miranda in Life As We Knew It has two brothers because if I'd given her a sister, the book would have had a whole other dynamic that I didn't want to deal with. Then I thought about how  Evvie At Sixteen (which you'll see is available for purchase down aways on the right side of this blog) is about four sisters. Or how The Year Without Michael (over to the right) has a sister/brother/sister family, only Michael's the brother and there's a year without him. Even in The Ring Of Truth (lookit to your right), there's a sister and a brother, only I don't think the brother gets any lines.

After I whipped my way through my contributions to literature, I started making lists of Great Literary Only Children:

David Copperfield
Oliver Twist
Huckleberry Finn
Jane Eyre
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Anne Of Green Gables
Dorothy Gale
Nancy Drew
Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie and Jughead
Little Lulu.

Actually, I'm listing some of those by memory (or lack thereof). Maybe Betty did have a brother or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm a kid sister. If I'm wrong, I'm sure you'll correct me (in public and causing me maximum amount of embarrassment).

Of course many famous children of literature had other famous children of literature in their families. Every Little Pepper had four other Little Peppers to hang out with, and Flossie Bobbsey (the best name in children's lit ever) had Bert and Nan and Freddie to share twinhood experiences with. Alice In Wonderland had a sister, who sadly doesn't seem to have a first name, but has more lines of dialogue than the brother in The Ring Of Truth as compensation. And Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy had each other until Beth died. Maybe they got to see the Little Peppers and Little Lulu and Laura, Mary and Grace Pearl Ingalls at Little Family reunions.

As you can see, life will be a lot easier once Scooter accepts that Eastern Standard is here to stay!

*Any Republican reading this doesn't have to worry about 2016. Chris Christie, Mario Rubio and Paul Ryan all have daughters (or sons with very strange names).

Monday, November 5, 2012

How Writers (Don't) Earn Money

Like all self-employed people, writers don't know on Jan.1 how much money they'll have earned by Dec. 31. There are reasons to be self-employed, but financial security isn't among them.

Unlike many other self-employed people, writers (at least book writers) earn money from work they did long before. Twice a year, we get royalties, money based on continuing sales of our titles. The more successful the book, the more royalties you're likely to earn.

Royalty checks come twice a year. The way they work for me (and for most other writers, probably) is the publishing house sends a check to my agent, where 15% of it vanishes, and then 85% makes its merry way to me. Royalty season is the same for every publisher, approximately April and October.

Approximately is the key word here, since some publishers are prompt in their payments, and others (like the publisher of my moon books) are a tad slow. Okay, more than a tad. And it's a good faith system, since writers have no real way of knowing how many books have been sold.

What's also peculiar about this system is writers generally don't know how big the check is going to be until the envelope shows up in the mail. My experience is no one wants to tell you either.

Personally, I hate surprises, and I used to try to weasel the information out of my publisher or my agent. If you need the money to pay for rent and food, it's really helpful to know how much will be coming in.

Two excellent things happened to me in recent years. The moon books have sold lots of copies, so I've made a healthy amount of money from them. And I moved into an apartment. It used to be when I earned healthy amounts of money, I'd build a new room or remodel the kitchen. You can't do that with an apartment rental,which has forced me to put money in the bank and keep it there. The lack of temptation can be a good thing.

This year in particular, it's a very good thing. Last year my October royalty check came on Nov. 17. And last year, my publishing house and my agency were open during royalty season.

This year, both of them were closed for last week, since there was no electricity below 34th St. So I can only imagine how long it's going to take for the check to be sent out.

I'm fine. But with Chanukah coming very early this year...hold on, I think Scooter just broke a bowl.

Forget Chanukah. That royalty check, whenever it arrives, is going to be needed for bowl replacement!