Monday, December 31, 2007

I Am, By Nature, A Very Impatient Person

Happy New Year's Eve!

I worked up an entire blog entry for my last day of bragging, full of quotes and links, but I decided the heck with it, I'd start my New Year's resolution a day early.

Instead of bragging, here's a lovely painting that King Juan Carlos and his darling wife Sofia commissioned for my Chanukah present. They sent it media mail, so it only arrived this afternoon.

I think Mr. Velazquez captured both my inner and outer beauty, even if he did keep addressing me as Infanta. Or maybe it was Infantile. I was so busy posing, I couldn't really hear him.

As I bid farewell to 2007 (waah! I really loved 2007), I'll copy here, in its entirety, my favorite review of Life As We Knew It. Harcourt probably won't be using it, but I think it's so fabulous I'm going to bold the whole thing:

Life As We Knew It Susan Beth Pfeffer This book was soo predictable! The electricity is off now its on now its off now its on! School is canceled! Omg were so hungry, lets watch the news but we can't since the power is off! I don't want to spoil the ending for people who actually want to read it so its way down there: At the end nobody really important dies they just eat alot of food and live! Thats the WORST ending i've ever seen... Reviewed by Melina, 12

Here's to lots of food and wonderful endings. Happy and Healthy New Year to each and every one of you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

From Such Vicissitudes Ma Moses Became Grand

Did you miss me?

I spent the week doing just what I said I would- writing a silly middle group book. Alas, what I hadn't counted on was writing a bad silly middle group book.

It's possible if I'd given the idea some more time to germinate, it might have been better. It's equally possible I never would have written anything,which I think was my concern (all this was over a week ago, so my memory has faded).

I wrote from Friday until Thursday, taking Sunday off to watch football and figure out the chapter sequence. I don't think I resented having to work until Monday, but once resistance hit, it hit big time. I practically had to force myself to write. The actual writing wasn't painful (it wasn't good, but it wasn't painful), but there was no joy, no anticipation, no delight at the end of a good day's work.

I finished Thursday morning, setting a record for fastest two chapters ever written. Also shortest two chapters ever written. The book ended up being about 25 pages shorter than I'd planned. The only problems the manuscript had were characterizations and plot,both of which were missing. Oh yeah, and structure. That was a problem too. Poor thing never even got a title.

I don't mind writing something that fails. I fail regularly in life. And devoting ten days of my life to a manuscript that stinks, well, ten days can shake the world, but that's the exception, not the rule. No, what makes me sad is my realization that the manuscript stinks. I always think what I write is fabulous. Forty years of professional criticism and rejection have never changed that. My ego remains robust regardless. But some critical self-awareness must have snuck in, for me to know what I was writing was crap even while I was writing it. Waaa!

Therefore I've decided to retire and devote myself to my art. It is clearly my true calling. I can see now the only thing that was holding me back from taking my place with Petrus Christus and the Master Of The Female Half-Lengths was my palate. All us great artists need more than black and red to make our masterpieces stand out from everyone else's masterpieces. So yesterday, I went to Staples and bought a fourpack of Sharpies, just the kind Dierck Bouts used to favor. I then stared at myself in the mirror long enough to start weeping over what my hair looked like, and painted a self portrait. Note, in particular, how I captured the teary green of my eyes.

Someday art historians will look back at this self-portrait and declare it the start of my legendary Plaid Period. They'll comment on the influence I had on Matisse, even more stunning because he was dead before I ever began painting. "Oh, what she could have taught the grand masters," they'll murmur (ideally on the internet, so I can find them via Google). "To think she wasted decades writing Kid Power The Year Without Michael, Life As We Knew It, and the soon to be published the dead & the gone, not to mention the seventy one other amazingly wonderful books she graced all humanity with, when she could have been painting such artistic masterworks of complex simplicity or simple complexity or something."

Say, wait? Is that my robust ego knocking at the door? It missed me. And just like me, it looks fabulous in plaid!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Greetings To My Slowly Gained Readership...

none of whom seem to think I'll be able to refrain from bragging in the new year.

Drat. I was really hoping to unload that bridge on one of you.

I do have a Christmas present for you though. I'm giving you a week or ten days without me. While all of you will be singing carols and opening presents and rejoicing in the holiday, I plan on writing a book.

Sometime this fall, I got an idea for a historical middle group novel. I did a lot of plotting and a little bit of research, and then the idea kind of faded away.

A few weeks later, I got an idea for a young adult novel, and I played around with it, worked out a number of kinks in the plot, even mentioned it to my editor. But I never wrote anything. Last week, when I meant to begin, nothing happened. And on Monday, I finally decided it would feel like work to write it, and if it wasn't going to be fun, if I wasn't going to run to the computer each morning, and have to pull myself away from it to eat and exercise and catch up on the approximately 1,962,438 dvds I intend to watch before the baseball season begins, then there was no point. I officially declared myself retired, unless Harcourt ever asked for a follow up to Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone, at which point I would unretire. And then reretire.

But Tuesday night, I was watching one of the 1,962,438 dvds (thus lowering the number to 1,962,437, and last night I watched another one, so I've already made quite a dent), a movie based on a Stephen King novel, and suddenly my brain said, Hey, what if I flipped the story, and the next thing I knew I had the vast majority of a silly middle group novel completely plotted.

Yesterday I named the heroine (Haley) and her older brother (Stephen, in honor of). I haven't decided on a last name though. I'm considering renaming Stephen, and giving Haley and her older brother the last name Prince (in honor of). Haley, it turns out, is one of those names it's hard to give a last name to. For reasons I have yet to figure out, I've named Haley's kitten Measles. And this morning, I solved one of the semi-major plot problems while driving to Rite Aid to buy my mother a sixpack of Slim Fast.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to answer a substantial number of e-mails that I apologize for not having answered up until now, and then get to work. The entire volunteer work crew with whom I spend every Wednesday decided they have no desire to show up the day after Christmas, so I can even work then. I'm supposed to have lunch with a friend one day this week, but maybe she'll come up here, or maybe we'll meet halfway, and then I could get a full morning's work in. And if she forgets all about it, I can work a full day.

My plan is to post a blog entry right before New Year's, so I can get some last minute bragging in before modesty prevails. I'll let you know how the book is coming along (it doesn't have a title yet). I don't think I'll finish it before New Year's (although stranger things have happened). But I should have it done early enough in January that I can promptly reretire and start reading books instead of writing them. I have 1,962,438 of them piled up, although I like reading when baseball games on are, so there's less pressure to get through all of them before April.

So Merry Christmas, and Joyeux Noel, and Feliz Navidad. I hope your Christmas is wonderful, full of family and friends and joyful celebration. Oh, and happy winter! I love a season when the days get longer.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yoo Hoo Mr. DeMille!

Every now and again, someone who loves me asks if there's any word on a possible movie version of Life As We Knew It.

Patiently, I reply to Someone that no, there isn't, and I assume there never will be.

Why's that? Someone says.

(You know, it's amazing what difference a few letters can make. Someone Says would be much harder to play than Simon Says. But I digress. Big time).

(Where was I?)

Oh yeah. Someone was asking why they'll never make a movie out of LAWKI.

Because it would be way too hard to get all those actors and actresses and cat to lose so much weight, I respond politely but firmly. Sure, Tom Hanks did it for a movie once, but he's just an Oscar whore. You'll never see the true luminaries of cinema, the stars of High School Musical Two, cheapen themselves with weight loss.

Someone almost inevitably loses interest in the topic right around then and moves on to far more significant stuff, like whether Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson are really right for each other. And I'm left feeling forlorn because there will never be a LAWKI movie.

However, I didn't get a degree in film from NYU for nothing. That degree cost a lot of money, and it's about time I put it to greater use than simply mentioning that Marty Scorsese was a teaching assistant in a course I took (and got a C in, thank you very much).

Special effects! That's all LAWKI needs for it to become a Major Motion Picture. Forget making all those poor actors gain and lose weight. With the right special effects, the actors can weigh whatever they want, and the audience will never know the difference.

After much work in my secret laboratory, I've created the necessary special effects. Here are sample photographs of Before, During, And Close To The End scenes. Feel free to oooh and ahhh.

There they stand, back row from left to right: Mom, Matt, Miranda, Jonny and Mrs. Nesbitt, front row: Horton The Cat, just the way you pictured them at beginning of LAWKI. Robust, happy, practically multi-dimensional.

Let's look at them further along in the story. They remain, back row, left to right: Mom, Matt, Miranda, Jonny, and Mrs. Nesbitt. Front row: Horton The Cat. See how the actors convey the horrors they've encountered. See how they've already lost some weight.

It's shocking how different they look after only a few months. It's also shocking how much Jonny's left hand resembles a foot. Us special effects wizards are truly amazing.

Now for the piece de resistance. Just try to resistance. You know you won't be able to. But the squeamish amongst you may want to cover your eyes and peek.

In the back row, just where we left them: Mom, Matt, Miranda and Jonny. Front row: Horton The Cat and Mrs. Nesbitt.

While some of the credit must be given to the actors for their heartrending portrayals of grief and near starvation, frankly the special effects artist (i.e. me) should be the one most rewarded with praise, adoration, and an Oscar or two. Or three. There's plenty of room on my fireplace mantel for as many as the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences cares to throw my way.

And won't Marty Scorsese be proud!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is It January First Yet?

No, right?

Okay, I can still brag.

For starters, I'm thrilled to report that Life As We Knew It is nominated for two different young reader awards in the great (and currently my most favorite) state of Missouri: the Truman Award and the Gateway Readers Award. Modesty required me to list Missouri only once on that lovely list on the left of states that have nominated LAWKI. Drat that cursed modesty.

While I'm on the subject of LAWKI, here's a link to what may be the coolest thing I've ever found on Yahoo:

Lest you think I'm not showing enough love to the dead & the gone, here's a link to a blog review of same. Be forewarned, it's slightly spoilerish and has references to Bolivian hats, so if you're sensitive about such things, you might prefer to stay unlinked:

At some point I'll learn how to give cute little labels to those links, but today I spent figuring out new health insurance programs and trying to get Amazon to do something (I'm not quite sure what yet) with my blog (if I did it right though, they'll put my blog there somewhere but not your comments, which I didn't feel it was my place to plop in the middle of Amazon). Oh, and I put a new poll up for all of you to vote on.

Not that I'm bragging, mind you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bleak House

Once again the Bolivian hat has retreated to its resting place, on the wall to the right of the window in my bathroom. I've e-mailed everyone whose name I pulled out of the hat. Thanks to everybody who expressed interest in an ARC of the dead & the gone. I wish I had copies for all of you, but demand exceeded supply yet again.

I feel a little funny about something, so I'll offer a kind of apology. I'm so used to the terminology of this blog- sandwich bag holding area and Bolivian hat, that I forget people reading the blog for the first time may have no idea what I'm talking about. I refer regularly to my beloved newly gained readership (another blog term), but I don't always remember that the newly gained readership hasn't been around for the initial explanations of all those silly terms.

So if any of you (and you are all beloved) didn't understand that the d&g ARCs were being disbursed lottery style, and thought they were there for the asking, I apologize for not being clearer in my explanation. Again, I wish I had copies enough for everybody. I also wish it was June 1 already, but that's in part because we've had such nasty weather for early December.

My brother called me during the weekend to say he'd finished reading d&g. "It certainly was bleak," he said.

He isn't the first person to point that out, and when you realize that hardly anyone has read the book, it's likely lots more will call it bleak in the months to come. I kind of like the word "bleak." It's like "gaunt," my absolute favorite word in the English language. As it happens, in my entire not getting any younger life, no one has ever described me as either bleak or gaunt. I get more of the Santa Claus words- fat and jolly (although not bearded).

Another thing I'm coming to grips with is people who read d&g are going to compare it to Life As We Knew It. Okay, intellectually I've always known that. But two years went by between when I wrote LAWKI and d&g, whereas (another one of my favorite words) a year or less has gone by since the people reading d&g have read LAWKI. So LAWKI is, in some ways, fresher in the minds of the readers than it was in my own.

Here's the last part of a review of d&g written by Jennifer Hubert, whose wonderful review of LAWKI greets me every time I check its number on Amazon:

While I throughly enjoyed this novel, I have to admit that it didn’t strike the same chord in my heart as LAWKI. It may have something to do with the fact that in LAWKI, Miranda’s story is told in first person (”I said, I did”) and in TD&TG, Alex’s story is told in third person (”He said, he did.”) And maybe it strikes a little too close to home–living in NYC, it’s not fun imagining myself in Alex’s shoes and having to scavenge in my neighbor’s abandoned apartments for food! However, I still recommend you go out and read it as soon as it’s available–which will be June 2008. Just re-read the very excellent LAWKI while you’re waiting.

The complete review is a tiny bit spoilerish, in case you care about such things.

Lest you worry I'm descending into some dark night of the soul, consumed with bleakishness and heart unchordity, here's a quick review from fellow YA author, Elizabeth Scott:

I ended up taking an unexpected vacation last week, and it was fun because I got to catch up on my reading, including Suzanne Berne's The Ghost At The Table, which was brilliant, and an ARC of Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and The Gone, which is coming out in June and WOW! I *still* can't stop thinking about it.

Even the bleakest of Decembers has things to celebrate. Tonight's the last night of Chanukah, and except for the fourth night, when my cat Alexander bumped into the menorah and caught fire, the holiday has been quite pleasant. And Friday will be my brother and sister-in-law's tenth anniversary. They met on the internet and I'm delighted to report that all my concerns and hysteria at the time were groundless. I wish them many more decades of happiness.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Rice And Famous

The Bolivian Hat is back in business.

I received an e-mail from my wonderful editor's wonderful assistant saying they'd be sending me some more ARCs of the dead & the gone. That's my wonderful editor, on the left, holding copies of my books. Her wonderful assistant is the one wearing boxing gloves. You can see from their high heel shoes how worldly and sophisticated they are.

If there's anyone out there who's interested in an ARC of d&g and hasn't yet requested one, send me an e-mail via the darling link on the left. I'll put your e-mail address in the plastic sandwich bag holding station until such time as the ARCs arrive, at which point, into the Bolivian hat they'll go, along, of course, with all the previously received ones.

Speaking of Harcourt, they were kind enough to send me detailed instructions on how to brag until my New Year's resolution to be modest takes control. They specifically said I should write a Wikipedia article about myself, since no one else was ever going to do it for me. So I'll be spending the weekend researching my life and career. What a shame Wikipedia doesn't use photographs.

While I'm still free to brag, let me show you this 2008 book discussion listing for a library in upstate New York.

January 23
The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
February 27
Beloved, Toni Morrison
March 26
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
April 23
Digging to America, Anne Tyler
May 28
Life As We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer
June 25
The Bear, William Faulkner
July 23
Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell
August 27
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
September 24
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
October 29
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
November 19
To Be Decided in 2008

I sent this list to my brother, pointing out that two of the people on it had won Nobel Prizes for literature, and thus the odds on my winning one had increased. "Not by much," was his reasoned response.

Also, as a result of my near casual googling, I found the following rice game. Since I'm very sensitive about my failure to include rice during the Crazy Shopping Day section of LAWKI, I'm posting this link as a form of compensation:

If nothing else, by posting that link, I've increased the odds on my winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

I promise, when that happens, to be very modest about it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

We Have A Winner

The field was crowded, the fight marked by dogged controversy. Yet one name rose to the top. Well, sort of a name. And there isn't any suspense, since the results are right out there for the world to see. Okay, the world isn't actually looking. But there was controversy and there were dogs, and there is a result. From now on, whenever I want a shortened version of The Dead And The Gone, the dead and the gone, or the dead & the gone, all I'll have to do is write d&g. For which I am very grateful.

I don't think I'll inform my editor and agent. I think they'll be able to figure it out all for themselves (these are very smart people).

Speaking of very smart people, I want it clearly understood that I'm smart enough to realize if a bookseller reviews a book online, it's to get people to buy the book, and the review might be excessively effusive just to entice people into spending their hard earned pounds. But I don't care. I love this semi-review, semi-advertisement, which I stumbled upon in my soon to be obsessive googling of d&g:

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
£6.64 - List price: £6.99 - You save: £0.35
Availability : 89 days until publication

About this book
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Bookseller review
I didn't think Susan Pfeffer could better her previous book "Life as We Knew it" but she can and does! "The Dead and the Gone" is about the same set of circumstances that befall the characters in "Life as We Knew it", but this time the stage is set in New York. This means that the experiences are very different. This is one of those books that kept me reading until I had turned the last page - and that was 1:45am!! And then I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about it! Not for the faint-hearted this is a story about the world changing due to an asteroid hitting the moon - with all the apocalyptic consequences you could possibly imagine. Quite possibly the best book I have read this year!
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Book details
Format: Paperback 320 pages
Date of publication: 03/03/2008
Publisher: Marion Lloyd Books
ISBN: 9781407106229

If you read all her other reviews, you'll discover that she loves everything. But if d&g is quite possibly the best book she's read all year (and the year is almost over, I'm happy to report) then she must love d&g best of all. Making her a woman of extraordinary taste and discernment, a very smart person indeed.

Oooh, I just had a great idea. I'll make a new year's resolution to be more modest. That gives me almost a month in which I can brag and boast and swell my head in public. Twenty seven glorious days of self-aggrandizement.

And this is even better! People break their new year's resolutions all the time. I can be modest for a day or two, and then slip up and apologize, and slip up again and apologize some more, and then just grin shamefacedly and promise that next year I'll do better. Oh happy day. Oh happy life.

And while I'm at it, Happy Chanukah!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Power To The People

I am about to post the dead & the gone nickname poll. Thanks to all who offered possible nicknames.

A couple of the suggestions didn't make the final cut. I decided against Dead, because I've never forgotten reading in a biography of Ernest Hemingway that he was very upset that the galley proofs of Death In The Afternoon had Hemingway Death on the top of every page.

I also rejected LAWKI2, on the off chance that comments such as these three might ultimately convince Harcourt that there really should be a sequel to Life As We Knew It:

When you are finished reading, you will want to know more about what happens to the family so I hope that a sequel will be published in the near future.

My readers are telling me that they need closure! I tell them that a parallel book is coming and they think that is great but, they want a sequel!

Help! Are you planning on writing a sequel to continue Miranda's story? We really, really hope so - please don't leave us hanging. :-)

Back to the poll. There'll be six options, listed in alphabetical order. The poll will end Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 5 PM EST (aka when I'll be lighting my first Chanukah candles). Majority rule, but if there's a tie, or two or fewer people vote, I get to decide.

Vote wisely if not often. Remember, the nickname you choose for the dead & the gone will be the one I'll use in this blog and in correspondence with my editors and agent for all eternity.

Ooh. I think I just scared myself. Oh well. If I can't trust my beloved slowly gained readership, who can I trust?

Now that's a question I'm not going to put in poll form ever!

My Preliminary Notes About the dead & the gone

I got an e-mail last night from one of the Bolivian hatters asking if I had known before I began writing the dead & the gone if a certain piece of action was going to happen. I replied that I really didn't remember.

But later that night, I went searching through my computer and I found my original notes about the book. It occurred to me that people might find it interesting to see the process by which the story and the characters evolved. I considered waiting until closer to the June 1 publication date before bringing the notes over here, but I'm not at all certain I'll remember then to do it. So I decided to do it now, and put one of those links on the left side, so that anyone who ever wants to read the notes can.

There are a couple of things I noticed myself when rereading the notes (which I wrote over several days, about a year ago). The first is that a lot of things I thought would happen in the book never did. The second is that all three of the major characters changed their names. Carlos became Alex, because I prefer the name Alex. Niki became Julie, because I was concerned Niki sounded too much like Sammi, a name I used in Life As We Knew It. And Juliette became Briana because Niki became Julie.

While there are many many changes from the notes to the novel, there are many things that stayed the same, so if you want to stay unspoilered, stop reading right now. I'm about to set up the nickname poll, so there will actually be something else to distract you. And if anyone feels like commenting, please either do so in a spoiler free manner, or e-mail me directly.

Okay? Now let's see how my cut and paste skills are holding up.


What I know:
Carlos has two sisters, one with asthma or maybe diabetes
Dad is at a funeral in Puerto Rico.
Mom is a nurse; she leaves for the hospital the first night and is never heard from again.
One sister won’t move away from the apartment as long as they don’t know if their parents are dead.
NYC rises to the emergency. It has more supplies and aid, National Guard.
Conditions deteriorate; the air quality becomes bad. Gangs.
Looting to survive. Breaking into rich people’s homes- stealing fur coats and luxury food items.
No electricity- no elevators. Corpses on the streets become commonplace. No heat. No food.
The waters keep moving inland; everything becomes covered with water, then ice.
Starry Night poster belongs to asthmatic sister.
Asthmatic sister dies. Other sister agrees to leave. Journey to Fresh Air Fund family.
Shea Stadium scene.
Family is middle class, moving upward. Catholic?
Father’s family is all in Puerto Rico for the funeral. Mother’s family is scattered, maybe an aunt or grandmother in the area.
Family is Latino because I don’t want another white upper middle class family.
Carlos is smart (goes to elite public high school), hardworking. He doesn’t get along with healthy younger sister.
Healthy sister is tough, a survivor, fights with asthmatic sister.

Family- Papi is super of building in the West side. Family lives in basement apartment. Mami is some kind of hospital technician.
Carlos, oldest brother, is 19 and in the armed services, probably Marine, stationed in a western state, probably CA.
Alex is a junior in high school. Smart, determined to go to college, goes to a Catholic prep school, works in the local pizza place.
Juliette is 14. Niki is 12.
Papi is in Puerto Rico when it all happens. Mami is called to the hospital in Queens where she works. Neither is seen or heard from again, but there is a phone call the next day which might have come from Papi. Carlos calls the next day before the kids realize that Mami is gone. Kids hear from Carlos maybe a couple of times during the book, so they have no reason to think he’s dead. At book’s end, they begin journey out west to find him.
Maybe an uncle who owns a bodega. If they do, early on he brings Alex and Niki to his shop to help him load his truck with food. He brings food to Alex (or Alex and Niki are told to carry food in wagons back to their apartment). Niki steals some chocolate and some instant lottery tickets, one of which turns out to be a winning ticket for $10000.
Gay couple in building. One of them talks to Alex at very beginning, getting pizza. Mistakes Alex for Carlos. Later on the couple leave NYC and give Alex keys to their place and to their neighbor’s place- they were taking care of neighbor’s stuff while they were in Europe. Papi also has keys to at least one apartment, people he was supposed to paint for while they were gone. Maybe another set or two of keys. Alex and the girls go door to door and tell people to give them keys if they’re planning on leaving NYC. They end up taking things from all the apartments- food, water, warm clothes (fur coats), maybe portable fireplace, barbeque, anything that can help them stay warm and cook. They also take all the booze, which can be used for barter.
Things are different in NYC than in LAWKI. Electricity comes and goes but it lasts longer. More food. Things deteriorate, especially after the volcanoes. Long lines for food donations. Alex is on a line, and two men get into a fight, and one stabs the other to death.
“He’s dead.”
“He’s lucky.”
Alex is glad the men are in line in front of him; he can move up two spaces as a result.
Increased lawlessness. Dead bodies on the streets. Alex’s school stays open although fewer and fewer teachers and students.
Alex and sisters are like jackals, as are most other people. The very strong (gangs) and powerful get most of the supplies, then everybody else fights over the leftovers.
Eating spaghetti sauce for dinner.
Maybe Juliette dies from asthma. Maybe she dies from being bit by a rabid rodent. Maybe Alex gets bit by the rabid rodent. Maybe Alex has to have a tooth extracted.
Bodies at Yankee Stadium.
Busses keep running for quite a while, but very long lines to get onto one (and very few busses actually running).
Maybe gang captures Niki and Alex buys her back with the lottery ticket. Girls cut their hair very short and with all the layers of clothes they can masquerade as boys for safety.
Nuns take some girls to Westchester. Won’t take Juliette because of her asthma. Niki goes and comes back. Either the nuns don’t keep the girls or Niki runs away.
Need to use NYC. What would stay open? Does Alex work (volunteer) in a hospital? Does Juliette? Maybe she gets asthma medication if she works in hospital.
Kids think that scientists will figure out way of getting the moon back in place. Alex believes in family, God, the church, and science. He never loses his faith, but he realizes that he has to take care of himself and his sisters; he can’t count on anyone else to do that.
In the beginning they hear from Fresh Air Fund family calling to make sure they’re okay.
Alex gets through to hospital at end of first day/beginning of second, but hospital has no idea if his mother is there. So much news that things filter in slowly (also no electricity in the beginning). Lots of seemingly wild rumors.
Things very very bad in the beginning, but people pull together. Some people (bodega aunt, gay couple) realize things will only get worse and move fast.
Bodega uncle shows up and asks for food back. He and his family are getting out of town.
Need to have Alex doing things.
The power of the tides never stops and it pushes against the buildings. More and more refuse starts showing up. Maybe not as much snow, but sleet. Salt water doesn’t freeze, but the sleet lands on top of it. Manhattan is being battered to death by the water. Slow but inexorable.
Only after Juliette dies is Alex willing to leave. They can’t go with her, because of her asthma, but her death allows Alex to accept that his parents are never going to return, so there’s no point waiting where they are for them.
Want one violent unexpected death of a major character.
Does Alex have friends? Maybe best friend gets killed, building collapse or racing water or car skidding out of control. Maybe Alex takes friend’s keys and uses them later to take food from his home.
Gay couple warn Alex- Manhattan is an island. Offer to let him use their apartment when they move out. Stay in basement for a while. Basement gets flooded. Move to gay men’s apt. 12 stories up- electricity no longer working. Juliette gets up there but can’t get down and up again.
Older priest; all the younger ones must leave school. Maybe Latin teacher.
Manhattan has evacuation order. Maybe they stay on past the order (many people do because they have no way of getting out). Things even more desperate since there are no more food deliveries. Only when Juliette dies do Alex and Niki leave.
Christmas eve- Midnight mass.
Juliette expect Christmas miracle- return of Mami or Papi, or the moon being knocked back into place. When nothing happens, she loses her will to live, goes into depression, ultimately dies.
Alex does volunteer work bringing food to elderly and infirm parishioners. When they die, he takes what remains in their apartments. Maybe one person he really dislikes, reluctant to take from him/her when they’ve died. Maybe guy in a wheelchair (who he likes).
Flu epidemic. Who is still in the city? Elderly die.

Alex and bf are walking maybe in Central Park looking for fresh bodies. You take the shoes and the watch and they can be bartered for food. It’s after the ice storm, and a tree limb cracks and falls on top of bf killing him. Alex takes his watch, his wallet (because if it’s found with keys, people will break into the apartment) and the shoes and brings them to friend’s parents and tells them he’s dead.
When he tells his sisters what happened, he realizes it could just as easily have been him who was killed. Juliette gets distraught and asks how they could have survived if he’d died.
Alex is the favored child. Carlos has entered military rather than going to community college in part so money can be saved for Alex’s college education. He’s never been the oldest child, but with parents and Carlos gone, Alex has to take on that responsibility, and he has to learn how to handle it.
At some point, Alex makes a sacrifice that in times past he never would have been asked to and never would have thought to. Maybe the first time he does so with a certain amount of resentment, but by the end of the book, he doesn’t even think about it. He’s grown into his role as head of the family.
At some point Niki acknowledges this and the two begin to work as a team.

Jen is always the happy positive one, but she’s depressed after the failure of the Christmas miracle to appear. It takes a while before her spirits lift. Meanwhile Alex has been able to score some asthma medication for her.
Electricity never completely leaves NYC, but it’s sporadic and unreliable. Towards the end, it comes on more frequently (as it does in PA). One day when both Alex and Niki are out, Jen takes advantage to go by elevator to their old basement apartment. Either the electricity goes out while she’s in the elevator, and she ultimately dies of an asthma attack, or she’s electrocuted in the old apartment or she drowns in the old apartment. No matter what, it takes a long time for Alex and Niki to find her.
Niki: I know she’s with Mami and Papi but I wish she was still here with us.
Alex: They’re all here with us. As long as we’re alive, they’re never completely gone.
End of March, NYC calls for a complete evacuation of Manhattan, and that’s when Alex and Niki begin their long march to the west to find Carlos.
Brianna doesn’t have asthma at the outset, but develops it (or some kind of respiratory condition) after the volcanoes start erupting. She sees some kind of medic who says living in a basement is harmful for her, so only then do they move into an upstairs apartment. Maybe electricity is still fairly reliable at that point.
Alex goes back to the apartment and finds about 4-6 inches of water on the floor. Some things are lost (shoes), but he salvages as much as he can, and they realize things are only going to get worse; the water will get deeper and the apartment will be unusable. Maybe this takes place fairly late in the action.
Then electricity (following the ice storm) becomes almost non-existent, and Brianna is pretty much trapped in the upstairs apartment. Kevin dies, Christmas miracles doesn’t happen, Brianna becomes depressed.
Brianna works her way through it. Electricity starts returning. Brianna realizes there’s something she wants in the old apartment. She takes the elevator down, but by the time she gets it, electricity is gone. She waits and waits (on wet floor), then decides to try to climb the stairs. Somewhere in the stairwell she has an asthma/heart attack and dies.
Alex and Nikki have no idea what’s happened to her. Do other tenants know where they are, or do people assume they’ve left? If no one knows, then no one bothers to tell them in their borrowed apartment. Maybe they find her body outside, shoes and watch missing.
People leave bodies out on the sidewalk like they do garbage; every three or four days the sanitation department comes and picks them up. The idea is to find the bodies fast, right after they’ve been left, because there’s always a chance they’ll still have watches and shoes (and any other valuables).
“God isn’t punishing us; He’s testing us.”
“I realized just because we didn’t have a miracle on Christmas, doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Maybe people who needed them more than we did got them.”
Keys from gay couple and for the apartment they were looking after. One set of keys for apartment to be painted. Plus at least one door that opens with the master key and maybe one apartment that opens because there’s a suicide in there.
Briana’s body has either two sets of rosary beads (her own and her mother’s which is what she must have gone down to the basement apartment to get) or else the postcard of Starry Night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Suppose I Could Just Call It The Masterpiece

I have a problem, and I'm turning to you, my beloved slowly gained readership, to help solve it.

As most of you have figured out by now, I wrote Life As We Knew It, and as many of you know, I didn't give it that title. My editor did, and she also bestowed on it the very useful nickname of LAWKI. Thanks to the A in As, LAWKI is even pronounecable, and it's short and easy to type, so it immediately became the nickname of choice.

I named The Dead And The Gone, and after only a bit of dissent from Harcourt, it was agreed that should be its title. Then my editor referred to it elsewhere as The Dead & the Gone. I loved the &, but I didn't like that the stuck in the middle of all those other capitalized words. So I suggested the dead & the gone and that's how it's written on the cover of the Harcourt version.

But the UK edition is called The Dead and the Gone, presumably because they're a very formal people, thanks to having a queen and all that. And Amazon calls the Harcourt version the dead and the gone, which is actually how the title is printed once you get past the fabulous book jacket.

What I've been doing here is calling it The Dead And The Gone when I'm referring to the UK version (because up until five seconds ago, that's what I thought the UK title was, but it seems it's actually The Dead and the Gone. Live and learn) and the dead & the gone when I'm referring to the Harcourt version and the dead and the gone when I'm referring to that which Amazon has to sell.

And none of these are distinctive and pronounceable like LAWKI.

So I'm looking for a quick and easy nickname that I can use everywhere- on this blog, and in e-mails to editors and agents and such like. Lately I've been calling it d/g, which is quick and efficient, but not exactly evocative. Dead Gone is a possibility, albeit it a somewhat depressing one. I could dump the Thes and call it DAG or dag or even d&g, or I could get rid of all the words and just call it &, although most likely that would be a mistake.

Obviously, I am open to suggestions, and I'm turning to all of you, those with names and the vast army of anonymice, to come up with some. All I ask of the nickname is that it make sense. It doesn't have to use any of the initials, just as long as it's clearly referring to the dead & the gone. Blogspot has practically been begging me to run a poll on the left side of the blog, so I'll take the nicknames I can live with (including probably d/g and one or more of the DAG variants), and put them in the poll and let you decide for me. Please put your suggestions in the comments section, or if you're shy, e-mail them to me, and then I'll put them in the poll and then you'll vote and then I'll have a nickname that I can use and happiness will reign throughout the land (except the land where Queen Elizabeth II reigns, although I certainly hope they'll be happy there too).

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Quick Redecorating Note

I've made a couple of changes to the left of the blog.

First of all, I had the brilliant idea to make a direct link to the infamous Yankee Stadium scene from the dead & the gone. I figured out all on my very own how to do it, and I'm proud as punch. I'm also proud as punch that the expression proud as punch really does exist (I just googled it to confirm).

And I added Arizona to the list of states where Life As We Knew It is nominated for a young readers award. The official name of the award is the Grand Canyon Reader Award, and I'm very pleased my book has been so honored. Anyone who has committed this blog to memory (i.e. me) may recall it was this very award that Leo Tolstoy mocked me about several months ago.

Ha! Take that, Count Leo. Since last we spoke, your silly old War And Peace has gotten 3 more reviews on Amazon, while Life As We Knew It has gotten 12. Of course a few of those were pretty darn nasty, but as my mother, Freda Pfeffer (that's to add to her google number), always says, "There's no nachas without tsuris."

Kind of makes you wonder what Mama Tolstoy always said...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Swelled Head Never Won Fair Maiden

So it's a good thing I have no interest in winning a fair maiden. Because my head just keeps getting bigger and bigger...

For starters, the dead & the gone has received its first internet (or anywhere for that matter) review. Jen Robinson was kind enough to review it. Here's a brief selection, and a link to the entire review:

the dead & the gone gripped my attention completely, brought tears to my eyes, and made me think about the many things for which I am thankful. The characters, especially Alex and Julie, are three-dimensional, with strengths and flaws, and occasional unreasonable behaviors. In summary, LAWKI fans, this one is worth waiting for.

While I'm on the subject of the dead & the gone, here are a couple of comments comparing it to Life As We Knew It. The first comes from the YALSA discussion board, the second from an e-mail to me:

Well, I have just finished reading The Dead and the Gone and it is just as good, if not better than Life as We Knew It. Susan Pfeffer knows how to pull the reader right into the story.

I just finished a galley copy of The Dead and the Gone last night. I got it on Tuesday afternoon and just could not put it down...I must say I thought this book was even better than Life as We Knew It.

Lest you think Life As We Knew It isn't getting enough love, darling Google was sweet enough to let me read the following:

Today, Pittsburgh's loomed with overcast skies and coated us in drizzle. I had some tofurkey with friends earlier, and now I'm back home on the couch, taking stock of my life. You see, I recently read Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It. If you haven't read it, I strongly suggest it. It's an evocative--if not emotionally excruciating--account of what happens to a family after an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it out of orbit and toward the Earth. Natural disasters, extreme temperatures, and flu outbreaks ravage civilization, killing countless people across the globe. Meanwhile, the main character Miranda documents it all: the mad rush for food, the volcanic ash blocking out the sun, and the knowledge that anyone, no matter how much you love them, is at risk for death.

It's a lot to think about. And it got me thinking that disaster preparedness isn't just having the food, fuel, and tools you'll need to survive. It's about making sure that the people you appreciate are reminded that you appreciate them, because--well--you can't predict the future.
That's why I wanted to write this post.

Remember the guy to the right? He and his wife sent me the most wonderful present. They put together a "soundtrack" for LAWKI, using bits of Emily Bauer's audiobook narration and songs that fit the various scenes. My mother always said the handmade gifts were the best, and I always figured she was lying, but she wasn't! The gift of the soundtrack is one of the nicest I've ever received. I love it, and I am so grateful for the thought and the effort that went into it.

While I'm being personal, let me wish Marci a very happy birthday. She's one of the dedicatees of LAWKI, and she puts up with me in person on a regular basis, which pretty much qualifies her for sainthood. Besides, she's the one who taught me how to cut and paste, a skill I've been displaying with carefree abandon this entire blogpost.

I've removed the Bolivian Hat from my swollen head and put e-mail addresses back in it. Somehow when I left NCTE/ALAN, a half dozen ARCs of the dead & the gone followed me home. Once I finish this entry, I'll pull six names out of the hat, and e-mail them to ask if they're still interested in having a copy. I am cautiously optimistic that Harcourt will be sending me more ARCs, and if they do, I'll re-open the hat for those who haven't yet asked. Pathological optimist that I am, I bought two packages of mailing envelopes at Staples this afternoon.

Okay. I'm finished boasting for the day. Let's hope my natural modesty will return posthaste (I've always liked that word), before I have to make a return trip to Bolivia to purchase a bigger hat.

PS- I tried to post a link to a wonderful new review of the dead & the gone in the comments section, but it didn't work, so I'll try it here instead.

Please note, this review is somewhat spoilerish, so don't read it if you don't want to take that chance:

PPS-And thanks to the much loved anonymous, here's another link to make my head even more swollen:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving To All (Even The Wicked Oppressing)

I had a wonderful time at NCTE this weekend.

For starters, Saturday night Harcourt treated its writers to dinner with the people who work so hard to make our books a success. We ate at a high class, albeit somewhat noisy, restaurant, three tables of us Harcourters. There were place cards, so we'd know where to sit. I was seated between my wonderful editor and The Actual President Of Harcourt Himself. The Actual President was an extremely pleasant person (unlike a certain other president whose name I will not mention because he might fall into the wicked oppressing category I just wished a happy Thanksgiving to). I'm certain I made an impression on The Actual President because when he mentioned Rocky Colavito, I volunteered that Mr. Colavito had pitched in a New York Yankee game once.

Not every freelance children's book writer of post apocalyptic YA fiction knows that.

After being appropriately dazzled, The Actual President went to sit at another table, and his place was taken by my wonderful editor's wonderful assistant. While there was no more talk of Rocky Colavito, it turns out my wonderful editor's wonderful assistant boxes for a hobby. I've never met anyone who boxes for a hobby before, so I was intrigued. She says she can eat anything now without gaining weight, but that boxing can be painful (I like the first part of that equation, but the pain stuff is enough to keep me out of the ring).

Sunday morning I autographed for an hour, my wonderful editor keeping me company. Although we'd brought some work to do (tiny changes in the galleys), the autographing kept me busy enough we couldn't get to it. Once the hour was up, and I'd ceased grabbing strangers and forcing them to take ARCs of the dead & the gone, my wonderful editor and I found a bench and went through the tiny changes. She truly is a wonderful editor.

After that, I went down to Greenwich Village and had lunch with friends (who admired my well tailored pants suit), after which we saw The Darjeeling Limited. Then I walked up to the hotel where the ALAN Review cocktail party and reception was being held. I foisted myself on innocent English teachers and librarians, none of whom foisted me back (not only are English teachers and librarians very nice people, they don't seem to box as a hobby).

In addition to meeting innocent English teachers and librarians, I met Julie Halpern, a terrific writer I've gotten to know though this blog. She has a website (which is more than I can say about myself, but I doubt that she knows Rocky Colavito once pitched for the Yankees):

I really recommend her novel, get well soon, which is funny and touching and very entertaining.

Eventually all those innocent English teachers and librarians thought I should leave already, so I got in my car and drove home. I made such good time the Buffalo Bills were only behind by two touchdowns when I got in.

So I have enormous amounts to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and as always, all of you are high on my gratitude list. I hope you have much to be thankful for as well and that your Thanksgiving is filled with family, friends, pumpkin pie, and anything else that makes you happy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Infamous Yankee Stadium Scene

Now that I've mastered the intricacies of cut and paste, I thought I'd bring over the infamous Yankee Stadium scene from the other side of my computer.

The scene takes place fairly early on in the dead & the gone. All you really need to know is Alex, age 17, and his two younger sisters, Bri and Julie, haven't heard from their mother since that first night. Alex has made a reservation on a bus that takes people up to Yankee Stadium, where the bodies of unidentified women are being kept.

This section of the book is about ten pages long, which will make it one really long, really bleak and gruesome blog entry.

I'll post a short author's note in the comments section.

Thursday May 26

Alex walked down from his home to 42nd Street Thursday morning around the time he would have left for school, far earlier than he needed to, but he couldn’t risk missing the bus.

He hadn’t told Bri or Julie, pretending instead that he was going to school. If he found Mami, then he’d tell them. He wasn’t sure what he’d say if she wasn’t there. They could keep on hoping then, but he hadn’t figured out whether that was a good thing or not.

New York was no longer a ghost town, but there were few signs of life. The busses, police cars, fire engines, and ambulances drove swiftly, no trucks, cars, or mobs of pedestrians to slow them down.

Most of the stores were still closed, their steel gates locked and protecting whatever had survived the days and nights of looting. The further downtown he got, the more police officers he saw. They looked aimless and bored, as if they were uncertain what they were protecting.
It was a pleasant day, but no one smiled as they walked by. Alex realized he heard almost no conversation. People walked because there was no other way to get to their destination. Eyes were downcast, as though no one wanted to acknowledge what other people might be feeling.

He could see the Empire State Building in the distance, and it reassured him to know it was still there. The Statue Of Liberty apparently was gone. He’d been there once on a class trip. Never gone to the Empire State Building though. He was glad he’d still have the chance.

He hadn’t felt like eating breakfast, and although there was still plenty of food left, he’d started to get nervous about when it would run out and what they’d do when it did. But the walk made him hungry, and it was then he realized there weren’t any street vendors selling pretzels or hot dogs, roasted nuts or souvlaki. Strange to see a New York where you couldn’t get a complete meal on the street.

When he got to the Port Authority building, he saw a vendor on the street corner, selling bags of nuts. The line had to be fifty people long. Not worth it, he decided. He’d find something after he got back.

The vendor’s line only added to the chaos. It seemed like all the people left in Manhattan were fighting to get into the bus terminal. They dragged small children with them, or dogs, or cats in carriers. They carried suitcases, backpacks, duffel bags, all crammed to the point of bursting. Maybe some of them were going to friends or families that lived more inland. Maybe some of them were simply going wherever a bus might take them.

There were plenty of cops there, and Alex went to one, to ask where the busses to Yankee Stadium left from.

“Around the corner,” the cop said. “You got a reservation?”

Alex nodded.

“You ready for it?” the cop asked. “It’s hell up there.”“I don’t know,” Alex admitted. “I’m looking for my mother. We haven’t heard from her since it happened.”“Good luck kid,” the cop said. “Hey, you over there! Watch it!”

Alex walked around the corner. There were several cops there, telling people where to stand and giving them handouts. Alex walked over to one and said he had reservations for the 11:30 bus.

“That line over there,” the cop said, and gave him a handout.

Even though Alex was early, the line for his bus was already thirty people long. People stood there, shuffling their feet, reading the handout, going through their bags. A few had something to eat. Most look terrified, or angry, or simply miserable.

Alex looked down at the sheet of paper he’d been handed.

1. Do not attempt to get on any bus other than the one you have a reservation for. Note its number when you board.
2. At no time may you leave to go off by yourself.
3. You will be given a numbered ticket when you board the bus. You must show that ticket to be admitted to Yankee Stadium.
4. Once inside the stadium, you will walk in single file up the first row. At the end of the row, you will make a right turn and walk down the next row. You will make a left turn and walk up the next row. You must walk up and down every row in the exact position you entered.
5. Look carefully at every body. Pay particular attention to jewelry, as that may be the best way to identify the person you’re searching for.
6. If you find the person you are looking for, or if you recognize another person, do not stand by the body. Keep walking until you see a Police Identification Booth. Go there and inform the officer of the approximate location of the identified body. You may only return to the body you’ve identified if you are accompanied by an official. Any attempt to return on your own will result in your ejection from Yankee Stadium.
7. If you are searching for more than one person, and you identify one of the people you are looking for, make a note of where that body is, and keep your place in line. You will not be allowed to return to the line once you leave it. Only when you have completed your search, should you leave the line to go to a Police Identification Booth.
8. If you see a person in need of physical assistance, keep your place in line, but notify a police officer at the first opportunity. Do not stop to help the person in need of assistance.
9. No food or drink is allowed in Yankee Stadium. All bags must be left on the bus. Anyone carrying anything into Yankee Stadium will be ejected.
10. If you find the person you are looking for, you will remain at Yankee Stadium to fill out the appropriate paperwork. If you do not, you must leave on the bus you took to get there. You will not be allowed on any other bus.

Alex thought the rules were stringent, but they made sense, and he was relieved that what was called for was so carefully spelled out. He liked rules. Carlos was always trying to get away with something, or at least he used to be like that before enlisting, but Alex found that rules imposed a structure, and he preferred that. He always did better when he knew exactly what was expected of him.

He wished they hadn’t kept referring to bodies though. He couldn’t stand the idea of Mami being nothing more than an anonymous body.

He pictured Mami then, sitting at the table, working on her homework, while her children worked on theirs. How proud they all were when she got her GED. He thought of her at the stove, cooking their dinner. He remembered once when he’d been sick with fever, and Mami had pressed a cold wash cloth against his forehead and held his hand until he’d fallen asleep. He envisioned her in church, shushing them, while Father Franco gave his sermon.

For a week he’d refused to think of her, and now he was overwhelmed by a thousand different images. What if he found Mami at Yankee Stadium? What if he didn’t?

He realized then that everybody in line for the 11:30 bus, everybody waiting for whatever bus, was as overwhelmed with thoughts and memories of the people gone from their lives as he was. No wonder no one was talking. The only protection from grief was silence and rules.

Eventually they began boarding their bus. Number 22, he noted. He gave his name to the bus driver and was handed a card that said 33. He took an aisle seat, next to a heavy set woman who kept squeezing a packet of tissues.

“You all have your tickets?” the bus driver asked before they began the journey.

Everyone said yes.

“And you have the list of rules?”

Yes, they all responded.

“Be sure to follow the instructions,” the bus driver cautioned them. “Stay in place once you get there. God go with you.”

Alex looked around the bus. He was the youngest person there, but a few seemed to be in their early twenties. Since only one person from a family was allowed to go, the passengers on the bus were all strangers to each other. Several of them were praying. Others stared straight ahead, or looked out the window. A few had their eyes closed, and a handful were crying.

Alex stared out the window at the apartments on Riverside Drive, as the bus whizzed up the West Side Highway. The buildings looked substantial, unlikely ever to erode. As they drove past 88th Street, he resisted the temptation to demand to be let off. He knew what he had to do, what rules he had to follow.

The bus pulled into its parking space and the people were told to get off the bus in an orderly fashion, making sure to have their tickets in hand and to remember where their bus was located and that its number was 22. Alex got off and displayed his ticket to the officer standing there. From the outside, Yankee Stadium seemed much as it always had. He remembered the half dozen or so times he’d gone to a game with Papi and Carlos, sitting in the bleachers, worrying, shouting, eating, thrilled to be there with his father and big brother. One game, he was nine or ten, the score was tied in the bottom of the 11th and one of the Yankees hit a walk off grand slam. He’d felt like he’d witnessed history, he’d been so excited.

“Stay in line. Don’t wander off,” the officer said. “Stand in line. Don’t wander off. If you leave your place, you will not be allowed in. Stand in line. Don’t wander off.”

Alex stood at attention, as though his posture proved he wasn’t the sort who would ever wander off.

The line inched its way closer to the entrance. Two women walked from the head of the line to the foot, one holding a pot of menthol scented gel, the other face masks and sickness bags.
“Rub the gel under your nose,” the woman instructed them. “It will help with the odors.”

“Wear your face mask at all times,” the other woman said. “Put it on now. Only take it off if you feel the need to vomit. Use the bag, and put the mask back on. Do not leave the bag on the ground, but carry it with you until you leave.”

The menthol smell was strong. People looked strange wearing face masks, like a convention of surgeons had accidentally assembled in front of the ballpark. Alex thought of when Mami had shown them a face mask and told them she’d be expected to wear one as an operating room technician. If she hadn’t been ambitious to improve her family’s lot, she wouldn’t have gotten the training and the hospital in Queens wouldn’t have called for her to come in because of an emergency and she wouldn’t have taken the 7 train to Queens and Alex wouldn’t be standing in front of Yankee Stadium with menthol scented gel rubbed beneath his nose.

“Remember to stay in line at all times,” a voice over a bullhorn called out. “If you see someone in need of physical assistance, inform the next available officer. Do not leave the line. Leaving the line will result in your ejection. Keep walking. Only leave the line if you can identify the body of the person you’re looking for. Look at the person ahead of you in line and the person behind you. Don’t ever stray from those people.”

Alex did as he was told and looked at the man ahead of him and the woman behind him. The woman behind him wore sunglasses. The man ahead of him was balding.

The door opened. “Stay in line! Stay in line!” the officer shouted. Everyone shuffled forward, staying in line. They walked through the entrance, down the corridor, and finally down the flights of stairs that led to the playing field.

The noise was what accosted him first, a cacophony of screams and sobs. He could make out some cursing, some praying, but mostly it was just the sound of agony.

Then came the smells, unlike anything he’d ever known, a sickening combination of vomit, body odor, and rotting meat. The menthol covered the stench slightly, but still he gagged, and he was relieved that he hadn’t eaten all morning. He could taste the smell as he inhaled the decomposing flesh.

It was a scene unlike any Alex could have imagined. If he looked up, it was Yankee Stadium, filled with empty seats. But if he looked at eye level, it was hell.

Alex made the sign of the cross and prayed for strength. All around the playing field were corpses, lying head to toe in neat rows with just space enough for one person to walk between them. How many bodies were there? Hundreds? Thousands?

Some of the bodies had clothes on, others were nude. The naked ones were covered with sheets. All their arms were out, their hands prominently displayed, their rings gleaming in the sunlight. Their faces were swollen, many to the point of unrecognizability. They were covered with flies, millions of flies, their buzzing providing a white noise background to the screams and the wails. His hell was a fly’s heaven, he thought.

“Stay in line! Stay in line! Leaving the line will result in your ejection!”

Alex longed to be ejected, to be bodily lifted from Yankee Stadium, from the Bronx, from New York, from Earth itself, to be slingshotted into the soothing void of space. He focused instead on looking for the Police Identification Booths. There were dozens of them, with police officers and medical personnel stationed there. He saw priests also, and people he assumed were ministers and rabbis and Muslim clergy.

Staying firmly in place, Alex began the death stroll. Most of the bodies couldn’t possibly be Mami. They were black or white or Asian. They were too young or too old, too fat or too thin. Their hair was gray or white or blonde, too short or too long. One woman, hardly more than a girl, had green and purple hair. One was chemotherapy bald. Another was pregnant. Their eyes were open, and they stared up at the moon that had killed them.

Sometimes the line stopped short, when someone ahead of them needed to check a face, a body, a piece of jewelry. A scream would pierce the air as a loved one was found. A woman several people behind Alex cried, “Holy Mother Of God!” and he assumed she’d found who she’d come to look for, but she stayed in line until they made the next turn when she went off to the nearest Police Identification Booth.

Alex felt a sharp sting he was stunned to identify as envy. He hated himself for feeling that way. No matter what, it would be better not to find Mami there. As long as she was only gone, there was a chance their prayers for her return would be answered. But if she were lying there…

“Stay in line! Stay in line!”Twice Alex saw women he thought might be his mother. Something about the shape of their faces, the tone of their skin, stopped him short. But one woman had a diamond engagement ring, and the other wore a Jewish star pendant. When he looked more carefully at them, he realized they looked nothing like Mami, not really. Mami would laugh if she knew Alex had mistaken a woman with a Jewish star for her. He tried to remember the sound of her laughter, but it was impossible. He told himself he’d hear her laughing again, that it was all right not to be able to remember what the sound of her laughter was like just then.

By the time he’d finished the march around Yankee Stadium, two other people from his bus had left the line to go to the Police Identification Booths. The rest walked out in the same order they’d come in. They tossed their sickness bags and face masks into the appropriately labeled bins. No one spoke as they showed their tickets and boarded Bus 22. Eventually the bus pulled out. One woman had left her Bible on her seat, and she picked it up and began reading it, her lips moving silently. A dozen or more people wept. A man mumbled something Alex assumed was Hebrew. One woman laughed hysterically. The woman sitting next to Alex pulled tissue after tissue out of its packet, tearing each one methodically to shreds.

God save their souls, Alex prayed. God save ours. It was the only prayer he could think of, no matter how inadequate it might be. It offered him no comfort, but he repeated it unceasingly. As long as he prayed he didn’t have to think. He didn’t have to remember. He didn’t have to decide. He didn’t have to acknowledge he was entering a world where no one had laid out the rules for him to follow, a world where there might not be any rules left for any of them to follow.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Photography: The People's Art

This morning, I got an e-mail from one of the original Bolivian Hat recipients of The Dead And The Gone. He's partway through reading the book, and finding it, how can I put this, bleak and gruesome (actually that's how he put it; I think the book is kind of cuddly and lovable. Then again I think I'm kind of cuddly and lovable, yet there are those, I'm sure, who think me bleak and gruesome. But I digress).

Anyway, he was reading the infamous Yankee Stadium scene, when his wife happened by with a camera, and captured for all time his response to a particularly bleak and gruesome moment in the book (even I don't think the infamous Yankee Stadium scene is cuddly and lovable).

I guess The Dead And The Gone is truly a hair-raising tale!


I got an e-mail yesterday asking if I was going to be at NCTE next weekend in New York City.

The answer is yes. I'll be autographing copies of Life As We Knew It and ARCs of the dead & the gone Sunday morning, Nov. 18, between 9-10 AM at the Harcourt booth, #336. I'll also be at the ALAN Reception Sunday evening.

Please take this as a personal invitation to stop by and say hello.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Anyone Looking Up Double Newsletter Co-op On Google...

can now find out what it means. Harcourt was nice enough to let me know, and since I learned how to cut and paste yesterday (okay, I learned in kindergarten, but not the high tech cutting and pasting skill, which I acquired yesterday), here, straight from my e-mail, is the actual definition:

Based on the number of orders a bookstore places with us, a percentage of that money goes toward their “co-op” money, which is a pool of funds that we set aside to pay them to promote our titles (like in special displays, store newsletters, etc.). The more money a store spends on Harcourt titles, the more co-op money they will accrue.

So, a double newsletter co-op means that we will pay them twice the standard co-op fee to place a certain title in their store newsletter... [I]t’s a way to encourage booksellers to promote titles we feel really strongly about. (Hence dead & the gone’s inclusion!)

You may wonder why I learned cut and paste yesterday. It was to put that nifty link to the dead and the gone over at Amazon on the left side of the blog. Yes, now I can obsess over the dead and the gone's Amazon number. And it has one. As of about five minutes ago, it was a rousing 235,219. When I woke up this morning, it was approximately 158,000, and given that there's almost seven months before the Harcourt version is published, I'm sure the number will be in the stratosphere before too long. But it's still very exciting for me to see that it really does exist.

Two people have now read The Dead And The Gone, one of the original Bolivian hat selectees and Janet Carlson. Here's what the selectee had to say:

I just wanted to let you know that I received the book last Tuesday and read the entire thing that day, I couldn't put it down. I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Janet left out a number of !!!!!s when discussing the book with me, but she read it in one sitting also and was very impressed with the main characters and a few other things. I forgot to take notes (silly me).

Yesterday I got a royalty check, although not for Life As We Knew It, which is the royalty check I've been sleeping in the mailbox waiting for. Instead it was a check amounting to $83.82 for The Riddle Streak (current Amazon number 892,064). For those of you who have forgotten what it looks like, here's the photograph of Janet and me at the Adamstown Public Library, where The Riddle Streak was on display. It's the one in my right hand.

The Riddle Streak is the most autobiographical of my books, although the illustrator, Michael Chesworth, pictured the family as African Americans, which is a little hard to see in the photograph to the right. It was published in 1993, and if fourteen years from now I'm still getting royalties for Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone, I'll be a very happy person.

I have to admit though, I'll be an even happier person if the royalty checks are for more than $83.82!

Monday, November 5, 2007

So Sayeth The Bolivian Hat

I am simultaneously delighted and heartbroken to inform you three more e-mail addresses have been pulled from the Bolivian hat, and three more e-mails have been sent off to those very same addresses to let them know their e-mail addresses have been pulled from the Bolivian hat. So if you don't get an e-mail from me, it means your e-mail address wasn't pulled from the Bolivian hat (that's the heartbroken part; I really do love all of you).

For anyone who's interested, two of the names were from the original batch and one came a couple of days ago. There were 37 e-mail addresses this go round, 29 from the original group and 8 new arrivals. Thanks to all of you who expressed interest in the book. I just wish there were enough copies to send to everybody.

Meanwhile, Janet Carlson, aka The Dedicatee, is devoting today to reading The Dead And The Gone. If she hates it, I won't let you know.

And I still don't know what a Double newsletter co-op is.

Friday, November 2, 2007

There's More To Life (As We Knew It) Than Bolivian Hats

The Second Annual The Dead And The Gone Marion Lloyd Books Bound Proof Bolivian Hat Giveaway (which is more like the Second Weekly, but Annual is much more impressive) is still ongoing and will last through the weekend regardless of when the ARCs arrive. So if any of you are weekend blogreading warriors, you'll have until Sunday night to send an e-mail to the hat.

Meanwhile because I share everything with you, here are links to two different blogs that discuss Life As We Knew It. There are tricks to make the links all cute and short, but I haven't figured them out yet. So here, the way that was good enough for Grandma, are the links:


The Harcourt Spring-Summer 2008 catalog came in the mail today. There's a two page spread for the dead & the gone and the paperback of Life As We Knew It. The website of this very blog is listed. Since the cover letter said they print 19,000 copies of the catalog, and I only got one, I can assume I now have 18,999 new blog readers. Hi to all of you! Make yourselves to home.

I'm sure the rest of my slowly gained readership would like to see what the two catalog pages look like. I hope you don't mind that you can't read the text. I scanned it that way so there'd still be some mystery left in our relationship:

On the left side of the dead & the gone page, Harcourt says, in bold purple letters: Double newsletter co-op. Naturally I am very excited about this, particularly since I have no idea what it means. Google was no help to me, so until I hear otherwise I'm going to assume Double newsletter co-op is twice as good as Single newsletter co-op, not that I know what that means either (or if it even exists).

At the bottom of the Life As We Knew It page it says: Includes a teaser to the companion novel, the dead & the gone. I must admit, I'm mostly quoting that for the cheap thrill of boldfacing and italicizing all in one sentence.

Oh dear. I can hear some of my 18,999 newly gained readers silently stealing away. Bye bye!Write if you get work!

I'm off to multiply $6.95 (the list price of the paperback LAWKI) by 6% (my royalty rate). There's nothing that makes a writer happier than an imaginary royalty check (except maybe a Double newsletter co-op, whatever that may be).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Bolivian Hat Is Back In Business

I just got an e-mail from the generous folk at Marion Lloyd Books saying they've sent me four more ARCs of The Dead And The Gone. As it happens, I was in a foul mood until I read that, and now I'm all jolly and lovable, so I'm doubly appreciative.

So here's the deal. My mother, Freda Pfeffer (hey, she gets excited when she googles herself) insists that one of the four copies go to the first person who had e-mailed a request last time, so that one is now officially reserved.

But the other three are going to give the Bolivian hat another workout. I kept all the handwritten e-mail address slips (minus the three that I pulled out last week) in a just in case plastic sandwich bag, so back into the hat they can go. I know there was at least one person who regretted not having e-mailed, so if she, or anyone else who missed out on the last drawing, wants to e-mail me, their address slips will go into the hat as well.

I'll do the drawing whenever the "books" arrive, and mail them out as soon as I have the selectees' actual mailing addresses. Since I don't know when the ARCs were sent or how long it'll take for them to get here, I can't give an official deadline. But I will inform all of you as soon as I've drawn the names out.

Anyway, I am just delighted that more of you will be getting U.K. bound proofs. Be prepared to translate things into American though. I was skimming through my copy the other day and found that a building was being kept at 13 degrees. That seemed awfully cold to me until I remembered that their 13 is a lot warmer than ours!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Good Skates

I had a great time at Skate America this weekend, but on the assumption that not all of my slowly gained readership cares about figure skating, I'm going to add a comment to this entry about the skating, instead of discussing it here.

I went with my friend Janet Carlson, to whom The Dead And The Gone is dedicated. I hadn't told her, so she was surprised (and I hope delighted) when I gave her the Marion Lloyd ARC and suggested she read the dedication page while I stared at her. I figure I can use her full name because it's in The Dead And The Gone, after all, and now she can google herself and find this blog entry. If I just wrote Janet, she'd get lost amongst the Janet Renos and Janet Lynns and Janet Lennons and Janet Leighs (none of whom will find this blog entry the next time they google themselves- sorry, all you famous Janets).

For most of the weekend, Janet did the driving as we checked out various antique stores, and we used her GPS Thingy as a result. Hers has no hint of a foreign accent, but it lowers its voice for a sexy dramatic effect every time it says, "Destination."

I'm afraid my beloved GPS Thingy got jealous. On the drive home, we had a lovers' spat. At one point it even demanded that I make a u-turn! Yesterday I sent it flowers and candy, and I'm hoping all is forgiven. I'm committed to our relationship, and willing to go into couples counseling if need be, but my beloved GPS Thingy seems to think if I just do as it says, we'll stay right on course.

But exciting though the skating and the antiquing and the u-turns were, the highlight of the trip happened at the Adamstown Public Library, where we stopped so I could show off my blog to Janet (shocking though this may be, many of my friends don't actually read my blog). I felt a fierce desire for Janet to admire the drawing the itinerant courtroom artist had done of the Bolivian hat and me.

It turned out the Adamstown Public Library had a copy of Life As We Knew It! There it was, sitting unread on its shelves! And the Adamstown Public Library had my book The Riddle Streak as well, also sitting unread on its shelves!

Naturally I was thrilled and showed the books to Janet. And Janet, beloved friend that she is, promptly told the librarians at the Adamstown Public Library who I was.

Coincidentally, an itinerant Pulitzer Prize winning photographer happened by at the exact moment when Janet "outed" me. And here is the potentially Pulitzer Prize winning snapshot of the event.

The librarians at Adamstown could not have been nicer about our unexpected visit. If any of you are ever in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, be sure to drop in and say hi. Just don't tell my GPS Thingy that it's your destination. I hate it when it sulks.

An Announcement Not An Entry

I'm delighted to announce that the Listening Library audiobook of Life As We Knew It is on the YALSA Nominations for 2008 Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults list.

Congratulations to Emily Bauer who made Life As We Knew It come alive.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And Now The Bolivian Hat Can Retire

I'm pleased to report that 33 people e-mailed their interest in Marion Lloyd Books ARC of The Dead And The Gone. That meant everyone had a one in eleven shot of having their e-mail address picked out of the Bolivian hat. Those odds are considerably better than winning the lottery but you'd rather win the lottery, I'm sure.

Still, the names have been drawn, and I've e-mailed all three winners. For those of you who didn't win, just remember," Lucky In Lotteries, Unlucky In Bolivian Hats." That's always been one of my favorite morals from Aesop.

To make sure only chance was involved in the selection process, I kept both eyes closed while I drew. As it happens, an itinerant courtroom artist happened by as I was sticking my hand in the hat, and immortalized the moment.

Notice how much weight I've lost since Monday!

Thanks again to all of you for your e-mails. I received so many wonderful messages, some from people I've had previous contact with, and others from people I've yet to get to know. This has been another great week for me and Life As We Knew It thanks to all of you. I'm very appreciative, and only wish I had another 30 ARCs to mail out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For Those Of You Just Tuning In

First of all, I want to remind any of you still interested in having your e-mail address put in the Bolivian hat for a chance at one of the three advance reading copies of The Dead And The Gone that Marion Lloyd Books was kind enough to send me, you have until Thursday 8:00 PM EST to use the darling little link on the left to let me know. In case you need further convincing, hovering around this paragraph are the front and back of the Marion Lloyd Books promotional presenter.

My fragile ego and I are pleased to report more than three people have sent e-mails. Thanks to all of you who have expressed interest.

I didn't really have much of a chance to discuss my visit to Bishop Fenwick High School. I had a great time there. The students were terrific, asking all kinds of questions about Life As We Knew It, the process of writing and editing it, and the likelihood of a sequel. While issues of politics and religion were brought up, not a single one asked if I was a New York Yankee fan. Given that my visit took place the morning after the Red Sox clinched the pennant, I think they were remarkably kind.

I'm the one with the microphone and the neatly tailored pants suit.

At some point when I have a few hours to kill, I'll write a blog entry about the wonders of my GPS Thingy. But for now I'll only say that I love my GPS Thingy so much I'm considering having children just so I can name them GPS Thingy.

Finally, I'm thrilled to report that Life As We Knew It was named to the Teens' Top Ten list, sponsored by YALSA. I would credit Google with letting me know a mere ten minutes after the list was announced, but actually it was Bloglines that had the scoop. My congratulations to fellow Harcourt author Vivian Vande Velde, whose book All Hallow's Eve (13 Stories) also made the list.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Anyone Want An ARC of The Dead And The Gone?

You have no idea how many cutesy names I came up for this entry, but I'm just back from my exciting trip to Peabody, MA and Bishop Fenwick High School and I'm too tired to remember any of them.

Anyway, Marion Lloyd Books, UK publisher of Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone, just sent me slightly anglicized advance reading copies/ uncorrected proofs of the latter, and at my request, they included three additional copies for me to offer to people who read my blog.

I have no idea how many of you would be interested and since I love each and every one of you (including the ones I haven't ever had contact with), I've decided this is the best approach:

If you are interested in having a copy, send me an e-mail via that cute little link on the left. Just say you're interested, or you want one, or you hate my guts but you'd like a copy anyway (well, if you put it that way I won't love you anymore, but I gather you're all right with that). I now know to check the junk folder (some of my best e-mails end up there), so if you send me an e-mail, I'm certain I'll find it.

I'm going to Skate America on Friday, so Thursday 8 PM Eastern Standard (or daylight, whatever it is) Time is the deadline. This is not a "first three who write and ask" offer.

If three or fewer people are interested, well there's no problem, except a bruised ego (and with the reviews Life As We Knew It has been getting on Amazon lately, my ego knows from suffering). If four or more people express a desire, then I'll write little slips with people's e-mail addresses on them, and pull three of them out of a hat (I have the hat too; it's from Bolivia and it was a gift, but that's a whole other story). I'll e-mail you back, ask for your address, but realistically speaking, won't mail the ARC out until Monday (the sooner I get to Skate America, the more practice sessions I can see).

There are only two things I ask of you. One is not to resell the ARC, since it says on the back cover not to. The other is if you like The Dead And The Gone once you've read it (oh, I guess that's another thing I ask- please read it), say so somewhere in public. If you don't like it... well my poor bruised ego will just have to deal with it.

I am now going to unpack. I hope to hear from at least three of you between now and Thursday evening!