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).