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

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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!