Friday, January 18, 2008

Daniel Defoe Loved The Bleakity Bleak

Have I mentioned, more than forty or fifty times, that my favorite part of writing is creating the story? I love making stuff up, getting the plot and the characters to align. The pleasure I get from this stage of creative work is one reason why I'm such an advocate of pre-writing, although, obviously, what I find enjoyable, other writers might not.

I'm at the pre-planning stage with Possible Third Book, and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. It doesn't seem to bother me that P3B may never exist, or that I might write it for naught. I play with ideas, rejecting some, building on others, and I start to see the totality of the book, where it begins, how it ends, and what I want from it.

One particular issue with P3B is keeping the bleakity bleak under control. This morning I worked out vast amounts of social structure, who gets food and how and why, even though I know only the tiniest bit may show up in the book. I've been trying very hard to follow the rule of one my editors- start the story as close to the center of the action as possible- which means for P3B a first chapter that introduces Caitlin, explains her need to get away from her situation, and her acceptance into the acting troupe. Which is a lot to throw into a first chapter, where the readers also have to see how the world is getting along, a couple of years later than Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

As of the moment, Caitlin's father the dentist has made arrangements for her to marry someone so that she'll be protected in the event of his death. He does indeed die, Caitlin only has a week to continue in her home before she has to marry the guy, the acting troupe comes to town, and Caitlin convinces them to take her, which they agree to because Caitlin has been eating three meals a day and they can use someone strong and healthy.

My guess is P3B is not going to be a short book.

Once I get Caitlin into the troupe, my plan is for something picaresque. I have never written anything picaresque, in part because I stink at writing descriptions and when characters move about, you sort of have to describe what each new place looks like. But d&g was a real challenge for me, and I loved writing it, so picaresque doesn't repel me. Also what I'll be describing won't be real, which gives me a lot of latitude.

Anyway, I've been coming up with picaresque stuff. I know that the troupe ends up in The Capitol, which will seem like the Emerald City by the time they reach it. They stay there at least one night, which they spend in a building with heat and hot running water, and their performance goes great, and they get their license renewed, so they can continue to perform, which is the happy ending.

But before then, there's all the gruesome pain and suffering stuff that makes me so very jolly. Lest you think that only P3B has gruesome pain and suffering, let me offer you a visual of gruesome pain and suffering from LAWKI. And while I don't have any such evidence from the dead & the gone, I can say, without spoilering, that there's a reason it's not called the under the weather and the gone.

Right now I have two big gruesome pain and suffering scenes set for P3B. The first, and shorter of the two, has the troupe going into a town where they're scheduled to put on a show, only to find everyone (or nearly everyone) there dead from the plague. They get out of there as fast as they possibly can, but they're terrified that since they've been exposed to the plague, they might come down with it as well.

Personally, I have no idea if the plague can be transmitted from a dead person to a live one, but none of my characters are going to get it. The horror, followed by the terror, will be enough.

My other big gruesome pain and suffering scene is really more of a segment than a scene, and will take place later. As of this morning, the gist was that the troupe meets Jon from LAWKI, while they're all on the road. He's a courier, and he shares a campfire with them, telling them enough about himself that the LAWKI readers can learn what happened to Miranda and the family (I'm hoping they've had some contact with Dad, Lisa and the baby, since people really seem to want to know how they're doing). Anyway, Jon tells them that the next town up has just gotten its recruitment requirements- how many of their remaining young people they have to send to the coal mines. Jon tells the troupe to avoid the town, since the townspeople will take the performers and substitute them, not legal, but definitely likely.

The troupe had been counting on the town for food, so it's a problem to have to skip it, but they do. But everyone is hungrier than they otherwise would be, and Caitlin and one of the boys go out one morning, in search either of food or water (I have a drought going, and water is a very big deal commodity). They find a farmhouse, and the boy decides to take something. Caitlin, knowing the risk, doesn't go along with him, and may even be leaving the scene when the boy gets caught.

Stealing food and/or water is a capital offense, so the farmer and his wife take the boy to town for him to be hung the next morning. Caitlin escapes back to the troupe and tells them what's happening. I guess the recruiters have already come and gone (I gotta to work that detail out), because the troupe goes into town to see if they can save the boy. They're met with flat out refusal, a crime's a crime, but they see the boy, who's in a state of shock that he's going to be dead by the next morning. He'd always felt he'd outlive the catastrophe, that he'd be around when things finally got better. But the next morning, with the townsfolk and the troupe standing around watching, he's hung.

I love this. I figure I'm allowed at least one Big Deal Death per book, and this'll be the one for P3B. I can picture kids reading it, assuming there's going to be some form of rescue. And there won't be. Ha!

As it happens, I told Marci a brief version of this story, and she hated it. She finds hangings distasteful. And I told my friend Christy the same brief version of the story, and she called it a lynching and I said it wasn't a lynching because hanging was the legal punishment for the crime, they just didn't have trials anymore, and she said, no trial, it's a lynching, and I said, look, the situation doesn't exist and the people don't exist, so let's not fight over it. Only the next morning I e-mailed Marci to tell her what Christy said, and Marci e-mailed back that Christy was right and besides hangings were gross.

I like hangings. They're very dramatique, and they have a long history of being popular entertainment (as do beheadings, but they're really gross). Hangings also make a lot of sense as a means of capital punishment, because you can always reuse the rope. You shoot someone, that's one less bullet. Beheadings take skill, electric chairs take electricity...well, you get the idea. This morning I started picturing soldiers with bayonets, protecting those who need to be protected (dentists and the suchlike), but I don't see bayonets as being a particularly sensible means of execution.

So unless one of you can convince me, by way of the comments or the cute e-mail link to the left, that hangings are truly offensive, I'll continue to work out the scene, especially the part about how the troupe can go into town if the town has to send kids to the coal mines.

Speaking of the left side of the blog, I'm pleased to point out the list of states where LAWKI has been nominated for an award has expanded to include South Carolina. I've actually won the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award twice, for About David and The Year Without Michael. It isn't bragging for me to bring up South Carolina, because P3B is currently set there and in Georgia. It was going to be Georgia and Florida, but I found a Triple A guidebook for North and South Carolina and Georgia, so I dumped Florida. From such things, great literature is created.

And speaking of dumped, I'm also pleased to report LAWKI has made it through two weeks of tomato splatting unsplatted. I doubt it will survive much longer, but if you want to see what the splatting looks like (and who the victims have thus far been), follow the link to the left.

Hmmm. Tomato splatting as a form of execution. Nah. Hangings are way more fun.


Paige Y. said...

Hangings are truly offensive to us today but isn't that the point? It has to be something public and horrifying in order to both convince other people of the town not to steal and to truly upset the reader (which is what a Big Death should do). Civilization has broken down to a large degree, so it only makes sense that what is considered acceptable to American society will have also changed. Lethal injection just wouldn't have the same impact.

Anonymous said...

Hey, don't make the book soooo big that, when all three are collected, the volume will be Harry Potter sized.

I agree with Paige about hangings not only being a form of punishment, but also a form of determent. In the apres-luna world you've created, people have to do extraordinary things to survive, but so do the people who want civilization to continue.

If it was France it would be a kiss from the guillotine, so my vote is for the rope.

(I know you're a big, succesful writer, but I've always found the greatest joy in writing to be the writing itself and not all the planning and plotting. - The road to the destination, rather than the destination itself. - That's probably why I have to rewrite so much to make the beginning agree with the end.)

Oh well...


Anonymous said...

My first thought was to wonder why the farmer didn't just slit his throat on the spot. But maybe they do want the public example to discourage this sort of thing?

Which brings up the fascinating fictional question of whether slitting someone's throat or hanging them is more dark ... :-)

Anonymous said...

Hanging makes sense in the context that you are describing. It would have to be public to act as a deterrent and given the bleak world you are describing, it would probably satisfy some communal psychological need for a scapegoat.

As for the plague, it definitely could be transmitted from the dead to the living via the infected fleas hopping from body to body and from the fleas on the rats that would have been around. Yuck!

Apropos of nothing, even though I haven't been one of the Bolivian hat winners, I did manage to get hold of a copy of D&G! I've only read the first couple of chapters and already I like the characters so much that it's hard to keep reading, knowing what is in store for them!


Anne said...

I just want to say, I just read Life as We Knew It for a teen lit course. What a great story. I'm glad it's one of the first books I picked up for this class...I'm so excited to explore the teen literature that's out there. I've been reading the "grown-up" stuff for far too long!

Caroline said...


I agree with Janni. I kind of wonder why the farmer didn't silt the boy's throat either but then - its more emotional with the whole hanging since we are able to see the boy's emotions and how he feels about being hanged when he had survived most of what had happened already. I really like the idea with the hanging - especially since with most books the person who is going to be hanged is usually saved by someone, which in this case doesn't happen so it isn't predictable.

I have no problems with the hanging. Its a fantastic idea! But you would think these people would realize that its better to throw the person in a jail cell and throw away the key and wait for him to die since heck, he tried to steal the food and water because he needed it so why can't they punish him that way? =P

Nancy is right. The plague can be transmitted that way. How do I know? Last year I did a class on Plagues which really sucked since the teacher didn't want to teach us about plagues, instead she wanted to teach us about genetics since she is so in love with genetics for some reason.

Glen is right. Don't make it as large as a Harry Potter book. Or if its well written enough and interesting enough you can. Just don't do what JK did with the last Harry Potter book. It was awful!! I've never been so bored while reading a book EVER.

I really love what you have come up with so far! You are so talented. & you know what, I love making up stuff the most. I can come up with such amazing stuff but then find it so difficult where to start writing my story. Haha.

I wonder why Caitlin didn't want to marry the guy. I mean, she would have been able to continue with her 3 meals a day... Lol.

Well keep up with the great work and I'm trying my best to stop LAWKI from getting tomato splatted. Its not really up against many great books you know... Lol. I'm serious. Some of those books were really crap compared to your book!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello to Paige V. and Anonymous Glen and Janni and Anonymous Nancy and Anne (welcome to the blog!) and Caroline-

Notice how I've decided to capitalize your names. It's about time.

First off, thank you all for your comments. I get so excited whenever I find there's a new one, and I love reading what every one of you has to say. I am so fortunate.

I thought about responding to your comments in comment form, but you supplied me with so much to think about (and in addition I received a couple of e-mails that I want to talk about) that I'm going to zip away from here and write a blog entry instead.

To think, writing used to be such solitary work!

Anonymous said...

(waves back)

I think that's part of why I spend so much time online, too, because of the way it breaks the isolation of writing!

Ms. Yingling said...

Just skimmed your blog, since I read LAWKI yesterday, and I think I'll stop now, because I don't want to know more about the books until I actually read them! Must say I'm not a fan of violence in books-- still reeling from the death of Toots in Lassie Come-Home-- but students do tend to have gorier tastes than I do. Really enjoyed the first book and will look forward to the others!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Welcome and thank you Ms. Yingling-

I do try to keep spoilerish stuff about the dead & the gone out of the blog, with varying amounts of success.

I'm spoilering away with glee P3B, in part because when I do write it, much of what I've gone through via this blog won't end up in the manuscript. Besides, even if everything goes perfectly, it'll still be a couple of years before P3B would be published, and I figure you'll all have forgotten everything by then.

But the real reason I'm devoting so much of my blog to it of late is because it's so much fun for me!

So I do hope you check out the blog occasionally (at some point I'll move on to a different topic), and even if you don't, thank you for writing, and for reading LAWKI.