Monday, January 14, 2008

I Have A Pal And Her Name Would Have Been Sal

Until very recently, I used to say The Future Is Unknowable, but then I realized that if I knew the future was unknowable, the future was, to some extent, knowable. I called this Pfeffer's Paradox and it gave me a headache.

I bring this up partly so you'll be impressed I have my very own Paradox, but mostly to ease into the topic of the harsh reality of the publishing industry. A few weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin completed its purchase of Harcourt, beloved publisher of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone (well, beloved except when I'm waiting for advance or royalty checks).

How this will affect the Possible Third Book (aka P3B)? I have no idea. When I spoke to my editor about P3B (in that charming, whiny way I've mastered) back in November, I felt assured that if d&g did well enough, Harcourt would be open to discussing P3B. No guarantees, but certainly a willingness to listen.

But now new people have taken over positions of power at Harcourt, and I know nothing about them. Maybe they hate trilogies. Maybe they hate end of the world books. Maybe they love trilogies and end of the world books and hate me. Maybe their definition of success for d&g is nothing short of #1 New York Times Best Seller. Maybe they don't appreciate writers speculating about them on blogs. I dunno. In the immortal words of James Forsyte, father of Soames, "Nobody tells me anything."

A sane and sensible person would jot down a few notes about P3B and forget it, until such time (next fall, next millennium) as Harcourt expresses interest. But not me. My little mind keeps zooming along, brushing aside as much bleakity bleak as I'm capable of, while figuring out just how the end of the world would be run two years after LAWKI ends.

This is what I currently know: my heroine's name is Caitlin.

Before you go, Is that all you currently know? let me tell you, it took hours to name her. I must have gone through a dozen possibilities, all of which got rejected for very valid reasons. For at least two hours, she was Rachel, until I remembered Baby Rachel in LAWKI. Alicia got dumped because it sounds too much like Alex, the main character in d&g. Lauren got dumped because there's a minor character in d&g named that. Amy and Brooke got dumped when I remembered the heroine of my book Twice Taken was named both Amy and Brooke. I told my friend Hilarie at lunch the character was named Kayla, and then for a little while after lunch she was named Kaylie. I even considered Morgan, which was the name of my very first heroine, Morgan in Just Morgan. I thought it might be a nice, sentimental gesture. Dumped, dumped, and dumped.

So she's Caitlin, unless you hear otherwise (maybe Houghton Mifflin hates the name). And her father's a dentist. If I were cherry picking professionals at the end of the world, I would definitely save the dentists (lawyers, journalists, and Broadway producers can fend for themselves).

I've come up with at least a half dozen different ways Caitlin ends up in the acting company, with five or more of them too bleakity bleak. But I know this about the company- it's run by a gay couple, and at least one of them is a stage magician.

Which brings up a major bleakity bleak issue. Magicians have a lot of props, and touring entertainers have musical instruments, so there are things that have to be transported. I'd originally pictured a mule cart, until Hilarie at lunch asked where the mule came from. So I kept the cart and dumped the mule (I am very suggestible, especially at lunch).

What I need to know is how does the cart get transported? It doesn't have to be a real big cart, although I'd like it to be big enough to carry at least one person (I have this nifty image of one of the girls in the troupe falling and spraining her ankle and getting carried in the cart for one day until it's decided that's too much of a burden and they dump the poor girl on the side of the road, which is how Caitlin, taken on as an understudy, gets to be a regular member of the troupe. You see, by my standards, that's not too bleakity bleak, but then again there are an awful lot of corpses in d&g, and they didn't bother me one whit). I would appreciate suggestions, from you, oh beloved slowly gained readership,because, as of the moment, I have the kids in the troupe taking turns pulling the cart along, and there's a real chance of excessive bleakity bleakedness. Which, now that I think about it, I could blame on Hilarie, since if it weren't for her, they'd have a mule.

It occurs to me that I'd better be careful. Hilarie actually reads this blog (Hi Hilarie. You look fabulous!).

Heh. I wonder how Houghton Mifflin feels about mule carts. With my luck, they love them (and hate me).


Suzanne said...

By bicycle! Or by two bicycles welded together. There's a great tradition of human-powered pedicabs and trailers, all of which are sturdy enough to pull equipment and a person or two. Maybe Caitlin can be mechanical and is taken in by the troupe because she knows how fix a bottom bracket.

Walter Pidgeon said...

Nothing wrong with a hand-pulled cart. (Think Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen, words and music by Frank Loesser).

Think John Loesser's production of Hans Christian Andersen, at UPAC in Kingston, and the giganto-cart built for it, which promptly lost a wheel as soon as it was onstage, but was then promptly fixed, but only after leaving 'Peter' holding up more weight than almost any young girl could expect to manage. Moral? Use light wood, and make sure the axels are firmly attached.

Anonymous said...

The publishing world aside, the burning questions is - what does Susan Beth Pfeffer want for her 60th birthday, and where can presents be sent?

Luncheon with Marty Scorsese?

Anonymous said...

Not so keen on the name, 'Caitlin'. How about 'Hallie'? It has that astronmical ring to it, and it was author Hallie Burnett who wrote, The Brain Pickers, "A searing, uncompromising novel that strips the literary veneer from the book publishing business" in 1957.

Marci said...

Sara's boyfriend's next oldest sister is Mikaela and they call her Kaela and she is into theater, both acting and making costumes. So that would have been nice, actually. Unless she dies at the end, of course.

Think school libraries will buy a book that has a troupe led by a gay couple? It is a very under-represented minority in juvenile literature.

For the record, I like Caitlin. And I think that publishers need to stop buying each other up. At some point there will be one big publisher and that is scary. Kind of like Calvin Trillin's one Big Kitchen where everything tastes like airplane food.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello suzanne, walter pidgeon (why do I get the feeling we've met someplace before?), anonymous, anonymous and marci (who I've definitely met someplace before)-

I love you all.

Last night, I watched the TCM documentary about Val Lewton (narrated by my old pal Marty Scorsese), and there was a shot in one of Lewton's movies of several people pulling a cart along. Very dramatique.

So my current thinking is the troupe starts with a bike pulled cart, and then the bike gets to the point where it can no longer be repaired, and they have to hand pull it instead.

For some reason, I always like making my characters suffer more and more as time progresses.

Hallie is a great name, and Hallie Burnett was a very interesting person to Google this morning (I got her NY Times obit). My problem with Hallie as a name for my heroine is (avert ye eyes if you fear d&g spoilers) I like the idea of having Alex's kid sister Julie as one of the troupe members, so I've been trying to keep away from names that end with a "ly" sound. Other than that, Hallie would work nicely, since it has a bit of softness and the strength of the "ly" sound. And the comet allusion would be pretty amusing.
But she's still Caitlin, unless for some reason I dump Julie.

I am very glad someone noticed my extremely subtle birthday mention. I love birthdays (especially my own). I used to be the queen of gifts- loved giving them and getting them- but when I sold my haunted house and moved into my ghost free apartment, I stopped both the giving and receiving. So, enchanted though I am by the concept of opening my mailbox and finding heaps of packages with "anonymous" as the return address, I'll decline all generous offers.

And if my old pal Marty wants to get in touch, he can use the adorable e-mail link on the left, same as the rest of humanity.

Librarina said...

You need to stop beating yourself up, woman! I think Harcourt will come around as soon as they see the crazy following d&g is sure to get. And if they don't, couldn't you talk to another publisher? I like the name Caitlin, and I love the idea of the traveling troupe of entertainers. Please, please, please don't give up on this idea!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi librarina-

Don't worry that I'm giving up on the P3B. My little brain loves it (expect a blog update about it soon).

I actually asked my agent what the odds were of another publishing house taking P3B if Harcourt decided against it, and her response was basically slim to none. Of course I do have a UK publisher, and maybe they'll want it. Or maybe it'll be for naught.

No matter what, nothing puts a smile on my face more than ending the world. Good thing I'm not running for president!

Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed the actor Hans Conrad and think you should write a part for him into P3B. Okay, so he's dead, but who amongst us is not without fault?