Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm Lobbying Hard For The Knife Club Vote

When I was a kid, I was a member of two very exclusive clubs, the Explorers Club and the Knife Club. Both clubs were created by my brother Alan, and both had more than two members, but not much more.

My favorite of the two was the Knife Club, because of the knife. It was made out of plywood, and I have no idea how we came to own it. Possibly my brother made it. I don't remember there being more than one knife in the Knife Club, or what exactly we did in the Knife Club (we explored in the Explorers Club) with that knife, but I really liked that knife. I still have a great fondness for plywood.

I've been hard at work on the Possible Third Book. On Sunday I wrote preliminary notes for it, and have continued to do so over the past couple of days. When I wrote Life As We Knew It, I referred to several parts of it as set pieces (crazy shopping day, Miranda goes skating). There are similar set pieces in the dead and the gone. It's those set pieces that I've been working on for P3B. One example would be the hanging/nonhanging scene, which I've been working on in this blog.

With all the set pieces I've been creating, there's been a struggle between reason and bleakity bleak. LAWKI and d&g certainly have their moments of unpleasantness, but because both books were set in the immediate aftermath of the world's biggest catastrophe, they're about a downward spiral. P3B takes place two or three (more likely three) years after the end of those two books and nothing good has happened during the interim. It's important for me to establish just how bad things are right away, but if I do establish just how bad things are, we're knee deep in the bleakity bleak, which may be off putting to any normal healthy human being (which at least a handful of my readers might be).

In my notes on Sunday, I wrote a brief synopsis of a scene where Caitlin, the heroine understudy of P3B, goes into the woods to gather kindling (I love that kindling) for the campfire. While she's in the woods, a guy lunges at her. She is able to escape, goes back to the camp very upset and scared. She's comforted by Will (he who will end up not being hung), but is told she has to go back into the woods to get the kindling.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 and pushed the scene further. What if Caitlin sees the guy in the woods before he sees her? What if she has a hunting knife on her and plunges it into the guy, then runs back to the camp, gets comforted by Will, and is told she has to go back into the woods to get both the kindling and the knife.

Obviously this is a much more frightening and powerful scene. But it's also very heavy in the bleakity bleak. And this evening, while I was exercycling (my second favorite place to work), I asked myself if Harcourt would really like my heroine to kill someone, even if it was self defense. Then I asked myself if I would really like my heroine to kill someone, nifty and dramatic though it would be. In seventy five books, I've never had one of my heroes or heroines ever actually kill somebody (although a few have bored the readers to death). Given that I'm committed to a fair amount of bleakity bleak anyway, is it really necessary to have Caitlin plunge the knife (nifty and dramatic though it would be).

I'm like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, holding back wave after wave of the bleakity bleak.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the blog, you may have noticed that LAWKI has not yet been splatted by a tomato in the Coventry Book Award competition. Frankly, I'm quite startled and delighted about this. I do have to confess that one young cynic on that site expressed shock that LAWKI had not yet been voted off and placed full responsibility for this injustice on power voting from my fan club.

I'm very excited to learn I have a fan club. When did this happen and why wasn't I invited to join? Trust me, I am my biggest fan. I'd be a charter member, especially if that allows me to learn the secret handshake. My favorite clubs always have secret handshakes.

Secret handshakes and plywood knives that is.


Anonymous said...

Please remember that Groucho said "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member."

Glen (forgot my password so I'm still anonymous)

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Glen-

You've got to work harder on that password thing. For one brief moment you were Astronaut Glen or Glen The Astronaut and now you're back to Anonymous.

Unlike Groucho, I have no pride or standards and would cheerfully belong to any club that would have me as a member. Also unlike Groucho, I don't have four brothers or a mustache.

Anonymous said...

I say let Caitlin have to use the knife. Then, when five drafts down the road you decide that that farmer is going to have to slit Will's throat after all, she can feel all the more angst, knowing that she's really not much better than that farmer is. :-)

glen the astronaut said...

I took my family to Ontario last summer (we drove from Long Island) and one of the things we did was go to the Canadian National Fair (or something like that). I went to one of the little booths in the huge eating establishment and ordered a 99 cent spahetti in a cup. At the time I was wearing a NASA sweatshirt and had an almost shaved head. The 19 year olde behind the counter asked me if I was an astronaut and I asked him if he had ever heard of Glen the Astronaut. At that, his mouth hung open and he said "You're Glen the Astronaut?" I answered in the affirmative and he, not knowing that John Glenn was now in his 70's and I was a youthful forty-something, was, rightfully so, in awe of who he was meeting. I even let him keep the penny change!

And that's how legends are born.

Marci said...

You think that's a knife. That's not a knife. THIS is a knife!

I am quoting (sort of) from Crocodile Dundee.

No, Caitlin should not kill anyone, but she can try. She can catch him in the hand or somewhere and he runs away bleeding or whatever. But she has to contemplate the fact that she was willing to kill if necessary, and that uncertainty is better than post murder angst. I am sure that the penalties for murder would be as severe or more so than stealing food.

It could be the troupe knife, the only means of protection that they have so that the roving bands of marauders who steal food can be dissuaded from taking theirs. And when she comes back with the kindling and hysterics and blood on the knife, it can be wiped off calmly by Will and secured for the next foray into the wild, wild wilderness.

Anonymous said...

I really like Marci's idea. Caitlin isn't forced to kill, but she's forced to realize that she would, if necessary.

After reading the stadium scene in this blog, I have to admit that I was worried that d&g would be too bleak to read. I really didn't find it to be, though. This is not to say that it wasn't pretty bleak, but I think what keeps the books from becoming too hard to read is that the relationships between the characters are still easy to relate to and are mostly warm and loving. Miranda and her mom have personality conflicts, but it's clear that they love each other. Alex finds Julie frustrating to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but he would die for her. I assume that the troupe in the 3rd novel would have the same kinds of relationships and that this would keep the book readable, especially for younger readers.

By the way, I really liked d&g. It's just as compelling, in its own way, as LAWKI. Alex's struggles with his religious beliefs were really well handled and added another dimension to the LAWKI/d&g universe.


Susan's Brother said...

I did indeed make the knife, in art class. It was green, with artistic drops of red paint on the edge to symbolize the many bloody battles in which it was used. Walt Disney had just released Peter Pan, and I remember the many savage fights Susan had with Captain Hook's henchman, always referred to as "the bloodthirsty pirate Turk." She won every time. Of course, the fact that Turk was invisible may have helped.

The Explorers Club was a summer project operating out of a house in the Catskills. Membership required climbing a hill off-road and jumping on rocks in the local brook without getting wet -- and there were no special toned-down rules for girls. Susan was a star jumper.

Caroline said...

Yay for LAWKI. I'm so proud of it! Now its competing against the all wonderful Twilight [but I like LAWKI more!] and that awful, awful book called Berserk. If Berserk wins I won't be happy!

I'll keep voting for it!

I like Janni's idea. Marci's idea is good also. =) Now I better go shopping =P I can't be on here all day [but I assure that I do read all of your entries!]

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello to Glen (astronaut or not), Janni, Marci (who I say hello to on a regular basis), Anonymous Nancy, my brother Alan (the best brother a woman could have),and Caroline, who singlehandedly is keeping LAWKI from being splatted-

As of the moment, Caitlin isn't going to plunge a knife into anybody. One of the jobs I'm hoping to accomplish this weekend is a bleakity bleak outline, figuring out just which scenes are powerful and which are unnecessarily violent. I also need to start plotting the troupe's itinerary.

One quick note about my childhood. Alan mentioned what a terrific fighter I was against the forces of evil in Peter Pan. When Alan and I were kids, we were friends with three brothers, one Alan's age, one a year older than me and one a year younger. Four boys and one truly adorable girl.

Even with this group of friends and family, when we played Peter Pan, I didn't play Wendy. I was always a little lost boy.

On the other hand, I way preferred dolls to trucks.

Dawn said...

I may be going against the grain here, but I really do not see a problem with Caitlin defending her self with a knife against an attacker. Whether or not the attacker dies from the injuries are somewhat irrelevant to me. I would find it empowering for Caitlin to be able to defend herself in this brave new world of the P3B. The way that I see it we have already lost the luxury of high moral values. Survival is the name of the game now. Miranda would never have considered searching for meat on a dead animal on the street before the catastrophe. In D&G Alex resorts to body surfing as a means to an end—that end being to make sure that his sisters don’t die of starvation. At one point in D&G Alex throws a can of pineapples at the head of a man who is attacking his sister. Now, the man doesn’t die but he could have. Honestly it wouldn’t have bothered me one bit if the attacker did die from the can to the head. Welcome to the post apocalyptic world. I mean really, if things have not improved in three years from when the moon was hit by an asteroid and knocked off its orbit then I find it hard to believe that many people would have a moral problem with killing someone who is trying to hurt, possibly kill them.

I would prefer to have a strong female character who appreciates the comfort and to some extend protection of a man but at the same time can take care of herself and do what needs to be done. The feminist in me is annoyed that she runs back to Will to protect her, but the realist in me knows better.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Dawn (to whom I recently sent an extremely long e-mail)-

I answered your comment right away, and then the internet ate it up. Between then and now, I ate lunch and decided instead of trying to recreate what was essentially an incoherent response, I'd write a blog entry explaining what I know and what I don't know about P3B, since there's a lot I know that I haven't discussed on the blog.

But I really need to do some outlining (in part so I'll know better what I know). So thank you Dawn for making me think and my apologies that my initial response to your comment vanished in the wind.

Upon rereading this comment, it is possible that I've replaced one incoherent one with another. And that in spite of having eaten lunch.