Sunday, January 20, 2008


My brain, which I imagine as a entity with a life all its own, a little gray creature riding around frantically on a tricycle, has been having a great time working on Possible Third Book. "Slow down!" I cry. "Let me sleep!" But my brain has a mind of its own.

P3B, just like Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone is a ridiculous amount of fun to work on. Characters, plot, situation, logistics, each feeds into the other. It's like making a lanyard, all those different threads coming together to create a colorful, albeit totally useless, cord. Lanyard making was my second best subject at summer camp (being homesick was definitely my number one, but that's a topic for a day when I'm feeling nostalgic, not creative).

Last night I decided to name my characters. I even thought I'd write a blog entry about character naming, which is an art and a science and well worth blogging about. But it turned out naming the characters was just one thread in the lanyard, and once the characters were named, I started to see relationships I hadn't anticipated and the next thing I knew I was back to logistics and that led to hangings and the suchlike.

You know, maybe I'll never write P3B. Maybe I'll just publish a collection of these blogs, and then everybody can read them and write the book for themselves. What a time saver that would be.

Back to names. I had four before last night- Caitlin (the heroine), Will (the potential love interest, if the plot moves in that direction) , Julie, a member of the troupe, and Jimmy, one of the two men in charge of the troupe. By the time I went to bed (with one quick change I made just now), all the other troupe members had been named. I knew I wanted at least one African American kid in the troupe, and I pictured the other half of the gay couple as African American as well. For reasons I no longer remember (hey, this was last night), I decided two of the kids should be African American. I went browsing through Popular Baby Names, and picked Rashad for the boy, and Eboni for the girl. I wanted names that would allow the readers to picture them as African American. I have no idea how much their race will factor in the story, but LAWKI is just so white, and even d&g is lacking in African American characters. Then I decided Rashad and Eboni should be brother and sister. Once I realized that, I figured they should be related to the other gay man, so after a quick trip through the rosters of NFL teams, he got named Derrick and became their uncle.

That left one more girl and one more guy, and oddly enough, they were the hardest to name. But the other girl is, at least for the moment, Sara, and the other boy is Tyler. Tyler, poor kid, is the one I had scheduled to be hung.

The big decision was realizing that Rashad, Eboni, and Derrick form a family, because that got my brain working on logistics, which I devoted an hour to this morning, while my cats were sleeping. I invented The Sweep. It seems that somewhere towards the end of the second year (assuming I keep my beloved opening line- In the third year, things got worse) the government issued far more stringent rules about food entitlements. Before the sweep, Jimmy, Derrick, Rashad and Eboni constituted a family, and just as long as one of them, say Derrick, had a position of importance (say an engineer), they could get the maximum amount of food, shelter, and schooling. But post sweep, since Rashad and Eboni had never been legally adopted, they no longer were regarded as Derrick's children, and out they would go (sharing food is as much a crime as stealing it- you're just not allowed to eat any food that hasn't been allocated to you).

So now Derrick and Jimmy have to figure out a way to keep Rashad and Eboni safe, and that's when they come up with the idea of the traveling band of players. Derrick, it turns out, worked his way through college as a magician. But to make their case more convincing, they decide to take some other kids with them, and make a full evening of vaudeville out of it, so they can be licensed and entitled to food.

A certain amount of this, I figure the readers are going to learn as Caitlin learns it. Of course she'll know about the sweep and the rules, but I needed to figure out how this troupe came into being, and now I do. And it all came from naming the characters.

Meanwhile, back to poor Tyler and his hanging. I started thinking about the towns, and how Jon (a licensed courier) is going from place to place letting the people know that there's a recruitment underway to send young people to the coal mines. And I thought how if I were in one of those towns, I'd want to protect my own, and maybe instead of hanging Tyler, they'd substitute him, by giving him the papers of some teenage boy who had just died a day or two before, and send him off to the coal mines.

Or maybe if I want to make the book really sad, it could be Will, possible love interest to Caitlin.

Ooh ooh, double ooh. I'd been thinking how truly nifty it would be if the town negotiated with the troupe somehow, with maybe Jimmy (a lawyer in his previous life) the one to suggest substituting Tyler/Will in lieu of hanging, and the town agrees (I mean the coal mines are awful, but they're better than being hung), but only if the troupe gives up another of its members. Girls can go to the mines also, and the recruitment says how many boys and how many girls must be sent. So if the town's been told to send four boys, two girls, now one of the boys is Tyler/Will, but the town insists one of the troupe girls goes also.

I pictured what this does to the four girls, especially when Derrick declares that Eboni will not be sacrificed, which leaves Caitlin, Julie, and Sara as possibilities. Now if it's Will, maybe Caitlin wouldn't mind too much going along with him...

And this is how my mind works. As soon as I typed it, I changed my mind. It won't be Will. I'm sticking with Tyler, because I don't want Caitlin to offer to go, noble and self-sacrificing and romantic though it would be. I'm not sending her off to the coal mines, because if I do, I lose any chance of an even mildly happy ending (already written in my mind), and if Caitlin is willing to go to the coal mines, then Julie and Sara would say," So long Caitlin, it's been swell," but they sure wouldn't volunteer to take her place. And if Caitlin doesn't agree, and it's Will, her potential romantic interest, well then Caitlin doesn't come off very well. So sorry Tyler, it's back to you. The readers won't know who's going to end up going (I assume it'll be a lottery of some sort amongst the girls), and given that Eboni is excused, Caitlin's my heroine, Julie has suffered enough (coming as she does from d&g), poor Sara gets to join Tyler on the coal mine express.

Of course since I was planning on having Sara twist her ankle and be left on the side of the road anyway, she never was going to make it to the end of P3B.

The other great thing about not hanging Tyler is I still have one big deal death available to me. Yum yum.

So that's where things are right now, Tyler is reprieved, and Sara is off to the coal mines (which promotes Caitlin from understudy to full member of the troupe- there are a lot of logistics there I'm still working on).

Now here's the best part. I'm having lunch with friends tomorrow and Tuesday, and the US National Figure Skating Championship has already begun and I'm going to be watching as much as I can on the internet. So I promise that unless something really really really important (like the total failure of my e-mail address) happens, I won't blog maybe even until Thursday (I almost never blog on Wednesdays). I may not even think between now and Thursday, with all that skating and socializing going on. So my apologies for blogging three days in a row, but my assurances that I won't blog for the next three days.

Consider yourselves reprieved!


Anonymous said...

You know, the name Glen is a very cool name.


Anonymous said...

By the way, shouldn't you be busy writing and not playing on the internet like knuckleheads such as I?


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

I have trouble with GL sounds.

I did actually consider naming the fourth girl Paige, but decided against it.

A good rule of naming is not to give characters names of people one actually knows (which is one reason why Sara may not stay Sara. She just hasn't felt like an Emma or a Hannah to me yet).

Paige Y. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paige Y. said...

Let's try that again -- my first post had such a terrible typo I couldn't allow it to stay.

I have never read a book with a character entitled Paige and it would seem a little weird to me. I've never known many Paiges and so when I meet them it has always been difficult to call them by a name that has always been, for the most part, just mine. I think it would be pretty cool though (as long as she didn't die).

As for myspace, I know I'm old fashioned (it comes from being 42) but I hate the site. There's just too much of the unacceptable posted there. But again, that's just me. I know a lot of authors are using it to get attention for their books, and getting kids to read is always a good thing.

Caroline said...

No Caroline? =P Haha. Oh well.

Dawn said...

Hi there,

I just read LAWKI and I have a galley of The Dead and the Gone which I can not wait to start. I was wondering you plan to continue Miranda's story at all in the future. I am dying to know if her Dad and Lisa made it and also if the baby survived. Any mention of Miranda's family in this new book??

Dawn-Teen Librarian

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Caroline and welcome Dawn-

Sorry Caroline, I went with Caitlin. I'm sure I had a good reason, but whatever it was, I've forgotten it.

I want to have Jon show up in the Possible Third Book, and he'll know how Miranda, Matt, and Mom are doing (and somehow he'll casually convey this information to a bunch of characters who've never met any of them and have no reason to be interested), but I haven't figured out how Jon would know what's happening with Dad, Lisa and the baby. I really picture the post LAWKI U.S. as divided by the Mississippi River, with Dad and Lisa on the west side of the country, and Jon on the east.

My original idea for a sequel had Miranda and at least one of her brothers going west to find Dad and Lisa, but Harcourt didn't want a traditional sequel, so I wrote the dead and the gone instead. So I guess Dad, Lisa and the baby are technically gone, and unless I'm really clever, we may never know what became of them.

Dawn said...

Thanks Susan,

Dang Harcourt! I really like the direction that you originally thought of for the sequel. I am still really excited to read The Dead and the Gone, but I am dying to know what happens to Miranda, Jon, Matt, Dad and Lisa...oh and Mom too I guess. :) I am really glad to hear that you are already thinking about a third book with a continuation of Miranda's families story.

It's easy to see why LAWKI is one of the 2007 Teen Top Ten selections!

Any plans to come to ALA's annual conference this summer?


Marci said...

Good grief! I get busy for two days and you go blog crazy when I am not available!

I have run the scenario through my head and thought that the food stealing culprit is being pursued by the law, and the troupe goes to elaborate, suspenseful lengths to spirit him away so he does not get caught. He then disappears into the wilderness or whatever never to be heard from again. There are bands of fugitives wandering the land and their fate is unknown. He goes off knowing that his chances for survival are slim, but at least there is a chance. It avoids direct murder but accomplishes the same result, more or less, the loss of a character. Much less gross.

This also opens the possibility of a 4th book about the wanderings of the un-dead in the wilderness and their underground society. This could be very dark without being gross.

Sara in the coal mines? Hey, at least its a job!

Librarina said...

Oh my goodness! I feel like I already have an ARC when I read posts like these... Keep them coming!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Dawn and Marci (who I saw at lunch today) and Librarina-

My little brain's been chugging along on how to get Jon's story into P3B, and I'm pretty sure I've figured out how.

You should have seen me at lunch today (well, Marci did see me at lunch today), making Marci and Dolly and Frank help me out with various details of P3B. We had quite the discussion about places one could sleep while traveling by foot through the south.

Speaking of traveling,my guess is I won't be going to ALA. I told the Harcourt folk that I wanted to, and was told the decision would be made after Midwinter ALA. It was a long shot,since Harcourt sent me to NCTE.

But Midwinter has come and gone, and no one has contacted me about ALA, so I figure that means no. I'm sorry, because the time is so perfect with LAWKI coming out in paperback in May and d&g coming out in June, and then ALA, and I would love to express my gratitude to all the librarians who have been so supportive and enthusiastic about LAWKI.

But ALA is in California this year, and I live in New York, so I can certainly understand Harcourt's decision.