Monday, March 31, 2008

The Following Is Not An Early April Fool's Day Joke

As you know, for the past few months I've been blogging about the Possible Third Book, Since The End Of The Time Before. I've consulted with you about plot problems, made changes at your suggestion, even had the outline available to read for a while. I've also told you, multiple times, how much fun I had writing the manuscript and how utterly fabulous I found it to be.

Last week I was focused on the dead and the gone. There was its first review to revel in. I answered questions about it and Life As We Knew It for the upcoming Harcourt teachers guides. I discovered that there are libraries that have pre-ordered d&g, which gives me a whole new way to waste time. I ordered specially designed book stickers for LAWKI and d&g (which I'll be offering to any of you who might want one, but that's a subject for another blog entry).

Somewhere in the midst of this, I came to the decision that much as I adore Since The End Of The Time Before, it's completely wrong as the Possible Third Book. What the P3B should be is an interesting story that can be read as a stand alone, but also one that provides closure for readers who want to know what became of the characters of LAWKI and d&g.

In Since The End Of The Time Before, the action takes place five years after the start of LAWKI/d&g, and the characters, for the most part, have no connection with the characters from those books. Jon, from LAWKI, drops by for a quick report on his family, and one important character from d&g turns out to be an important character in Since. But there was no organic connection, and I wasn't pleased about that. I also felt like five years wasn't long enough time for all the changes I'd made in society.

So I started thinking in terms of a completely different P3B, one set sixteen or seventeen years later, with the main character the child of Dad and Lisa from LAWKI. People ask me what happened to them and the baby they were expecting, so a book told from that character's viewpoint would answer those questions. I decided the basic story would be his journey (I've been picturing him as a sixteen year old boy named Luke) from the west (or "across the river," as I called it in Since) to Pennsylvania and the LAWKI family, Luke's half brothers and half sister, who he's never met. Along the way, Luke will meet a minor character from d&g, and if things go the way I'm currently imaginging, that character will provide him with the name of a second, more important, d&g character he'd meet later on.

I'm also thinking in terms of what would happen to the climate and ecology during that seventeen year period. I've been interested in a long time about how characters who had been born into the LAWKI world would feel should things change for the better. The images I have are of Luke seeing sunlight and stars for the first time, how thrilling and terrifying that would be.

I have a first line I love, which will work if I keep the story in the direction it's currently in- "The recruit was proving surprisingly difficult to kill." But I may change the direction altogether, and lose that line and the scene it would introduce. Things are in serious flux around here.

It's perfectly reasonable that you don't want to go through my writing process again, that once was enough. So I've put a poll up, which will tell me whether I should continue to explore this brand new (and as yet untitled) P3B along with you or not. I'm comfortable with anything you decide, just as I'm comfortable (heck, I'm excited) about this completely different direction for the third, and most likely final, book.

Anyway, that's what's going on. Regardless of what I decide to do with Since The End Of The Time Before, I'm very glad I wrote it, and I'm very appreciative of your interest in it. I find writing about this desolate world to be a huge amount of fun, and writing in public adds immeasurably to my pleasure. But since it might not add immeasurably to yours, I'm asking you whether you'd prefer it if I kept this new version's twists and turns to myself. If you want to give me whatfor in the comments section, that's fine too.

No matter what, Happy End Of March!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Oh Boya! A Review From VOYA!!

When I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher who was, to put it politely, kind of on the boring side, so one day instead of paying attention in class, I wrote a poem. Even then my ego knew no bounds, so at the end of the school day I showed my teacher the poem (I forgot to tell her I wrote it instead of paying attention though). My teacher liked it enough to submit it to a teacher's magazine, and they liked it enough to publish it, which made it my first national publication (and my last for the next dozen years).

I have a copy of the magazine around somewhere. The funniest part is the poem was credited to Susan Pfeffer, and I carefully hand wrote Susan Beth Pfeffer next to it.

I mention all this so you can see poetry, as well as a fondness for my middle name, runs through my blood. Thus, this morning, when I thought about how to approach this particular blog entry, my mind naturally turned to verse.

There are seven major publications aimed at bookstores, schools and libraries, that review children's/YA books. The inside cover of the paperback of Life As We Knew It quotes from three of them- Publisher's Weekly, The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books, and Booklist. The Amazon page for LAWKI quotes the School Library Journal (SLJ) review. Then there's Kirkus (which has a long history of hating my books), the Horn Book, and VOYA (Voice Of Youth Advocates). I lucked out with LAWKI, getting positive reviews from all seven publications (even from Kirkus).

My editor sent me the dead and the gone's first review from one of the Big Seven yesterday, and I woke up this morning working on blog entry title possibilities. The alternative would have been to get out of bed and clean the cat litter, so you can see why my mind turned to poetry. As a time saver, here are possible poetic titles as other reviews come in:

It's Kind Of Treacly From Publisher's Weekly

I'm Giving A Forlorn Look To What They Wrote In Horn Book

Hip Hooray For SLJ (unless it's a bad review, in which case I'll go with Oy Vey For SLJ)

I'm Getting All Misty From What They Said In Booklist(y)

Oh What A Jerk Is The Reviewer From Kirkus (who I sincerely hope is not reading this blog entry, and if said person is, well, I just couldn't figure out how to use Circus in the rhyme)

The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books will have to come up on a rhyme on its own; I know my limitations.

As you must have figured out by now, the VOYA review was all positive. Not a "but" to be found (and trust me, I looked). It's actually three reviews, one from a grownup (or at least someone I assume is a grownup) and two shorter ones from teen reviewers. They all liked The Dead and the Gone (their spelling). Here's a section of the grownup's review:

Alex's struggle for survival makes Miranda's in the first book seem tame. Vivid images of death and dying are forced into the spotlight. Pfeffer portrays a world of unimaginable horrors without ever losing sight of the compassion found in small gestures. Moments of affection and humor remind readers of the strength of human connections. The writing draws the readers in with palpable descriptions, allowing them to experience the fear, stench, numbness and grief alongside the characters. With its accessible language, rich imagery, and gripping premise, this book will appeal to readers who enjoy a wide range of fiction, from survival stories and apocalyptic tales to heartwrenching coming-of-age novels.

"Accessible language" has now become my new favorite euphemism. I knew there had to be a better way of saying, "A smart fourth grader knows more words than this author."

By jolly coincidence, on Sunday I'm having lunch with my friends Geri, Linda and Janet (throw Susan into the mix and you have Four Names That No One Under The Age Of Sixty Is Likely To Have). Since d&g is dedicated to Janet, I will have to commit to memory the entire VOYA review and recite it, oh I don't know, three or four times, until they feel the fear, stench, numbness and grief that comes from spending time with me.

Trust me. They have plenty of accessible language to protest with!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stripping The Light Fantastic

Don't we look swell! I decided it was time to give my beloved blog a little template work, and I swear it looks ten years younger.

Everything in life should be that easy.

While I was sneaking around improving appearances and the suchlike, I added a couple more locales to the Places Where LAWKI Is Nominated list. Paige Y. was kind enough to let me know that Maryland had included Life As We Knew It on its list, and Google was organized enough to inform me about the Pacific Northwest nomination. That one is actually multinational, since the area it covers includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in the U.S. and Alberta and British Columbia in Canada. That's a whole lot of acreage.

Meanwhile, the dead and the gone is starting to get noticed. Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf online section had a piece by a librarian about upcoming books, and she gave d&g a wonderful review. Here's the link:

And here's how the review ends:

It won't matter if you've read the first book before you read the companion; both books will leave you with that "what would we do if this really did happen?" sensation that makes you want to go out and stock the pantry and prepare a survival plan, and do it now!

I hope a sequel is in the works, for I want to know what happens to Alex and his sister, just as I want to know what's happened with Miranda and her family. They're survivors, but in what kind of world are they surviving, and what kind of future will they have?

Poor old Harcourt. We're going to bully them into submission (or at least into reading my submission).

Speaking of which, the Possible Third Book (aka P3B) now has its official working title, Since The End Of The Time Before. I continue to be very fond of that title, but I wish I'd thought about what a nuisance it would be to type, and how hard it would be to nickname. I kind of like S'end4, but that would be even harder to explain to someone who stumbles onto this incredibly good looking blog than Bolivian hat, or slowly gained readership, or bleakity bleak. So I think I'll keep referring to it as P3B, at least for the time being (but I'm going to figure out how to change a heading, and put Since The End Of Time Time Before on the manuscript itself if and when it ever becomes an actual manuscript).

I am almost sort of finished with P3B. I think I am finished with the writing, although my brain continues to come up with new scenes. I had one of those oops moments when I realized that Caitlin, my poor suffering drog (I guess drog is also something that anyone who stumbles onto this incredibly good looking blog might not understand), gets to hear the life stories of only two other characters (the troupe has a rule that forbids its members from talking about their past), one of those characters being Jon from LAWKI, and the other a character from d&g, and that somewhere, if the book ever got published, a reviewer would say nasty things about that itsy bitsy coincidence (maybe even calling it contrived). So now Caitlin gets to be in a room when Tyler (one of the boys in the troupe, and the one who is forever trying to have sex with Caitlin, who in spite of the extraordinary odds against it, remains a virgin throughout P3B) gets a visit from his father's widow.

It's a nifty little scene, especially since it shows Tyler being vulnerable, which I like because even though he's a terrible person, he's one of my favorites in the book. But the problem with it is there are references to people getting "across the river," which to me means across the Mississippi, where apparently things are very different. Which is catnip to this excessively fertile brain. Although I suppose if I wrote P3B with no assurance that it would ever be looked at, let alone published, I could write P4B and P5B and P138B just for my own entertainment. Or at least to find out how things are across the river.

But it doesn't matter which side of the river Caitlin is. I have given in to peer group pressure, and she's no longer a stripper. She now does her halftime shows in a perfectly respectable tank top (with rows of black beads), cut off denim shorts and high heels. Granted, her act is basically vertical lap dancing, but she's quite decent now. And while it's true, Jimmy (who's even worse than Tyler, and I love him so) agrees, in exchange for a bag of potatoes, a cabbage, and some carrots, to let the top come off during the performance, it's just to rile the drogs in the audience so they'll rush onto the playing field and the guards can kill them. Apparently there's quite a lot of betting about how many drog bodies there'll be at the end of the last football game of the season.

I'm sure things are much nicer on the other side of the river.

However, if Harcourt turns down P3B because Caitlin isn't a stripper, and they're only interested in books with heroines who take off all their clothes for the sake of their art and the occasional bag of potatoes, I will hold you personally responsible. Of course, since you're all named Anonymous, it may be hard for me to actually find you.

Regardless of what happens to P3B, I've had so much fun writing it that I regret nothing (well, I regret all the stuff I haven't gotten done since all I do is write and rewrite and rewrite some more). While the writing and the rewriting does appear to be mostly finished, I've discovered from endless perusal, that every third word in the book is "just." Things just seem to happen all the time, or people are just in a hurry, or things just stink. So I just may have to do some polishing before I let another human being read it.

And if no one ever does, well that's just too bad!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An American Drogedy

I'm still fussing over the Possible Third Book (soon, I believe, to have a working title to call its own). I had succeeded in cutting thirty pages, but ten slipped back in when I wasn't looking. There's a scene I almost cut a few days ago that is starting to look vulnerable again, because I'm planning on adding a scene where Caitlin, my poor suffering drog, gets a solo number (a rewritten version of "Hard Knock Life" from Annie).

As one who is frequently wrong, I've mastered the art of rationalization. Lately, I've been expending a fair amount of energy explaining to myself how this grand country of ours (aka The United States Of America) could devolve into a country that combines some of the more heinous historical aspects of (in alphabetical order), Cambodia, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and The United States Of America. Forgive me if I left out one of your favorites.

Here's the issue: I set P3B originally four years after the start of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. That means the U.S. had a mere four years to go from, well, life as we know it to (as my UK publisher put it) 12th century feudal Europe.

My problem was that I carry over one character each from LAWKI and d&g into P3B. The LAWKI character, Jon, was less of an issue. He just pops in as a messenger to let us know what's up with his family (and also what's up with the country), so his age isn't really a problem.

But the character I bring over from d&g is an important character in P3B, and I wanted her to still be a teenager. People don't actually talk about their ages in the P3B world, but Caitlin's perception is the troupe (with the exceptions of Derrick and Jimmy, who are in charge) are teenagers, about her age (just short of sixteen when the book begins).

(By the way, if you should play the Susan Beth Pfeffer Blog Parentheses Drinking Game, you'll be very drunk very soon. I made a vow to cut down on ()s once, but clearly it didn't take.)

So I stretched things out a little by deciding the d&g character could be seventeen, not sixteen, which gave the U.S. an extra year to become so horrific. But even so, we're on a fast track.

Fortunately for me, I am a world class rationalizer. First of all, I decided the United States is a fast track kind of joint. It doesn't take us that long to make a mess of things when we so choose. This may well be true of other countries, but I've never lived anyplace else.

Then, with the power invested in me, I determined that what's going on in Caitlin's part of what used to be the U.S.A. may well not be happening in another part of the country. Once I decided that, then P3B lost all its identifiable geography. It's better if this land of tiers and drogs isn't identified as Maine or Mississippi. I even flirted with the idea of not making it the United States at all, but the LAWKI/d&g characters forced me to keep P3B here (also, and this is one of those little jokes that make me very happy, all performances, including Caitlin's halftime exotic dances, end with the singing of "God Bless America").

But then I came up with the greatest rationalization of all. We are talking world class PhD thesis level rationalization.

I decided countries are like people, that stress affects nations just as it affects individuals. It's impossible to look at world history and not see examples of mass hysteria (the Salem witch trials) and mass paranoia (McCarthyism). I decided the post LAWKI/d&g United States suffers from mass depression. No sunlight, constant cold, drought, famine, disease, the death of millions, including a family member or two, and no Paris Hilton to distract us. Heck, I'm depressed just thinking about it and I have complete control.

If I'm in charge of keeping my country alive under such circumstances, then I push hardest when my people are weakest. That would be in the first year, when people still know what they're missing and are convinced there's nothing they can do individually to save themselves.

Give starving people a little bit of food and you'll end up with people who'll do whatever you ask with the promise of a little more food merely for obeying.

And if those in power think that the best way to guarantee their own survival is by recreating 12th century feudal Europe, then you push when your people are physically strongest (although not very strong) and emotionally weakest. The next thing you know, there are tiers and drogs and the occasional traveling troupe of performing indies.

Is any of this is P3B? Not a whit. In theory the book is written for kids (although I suspect Caitlin's sideline as a stripper will keep P3B out of the classrooms). Even adults might not find the process by which the United States goes from freedom and comfort straight to gender repression and slavery all that interesting (for all I know, none of my slowly gained readership has made it past the third () in this entry). But just as I've loved just about everything else involved in P3B, I've thoroughly enjoyed figuring out how things went from great to ghastly in a mere five years time.

One good thing about controlling the world though. I have promised myself no matter how bad things get, I will never outlaw ()s!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Sincerest Apologies To The Fourteen Who Had Already Voted

I've been editing the possible third book and I found a phrase at the very end of the manuscript that was kind of like a couple of the suggestions that two of the Anonymouses suggested in their comments to the most recent blog entry.

Blogger wouldn't let me edit the poll because people had already voted, so I chucked it, kept the original four suggestions and threw another one on.

For those who are interested, the votes had been 5 for Clouded, 5 for Passing, 2 for Fool and 2 for Illusion.

Please feel free to vote again, if you already have. And if you're too annoyed to vote again, having your vote thrown away so presumptuously, then please accept my apologies. When you destroy an entire planet (and such a nice one too), power can really go to your head.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"None Of The Above" Is Not An Option

I'm on the homestretch of the rewrites of the Possible Third Book, and I really want a working title.

I'd love to use Masquerade, but it's too recent/popular. So a quick trip to led me to the four options on the left.

If you favor any one of the four (all of which I've chosen because they have dual meanings), please vote for it. If you can think of an alternative, please say so in the comments.

Working titles don't always last. Life As We Knew It started out as When Butterflies Read and got submitted as In The Sunroom. Even the dead & the gone began as The Dead And The Gone.

But agents and editors always appreciate a title, and I don't think "Neither Of The Above" or "volume 3" is going to cut it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

They Left Out Bomb-Throwing Anarchist

As those of you who read this blog know, I've been a bit obsessed with the Possible Third Book. I write it, rewrite it, try to make it shorter and end up adding new scenes. I live in a world of tiers, indies, and drogs. And to what end? Beats heck out of me.

But other things are going in in my professional life. So I figured I'd bring you up to date.

For starters, Life As We Knew It is now nominated in fifteen different states (plus one city in England) for young reader awards. I slipped Pennsylvania onto the list a week or so ago, when no one was looking. Last night I was informed that LAWKI had been nominated in the state of Washington as well.

Just think. At this very moment, all across America, students are tossing copies of Life As We Knew It across the room and saying in disgust, "Well I'm certainly not voting for that one."

When it's in paperback, they'll be able to toss it across two rooms.

I've cut down on my obsessive googling of LAWKI and am gearing up for obsessive googling of the dead and the gone instead. So far there isn't that much to google, but I can usually find one new item if I search hard enough. A couple of nights ago, I located the following link:

I checked their discussion guide questions for books written by other people, and was somewhat relieved to find they go with a boilerplate. Otherwise the third of these questions would be a little worrisome:

How do characters change or learn throughout the dead and the gone? What events caused these changes? Have you or someone you know experienced the same thing?

However, I was saddened when I discovered they suggested the following question for all their other books as well:

How does the dead and the gone reveal Susan Beth Pfeffer's own perspectives about people and the world? For a lively discussion, describe why you think Susan Beth Pfeffer is liberal or conservative.

I'd love to witness one of those lively discussions. Especially if it involves the tossing of copies of the dead and the gone.

Also last night, Harcourt forwarded an e-mail invitation for me to speak at a luncheon in Maine for independent bookstore owners (have I mentioned lately how much I love independent bookstore owners? They really supported LAWKI and I am immensely grateful to them). Here's my favorite part of the invite:

Since The Dead and the Gone is so very New York City, I think having her in Maine could help expand the book’s market penetration, and lay the groundwork for volume 3.

Ha! Poor Old Harcourt! Refusing to even think about a P3B when groundwork is being laid for it! With a title too- volume 3.

Of course, once my editor gets her overworked little hands on P3B, she may well toss it across a room or two. Maybe even three, in honor of its title.

Speaking of P3B, I managed to delete a ten page scene this morning, thus reducing it to a svelte 332 pages. Alas, there's a whole new scene just yearning to be written.

I hope my editor is working on her throwing motion. The Book Tossing Olympic tryouts are just a couple of months away, and there's no shortage in competition, thanks, in no small part, to me.

ETA:Here's a book trailer for LAWKI in case anyone is interested (well, I know I was):

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Troupe's Affectionate Nickname For Her Is Gypsy

I'm the sort of person who's never ashamed to admit when I'm wrong. Granted I don't have much practice, but on those exceedingly rare occasions when there's no getting around it, I say, "I was wrong." Which is much better than being one of those people who when they're wrong say, "I was right." And that's as political as I'm going to get.

Back to my acknowledgement of wrongness, painful though it might be for me. Last week I wrote a blog entry about how I'd completed the first draft of the Possible Third Book and intended to read it the following day, where I would no doubt think it was the greatest thing ever written, but wouldn't think it was the greatest book ever written.

I was wrong. It is the greatest book ever written. Is my face red!

Now it's possible that a few of you are saying to yourselves, "That Susan Beth Pfeffer. So cute and so self-deluded. " Well, ha. I'm not deluded at all. I never delude myself, and I have visual evidence to prove it:

See. They're identical!

Now just because P3B is the greatest book ever written doesn't mean it doesn't need work. Even though I intended to put it aside and let the rewrites wait until I knew if anyone was ever going to read it, I've been polishing and adding and even sometimes subtracting scenes for days now. I keep vowing to stop, but haven't been able to.

Last night, when I noticed P3B was 350 pages long, it occurred to me that perhaps a bit of cutting might be in order. I even wrote down two possible areas, a scene with a hailstorm, and some business about registering drogs (the slave people of my nasty post Life As We Knew It/ the dead and the gone society). The hailstorm scene covered some of the same material as the bigger and more dramatic tornado, and the registering of drogs was probably one of those bureaucratic concerns of more interest to me than any reader.

But this morning I woke up realizing the drog registration stuff was in there for a reason, to offer an explanation of why the troupe couldn't rid themselves of Caitlin, their poor beleaguered drog, when they wanted to. It had to be kept. And then I decided that I loved the hailstorm scene, and I should just move it from the final third of the book to the first third, where it would have more of an impact. And then I could add a tiny scene before the hailstorm scene to balance it (by the final third of P3B, I don't even pretend to balance things), so now the book won't be 350 fabulous pages; it'll be 351 fabulous pages.

Some of you may be wondering how out of that itsy bitsy 15 page outline I used to have here I got 350 (going on 351) fabulous pages. Oops. I guess there was stuff I left out. The hailstorm scene, for example, which is about 2 1/2 pages out of the 350. I'm not even sure if I mentioned the tornado (5 or 6 pages I think). Things that came to me while I was writing the book (I mean, I always knew the book was going to be more than 15 pages long; I just hadn't realized it was going to be 2333% longer*).

While I'm admitting all these things, I might as well reveal something else that I left out of the outline, yet takes up a certain amount of the 350 pages. As we all know, Caitlin, a perfectly nice tier three girl, ends up as the drog and understudy for the traveling troupe of players. As the drog, she has to do all the menial labor. As the understudy, she goes on at least once for one of the other girls, and she gets to do "seconds," which are the second performances that the troupe is required to give, intended for an audience of drogs (there are drog hymns and drog stories, and she does them very well). But (here's the confession part), Caitlin has other performing obligations.

Let's take a moment so we can all say, No Beastiality! No Cannibalism! Not even a hint of either for the entire 350 pages.

Okay. The troupe is contractually required to perform at halftime shows of football games ( that was in the outline, so I'm safe there). And Caitlin is the star of the halftime show (nothing wrong so far).

Have the children left the room? Come close so I can whisper. Caitlin's halftime show... well, let's just say exotic dancer.

Or as I put it to my friend Christy, to whom I make all confessions, "Caitlin becomes a stripper. And she kind of likes it."

And Christy, who is so smart, replied, "Well, that's one way to get boys to read it."

Those halftime shows took up a lot of pages.

Oh well. Now that you know almost the worst about P3B (No Beastiality! No Cannibalism!), I'll slip that hailstorm scene into the first 80 pages, and stare at at the mirror to see if there's any chance I can follow in Caitlin's high heeled footsteps.

*I wish to thank my incredibly smart brother Alan for telling me what the % would be.

Friday, March 7, 2008

I Hope They All Had A Good Time In Sofia

I was all set on Monday (March 3) to celebrate the U.K. publication date of The Dead And The Gone, only my copies hadn't arrived and I refused to believe the book actually existed until I could see it for myself.

I had my blog entry all planned, a little d&g, a little Day of the Liberation of Bulgaria (coincidentally celebrated on March3). Most likely it would have been my greatest blog entry ever, and would certainly have increased my slowly gained readership by a readership or two.

But in spite of my staring wistfully out the window the entire day, the books didn't arrive. Tuesday, I e-mailed my very nice British publisher and without mentioning certain late eighteenth century unpleasantries even once, let her know of my heartbreak. I even used the word wistfully, which is more than Thomas Jefferson ever did.

Wednesday, when I was doing my volunteer work, someone from my very nice British publisher's office called to say they'd sent the books to my agent. Because my life is filled with wistful sadness, I didn't pick my messages up while I was volunteering, so I didn't get to brag to Marci and Carol that I'd gotten an actual phone call from a completely different country. They would have been real impressed too (drat and curse).

Once I heard the message, I e-mailed my agent and asked about the books (my books!). Sure enough, the books had been mailed there. But they swore they'd send them to me.

My agent was as good as her word, sort of. Today, I got a package of seven copies of The Dead And The Gone, UK Style. The thing is, my contract says I should get 10 copies, which means even if my agent took her traditional commission, I should have gotten 8 1/2 copies. But seven copies is better than none, especially when the book looks so good.
At the end of the book, there's this page that says: If you have enjoyed The Dead And The Gone you must read Life as we Knew it the first thrilling novel in Susan Pfeffer's terrifying sequence about the catastrophic disaster that plunges the whole world into chaos. Then there's a section from LAWKI, the part where the family comes down with the flu.

As soon as I got my copies, I sent an e-mail to my nice British publisher to say Thank You! and I Love It! And guess what? My nice British publisher called me! We talked about how beautiful The Dead And The Gone looks, and the difference between British and American book designs (she favors British). We made social chit chat. And then she asked what I was currently working on. So I told her.

"Five years later," she said. "I assume things have gotten better in those five years."

"Well no," I said. "Actually things are a lot worse."

"But surely they've figured out energy sources," she said.

"Coal," I said (very proud of myself). "And wind power."

My very nice British publisher clearly liked the wind power. I could tell even though she was calling me from an entire ocean away. "So what's the world like?" she asked.

"Well," I say. "The federal government wasn't very strong anyway, so it's pretty much collapsed and now there are federal cities and there are these towns and they're kind of like city states. And society has gotten stratified, with social status based on what you can do for society, so there are upper classes called tiers and everyone else is a drog."

"Ah," said my very nice British publisher. "So we're back to twelfth century feudal Europe."

"Exactly!" I said. And then I explained how Caitlin escaped from an arranged marriage and joined the performing troupe thinking she'd get to perform because she was the understudy and even though she did perform, mostly she was the troupe's slave and the book was about how she suffered but ultimately triumphed.

And my very nice British publisher never once hung up on me! Well, she did eventually, but that was after we said goodbye and wished each other a nice weekend and that sort of thing.

But before she hung up on me eventually, she said the book sounded more like science fiction than LAWKI/d&g. She asked when would the manuscript make its way to my agent, and I muttered something about revisions and Harcourt. Oh, and she asked if it had a title, and I said how I had this poll on my blog with the choices After The Time Before and Since The Time Before and Neither Of The Above and Neither was winning. I think she liked After The Time Before though.

Anyway it was extremely exciting for me to talk about P3B as though it were a real B. It isn't like I get to talk about drogs that often.

So The Dead And The Gone actually now exists and if there's anybody from Coventry reading this, scurry on over to your local bookstore and buy a copy. Now that I think about it, buy two and send me a half. You can keep The Dead And just long as I get The Gone. I have a particular fondness for that page where it says You Must Read Life as we Knew it. It makes me feel so droglike!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Not Even I Will Think It's The Greatest Book Ever Written

I sort of finished the first draft of the perhaps never to be titled Possible Third Book Tuesday evening.

I say sort of because Wednesday morning I woke up with a completely new next to last scene and a nearly complete revision of the last scene, both of which I wrote before supper (how Flaubert would have loving working on a computer).

My plan is to write this blog entry (already underway, in case you hadn't noticed), then eat breakfast (one of those little insights into my life that make this blog so special), do some rewriting before I forget (nothing too big), go to the bank and the supermarket (see above for the little insights comment), come back home (it's not like I intend to move into the supermarket) and read P3B in its entirety.

Although I am certain I'll think P3B the greatest thing ever written (I always feel that way about my work until someone tells me otherwise, which, alas, is inevitable), I plan on keeping pen and paper by my side and jotting down thoughts on changes that will need to be made.

Without having actually read the book, and with my memories already hazy, my perception is the first 50 pages or so are basically okay, and the last third, give or take, is very good. Unfortunately, that leaves about 1/2 of the manuscript in definite need of revision. Big hefty chunky revision. Surgical removal of that which used to be known as excessive bleakity bleak, until one of my many Anonymice suggested in a comment that I never use that phrase again. Well, excessive is okay for me to use, just not the rest of it.

I don't intend to do any of the big deal rewrites unless I hear from Harcourt that they're interested in reading the manuscript. The little deal rewrites I plan for this morning I'm doing simply out of concern that I'll forget them otherwise.

A number of you offered advice and counsel on certain scenes which ended up in the manuscript. For the most part, I stuck with what was in the outline for those scenes, but here's a relatively quick summary of how each one went (assuming I remember):

The Man In The Woods: Caitlin goes into the woods to collect kindling. Man in the woods grabs her. Caitlin screams, knees him, and escapes back to camp, where she discovers Will, her kinda boyfriend, being restrained from running into the woods to rescue her. Caitlin, who actually hasn't spoken for the past 100 pages or so, shouts loud and clear that she isn't going back into the woods. Her defiance enrages Derrick, one of the two men in charge of the troupe. By the way, the characters that absolutely leap off the pages for me are Derrick and Jimmy, but unfortunately in the first draft they come off as monsters. I realized 2/3 the way through that what they are is (are?) zealots, with their only commitment being to the survival of the troupe. I love that, but in the revision, I will have to tone them down.

The Dead Town: Because of a tornado, supplies haven't gotten to a town where the troupe has performed. It's suggested that they go to the nearest federal city to see if they can be paid there. When they get there, Caitlin, Jimmy and Rashad (Derrick's nephew) walk into the city (for reasons that make sense within the story, but are too complicated and embarrassing to go into here). There they find heaps and tons of dead people. They return to the troupe to report their findings. Most likely the water in town was bad and everyone died of cholera, but Derrick is concerned it might be the food instead. Tyler, a member of the troupe who Caitlin has recently gotten into trouble, suggests that Caitlin be made to drink the water. If she dies, they'll know it's the water and can take food out of the city. If she lives, they'll know it's the food. Derrick decides against this because there might have been a toxin in the city that contaminated both the food and the water, and the false sense of security could lead to the troupe's death.

The Hanging: No one gets hung. Caitlin is thrown into jail on trumped up charges, but really for the sole purpose of being substituted for the sheriff's niece, who's about to be taken to the coal mines in a recruitment. Jimmy shows up with Lark, the soloist and most obnoxious of the girls in the troupe. Jimmy shows the sheriff that Caitlin is marked (her left palm has an X cut into it), which would be discovered by the guards as they take the recruitments away. People who are marked are forbidden to be recruited (this is kind of an Alice's Restaurant joke for me), so the guards would know Caitlin isn't the sheriff's niece, and the sheriff, his niece and her mother would all be executed for fraud. The sheriff is very annoyed about this, but Jimmy offers Lark as a substitute (along with a couple of bottles of booze). The sheriff is concerned that Lark isn't healthy enough (she coughs), but Jimmy says she's strong enough to get to the transport train, and that's all anyone will care about. So the deal is made. Caitlin goes back to the troupe with Jimmy, who informs them that from then on, Caitlin will be known as Lark. Lark, not Caitlin, is sacrificed for the survival of the troupe. The understudy has triumphed and become the star.

I have no problem,by the way, with Caitlin not talking for a hundred pages or so. She sings, she dances, she does comedy routines- she just doesn't talk. I'm always intrigued by characters who deal with horrific conditions by simply turning off their emotions, but editors tend to find them too passive. So if I do the extensive revision, I'll cut back on some of the horrific conditions (making the ones I keep stand out even more, which is a good thing) and while keeping Caitlin silent, will show her feelings more obviously.

After all these years, I've finally learned how to think like an editor.

Speaking of which, probably every editor on the east coast has already had breakfast (it's those kinds of professional insights that make this blog so special). Why should I be hungry if they're not? Only because I love you so, Anonymice and all.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thank Goodness for The Zamboni

Happy March. It's about time it showed up.

I have the Junior Worlds Figure Skating Ladies (or as I think of them- Little Women) competition on in the background, but they're on a zamboni break before the final two flights (Go, brilliant young Americans, go!), so I figured I'd throw in a fast blog entry to bring you up to date on Possible Third Book.

I adore it. I love every word of it. I love its words so much I have to go back and add some more.

What I'm doing these days is throwing all the bleakity bleak in, and then thinking about how much of it I can remove when I come to my senses. It's become kind of a game for me- put it in and figure out how to take it out. It's a good thing I keep going back and adding more words, because once I edit out the excessive bleakity bleak, the book will only be 12 pages long.

It turns out that when characters refer to the time before that nasty moon/meteor encounter, they call it the Time Before. The book is dividing itself into three sections. The first is called Probation, the second Since The Time Before, and the third (which I'll start when the skating ends) will be The Power. I've already written the ending of the book, since it's a little different than what I originally planned.

The second section starts with the 5th year anniversary of the moon/meteor, and includes Jon's visit with the troupe and Gracie's confession to Caitlin of her past. I love the book's structure; everything just seems to fall into place so easily.

All right. When do I not ask something of you, my beloved slowly gained readership? I'm going to set up a non-binding resolution poll over on the left side of the page concerning the book's title. I'd always planned on calling P3B Starry Night, but the book just hasn't gone in that direction. My friend Christy, who is very very smart, says I can't call it Story Of O Without Sex, should Harcourt ever agree to read it. So I need a title.

I've come up with two possibilities- After The Time Before and Since The Time Before. The latter is more euphonious, but it's also more ambiguous, so I'm ambivalent. That is, by the way, the classiest sentence I've ever written. Anyway, a quick perusal of Amazon seems to show both titles are available for the taking.

So I'm going to ask you to vote on which you prefer. Fool that I am, I'll include a none of the above option. This won't necessarily be a majority rules situation (and, of course, even if P3B becomes 3B, Harcourt will have the final say on its title- maybe it'll want Story Of O Without Sex), but I am curious as to your preferences.

All right. The skaters are warming up. I'll post this entry and the non-binding resolution masquerading as a poll and return to the world of triple lutzes.

Thanks again for your help and imput. You're all champions to me!

PS- Ooh ooh, what if Harcourt decides to call it Story Of O With Sex? I'd better go back and add a whole lot more words, just in case.