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.


Anonymous said...

Hey, a math riddle!

The first 50 pages are okay, the last third is very good. That leaves 1/2 of the manuscript in need of revision.

So the question is, how long is the book?

Please don't give the answer. We in anonymity love riddles.

Anon (not negative today) Glen

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
This is totally Off-Topic, but:
I'm a teen coordinator of 26 libraries from Canada, and we just picked LAWKI to be one of our 10 "Survivor" books this summer (teens read all books, vote off least favourite, one book reigns supreme).

I'm on the hunt for a book trailer to put up on my website for this summer, and I can't find anything that does your book justice. Have you or your publishers got anything--or do you have someone for me to contact?

Jessica @ Lambton County Libraries

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous Glen and Anonymous Jessica-

First of all, thank you Jessica for selecting LAWKI for your summer program. My brother and sister-in-law are Canadian/US citizens (I'll take any advantage I can get!)

I know of one book trailer for LAWKI, which I found by way of googling. But I will cut and paste your comment and ship it off to my editor, just in case Harcourt knows of something (or has anything that you can use).

Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paige Y. said...

Can you put a Group W bench somewhere in the jail?

By the way, I have Alice's Restaurant memorized and frequently quote sections of it -- to the great confusion of others who didn't have it played for them every Thanksgiving when they were little.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's the answer to the math riddle.

If the last third is very good and the middle is one half the book, that means (using the last commen denominator) together they are 5/6 (1/2 = 3/6 and 1/3 = 2/6 so 3/6 + 2/6 =5/6.)

Now we must find the missing 1/6.

Since we know that the first part of the book is 50 pages and 1/6 is missing, 1/6 =50 pages.

Therefore, 6/6 = 6 x 50 = 300 pages.

Resolved, that P3B is approximately 300 pages!

Anon Glen... genuis!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi again to Anonymous Jessica (whose comment I deleted at her request- I have such power!) and Paige Y and Anonymous Glen the brilliant mathematician-

Jessica- I forwarded both your comments to my editor. I have a feeling though Harcourt isn't going to be much help; I had to explain what a book trailer was to my editor (I did offer her a chance to play Miranda though, and volunteered to play Mrs. Nesbitt).

Glen, you're pretty much right. As of the moment P3B is a little over 300 pages long. Of course after I'm through cutting it to shreds, it'll be down to 12 pages (but all of them brilliant).

And Paige Y, here's something just for you. A long long time ago, there was an election in the town I lived in. Mr. McMickle was running for mayor, and Mr. Sly was running for alderman. And I wrote the following song in their honor:

I don't want a pickle.
I just want to vote for Mayor McMickle.
And I don't want to die.
I just want to vote for Alderman Sly.

Oddly enough, they didn't use it for their campaign song.

Okay. I'm off to get pen and paper and start reading P3B and writing notes. Wish me luck!

Anonymous said...

Yes - Anonynobleaxxxy here. I admit it. Until today's post I was more interested in the writing process than in the plot. But you got me. (exclamation point).

Marci said...

You got another anonymous hooked and while you were hungry too! I'm impressed. As we all know, a hungry Susan is not a fun Susan.

I think that it is really cool that now you will be in the running for being (snowballed?) short listed in Canada. This is cool. Do we get to vote?

Congratulations for winning the reference of the day award. I got the security deposit check writing award, meaning I got to write the check! You definitely got the better deal.

So if there is no trailer for LAWKI, can a bunch of art students make one? I know one who owes us.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonyous Anonynobleaxxxy and Marci-

Thank you Marci for having such an easy to spell name.

And thank you Anonymous Anonynobleaxxxy for your kind comments.

I think we should keep away from those nice Canadian kid voters and let them do the job themselves. My only fear with the late lamented Coventry Award Competiton was premature splatting by one of those nasty tomatoes.

Since there was no mention of fruits masquerading as veggies, I'm willing to take my Survivor chances without any assistance from my beloved slowly gained readership.

You know, there was a time in my life when I didn't use terms like premature splattting and beloved slowly gained readership. But was I happy?

Well yeah, but now I'm happier.