Monday, April 7, 2008

Sex And Violence

It's hard being the author of future classics.

You think I'm kidding, don't you.

In the olden days (a couple of weeks ago) I could write a book and not worry if it might somehow diminish the reputation of my future classics, on account of a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't written any future classics. Those were happy times, madcap and carefree.

But now I'm burdened with the weight of fulfilled potential. All those people throughout the years who'd whisper about me, "Someday she's going to write one of those future classics," now have the satisfaction of whispering, "What an overachiever that Susan Beth Pfeffer turned out to be."

Okay. Nobody's whispering anything. Or if they are, they're whispering about my rather peculiar fashion sense or the effect of gravity on my jowls. And I'm still left with the burden of writing a third book that connects with Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, even if it doesn't turn out to be a future classic also.

Here's what I know about the third book. First of all, whether Harcourt ever even reads it, it's the third book, not the possible third book. At some point I'll give it a useful nickname, but until then it's the third book.

Secondly, it's about a boy named Luke who's the son of Dad and Lisa from LAWKI. He's 16, maybe 17 years old, he lives west of the Mississippi, and the book is about his journey back east to Matt, Miranda, and Jon, his other family, who he's never met.

Third, somehow he meets up with members of the Morales family, from d&g. If I can pull it off, and maybe even if I can't, the last one he meets will be Alex.

Fourth and last, I know how the book ends. Luke is back in PA with the family, accepted as their brother. Miranda gets out her diary, and the last line of the third book is:

"Lisa is pregnant," Miranda began. "Dad called around 11 o'clock to let us know..."

Here's what I don't know: Pretty much everything else. So it's a good thing I'm not in a hurry to write the third book. I'm busy in April and most likely I'll be busy in May and I'm definitely busy in June, so I'm thinking the third book will be written July/August. Unless, of course, Harcourt tells me before then that they're not interested (but I don't think they'll make any decision that soon).

I have two key issues with the third book, sex and violence. Neither LAWKI nor d&g has a lot of sex in it (like pretty much none), and on the whole very little violence. Lots of dead bodies in d&g, but not much violence. I have no idea how d&g will do, but LAWKI is making its way into school systems, which makes me very happy. I love hearing how whole classes of kids are enjoying the book. I want those kids to want to read d&g and the third book also.

But when I think about life 17 years after LAWKI/d&g, I see a society with ritualized violence and massive amounts of sexual oppression and exploitation. Which are great fun to write about, if not to live through.

So I've come up with several plot twists and turns that I adore and reject. I think I can get away with some violence (this is America, after all, and PG13 is violence inclusive). The sex is a more complicated situation. First of all, I have to have at least one strong teenage girl character in the book. Miranda has Matt and Jon, Alex has Bri and Julie. Luke needs someone. I don't want to give him a sister because that's too strong an echo of the previous two books. But if it isn't his sister, and he's traveling from out west all the way to Pennsylvania, and he's a living breathing teenage boy without adult supervision, then there's going to be sex.

My current plan is to pretend the book is a post Hayes code movie. Characters can have sex just as long as it's off screen and never acknowledged. Which eliminates a perfectly lovely pregnancy subplot I invented on the streets of New York this weekend.

So I'm still working on the feel of the book, reconciling the changes that would have happened to the world in the sixteen or so years since the end of the future classics, while staying true in tone to those books, with their matter of fact, reasonably easy to identify with, narrations.

No matter what, I love the ending. All I need are the 335 pages to precede it.


Becky said...

That is perfect :) As soon as I read that description, I was that-is-so-so-perfect. I love the new direction the third book is going!

Anonymous said...

I think that is a great idea to have Luke going to visit Miranda, Jon and Matt.
Also, i was wondering... i'm not sure how far you got with P3B or the the old third book with Caitlin and the drogs, but do you think sometime you might post some of it on your website later so we can see what the third book would have been like?
Oh and if I could vote on classics i would say LAWKI and D&G (from what i've seen from the part you've posted) both deserve to be classics!


Marci said...

Resurrect Caitlyn somewhere east of the Mississippi and have Luke meet her. She's running, he's seeking, it's classic! It Happened One Night After the Time Before.

Meg said...

That sounds awesome! Although, I'm more of a Precode gal myself, and wouldn't have problems with the 3rd book being more Precode in mindset.

I've read a lot of recent-ish YA which can be surprisingly "adult" in it's content at times, but well written enough that it works as YA and doesn't feel like it's overstepping the boundaries, so I still think that could be done, and done well, if you feel it's necessary for the plot.

I really like the whole idea of the 3rd book a lot, and I think the whole Quest/journey theme works well with the subject, and I think it does have the capacity for tying the three stories together really well.

I still think the P3B sounds like an interesting story, and I am sad at it's demise, but I think this new 3rd book *does* sound like it will be better overall, as much as I hate to admit it, as the P3B does sound like it would be a really good read.

Caroline said...

Hi, its me! It feels like forever since I last commented!

With Anonymous Leah, I agree with her. Please post what you wrote with the other book! It was really interesting and the only thing I didn't like about it was that there wasn't enough Lisa/Miranda's dad/& baby in it but yeah its still a good story that I would like to read one day soon!

Please don't be too harsh on yourself and don't worry about the book not being a "future classic" C'mon. You have wrote two future classics before without even knowing it so I'm sure you will be able to come out with a 3rd classic! I know you can do it! Just write away and I'm sure everything will turn out fine!

I like what you have come up with so far. Maybe the strong female teenager could be a best friend or a girlfriend of Luke's? Or someone who he has recently met? It would be really good to see what life is like in that time. Like... I wonder if there is a school anymore. LOL.

And you can add that pregnany subplot. I really don't see a problem. You see lots of stuff in books/TV shows nowadays! Lots of sex and stuff. Haha. Don't add too much but you can include at least a bit. =)

I look forward to hearing you talk more about the book!!

Bye-bye. Good luck!

PS: Marci's idea sounds good actually. =)

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi to Becky and Anonymous Leah and Marci and Meg and Caroline-

My brain is working on the third book (currently it's the only part of my anatomy that's working on anything). I come up with an idea, toss it aside, come up with another, toss it, and soon the toss pile will reach the moon.

Fortunately, I think this is fun.

Luke (whose name may be changed, although I'm not sure to what just yet) can't meet Caitlin because the timing is all wrong- she's ten years older than him. This morning I very briefly considered dumping Luke altogether and having the main character be a girl, which I think my editor would prefer, but that deadended pretty fast.

I'm glad I'm committed to the last sentence. It's always good to have something to work towards!

Anonymous said...

While a search for 'Pfeffer' in the British Council Arts site, in 'Young Book Trust' yielded nothing, a search for 'Life As We Knew It', certainly did. (I do not see 'Dead'). When it comes to judging literature, I am too much an anglophile not to be especially impressed. Shall we all move to Newcastle Upon Tyne?

W. Slezak

Anonymous said...

There was an error in the copying... that's


Anonymous said...

How odd. It did it again. Just go here and type in the title in the upper right hand search box. Sheesh!

Anonymous said...

Well, THIS is nice... 'Life' is carried by Waterstone's book stores in the UK. They are long-standing partners with the Booktrust's 'Get London Reading' programme. (Sic. An excuse to spell in English).

These are wonderful reviews -- though I doubt the link will print correctly so just go to Waterstone's.

By the way, thank you for mentioning the Guardian. I try to remember to read it on a regular basis, for forget, and even the online version offers so much. W. Slezak

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous W. Slezak(4)-

I can never get links to work in the comments section, so it's kind of nice to see someone else have trouble with it also.

Anyway, I eventually figured out how to get there, and enjoyed reading more nice things about LAWKI, so thank you for telling me about it(and thank you for going to all that effort to lead me there).