Friday, May 30, 2008

Coherence Is So Totally Overrated

The party is less than 48 hours away, my refrigerator is stuffed with food, the platters, cakes, and bagels have been ordered, the great whitefish crisis of 2008 has been resolved, all but five of the party favor bags have been assembled, there are two red balloons with yellow 75ths on them hanging off a dining room chair, and I've been given a key to the clubhouse room so I can move stuff over Saturday evening, which will make Sunday morning a lot easier.

My friend Christy sent flowers (she is a sweetie pie), my friends Beth and Al sent a box of chocolates (they are sweetie pies) and Harcourt sent an assortment of chocolates (they are also sweetie pies). Did you know that there is such a thing as chocolate covered Cheerios? News to me too.

I woke up at five this morning, gave myself thirty seconds to fall back asleep, and then began working on The World We Live In. I worked out why and how Will dies. So far that section of the book is one half Wuthering Heights and one half White Cargo, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh. I also decided this morning that Eden was too mean, so I making her more naive and less exploitative.

Speaking of White Cargo (which I'm still only midway through the seventeeth century in), my new favorite fact from it is a law that said if an indentured servant had a baby, she had to add two years to her time of service, even if her master was the father of the child.

I never approve of any era that doesn't have indoor plumbing, but the seventeenth century seems particularly unappealing.

I've been given an Elluminate Private Online Meeting Room by a very nice librarian in British Columbia, who is going to explain to me just what it is Monday morning 10 AM my time. Tomorrow, when I'm feeling a tad less crazed, I'll go there and explore. If it's like a chat room, then maybe someday we could all go there and chat. I've never been in a chat room, but I'm a friendly sort and it might be something interesting to do. Let me know if you think it's a good idea.

Decades ago, when Todd Strasser was a young whippersnapper, he moved to Middletown, NY, and was told to call me (we had never met). At the time I was having problems with a crank caller, so when he called I hung up on him, but he persisted and we became good friends.

Somehow when he tells the story, it's funnier.

Anyway, our lives changed (he got to be more successful than me) and we lost touch, but thanks to the miracle of bloghood, he e-mailed me, and we've resumed our friendship, which makes me very happy. I guess he's happy too, because he's coming to my party, and he's started a blog, Todd's so new at it he's turning to me for technical assistance, but I'm sure he'll come to his senses soon enough.

Which is more than I'm sure about myself these days!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hold The Pickle/ Hold The Lettuce/ Human Bodies Don't Upset Us

When I was working on the earlier version of the possible third book and trying to determine what exactly was forbidden in YA literature these days, Dawn commented that anything goes, except cannibalism and bestiality. And Marci insisted that hangings were gross.

Well, in my new this is it third book, The World We Live In (aka WWLI), there won't be any bestiality. I promise. But hangings and cannibalism are starting to entice me.

I will now proclaim my three favorite words: Not my fault. I'm reading White Cargo by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, a history of indentured servitude in the colonies (and for all I know, after the Revolution; I'm only on page 113 and we're still knee deep in the seventeenth century), and I gotta say there is nothing, nothing I can imagine that would be worse than what people lived through then. It makes me glad my ancestors only had to deal with pogroms. So far there haven't been that many hangings (people seem to have gotten beaten to death instead, which presumably Marci wouldn't find gross), but there's this lovely bit on cannibalism. People were so hungry they opened coffins to remove the bodies for dinner, and one guy murdered his wife and "chopped her in pieces and salted her for his food." He was hung by his thumbs until he confessed and then executed.

So I'm thinking what gets Luke moving is the impending hanging of the old man (who I'm going to have to name, although I like calling him the old man). And I'm also thinking that Luke, in his day, did a bit of grave robbing. I mean, it's better than chopping up one's wife and salting her. Salt really is bad for your blood pressure.

I am in such a good mood.

As WWLI is currently constituted, there'll be alternating sections for Luke and Eden (her name is absolutely inarguably Eden, and most likely Eden Gregg). Luke's sections have always been planned as third person, same as Alex's in the dead and the gone, but I'd been thinking that Eden might keep a diary for hers. I've pretty much decided against that, because I'm not sure I could give Eden a voice different from Miranda's in Life As We Knew It. So the current plan is third person subjective for both characters.

Luke's friend, the one he's going to travel with (how far, I don't know, because I haven't decided where Luke's journey begins) is currently named Will, but that may change. As of the moment, Will is gallant. I don't think there's a single gallant character in LAWKI or d&g. And what's particularly important to me is that Will be nothing like Alex's friend Kevin in d&g. I loved Kevin, who had some very sweet moments, but definitely wasn't gallant. Luke, who's had to survive on his own for longer than Will, is bemused by the latter's gallantry (now that's a high class sentence. Don't expect to see another one like that for a while). And Will, who doesn't even exist and already I'm killing him off, will die gallantly, kind of Ronald Colmanesque (not that Ronald Colman always died in his movies, but he was invariably gallant).

As you can see, my little brain is just popping along with WWLI. I need to make sure the Eden sections are as dramatic (if not as action packed) as the Luke sections, and that gets me into the tricky does Miranda really fit in bog. For example (and because in some ways I've been plotting WWLI like the second part of Wuthering Heights), I've been thinking maybe there's a sickly teenage boy from a wealthy family that would like Eden to marry him so he can have a child before he dies. But we've got to believe that Eden believes that Miranda would allow such a thing. Also, if the Eden section starts with that, then the part with the askabouts (which Luke interrupts) could be anticlimactic. So much needs to be worked out, but that's the fun part.

On an entirely different, but very practical note, I'll be picking up more Always Have Hope stickers tomorrow, and going to the post office to mail some of them and some Never Lose Faith stickers to a bookstore in Ireland. So if anyone out there wants some, e-mail me before tomorrow morning, and off they'll go.

I told the woman at the printer's that I was sending some to Ireland and she was very impressed. So am I!

Monday, May 26, 2008

If I'd Known On Fridays What I Knew On Mondays, I Would Have Been A Straight A Student

My new favorite obsession (guaranteed to be a short lived one) is checking the 10 day weather forecasts to see what's in store for Sunday, when I'll be hosting the first and only Cheap And Easy 75th Book Party. Currently the majority of available predictions are for thunderstorms, which should add a nice note of drama to the event.

When I'm not pondering where to put the umbrellas, and debating just how many bagels to buy (my friend Christy, who's using the feeb excuse of living 3000 miles away as a reason not to come, says four dozen. Do you know how many bagels that is? 52! My bagel bakery gives you a thirteenth when you buy a dozen), I've been working on the third book, The World We Live In, or WW LI, which is one world war short of four dozen bagels.

Now there's a sentence that no one will ever quote because it makes no sense whatsoever, except to me, and I trust 10 day weather forecasts to be accurate, which shows how totally irrational I am.

Christy says she doesn't think it's a good idea for me to write about the third book (I haven't dared tell her I'm thinking of it as World War 51, because, even though she's quite familiar with Roman numerals, she, unlike me, is sane) on the blog. I'm not sure why, never having given her a chance to tell me. I'm always writing about the third book, in all its many incarnations. Now that I think about it, WW 51 is a perfectly reasonable nickname, because there have probably been at least fifty versions.

But the current one is the final one. Which isn't to say that the things I'm certain of this Monday will show up in the actual book. But I figured I'd let you know where the characters are at this point.

I'll start with the LAWKI family. Matt's married and lives in the LAWKI house. He runs a school, housed in the garage. I haven't named Mrs. Matt yet, but I think they have a couple of kids. Matt never completely regained his strength/health, but he's happy. He and Mrs. Matt grow much of their food, and I'm picturing a scene where things have gotten sufficiently good that one of their greenhouse crops is strawberries, which is the first time the entire younger generation has ever seen them. The only red food they knew were radishes.

Miranda's a widow. She's a doctor, which is more like a physician's assistant than what we're used to. I'm pretty sure the late Mr. Miranda was also a doctor, and I think Miranda knew his wife also, but Mr. Miranda was definitely older than Miranda, because he has to have been old enough that Miranda's stepdaughter is almost sixteen. The stepdaughter (originally named Emma, now named Grace, but I'm really sure she's going to end up with a different name, although I can't figure out what, because I thought about Faith, only I sign the dead and the gone, Never Lose Faith, and Hope, only I sign Life As We Knew It, Always Have Hope, and the latter in particular has a whole other meaning if Hope is a girl) is an orphan, so Miranda's raising her, and as a result, Miranda is a lot less Baby Rachel obsessed than I originally thought she might be.

Wanna bet no one ever quotes that sentence either?

I think what happens to girls at sixteen is they're expected to get married and start reproducing, since if things are getting better, there's an intense need to repopulate. I also think when girls turn eleven, they go off to work in the factories, unless a family member agrees to give five years to public service, in which case the girls can continue their education. Miranda gave the five years, working as a doctor where she's assigned. Then at sixteen, the process happens all over again. Girls either get married or just maybe get accepted into the apprentice program, only for that to happen, two different people have to agree to five years service, so even if Miranda said she would, Emmagrace would still need one other person to go along. Otherwise she'll be expected to get married, following my new favorite ritual, the askabouts. Available men ask about girls, and then they're invited to kind of a party, where they check the girl out, and she checks them out as well. Miranda and Emmagrace spend the summer at the LAWKI house, where there's a whole new bunch of guys for the askabout, and while it's going on (or maybe the day before), Luke shows up.

Meanwhile, back at the LAWKI family, Jon's still married to Julie, although I'm not sure of anything else about them.

Luke (previously known as Baby Rachel) is an orphan also. Right now, Lisa died before Dad, and both died when he was a kid, and he spent a year or two in the Orphan House (trust me, you don't want to live in an Orphan House), from which he ran away when he was about eleven. He lived on the streets and in the shadows for a while, and then hooked up with the old man, a Fagin like character, who provided shelter and food for boys, while they robbed for him. At the start of WW51, the old man has just died, and Luke (who is 16 or 17 by this point) decides to go back east to the family Dad had told him about.

I think Luke is going to make much of the journey with another one of the old man's boys, who's going to die en route because someone has to. I'd been thinking Julie might die, but if I want Luke and Emmagrace to trust in the future, then I probably shouldn't kill off a major character that late in the book.

If things go the way I'm currently thinking, by book's end, Luke will agree to give the five years, along with Miranda, so that Emmagrace can enter the apprentice program.

I'd better give Emmagrace a real name very soon, because I'm starting to think of her as Emmagrace. I also need to work in any number of ghastly natural catastrophes, because even if things are getting better, that doesn't mean things aren't still awful. Strawberries notwithstanding.

Anyway, that's where things are right now, with things changing by the minute. Then again, so are the weather forecasts. Hmmm. Maybe I should call the book Lightning and Bagels.

Or maybe I should rename the party World War Fifty One!

ETA: After searching through lists of biblical names, I've decided Emmagrace's name is Eden. Like everything else in this blog entry, that's subject to change at the drop of a bagel.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Barkis, I'm Told, Is Not Unwillin'

I've been debating whether to do all this in one blog entry or two, and I'm going with one, divided in two parts.

I've been delighted with the number of people who've e-mailed me to ask for book plates for Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. In fact, I just put in a reorder for the Always Have Hope stickers. If anyone wants one or many more than one, just e-mail and ask. If you've forgotten what the stickers look like, skim down a blog entry or two, and there they'll be.

Speaking of summer programs, there's a library in Alabama that's using LAWKI this summer, and incorporating many interesting events. I wish I lived there, because the whole thing sounds so great:

I had a great time doing my own program at Middletown Thrall Library. The audience was small, and I knew three quarters of them on a first name basis, but that didn't stop me. Nothing did, not even the promise of cookies. Heck, I talked so much and so long, that I didn't even get to eat any of the cake (I didn't know there was one until it was all gone).

I plan to compensate for the lack of cake by eating lots of it at my Cheap And Easy 75th Book Party on June 1. I'm expecting about thirty guests for a Sunday brunch that needs to satisfy people who keep kosher, vegans, and diabetics. The money to pay for all this (especially the cakes) is coming from the Swedish rights to LAWKI, a check, my agent informs me, that just came in. Talk about good timing.

One of the guests at the party will be my friend Joyce Wadler. Joyce and I have been friends since first day freshman year at college. She's one of the funniest people I know, and she's just started her own blog. If you like intelligent, sophisticated humor, go to

Finally, I'm pleased to note the addition of another blog interview to the links on the right.

Earlier this week, I heard from my agent that Harcourt is indeed interested in seeing a third book. My agent e-mailed my editor to find out when they would need a manuscript, and was told it was pretty much at my convenience, since most likely the book would be on the Spring 2010 list.

Naturally I'm pleased about this, but if you don't seem me jumping up and down, it's because I had decided over the weekend that the 400 page epic on the evils of capitalism just wasn't right for the third book. I had practically the whole thing worked out in my mind, with all kinds of juicy plots and subplots, and I even had most of the sex and violence under control, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get Miranda to fit in. She never belonged in that world; she's too much of this one.

So I've gone back to the drawing board. My current plan is a book with two different central characters (and most likely alternating viewpoints)- Luke, Dad and Lisa's son, come east to find his family, and Grace (although her name shifts about), Miranda's stepdaughter. Both characters would be teenagers, 16 or 17, and at the beginning of the book, wouldn't know each other. Miranda and Grace go back to the LAWKI house for the summer, where Matt lives, so they're there when Luke shows up. I'm considering having Luke's sections be third person (like d&g) and Grace's a diary (like LAWKI).

I spent a fair amount of time last night trying to decide how to work the d&g characters in (they'd slotted in quite nicely in the 400 page epic), until I figured out that Jon from LAWKI is married to Julie from d&g. I don't know yet how they met, and I'm having a problem with whether they have kids, but that's probably because I'm focusing on them right now more than I need to.

Luke is going to keep some of his toughness and all of his wariness. Grace, whose parents are dead, is going to be insecure. Both of them have grown up in a world of death, privation, and darkness. I'd like things to be getting better and I'd like them to find that unsettling. But the book is going to be about them and family, not the suffering of society. What I want for Luke and Grace by book's end is the ability to trust, in family and in the future.

So that's where things are now. I don't usually chuck fully written manuscripts and fully developed ideas, but this third book (still called The World We Live In) is really important to me, and I want to get it right.

Have a great weekend. With any luck, by my next blog entry, I'll know a lot more about Luke and Grace and the world they live in.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Six Pictures Are Worth At Least Six Thousand Words

The pictures come later. I'll start with the words.

There've been a couple of additions over on the right side of the page. Those of you with keen eyes and nothing better to do may have noticed (okay, none of you have noticed) that a new state has been added to the list of states where Life As We Knew It has been nominated for young reader awards. New Jersey put it on their list of nominees. This is very exciting for me, since my brother and sister-in-law live in New Jersey, and I asked them to devote all their spare time to campaigning for my book. Lucky for them, they have no spare time.

This brings a kind of total of 20 states to the list, only I dropped Rhode Island when LAWKI didn't win there, and the Pacific Northwest award includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. I gleefully e-mailed my editor to say LAWKI had therefore been nominated in 25 states, and she responded by saying that was almost half of the U.S.
Editors are naturally gifted in keeping writers in their place.

However, if I ever doubted Harcourt's love for me (which I'm prone to doing whenever I'm waiting for money from them), I have actual evidence of their feelings. Note, if you will, that I've added another engagement to dates I'm looking forward to. I'll be at NCTE in November. I was there in Nov. '07, as the guest of Harcourt, and did some autographing. It was held in NYC then. But in 2008, it'll be in San Antonio, Texas. And I'm going to be on a panel, so NCTE loves me too. Okay, I'm one of four people on the panel, so NCTE doesn't love me to excess. But I'll take all the affection I can get.
Speaking of dates, Tuesday night from 7-8:30, I'm going to be giving a talk at Middletown Thrall Library (Middletown, NY), and I hope all of you who live within a 500 mile radius will be there. I'll read the Yankee Stadium scene from the dead and the gone, and there will be cookies. Even more exciting, there will be Marci, who, sweetheart that she is, promised to come. It's my hometown library and even my robust healthy ego will be bruised if she's the only one in attendance.
My robust ego is delighted to report that Publishers Weekly just gave a starred review to d&g. I added the new wrenching comment in the appropriate section to the right.

Back to numbers. I was going to announce that LAWKI had gotten its 50th review on Amazon, because it did, but before I had the chance, it got its 51st and 52nd. Number 52 was a 5 star review, and therefore my favorite.

The Summer Blog Blast Tour starts on Monday, and I'm delighted to report that I'm one of the more than thirty authors interviewed by the various bloggers. What a great thing this is. Here's a link to the list of all the writers who are participating (and where their interviews can be found):
I actually got interviewed twice for the Summer Blog Blast, because I'm such a little chatterbox. Okay, not so little.
In addition, I got interviewed by The World in the Satin Bag. And I got interviewed by Liv's Book Reviews. For those who might be interested, I'm linking to the interviews on the right side of the blog.

Ooh ooh, now onto the pictures. I figured out how to get my lovely new digital photographs to load smack onto my blog. I took pictures of my den, where I work and blog and waste vast amounts of time, and here they are:

The pictures below are of the chair where I read and the chair where I don't read because the light isn't as good. The pictures make the room look bigger than it is, because there are only four bookshelves across, but one of them shows up twice. Also, even though the den looks very cluttered, the rest of the apartment isn't. Really.

See the bookshelf by the window? That's where I keep all the books I've written. On the bottom two shelves are books written by people I know, but the top five are filled with my books, in their various editions, plus textbooks and the suchlike that have used selections of my writing. On the floor in the picture on the left is the Junior Library Guild Premiere Selection Award for LAWKI, and my honorary degree from Mount St. Mary College. On the floor in the picture to the right is my Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award for Kid Power. I keep lots of good stuff on the floor because when I moved into the apartment almost four years ago, I was retired and decided to use what minimal wallspace I had for my movie memorabilia, rather than displaying career awards and honors. In spite of being sort of temporarily unretired, I haven't redecorated.

Also, on the bookshelf on the left is an Albert Einstein doll. I have a Sigmund Freud doll as well, but it had fallen onto the floor, which is why you can't see it. I've picked it up since then.

Here's another picture of the shelf with all my books. The plaque with a panhandle is the Sequoyah Children's Book Award from the state of Oklahoma. I won it for Kid Power also.
On the top shelf to the left of all my books are various Rocky and Bullwinkle stuffed dolls. The redhead is Sherman. And that fabulous picture of a total eclipse of the sun was taken on Jan. 24, 1925. I got it in a junk shop for a dollar.

The picture below is of my computer desk area closet thing. Very fancy, and it cost a lot of money. It seems to be kind of cluttered also, but it's really very practical. Most of the yellow post-its to the left list my passwords, which I'm prone not only to forgetting but to writing down in code which I also forget. Other than that, it's a great system.

That midsized piece of white paper to the left of the computer monitor is a list of events that happened in the late semi-lamented version of the third book. I really could take it down. Oh, and see those top two post-its? They're not interesting, but the one below them to the right lists the results of the ghost poll I had on my blog a little while ago.

There's actually a lot of interesting stuff on the right side door as well, but I could only photograph so much. And I bought a new printer since this photo was taken, but it didn't seem worth taking another picture just to show you.

On the windowsill to the left of the monitor are two Aflac ducks, which my friend Janet Carlson, to whom d&g is dedicated, gave me. The blue thing in between them is a two footed calculator, on which I multiply imaginary numbers of books sold by the percentage I'd earn in royalties.

When I first decided to keep a blog, my sister-in-law said I should write about my cats. I haven't all that much, but here are their pictures. Emily, the calico, loves having her picture taken, but isn't particularly photogenic. Alexander, the orange tabby, doesn't understand why I'm taking his picture when I could be scratching his ears, but he has a model's classic looks. He sheds a lot more hair than a model, most of it on the chairs in my den.
And with that, Emily, Alexander and I say farewell until the next time I can find either some other pictures or a few thousand more words!

Monday, May 12, 2008

You Won't Find This Offer Anyplace Else (I Hope)

But before I get to the offer, let me point out that the list of states where Life As We Knew It is nominated for a young readers award has grown by one. Paige Y. was nice enough to let me know that LAWKI is on the North Carolina Middle School Young Readers list. Since my mother was born and raised in Winston-Salem, she was particularly pleased to hear this, and I, of course, am delighted.

I think that gets LAWKI to 20 states (including Rhode Island, which, alas, was the first of many such awards LAWKI didn't win), plus the ones in the Pacific Northwest list. While I remain cheerfully dubious that it might actually win any of these awards, I still love the fact it's been nominated so often.

Google was kind enough to inform me at 4 this morning (when my brain started working on a scene for The World We Live In, so I got out of bed to read e-mails and convince my body it really wanted to go back to sleep) that the dead and the gone has made its first summer reading list. Given that the book is not officially published, I think that's pretty nifty. Then again, I think most everything is pretty nifty nowadays except my sleep patterns.

One major reason for all this niftyhood is, of course, all of you. So I wanted to do something to say thank you for your support of both LAWKI and d&g.

I realized I couldn't offer to autograph all your copies, because you'd have to send them to me, and I'd have to send them back, and that just wasn't going to work. So instead I had book labels printed specially for both books. I like to think of them as book plates, since that's classier, but either way, they're personally designed, with a space on each label for me to write Susan Beth Pfeffer (which I do in red ink).

I think of the Always Have Hope one for LAWKI and Never Lose Faith for d&g, but I won't be around to watch, so if you have a preference for one rather than the other (some people just love waxing moons, and others are waning moon obsessed), I'll never know where it goes. The background on both of them is silver (that doesn't show too well), and they're round (that white stuff surrounding them is the paper you peel them off of, and the lavender is just what I scotch taped them to). They look kind of three dimensional, but that's an optical illusion. They don't take up any space in a book.

So here's the deal. If you want one, just e-mail me, either using the link on the right or the address below the link, if the link doesn't work for you. Tell me where to send it, and off it will go (after I sign it semi-nicely with red ink- I don't have such great handwriting). If you want more than one, just ask. If you want one or more for books you're planning to give away (because nothing says Christmas more than a book with famine and epidemics and lots of dead bodies), just ask. If you're an independent bookstore owner/manager, and you'd like to put them in your books to make them more likely to sell, just ask. If you're a librarian or a teacher and you're using LAWKI or planning to use d&g either in your classrooms or in a summer reading program or a current book club or any such thing, and you'd like them for your students or whoever is reading the book, just ask. If you want one so you can get some of my DNA, with the intention of cloning me someday, just ask. I had 500 of each one printed because that's the smallest amount I could. And while the LAWKI ones are actually moving (on account of I ask strangers on the street if they'd like one, not to mention a school in Kentucky that's getting over 100 of them), I still have a lot, and on the incredibly small chance I'll need more, the printer will be happy to make them. If need be, I can always buy another red pen as well.

Even with the increase in the cost of postage, this is a very small way for me to express a very big thank you to all of you. But it was the best I could come up with, and I hope you'll accept it as a a token of my appreciation. I've never had so much fun in my career, and I owe a lot of that to you.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

In Stock! The Dead And The Gone Is In Stock!

I just checked my Amazon listing for the dead and the gone, and they say it's in stock. Barnes and Noble implies the same (by not saying it isn't).

Feel free to start checking your local bookstores as well. June first is early this year!

ETA: I happened to be in the neighborhood of the local Borders bookstore and compelled myself to go in and investigate. They had, indeed, ordered 5 copies of the Life As We Knew It paperback, and sold 2 of them (neither to me, but beyond that I know nothing). They also had 5 copies of the dead and the gone on order, but they hadn't come in yet.

Barring the most extraordinary and unimaginable events, this is the last such report I'll give on the subject. Only my mother should have to hear about how many copies of my books there are at different stores.

Speaking of my mother (Freda Pfeffer, to increase her Google number), I bought a digital camera over the weekend and took pictures of her at the Orange County Arboretum on Monday. I haven't figured out how to load pictures directly onto the blog yet, but since I've mastered scanning, I developed a couple of the best ones of her, scotch taped them onto a piece of light blue paper, to bring out the blue in her eyes, and here they are:

Isn't she beautiful (that's a rhetorical question, because I know she is).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Draw The Line At Random Polar Bear Encounters

My cat Alexander and I just watched the dvd of Life After People. I watched more of it than he did, and even so I have all the extra scenes left to see (I'll play them tomorrow). But what I saw, with and without cat on lap, really got me thinking about life eighteen years after Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

Because people interest me more than stuff does (no insult intended, stuff), I've been focusing my pre-writing on the characters and the society. Lately I've been trying to figure out just how many people are left, and what they're doing to survive.

Arbitrarily (well, all of this is arbitrary as my brother pointed out, when I said there was a massive drought and he said only if I wanted there to be one), I decided that in the first five years, there was a 50% infant mortality rate. Or maybe only 50% of the babies born then lived to be five years old. Anyway, something with 50% and lots of dead infants and toddlers (no insult intended, infants and toddlers). I pictured Miranda being taught this in what passes for medical school, and her thinking about it as she dreams yet again of baby Rachel. Of course the problem with losing 50% of a mini-generation, not to mention all the babies that aren't even conceived, is that you lose an awful lot of workers. And in a world where energy sources aren't what they used to be, you really need laborers to do the things we count on machines for.

That's why I see such a massively hierarchical society, a handful of nobles, so to speak, and an army of serfs (this morning I was trying to come up with a name for all those laborers, and I played with surf and turf puns, but they're back to being drogs, although now the women are droggies). You heat your house with coal, you're going to need people to keep things clean (I briefly heated my sunroom with coal, and that stuff is filthy).

See how I'm focusing on people rather than stuff? Partly it's to keep my mind off those nasty volcanoes that killed off vegetation. One of the things I have to do is learn what kind of plants live in cold dark environments ( don't tell me, not many; I don't want to hear it). But mostly because it's how my mind works, which is why Life Without People was so useful for me.

For one thing, it reminded me about feral dogs. In one early and rejected possible third book outline, I had a feral dog attack. Of course, being a cat person, I forgot that dogs run in packs (or they would if they were feral), which would make a feral dog attack even scarier.

Feral dogs made me think about how you protect yourself from a feral dog attack, which made me think (albeit briefly, because there's just so much to think about, and I only finished watching the dvd twenty minutes ago) about what stuff people would keep making regardless. Alcohol, for one thing (although that's not much use in feral dog attacks). And some form of bullets.

Also I was very happy to learn from the dvd that rubber tires would last. My goddaughter, when I discussed all this with her in Maine, said rubber wouldn't last. It's bad enough to have bikes be the primary form of transportation. At least now they can have tires.

The dvd also talked about birds and fish. It was very optimistic about both of them, although, of course it was about a world without people, not one without much sunlight. I figure birds will do okay, because I used to feed chickens as a kid, and there is no species quite so nasty (no insult intended, chickens). And I've already figured that fish are thriving, and that it's an immensely dangerous job to go out onto the ocean and catch them, but they're the primary source of protein, only I don't think I'm going to have anything in the book about fisherfolk because it's an interior sort of story (I'm seeing the journey going from Utah to Pennsylvania).

But one thing the dvd mentioned which I hadn't thought about in quite the same direction is what happens to zoo animals. I'd figured that people in power were saving animals, in a Noah's ark kind of way, so that when things got back to normal, they'd be able to repopulate all the species. But in the Life Without People dvd, there weren't any people to take care of the zoo animals, which naturally enough tried to get out of their enclosures and see the once bright lights of the big cities. They had a great shot of a bear climbing the stairs at the 72nd St. subway stop, and a lion hanging out downtown.

This is where things get tricky. In LAWKI/d&g, no matter how bad things got, none of the characters had to fight off a tiger. And my guess is none of the characters in The World We Live In is going to have to either, because even though it's possible, it's not mundane. Feral dogs we can all picture. Rhinos on the highway are just too much.

But there was another thing the dvd showed that really got me thinking, and that was a deserted fairgrounds. There is something so evocative about a rotting Ferris wheel. And I realized that my characters, rich and poor, have hardly seen anything outside their immediate environments. Their world doesn't include roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars. How exciting it would be for them to wander into that remnant of our lives. How startled they would be to learn that people used to have dogs as pets.

Of course I stink at writing descriptions and action scenes (no insult intended, me). So my four hundred page epic on the evils of capitalism will probably consist of Luke and his companions sitting around the campfire, talking about the laundry.

We'll see how exciting Alexander finds that!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Meanwhile In 2022 (Give Or Take A Few Months)

The last few weeks, I've been so busy, what with spring cleaning and Passover and mother stuff and Maine and a visit from Joyce and Lew, that I haven't been focusing on the third book. This isn't to say I haven't been thinking about it, because I certainly have. But I haven't had much clear the brain time, and when I have, I've been bumping into the same concern, how to make the third book the story I want to tell while keeping it true to Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. Not to mention good and without that pesky sex.

It's been a fun battle. On the one side there's that starred Booklist review over to the right, which says, "The story's power, as in the companion book, comes from the readers' ability to picture themselves in a similar situation; everything Pfeffer writes about seems wrenchingly plausible."

(Have you noticed, by the way, how another one of those reviews says heartwrenching? I guess d&g is a wrenching sort of book. Which is certainly better than a retching sort of book).

But on the other side is Children Of Violence by Doris Lessing (bet you didn't see that one coming). For those of you who haven't read Children Of Violence, it's five volumes of realistic fiction about growing up in what was then Rhodesia. But somewhere in the fifth book, the main character moves to London (she might have already moved there; it's been decades since I read it), and then, in a dazzling bit of future Nobel laureate writing, the story continues into the future, and becomes sci fi.

Now, apparently LAWKI and d&g are sci fi, so for the third book (still called The World We Live In, although I also call it The 400 Page Epic On The Evils Of Capitalism) to be sci fi isn't exactly Nobel laureate startling. But if The World We Live In is set seventeen years after the start of LAWKI/d&g, which is my intention, then the readers won't be picturing themselves in a similar situation. Because there's no way the situation can be similar. Not with all those volcanoes I got erupting.

It's the loss of the mundane. Do I commit to writing a book that isn't about how to get the laundry done or do I figure out a way of sticking to what worked in LAWKI/d&g?

As of the moment, I'm dumping the laundry and going with the saga of Luke (although a kinder, gentler Luke) making his way back to Pennsylvania and the family he never knew. What I'm trying to do is keep a reign in on my more creative plotting. The other morning, I came up with a fabulous subplot for Rachel, the second lead. Fabulous, that is, if I want someone to think V.C. Andrews is doing the writing. But, no insult intended to the late yet prolific Ms. Andrews, once I end up in her territory, I kind of lose the chance of being good. Fun, sure, and popular, maybe, but bye bye good.

And I like those starred Booklist reviews. They make me feel literary.

Another of the problems I've had is Miranda, now thirty three years old. I haven't had trouble picturing the various d&g characters in Luke's world. I haven't even had trouble picturing Matt and Jon. But Miranda hasn't felt right to me. I know her as a sixteen year old stuck in a house, fantasizing about her baby sister.

So this morning I decided to push Miranda out of the house, and give her seventeen more years of life. I've been planning on a third person narrative with multiple points of view, and I certainly knew Miranda's would be one. But now we're seeing her way before she meets Luke. I'm not sure the readers are going to know it's Miranda. They may just think of her as a widowed doctor (see, that way I can call her Dr. Pickanewlastname, instead of Miranda) until the appropriate time to reveal who she is and how she fits into the story. But as soon as I gave her a career and a life, she started being part of this new world I'm creating. Which made me feel a whole lot better about things.

I'm thinking about writing the third book this summer, when I have a stretch of time without too many interruptions. Of course it's possible that by July, Harcourt will be telling me they're never ever going to want a third book, in which case all this thinking will have been for naught. Worse still, they might tell me that in September, after I've written all 400 pages about the evils of capitalism. Given that possibility, I'd better have a story I'll really enjoy writing, somewhere between Doris Lessing and V.C. Andrews. No sex, but no laundry either.