Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stress Is Our Friend

If it's our enemy, I'm really in trouble.

I got a couple of e-mails concerning the NPR radio show, The Takeaway, that I'm going to be on tomorrow morning. The guest list now includes a child psychologist, Frank Gaskil, to talk about
how kids can benefit from post-apocalyptic stories.

The other e-mail said they'd changed the schedule for tomorrow's show, and instead of them calling me at 7 AM to wake me up for the 7:30 interview, they're going to call me at 6 AM for a 6:30 interview.

By the time it's through, I'm going to need a psychologist.

Meanwhile, my mother has discovered that painkillers kill pain. So she's feeling better.

The other day I went to my local Borders and found that the paperback of Life As We Knew It is in its second printing. Yesterday I went to the Barnes and Noble in Paramus, NJ, and found LAWKI is in its third printing. My guess is these are very small printings, but I'm still quite pleased.

For those of you who are interested in the world coming to an end, The New York Times had an article about what supplies to have in the house for that eventuality. The last sentence of the article is a real killer. Here's the link:

I spoke to my editor this evening about the third book. She's not crazy about the title What Was/What Is (she doesn't like the / which is my favorite part), but we'll use it until something better comes along.

She wasn't opposed to my working Miranda and/or Alex into the story, but I am, so that's that. I don't see how they could possibly fit in. So we're never going to know what happens to them . Closure, unlike stress, is not our friend.

She was interested in the over population issue. I suggested to her (an idea inspired by Mr. Cavin's comment, thank you Mr. Cavin) that Sarah's parents could be divorced and in a reverse of LAWKI, the father comes back to see how his daughter is doing, and Sarah becomes emotionally closer to him. One of the plot ideas I've been pondering is that Sarah's family has to move in with another family, not necessarily people she knows. That would have to happen after her father gets back, since otherwise he wouldn't know how to find her. But I figure if there's a limited amount of fuel, it makes more sense for lots of people to be in each house, and my editor doesn't disagree.

What my editor and I do like is my What Was story. Sarah and four of her friends drive to the country the night the asteroid hits the moon, to get a better view. On their way home, they get into an accident, and Sarah has to find help for the rest of them. I'm not sure how that's going to tie into the rest of the book, since I don't know what the rest of the book is going to be, but at least that part seems to be settled on.

So that's where things stand. I'm not sure where I'll be standing after my 6 AM wakeup call, but that's a whole other problem. One my twitchy left eye and I will deal with tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Feel Free To Listen While I Think Out Loud

I haven't heard back yet from my editor about the various ideas I came up with for What Was/What Is, but I've been thinking about the book, in between elderly mother emergencies and...Wait, there's nothing to follow that and. The past couple of days have pretty much been devoted to elderly mother emergencies (on Monday she fell into a parking lot pothole; we spent most of Tuesday in the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a slightly cracked rib, for which there is no treatment, so technically the five hours in the emergency room were a total waste of time, except for the great idea for a TV series I got while there- Boring ER).

I told my mother I'm really looking forward to her 97th birthday so I can stop blaming everything on her being 96.

So my stress level has been pretty high, which I can tell because my left eyelid is twitching. Good thing I'm going to be on the radio and not TV (although if Oprah wants to invite me to talk about Parking Lots, The Elderly, And The End Of The World, I'll accept. The twitch is hardly noticeable).

Ending the world again isn't lowering my stress level any. It turns out ending the world is hard work.

When I ended the world in Life As We Knew It (and ended it simultaneously in the dead and the gone), there was a basic progression of disaster-tsunamis, run on supermarkets, high gas prices, blackouts, earthquakes, volcanoes, early and unending frost, food shortages, blizzards, epidemics. One disaster didn't end and another begin, but they flowed into each other, and when both books ended, while there was hope that Miranda and Alex would survive, there was no putting the world back in place. Things were still awful.

In the next six versions of the third book, I focused on the social ills, rather than the climatic ones. I didn't think about the why of that decision (a decision I made over and over again). I just figured out what interested me the most, and since I like social history, I was interested most in how society lived with overwhelming shortages.

But my editor has made it clear that she thinks the third book should be more similar to the first two, which involve a teenage character surviving in a world of unpredictable disaster (that's a paraphrase and a darn good one). And with upcoming book three starting right after d&g and while the LAWKI action is still ongoing, I have to both be true to what I've already written and top it.

This is tres tricky (I always knew that year of high school French would come in handy). There are some disasters I didn't really touch on in LAWKI/d&g: flooding, fires, ice storms, toothaches. But I'm reluctant to play Can You Top This. LAWKI works, in part, because the disasters, while logical to me, are unexpected to the readers. If I just pile on, there's a risk of ridiculousness.

On the other hand, if conditions are better where my heroine (still Sarah) lives, then LAWKI/d&g lose some of their impact. If people aren't suffering quite so much in Tennessee (or Arizona or wherever the third book is set), then Miranda and her family should have just packed up and moved south or west. But there's got to be food somewhere, or else the third book will start in February and end in April, with Sarah starving to death, and my editor none too happy.

Then my mind wandered over to Sarah's parents. As of the moment, her mother is a doctor and her father the producer of the local 10 PM news. Both jobs are really just because I want them out of the house the night the asteroid hits the moon. But it intrigued me to think of Sarah's father out of work. Millions of surviving Americans would be, because the jobs they had require electricity. It's hard enough to lose your job in real life. But to lose your job in the world I've created, with essentially no hope of ever working again, would be devastating.

Now while that devastation would be fun to write about (nice people don't end the world as gleefully as I), it's the devastation of adults, and my main character is a teenager. So while Sarah's father can be miserable and his marriage to her mother be under great strain, that can't be the primary focus of the book.

When I'm capable of coherent thought (twelve minutes on Monday, eight on Tuesday), I'm thinking that wherever I set the book should have a slightly different set of catastrophes than the northeast. I could move the setting to a coastal state, and have flooding be an issue. I could set things in Missouri, with its earthquakes. There are plenty of places where fires would be a continuous problem. Down south, the summer crops would have been harvested, so there'd be more food, but there would be problems with migrants. LAWKI/d&g are about loss of population; overpopulation would be a whole new horror to explore.

So there certainly are possibilities, and I really just need a relaxed brain to work out the ones I like the best. But for as long as my left eye is twitching, I'm going with The Horror Of Parking Lot for the story with the most punch!

Monday, July 28, 2008

That's 4:30 AM Pacific Coast Time

I e-mailed my editor this morning some ideas that I have about What Was/What Is, and in a rare fit of maturity (the likes of which we'll never see again), I've decided not to discuss those ideas until I hear back from her.

For those of you (i.e. all humanity) who don't check out the list of dates I'm looking forward to, there's a new one on top. I'm going to be on the radio Friday morning at 7:30 (if I'm not bumped by some interesting current event). Here's the e-mail invitation I received:

I'm a producer for a new public radio show called The Takeaway, hosted by John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji. It's a live talk show distributed by Public Radio International. We're partners with the NYT, BBC and WGBH radio/tv in Boston.

Next week we want to talk about the trend in apocalyptic children's books. Would you be interested in discussing this new generation of books, your included, and those apcocalyptic books of the past? Why is this a common theme and one that kids seem to connect with?

The interview will be posted on their website for anyone who wants to listen but not at 7:30 AM. I'll provide a link when I have one.

Speaking of links, here's one to my new favorite Yahoo Question:

I'll let you know what my editor says when I know what my editor says (and not a moment before).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Not Kentucky, Because There's A Volcano There

My editor hated what shall forevermore be known as Christy's Idea.

Actually the first twenty minutes or so of what was an hour and a half, starting at 5:30 not 3:30 brainstorming session, pretty much consisted of what my editor doesn't like.

Okay, a certain amount of that time was spent on what I don't like, like coming up with idea after idea only to have my editor not like them.

Then we went to work.

We danced around sequel/not sequel. We finally agreed on not sequel. So we'll never know what happens to Miranda and her family, Alex and his.

I didn't want to go through what I called And Then The Volcanoes, And Then The Flu again. My editor didn't want to go much past where Life As We Knew It ends. We compromised (quite satisfactorily as far as I'm concerned) on starting the action somewhere around mid-February (the dead and the gone ends at the very end of December; LAWKI ends on March 20, but there aren't that many diary entries in Feb. and March).

My editor felt it was really important that the readers have a sense of what the main character's life was like before the world ends. She said that even though not that much time is spent pre-catastrophe in LAWKI and even less time in d&g, the readers still see some background. She wanted that connection to what was while coping with what is.

(I think that's going to be the working title- What Was/What Is. I like the /. It's like the & in the dead & the gone.)

I pointed out, a few times, that if the book starts ten months after the start of LAWKI/d&g, we'd be past the what was. We waltzed around that for a while.

She liked episodic. I liked episodic. The people who voted on the poll liked episodic. So we agreed to episodic.

We discussed (at far more length than it merited) whether tomatoes could be grown in a hothouse without sunlight. I finally pointed out this was my world and if I said they could, then they could.

Finally we worked out a structure. It turns out we both love structure. As of the moment, all we have is structure, but the structure is a great starting off point.

Here goes: What Was/What Is will be about a girl starting ten months after the moon gets nudged towards earth. But it's also going to be about that same girl a few months before the moon gets nudged. The book will go back and forth between the two times (I sure hope Harcourt uses different typesets).

Something Big And Bad will happen to the girl in the What Was part (my editor used the word Victim; I know because I wrote it down in the totally incoherent notes I took). Of course everything Big And Bad happens to the world in between What Was and What Is (and I have no idea what is going to happen in terms of food, shelter, and those nasty volcanoes in the What Is part of the book, but given that the idea is about two hours old, this doesn't worry me). I think it's essential that the What Was section be every bit as involving as the What Is section.

LAWKI and d&g both end with the main characters doing something that allows them to be rescued. What Was/What Is has to end differently, some kind of big bang emotional resolution, with the readers understanding that whatever happened in the What Was has allowed the heroine to cope/survive/succeed in the What Is.

My editor (and I think this is very funny) said she wasn't going to be in the office tomorrow. I said it was going to take me more than one day to figure out plot, characters, setting and incidents.

There are several things I love about this third book concept. First of all, while it isn't a sequel in terms of Miranda and Alex, it is a sequel for the world. People who are curious about what happens next will find out (and once I know, I'll be sure to tell you). It won't be a brother/sister volume to LAWKI/d&g, but it'll be a cousin, Episodic on their mothers' side. It will be a standalone, but with any luck, anyone reading it first will want to read LAWKI/d&g. It will be very hard to work out the storyline, and challenging to write (I'm thinking that I may write the What Was section in its entirety before writing the What Is part, and then cut and paste them together, making whatever changes I discover need to be made), but I love figuring that stuff out. Who is this girl (I decided girl because boys are harder for me to write, and this is going to be quite hard enough, thank you very much) and what did she go through and what is she going through now and what is the world going through. Not to mention where. Somewhere not in the northeast, and I'm thinking maybe suburbs.

As it happens, I have nothing scheduled for the next three days, so I'll do a lot of thinking. And looking for states without volcanoes.

I'm off to check Popular Baby Names. Maybe if I know what this girl's name is, I'll sense what Big And Bad thing happened to her in the What Was of her life.

Possible Third Book Number Eight, here I come!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

If She Hates It, It's All Christy's Fault

I called my friend Christy last night to whine and kvetch.

Because I'm such a good friend, I let her whine and kvetch first. Thirty-two seconds later, we moved on to a discussion of our mothers' feet.

We could have talked about toes forever, but I cleverly shifted the conversation back to me by whining and kvetching louder. I explained that with the mood I'm in lately, I was concerned the Thursday afternoon brainstorming session with my editor would consist of all storm and no brain.

Christy and I proceeded to have a heated discussion about whether fish could survive those dagnab volcanoes (she claimed ash on the water was a not good thing). Apparently if we put her mother's toenails and my mother's toenails in the ocean, we could destroy the world fish population, but that's a whole other problem.

But then Christy and I worked out a basic third book plot. Maybe my editor will hate it, maybe she'll love it, maybe she'll think it has possibilities but needs lots of work (well, even if she loves it, she'll think it'll need lots of work).

The very basic setup (since I tell you everything, usually before I tell my editor) is that a couple of months have passed and the LAWKI family hears from Dad. Don't ask me where he is, because I haven't decided. West of Pennsylvania somewhere, but with an address. Miranda, Matt and Jon decide to go out west to stay with him, because, among other reasons, they've heard the food deliveries are going to stop.

If you're wondering where Mom is...well, that may depend on my editor. All I know is she's not going on the road trip. I've got too many problems with my mother's feet to want to take any mom along for this book.

Somehow somewhere Miranda separates from Matt/Jon. Christy suggested that Miranda get a job as a nanny, but I decided to make her the companion to an elderly woman instead (ooh, a toenail scene). I figure the old woman can be a big figure skating fan and Miranda says she skated once with Brandon Erlich and gets the job that way.

Also somewhere on the road, Miranda hooks up with Alex and Julie, who are (I think) making their way to their brother Carlos.

While I don't want a tearful reunion scene at the very end, I do want Miranda to make it to Dad's all in one relatively unscathed piece. As of the moment, the book'll end with Miranda knocking on the door and hearing someone say, "I'll get it."

The book would be third person, in the episodic style of the dead and the gone. I loved writing diary style for Life As We Knew It, but I just can't see using it. There've been a lot of toenails under the bridge in the past three and a half years, and I don't feel comfortable slipping directly into Miranda's brain again. Besides, it's hard to keep a diary while you're on the road.

So that's where things are right now. I've been following the poll semi-obsessively and I thank all of you who have participated and all who have e-mailed me.

Now if any of you want to give my mother a pedicure...

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Blog Entry That Has Nothing To Do With Me

At least not directly.

The Sunday NY Times Book Review Section had an endpiece on YA books I thought some of you might find interesting.

Here's the link:

On my to do list is learn how to make those links cute, but in the meantime, this should suffice.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bye Bye Luke. Bye Bye Eden.

Even writers interviewed by Newsweek get rejected.

Okay, maybe I'm the only writer interviewed by Newsweek to ever get rejected. It's not like I've done a survey. But no matter what the actual percentage is, I got rejected.

Harcourt turned down The World We Live In. My editor e-mailed me yesterday to let me know. However, my editor made it clear that Harcourt wants a third book. In fact, she and I have a telephone brainstorming date for next Thursday, to try and determine just what that third book should be like.

Here's what I know has to be in the third book (whether my editor knows this is a whole other issue): What happens to Miranda and her family. What happens to Alex and his family. And ideally, what happens to Dad and Lisa and their baby.

Whether all this happens fifteen minutes or fifteen years after the action in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone is up for discussion. My editor, it turns out, likes single viewpoint stories, so I'll need to pick one character to focus on. If it's Matt, Miranda or Jon, they'll have to interact in some way with Alex or Julie. If it's Alex or Julie, they'll have to interact with Matt, Miranda, or Jon. If it's a completely new character, then there has to be a reason why that character knows one of the LAWKI characters and one of the d&g characters. I tried that in Since The End Of The Time Before where Caitlin the drog works alongside Julie and casually meets Jon. It seemed forced to me when I wrote it, but there may be a better way of handling the convergence.

Meanwhile, since I haven't posted a poll in a very long time, I'm going to post a non-binding, more than one choice, one to get some guidance from you. Maybe if you have a clear preference for one storyline approach over another, it will help my editor and me to figure out just direction the third book should take.

After all, why should I be the only one to get rejected!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Follow Up Thought About Newsweek

It's my perception that childrens' and young adult literature doesn't get much attention in newspapers and magazines, and therefore the Newsweek article, Unhappily Ever After by Karen Springen is something pretty special.

If you think it's noteworthy also, and you have a blog, why not mention it, as Jen Robinson has done:

Here's the link to the Newsweek article:

Another way of letting Newsweek know there is interest in children's literature is by sending them a letter. Their info on letters to the editor goes as follows:

They must have name, address and daytime phone number. They should be e-mailed to, mailed to P.O. Box 2120 Radio City Station, New York, NY 10101-2102 or faxed to 212-445-4120. Letters may be edited for space or clarity and may appear in digital versions of NEWSWEEK.

Whether you like the article or not, agree with its viewpoint or don't, let Newsweek know you've read it. If they see there's real interest in children's and young adult literature, they'll be more likely to give it further coverage.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Get Quoted In Newsweek!

"You have an obligation when you're writing for a younger audience not to demolish all hope," says Pfeffer. "You have to leave some sense that life will get better."

I would shout the news from the rafters except I have laryngitis. So I'll provide the link instead:

It's the July 21 issue. Barack Obama is on the cover, talking about his Christian faith.

Ah, the irony!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where In The World Is Carlos Morales

It's been twenty-seven days since I sent off the proposal and first seventy-five pages of The World We Live in to my editor. Not that I'm counting. In fact, until thirty seconds ago, I hadn't counted, and would have sworn it was a lot longer than that.

It's been a complex twenty-seven days.

This morning I forded the river of irritation and entered the welcome land of weekend. No jumping when the phone rings. No constant checking of e-mails. A time for peace and reflection.

Here's what I peacefully reflected. Since writing the dead and the gone, approximately eighteen months ago, I have come up with six different versions of the third book. And in each one, Carlos Morales has met a different fate.

For those of you unfamiliar with d&g, or who have simply forgotten, Carlos is the older brother of Alex, the main character. Carlos exists, not as a plot device, but as a character explainer. I didn't want Alex to be the firstborn. I didn't want him to be comfortable being in charge of his two younger sisters. I wanted, as Shakespeare by way of Preston Sturges put it, to have greatness thrust upon him.

In d&g, Carlos has twelve lines of dialogue (I counted) and is heard from only once more, when a postcard he sent is read on Page 144 (I looked). He's in the Marines, and frankly, from what Alex (not exactly a reliable witness) remembers about him, he's not the nicest guy in the universe.

But there must be something about him that intrigued me, since I worked him into at least five of the possible third books.

Here are the six versions of Carlos's post d&g world:

1. Untitled collection of interconnected short stories that would have followed the Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone characters [nothing put down on paper and rejected by my editor while we chatted at NCTE]: As a Marine, Carlos is assigned the task of forcibly evacuating people from their homes so safe towns can be created.

2. Untitled completely different set of characters third book set roughly the same time as LAWKI/d&g, involving a girl who is forcibly evacuated from her home and has to go on a long march and horrible things happen [I'm not sure if I wrote anything down on that one, but I do recall discussing it with my friend Christy who thought it was awfully dark and didn't seem to like it]: I don't remember Carlos in it, but clearly the idea was inspired by Possibility 1.

3. Starry Night [Outline written and sent to my editor who didn't like it]: The action takes place a few months after the end of d&g. In it, Alex and Julie meet up with Miranda and Jon in an evac center. Alex dies saving Jon's life; Miranda and Jon take on Julie and the three of them make it to Dad and Lisa's. Carlos is dead. I don't remember if Alex already knows that or if he finds it out in the beginning of the novel.

4. Since The End Of The Time Before (aka Caitlin The Drog; aka The Story Of O Without Sex) [written in its entirety, unseen by anyone,and currently residing in my now dead computer]: It's four years after the end of LAWKI/d&g. Alex and Julie had believed Carlos was alive and received certain privileges as a result of having a brother in the Marines. When it was found out he was dead, they were held guilty of defrauding the government and had to go into hiding. All of which Julie reveals to Caitlin the drog for reasons I've kind of forgotten.

5. The Four Hundred Page Saga On The Evils of Capitalism (definitely my favorite title) [nothing written, but much discussed in this blog]: Seventeen years have passed. Dad and Lisa's son Luke has escaped from the coal mines, and is making his way back east, accompanied by a girl named Rachel, to the LAWKI family. Carlos is married with a couple of kids. He does personnel work at the coal mines, and is instrumental in helping Luke escape. He gives Luke Julie's name and address, and when Luke meets Julie, she sends him along to Alex.

6. The World We Live In [outline and seventy-five pages awaiting decision by Harcourt, which, if they say yes, they'll have to send back to me, since the heavily revised version is in my now dead computer, keeping company with Caitlin the drog, etc.]: It's a different seventeen years later, and a different Luke is making his way back to the LAWKI family, where he meets Eden, Miranda's teenage stepdaughter. Jon and Julie are married, and Julie talks to Luke about her brother Carlos, who hasn't been heard from since page 144.

To give you a proper contrast, in the same six possible book threes, Alex is: a novice monk, not a character, martyr, being hidden in monastaries, a priest and a priest.

Will there be a seventh possible book three? Who knows. Well, maybe Harcourt knows and just hasn't told me. Or maybe I'll quit at six and spend many happy years reading and watching dvds and taking my mother to countless doctor appointments and imagining all kinds of different fates for Carlos Morales and the starry end of time evil world he lives in.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Science of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail with the following request:

If you aren't too busy, would you post on the blog or just to me if you like, how much science research went into LAWKI and td&tg? I'm sorry if you discussed this somewhere else and I missed it. I'm just wondering how you arrived at how you wanted the environment to react to the moon shift.

Things are calm now, at least for the moment, so the time is right to try and answer those questions.

My favorite themes to write about are Family and Consequences. Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone provided me with ample opportunity to explore both.

All the science in LAWKI/d&g is consequence based. I don't know if the moon could ever be pushed closer to earth, but I wanted a catastrophe that would be worldwide, long lasting, not the fault of humans and not fixable. I've always been intrigued by the fact that the moon causes tides, and that tides are higher during full moons. So I gave the moon a little nudge. You are never more powerful than when you're writing fiction.

Obviously the first disaster would be tidal waves. I think I called them tsunamis in LAWKI, although I'm not sure they really are. When I was researching earthquakes for d&g, I learned that tsunamis are caused by oceanic earthquakes, and are not just gigantic moon caused tidal waves. But certainly the waves would be enormous. I remember seeing on a New York City newscast a house in Queens being demolished by tidal flooding. Water can do massive damage.

My brother was the one who pointed out that communication satellites would go down because of the changed gravitational pull. I knew I wanted phone service and cable out. Neither book works if Miranda or Alex knows just what's going on, since they're the eyes and ears of the readers. I've lived through enough blizzards and blackouts to know how fragile communications can be. One of the things I guessed at was that pay phones would work even if cell phones didn't. so Matt calls home from a pay phone. During Hurricane Katrina, I saw TV reporters doing the same, so I learned I'd guessed right about that.

To me, gravity is like a giant magnet, so it made sense that the moon's increased gravitational pull would cause the tectonic plates to shift around, causing earthquakes. I knew there had been an enormous earthquake in Missouri in the 19th century, and of course everyone knows about earthquakes and inconveniently located nuclear power plants in California. The earthquakes were needed to disrupt highway travel. Meanwhile I also raised the price of gasoline, which always happens during a disaster. Once again, my brother helped by suggesting that offshore oil rigs would be demolished by the waves.

But what I was really aiming for were the volcanoes. I'd read a book called Catastrophe by David Keys a while back, and in it, he examines a whole series of historical events (including the plague) that he maintains were the rolling consequence of a volcanic explosion. So I used my moon as magnet theory to get even dormant volcanoes erupting. I knew in the early nineteenth century there was a horrific cold spell that destroyed crops in the U.S. and that was the situation I wanted to create.

I've taken to watching all kinds of How Awful It Would Be shows on various cable stations, since I wrote LAWKI, and frankly, I was kind to humanity. With the volcanic activity I created, I don't see how anyone could survive. But I set LAWKI/d&g in the northeast, since there aren't any volcanoes around.

I chose relatively commonplace illnesses, rather than plague, because they're easier to picture. I don't think the moon's gravitational pull would cause a flu epidemic, but I knew from twentieth century history how devastating a flu epidemic can be. Since by the time the flu starts spreading around in LAWKI (caused by the Christmas carolers), everyone is weakened from lack of food and sunlight, the flu would be that much worse. I started the epidemic a little earlier in d&g, because I figured even in a mostly deserted New York City, there are more people around, and therefore earlier exposure to viruses.

Finally, there are the social and psychological disturbances. Now when I think about the LAWKI family, I realize they're suffering from depression. It's certainly understandable, since they're in an awful and terrifying situation. But they don't hunt or fish or do anything with wind power. I didn't want to write a book about highly competent people who know how to handle the wilderness. I wanted to write about people like me, who know how to use a microwave.

There's one suicide in LAWKI that I can think of, but there are several in d&g. Alex and Julie see a man jump out a window, and Julie gets upset about hearing of a mass suicide in a church. The window jumping was inspired by suicides following the 1929 Stock Market crash. The church suicide has a bit of Jonestown to it, but mostly I just wanted something awful. I have no idea if suicide rates rise after natural disasters. My guess is not right away, both because of the powers of denial and curiosity. But I don't think mass suicides are implausible under the circumstances.

Then there's sexual exploitation. I think that's a constant in times of unrest.

I'm not sure any of this answers the original question. Most of what I wrote about, I just knew, from an interest in history or simply from life. When I had questions (can Pennsylvania have earthquakes), Google led me to answers (yes, but not necessarily in northeastern PA). I didn't do serious research because it never occurred to me I ought to. I wrote LAWKI for fun. I didn't even realize it was science fiction until it got shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award. Up until then, I thought of it as a disaster novel or a family problem novel, and the science I knew seemed adequate for the story I intended to tell.

ETA: Speaking of science, the Sci Fi Wire was kind enough to interview me. Here's the link:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

But I Didn't Tell The Newsweek Reporter To Ask My Editor

I had a terrific time at ALA.

I had four things to do on Sunday. To begin with, I had the "speed dating" "kaffe klatch" breakfast with the librarians event. There were a whole bunch of writers, and we were herded into the green room (which wasn't green but was a room) and held there for an extensive period of time. This allowed us to socialize with each other. I spoke with Gary Schmidt, Elizabeth Knox, and John Green, all of whom were extremely nice.

John Green said he knew someone I'd gone to high school with, and I replied, "Who, your grandmother?"

Writers are getting younger and younger, let me tell you.

Eventually they released us and we got to talk with (or at) the librarians. I started at Table 3 and ended somewhere around Table 12. Since there were well over 20 tables, that meant a lot of librarians were spared five to seven minutes of my presence. I didn't hear anyone ask for their money back.

I would have taken pictures of all this, but I'd put the wrong memory card in my camera and I needed a new one. My long suffering editor met me after the brunch thing and we raced around Anaheim looking for a memory card. We found one at a 7-11, and Harcourt paid for it (it's things like that that make a writer feel loved).

Here's a picture of my long suffering editor, taken with the Harcourt financed memory card:

When we got to the Convention Center, I met Dawn, who posts comments here regularly. I'd been looking forward to meeting her for so long, and I wasn't disappointed. Here she is,, courtesy of the Harcourt memory card.
I also got to meet Jen Robinson, who has a picture of the two of us on her blog. She's the good looking one.
My long suffering editor took me to the Harcourt booth for me to do autographing. There is nothing better for a writer's ego than autographing, unless of course no one wants your autograph in which case there is nothing worse. Fortunately for me, lots of people wanted copies of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone signed. I was more than happy to oblige.
Note , if you will, my lovely pink fingernails. I had a manicure before I left, and spent much of the weekend obsessed with the pinkness of my nails. My recollection is I spoke of nothing else (yet another reason why my long suffering editor has suffered so long).
Any number of people (without my even telling them to) asked if there was going to be a third book. Every time one did, I told them to ask my editor. Hey, I don't know the answer.
Next on my professional obligation list was the interview for the podcast. The interviewer was a woman named Susan Raab, who I hadn't seen in years but had always liked. I don't remember much about the interview except my discussing why I was looking forward to being retired (books to read, dvds to watch).
Then it was off to the Scholastic booth, to autograph there. More people showed up at the Harcourt signing, but I stayed pretty busy for the hour at Scholastic as well. Several people asked why the Scholastic cover was so pink, and I responded that it was a long story and showed them my equally pink fingernails to distract them.
I finished at Scholastic at 4, give or take, and then walked around the exhibit hall with my friend Christy, who had driven down from LA. Harcourt had gotten her a pass (making me feel loved even more), and we had a fine time collecting as many free things as we could get. We then went back to my hotel room and went through the loot. I guessed I'd picked up 17 pieces of candy and Christy guessed 20, but it turned out to be 23. I also got 18 pens and pencils (my mother likes ballpoints, so it was her lucky day) and four Post-It pads, and four carrying bags, and a couple of books and a deck of cards and a panda and any number of other incredibly useful items. Here's a picture of most of the loot. Those two things that look like my bookplates are my bookplates. I took a hundred with me to hand out and ended up with two. I also got a water bottle and a backpack, but gave them to Christy for her collection. And I got a Smurf pen, but it turned out Susan Raab wanted it, so I gave it to her, but then I went back and got another one for myself.
Here's Christy displaying a tee shirt (we both got one, but I got the better deck of cards).
I got home Monday evening and have been unpacking and dealing with crises ever since. Emily seems to have survived her first time ever being alone (no me, no Alexander), in no small part because the cat sitter and my friends Marci and Bonnie visited with her and petted her and told her how wonderful she was. But then my computer died, so yesterday I bought a new one, which I'm still trying to master.
Yesterday morning, the reporter from Newsweek called. I'd figured she'd ask me why I thought teens like apocalyptic fiction, so I'd worked out an answer, and indeed she asked, so it was a good thing I'd come up with a response. She also asked if there was going to be a third book (without my even telling her to). We were on the phone for fifteen minutes, which was longer than I'd anticipated (I was especially aware of the time because I really had to go to the bathroom). She said Newsweek was doing a double issue this week and there wouldn't be an issue next week, so she might call me next week to check up on facts.
She's more than welcome to do so, but she can't have my Smurf pen!