Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Last Gasp Of Summer

Personally, I do better with the transitional seasons, fall and spring.

I haven't heard back from my editor yet about the interweaving version of the possible third book that I suggested. I've given up trying to read the non-existent tea leaves.

Switching metaphors with dazzling assurance, I've been filling my dance card for the fall. Next Friday, Carol and Marci and I will be having lunch with my mother, in celebration of her 97th birthday. My mother and I visited Dr. Thyroid yesterday, and my mother is doing fine. She seems to be recovering from both falls, and her blood pressure (110/70) leaves me to believe she's going to live forever. Among my autumn tasks will be to teach her how to be comfortable with her computer and the internet, since that's going to be the primary way of watching figure skating this season. Wish me luck.

Speaking of birthdays, my sister-in-law and brother both have birthdays in the immediate future. And my sister-in-law will soon be a grandmother for the first time, something wonderful to celebrate.

My apartment is due for a thorough fall cleaning, and the big autumn job is to clean up the outside storage closet, which will involve all kinds of keep or throw out decisions. I put a lot of sentimental attachment items in there when I moved to my apartment four years ago, but since I haven't looked at them in four years, I have to question just how sentimentally attached I am. On the back wall of the storage closet is a locker, which holds all the extra copies of my books, and it's been quite the challenge to open its doors.

Among the things I need to dust are my social skills. Counter intuitively, I'm in process of giving up the volunteer job I've held for fifteen years. Working at the Friends Of Middletown Thrall Library Used Bookstore every Wednesday has been my primary social outlet. I've smiled and said thank you to dozens of strangers each week, as I've taken their quarters and dollars.

But I need to conquer the great power of inertia and try new things, meet new people. I've located at least four local non-profit organizations I'm interested in, and that doesn't include helping out in the upcoming political campaign (I really like my congressperson, John Hall, although probably not enough to make phone calls or knock on doors).

And, of course, new book or no new book, I still have a career. I have the FAME conference in less than a month, and a school visit to Missouri scheduled for November, as well as NCTE in San Antonio.

This has been a long complicated August that was part of a long complicated summer. I don't know that fall is going to be any simpler, but I hope it will be different.

Any of you feel like coming over and helping me dust?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Restlessness In My Heart

And a bad bout of insomnia have forced redecorating upon me.

It's always good to shake things up. And what's easiest for me to shake is the look of the blog.

I may still play with the colors (and everything else for that matter), but I have to take my mother to the dentist this morning (and my apologies to all I owe e-mails and comment responses for not getting them done this morning).

Would that one's entire life were as easy to rearrange as the appearance of one's blog...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Can Hear! I Can Hear!

I spoke to my friend Christy at great length about the lack of sound on my computer. Ultimately she found the phone number for HP Help! so I called and got this wonderful guy named Michael H.

He seized control of my computer and marveled right along with me at the lack of sound. Then he did lots of astonishing things and decided that my speakers didn't work.

Stop snickering. I'd considered that many times and had plugged my headset in many times and not gotten any sound many times. So in addition to determining that my speakers didn't work, the fabulous Michael H. performed long distance miracles.

Anyway, I now can hear things through the headset. I don't much like headsets, but then again, I don't much like sound on my computer. Although now that I have it, I'll probably use it all the time. Maybe I'll even buy new speakers.

Earlier today, I e-mailed my editor to ask how her pondering was going, and while I was falling in love with Michael H., she e-mailed back to explain that this was a very busy week for her and she hadn't had time to ponder.

I guess that gives me more time to spend pondering the wonders of Michael H!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For Some, A Blog Is A Way Of Reporting News

Not for me though. No Edward R. Murrow I.

The biggest piece of news I have is that I've added Florida to the list of states where Life As We Knew It is nominated for a young readers' award. A librarian there was kind enough to let me know; thanks to my lack of Murrowhood, I hadn't found out on my own.

After several days of anguish and soul searching, my mother has decided to stay put. Then again, I was the one in full anguish and soul searching mode. My mother gave it some casual thought and opted for the poison she knows.

I've lost all sound on my new computer (don't tell me to check the mute button; I've checked it 9,620,112 times, give or take a few million). Actually, I lost all sound on it a while ago, but devoted much of this afternoon to trying to get it back. Failure, failure, failure.

Purely by accident, I caught about 10 minutes of my absolute favorite Summer Olympics event- trampoline-which makes me wonder how much of it was on and I never happened upon it. Nothing against hour long interviews with Michael Phelps, his mother, his sisters, his coach, his first grade teacher, and all the people who've interviewed Michael Phelps, his mother, his sisters, his coach, and his first grade teacher, and therefore merit hourlong interviews discussing their interviews, but couldn't NBC have spared fifteen minutes of prime time for trampoline? I only get to watch it once every four years, and it's the best sport ever.

Michael Phelps seems like a very nice person, and I really don't begrude him his eight gold medals, but I'm kind of looking forward to six months from now when people will struggle to remember his name. I'm glad my last name isn't Spitz, but at least it's memorable.

I sent my editor a revised, full of intertwining, summary of the possible third book, and she's pondering it. A sensible blogger would wait until her editor actually tells her something ("I love it." "I hate it."), but then again, sensible bloggers know when their books have been nominated for awards in Florida and have sound on their computers and can figure out to the minute when trampoline is going to be on TV.

Le sigh. I bet Edward R. Murrow always knew when his books were nominated for awards in Florida and how to get sound on his computer and when trampoline was going to be broadcast on TV. Then again, he didn't know enough to quit smoking, so maybe he wasn't so sensible after all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mother Said There'd Be Days Like This

What she didn't say is she'd be the cause.

I had a great time in East Greenbush, NY last night. Chrissie, the librarian, ran a dynamite program, and the kids in attendance were smart and polite and a pleasure to be around. I went with my friend Cynthia and it was wonderful to drive there and back with her and have a chance to catch up. GPS Thingy wasn't as well behaved as I would have liked (Cynthia doesn't have one, so I wanted to show off), but we didn't get lost going to the library and we found our way back home, in spite of its insistence we go to Boston instead.

When I got home, I found an e-mail from my editor expressing reservations about the current structure of the third book and five phone messages. That's an emergency number in my life, so I wasn't surprised when I found indeed there had been an emergency; my mother had fallen again and had been taken to the local hospital emergency room.

The hospital found my mother delightful but saw no reason to keep her, so I drove the fifteen minutes there, and helped her get back to her home. By the time I got to my apartment, it was 12:55 AM and Nastia Liukin was just about to win Olympic gold.

Much of the day has been spent exploring alternative living arrangements for my mother (and mourning the divorce of Mike and the Mad Dog). I also reread my editor's e-mail (or more accurately, read it, since last night I gave it the most cursory of skimmings), and saw she liked a lot of what I'd come up with, but strongly felt it needed the interweaving to differentiate it from Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

My guess is Nastia Liukin is in a better mood than I am right now. Heck, Mike and the Mad Dog are probably in better moods than I am right now.

Then again, none of them have a GPS Thingy trying to send them to Boston.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Space Alien In The Center Is A Vegan

Dinner, to the best of my knowledge, was a great success.

At least no one came down with food poisoning while they were at my apartment.

I was left with one portion of the Veggie Shepard Pie (I thought I'd have at least half, so I'm delighted about the lack of leftovers, and there wouldn't have been any except Marci had a very late lunch and wanted to save room for the strawberry rhubarb pie) and one portion of strawberry rhubarb pie (which I will try very hard not to eat for breakfast).

The curry worked very well in the mashed potatoes, but the veggies needed more flavor. Bonnie, the vegan, put a lot of pepper in them. The raisins were a big hit, so maybe next time I'll use two little boxes. I have plenty in the house.

I think for Joyce and Lew I'll make (watch out-rhyme coming) a stew, which will allow me to use up at least some of the leftover string beans, carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Also I think I'll bake another strawberry rhubarb pie, because it was really really good and I have enough rhubarb for at least six more pies.

Bonnie left before the gymnastics, and Marci left midway through, but Pam stayed to the bitter end, so I didn't get back online until after midnight. When I did, I found that Mrs. Corbett had been nice enough to send me the August School Library Journal art.

I was in Paris once and I saw the Mona Lisa. Forget it. This is real art.

I definitely think my space alien is the best looking one in the bunch, although I'm concerned that he moves his lips when he reads. If you play with the image (or read his lips), you can see he really is reading Life As We Knew It. It says so on the spine. Which, I trust, my space alien has one of.

I got two e-mails from my editor but neither of them were about my current third book idea.

Hey. Maybe I should put some currants in my next strawberry rhubarb pie. I hear space aliens just love that kind of thing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meanwhile, While We Wait To Hear From My Editor...

I thought I would write down a brand new recipe I personally created all by myself (but if it stinks, it'll be my editor's fault).

I'm having a few friends (how few, I don't know yet, but they're dropping out like flies) over for supper and the Olympics. I was going to make Rhonda Jo's Tuna Salad (don't ask me who Rhonda Jo is; that's the name of the tuna salad in the cookbook, unless it's Ronda Jo, which is also possible) until I remembered that one of my friends who really will be here is a vegan. Rhonda Jo never had such problems.

So I invented a recipe. I am cleverly going to write it down before I even cook it, let alone have anyone eat it, so we can all just assume it turned out fabulously.

Sue's Acceptable For Vegan Shepards Pie

(If you hung out with sheep all the time, you'd be a vegan too)

Mash 4 Idaho potatoes. Notice how much mashed potatoes four potatoes makes. Choose not to think about it. Oh, and mash them just with vegan acceptable margerine.

Cook a couple of carrots and a bunch of stringbeans. Steam them if you can find your steamer, which I couldn't (my steamer that is; I have no idea where your steamer is. Heck, I don't even know where my steamer is, so how should I know where yours is). Note that you bought entirely too many carrots and stringbeans and ponder what you can cook with them when Joyce and Lew, who are not vegans, come for the weekend.

Go visit your mother. Bring her her groceries and set up her pills for the next couple of weeks.

Eat a hot fudge sundae. Inform them at the ice cream parlor that this is medicinal.

Return to the mashed potatoes. Find one of your better looking baking pot things and rinse it out because you haven't used it in four years, give or take.

Taste the mashed pototoes. Put in some salt and pepper and notice they're still incredibly bland and uninteresting. Tell yourself that your editor will not say your book idea is bland and uninteresting, and think instead about what to do with the mashed potatoes. Check out your spice collection. Notice the curry powder. Take the curry powder and mash it into the mashed potatoes. Use all the curry powder that is in the jar. In my case, there wasn't that much.

Line the fancy baking pot thing with most of the curried mashed potatoes.

Put some olive oil in your frying pan and then chop up one of those big onions and sautee it. Then chop up some portobello mushrooms and sautee them too. Chop the mushrooms in very big pieces just in case you don't like mushrooms and you want to be able to avoid them on your plate. Smaller pieces will do if you like them.

Throw in four peeled cloves of garlic. Remind yourself as you do that cooking with garlic gives you a fierce migrane. Try to think instead about how good this recipe will look in your blog.

Put the vegtables in the curried mashed potato fancy baking pot thing. Notice how there seems to be room for lots more vegetables. Consider, but not too hard, cooking more carrots and stringbeans. Instead throw in one small box of golden raisins, leaving seven small boxes behind.

Then lower some of that border of curried mashed potatoes because otherwise it's going to look like there aren't enough vegetables. Take the rest of the curried mashed potatoes and put them neatly on top of the vegetable/raisin mix. Notice when you do that, there's exactly the right amount of curried mashed potatoes and commend yourself.

Put the fancy baking pot thing in the oven and notice that you forgot to clean up the strawberry rhubarb pie spill from last night (that's dessert). Clean it off as best you can while trying not to sing "Proud To Be An American." I failed, but maybe you have more willpower than I do.

Then, before making the salad (bag of greens, avocado, red pepper and a tomato), immortalize your recipe on your blog.

My friend the vegan says she'll be here by 6:30, so 5:40ish, I'll turn the oven on to 350 degrees, because that's the temperature I cook everything at. That way it'll bake for 45 minutes or until the curried mashed potato crust is golden brown.

Okay. I'm off to make the salad, set the table, and turn on the Olympics. I'll let you know what my editor thinks about the third book idea and how supper turns out, but I don't know in which order.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Little Bit Of News And A Couple Of Questions

I'll start with the little bit of news.

Carlsen Verlag GMBH, the German publisher that will be publishing Life As We Knew It has also agreed to publish the dead and the gone.

More book covers! More euros! I am delighted. And curious to see how they'll translate "body shopping" and "fluicide."

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the third book. My editor will be returning to the office tomorrow, and I'll e-mail her what I have to see if she likes it. I hope she does (well, of course I hope she does), but I particularly hope she does by a week from tomorrow, so I can use the long drive to and from New Hampshire to do some heavy duty thinking.

But in the meantime I have a couple of questions that I'm turning to you, oh those with names and those with anonymouses, for answers.

First of all, the third book is currently set in Austin, Texas. As it happens, I've never been to Austin, Texas (although I've heard many fine things about it). The plan is for the book to start with Sarah tagging along with her older sister and her friends on a long drive out of town to watch the moon crash. Shortly after they begin the drive home, the car swerves off the road and crashes.

I've been assuming the car swerves because a herd of deer run across the road and the driver of the car, trying to avoid hitting them, loses control. I just realized that's a very New York thing (I have at least two friends who've hit deer with their cars). So I guess I should ask people who know about Austin, Texas if there are herds of deer around there. Which wasn't even the question I meant to ask, which was if outside of Austin, is there any relatively unpopulated deserted spot where the kids could have gone? I'd pictured the car rolling into a gully, but the important thing is that Sarah can't just go to a conveniently located house/business and get help (or try to get help). So anyone who knows anything about Austin, Texas, could you either e-mail me (using that handy link on the right) or comment right here?

The other question is for all of you who read young adult fiction. I write it, but I have to admit I don't read it (I read very little fiction of any sort). When I've been hearing this third book, it's coming in as third person, which is fine by me. But I've always had this problem with third person in YA books I've written (which is why my first few dozen were in first person). I never know what to call the parents.

Let's say Sarah's mother is named Shelley Cosgrove. Here are the options:

"Sarah, clean your room," Shelley said.

"Sarah, clean your room," Mrs. Cosgrove said.

"Sarah, clean your room," Shelley Cosgrove said.

"Sarah, clean your room," Sarah's mother said.

"Sarah, clean your room," Mom said.

"Sarah, clean your room," Sarah's mom* said.

How do other YA authors handle it? I didn't have this problem with d&g because even though it was third person, you never see or hear from Mami and Papi, so I could just stick with what Alex called them and not worry about it.

I'd appreciate some advice from people more familiar with YAs. And I doubt I'll go the Shelley Cosgrove route. It's just as I was writing all this, I realized there is going to be another set of adult characters, who Sarah will soon, but not immediately, call by their first names. A whole other problem.

First person is so much easier. But I suppose if you're going to end the world on a regular basis, figuring out what to call the main character's parents is the least of it. Especially if you have wonderful people with real names and anonymouses to call on for help!

*Suggested in the comments by Heather T

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What's German For Eureka?

This is going to be a two part blog entry. The first part is going to be what's new with me, the second what's new with the third book. My guess is this is going to be one long blog entry.

Part The First

My mother got dressed today for the first time since she fell ten days ago.

My cousin Ellen and my friend Joyce both think I should get a kitten. My guess is my cat Emily doesn't agree.

Life As We Knew It is longlisted (their term, not mine) for an Inky Award in Australia. This is the only voted on by young readers award in that country. There are ten Australian books on one list and ten everyplace else on earth books on another. Then both lists are going to be pared down to three each and the readers get to vote. The non-Australian winner gets a silver cup; the Australian winner gets a gold cup and $2000.

We are in process of accepting an offer for the German rights to LAWKI. I intend to take a part of the advance and buy a laptop. I've never owned a laptop, but I was envious of everyone who had one on my recent plane rides to Las Vegas and Anaheim. Actually, everyone on those plane rides had one except me.

I had a great time in West Hartford. The librarians could not have been nicer, and it was a pleasure meeting so many kids and their parents. West Hartford, by the way, is a really pretty town (I'd never been there before). The only downside was I was so busy and so happy I forgot to eat any cookies.

A fair number of decades ago, I wrote a book called Courage, Dana. It's one of my favorites, and I still get a little money from it (a tiny section is used sometimes on standardized reading tests). I stole the name Dana from a guy I knew, who was very gracious about it when I confessed what I'd done (he said Dana was a better name for a girl anyway).

This morning, I got an e-mail from Dana's wife Cathi. Their teenage daughter is in a book discussion group that will be talking about the dead and the gone later this month. Cathi invited me to join the discussion and to stay at the inn she and Dana manage in New Hampshire. I'm very busy in August, but I just happened to have the necessary stretch of three days available, so I said Yes! Yes! Yes!

I hope to have my laptop by then. And maybe a kitten to keep Emily company while I'm gone.
Part The Second

I hadn't been at all happy with my ideas for the third book. As it happens, I wasn't happy about much of anything, which never helps my creative process.

The book felt clunky. There was the What Was part, about Sarah going out on the night the asteroid hits the moon, and she and her friends getting into a car accident, and Sarah going for help. Then there was the rest of the book, the What Is, starting that February. Sarah still had to be alive, something interesting had to happen, and it had to feel real, similar to the everyday nature of LAWKI/d&g.

Nothing felt right. The book was dividing itself into three parts- the accident, then the present, with Sarah living with her mother, followed by Sarah's father showing up and taking her to a safe town. It didn't feel organic, especially since my editor said it was very important that the accident section have a impact on the rest of the book- if someone died, it mattered who died.

I told myself since nothing had been written, I could chuck everything and start over. I attempted creative plagiarism, trying to fit classics into my basic plotline. I kept getting stuck on Madame Bovary. I never even saw the movie of Madame Bovary. All I know is it has something to do with boredom and adultery, neither one of which I really want the third book to be about. Not that the books I know the plot to were any better (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, An American Tragedy; that's it for books I know).

A couple of nights ago, I told myself to stop trying to shove Madame Bovary into the third book and to think about what my favorite themes were (when I first started this blog, I wrote some entries on my system for writing fiction, and I was very big on figuring out your themes). I immediately responded, Less Loved Child (my all time warp drive superfavorite theme- I mean, I root for Edmund in King Lear).

So I decided simply to take Less Loved Child and write an end of the world story about her. I don't write road books. I don't write social tragedy books. I write family books.

The decision having been made, things began to fall into place. The person who dies in the accident is Sarah's older sister (currently named Katie). Katie is a golden girl, who grudgingly allows Sarah to join her and her friends on Meteor Night. Katie, and maybe another kid or two, die in the accident, so that Sarah's family is hit with this immense personal tragedy at the time when everyone on earth is confronted with death and horror and those pesky volcanoes.

Sarah's parents disintegrate. Her mother withdraws, her father drinks. Sarah goes searching for food and liquor. Starvation, flu, misery- you know the drill.

Then a family of squatters move in next door (or a few doors down). There's a father, a mother, and three sons. They're great people and they befriend Sarah. They teach Sarah some survival skills and she helps them out. They show Sarah, through love and example, that it's okay that she's alive.

Sarah decides not to bring her father any more liquor. He's enraged and goes out searching for himself, but when he comes back, it's with food or candles or something useful. He starts living again also.

Somewhere in the book, someone, most likely Sarah, has a birthday, and she has both families come together. I don't know how that scene will play out, but it should be a high stress moment for her, and I always have a party scene in my books, so why should this one be different.

At book's end, the squatters are planning to leave for places further south and they invite Sarah to join them. She's the daughter they never had. Sarah is tempted, but she decides her parents have lost one daughter and they shouldn't lose a second. She stays with her family, and if I can pull it off, there won't be a dry eye in the house.

Since it's going to be obvious from Feb. on that Sarah's sister is one of the kids who died in the accident, the interweaving of the before and now sections doesn't make much sense. I'm thinking of making the Meteor Night section as an opening, just short of novella, and then telling the rest of the story straightforwardly.

If I do that (and my editor has to agree to that, and everything else), then What Was/What Is no longer works as a title (well, my editor never liked it anyway). The World We Live In doesn't really work either, so the book is currently Untitled. Although I kinda like Mademoiselle Bovary.

So that's where things are now. I'm hoping to take my mother to the doctor tomorrow. And maybe on Sunday I'll look at kittens (I'm only interested in six week old bundles of fluff). But except for those things, the next few days are fairly empty, and I hope to concentrate on the third book and ways of making the end of the world an integral part of the story.

Hey, I was right! This was one long blog entry. Well, to anyone who's still reading, I'll keep you posted on how the plotting, etc. goes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I Don't Think I Made A Total Fool Of Myself

I don't know, because I haven't listened yet (I'm off to my mother's to listen there).

Here's the link to The Takeaway segment with me:

There's also a place for comments (currently there are two of them, which means at least two people listened, although they could be my editor and my agent):

I do like how often the show mentioned Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. And they pronounce my name right, even if they did leave the Beth out.

I hope my mother likes it too!