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


KC said...

I'd go the Mrs. Cosgrove route myself. Sadly, I know nothing about Texas.

heather t said...

I'm not a YA, but I find myself reading a lot of YA fiction; I'd go with "Sarah's mother" or "Sarah's mom", preferably the second.

heather t said...

also, know nothing about Austin, other than their unofficial (or perhaps official) motto is "Keep Austin Weird." Could make for some colorful side characters.

janni said...

Yay, German editions!

I'd go with either Mom or Sarah's mom. But even when I'm in third person, I write tight POVs; I could see Sarah's mother working, too.

It weirds me out when I see characters think of their parents by their names (though I do see this in YA fiction), unless the POV is a very distant and also fairly omniscient sort of third.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi KC and Heather T (hey, that rhymes)-

Thanks for the input, even though you don't agree. It's a dumb, but tricky, problem, especially since Sarah's parents are going to be significant characters.

I actually hadn't thought of "Sarah's mom," so I need to add that to my list of options.

Even if my editor doesn't like this version (always possible, although I think she will like it, because it's similar to LAWKI/d&g, yet different, and if I can pull it off, it's going to be emotionally wrenching, yet positive, so what's not to love), whatever Book 3 ends up being, it'll most likely be third person and I'll run into the same problem.

I'm off to add "Sarah's mom" to the list.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Janni-

You slipped in when I wasn't looking.

The funny thing to me about all this is my brother and I have always called our parents by their first names. Always. From birth. My father's decision and my mother went along.

It's very handy to call your parents by their first names, but I don't know anyone else who does, and I can't see Sarah doing it either.

Melody said...

I vote for either "Mom" or "Sarah's mom".

Anonymous said...

I mix it up.

What I would do is write 'her mom' and 'Sarah's Mom' as well as 'Sarah's mother'. Use 'her mom' when she's talking to Sarah and 'Sarah's mom' when Sarah is not present.

Writing 'Mom', in my opinion, puts it into the realm of the first person.

Actually, I usually start out in third person and wind up in first so I cheat in solving this problem.


Jessica said...

I live in Austin Texas, but i live in the city so i don't see deer a lot. Maybe you should try somewhere near a park, like McKinney Falls I use to go there all the time when i was little and you could always see deer running around trying not to get hit by cars.
And I love the people here for being so weird!!!

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

I'm a Texan and I love going to Austin and the surrounding area, called the "hill country" in Texas. Check out online info on Fredericksburg and Boerne-- small towns in the hill country it might be easy for teens to lose themselves in.

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter 1 is online!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi to Melody, Anonymous Glen, Jessica, and Beth Fehlbaum, Author-

Thanks for the advice on what to call Sarah's mother and what Austin is like.

I am so fortunate to have such smart and useful people read my blog. I know I can ask for help and that you'll respond quickly and intelligently. I really appreciate it.

I think I'm going to go with Sarah's mother/her mother. I want some level of formality since her mother and father are both going to be unholy messes (or at least that's how I'm seeing them now).

And I'm glad to know Austin has hills and deer. I'd like to show the animals that first night totally freaked out, which would add to the kids' fear as they start driving home.

I'm planning to e-mail my editor tomorrow to let her know how my ideas are shaping up. She got back from vacation today, and I figure she probably has a lot to catch up with. So out of the incredible nobility of my heart, I'm giving her one more day before she has to start dealing with me!

Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion -- not directly related to your specific question, but inspired by the fact that you chose Austin for this next book. Have you thought about making the squatters Native American or part Native American? Not your stereotypical modern Native Americans, but educated (comparable to Sarah's parents) and connected to the values you give them in the plot; they could be stranded in the area after the meteor, trying to return -- perhaps to Santa Fe or someplace nearer? What gave me the idea was the take Native Americans, especially the Hopi, have on the idea of the end of the world.

Okay, I know I said one comment, but this suddenly occurred to me: would Willie Nelson be at this Meteor Party?

Mrs. Corbett said...

Boy! I'm at work, so with a small library at my disposal I flipped through 30 or 40 YA novels before finding one that was NOT in First Person. Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher is 3rd person for the most part. In this one "her mom" was used in one spot, which coincidentally was my first thought as a suggestion.
BTW, have you seen the August issue of The School Library Journal? There is an article beginning on page 34 with Sci-Fi suggestions and there is a drawing of an alien reading LAWKI:)

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous. Hi Mrs. Corbett-

I'm rethinking my tombstone, and now favor having it say, Hi Anonymous.

No insult intended, Mrs. Corbett!

The problem, for me, Anonymous, with having Greg and Karen be Native American is it's very hard to write about Native Americans without falling into (no insult intended to my genetic roots) White Folk Romanticism. Also, I know next to nothing about Native American lore, and if my editor does like this version, then I'm going to have plenty to deal with (like hunting with bow and arrow) that I don't know anything about either.

There are limits to my White Folk Ambition.

I'm pleased to intuit, thanks to Mrs. Corbett's research, that other YA writers have the same problem with what to call their main characters' parents. I wish I could feel this book in first person, but it seems determined to be third.

I e-mailed my editor and demanded a copy of the alien/LAWKI drawing from SLJ. Oddly enough, I haven't heard back from her since making that demand.

I wonder if I'd asked my agent to do the negotiating whether she would have insisted on taking 15% of the drawing.

Nothing, trust me, nothing, in life is easy!

Anonymous said...

What I learned is that if it is through the eyes of lets say...Miranda from the first book
But it's third person...
Miranda walked into the Sun Room and spotted her mom, "Mom," She asked. Her mother turned around.

So like her mother called her mother or her mom because it is saying what Miranda is thinking and stuff. If it was through Dan's point of view yet in 3rd person:
"Hello Mrs. (Forgot last name)" Dan greeted Mrs. (forgot last name) or Dan greeted Miranda's mother.
Whoever is the main character call them what they would call them...if that makes sense.
it probably doesn't.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous-

I see your point and it makes sense. I think a little bit of my problem is that Sarah's parents, as I'm now picturing them, are so withdrawn that I'm having trouble hearing Sarah thinking of them as Mom and Dad (although she undoubtedly would be).

Oh well. If my editor rejects this version, then there's no Sarah and her parents to worry about, and I can concentrate instead on baking a strawberry rhubarb pie for the upcoming Anonymous Family Picnic!

Anonymous said...

Are you still going to use dates on each section, if you go with third person? I ask this because you did in both the other books and they were diary style. The dates really help with the timeline in the book.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous-

My editor likes the episodic style and so do it. So if the third book ever sees the light of day, my guess is there will be dates.

One improvement of d&g over LAWKI is I put in the days of the week as well. I'm still sorry I didn't think to do that with LAWKI (actually I'd written a fair amount of d&g before I thought to put them in).

Catherine said...

You don't know how many times I had to rewrite this comment because I realized I either wasn't making sense or was rambling into confusion. HAH.

Since the readers can probably distinguish knowing what Sarah's last name is that her mother is obviously Mrs. Cosgrove, unless she decided to keep her maiden name or some such, but I won't go there, I would go with Sarah's mom if she was speaking to someone. If you're talking about Sarah's mom doing something, then I'd probably go with Mrs. Cosgrove. And just so the readers know her first name, I'd through it out there when her mom was being spoken to by somebody.

And I probably just above and beyond what you asked, but once I start going I can't stop haha.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Catherine-

It's a ridiculous problem, isn't it.

I think I'm favoring Sarah's mother (rather than mom) because as of the moment she's an extremely non-cuddly character. Assuming she ever becomes a character.

I'm off to e-mail my editor a new version of my plot, all nicely intertwined, just the way she wants it.

Wish me luck!

Andrea said...

i live in austin texas myself so i think you should go with a mom/ Sarahs mom aproach. the area around pleasant valley rd/riverside has alot of trees and apartments and also Circle C Ranch, on the outskirts of austin, is an easy place to get lost in the trees! and there is also the highway and houses around that area. good luck!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Andrea-

Thank you for the description of Austin. Everything I've heard/read about it makes it sound like a wonderful place.

I'm waiting to hear from my editor about whether she likes my revised approach to the third book. But in the meantime, the more I learn, the better off I am!

Anonymous said...

I hope that the bats under the famous Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin will be featured in the third book! Likewise the dreadful heat and humidity, if the book is set in the summer.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous-

Ooh, bats. Flying rodents. Quelle yuck!

The weather won't be hot and humid in the Austin of my imaginings because of those nasty volcanoes lowering the temperature on earth. But I am counting on Austin being warmer than Pennsylvania and New York.

Of course unless my editor stops pondering and informs me that she likes the direction I want to take the third book and I should go ahead and write a nice long outline for Harcourt to officially consider, there may well be no third book, no warmer weather, and no yucky bats.

When I hear from her, I'll let the world know.

CLM said...

I remember as a child noticing that Noel Streatfeild always called the parents by their first names. My sisters, who have children ranging from 11 to 9 months, say that in this day and age where playdates start young and the mother usually accompanies the child, they find themselves being called by their first names by other people's kids because they hear it from their parents. If this is so, then identifying the parents by first name makes sense, although I prefer Mr. and Mrs. Cosgrove. Or Shelley Cosgrove.

I have been to Austin twice recently on business (annoyingly without a chance to see the LBJ museum which I've heard is great) and both times there has been a LOT of mention of bats being special to Austin, which you might want to investigate.

My favorites of your books are Starring Peter and Leigh and They Year Without Michael, and I just read LAWKI and TDATG. In some ways I was hardened for the second by knowing what was coming but in other ways it was even more disturbing to me because I have lived on the Upper West Side. I personally would have voted for those characters to encounter each other in a third book but I can see that's too neat and that approaching the crisis from another part of the country would be very interesting too.

By the way, when I was working in publishing, we would have done an ARC mailing of LAWKI with one of those small packages of Kleenex. I may have to suggest that to Harcourt for the third book!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...


It's interesting how many comments this entry has gotten (although I admit, a goodly number are from me). Some combination of Austin, TX and how to refer to parents must really inspire people.

Starring Peter And Leigh is my favorite book jacket of all my books. Of course I had nothing to do with the cover art, but I loved it then and I love it now.

The book itself is more problematic for me. I got more money for it than any other book I'd written up until that point, and I felt a huge responsibility for it to do well (which it did, mostly, I think, because of its jacket).

The actress, Nancy McKeon was starring in The Facts Of Life when the book came out, and she was sick one day Her mother went out to buy her some books to read (good mother!) and one of them was Peter And Leigh, which was about a teen girl actress, exactly what Nancy McKeon was. Nancy McKeon optioned the book for a TV movie and it got mentioned in a TV Guide article about her. The sales of the book plummeted after it was mentioned, and the TV movie never got made, but I did go to LA and attend a shooting of The Facts Of Life and I bought my good china with the option money.

I still use the good china and I bought the dvd set of the first 2 seasons of The Facts Of Life. I am a very sentimental person (although apparently not sentimental enough to actually watch the first two seasons, which sit, along with many other unwatched dvds, in the cabinet under the TV).