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.


Linda Jacobs said...

Yes, yes, yes. This is making sense and I already like Sarah (Okay, I'll admit Sarah is not one of my favorite names just because there are so many of them around. But a Katie and a Sarah in the same family makes perfect sense!)

Is coming up with the right story always this agonizing? It's almost like labor!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Linda Jacobs-

Under ordinary circumstances, no, coming up with the right story is actually pretty easy for me.I've done it 74 times (one of my books was non-fiction) and I'm not one to take the difficult route to anything.

This one is hard because it has to fit in with yet be totally different from LAWKI/d&g. Which, technically speaking, is impossible.

I sure hope my editor likes this approach. I could use a little easy these days!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan:

First off, hope your mom feels better soon. Mobility is very important.

I knew a fellow once who, on the first day he had his license, was driving on a parkway (Southern State) with a friend of his on a rainy day. The car hydroplaned and hit one of the overpasses. He survived, but his friend died. His friend wasn't wearing a seatbelt and, somehow, his neck snapped and was turned around his body. The friend landed in my friends lap looking up at him. It took four hours to extract them with the jaws of life. And, during all that time, my friend sat there with the dead boy's face staring up at him.

Now, I knew this fellow about twenty-five years after the accident. He was fine talking about it and he said he still sometimes had nightmares, but he had pretty much come to grip with it; especially as the police and experts on the scene said that, no matter if he had been a seasoned driver, the results would have been the same.

My friend though did develope some quirks when it came to cars. He never drove again after that day, but he could be driven, although only in the back seat. If he sat in the front he would get both physically and mentally sick. I saw him try it once and it was not pretty.

So why am I telling you this? Well, if you do pursue where you are going with the story, I just wanted you to remember that no matter how well adjusted a person is after an accident, there will usually be things that will affect you and sometimes not what you think they will be (and they might not occur right away.)

On another topic, I have a question: How much impact does the editor have on your writing the book? Do they micromanage you 'cause it kind of seems that way sometimes from what you write in the blog. And is this an easier or harder way to write a novel? In some ways, I would imagine it's harder because your dancing to someone else's tune, but in another way you are getting guidance.

Just some questions and thoughts from...


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous Glen-

Thanks for the story about the man in the car accident. You're right- there's going to be an after effect just from the accident, let alone her sister dying.

I came up with a tag line after blogging- The world came to an end, and it didn't matter.

Generally editors don't micromanage, and it's unfair of me to imply that my editor is. But in this case, since I've come up with so many different versions of the third book, I really want to end up with one that my editor (and Harcourt, and ideally my UK publisher) will like. And it's better to have my editor say Yes or No before I write another 75 pages.

It helps that I like and respect my editor a lot. For the most part, I've had excellent editors. When a writer is as delusional as I, a good editor is essential for a book to succeed.

And I very much want this third book to succeed.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

PS- I just remembered something else about the creative process.

When I work on the pre-writing of a book, I come up with lots and lots of ideas/possibilities, a few of which I keep and most of which I throw out. That's much of the process for me, the trying things out and then accepting or rejecting or realizing that even if I like an idea, it's not going to work.

The only difference here is I'm doing it more in public. Personally, I think each and every detail of my life is fabulously fascinating (told you I was delusional), but what I think makes this blog a little more interesting to the rest of humanity is describing the process of writing a book (or in this case seven versions of a book).

So think of it as watching a cook make scrambled eggs. In the end, the eggs are going to taste the same, whether you watch it or not, but if you do watch it, you get to see a lot of scrambling!

Caroline said...

I'm so excited that you have been nominated for an award in Australia! Being Aussie I'm glad that you are being nominated in an award in Australia!

Also how awesome will it be if you release your book in Germany! I have loads of German friends and they have been wanting to read your book for ages!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Caroline-

I'm very excited about both the Inky nomination (although I'll be surprised if LAWKI even makes the shortlist) and the German rights.

I never think of myself as international (except in my taste in figure skaters, which right now include Chinese, German, Canadian, Swiss, Russian and Japanese skaters among my favorites).

I have been published in Germany before. There was a paperback house that bought several of my books a while back and called them Love Stories, a term, which I doubt will ever be applied to LAWKI or d&g!

Anonymous said...

Okay, just throwing out a title suggestion here for the fun of it:

The Dead and The Living

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous-

How about Death As We Knew It?

Actually, this morning, I came up with Mooncrash as, at least, the working title.

Amazon was nice enough to tell me the title was available.

I cut the tip of my left pinky yesterday, making typing the letter A particularly challenging. That's another good thing about Mooncrush as a title (although poor Sarah may end up with the name Srh if my fingertip doesn't heal quickly!).

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is anonymous. ::chuckles:: Like that idea. Honestly, my suggestion sounds like a soap opera, which your writing certainly isn't. It just sounded good last night watching the Olympics.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello again Anonymous-

I used to have a couple of personal creations which I'd use when needed- Burger Bliss (Home Of The Blissburger) for a fast food place and Tomorrow's Destiny for a soap opera.

I think it's pretty funny that I called it both Mooncrash and Mooncrush in my last comment. After I thought of Mooncrash I went to Amazon to see if there were any books with that title, and then I became concerned that I'd typed in Mooncrush by mistake and went and checked all over again.

So there might be some problems with Mooncrash, even as a working title, since my fingers seem to want to call it Mooncrush instead.

And I loved the Olympic opening ceremonies, except when they showed a certain U.S. president(did you see him tapping his knee with an American flag? What kind of patriotic gesture is that!).

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan
I promise that you will get cookies very soon. We all enjoyed your visit to West Hartford and want you to come back and see us again.

Ann Marie
Teen Librarian
West Hartford, CT

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Ann Marie (aka Anonymous)-

I just got your official thank you note in the mail, and now I hear from you again.

I had a wonderful time in West Hartford, cookies or no cookies. Actually, given the way I've been eating this week (and the way I will be eating next) no cookies is probably the way to go!