Friday, October 31, 2008

Decide For Yourselves- I Have To Dust

In the midst of not dusting and not vacuuming and not cleaning the refrigerator, I have been thinking a fair amount about The World We Live In. My friend Christy has cleverly never called me back, so I haven't had anyone to share my thoughts with.

I know there are differences of opinion amongst you about how much you want me to reveal and how much you don't. A number of you lived through a completely written third book that will never see the light of day (it was completely unusable, and besides, it's in the hard drive of my now dead computer). You may well not want to hear all about a whole different third book, even though this one really will get published someday. Or you may not want to be spoilered to excess. Or you may want to know each and every plot twist as I write and rewrite.

So I figured I'd set up a poll. Majority (or more likely plurality) will rule. You decide how detailed you want me to be about the plot and suchlike, while I resume dusting and vacuuming and cleaning the refrigerator.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

She Would Have Been In The 15% Who Flat Out Don't Believe In Them

Many blog entries ago, I ran a poll on belief/disbelief in ghosts. I used to live in a house with one. I knew about it for a long time because of the silly things it did (like placing a sponge onto the middle of the floor), and eventually I ran into it in the hallway (it looked like a horizontal Casper The Friendly, only without facial features). For those who are interested, here's the link to my blog entry on the subject (the poll itself has vanished forever):

My friend Joyce Wadler, who visits me on a fairly regular basis, never believed in my ghost, or anyone else's for that matter. But she's written a very clever article for the New York Times on the problems of haunted houses, so I figured in honor of ghosts past and Halloweens about to happen, I'd provide the link:

Just in case nothing interesting happens to me between today and Tuesday, a very real possibility since I'm determined to finish cleaning my apartment, starting with dusting all the books in the den as soon as I finish this entry, and you probably won't be hankering for details about that or about my mother's eye doctor appointment on Monday, Happy Halloween! and Don't Forget To Vote!

I have now officially run out of excuses. Dust We Must!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Next Time She'll Know Better Than To Hang Up On Me

Poor Christy.

I woke up at 3:30 this morning and while I probably fell back asleep, it felt as though I didn't. In my maybe awake/maybe asleep time, I worked out a storyline for Julie (the dead and the gone character come to visit the Life As We Knew It characters) so powerful and sad, that not only did I rejoice in the return of the bleakity bleak, I considered renaming Tyler, which I may yet do, and returning the title of the book to The World We Live In, rather than The World I Live In. All that at 5 AM.

I actually have a doctor's appointment of my own in an hour or so (just a regular checkup, but I'm hoping to get a flu shot while I'm there), but this afternoon I'm free to take a much deserved nap. I do my best thinking while lying on my bed mid-afternoon, so I'm assuming I'll analyze my middle of the night inspiration to determine if it's just too darn bleak, especially given the other ghastly things I intend to have happen during the course of the book.

My alternative activity is cleaning the living room, on my long slow march through cleaning the apartment. Granted, I could do the same thinking while dusting books and photographs, but a nap sounds way more appealing, especially on a cold, windy, rainy day like this one.

Either way, when Christy calls and nobly volunteers to listen to my plot, such as it is, she's likely to hear a lot more plot that's a lot more depressing than she would have had to endure on Sunday.

I wonder how fast she'll hang up on me this time!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Meanwhile At The End Of The World

I have a book to write.

I haven't forgotten that. Honest.

In the midst of everything that's been going on, I've been thinking about The World I Live In. My current plan is to start writing December 1 (I love a month that starts on Monday), and work Mondays through Fridays, and not some crazy I can't stop myself I must write write write! schedule.

The second half or two thirds, remains firm in my mind. I still need some stuff to happen before then. Or I need to move the second half closer to the start of the book. At some point, my brain will allow me to focus on that and I'll know better what I'm doing.

I did name the two new characters the other day. Tyler and Charlie. I explained to my friend Christy that names are shortcuts for the readers. The name Tyler has a different resonance to it than the name Charlie.

Christy wasn't a hundred percent in agreement, but she did accept the idea that it's better if characters' names start with different initials. Of course, Matt, Mom, and Miranda all start with the same letter, but Miranda tends to refer to herself as I. Matt and Mom though, I should have done differently. Le sigh.

I told Christy that I hadn't discussed the vast majority of the book with anybody, and asked if she'd be interested in hearing the plot, such as I now have it, so I could get some feedback. Her response was immediate. She had to get off the phone. That very second. Maybe even sooner. I didn't know a phone could be hung up that fast.

Hmm...Do you think it was something I said?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Cat Emily

My cat Emily died Sunday night.

I knew she was dying. She never got over Alexander's death, four months ago. She literally pined away for him.

Emily was six weeks old when I brought her home from the Humane Society. She died when she was thirteen. For her entire life, she had Alexander as a companion, someone to play with and boss around.

After Emily came to live with us, Alexander was royally annoyed. He was a year and a half old and in no mood for a kitten. Emily put up with this for one week, then made it clear to him that they were going to play. Emily always had her way with Alexander, who was sweetness personified. She could never get over the fact that after she provoked him, chased him around, and wrestled him, he'd win the physical battle. Sure, he was bigger. But she was Emily.

When it became clear to me that Emily was dying, a month or so ago, I decided to let her die at home, in her own good time. For weeks, I'd go to bed at night not knowing if I'd find her alive in the morning. Before going to Florida for the FAME conference, I worried she'd die right before I left, and I'd have to drive to the airport sobbing. All the time I was there, I feared I'd come home to find she'd died in my absence. A couple of weeks ago, she stayed on my bed for 36 straight hours. I was sure then she would die, but she kept on. She stayed in the places she liked, under my bed, on the bathmat, on my lap. She never seemed to be in pain, except briefly the night she died. She simply gave up on life. With the help of my friends, Marci and Bill, I buried Emily Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful October day.

I lead a very placid existence. I figured out a long time ago that my career has no steadiness and that I'm better off if things are relatively calm around it. But the past five months have been incredible highs and difficult lows. My friends, my family, my editor, my agent, have all helped me celebrate the highs and make it through the lows. I am eternally grateful to all of them.

I keep looking around my apartment, expecting to see Emily and Alexander. This morning, I woke up to the sensation of a cat jumping on my bed, curling up in the small of my back. Most likely, it was a dream.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Program Ideas For Life As We Knew It And the dead and the gone

Recently, I've received e-mails from teachers who are using Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone in their classrooms. I thought it would be a good idea to have a blog entry devoted to program ideas that can be used in schools and libraries.

My plan is to keep a link to this entry on the right side of the blog, and to update it with new ideas when I learn of them. I would appreciate it if any of you who have used LAWKI and/or d&g could either add comments discussing what you've done, or e-mail me your ideas (if you do e-mail me, let me know if you'd like to be credited in the blog).

I'm going to start with an e-mail I received from Ms. Jennifer L. Griffin, the 7th grade Language Arts and Literature teacher and her colleague, Mrs. Debbie Renauer, 8th grade Language Arts and Literature teacher, at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky:

We are embarking on a great teaching adventure on October 14, 2008. We will be teaching LAWKI and td&tg to our students...with a twist. The boys will be reading td&tg and the girls will be reading LAWKI. They will then be sharing information with each other and comparing and contrasting. We will also have the seventh graders working with the eighth graders for the first time! Our science teacher is going to devote some class time to talking about the effects of the moon on earth; our math teachers are going to work on a pantry inventory project with the students (during which they will calculate how long their family could survive based on serving size, calories, and energy expended); our religion teacher will be discussing the religious aspects of both novels in her class; the history teacher will be taking class time to discuss other disasters in the world's past.

Here's the link to the official Harcourt discussion guide:

The next idea comes from California:,+Video+and+Downloadable+Audio

Prepare a Technology Enhanced Learning in Science (TELS) project, and have students search ScienceHack for science videos to be utilized for research or within a presentation. Cross curricular tie-in, Language Arts/Science: Students read, "Life as we knew it" by Pfeffer and searchs for moon, tides, earthquakes, vocanoes. View "Why doesn't the moon fall down".

Here are some program ideas from a library in Alabama that used LAWKI as its summer read:

June 12: Survival 101 - Wilderness survival expert Darryl Patton will present this introductory wilderness and primitive survival program.

July 3: Movie Night - Watch a movie on a 20-foot-screen. Popcorn and drinks provided.

July 10: About Asteroids - The Von Braun Astronomical Society will separate fact from fiction about asteroids and meteors. Participants will use telescopes to view the moon and the night sky, weather permitting. This program begins at 7:30 p.m.

July 18: Survivor Gadsden - Outwit, Outplay, Outlast! You'll need to be strong, clever and lucky to "survive" and claim fame under a full moon. All participants will be fed and watered! This program is from 7 p.m. to 10 pm.

Create a miniture survival kit out of a recycled Altoids tin.

Here's a comment from Linda Jacobs on Jan. 15, 2009:

Just wanted to let you know that my tenth-grade class is reading your books right now and loving them. The boys have d&g and the girls are reading LAWKI.

We've been doing some fun activities, too. For example, the girls had to write and read news reports about the actual night the meteor hit since the boys don't get that description in their book and a few days later, the boys had to do the same with Alex's body search at Yankee Stadium.

Last weekend, several of the girls got really freaked out because the actual moon was so huge. One girl even researched if that was normal!

I got an email on Jan. 20, 2009 with the following suggestion from literacy coach Beth Pace:

...there is an excellent piece in National Geographic from August 2008 called Target Earth. A friend suggested that it be used as a companion piece when teaching your book in the classroom. I think she is right!

And here's a link to a lot of discussion topics for both books.

Life As We Knew It is the 2009 One Book New Jersey young adult selection, and they have a lot of program ideas. Here's the link to all the info about LAWKI and the direct link to their program suggestions.

I particularly like this one:

Environmental Education:Environmental Education Week 2009 is April 12-18, 2009. Discuss water conservation, global warming, pollution, and other issues that affect our environment. Then discuss with your teens ways that they can get involved on a local level to help protect the planet.

Thanks to One Book New Jersey, a lot of libraries are using LAWKI in their book discussion programs. Here's a link to one which will also be having a Disaster Party!

Google just led me to this idea, which was inspired in part by The Dead And The Gone.

I yahooed yesterday and found a library that had a Jeopardy like game based on LAWKI. My guess is I would have done very badly at it, since I can never get the answers to sound like questions.

Thanks to Skype, you can collaborate across the Atlantic.

Here's a Life As We Knew It Jeopardy game.

My heartfelt thanks to all of you who are using my books and to those of you who are sharing your ideas.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Its Unofficial State Song Is "I'm From New Jersey"

I've been intending for the past week to write a blog entry on school and library program ideas for Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone, but things keep happening.

Today's interruption comes from the Garden State. I am thrilled to announce that Life As We Knew It is the teen winner of 2009 One Book New Jersey.

I know I voted for it once, and so did my brother and sister-in-law and my agent (they all live in New Jersey), and I do believe some of you voted as well (I seem to recall a reference to a former boyfriend from Hackensack, or was it Paramus), but I choose to believe some actual teenagers from New Jersey voted for it as well.

It is a New York Times best seller, you know. Somebody must like it.

If you follow the link sufficiently, you'll discover a variety of One Book New Jersey shirts available for purchase. With winter coming, I'm favoring the hoodie myself. And the teddy bear. And the refrigerator magnet.

Life as I know it has lots of happy new shopping posibilities. Thank you New Jersey!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Luck Smiles Upon Me And I Grin Right Back

I regard myself as a very fortunate person, but not a particularly lucky one. But in this case, I am the beneficiary of pure good luck.

Today's New York Times Book Review section has the children's best seller lists in it. In print for real. And there's Life As We Knew It, number eight in the Children's Paperback listing (with a darling little 3 by its side to indicate it's been on for three weeks).

I figured they were due a print listing for children's books best sellers, but couldn't be sure if it would be this week (Number 8) or next week (no LAWKI whatsoever).

The listing, by the way, looks exceptionally beautiful. They spelled my name right and everything. So now, in addition to having a cap, I have an actual piece of newspaper to prove I really am a New York Times Best Selling Author.

And a very lucky one at that!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Short Quick Update

My editor was kind enough to e-mail me on Wednesday and confirm that Life As We Knew It had indeed fallen off the New York Times Children's Paperback Best Seller list. This happened once before (between the week it was Number 10 and the week it was Number 9), but I'm cheerfully assuming its time on the list has ended. Three weeks (out of four) is astonishing enough, as far as I'm concerned.

The more I think about it, the more pleased I am that the dead and the gone has a Jan. 2010 publication date. LAWKI had a year and a half in hardcover and that worked out really well.

I e-mailed my agent and said the working title of Book 3 is The World I Live In. That can be shortened to TWILI (which is kind of cute), but I'm thinking of it as The Willies, which I'm hoping the climax of the book will provide.

I also told her to request a May 1, 2009 deadline for the contract. But the reality is I have the beginning, most of the middle, and the end already in mind.

I still have a lot to do, including being absolutely positively sure the ending is what I want. Right now I have no doubts, but I'm in that early infatuation stage. Ironically, although there will never ever be a fourth book, TWILI has an open ending. It also has an unresolved mystery for its climax, which will really drive readers crazy. And yet I love it.

Anything more, and this wouldn't be short and quick. So I'll stop right here. Have a great holiday weekend!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Couldn't Make This Up (Although I'll Have To Make Other Things Up)

I had supper last night with Todd Strasser, at Legal Seafood for those who are curious, and I had trout, if you really want to know. The restaurant is located in The Hideous Mall In Nyack, about halfway between our homes.

I hadn't seen Todd since my 75th book party, way back on June 1, and it was good to spend time with him. We talked about career stuff, aging parents and pets, friends, books, movies. He was just back from a two week book tour in Germany. We had a lot to catch up on.

When we got up to leave, a well dressed man came over to us. He said he'd been having dinner with someone on the other side of the restaurant, and while he couldn't hear a word we'd said, he'd loved watching us talk, because we were so animated. It was good to know that the art of conversation wasn't dead.

I've been praised for a lot of things in my life. My mother, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, thinks I'm cute. But never before have I been lauded for an inaudible conversation.

Then again, Todd is very good looking. That always helps.

What I couldn't tell Todd, because it didn't happen until this afternoon, is that Harcourt, my agent and I have agreed to terms for the third book. Alas, my very cute mother pointed out this means I actually have to write it.

I knew there was a catch somewhere.

Fortunately, I've been doing a fair amount of thinking about Book Three. I had my weekly epiphany that lots of bad things happen in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone and therefore lots of bad things are going to have to happen in Still Untitled, or else people who really like LAWKI and d&g because of all the bad things that happen in them are going to be very disappointed (this could well include my editor).

It's a tricky balance between having things get better, so my characters can stay alive, and having things get awful in new ways, so my readers won't get bored. I've been picturing a scene where the cellar floods (no electricity for the sump pump), and while they're bucket brigading the water out, Matt collapses headfirst and Miranda has to lift his head up to prevent him from drowning. She and Jon get Matt out of there, but for the rest of the book there's the struggle between terror of Matt's dying from his weakened heart and his refusal to behave like an invalid.

As things progress, I'll keep you posted. I figure the book won't come out for another year and a half and by then you'll have forgotten everything, so you can read the book and be surprised all over again.

And just think what animated conversations you'll be able to have about it!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Episode Thirteen Might Have Been A Hallucination

On the assumption that Harcourt and my agent will eventually agree to terms for the third book, I've been working on coming up with things that could happen in it. Since it's going to follow the format of Life As We Knew It (Miranda's diary) and therefore be episodic (as was the dead and the gone), I can use some episodes. Otherwise it'll just end up ic. Us writers worry about such things (as opposed to worrying about whether our publishers and our agents will ever agree to terms).

This afternoon, I did something I regard as genuinely semi-clever. I got out my ARC copy of LAWKI (I'm very sentimentally attached to it) and skimmed through it to see how many episodes there were and how many pages I devoted to each. As I located an episode, I numbered it and wrote it down. For example, there's crazy shopping day and Miranda eats the chocolate chips and Dad and Lisa's visit. The biggest episode got divided by three, flu, stove backfires, flu. Including the first fourteen pages (which I labelled Prelude), I found twenty episodes, with the biggest gap between crazy shopping day and something I listed as Dan. There's no shortage of things happening in those pages, but nothing I regard as an episode (while I was writing LAWKI, I called the bigger episodes set pieces).

Then I made a list of things I'm thinking may happen in the third book (I really need a title- Starry Night, which I used to favor, is more a d&g title, and The World We Live In doesn't sound like Miranda). I'm pleased to say I had ten possible episodes already in mind. While things are sufficiently in flux that I can't say for sure all ten will end up getting written, I do have two big set pieces that I assume will- a tornado that knocks down Mrs. Nesbitt's house (I picture Mom walking over there and weeping uncontrollably, which is something Mom almost never did in LAWKI), and a trip to Julie's Fresh Air Fund family's home (Julie will almost definitely be the d&g character I bring over to LAWKI).

I'm still looking for characters to die, and after writing down my ten episodes, I came up with one. I pictured Miranda going first to Samantha's family's house, and finding it empty, and then going to Dan's family's house, and finding Dan's father still living there. Dan's mother will have died a couple of weeks before. Miranda invites him to dinner (telling Mom she won't eat the next day), but when Dan's father comes over, he brings a bag of food. He hasn't told the people who are delivering food that his wife has died, so he's still getting her food bags. I don't know how long he'll last, but I think he's going to kill himself.

Another thing I've been working on is when the action of Book Three will begin. LAWKI uses a 2005-06 calendar, so I looked up to see when Easter was in 2006. It was April 16 or thereabouts, so I'm going to start Book Three a day or two later. Miranda's family seems to be more Easter Bunny than church going, but Easter is such a religiously fraught holiday, it'd just be easier not to deal with it.

So that's where things are right now. My mind is working at least part time, which is a start. At some point, I'll listen to the audio book of d&g, and the before I begin writing Book Three, I'll reread LAWKI, so Miranda's voice will be fresh and familiar.

And maybe by the time I have twenty episodes figured out, my agent and Harcourt will have agreed to terms!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nine Was Fine

But eight will be great.

Life As We Knew It will be 8th on the New York Times Children's Paperback Best Seller list Oct. 12 (I have no idea how or why the publishing industry gets this information so early, but it does and I have proof):

8 LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (Harcourt, $6.95.) A girl’s diary reflects the catastrophe that ensues when a meteor hits the moon. (Ages 12 and up)

Okay, that doesn't really look like proof. I could have just typed that myself, instead of doing such a fabulous cut and paste job. Although, entre nous, I would never describe the action of LAWKI that way. I like the "ensues" part (a clever play on my name), but frankly just because a meteor hits the moon, that doesn't mean there's going to be a catastrophe. I'd say something about how catastrophe ensues when the moon moves closer to Earth.

Actually I'd say something about how incredibly brilliant the book is, before getting to the part about girls and diaries and moons and the suchlike. And maybe even something about how the incredibly brilliant author has a brand new pair of pale pink eyeglasses, chosen in part so that her glasses wouldn't look quite so much like Sarah Palin's. Now that I think of it, I'd also put it something about how the incredibly brilliant author is nice to her mother. And doesn't litter.

More to the point, the two of you who have offered to buy another copy of LAWKI should it reach 7 on the best seller list really don't have to worry. It's beyond astonishing it's made it to 8, and I have no reason to think, hope, or fantasize that it will get any higher on the list.

Meanwhile, my brain has been hard at work on the once again untitled third book. Originally I'd been adamant that it wouldn't be in diary format. But I'm hearing it that way, so I'm leaning towards Miranda picking her journal up again. Nothing is definite, but I'm just about positive Baby Rachel is a baby boy, and one problem Miranda is going to have is bonding with a real human being and not her imagined baby sister.

Speaking of which, I've figured out a very clever way of getting all that meteor/moon stuff out of the way in the very beginning of the book (there is an off chance someone will read Book 3 without having read LAWKI or the dead and the gone). Miranda is going to write a diary entry about having a dream where she tells Baby Rachel what happened to the world. Just the tsunamis and volcanoes, etc. Not the personal stuff. Why would even a dream Baby Rachel care that Megan and Peter and Mrs. Nesbitt died?

My editor, by the way, has expressed concern with just how many characters I intend to kill off. As of the moment, all the core characters are alive at the beginning and end of the book (and in the middle for that matter). But you can't kill off all humanity without somebody dying, so I'm looking around for possible victims. I'm sure I'll find some eventually.

I'm off to check my e-mails and see if my agent has anything to report. When there's an official deal, I'll let you know. Until then, I'll see what other words rhyme with 8.