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!


Anonymous said...

What about THE WORLD THAT WE KNOW (a reference to a song by the Smithereens)? It's just a suggestion.

I saw in your last reply that you visited Santa Fe. Maybe your next book in the series could be about how that place, believed to be sacred by many people, myself included (I give visiting it credit for cracking a case of depression I've had since just before 9/11, when my father had to have quadruple bypass and eventually died, and my mother died of complications from Alzheimers a year later). How would they survive?

This could possibly be Dan's story. He might never make it to California because "The Big One" finally hit over there and the entire area broke away from the continent (among other possible reasons). It's just a suggestion.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Anonymous said...

I think I have to stop reading so I will be surprised when the book comes out but just wanted to remind you to investigate bats in Austin...

Anonymous said...

how exciting! Thanks for these insights into your writing process. Even if you totally abandon it and go with something else - ha! :)

April Henry said...

I like getting a peek into your thought process


Stephanie said...

Oh yeah! The Austin bats! That would be a good idea to incorporate!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Good morning to Anonymous Santa Fe and Anonymous and Heather T and April Henry and Texas Pixie-

As of the moment, Book Three is a straightforward sequel to LAWKI, and as such, alas, there will be no trips to Santa Fe or bats from Austin (unless some quirk of gravity moves New Mexico or Texas into Pennsylvania).

One of the things I love about my setup (obviously) is the way it can move around the world. But Book Three seems to be moving inwardly, rather than across country.

A different approach could have Miranda keeping her diary, but having her record verbatim the stories she hears from other people as they return to PA. But I don't see Miranda doing that, or my editor much liking it if she did.

Although now that I think about it (and this is one reason why I'm grateful to all of you when you make suggestions) Miranda could bump into a bat's nest in good old PA. I have a couple of horrors I've yet to write- one is a toothache and the other is a bite from a possibly rabid animal. Bats can be rabid. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I didn't clarify what I meant in my post. By "next" book, I meant Book 4 -- that one could be Dan's story.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Anonymous said...

I'm still hoping for a gang of religious fanatics to attack.


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi again to Anonymous Santa Fe and to (the no longer Anonymous) Glen-

My guess (and I would cheerfully bet the family farm if my family had a farm) is that there won't be a fourth book. If Miranda goes to visit Dan's father, she'll find out something about how Dan is, but I don't see following Dan's story, or anyone else's for that matter.

As of the moment, I can't envision an attack of religious fanatics either. Although it would be an amusing (and unexpected) ending if Miranda got burned at the stake (she'd have to toss her diary to safety before the flames got to it).

I think more of this comment is in ()s than is freestanding.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about Lisa's fate. When she and Miranda's father and their son arrive, might she be having postpartum depression? How would the family cope with that in the world that they know? That might be one reason Julie's with them -- to help out with the baby. Miranda's father might be at his wit's end over this, since Miranda's mother never had this problem with any of her pregnancies. This might be too sad an option to consider, but this might end up killing Lisa, and Miranda's parents -- each having lost new significant others and more or less forced in the post-meteor world to coexist under the same roof -- would have to seriously examine whether they could stay together. Just a thought from a frustrated writer to a more established one.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Marci said...

Have the bats attack the sleazy minister who is eating all of his parishioner's food. It could be very colorful, you could tie it to Easter and it would piss off a lot of people! Shades of the birds and all that and demonic stuff and night of the living dead (starving parishioners form a zombie unit and chant as the minister foams at the mouth and dies.

Dan can come back from his adventures on the bike, hiking and the horrors of the road. He is the living dead in his own way (starved, traumatized and glad to be back like the Prodigal Son.) More Easter stuff.

Julie is hungry, frightened and has visions, wonders where Alex disappeared to and gets back to LAWKI land having run into Dan on the road.

Mrs Nesbit's house has been gutted by foragers and invaded by a roaming band of no goods who burn it down one night in an alcholic stupor, causing Mom to cry uncontrollably.

Dad and Lisa come back with the baby, but they are starving and scared and one of them dies soon after and breaks everyone's heart, but then something miraculous occurs that brings hope when none seems to exist. And there is Easter again.

I could go on and on. As for title, something completely different is called for. Given current politics it could be "The Bailout Isn't Working" or "Life as the Dow Drops Daily" but really I'm favoring "When All Hope is Gone..." the most important thing being those three dots at the end, because it gives such tremendous options for where you go with this.

I have more but I'll stop now.

Lauren said...

It fascinates me to be able to read about the characters' lives going on after the book is finished... this is almost as good as reading the actual books! It makes them seem even more real.

Can't wait for the third book!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi to Anonymous Santa Fe, to Marci (who I just saw) and to Lauren-

I've been enjoying reading everyone's suggestions for the third book and I appreciate the time and thought that have gone into them.

My brain is chugging along and as I work more things through, I'll certainly keep you posted!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms.Pfeffer,
Hi. My name is Katie-Anne and i am in the seventh grade. read your book over the summer fo a school reading project and i asolutely LOVED IT! It had to be one of the best books i have ever read. It had great fluency and it was very well made. I am really looking forward to reading "The Dead And The Gone." Thank you for posting this blog because there is so much new stuff on your website! Again "Life As We Knew It wasan absolutely amazing book. thank you.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Katie-Anne and thank you for your comment.

I hope you like The Dead And The Gone. I just spoke to a friend of mine who read it recently. She said it really upset her, because it was so dark.

So be prepared!

Anonymous said...

hi again!Is it really that dark? life as we knew it was just a regular book i thought! But can you tell me some about it?? I would like to know some about it before i read it.Thank you for commenting me back!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Katie-Anne-

The Dead And The Gone takes place at the same time as LAWKI, but it's set in New York City, with a teenage boy as the main character.

I don't know that's it's really darker than LAWKI, but because it's set in a city, there's a different set of bad things.

Take it out of your library. If you don't like it, just return it without finishing it. I'll never know!