Sunday, December 28, 2008

Suburb Of Ember

Last week, I had one of those Significant Moments that was so significant it justified capital letters. I'd received a package in the mail, something which almost inevitably cheers me up. It was from the British publisher of Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone. I gleefully opened the box, and discovered that I'd been sent a silver framed certificate of Highly Commendedhood from the Sheffiield Children's Book Award.

Google had been kind enough to tell me LAWKI had been highly commended, but I certainly wasn't expecting a pretty certificate in an engraved silver frame. So you'd think I'd be happy. Well, I was, but I was also a tad resentful. Where will I put it? How fast will it tarnish? When I downsized a few years back, I'd gotten rid of all my silver, and I can't say I've missed it. Grump grump growl grump grump.

And that (or a few hours later) was when I had my epiphany. I'd been thinking about my new year's resolution. I love new year's resolutions, and one of the great pleasures I get out of being Jewish is I can make them twice a year. I have mixed results (I'm still struggling with not taking the Lord's name in vain), but I love the idea of self-improvement. I'm a liberal. I always think things can get better.

I looked at the lovely silver frame with the even more lovely certificate, and I thought about responsibilities. I have my share of them. I have a book to write. I have professional obligations. I have an engraved silver frame. I have a 97 year old mother, who needs groceries every single week. And I have an extraordinary ability to whine. Even as a young child, it was much commented on (never favorably).

So I made my new year's resolution. Starting in 2009, I will embrace responsibility, a phrase which can be squooshed into the word Ember (which, by the way, is an excellent name for a cat, in case you're looking for one). I have a book to write because it's been my desire to write a sequel to LAWKI since before I finished the first draft. I've wanted to know what became of Miranda, and now I have the opportunity to find out, and to find out about Alex, and the delicious security of knowing other people want to find out also. I have professional obligations because for the first time in decades, people are actually interested in me and my writing, and are kind enough to let me know. I have an engraved silver frame because my book came in second out of who knows how many books published this past year in the UK. I have to buy groceries for my 97 year old mother because I'm fortunate enough to have a 97 year old mother, who still has her brain cells, and whose company I adore. So why the heck am I whining?

For those of you without 97 year old mothers, I have an analogy. Let's say you have a dog and the dog needs to go out and it's raining. You don't want to take the dog for a walk, because you don't want to get wet. Perhaps you whine (well, I would). But then Ember kicks in. You have the responsibility for walking the dog, because you have a dog. A dog that jumps up and down when you come home, and sits on your lap, and gives you big slurppy kisses. If you don't have a dog, but your husband behaves in a similar way, well then take him out for a walk. With or without Ember, you'll get rained on, but at least you'll remember how lucky you are to have that responsibility.

So that's my personal betterment plan for the upcoming year. I don't anticipate a hundred percent success rate, because I really do love to whine. But I've found a prominent place for my silver framed certificate, and I've told my mother to make up a shopping list. I'm up to date on my emails and every morning I think about B3, so that when I'm ready to start work, on Jan. 5, I really will be ready.

Bring on the new year. I've got everything, except silver polish, that I'm going to need!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Happiest Of Happy Holiday Greetings!

I'm very competitive.

To everyone who has dropped in here at some point or another, I hope your holiday season is all you wish for and your new year is even better.

Special holidays greetings to everyone who has taken the time to leave a comment on my blog in this crazy, confusing, and very memorable year of 2008:

Alan, Alexa, Alice, Analie Andrea, Anne, Anne Bradshaw, Anne M, Anne Marie, Anita, Anonymous, Anonymous A.G., Anonymous Alyssa, Anonymous Ann Marie, Anonymous Anonymobleak, Anonymous Bess Bartlett, Anonymous Catherine, Anonymous Donna Cash, Anonymous Haley, Anonymous Jen, Anonymous Jennifer L. Griffin, Anonymous Jessica, Anonymous Jessica, Lexi, Abigail, Samantha, Anonymous Katie-Anne, Anonymous Laurie, Anonymous Leah, Anonymous Linda Goff, Anonymous Martian, Anonymous Melissa, Anonymous Nancy, Anonymous Person, Anonymous Rena, Anonymous S, Anonymous Santa Fe, Anonymous Susan, Anonymous Walter Slezak, April Henry, Avneizik, Baylee, Becky, Beth Fehlbaum, Author, Bethel, Booktalker, bottle-of-shine, Brandi, Bubbles, Carole McDonnell, Caroline, Catherine, Caylee, Cheryl, chickadee 1607, C.K., C.L.M., Colleen, Dawn, Debbie Cholley, donna, Eneira, Erin, Esther, Glen, Haley, heather t, HipWriterMama, Jackie Parker, Jade, Janet, Janni, Janni Lee, Jenna, Jenni, Jen Robinson, Jessica, jnifer 3, judi, Judi (Australia), Julio, KC, Kris Hickey, Kristina, Lauren, Lee, leona, Librarian D.O.A., Librarina, Linda, Linda Jacobs, Lisa, Little Willow, Liv Eriksson, Liz, Marci, Marcus5372, Maria, Meg, Megan G., Melody, Minna Leigh, Misrule, Missouri-loathing Anonymous, Mr. Cavin, Mrs. Corbett, msannakova, Ms. Yingling, nerdfightersftw, noonie, Nora, Paige Y. PAMELA ROSS, Patti, rbury, Reading Fool, RIMH, Ronni, sarah, Sarahbear9789, sarcare, Savannah, sciteacher, S.M.D., softindierocker, Stephanie, Susan, Suzanne, Syd, Tanner, Texas Pixie, The Real Original Anonymous,Todd Strasser, Walter Pidgeon, Wendy, wheremytruthlives, Whitley, wild-force-71, Vicki In IL, Victoria, J, Violet, Wendy, and Yvette.

Whether you're chiding me or praising me, laughing at my foolishness or sharing my sorrow, you're part of what has made this year so special for me. Please know how much I cherish each one of you.


Friday, December 19, 2008


It's snowing.

It started about four hours ago, and it's going to keep snowing for a while. The last I heard, they were predicting 6-9 inches for around here.
I love snow, and I could use a snowday, so I'm not complaining. I meant to spend the day tidying my apartment, which really needs it, but it's 4 PM, and things remain messy. Maybe I'll tidy tomorrow.
The students and faculty in Romeoville, Illinois could not have been nicer. They showered me with presents, including a Moon Goddess mug, and a black and silver bead bracelet. Four of the silver beads have been inscribed: Love, Family, Believe, and Hope, four of the themes the students identified in Life As We Knew It.

My friends Christy and Renee, sensing that I could use some cheering up, sent me flowers on Wednesday. They look especially bright and springlike today.

And Harcourt sent me a very special present, a leather bound copy of Life As We Knew It.

This has been one of the most stressful weeks of my life, starting last Wednesday night, when my flight to Illinois was cancelled, through Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, when I arrived home from Illinois just before 2 AM.
A week ago I learned that my editor is leaving Harcourt, for a wonderful new job at a different publishing house. She suggested the possibility that I go with her, and write B3 for her new house.
I've loved working with her, and she's been an integral part of the success of both Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. I don't know who will replace her at Harcourt.
This was a very very tough decision for me to make. I feel great loyalty to my editor and also to Harcourt. It felt very strange to picture B3 published by a different house than the one that has done such a great job with LAWKI/d&g. But Harcourt has real financial problems, and it's a little disconcerting not to know what editor would be working with me.
I thought about shelving B3 altogether, or at least postponing it, and coming up with new books that my editor and her new house might be interested in. But then my agent informed me that Listening Library, the publisher of the LAWKI/d&g audio books, was already requesting the rights to record B3. They'd learned I was working on it last month, when they cohosted a dinner for me at NCTE, and I gleefully spoilered all about it.
I've wanted to write a sequel to LAWKI since before I finished writing it. I wanted to know what happened next. And I love the characters in d&g (which, by the way, is now in its second printing). I have the extraordinary opportunity to write a book that I know other people are already eager for, and have it published by a house that has treated me with great respect and caring.
So This World We Live In will live at Harcourt. I'm taking the next couple of weeks off. I could use a little decompression time, and I really do have to rethink the beginning of the book. I'll start writing again Monday, Jan. 5, a month later than I'd originally intended.
Who knows. Maybe by the time B3 is finished, the snow falling today will have finally melted!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charlotte The Kitten Died

I'm writing this now because I don't want to have to think about writing it later.

I was scheduled to fly to Chicago yesterday, for school appearances today and tomorrow. I got to the airport knowing the flight was delayed. After a while, it was announced that the flight was cancelled. Since I needed to be at the school in the morning, there was no point rescheduling for a flight today, so I drove home.

I knew something was a little off with Charlotte, but I thought she had worms, or some other intestinal problem that humane society kittens frequently have. I had brought my vet's phone number with me (he doesn't have Wednesday hours) so I could call from Illinois and make a Saturday appointment.

My friends Marci and Bill dropped by on Charlotte while I was at the airport, and left a message for me that she was fine. She'd sat on both their laps.

When I got home last night, Charlotte was very happy to see me. She sat on my lap and when I went to bed, she climbed on as she always did.

But when I woke up this morning, I could tell that something awful had happened. I raced her to the vet, who said she had died. I asked why, and was told with kittens it was impossible to tell.

I've rescheduled the trip to Illinois for Sunday-Tuesday. I've sent emails to all my friends to tell them about Charlotte. Now I've written this blog to tell all of you. I told my friends not to call, and I won't be answering comments or emails, at least not for a while. The shock and the pain is just too overwhelming.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First B3 Report

Don't forget. Any entry that has B3 in its title will include spoilers.

In spite of distractions like Charlotte the kitten, model and movie star (see the previous entry for Charlotte watching Charlotte watching Charlotte, a concept Pirandello would have envied), and having other self selected obligations, like reading Susan Cornish by Rebecca Caudill, before I go Illinois, where Life As We Knew It is nominated for the Rebecca Caudill Award (I started it last night, and thus far am really enjoying it. It's about an eighteen year old girl who gets a job teaching in a one room schoolhouse, whose students are the kids of white sharecroppers), I have actually begun writing This World We Live In, aka B3.

(I'm hoping you'll be so dazzled with the adorableness that is Charlotte, you won't notice how clunky that sentence was.)

Speaking of clunky, I wrote 24 pages (two days worth of work; I want to write 12 pages a day, although I have to admit Wednesday, when I began, the 12 pages took longer than I'd thought they would), and then I realized that I needed to get the action going in the story faster. I can get lost in the beginnings of my books, establishing background and characters, but that doesn't mean readers want me to take my time. As one of my editors taught me a long time ago: Start the story as close to the center of the action as possible.

This is good advice, but particularly tricky for B3. On the one paw, it's a sequel to LAWKI. On another paw, it's a follow up to the dead and the gone. But on a third paw, it's a book some people who've read one but not both of those books might read. And on the fourth and final paw, it's a book some people who've never read either book, or who read and forgotten them, might read. I guess that's four and a half paws, which could give you pause.

Did you know that Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand? I saw A Man For All Seasons in NYC yesterday and Sir Thomas More never mentioned that once.

Back to B3. Having written 24 pages, I've cut 4, to get the action moving faster. Then yesterday, while waiting for the play to begin, I realized that I'd made a plot mistake. I have Matt not walking to town because he's still too weak from the flu, but I plan for Matt to walk to the Delaware River to go fishing for shad (Todd Strasser pointed out to me that shad run in the Delaware. Todd loves to fish. I thought shad looked like minnows, but I researched them and they look like full grown fish). I also decided, so that the action could move along faster, that Matt would meet and marry Syl while he and Jon are there fishing for shad. I figure there are a number of people there, all of whom presumably learned from Todd that shad run in the Delaware in the springtime.

I had Miranda and Jon walk to town so they could talk about all the deserted houses and how they should go through them to see what they could find. Originally Matt was going to find Syl in one of those deserted houses, but now that he's going to meet her at the Delaware, maybe I should dump all that stuff, which would certainly move the action along that much faster. Heh.

When my editor worked with me on LAWKI, she had me cut the beginning. When she worked with me on d&g, she had me add some stuff (description of how people in NYC were as Alex walked home). These beginnings are tricky things.

And I'm distracted. There's Charlotte (currently taking a bath on my lap). There's people coming over to meet and admire Charlotte. There's mother obligations (she has no interest in meeting Charlotte, but she laughed at the second of the Charlotte videos). There's Illinois. At the end of next week, my friend Hilarie is coming over to meet and admire Charlotte, and my friend Joyce is coming for the weekend to meet and admire Charlotte. And at some point. I've got to get Charlotte to the vet for her next set of shots.

After all that, I should have clear sailing until the US National figure skating championship, in mid-January. I won't be there, but I'll be able to watch it on the net, and undoubtedly I will.

So the only commitment I'm going to make to B3 before I leave for Illinois is to have the first 20 pages edited and ready. Ideally, I'll get some additional writing done, but I'm not going to go crazy. At least not more crazy.

Speaking of beginnings, I found the following while doing a Yahoo search the other day. It's all about endings, but I find it particularly funny because B3 is going to have a completely open ending:

Has anyone read the book the dead and the gone or life as we knew it by susan pfeffer?
don't read them the book is really interesting but the ending a dissapointer she never ends her books! you count on a sequel but no there isn't one she keeps on making non ending books. it will piss you off so don't read them if you already have leave me a comment on it as an answer. i am not reading another book by her again!

However, I've been getting emails from people lately who've been asking when This World We Live In will be published. Spring 2010 remains the answer, assuming everything is still all right with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But for those of you who are impatient (a small group that would include me), I'm going to wander over to thirdmoonbook, put in there the parts of this entry about B3 and then cut and paste the first diary entry of B3 (roughly four pages long). I don't intend to keep putting in parts of B3 over there, but I figured there might be people who'd like to hear from Miranda again. So if you're interested in reading the first few pages, already edited, but most likely to be edited even more, feel free to go there.

I will go back to reading Susan Cornish and playing some more with Charlotte!

ETA: I finished reading Susan Cornish and it was considerably more sophisticated than I'd anticipated. It actually mattered to the story that all the kids at the school were white. The heroine (Susan Cornish) is waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Ed, and towards the end of the book, she reads a book written for UNESCO that explains that all people are the same. She reads some of the book out loud to her students and is accused of being a Communist, and she has to defend herself against segregationist politicians. Unlike real life, she wins in the end, falls in love with a handsome young reporter who's covering her case, gets engaged to him a week after they meet, and gets a foundation grant to study wherever she wants whatever she wants (she doesn't have to apply- they just offer her one). She decides to study in Denmark and convinces her brand new fiance to quit his job and go with her to Denmark. Of course her school remains segregated, but that's because the Supreme Court hasn't handed down its decision yet. The UNESCO book apparently was quite convincing.

On the other hand, she seeks out ministers to conduct religious services in the school, so Susan Cornish wasn't all that familiar with the First Amendment. But you can't have everything.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yes I know I Should Be Working

But I'm recovering from the Great Charlotte The Kitten Crisis of last night.

I ran out of double A batteries for the digital camera.

It could be argued I've overcompensated since returning home from the supermarket with a packet of 16.

But great cinema is just that. So here is Charlotte The Kitten keeping me from working, and Charlotte The Kitten watching Charlotte The Kitten.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Charlotte The Movie Star

At some point, maybe even later today, I'll write a real blog entry (or at least what poses as a real blog entry here), but I just downloaded this fabulous film noir movie of Charlotte, and I'm way too impatient to wait and actually write something.

So here's Charlotte!