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.


Lisa said...

I am so glad you're writing a sequel to LAWKI. I hope you write a sequel to The Dead and the Gone. I would love to know what happens to Alex, Julie, and Carlos. Also, I have hope that his father is still alive despite the evidence. More importantly, it would be interesting to know how the country rebuilds after this devastating disaster. Although an astroid might never hit the moon, we can learn a lot about rebuilding, especially in current troubled times! Thank you for sharing your gift of writing such meaningful stories.

Anonymous said...

So do I, albeit physically and psychologically scarred from his (literal) battle to return stateside from Puerto Rico.

I have an idea I'd like to try out on you and the rest of the bloggers once you've finished writing B3. It might bring some relief to those who will be in despair that no B4 will be coming.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello to Lisa and to Anonymous Santa Fe-

I don't know how much rebuilding is going to happen in This World We Live In. I love rebuilding society books myself, but I don't think B3 is going to be one.

That's what happens when you focus on family, rather than government (or even heroic grownups). Whatever rebuilding there is remains very small, very intimate.

Anonymous Person said...

Hello again Ms. Pfeffer!
That Yahoo search proves how good you keep your readers in suspense. =o)
Those are the type of books that you can read over and over again and never get bored with it.

Though if you are not going write any more books in the series, might as well end B3 with a non-cliffhanger ending or end with an epilogue. =o)
The suspense is too good.. =o)
Anonymous Person

Anonymous said...

I agree with AP on this one. I've been monitoring the reactions to LAWKI and D&G, and from what I see, whether you like it or not, you've produced two books that will be considered 21st century classics, and on their success alone, B3 will at the very least be a success because it answers the questions many customer reviewers at Amazon and Barnes & Noble have been asking about both books.

I also agree with AP that there will be a strong reaction once mainstream (non-bloggers at this site) learn there won't be a B4. The questions they'll be asking most will probably be: 1)Who killed Charlie? and 2)What'll happen in Pittsburg? Unless we all can, say, do an epilogue or summary or something at this blog that'll satisfy these readers, you might have to end up eventually doing a B4 whether you want to or not, just to hush these readers up.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous Person and Anonymous Santa Fe-

I don't think of my endings as being cliffhanger/open at all, which is part of why I find the whole thing so funny.

Both LAWKI and d&g end up with the main characters alive and better prepared for what is to come.

As far as the ending to B3 goes, I'm having enough trouble with the beginning right now. I'll worry about the ending some other time!

Anonymous Person said...

Dear Ms. Pfeffer,
You may not see the cliffhanger from the readers point of view as you are THE author. =o) Right now I have LAWKI right on my table at the last diary entry.(I already had a fine on this library book =o) but I renewed it)

I am going to quote a paragraph from March 20 of LAWKI on page 236 because I agree with Miranda there:
"There's still so much we don't know. We can only hope Dad and Lisa and baby Rachel are alive. Grandma, too....."

After reading LAWKI and realizing that the dead and the gone wasn't a sequel but a companion book, it brought up longing for the answers to the same questions as Miranda was thinking.

And quote Miranda, "There's still so much we don't know." =o)

Suspenseful it is! =o) Can't wait for b3!

Anonymous Person

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi again Anonymous Person-

In a world of uncertainty, such as I've gleefully created, there's going to always be uncertainty. Heck in this very world which I've had nothing to do, there's uncertainty. It's just part of the human condition.

Anyway, we'll see how the book plays out (there being uncertainty there as well). I'll be thinking about it a lot over the next few days, and with any luck, will start writing again on Monday, more certain about how the beginning, at least, should play out.

Anonymous said...

I still can't help agreeing with AP on this, though.

However, reading the part of this post dealing with the facts you got about the shad run along the Delaware River made me go to an atlas and look up where the river was, and I learned that it forms part of Pennsylvania's northern border with New York/New Jersey. This got me to thinking about just where Julie's convent might be located. If they're going on foot, the Catskills would be too far, so it'd have to be either near the small lakes or close to Monticello or Cooperstown, and I couldn't help imagining the following scenario on THAT:

Jon, the ultimate baseball fan, gets royally ticked off because he can't go with them. Mom and Dad remind him that there are only four passes -- two male, two female -- and that Dad has to go because the trip would be more successful if one of the four was an adult. This doesn't really mollify Jon; Dad had been promising him "since forever" that they'd go to Cooperstown, only someting always came up, and they never went, and now Miranda "who doesn't even LIKE baseball!" gets to go. Jon then asks why Mom couldn't use the second female pass and Dad stay behind with Miranda. He doesn't get a satisfactory answer, though Julie, Alex, and Miranda sense that Dad doesn't want to be alone with Lisa in her present state. So they go off with Jon's protests ringing in their ears.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Jenni said...

Oh, I'm so glad that you'll be writing another one. I truly, truly, adore your books. LAWKI had me crying for the longest time and DatG pulled my heartstrings almost as much as the first (almost but not quite.) Honestly, they both left me shattered, nervous, and astonished. Both both books have amazingly wonderful bits that I will never be able to shake from my mind.

To be perfectly honest, LAWKI changed/strengthened perceptions I had about my own life. It was actually the topic of my admissions essay in applying to colleges this year. It truly is amazing, and is currently my favorite book. (I've only had one favorite in my life so far, and I'd only discovered it a year ago. LAWKI knocked it off its pedestal immediately.)

I want to thank you for sharing your work with me; it is an inspiration and a gift.

I think principally the whole distress with 'cliffhanger' endings stems from the fact that it is not a cookie-cutter happy ending. At the end of both books the moon didn't magically go back to the way it was and the world just happened to be like it had been before the whole mess started. The thing is, it doesn't end in a way that leaves the reader feeling warm and fuzzy with the idea that there is a perfect happy ending. Of course, that's only speaking to the type of readers who search for only that. Almost everyone in the world will tell you that the books do end, and they are amazing.

Is it really good advice to start a story near the middle of the action? That might help in the future. (See, I want to write books at some point too, though I hardly think I'm any good, and I'm always experimenting.)

Anyhow, the point was, I love both books, and they BOTH had me relating to each character and wanting to squeeze them in their own tight little hug and try to make things better. The books are haunting, deep, personal, and the characters and the story leap off the page. It's as if it's currently happening.

Thanks for writing them, and I look forward the This World We Live In.

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Jenni and thank you for your comment.

Talk about being nervous. I will now be nervous until you come back and assure me you were accepted by all the colleges of your dreams. Which, I'm sure you will be, but I'm a worrier by nature.

Yes, it's excellent advice to start a story as close to the middle as possible. I can easily lose myself in set up, so it's a lesson I have to relearn on a regular basis. I also love backstories, so I have to be careful about that too.

LAWKI started out longer than it is, before my editor politely pointed out that the readers wouldn't really care all that much about what kind of grades Miranda was getting. To me, it was important to show how normal her life was, but too much normal can make a reader lose interest.

The mental work I've been doing on B3 has been to get the story started faster. I just hope by the time I start writing it again (on Monday), I'll have tightened the beginning sufficiently, so that the readers will find themselves knee deep in action before they know it!