Friday, May 28, 2010

Have A Great Long Weekend If You Have A Long Weekend

I never know what to do about Memorial Day. It never feels right to wish people a happy Memorial Day. And there are people who read this blog who don't have Memorial Day for a holiday, or if they do, not necessarily this weekend.

Life is so complex.

Ironically, tonight is my father's Yahrzeit, which is the anniversary on the Jewish lunar calendar of his death. I bought a yahrzeit candle at ShopRite this morning, but the big issue is how to keep Scooter from knocking it over and setting the apartment on fire when I'm at New Paltz Crafts Fair tomorrow. My current plan is to leave the lit candle in the bathroom sink and close the door. Either that, or blow it out when I leave and relight it when I get home.

See, I told you life was complex.

I called the Warner Bros. store and told a very sympathetic woman about the problems with The Night The Bridge Collapsed Disc Two. She told me to mail it back and they'd send me a new one. When they do, I'll let you know (and I'll also let you know if Barbara Rush, last left screaming on the bridge, makes it off at the end).

I've listened to half of Listening Library's audiobook version of This World We Live In and it's just wonderful. Emily Bauer, who does the reading, is absolutely amazing. I loved her version of Life As We Knew It and, if anything, she's even better this time. I love how she differentiates amongst the characters. You'd expect her Mom to be excellent, but her Alex is astonishingly good. Miranda and Alex are about to go househunting, and I know I'm going to love that scene.

My editor emailed me yesterday about Blood Wounds. Thank goodness, she likes it. She needs to give it a second reading and then she'll make intelligent suggestions, but she mentioned, in particular, liking the last section, which was the part of the manuscript that I almost completely rewrote. So I guess my work paid off.

Speaking of my editor, I kept her busy this week, because in addition to the email I got from her, I got the master copyedited manuscript of This World We Live In from her in the real mail.
Since it has notes (mostly my frantic scribbled complaints), it might be of interest to the kind of college/university library that collects these sorts of things. If anyone out there works at a place like that and would like it, email me using that nifty link on the right. I'll give it a week or two, and the first representative of a university library who asks for it will get it. If no one does, I'll take it to recycling and let it be converted into paper towels.

It's time to listen to Disc 4 of TWWLI. Did I mention that each disc has Susan Beth Pfeffer printed on it, not once but twice? Spelled correctly at that.

I hope everyone has a memorable Memorial Day weekend. Or a memorable non-Memorial Day weekend. Oh heck. I hope you'll just remember me when June rolls around on Tuesday!

ETA: My friend Beth sent me pictures from my trip to Missouri to get the Truman Award for Life As We Knew It.

Here I am signing autographs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The End Of The World (Disc Two Part Two)

So I follow Mr. Cavin's excellent advice and put Disc Two into my computer and watch gleefully as the bridge keeps collapsing along with relationships. All children are saved, as is the cop with the bullet wound and the wannabe nun (who turned out to be Eve Plumb).

Desi Arnez Jr. caused all kinds of additional problems, and most likely died (they didn't actually show that) and bad things happened to one of the embezzlers (did I mention there were embezzlers- for a bridge with very few people, there were a lot of criminals).

The bridge kept on collapsing bit by bit, so James McArthur was leading the remaining few down the side of the bridge, with Barbara Rush behaving exactly as I would (No! No! I can't do it!), and the bridge started to shake again (never a good sign with this bridge) and we saw the captain of the rescue boat looking quite concerned and then...

The disc froze! Right on a closeup of the concerned rescue boat captain.

When I tried to get things going again, the disc went back to the beginning.

I will never ever know who lives and who dies (which might be all for the best). And to add to the irony of all this, the email of complaint I sent to WBShop day before yesterday came back today undelivered.

I am now going to ponder all great works of drama to see what they'd be like if their action cut off ten minutes before ending (Nora doesn't slam the door; Macbeth is king of Scotland; King Kong and Fay Wray are getting acquainted; Barbara Rush is still screaming her silly little head off for all eternity).

Le triple sigh with whipped cream and cherry!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The End Of The World (Disc Two)

For quite a while, my heart and Master Card belonged to Deep Discount DVD (or as I used to refer to it, My Beloved Deep Discount DVD). Then Deep Discount DVD became just plain Deep Discount and changed its website, and I dunno, some of the love vanished.

But my heart and my Master Card never go unused for long. I discovered the truly bizarre shopping pleasures of Big Lots, where you never know what DVDs you might find, but whatever you do find, it'll only cost $3 (most recently, I bought Chinatown and Terms of Endearment and Sunset Boulevard there, which is a lot of cinema history for nine bucks total).

Even more Beloved to me these days is the Warner Archives store, or (which I always read as and wonder why a Bishop would be emailing me). They make no-nonsense overpriced DVDs of the kinds of movies I love, and I've bought many classic and not so classic Warner Bros. movies of the 1940s from them.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that the Bishop had put together a five pack of Irwin Allen disaster movies. My heart positively palpitated from the thrill, and I would claim my Master Card jumped out of my wallet, except the Bishop can already recite its numbers by heart.

A week later, the movies arrived. I scoffed at Chinatown and Terms of Endearment and Sunset Boulevard, and promptly watched Flood! in which Martin Milner and Robert Culp save as many people as possible from the raging flood waters. The next night I watched Cave In! which was so thrilling I meant to devote an entire blog entry to it, but I forgot. The night after that I watched Hanging By A Thread! Parts One And Two. A tram got hit by lightning and dangled for over two hours and Patty Duke made things much worse by lighting a cigarette and her husband threw the match onto the floor when it landed in some spilt lighter fluid and he caught fire. How fabulous is that! No one even said to Patty Duke, "Well, what do you expect, lighting a cigarette in a closed tram that could fall thousands of feet any second now, and with a child in it too." They just put the fire out and screamed, not necessarily in that order.

So last night, I decided to watch The Night The Bridge Fell! Disc One. And hard though it is to believe, it was the best of all (well, I haven't seen Fire! yet, but I don't see how it can beat The Night The Bridge Fell! Disc One). Desi Arnez Jr. is a bitter and psychotic bank robber (what a combination), and Leslie Nielsen and Barbara Rush are embezzler/lovers who ended up on the bridge at the exact same time, in separate cars, and Leslie Nielsen has his little baby son, who I don't think has a name, in his car and the baby is sick and screams on cue (unless those are sound effects and not brilliant baby acting). Oh, and there's a guy whose daughter was hit by a car in a flashback but I think he said the daughter was going to be okay, and there's a cop and there's his former girlfriend who's decided to become a nun and is driving a nine year old blonde girl orphan to her brand new adoptive parents, and the cop and the former girlfriend soon to be nun are both on the bridge at the same time also. This is the Bridge Of Broken Coincidences. Meanwhile James MacArther has the Martin Milner role (the bridge is gonna fall; toldya so). And at the very end of Disc One, another part of the bridge falls into the river, thus giving this opus not one but two money shots, and who knows what'll happen in Disc Two.

I won't. I was so excited by all this that I promptly put Disc Two in the DVD player, and it wouldn't load. It said LOADING LOAD and then it stopped.

I tried multitudinous times. I tried putting the disc in upside down (hey, it's an Irwin Allen picture; you never know). Today I tried again, hoping for a next day miracle. Then I removed the DVD of Dallas Season One that I've been exercycling to in my bedroom and put the now infamous Disc Two in, but it didn't work there either.

I am devastated. I am desperate to know what happens next. I know the orphan and the baby will survive because no child ever died in an Irwin Allen movie (as I was watching last night, I thought to myself how cheerfully I violated that rule in the dead and the gone). But who knows who Desi Arnez Jr. might shoot next or who might end up on the wrong side of the collapsing bridge. I sure don't.

I emailed the Bishop and explained in great detail what the situation was (they asked for it, by saying they more they knew, the better they'd be able to solve the problem). I'm assuming they'll replace the DVD, ideally by sending a monsignor over right away to hand deliver it to me.

Le sigh. In the meantime, I suppose I could watch Fire! which has both Donna Mills and Vera Miles, not to mention Patty Duke, who probably starts the fire with another of her cigarettes. But I sure do want to know about that bridge and how much more of it is going to fall down in the next 97 extremely glorious, if currently unwatchable, minutes!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Extracurricular Activities

Since I'm figuring I'll be hearing from my editor and/or about my agent pretty soon about Blood Wounds, and since the alternative was moving things out of my entertainment center, in preparation for the arrival of the new entertainment center which will hold my shiny new TV set in a couple of weeks, I spent this morning rereading Blood Wounds.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say it's fabulous and my editor and/or agent had better agree with this assessment.

Actually, I don't think anything I'm about to write is a spoiler, since I'm committed to not revealing hardly anything about the plot until I absolutely have to, but I am going to write a bit about the book, so those of you who hate knowing anything and intend to read the book when it comes out a year and a half from now and might remember what I've written today, consider yourselves forewarned.

My heroine, Willa, a junior in high school, has two stepsisters, Brooke, who's a year older than she is, and Alyssa who is two years younger. Alyssa is a nationally ranked junior tennis player. Willa sings in her school choir. But Brooke's interests have changed from first draft to today.

Brooke and Alyssa's father is a sports reporter, and I wanted his daughters to be athletic, (which, now that I think about it is pretty funny because the couple of sports reporters I've known haven't been athletic at all, unless talking is a sport in which case sign me up for the Olympics). Anyway, I pictured their father, Jack, as being sufficiently athletic that it would be a connection between him and his daughters if they were too.

In the first draft, the first hundred or so pages which my editor and agent read last fall, Brooke played softball. She also played the violin, mentored, and was active in Special Olympics. Brooke was one of those golden girls who everyone legitimately loves. And I needed the Special Olympics for part of the never to be disclosed plot.

But when I got back to writing, Brooke became thornier and less lovable. I was a little taken aback, but I let Brooke say what she wanted, even if it wasn't very nice, because it provided more conflict, which is a good thing in a plot.

The problem was the thornier Brooke became, the less the Special Olympics part of the subplot became plausible. So I changed things. There are two big bad things that happen in Blood Wounds, the second of which had involved (peripherally) the Special Olympics. So I rewrote the first hundred pages to alter the second big bad thing. It's still big and bad and the most essential part of its big baddedness remained the same, but there was no need for the Special Olympics anymore. Which meant Brooke didn't have to be so do-goodish.

And once Brooke stopped being so do-goodish, she switched sports from softball to lacrosse. It's amazing how a simple change in sports reflects so much about character and class. Lacrosse is a far more elite sport than softball. Even the sound, the hard "c" is classier than the "s" in softball.

Since Brooke was no longer involved in Special Olympics, she had more time. I let her keep playing the violin, but I gave her dressage for a hobby.

Blood Wounds has always been a book about family, with money running through the action. But just by changing what Brooke does for fun made the focus on money that much stronger. She now has an elite sport and an expensive hobby. Of course, so does tennis playing Alyssa, but with Alyssa, it's more like a job, or at least an apprenticeship.

Blood Wounds is Willa's book. There are three occasions where we see Willa singing, and her pleasure at being in the choir is an integral part of the story. We never see Brooke playing lacrosse or riding her horse or Alyssa playing tennis.

But the choices of those activities are reflective, if not of their characters, then of their characters' place in the world. A place that Willa knows intimately but isn't a part of. And that sense of being a part of yet not truly belonging is a great deal of what Blood Wounds is about.

Now I just hope my editor and/or agent see it that way also!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life Is Truly Fantastisch

I spent Saturday at the Millbrook (NY) Book Festival where in between speaking to librarians and talking on a panel, I heard Jane Bryant Quinn speak about personal finance.

Index funds. Emerging markets. I have to remember to check into those.

She also said that in bad times, the first employees to get laid off are ones with negative attitudes.

I mentioned this to a writer friend of mine who responded that all writers complain and anyone who hires a writer has to know that and therefore should be accepting of it.

Before I forget, Jane Bryant Quinn was fantastic, and if you ever have a chance to hear her, grab it. She definitely has a sense of humor. I know this because after she finished talking, I found at the Millbrook Library Book Sale a 1967 book called Make Money From Stamps, paid 50 cents for it, brought it to her, and she didn't have me arrested.

Back to bad attitudes. For any of you new to this blog, I love to complain. I'd say whining is second nature to me, but it's more like first nature. But lately it's been a challenge to be negative about my career, because things are going so fabulously. Beyond fabulously. In unexplored territories of fabulousity.

Yesterday, as further proof that May 18 is destined for holiday status, I got a package of the promotional materials Carlsen, my extraordianary German publisher, is using for Die Welt We Wir Sie Kannten (aka Life As We Knew It).

The poster is two sided. I'm hoping I can get it easily framed, and if I can, I'm going with the ocean wave side. The other side has my book (and therefore my name) in much bigger print, but I think the ocean waves are jollier (yes, they're drowning half of humanity, but they look so pretty doing so). The little yellow tubes contain apple juice. I opened up the book bag (with Scooter's help) and turned over one of the postcards, so you can admire the thorough job of promotion. And I think I'm going to take the cover off the magazine and frame that, which will give me the graphic of the emergency box, but taking up less space (don't ask me where any of this is going to go in my den; the wall of ego will just have to expand).

Lest you think only the Germans love me, I know for a fact that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has some very exciting promotional things in the works, that I'll be screeching with ecstacy about in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, in the delightful nature of life right now, I'm still in an interregnum period, having completed Blood Wounds, but not having heard from anyone about it. While I would love people to read it and tell me how magnificent it is, it's also a pleasure not to be working on it. Instead I completed spring cleaning and I am now obsessing about buying a flat screen TV.

I hear reception on them is extremely fantastisch!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray! It's The 18th Of May!

May 18th is the day the meteor meets the moon in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone. As far as I'm concerned, that makes it just about a national holiday.

I celebrated by finally buying a flashlight.

The State Of Tennessee celebrated by naming Life As We Knew It their winner of the Volunteer State Book Award (grades 7-12)

Scooter celebrated... well, suffice it to say, he celebrated.

Or, as Miranda puts it, in This World We Live In:

There is nothing more beautiful than half a roll of toilet paper.

I hope the end of the world is as much fun for you as it has been for me!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dialogue In Post-Its

In addition to finding The Things I Anticipate Happening list for This World We Live In, I also found quite a number of post-its with potential dialogue or plot twists. I plopped all the post-its and scratch pad notes in my paper recycling bag, and then had a change of heart and pulled them out.

I scanned a few of them so you could see how many different pads I used (and marvel at my handwriting- my third grade teacher, who I adored, said I thought faster than I could write, which was true then and remains true even as my brain cells die their quick painless death).

I'm going to type all these scraps out. Some of them made it to the book, some suggested other dialogue, and some got dumped. Mostly, if you've read TW, you should be able to figure out who says what. And some aren't dialogue at all, so you won't have to do any figuring for those.

Okay. In no particular order, here they are (assuming I can read my own handwriting):

you didn't seem to react.
you don't know how I react, how I get up in the middle of the night and prayer for the souls of the people on the mounds.
But you didn't know about the people on the mound.
I pray for souls on mounds I've never seen. I'm an all inclusive prayer.

The Bearley boys, 2 harmless old brothers smelly and missing [?] of the teeth, sitting on a bench outside the post off [I crossed that out] someplace. Mom told us to be nice to them because they had Howell blood, same as she did. We teased her about them being her cousins until she pointed out they were ours too.

Divorce or not, I'll always be your father.
glorious uselessness of prom dresses
dance at your wedding
only teenage boys left are either my brothers or entering monasteries
suddenly understood why Matt had been so angry. In this world we live in, Dad wasn't going to be my father anymore.
(out west- separated)

Matt & Alex play chess. Alex beats him. Matt makes joke about losing his strength since Syl cut his hair. Alex finds it unfunny.
Matt warns Miranda not to get involved with Alex.

Mom is scared to go. Miranda volunteers to stay with her. Only then does Mom agree to go. Mom/Matt say no. Syl volunteers herself and Matt.

Whenever I've had a question I've turned to Matt. This time was no different. What's a safe town? Why do you ask? Matt

I'm an incurable optimist. Just call me Mikawber.
All right.
Later- Oh Makawber

I started to think I'd made up [I dunno- Alex maybe] a boy I'd given my heart to, because he wouldn't accept anything else.

I felt more on any single day than I had in all my 16 yrs.
Would we trade this world we live in
I'm not just a better person for having known Charlie. I'm a happier person.
Maybe I should have known life is fragile.

Who knows how many lies Syl has told Matt. Who knows how many Alex has told me.
Don't let me die alone.

I'll be at fault no matter how she dies. I might as well go to Hell for the right reason.

For me, at least, death is nothing more than nothing.
I learned even the easiest acts lead to the hardest consequences, that there's no sound more beautiful than that of a door opening.

Charlie had to be stopped.
He was upsetting the baby.

I've never met anyone like her. And I'm from New York.

Every day of your life there's been a tomorrow.
There's a world out there,
There are stars.
There's a tomorrow.

No 10 day forecasts- Radio only says what's happened, never warns you about what's going to happen.
Do Miranda/Alex go into town & find city hall is gone?
Easy for you- M says

It doesn't have to be faith in the church or even God, A says. Just believe in something. Believe in the power of people to solve their problems. Believe in tomorrow. Every day you've lived, there's been a tomorrow. You can believe in that.
There are stars/there are people/There's a tomorrow

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Preliminary Notes For This World We Live In

Yesterday, while spring cleaning, I discovered three pages of pre-writing notes for This World We Live In. The third of the pages is a post-facto outline of Life As We Knew It. Apparently (since I have no memory of doing any of this), I wanted to make sure there was enough material for TW by figuring out how many incidents there were in LAWKI.

I remember where I was (Storm King Arts Center) when I came up with the idea of having Lisa kill Charlie at the end of TW. Since there's no Charlie in this outline, this version must predate that.

My handwriting has never been good, but the older I get, the worse it gets, so I'll type the TW material for anyone who is interested in reading it. I suppose it could be qualified as spoiler, so if you haven't read TW yet, and do intend to, and don't want to know what doesn't for the most part happen, then avert your eyes.

Easter Apr. 16

Things I anticipate happening

1 Dad, Lisa, Julie, baby, boy show up

2 Big fight- Matt & Lisa

3 Big fight- Dad & Matt

4 Trip to FAF house. Julie stays/goes

5 Tornado- Mrs. Nesbitt's house destroyed

Mom cries

6 Breaking into people's houses- minister's house (?)- finding food cache

7 Fishing scene

8 Anniversary date

9 Miranda spends first night alone in room

10 Food deliveries stop

11 Relationship with Dan's father- he comes over for dinner- he dies and leaves his food to Miranda

12 At food delivery, ask what's going on-

group studies at someone's house

Sat- soccer match

help with food distribution

13 At one place, Miranda is given clothes including prom dress of girl who was married off

14 At one place, most likely soccer
someone drops dead

15 basement floods- Matt collapses face down in flooded basement. M pulls his head out-
she & Jon get him upstairs

Matt refuses to regard himself as invalid, but M is terrified he's going to die- then soccer
field incident

A couple of things might call for explanation. I used the same calendar for Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone, and This World We Live In (2005-06, I think), and I wanted to make sure TW took place after Easter. So I wrote down the date of Easter so I'd know to begin the action after that.

It took me a little while yesterday to figure out what FAF was, and then I broke my own code. It's Fresh Air Fund. I had put into d&g that the Morales family had been Fresh Air Fund kids (for those unfamiliar with the Fresh Air Fund, it's a New York City group that provides summer vacations in the country for city kids). When I was working out d&g, I had thought it possible that whichever of the Morales kids survived, might end up going to their Fresh Air Fund family, and that family might live fairly close to Miranda and her family.

Todd Strasser was the one who suggested fishing for shad to me, and I guess I intended to have Miranda go on the fishing trip. I don't fish and have no interest in learning about it, which is why I sent Matt and Jon off without her.

About half a dozen of the possible plot points end up in some form or another in TW. What really intrigues me about this outline is the complete lack of Alex. I bring in a boy with Dad and Lisa and Julie, but I don't give who he is or what he does any thought at all. I do have a vague recollection of trying to work Dan's father into the story. Dan left during LAWKI, and his mother had been ill, so I guess I killed her off between books, and Miranda somehow bumps into Dan's father, and they establish a bond.

In its way, this is a much jollier version of TW than the one I ended up writing. It's far more social. Dan's father comes for dinner, people (presumably Miranda and Jon and other kids their age) study outside of their home, Miranda helps distribute food, she's given clothes, and there's a soccer game. As far as prom dresses go, I had a second version of that on a post-it for a while. Dad, Miranda, Julie and maybe Alex, spend a night at a deserted shopping mall, and Miranda tries on prom dresses. I figured people would ransack shopping malls but would be unlikely to take prom dresses. I pictured Miranda and Dad dancing in the mall, so maybe Alex and Julie weren't there. In which case, I have no idea why Miranda and Dad were.

The one theme which is constant both in this outline and in the final version of TW is how to get food. Feeding the characters was a constant concern for me in all three books. There had to be enough food so that they didn't starve to death but no guarantee that there'd be any food in a day or two. But the books couldn't be continuous lists of what food there was and what food they dreamed of. Five of the fourteen things I list are food related, which probably is about the same percentage as ended up in the real TW.

It was fun for me to find these pages and a real inspiration to keep on with the spring cleaning. Who knows what other treasures I'll dig up. Stock certificates. Winning lottery tickets. A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Things Come Things Go (Or So I'm Told)

Those of you with eagle eyes and nothing better to do may have noticed the bookplate sampler is gone from the right side of the blog.

That's because the bookplates are gone.

I'm completely out of the lovely blue ones, and down to not very many of the greens and burgundies. I do still have a few of the black and silver ones, left over from the last bookplate extravaganza, but I'm sure all remaining plates will eventually find homes.

So rather than break people's hearts (Oh, how I yearned for a blue bookplate), I've made the offer vanish.

I recently got an email from a teacher asking if there was a teacher's guide for the dead & the gone, so I asked the kind folk at Harcourt about it. The kind folk were kind enough to respond that yes, indeed, there was one in the works, and I should be getting it fairly soon.

When fairly soon arrives, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, I'm going through Blood Wounds withdrawal. It's been part of my life since last summer. First I came up with the idea, and developed it. Then I wrote 100 pages. That was followed by a fair amount of waiting to hear, which always burns up energy (if not calories). Next came trying to remember what the book was about, followed by the Winter Olympics (which probably didn't have much to do with Blood Wounds, but I feel I should be honest about such things). Then came writing again, followed by dumping the last 70 or so pages, then rewriting the last 70 or so pages, and then rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again. Yesterday morning I did the final rewrites, and sent the whole thing off, so now I'm back to waiting to hear. Once I do, there'll be rewrites with an editor's guidance to keep me busy, and then copy editing and galleys and the excitement of a new book.

But now I just feel that empty spot. I frequently go into a mini-depression when I finish a book, and just as frequently, I'm taken by surprise by it. This one might be a little more complicated, since I have no idea what the next step in my life is. I keep telling my friends I'm retired, and my friends keep mocking me. But maybe I am retired. Maybe Blood Wounds will be my last book. I don't know.

What I do know is I have to buy groceries and have lunch with my mother and make sure she takes her antibiotic exactly 1/2 hour before she gets her teeth cleaned. And then, because the dentist's office is very close to the cemetery where my father is buried, and because it's an absolutely beautiful day, we'll stop by there before I take her home.

Tomorrow the great spring cleaning adventure begins. What can I throw out this time?

Ooh. The very thought of discarding past treasures cheers me right up. Life is full of promise after all!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

None Of The Above Is One Popular Actor

Thanks to all who voted on the polls.

I am amused by the idea of a single None Of The Above playing both Miranda and Matt. Sort of like when an actor plays identical twins in a movie, only in this case, the actor is also in drag half the time.

It'd be a challenge. But then, great acting always is.

Speaking of challenges, I have finally finally finally finished Blood Wounds and sent it off to my editor. I finished it exactly when I thought I would, but it still feels like it took me forever. Tomorrow I'm taking my mother to the dentist, and next week I have a Skype visit, but other than that, my calendar is clear, and I intend to use that lovely free time to spring clean.

You know there's something wrong when all you want to do is spring clean.

Speaking of things I need to get around to, I just remembered there are a couple of comments I need to respond to, and a handful of emails waiting for responses.

I guess spring cleaning is going to have to wait just a little longer!