Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Way You Do The Things You Don't

Recently, LemurKat left a comment asking why I'd written This World We Live In from Miranda's perspective, rather than taking a different approach and writing instead about Alex and Julie's journey through what remained of America.

Also recently, blog regular Fear Death By Water put a link to his own blog review of Life As We Knew It, and he had questions also, wondering (among other things) why there were no marauders to make Miranda's life even more difficult.

Even though I'm a firm believer in Never Apologize Never Explain (Always Complain), I've decided to explain anyway. Complaining is optional (but always in good taste).

I'll start with the marauders question, because I wrote LAWKI first. When I first worked out the plot for LAWKI, I certainly considered a home invasion. But I decided against one, for several reasons.

To start out with, my idea for the book was to put Miranda and her family into a situation of hunger and isolation. I didn't want them to be able to escape, or to improve their situation. That would have been a different book. If they were to be in a situation that seemed hopeless, they couldn't acquire food. That meant no hunting, no trapping.

I covered both of those possibilities very quickly. Early on in the book, the family goes to town and finds the sporting goods store closed and empty. And later on, Miranda walks through the woods and comments on the lack of animal life.

So Miranda and her family are unarmed. Which meant that anyone breaking into their house could easily overpower them, and most likely rape and murder them. Which was definitely not the story I intended to tell.

And if you're thinking, well they could have cleverly outwitted the marauders, then you have to ask what would have stopped a different set of marauders from showing up. As long as there were signs of life, there could have been people breaking in.

No guns, no means of self-defense, no marauders.

When I wrote LAWKI, I was certain there would be a sequel. I wanted to write one, and I felt sure people who liked the book would want to know what happened next. Only my publisher didn't want a sequel. What they were open to was a companion book, same catastrophe but different characters. So I came up with and wrote The Dead And The Gone, always assuming that at some point, my publisher would want a third book that would combine the characters from the first two.

For what felt like a very long time, the publisher said no. I wrote at least one completely different (and completely unusable) third book, which had Julie as a fairly important character and Jon as a minor one. I may have a copy of that manuscript somewhere, but it doesn't matter, since no one will ever see it. But while I was writing it, and for a while thereafter, I pestered my then editor about my getting to write a third book. "No, no, no," she'd say, until one day she said, "Yes, yes, yes." But not a sequel.

I came up with a plot that I thought was brilliant (and I still think was pretty darn good). It was set about a year later, so readers would see what the world was like (pretty lousy), but with a third completely different set of characters. I may have sent my editor an outline, but I certainly didn't get any further than that, when she said, "No, no, no.What we want is a sequel."

Well, that was what I'd wanted to do in the first place. So I couldn't exactly argue. I had suggested to my editor a third book version where Miranda and Alex met on the road, but that was when my publisher was in its "No, no, no," phase, and that was exactly what my editor had said.

I might have tried to work out a different Miranda and Alex meet on the road book except I'd created my own problem, which was that LAWKI ends on March 20 and d&g ends three months earlier than that. Which meant that by the time I'd have gotten Miranda to wherever Alex was, it would be June or later, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Alex would be someplace where Miranda could meet him.

Trust me. I lost a fair amount of sleep over that.

Then I decided that if I couldn't get Miranda to Alex, I should get Alex to Miranda. I determined that I was okay with returning to Miranda and her diary, and worked out a reason why Alex would have gone back east. Once I was comfortable with all that, I began writing This World We Live In.

While it may not seem like this to you, basically these are the short versions of the decision making process. And a lot of what the long version includes is my personal preferences, the choices I make to tell the stories I want to tell. Those choices aren't necessarily the readers' choices (or the reviewers or the publishers'), and I'd be even more delusional than I am if I thought every choice I made was ultimately the best one. But those choices are rarely made casually. I think a lot about what my intentions are before I ever begin writing, and I consider and reconsider things while I'm writing, and then I even do rewrites to make sure the choices I've made work within the context of the story.

I hope you understand all that. Even more, I hope the copy editor who's working on Blood Wounds understands all that as well. Because the thing I dislike most about working on a copy edited version of a manuscript is the unspoken assumption that I haven't considered my choices and the copy editor knows better than I do what should be done.

Ooh. I think I've moved from explaining to complaining. Thank goodness, that's always in good taste!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the insight into your world of writing. It's nice to know a little bit about the history behind our favorite books. And I always knew that you put a lot of thought behind your words. You had to, to make them come out the way they did.

who needs to type a few of her own words!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi WandaV-

Start typing. It'll keep you from worrying about teenagers with driver's licenses (I'll worry for both of us!).

qwertyuiop said...

The mauraders would have been intresting but golly, LAWKI was so like good and amazingly awesome that adding even a teaspoon of mauraders would change EVERYTHING! And your logic behind that also makes super sense. I never though about that part before...

Fear Death By Water said...

Hey. Thanks for responding to my questions.

Now let me fire you up again:

Imagine Gabrielle as a twenty year old man. He has had Miranda as a Godmother (she was right? I'm pretty sure of it anyway) and has also watched Miranda write in new journals. He also has heard about Miranda's old journal. He would really enjoy reading it. He sets out on a mythic quest to find the first journal that is tucked away in Miranda's old house. He writes in his journal about the state of the world (at the end of TWWLI the sky seemed to be getting brighter, the world changing for the better), what is left of what humanity built,and could answer the question about Miranda and Julie; did Alex find out and so forth. You also may write about other people he meets. You may also relate to us, your faithful readers, what became of the cast of The Last Survivor Trilogy I.

The twenty years in the future is a tried and true avenue into a second trilogy. Point your publisher here: here: or here:

Please consider more.


Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Good morning to qwertyuiop and to Fear Death By Water (aka Jonathon and Tim)-

There's nothing like a maurader or two to change a plot, and I did consider throwing one in. I'm glad I didn't though. I think there's something inherent in end of the world books that makes intelligent readers try to come up with their own variations, which are naturally superior to the original one. I know I've done it.

A month or so ago, I played Fourth Book with myself, and thought of a girl coming across Miranda's diaries. She wouldn't have been related to Miranda or Alex, just kind of stumbled on the remains of the LAWKI house and chosen to read the books rather than eat them. That was pretty much as far as I got with the idea.

I get emails regularly asking if there's going to be a fourth book, and I always reply that to the best of my knowledge, my publisher has no interest in one.

I really think if they were interested, they'd have hinted something about it. Which they certainly haven't. So a fourth book (which admittedly, I'm ambivalent about) remains high unlikely at this point.

But if I ever write one, I'm sure it'll be full of marauders!

exBFF said...

I cannot imagine sharing my art with the public and then having to "justify" why I took a particular approach. You're much stronger (and gracious) than I am. I'd just be angry bunny all the time.

Don't ever feel you have to justify your work. There are so many of us who just adore the stories and characters you've shared with us. We'll take them any way you decide to write them.

I absolutely love when you share bits of yourself and how you create. It allows those of us without the talent to live vicariously.

Now...shame on you for even teasing about a book four. As popular as the series has become, I can't imagine the publishers not wanting the adventure to continue in some fashion.

I'm absolutely intrigued by the idea of someone finding Miranda's diary.

PS - I loved the fact that you didn't have marauders. Miranda's world was dismal enough. Count me on Team Anti-Marauders. :-)

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi ex-BFF (and I'm sure someone's current BFF)-

I think it's inherent to want to make suggestions for improvements in all aspects of everyone's lives. I heard the other day from someone with suggestions about my mother. The ideas were all offered lovingly (they were from someone who knows my mother and me quite well), but they were things I'd already tried and failed with.

I know I'm guilty of trying to improve my friends' lives, which is why I made my No More Advice resolution, which I've had a reasonably good success rate with.

And while I can't say there'll never ever be a fourth book, there really are absolutely no plans for one. So even if my publisher decides at some point they're interested, it'll be a long time before it ever happens. If it ever does. Which I doubt it will!

Carrie said...

Thank you for this: "unspoken assumption that I haven't considered my choices."

I've been trying to put that thought into words for the longest time. I run into this all the time and it can be maddening, esp when the "solution presented" by the reviewer/reader/etc is one I've already considered and dismissed for several reasons that show they haven't put as much thought into it as I have. And then like you I'm stuck trying to decide between explaining or not.

I really appreciated your thought process about all of this - thanks for sharing!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello Fellow New York Times Best Selling Author Carrie-

You know, I was so impressed with what you quoted, I went back to the blog entry to see if I'd actually written it.

I guess my own unspoken assumption was I wasn't smart enough to have come up with such a high class phrase.

Then again, when it comes to complaining, few do it as well as I!