Friday, January 30, 2009

The Past Is Prologue In B3

This post is all spoilers, including a great many about the dead and the gone. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I've been hard at work (and avoiding work) on This World We Live In all week long. Well, all week except today,when I decided I was so on schedule I could take a long weekend. Except next week, my schedule is going to go kaput all over again, between meeting Todd Strasser for a late lunch on Tuesday, and subbing at my volunteer work on Wednesday, and watching the Four Continents figure skating competition Wednesday through Saturday. So maybe it's a mistake to take today off, but it's too late now. Besides, I need to clean the apartment.

But I must be getting work done. See how much bigger the pile of manuscript is than it was a week ago? I'm on page 195, in spite of all my dawdling.

If you examine the picture with the polar bear, you'll notice there's a copy of Life As We Knew It sitting on the printer. But the picture on the right has a copy of the dead and the gone hiding the paperback LAWKI. This accidental visual is proof that Alex and Julie have shown up in B3, and I need to refer fairly regularly to d&g, to make sure I get my facts straight.

Here's more proof- the poll on the right (and thank you everyone who has taken the time to vote). I needed to know whether readers had doubts when reading d&g about the fate of Alex's parents and now, thanks to you, I know.

B3 has some very specific problems because it's a sequel to two different books. I'd been figuring on people who've read both books reading it, but what I hadn't thought about was people who've read LAWKI reading it and then going back to read d&g. I'd decided early on to limit references to LAWKI characters who weren't going to show up in B3. There's no mention of Megan or Sammi or Dan, but that's because it's Miranda's diary and she wouldn't feel the need to explain who those people were, and since there could be readers who wouldn't know, the characters were better left unmentioned.

But Miranda doesn't know anything about Alex and Julie, so any information she learns about them would go smack in her diary.

Here's where I first realized I had a problem. I wrote a scene between Alex and Miranda, where Alex has opened up, at least a little, to her:

But mostly I felt grateful to Alex, even though there was no way he could know how much his comment meant to me.

So I tried to show him by letting him know I cared about him and Julie. "What about your parents?" I asked. "What happened to them?"

He turned into a different person. No, that's not right. He turned back to the Alex I've known for the past week, not the Alex of the past few hours. "They're gone," he said, and his voice was as cold as a January night.

Nice, right? Except what about all the people who are going to go from LAWKI to B3 and then back to d&g? Talk about spoilers. If there's a chance any readers could read d&g in its entirety, not being sure what happened to Mami and Papi, then I'd be killing all that suspense for a little bit of dialogue.

So I read the poll results, and I threw the dialogue away. Now, Miranda remains grateful, but Alex asks her a question instead.*

There's actually a chance most writers don't do rewrites based on poll results on their blogs. Silly them.

I'm currently dealing with the question of the passes into the safe town that Alex is given in d&g. Actually, answering that question (and cleaning my apartment) is pretty much the reason why I'm not doing any writing until Monday. I can justify Alex not using the pass to get Julie to a safe place, but once it becomes public (i.e. Miranda's family learns about it), I have to know which characters might end up going there, and when. Alex has three passes, and the only thing (I think) I wrote about them is that dependents have to be under the age of 18. But originally, Mr. Flynn (who gave Alex the passes) was going to use them for his wife and two kids, which means the passes can be used by adults. And what I just this second realized is Mr. Flynn's daughter is in college, so she's probably over 18. What I must have meant was that dependents getting onto the bus convoy had to be under 18 (I can't believe that with all the people who edited and copy edited d&g, no one picked up on that).

Back to B3. Assuming one pass is used by Julie, could the other two passes be used by Dad and Lisa? Or would Gabriel the baby (previously known as Baby Rachel) be counted as a person, in which case the passes could only be used by Julie, Lisa, and Gabriel. Would Lisa agree to go if it means being separated from Dad? And now that I've remembered about Mr. Flynn's daughter, I have to decide if Alex would use one of the passes for himself.

You know something. I don't have the answers to those questions yet. To be multilingual about it, le oy.

By Monday morning though, I'm sure I'll know, and nobody is going to know about those passes except Alex and Julie and me, until the very end of next week, or maybe the week thereafter. And I enjoy solving these kinds of problems.

Or at least that's what I'll tell myself while I'm dusting and vacuuming!

*To read that question, go to thirdmoonbook.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Quick and Easy Poll Question

I put up a poll over to the right concerning readers' (i.e. your) beliefs about the fate of Alex's parents in the dead and the gone.

Sometimes a writer just wants to know. And who better to turn to than you?

If those of you who've read d&g could take ten seconds to answer the poll, I'd really appreciate it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Look Who Isn't Getting Any Writing Done

Me. Me. Moi. Me.

I always knew that one year of high school French would come in handy.

I have the best excuse ever for not writing B3 today. They're predicting snow for Wednesday. I'd explain why that means no writing on Sunday, but it would take way too long. Trust is an important thing, so just trust me. Wednesday snow=no writing on Sunday.

It would be inaccurate to say I haven't gotten any work done, since I have been thinking a lot about B3 and making changes and adjustments to its plot (for details, follow this link to the thirdmoonbook blog).

To prove to you that I have been thinking (trust only goes so far), I took a picture of my high class computer cabinet (the cabinet; the computer is just middle class) door. Note all the different color post-its. It's like an archeological dig, each color representing a different era of thought. The yellow ones are the most recent.

See the postcard? She's the oldest thing on the door, and dates back to last spring (I think). I no longer remember which version of the third book she was an inspiration for, but I still love looking at her, so she's stayed up there.

Meanwhile, One Book New Jersey has updated its website and its wonderful selection of products that have Life As We Knew It on them. I cleverly took a photograph of the interior of my high class computer cabinet, so you could see the big pile of white sheets that represent 138 pages of B3, but also so you could see on my moniter the refrigerator magnets and notecards One Book New Jersey is selling.

Because they're predicting snow on Wednesday, tomorrow morning I'll do my shopping. Then I'll get back to writing B3.

I will. I will. Trust me. I will!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Armin Mahbanoozadeh Is In Third

I just finished watching U.S. Junior Men's short programs and since there's a twenty minute break before senior compulsory dance (which, for those of you who will only watch compulsory dance on TV, Universal Sports will be showing at 9 PM ET), I figured I'd pop in to say hello and ask myself why I intend to watch compulsory dance. I mean, I don't even know how to spell compulsory.

Lest, I feel understimulated, I have the Australian Open on TV now. And earlier today, I had the Europeans Pairs Freeskate on streaming Bulgarian TV while also watching the junior men. At one point, I had the sound on for both of them, but that proved a little much even for me.

Then the Bulgarian feed went away, and I never could get the Turkish feed to work. So it was all junior men for a while.

When I'm not watching inaugurations and skating, I have been working. I'm still wildly resistant to work, but once I get started, I'm enjoying myself. In fact, when I stopped writing today, so I could watch Europeans/US Juniors, I kind of wished I was still working. I'm not by nature a contrary person, but that was pure contrariness.

For those of you keeping score, I'm on page 132. I'm not going to hit my fantasy number of 150 this week, since tomorrow the skating starts in the morning and then never ends, but I do know which two scenes come next, and they're both really good ones, at least in my mind. I'm not quite sure what happens after that, but I'm assuming by the time I'm ready to write it, I'll figure it out.

It absolutely does not count as a spoiler (I have spoken) to say there's a character named Charlie in B3. I needed a last name for him, and I considered naming him Charlie Davis since that's the name of the John Garfield character in Body And Soul. But then I decided I didn't want to picture John Garfield every time I wrote about Charlie, so I searched for other names that worked with Charles/Charlie.

Names for characters are so important to me, and I regret not using more ethnic ones, but once you name a character O'Hara or Budanov, readers will make associations with them which may or may not be what you want to convey. And there are spelling issues to contend with. The same New York Times article which mentions Budanov also refers to Isa Khadzhimuradov.

Isa I could spell.

I ended up giving Charlie the last name of Rutherford, in honor, I thought, of Rutherford B. Hayes (I don't like Charles Hayes, because of the Z/Z sound, and besides, Charlie Hayes used to play for the New York Yankees and caught the final out in the 1996 World Series). Then I realized my Rutherford association is Lumpy Rutherford from Leave It To Beaver.

You know, Wally Cleaver seemed like a socially apt kid. It's remarkable his two best friends were Lumpy Rutherford and Eddie Haskell. Now there's something I didn't worry about in my peak Live It To Beaver years.

I sense compulsory dance is about to begin. Since I can't possibly wait until 9 PM, I'm off to watch in a tiny box on my computer screen.

What can I say? It beats working!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

B3 And Mom

Altogether now. If it says B3 in the title, there are spoilers in the entry.

I've been hard at work on This World We Live In, which is coming along fine. I'm on page 84, right on schedule, although that's most likely going to change for the worst maybe as soon as tomorrow. I'm scheduled for a teeth cleaning tomorrow at 1:00, and then Friday I should clean the apartment, and TCM is showing Three Strangers at 2:30, and it's been a long time since I've seen it (Geraldine Fitzgerald! Peter Lorre! Sydney Greenstreet! Yum yum triple yum). Neither of these things would be a problem if I weren't dawdling before getting to work.

Next week will be trickier. Monday, aka Martin Luther King Day, aka (by me at least) The Last Day We Can Blame George Bush For Everything, I'm having lunch with my friends Hilarie and Bonnie and Pam. Many many years ago, along with a woman named Pat, we were members of a writers' group, that used to meet at my house on a regular basis, but the last time we were altogether was June 1, at my 75th book party.

Then Tuesday, for those who don't keep track of these things, is Inauguration Day. I intend to turn the mute button on for the prayers, but will probably get a little bit misty for most of the rest of it.

If that weren't enough, next week is also the US National Figure Skating Championships, which will stream live on icenetwork. My guess is if I have a choice between writing and the junior pairs short program, the latter will win.

I am enjoying writing B3 though, and I'm looking forward, maybe even tomorrow, to having Alex and Julie from the dead and the gone show up. In my head this morning, I rewrote a scene so that Miranda and Alex do something together, rather than Miranda and Julie. I need to give Alex more facetime.

I've been writing scenes where Miranda goes what I now call house hunting, searching deserted houses for things like toilet paper. Sometime around yesterday I realized that while Miranda, Matt, and Jon were leaving the house, Mom never seemed to join them.

So I had a wonderful idea. I decided that Mom has become agoraphobic. And this afternoon, I wrote a scene where it would make perfect sense for Mom to leave the house, but she chooses not to.

This is what I love best about the writing process. Having an usable insight that takes me by surprise, and leads the plot in slightly different directions.

Today, after working, I got on the treadmill and tried to remember the last time Mom went out in Life As We Knew It. First I thought it was before she twisted her ankle the second time. Then I remembered she shoveled snow from the garage door in early December. And then I remembered she went Christmas caroling.

But B3 starts April 25 (I know, because I just checked the manuscript), and since I don't recall Mom leaving the house after Christmas, that would be four months of growing agoraphobia.

I don't know who's going to confront Mom about it. I'm assuming not Miranda, because I think it's the kind of thing you don't notice if you're living in the situation. So maybe Matt's bride Syl, or maybe Dad. And I don't know how long I'll play it out, whether it will be a factor at the very end of the book, when I plan for the family to leave on the long (over 300 miles- I google mapped it) journey to Pittsburgh. But I can hear Mom saying that she's afraid if she leaves the house, her entire world will collapse. Except by book's end, her entire world will have collapsed (something Miranda may point out), and Mom, terrified but courageous, will take those first steps outside.

Also on the treadmill today, I decided Miranda is going to bike into a pothole and fall down hard. Nothing like major bruising to make the end of the world even more unpleasant.

No wonder Mom is staying in these days!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More People Are Reading Fiction!

Or so yesterday's New York Times tells us.

It took me until today to find out, because I've been hard at work on B3. Okay, yesterday when I should have read that article, I was busy getting my hair cut (hey, I have quick growing hair; it takes time for it to get short again). But today, I was hard at work (and at watching Hilary Clinton's hearing; I used to watch TV and do homework at the same time, which may account for my not doing so well in school, but most likely not). Anyway, as someone who writes fiction for a living, I'm delighted to learn more people are reading it.

For those of you who doubt that I was hard at work and don't obsessively check the right side of this blog, I posted a tiny bit of what I wrote today over at thirdmoonbook. Remember though, since this entry doesn't have B3 in its title, you can't comment below about what I wrote (not that there would be any need to; it's just a tiny section that amused me, so I figured I'd share it).

Actually, that little lecture about not commenting is almost as long as the bit of the manuscript I just posted. I am a wordy little devil.

Tonight is the first episode of the new season of American Idol. I have a love/hate relationship with that show, but the hate outweighs the love when it comes to the audition episodes, so I won't be watching. I'm hoping to spare myself the semi-finals as well, and just start with the final 12, but I don't know if my will power will be that strong. I'm also running out of evenings before the baseball season begins to watch all those dvds I seem to have bought over the past couple of years. Either I bought them, or they reproduced when I wasn't looking. You know, some of those dvds feel like work. I'm actually in the mood to watch Citizen Kane again, but the dvd includes a two hour documentary. Not that I don't love two hour documentaries about Citizen Kane, but pitchers and catchers are going to be reporting soon for spring training.

My first cousin once removed Debbie didn't win on Jeopardy last night (she came in third), but I thought she was very impressive. She knew a whole lot of stuff I certainly didn't. Most likely she didn't do her homework with the TV on.

Hmm... I wonder if Hilary Clinton did.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

B3 Turns Fifty (Pages That Is)

Remember, anytime you see B3 in the blog title, it means spoilers are likely.

I'm back at work on This World We Live In, aka B3, and I just finished and printed out page 50. I'll do ten more pages tomorrow, taking advantage of the cushion of a few extra pages this week, because I was able to salvage the first five pages or so from my original effort in December.

The biggest challenge so far is the willingness to work. Once I get started I'm fine, but when I have errands to run beforehand or any kind of distraction, I have to push to get going. In the immortal words of Lou Grant (or whichever scriptwriter wrote the immortal words), "That's why they call it work."

One thing I'm totally ignoring is chapters. When I wrote Life As We Knew It, I didn't include chapter breaks. They were entirely Harcourt's idea. I think I did the same for the dead and the gone, only since I knew Harcourt would want chapters, I put them in before sending the manuscript off. So the first 50 pages of B3 are one giant gloomp, although I know for sure that there'll be the start of a new chapter at Miranda's May 13 entry (I'm writing May 12 now).

It turns out sequels are tricky suckers. If someone picks up B3 without having read LAWKI or d&g (could be my new editor, whoever that may end up being, although my guess is said editor will read the first two books before grabbing the infamous red pencil), they have to understand what's happened beforehand. But I discovered yesterday the risk of repeating material.

In LAWKI, Miranda and Mom have some really big fights. I decided to put one in B3 at a moment when Mom feels particularly vulnerable, since Matt and Jon are gone for a few days, catching shad in the Delaware River (Miranda doesn't go with them because I know nothing about fishing and there are limits to what I'm willing to learn for my fiction). But as I was writing the fight scene, I realized I couldn't just repeat the fights they'd had in LAWKI, even though when mothers and daughters fight in real life, a lot of times they cover their customary turf. It wasn't so much the setting off point, since explosions can start with different fuses. It's the screaming back and forth that has to be different, yet still believable for those characters, given that most of the people who read B3 will have read LAWKI first.

Or take the scene which I was working on before I reached page 51 and called it a day. Mom just made the very interesting (to me at least) point that perhaps all the loss they'd endured before had been preparatory for all the loss they've suffered in the past year.

Now Miranda can't think of pre-LAWKI loss without remembering her friend Becky, who dies before LAWKI begins. She just can't. So even though B3 is moving along without any references to Sammi or Megan or Dan or Mom's boyfriend Peter, I had to have Miranda think of Becky. It would be untrue to her character if she didn't.

It's a tricky balance. Later on in that scene, I threw in a real fast reference (and not really a necessary one) to Henry, the guy Matt worked in the post office with. I needed a name more than anything else, and I'd already referred to a couple of people from Miranda's school, so I didn't want to use another one of them. I could have gone with something like Joe, who worked at the deli, but that got me thinking if Miranda would even know the name of someone who worked at a deli. She mentions fast food chains in LAWKI, but not neighborhood stores. So I used Henry instead, although it could be confusing to first time readers, who might wonder why or when Matt worked at the post office.

Speaking of Matt, tomorrow he and Jon should be returning from their sojourn at the Delaware, shad and Matt's extremely unexpected bride Syl in hand. Or on bike. I have a line I came up with in Missouri that I've been looking forward to putting in B3 for months now: It was like the whole world came to an end just so you could really notice her cheekbones.

Then I'll take the weekend and most likely Monday off. I'm having lunch with my mother on Monday, and that means buying groceries for her and running some errands of my own on my way to her home. And I have no illusions that I'll get home mid afternoon all fired up for a good day's work. But I figure if I average 50 pages a week, then 8 weeks would mean 400 pages, and I certainly don't plan for B3 to be 400 pages long. Syl's cheekbones aren't going to be that worth noticing. But I'm excited about adding a new character to the mix, so I'll be ready, even eager, to resume work on Tuesday (or so I tell myself on Thursday).

Meanwhile, we had an ice storm a couple of days ago, and all the trees and bushes around my apartment complex are still covered in ice. I took some pictures through the window and I'll post one here, so you can see what I look at when I should be looking at my computer screen. My hope is if I plop the picture at the bottom of the blog entry, blogspot won't shove all my sentences into one endless paragraph.

I'm also going to cut 'n paste this entry over at thirdmoonbook, and then I'm going to cut 'n paste some more, and put in the fight scene between Miranda and Mom. Keep in mind, it's completely unedited, so the final version a year and a half from now may be quite different.

All right. Admire the scene through the screen, and I'll go off to cut 'n paste land.

ETA: After a visit to cut 'n paste land. Mom at one point says, "the others." I know she wouldn't, and when I do my revisions, she won't. So if you read the section, and that part bothers you, you can relax.

Friday, January 2, 2009

But Maybe I Wrote It While Sleepwalking

Some blog entries are full of Significant Moments, and some are not.

I just wrote an update at thirdmoonbook, but more to the point, over at the right side of the blog, I put the date (Jan. 2) of this most recent update. I'll try try to remember to do that whenever I write an entry there.

I've been asked on occasion why the Scholastic cover of Life As We Knew It is different from the Harcourt cover. Quite a while ago, I wrote a blog entry explaining how that happened, and for those who are curious, I've added a link to that entry on the right.

My brother, who googles all family members, found our father was quoted at Daily Kos, on Christmas, which was my father's birthday, sort of. Daily Kos is pretty impressive. They have a shop where you can buy stuff with their logo. That is not an option here, since among other things, I don't have a logo.

Speaking of family members, my first cousin once removed Debbie is going to be on Jeopardy on Jan. 12. If she does well, it's because she has Pfeffer blood in her. If she doesn't, she's just a distant relative of mine.

My mother provided me with my first Ember moment of the new year. I called her yesterday afternoon when I discovered there was figure skating on.

My mother is deaf in one ear, and wears a hearing aid in the other. But occasionally the battery dies in the hearing aid, without her being aware of it. If the non-working hearing aid is in her good ear, she's almost completely deaf, which is what happened yesterday. It took a number of tries on my part before she answered the phone at all, and when she did, it was obvious she couldn't hear anything I was saying.

"Take your hearing aid out!" I kept hollering, saying Ember Ember to myself.

"Hold on, hold on," she replied any number of times. Then she said those words no daughter wants to hear, "Who is this?"

Finally she told me to hang up and call back in a few minutes. Which I did. By that point, she'd put a new battery in and could hear me fine. She even apologized for the mess, and explaining that it had caught her in the middle of another mess.

"Do I want to know about the first mess?" I asked, and my mother assured me I didn't and never said another word on the subject. Which is why she's such a great mother, and well worth the sore throat I got from screaming into the phone.

I did a New Year's Day google of the dead and the gone, and I found the following. I'm quoting it in its entirety, so you can decide for yourself if I really wrote it or not (my money is on not):

How do you write a fantasy story?
Academic Writing, Fantasy

First you come up with an idea. It doesnt have to be very elaborate yet, just an idea about what your writing.
Next you come up with characthers and a plot.
Finnaly you start writing, it really depends on if you can think of the ideas, not the grammar or anything else.
Two great examples of my writing are Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone. By me, Susan Beth Pfeffer

While I certainly agree that two great examples of my writing are LAWKI and d&g, I'm way too modest to say so. Heck, I'm too modest to have a logo.

Finnaly, I hope all you characthers have a great new year. Enjoy yourselves and don't worry about the grammar or anything else!