Wednesday, February 25, 2009
There was a very interesting comment on the previous entry, which I'm going to quote almost in its entirety:
Linda Joy Singleton said...
Because I get the sense that this ending is one which could be dire...I'll share a little something I learned from Betsy Byars who learned it from Lois Lowry.
In the book, MUD BLOSSOM, Betsy was going to kill off the grandfather & the dog at the end. The book was beyond galley stage. Then Lois mentioned to her that in one of her books a main character dies and the majority of her fan mail is about that tragedy -- that while 99% of the book was about living, all the readers took away and focused on was the death. So Betsy pulled back her book to rewrite the ending, and the book went on to win the Edgar award and (although not on her priorities) the book also won my love.
Now I want it clearly understood I'm not saying the ending to This World We Live In is dire, or darling, or diabolic, or even dreadful. Delectable maybe, but as we all know, I'm not the most objective person when it comes to my writing, or in this case, intended writing (I'm still working through some of the plot details, the leftovers of a migraine, and the World Junior Figure Skating Championships). I really truly honest yulie have no intention of revealing the ending of the book, and even if I should weaken, which I won't, I can't, because I promised my friend Christy (aka she who knows the ending) that I wouldn't.
By the way, Christy has apologized for writing Yikes about my previous B3 ending, which I decided against because she wrote Yikes. But it's all for the best, because this B3 ending is superior. Which I know, because she hasn't Yikes it once.
Here's the thing (ha! I bet you didn't think there was a thing). Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone are about Miranda and Alex's responses to a rolling series of disasters, which at first affect them only slightly, but as the stories progress, take more and more of a toll on them and their families.
So B3 has to be truthful to the books it follows, but it can't just be more of the same. If there are volcanoes erupting in the west, I can't move a Bigger And Better Volcano to Pennsylvania. Nor can I have the sky magically clear itself of all that nasty volcanic ash.
This has proven to be very tricky. There has to be a balance throughout the book, enough food (for example) so that the characters don't starve to death (a constant threat in the second halves of LAWKI/d&g), but not so much food that the readers go, "Well if there's that much food around, what were Miranda and Alex so worried about in LAWKI/d&g?" I can't retread old problems, but I can't create new ones that don't fit into the world situation I've created ("Oh look," said Mom. "The President has come for a visit. Welcome to our home, Your Idiocy.").
In addition, although B3 is a continuation of Miranda's diary, it's a much denser book, taking place in three or four months, rather than nine or ten. There are at least two reasons for that- one being the food that's coming to town (just how long would it continue to come) and the other, Matt and his bride Syl (I had no interest in Syl getting pregnant, or there being questions about why she hadn't gotten pregnant).
Good gravy (or as Christy would say, Yikes). No wonder I've been suffering from insomnia and migraines.
Back to the ending of the book. Although my first B3 ending was simple and sweet, I knew almost immediately it wasn't powerful enough. The trick has been to come up with an ending that is legitimate (which means, no "We kissed and the volcanic clouds disappeared in the sunburst of our love") and not too devastating (no "We stand united as the lava flows closer and closer and now it's lapping our feet and we're suffering agonizing deaths"). Yet with all that, it has to be an ending bigger than the beginning and middle of B3, and the beginning, middle and endings of LAWKI/d&g. Which is why it's taken me a few days and at least one Yikes to figure it out.
On the other hand, the ending falls into my comfort zone, and I don't anticipate once I start writing it (maybe even tomorrow) that I won't know how to write it. Which is a good thing, because the contracts came in the mail today, and most likely Harcourt will want a manuscript complete with beginning, middle, and end.
They can feel free to tell people the beginning and the middle, but they'd better keep the end to themselves!
Monday, February 23, 2009
You may notice there's no B3 in the blog entry title, and I'm not warning you about spoilers. That's because I decided I'm not to going to tell you what the ending is. Not now, not ever. Or at least not until the book is published, which is a year or more away.
I came up with the idea last night during a particularly nasty bout of insomnia (I had a fine time at my cousin Danny's wedding, by the way). My brain clicked into gear and when it does that, it's hard for me to unclick it.
Somewhere between 1 and 1/2 sleeping pills, I got up and emailed my friend Christy to tell her what the idea was. The last idea I shared with her (one I didn't tell you about), she responded to with, "Yikes." I didn't take that as a positive.
I'm going to quote a little bit of last night's email I sent Christy, because I think it will give you a taste of what I was working through when I should have been sleeping. I'm taking my chances that you won't regard it as a spoiler:
... comes to face with death, which she acknowlolrfhrd sd nojyjionhinhh moyjhinhnrdd nothingnrdd- im really drugged and sneezing0=
My favorite part is the sneezingo. Or snee-zingo! if you prefer.
This morning I woke up and thought about my 1 AM inspiration and still liked it a lot. I thought about it some more while I did a half hour on the treadmill, and then I called Christy and ran the idea past her. She gave it the Christy Seal Of Approval. I would quote her exact gerund but that might give away some of the essence.
I still have some decisions to make before rewriting the ending, and I'll have to do a bit of reconstruction to get the story where I'll need it to be. I'll tell you the following three things and then I'm not going to reveal anything more about it.
There's a little scene I quoted over at thirdmoonbook, with a Bible lesson, and I'm going to change the Bible story. Same basic scene, but a whole other lesson.
The new ending isn't the same as any of the endings I've discussed here or at thirdmoonbook. It shares some elements, but it's very very different.
It isn't a trick ending. No one wakes up and realizes it's all been a dream.
Because to know me is to mock me, I'm going to put a poll up where you can give vent to your cynicism that I can keep the ending a secret from all of you. Which I can and I will. But mock away.
I don't care. I got my ending and my nojyjionhinhh!
Friday, February 20, 2009
It is possible I didn't write either of them, but just came up with the titles.
What I do remember doing is buying a whole batch of confessions magazines and reading them for research. One story stuck with me for decades. There was a girl who wanted to be a go go dancer (and who amongst us didn't dream that dream). Her straight arrow boyfriend didn't approve of this career path one bit, and to convince her of the mistake she was about to make, said, "There's more to life than the hully gully."
A few days ago, I said that to myself (as I do several times a year, but only on appropriate occasions), and I realized the anonymous author of that story probably doesn't even remember the line. Heaven knows, I've written lots of lines I don't remember, although none as good as that.
Working through to the best possible ending for This World We Live In seems to be my hully gully right now. Instead, I subbed for Marci at my previous volunteer job, did lunch and a movie with my friend Geri (we saw and loved Confessions Of A Shopaholic), got my hair cut so I'll be presentable at my cousin Danny's wedding, and pondered at enormous and unsatisfying length, whether I should get white or black or multicolored storage boxes to hide manuscripts and old Mad magazines. All this and American Idol too would keep anybody from work.
What thought I have given to B3 Ending 3, I blogged about over at thirdmoonbook. So if you're interested in what my five remaining brain cells have been up to, make your merry way over there. If you aren't, but you have a strong opinion about storage box colors, let me know about that instead.
Either way, feel free to do the hully gully!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
About half an hour ago (as I was moving the sheets from the washer to the drier), I got to thinking yet again about the ending to This World We Live In. You may recall I wrote an ending on Friday, then decided it wasn't strong enough and wrote another ending on Saturday.
Something about wet sheets made me think about my original plan for the ending of B3- Charlie not merely dying, but being killed by one of the other characters, and Miranda choosing not to know who did it. The Saturday ending simply has Charlie dying (on Friday, Charlie lived).
I remembered that I wanted Charlie's death to be a mercy killing because I wanted something complicated to end the book with, a debatable moral issue.
So as I moved the sheets to the drier, I considered changing the ending yet again. As of the moment, Charlie is crushed to death as he tries to get out of Mrs. Nesbitt's demolished by the tornado house. Dad declares that Charlie died immediately.
But what if Charlie doesn't die immediately? What if he's only partially crushed and is crying out (as I originally planned for him to do), Let me die! Let me die!
In an earlier part of the book, Miranda and Alex come across a houseful of food, and a shotgun. Miranda is the last person to carry the shotgun, which means it stayed in her house.
So now I'm thinking Charlie's lying there in agony and (hold onto your hats), Mom goes back to the house, gets the shotgun, and kills Charlie with it.
Talk about moral ambiguity!
The other possible shooters are pretty much anybody but Alex (who's still semi-conscious). But I can't see Julie leaving Alex's side, Matt, Miranda, or Jon caring enough about Charlie to put him out of his misery, Dad leaving Lisa (who has just escaped also), Lisa, who most likely wants only to be with baby Gabriel again and Syl. But Syl, who Jon and Miranda regard as responsible for Horton's death, is too obvious a choice. Which Mom certainly is not.
So that's where things are at this moment. The idea is less than an hour old, and I'm not going to do any rewrites until next week at the earliest, so I have time to consider and reconsider. There's an old Hollywood rule that if you establish there's a gun early in a movie, at some point later in the movie that gun will get used, and I don't like following cliche rules, so I'm not crazy about the shotgun being mentioned and then a hundred or so pages later being used.
But I do love the image of Mom (Mom!) shooting poor Charlie's brains out. And since this blog is all about process, I figured I'd let you know where the process was taking me.
And now I'll fold the sheets.
ETA: If you want to comment on this idea, please do. I'm curious to know what your thoughts are, since mine are still in inchoate territory.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
At my request, my agent has been trying to get me at least one copy of the Danish LAWKI, but it hasn't shown up yet. Today, I noticed a Danish review of it, and then, in one of those rare flashes of brilliance I'd be a lot better off if I had more of, I realized that just maybe the review would have a picture of Danish LAWKI.
It does and it's gorgeous!
What a great additional birthday surprise.
Monday, February 16, 2009
One thing I don't need an excuse for is to say thank you to everyone who has sent a card or a message wishing me a happy birthday. I grin at each one, and I'm very appreciative of your taking the time and energy to send me them. I can tell already, it's going to be a wonderful birthday.
A modest person would certainly need an excuse for what I'm about to post. Here's the best Google Listing I've ever seen in my entire life. I found it yesterday while doing my weekly Life As We Knew It Google search.
Susan Beth Pfeffer T-Shirts, sweatshirts, shirts, bumper stickers ... - 5:43pm
Unique pfeffer susan beth designs on clothing, t-shirts, cards, ... Designs include funny pfeffer
It takes you to Cafe Press, which I've already made richer by purchase of various One Book New Jersey Susan Beth Pfeffer items. So now they think I'm an entire category.
Now onto that poll of the dead over on the right. Here's what happened. I woke up about 2:30 this morning, and was working on a B3 scene. I don't like working in the middle of the night. I like sleeping in the middle of the night. So I got out of bed, turned on the computer, and took a half sleeping pill. Only neither the computer nor the pill put me back to sleep. Instead I went back to work. So I got out of bed a second time, turned on the computer again, and finished up the sleeping pill. And sometime after the second half pill and before getting totally knocked out, I put up the who would you kill poll.
It's not like I don't remember doing it (although I was surprised to see it this morning). I was determined that the characters be listed in alphabetical order, and I think I forgot one and had to put that character in and move all the others around. This takes a lot of effort when you're sleepwalking.
I also remembered deciding it shouldn't be a one week long poll, which is why it isn't.
But that's why it's there. In celebration of my birthday!
I will now get dressed for same, buy some birthday celebration socks and some giftlike object my mother says I should say came from her, and then have lunch with Marci and Carol. It's going to be a wonderful birthday, but I have to admit, it's gotten off to a slightly peculiar start!
This one is a front page feature about school librarians. I read every single word (which I don't always do with NY Times articles) and thought you might find it interesting as well.
Besides, I still like showing off my fabulous linking skills (taught to me by my fabulous sister-in-law)!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I finished the first draft of This World We Live In Friday night, went to bed quite satisfied with myself, and woke up early Saturday morning and decided to junk much of what I'd written the night before. So I gave myself one more day of procrastination, returned to the ending of the book in the afternoon, and finished B3 for the second time Saturday evening.
In the Friday night version, probably because I was in a good mood, I didn't kill off Charlie. Saturday morning I realized without his death, things were a tad on the anticlimactic side (although I had come up with a nifty plot twist for those cursed safe town passes). I had originally planned for Charlie to fall, become paralyzed, beg for his death, get his wish, and Miranda would choose not to know who had put him out of his misery.
Now he just gets crushed to death, which makes the plot a little less unresolved.
The thing that fascinated me most was the Friday night version was 282 pages long, and the Saturday version, where I added Charlie's death, was 282 pages long. I have no idea how that happened. Then again, I don't really know how I wrote 282 pages, when every single day I had to work, I postponed and postponed and postponed again. But I definitely have a completed first draft, waiting for me to read it (which I will today, since I'm real curious about the book, having already forgotten most of what I've written).
After I read it, I'll put it aside for a week or so (this is a busy social week for me anyway, what with my birthday on Tuesday, lunch with my friend Geri on Thursday, and my cousin Danny's wedding on Sunday), and then reread it, noting where it needs work and where to put in chapter breaks. Then I'll do the rewriting/polishing. My guess is, now that I've killed off poor Charlie, that I'll need at least one more good Charlie scene, so the readers will be really upset when he dies. Charlie is a sweetheart of a character, but I don't recall him being that involved in the action for a stretch, and it could be helpful to throw him in a little bit more.
What did surprise me as I wrote was how involved Miranda and Alex got. I'd figured they'd have one little kiss, but whoo. By the end of the book, that one little kiss had turned into a lot more. I'm choosing not to know just how much more, but things do get pretty hot and heavy. Miranda does the pursuing, but Alex allows himself to get caught more than I had anticipated.
Syl, Matt's bride, also developed in ways I hadn't expected. I thought she'd be kind of a new agey airhead, and she has elements of that. But she's also a lot tougher than I'd originally intended, a lot more willing to confront reality (and to confront Mom).
And for those who worry about such things, there's religion all over the place- Sunday services and Bible study and hymn singing and the only religious character who doesn't make it is poor sweet Charlie. In fact, in celebration of the completion of the first draft, I think I'll go over to thirdmoonbook and put in Charlie's little sermon, so you can see what a darling he is.
And while you're at it, you can see what a darling I am also!
Thursday, February 12, 2009
But in my never ending struggle to find new ways to procrastinate, I took my mother clothes shopping for the first time this century. She wanted a new dress to wear to my cousin Danny's wedding.
The trip was a great success. She tried on three dresses, and bought two (the black and the red). She intends to wear the black one to the wedding (Marci and my sister-in-law both approved her choice; my cousin Fran favored the unpurchased pink dress).
My mother's outfit will be completed by a pair of shoes my sister-in-law found for her in Rome. And I'm going to see if I can get the clasp on the pearls replaced, because I think the black dress will look even better with a pearl choker (which my father bought many years ago).
I don't seem to be willing to spend time reading before getting to work, and as a result, my reading has fallen far behind. But a couple of nights ago, I finished The Murder Of A Medici Princess.
The victim was quite the Medici princess. She was related to both of Henri IV's wives (someday I've got to read a biography of him; he's my absolute favorite king). She and her sister-in-law got murdered within about a week of each other by their respective (if not respecting) husbands, which is not a strong argument for marriage (I don't think I'll mention it at Danny's wedding).
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Since there may be people reading this blog who might be interested, here's the link.
I'm not taking sides on this one. I don't particularly hold to the books as sacred artifacts concept, but on the other hand, kids are inundated with enough junk, and probably don't need their schools to serve as conduits for more.
But mostly I'm writing all this to keep from getting to work!
Monday, February 9, 2009
The term B3
Means spoiler to me
So if you don't like spoilers
Put on your tin foilers.
And now you know why all 75 of my books are in prose.
I spent much of the weekend working through a problem I had with This World We Live In. Have I mentioned this is a very tricky book to write? Wait, I feel another poem coming on.
B3 is very tricky to write.
But it will be an editor's delight.
What a shame that people who don't want to read spoilers will be missing out on such brilliant verse.
Among the reasons why B3 is so tricky is because I have to be honest about what I've already written in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone without revealing too much about either of those books. I've already discussed the Mami/Papi issue, but now I'm coping with the passes to the safe town that Alex has.
I can't pretend those passes don't exist. In fact, it's completely my fault Alex has them with him. I remember contacting my editor after the manuscript had been rewritten and saying we had to put in something about Alex taking the passes with him at the very end of d&g. That was because I had a completely different third book in mind, one where the passes were a major part of the plot.
But in this B3, they aren't really a major part, or they haven't been until page 220 or so. Still, I can't leave them out, because if I do, someone who's read d&g will say, "Well, why doesn't Alex use his safe passes? I distinctly remember him taking them with him at the end of d&g." So they have to be worked into the plot, without my saying how Alex got them (because there will be people who read B3 without having read d&g and will then go back to read d&g, and won't they be surprised to discover Alex has a whole other sister, because I don't mention Bri at all in B3).
Frankly, I needed an explanation why Alex wasn't using the passes, so I decided it's one thing to have passes to a safe town and quite another to know where a safe town is. Alex, Bri and Julie were going to take a bus to one, but they didn't know where the bus was going. And safe town locations, I figure, are kept pretty quiet, since they don't want riffraff like you and me showing up. Although since I created them, they should let me in. I could be the Safe Town Poet Laureate.
Thus the passes had to be mentioned, safe towns had to be explained, and locations had to be located. All of which I did at the end of last week, but unfortunately, I left myself with a minor plot issue, which I spent a merry weekend working out.
Alas, one minor plot issue involved chucking about ten pages of manuscript and rewriting same today. Where once I was on page 235, now I'm on page 233. But the problem is solved and the book is tighter.
Something I've discovered from doing these while I go along rewrites is every third word in the manuscript is "just." When I eliminate all those justs, the book will probably be 123 pages long, and how the editor will love it.
While it's true I could write another scene today (and get the book back to 235 pages), I think I'll stop until tomorrow, when I absolutely swear I'll get a whole bunch more written. In the meantime, I'm going to move this entry over to thirdmoonbook, and put there the scene between Miranda and Syl where Miranda learns that Syl knows where a safe town is. There are two versions, the one from last week and the far better one I wrote today, so it'll be a nice compare and contrast for those who are interested. And for those of you who aren't, I'll end here with a poem.
Friday, February 6, 2009
And yet, and yet, I must be doing some writing, because I'm on page 231, and can actually envision finishing the book by my birthday, Feb. 17. I try very hard not to work on my birthday, but if I'm almost at the very end by then, I can't imagine taking the day off and finishing on Feb. 18 instead. So the better approach is to finish by Feb. 16 and really have reason to celebrate.
Speaking of dates, I'm going to the World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles the week of March 22, and as it happens, I have nothing scheduled for Monday, March 23. I'll be staying somewhere near the Staples Center, and the current plan is to not rent a car, but if there are any public or school librarians or bookstore people who are interested in hooking up with me and can provide transportation, please email me and let me know.
As I've no doubt mentioned a few dozen times, Life As We Knew It is the One Book New Jersey 2009 Young Adult Selection. I now have the refrigerator magnet to prove it. That, the book bag, and the attractively framed certificate arrived in my mail yesterday, and this morning, rather than working, I took many photographs.
I had never realized before, but New Jersey bears a strong resemblance to Thomas Edison in profile. Coincidence? I think not (well, actually, I think yes, but it's a lot more dramatic the other way).
Okay. The great thing about Blogspot is whenever I post photographs it totally screws up the paragraphing, so as soon as I post this entry, I'll have to spend a minimum of twenty minutes trying to make it look intelligible.
That's twenty more minutes before I have to get to work. Thank you Blogspot and thank you New Jersey!
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Today, at least, I have a reason to blog. I received an email this morning informing me that Life As We Knew It is nominated for a Connecticut Nutmeg Book Award. I've put Connecticut (home, at least for the next ten minutes, to the number one women's and men's college basketball teams) on the list of states where LAWKI has been nominated for an award. I keep that list over at thirdmoonbook so that I won't be depressed seeing it here each time LAWKI fails to win. It's been nominated in a lot of states, so the risk of depression is quite high.
I decided very early on with LAWKI to define it as the book being nominated, rather than my being nominated, and that it didn't win, rather than it lost. I told myself it wouldn't feel so personal that way and that you can't lose what you don't have. But my guess is when the steady stream of announcements starts coming, and I don't see LAWKI at the top of the list anywhere, I will take it personally and I will feel like I lost.
Then again, it's better to be nominated and lose than never to be nominated at all. Way better.
I used to enter items at the Orange County (NY) Fair. Culinary kinds of things, which is pretty funny given my limited cooking skills (I boil a mean can of soup) My most memorable achievement was coming in second in a field of one for my chocolate cream pie. The judge felt it just wasn't blue ribbon worthy. The following year, I remained the only entrant, but I must have gotten a different judge, because I won.
I also got a blue ribbon for my popovers one year, but the victory comes with an asterisk. Popovers were judged by the pie judge, who keeled over after sampling the key lime pies. They pretty much grabbed the first person off the fairgrounds to continue the judging, and lucky for me, it was not a popover specialist.
I quit entering when it occurred to me (after many years; I'm not quick witted) that every single thing I do for a living gets judged, every word, every comma, every space between paragraphs. Given the constant scrutiny I must endure, why should I get judged for a hobby? Having no answer for that, and having won three blue ribbons already (one year my brother and I revolutionized the frozen dessert category by submitting ices and ice cream-before us, all frozen desserts were ghastly looking things floating in frozen Jello-with my brother taking first, and my getting second, so the next year I entered again and beat out all the ghastly looking things floating in Jello for another first place finish), I resigned from culinary competition.
Who knows how many judges I saved from keeling over with that single noble decision.
Well, fun though this has been, I probably should get back to B3. It hardly qualifies as a spoiler to say I left my characters in a pretty bad situation. But now I should see if I can make it any worse for them.
Who knows? Maybe I'll force them to judge key lime pies at the local county fair!