Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm Lobbying Hard For The Knife Club Vote

When I was a kid, I was a member of two very exclusive clubs, the Explorers Club and the Knife Club. Both clubs were created by my brother Alan, and both had more than two members, but not much more.

My favorite of the two was the Knife Club, because of the knife. It was made out of plywood, and I have no idea how we came to own it. Possibly my brother made it. I don't remember there being more than one knife in the Knife Club, or what exactly we did in the Knife Club (we explored in the Explorers Club) with that knife, but I really liked that knife. I still have a great fondness for plywood.

I've been hard at work on the Possible Third Book. On Sunday I wrote preliminary notes for it, and have continued to do so over the past couple of days. When I wrote Life As We Knew It, I referred to several parts of it as set pieces (crazy shopping day, Miranda goes skating). There are similar set pieces in the dead and the gone. It's those set pieces that I've been working on for P3B. One example would be the hanging/nonhanging scene, which I've been working on in this blog.

With all the set pieces I've been creating, there's been a struggle between reason and bleakity bleak. LAWKI and d&g certainly have their moments of unpleasantness, but because both books were set in the immediate aftermath of the world's biggest catastrophe, they're about a downward spiral. P3B takes place two or three (more likely three) years after the end of those two books and nothing good has happened during the interim. It's important for me to establish just how bad things are right away, but if I do establish just how bad things are, we're knee deep in the bleakity bleak, which may be off putting to any normal healthy human being (which at least a handful of my readers might be).

In my notes on Sunday, I wrote a brief synopsis of a scene where Caitlin, the heroine understudy of P3B, goes into the woods to gather kindling (I love that kindling) for the campfire. While she's in the woods, a guy lunges at her. She is able to escape, goes back to the camp very upset and scared. She's comforted by Will (he who will end up not being hung), but is told she has to go back into the woods to get the kindling.

This morning I woke up at 4:30 and pushed the scene further. What if Caitlin sees the guy in the woods before he sees her? What if she has a hunting knife on her and plunges it into the guy, then runs back to the camp, gets comforted by Will, and is told she has to go back into the woods to get both the kindling and the knife.

Obviously this is a much more frightening and powerful scene. But it's also very heavy in the bleakity bleak. And this evening, while I was exercycling (my second favorite place to work), I asked myself if Harcourt would really like my heroine to kill someone, even if it was self defense. Then I asked myself if I would really like my heroine to kill someone, nifty and dramatic though it would be. In seventy five books, I've never had one of my heroes or heroines ever actually kill somebody (although a few have bored the readers to death). Given that I'm committed to a fair amount of bleakity bleak anyway, is it really necessary to have Caitlin plunge the knife (nifty and dramatic though it would be).

I'm like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, holding back wave after wave of the bleakity bleak.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the blog, you may have noticed that LAWKI has not yet been splatted by a tomato in the Coventry Book Award competition. Frankly, I'm quite startled and delighted about this. I do have to confess that one young cynic on that site expressed shock that LAWKI had not yet been voted off and placed full responsibility for this injustice on power voting from my fan club.

I'm very excited to learn I have a fan club. When did this happen and why wasn't I invited to join? Trust me, I am my biggest fan. I'd be a charter member, especially if that allows me to learn the secret handshake. My favorite clubs always have secret handshakes.

Secret handshakes and plywood knives that is.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

We Interrupt The End Of Civilization For A Weekend In Las Vegas

My cousins Fran and Nancy and I are planning a long weekend trip to Las Vegas, June 5-8. Nancy (who lives outside Boston) and I have never been there. Fran lives in LA and loves Las Vegas, and will show us the sights.

I'm thinking about flying in on Wednesday June 4, and spending Thursday June 5 paying calls on anyone who'd be happy to see me. Life As We Knew It is currently up for the Nevada Young Readers Award, and will have been out in paperback for a month at that point. the dead and the gone will have come out on June 1 (the same day I'm hosting my Cheap And Easy 75th Book Party). I anticipate being in a very good mood in June.

If any of you work in a school or library or bookstore in or around Las Vegas and are interested in my popping in for a visit, to sign books or talk with students (assuming school is still in session; it would be in New York, but I know different states have different calendars) or giving an informal presentation at a library, please send me an e-mail via the cute little link to the left. If you yourselves don't work in a school, library or bookstore in or around Las Vegas, but know someone who might be interested, please tell them to e-mail me.

I'm off to follow the results of the men's figure skating competition without actually being able to see it until it's on TV tonight.

I think my life could use a little Vegas!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where There's A Will There's A Way

First thing in the morning is a great time for me to work on the Possible Third Book. My cats usually give me a half hour or so before they insist I get out of bed and feed them. I take that time to ponder, before facing the harsh realities of kitty litter cleaning and the suchlike.

This morning I did some truly fabulous pondering, which is why I'm blogging instead of eating breakfast (which I have to do before the skating starts again in an hour or so).

I focused on two different parts of the book, the first, the infamous hanging/nonhanging scene, and the second, a scene I don't think I've told you about, where Caitlin somehow finds a house with a body in it, and that discovery leads them to find a car with a little bit of gas still in it. I actually did a lot of high quality pondering on that scene this morning, and as a result I discovered that Caitlin had had a sister who died before the whole moon business. Who knew? And somehow all that led me to understand better just what the understudy's position in the troupe was (I mean I've understood pretty much all along, but it gave me a chance to explain it to Caitlin). We're talking some truly fabulous pondering.

But the really big ponder moment came with the hanging/nonhanging. Don't worry- there still won't be a hanging. But it won't be Tyler who gets caught and sent off to the coal mines, along with Sara/Lyra/Lara/Lark. It'll be Will, Caitlin's one true friend in the troupe.

You should see me. I'm making my heroine suffer more and more and I'm doing the happy dance.

Once I realized it was Will who gets caught, the troupe fell into place. They have a three piece band, Jimmy on accordion, someone on banjo and harmonica and someone on drums. I'd had Will on the banjo. I saw the troupe as being created to protect Jimmy (Derrick the engineer's partner), Rashad and Eboni (Derrick's niece and nephew, who he and Jimmy have raised). Then I figured Julie could be Eboni's best friend from school, and Tyler could be Rashad's, so they become part of the troupe, since the alternative for them would be nothing good. Lark gets selected because she can actually sing, and Will for his banjo playing.

But if Will plays the banjo, then he can't go off to the coal mines. I know people are desperate for entertainment, but accordion and drums just don't make it as a band. And if Will doesn't play the banjo, why is he in the troupe?

All this while my cats were patiently waiting to be fed.

So this is what I figured out. Tyler and Rashad were in a band together. Tyler played guitar, but when the troupe idea was first formulated, he taught himself banjo. Will knew them from school, maybe even from the band (maybe Will played bass). Anyway, Will convinces them to take him along because he loved old comedy, and he knew all the old comedy routines by heart (Who's On First, old Burns and Allen stuff). And this skill becomes desirable because it gives Julie something to perform. Derrick's a magician, and Eboni's his assistant, but Julie really needed a job or else how could they justify taking her?

You see, it's not all rules and regulations and keeping down the bleakity bleak. It's show biz.

If Will gets caught, he's now expendable to the troupe. By this point, they pretty much all know the comedy routines just from hearing them over and over. The band keeps its banjo player, and while it loses its lead singer, Caitlin actually can sing and take over that role. Caitlin would be much more likely to go off looking for food with Will, who she at minimum likes (as opposed to Tyler, who's been kind of nasty in my pondering). And (best of all), losing Will has far more emotional resonance for Caitlin than losing Tyler would.

And as Caitlin suffers, so do the readers. They'll love Will too. Ha ha wicked snicker ha!

Having it be Will solves a whole bunch of problems, and doesn't seem to create many new ones. I'd been trying to make Lark likable, so that Caitlin and the readers would be saddened when she's sent off, but I kept bumping into the Megan Issue. In Life As We Knew It, Megan, the one really religious character, dies, and there are readers who object to her death. I think religion is pretty much a non-issue in P3B (although I do think when the troupe goes into a town, at least some of them, Julie in particular, go to whichever church is open), but I didn't want The Martyrdom Of Lark (I can't, for fear of spoilering, discuss the dead & the gone, except to say to those who haven't read it that it has its share of dead bodies).

But if it's Will the readers mourn over, then Lark can be whoever Lark turns out to be. Will is the only member of the troupe Caitlin's gotten truly close to (although I think Julie's pretty nice to her). And Caitlin can not only assume she'll be the girl sent as part of the Keep Will Alive trade, but even volunteer, a moment of personal sacrifice that will show how much she's grown from the somewhat spoiled girl who begged to join the troupe because she didn't want to get married.

I like those sacrifice moments. I liked them in LAWKI and I like them in P3B.

I sent an e-mail to my editor on Friday, with a link to a blog review of LAWKI, and she very nicely e-mailed me back and asked when I might have something from P3B to show her. I think this is a very good sign. As it happens, I've been looking at my calendar to see when I might write P3B. I'm currently favoring starting mid-Feb. (assuming the prewriting keeps going as strongly as it currently is), and then working on through March, a month when my mother only has one doctor appointment. In April, she has a bunch of them, but by then I should be so close to finished that I can work around them.

US Nationals (which I've been enjoying each and every lutz of) ends tomorrow. Monday I'm going to clean the apartment (which I didn't do yesterday like I was supposed to because of all those lutzes), but maybe in the afternoon I'll start putting all the P3B stuff on paper, looking to see what sections need more developing (I can tell you right now, I need more fun stuff, or else P3B is going to make the dead & the gone look like the happy & the healthy). Mid-Feb. will be here before I know it, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned, what with a birthday to celebrate and spring to look forward to.

Naturally, my cat Emily has chosen this very moment to get on my lap. I must dump her and eat breakfast, since the skating will now start in less than half an hour. Pairs, dance, and women will all be decided today, and I have many people to root for.

I'm sure you do too. But if you have a moment, root for me as well!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Is It So Complicated To Keep Things Simple?

I've gone through some serious blog withdrawals over the past few days. Tuesday was particularly difficult, but thanks to the Australian Open and the US National Figure Skating Championships and a time consuming lunch with friends, I've managed not to write anything and give you, oh beloved and running out of patience slowly gained readership, a much deserved break.

While my fingers weren't working, my brain was. I've solved any number of Possible Third Book problems, and created a few more in the process.

I'll start with a quick update on the great hanging/coal mine issue, which I'd mostly worked out on Sunday. It's still no no to the hanging and yes yes to the coal mine. Tyler and Caitlin go food foraging, Tyler sees food on a porch, goes to steal it, but it's a trap, and he gets caught. Porch Owner (it turns out) leaves food out there to trap human varmints, because the town offers a bounty. So Porch Owner takes Tyler in to town, Caitlin tells the troupe, and Jimmy (former lawyer, current accordion player) goes in to see what he can do. When he returns to the troupe, he explains (this is the short version) that he's made a deal- coal mines for Tyler and one of the girls in the troupe, instead of the hanging. Caitlin (who has every reason to believe this) assumes she'll be sent, but instead Jimmy tells Lyra (previously known as Sara- I was watching skating and thinking about Tanith Belbin and I thought, Who the heck is named Tanith, and dumped the 1000 most popular girls name list and created the name Lyra) that she's going. Everyone is shocked, since Lyra is the lead singer in the troupe, but it turns out Lyra's been coughing blood (in my first fab version Lyra was pregnant, but that turned out to be way too complicated), which she didn't realize anybody knew, but as Jimmy puts it, "We know everything." So Lyra was going to have to get dumped anyway, and this way at least she keeps Tyler from getting hung. And Caitlin, the understudy, gets the lead singer job.

All this happens very close to the end of the book. I don't seem to be working P3B chronologically. My guess is I never do, but this is the first time I've kept this kind of diary during the prewriting, so I can't be sure.

Meanwhile I keep creating all these governmental rules and regulations, tinkering with them and playing with them and polishing them so they're nice and shiny, and then I have to remind myself that nobody who reads the book is going to care, so they're all (or at least almost all) a waste of time. And then yesterday, to make things even more difficult, I remembered that the President was referred to a few times in Life As We Knew It, and apparently he was at best ineffectual (he's mentioned only in passing in the dead & the gone). All these wonderful rules and regs are most likely not federal anyway and why was I wasting my time inventing them?

Well, for fun, if you really want to know.

So my new mantra is, Simplify, Simplify. I'll try to give you a quick and easy example, using the beginning of the book (which has been one ding dang problem after another for me).

Okay. We need to establish who Caitlin is, how her world is, and get her to join the troupe, all in as few pages as possible (start as close to the center of the action as you can). I've consistently liked the idea of her joining the troupe to avoid a marriage. I've also consistently liked the idea that the thrust of the book is Caitlin's learning what the real world is like (she's been sheltered by her position as a dentist's daughter) and her gaining compassion for those less well off than she. Only if she has to gain compassion, we need to see her lacking it, and if she lacks compassion on page 1 or thereabouts, the readers aren't going to like her from the get go. That one was quite the headache, and I wasn't making things any easier on myself with endless (albeit delightful) rules and regs.

Then, for Caitlin to know about the troupe, she has to see the troupe, and why would she see the troupe if her father just died? Which I assumed he was going to have to do, because if he was sick and Caitlin left him to join the troupe, then she was a pretty unlovable kind of daughter, and the readers wouldn't like her from the get go for a whole other reason.

So I kept creating more rules and regs as a means of maneuvering my way through this situation. Pretty soon the good old US of A was resembling a cross between Nazi Germany and the Cultural Revolution. Don't get me wrong. I think this is quite nifty. But if P3B takes place a mere two or three years after the end of LAWKI/d&g, then that's a real change in how Americans act, and I just don't think they'd get that rotten that soon. Especially not with an ineffectual federal government.

So I've decided to go traditional. Caitlin's mother died pre-book, and her father has since remarried. Caitlin has, thank goodness, a wicked stepmother! Caitlin herself is sheltered, and perhaps unquestioning, but if there's any nasty to be done, wicked stepmama can do it, so the readers won't dislike Caitlin from the you know when.

Meanwhile, I simplified all those complicated marital rules and regs to one basic one- girls can't be married until they're sixteen. Caitlin's sixteenth birthday is just a few days away. Caitlin's father, her stepmama (who is probably all of eighteen herself), some guy old enough to be Caitlin's father, and Caitlin go to the performance of the troupe. Caitlin loves what she sees. At the evening's end, Guy Old Enough goes back with Caitlin's family and announces that he's satisfied, and will marry Caitlin on her birthday. Caitlin protests privately to her father, but she's told it's a done deal, and it's the only means he has of seeing to it that Caitlin will continue to live in a house with heating and get three meals a day. Besides, his wife says Caitlin has to go.

So now Caitlin is vulnerable and sympathetic. She slips away from the house the next morning, finds the troupe leaders (Derrick and Jimmy), who agree to dump the girl they'd selected to be the new understudy and take Caitlin instead, because she's healthier (although Caitlin may think it's because she can sing). Caitlin goes off with them, still sheltered and with a sense of privilege, but never having been shown as cruel or unfeeling. Thank goodness for a long and honorable tradition of eighteen year old wicked stepmothers.

Now all this may seem easy as apple pie to you, and you may well be thinking, "Why did Susan have to sacrifice that many brain cells for such an obvious solution?" All I can say in my own defense is, "I've been working on other parts of the book as well." That's true, and it leaves out the more obvious answers of, "I'm not as bright as you are," and/or, "Hey watching all that figure skating takes up a lot of time."

But I have been working on other parts of the book, in between split triple twists and twizzles. Not only do I have to figure out characters (pish tush- such a minor consideration) and governmental rules and regs, I've had to work out an evening of vaudeville, and which character does what. Not to mention actual action to take place in between Caitlin Joins The Troupe and The End Of The Book. I love the latter, by the way, more and more, although when I worked on it this morning, a whole new problem rose to complicate my fabulous solution. And between simplifying rules and regs, trying to decide just how much government there is in this post LAWKI world, and keeping the bleakity bleak to an acceptable level, working out the opening of the book has taken longer than it might ordinarily do.

But the important thing, for me at least, is that I love the stuff I'm coming up with. I still have a lot to decide (obviously). I'm hearing the book third person, in part because I can't come up with a justification why Caitlin would be writing everything down. And at first, I saw things in good old fashioned chapters (LAWKI is a diary, and d&g uses a diary format, only third person), but I'm favoring the d&g solution now. My first thought had been dates would no longer have meaning, but I think the troupe is on a specific schedule, and it's immensely important for them reach their destinations and give their performances within a three day framework; if they're late, they'll no longer be paid in food, which is how they keep going. So dates will matter big time after all.

Speaking of dates, I have one with the live streaming of the Junior Free Dance in a little less than an hour. Or is it the Senior Original Dance? Either way, it's time for twizzles.

Feel free to write the rest of P3B without me!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


My brain, which I imagine as a entity with a life all its own, a little gray creature riding around frantically on a tricycle, has been having a great time working on Possible Third Book. "Slow down!" I cry. "Let me sleep!" But my brain has a mind of its own.

P3B, just like Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone is a ridiculous amount of fun to work on. Characters, plot, situation, logistics, each feeds into the other. It's like making a lanyard, all those different threads coming together to create a colorful, albeit totally useless, cord. Lanyard making was my second best subject at summer camp (being homesick was definitely my number one, but that's a topic for a day when I'm feeling nostalgic, not creative).

Last night I decided to name my characters. I even thought I'd write a blog entry about character naming, which is an art and a science and well worth blogging about. But it turned out naming the characters was just one thread in the lanyard, and once the characters were named, I started to see relationships I hadn't anticipated and the next thing I knew I was back to logistics and that led to hangings and the suchlike.

You know, maybe I'll never write P3B. Maybe I'll just publish a collection of these blogs, and then everybody can read them and write the book for themselves. What a time saver that would be.

Back to names. I had four before last night- Caitlin (the heroine), Will (the potential love interest, if the plot moves in that direction) , Julie, a member of the troupe, and Jimmy, one of the two men in charge of the troupe. By the time I went to bed (with one quick change I made just now), all the other troupe members had been named. I knew I wanted at least one African American kid in the troupe, and I pictured the other half of the gay couple as African American as well. For reasons I no longer remember (hey, this was last night), I decided two of the kids should be African American. I went browsing through Popular Baby Names, and picked Rashad for the boy, and Eboni for the girl. I wanted names that would allow the readers to picture them as African American. I have no idea how much their race will factor in the story, but LAWKI is just so white, and even d&g is lacking in African American characters. Then I decided Rashad and Eboni should be brother and sister. Once I realized that, I figured they should be related to the other gay man, so after a quick trip through the rosters of NFL teams, he got named Derrick and became their uncle.

That left one more girl and one more guy, and oddly enough, they were the hardest to name. But the other girl is, at least for the moment, Sara, and the other boy is Tyler. Tyler, poor kid, is the one I had scheduled to be hung.

The big decision was realizing that Rashad, Eboni, and Derrick form a family, because that got my brain working on logistics, which I devoted an hour to this morning, while my cats were sleeping. I invented The Sweep. It seems that somewhere towards the end of the second year (assuming I keep my beloved opening line- In the third year, things got worse) the government issued far more stringent rules about food entitlements. Before the sweep, Jimmy, Derrick, Rashad and Eboni constituted a family, and just as long as one of them, say Derrick, had a position of importance (say an engineer), they could get the maximum amount of food, shelter, and schooling. But post sweep, since Rashad and Eboni had never been legally adopted, they no longer were regarded as Derrick's children, and out they would go (sharing food is as much a crime as stealing it- you're just not allowed to eat any food that hasn't been allocated to you).

So now Derrick and Jimmy have to figure out a way to keep Rashad and Eboni safe, and that's when they come up with the idea of the traveling band of players. Derrick, it turns out, worked his way through college as a magician. But to make their case more convincing, they decide to take some other kids with them, and make a full evening of vaudeville out of it, so they can be licensed and entitled to food.

A certain amount of this, I figure the readers are going to learn as Caitlin learns it. Of course she'll know about the sweep and the rules, but I needed to figure out how this troupe came into being, and now I do. And it all came from naming the characters.

Meanwhile, back to poor Tyler and his hanging. I started thinking about the towns, and how Jon (a licensed courier) is going from place to place letting the people know that there's a recruitment underway to send young people to the coal mines. And I thought how if I were in one of those towns, I'd want to protect my own, and maybe instead of hanging Tyler, they'd substitute him, by giving him the papers of some teenage boy who had just died a day or two before, and send him off to the coal mines.

Or maybe if I want to make the book really sad, it could be Will, possible love interest to Caitlin.

Ooh ooh, double ooh. I'd been thinking how truly nifty it would be if the town negotiated with the troupe somehow, with maybe Jimmy (a lawyer in his previous life) the one to suggest substituting Tyler/Will in lieu of hanging, and the town agrees (I mean the coal mines are awful, but they're better than being hung), but only if the troupe gives up another of its members. Girls can go to the mines also, and the recruitment says how many boys and how many girls must be sent. So if the town's been told to send four boys, two girls, now one of the boys is Tyler/Will, but the town insists one of the troupe girls goes also.

I pictured what this does to the four girls, especially when Derrick declares that Eboni will not be sacrificed, which leaves Caitlin, Julie, and Sara as possibilities. Now if it's Will, maybe Caitlin wouldn't mind too much going along with him...

And this is how my mind works. As soon as I typed it, I changed my mind. It won't be Will. I'm sticking with Tyler, because I don't want Caitlin to offer to go, noble and self-sacrificing and romantic though it would be. I'm not sending her off to the coal mines, because if I do, I lose any chance of an even mildly happy ending (already written in my mind), and if Caitlin is willing to go to the coal mines, then Julie and Sara would say," So long Caitlin, it's been swell," but they sure wouldn't volunteer to take her place. And if Caitlin doesn't agree, and it's Will, her potential romantic interest, well then Caitlin doesn't come off very well. So sorry Tyler, it's back to you. The readers won't know who's going to end up going (I assume it'll be a lottery of some sort amongst the girls), and given that Eboni is excused, Caitlin's my heroine, Julie has suffered enough (coming as she does from d&g), poor Sara gets to join Tyler on the coal mine express.

Of course since I was planning on having Sara twist her ankle and be left on the side of the road anyway, she never was going to make it to the end of P3B.

The other great thing about not hanging Tyler is I still have one big deal death available to me. Yum yum.

So that's where things are right now, Tyler is reprieved, and Sara is off to the coal mines (which promotes Caitlin from understudy to full member of the troupe- there are a lot of logistics there I'm still working on).

Now here's the best part. I'm having lunch with friends tomorrow and Tuesday, and the US National Figure Skating Championship has already begun and I'm going to be watching as much as I can on the internet. So I promise that unless something really really really important (like the total failure of my e-mail address) happens, I won't blog maybe even until Thursday (I almost never blog on Wednesdays). I may not even think between now and Thursday, with all that skating and socializing going on. So my apologies for blogging three days in a row, but my assurances that I won't blog for the next three days.

Consider yourselves reprieved!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

E-Mail Issue

I was informed this afternoon that the "Email Me" box to the left wasn't working earlier this week. When I tried it this evening, it didn't work.

I've signed up with a different e-mail account and have linked it to the blog (all by myself!).

If anyone sent me an e-mail via the link during the week and hasn't heard from me (and I'm really pretty good about answering my e-mails within 24 hours), please try again. I love getting e-mails from all of you, and I hate the thought that your messages have been lost.

For any of you with whom I've been corresponding, please switch to the new address: susanpfeffer@mail.com

Thanks for your patience.

A Blog Of The Plague Year

As you may have noticed, I rarely post a blog entry the day after writing one. Maybe in the olden days of bragging, I'd do it, but ever since my highly successful New Year's resolution, I haven't felt the need. Well, except for January 3rd, and that was because of the Junior Library Guild selecting the dead and the gone, which truly was worthy of its own blog entry.

But after posting yesterday's blog entry, I received a half dozen excellent comments, mostly on plague and hanging issues, and I received a couple of e-mails as well. I thought about responding at length in the comments section, but decided to blog instead.

I'll start with plague. Both Anonymous Nancy and Caroline have informed me that plague can be transmitted from a dead person to a live one. Drat, drat, and double drat. I can't have my roving band of players go into a town where everyone's died of the plague, if they, themselves, could get it from some nasty indiscriminate flea. Do you realize there are people out there, who actually expressed doubts about the science in Life As We Knew It? All I need is for plague experts to get ahold of Possible Third Book and point out that all my characters should be dead by page 112. Triple drat.

What I'm thinking I might do instead (and feel free to comment) is have the troupe go into a town where they're scheduled to perform, and find the town is completely deserted. That could be very spooky. It could also be good for my troupe if there's been some stuff left behind, clothes and maybe even food. They would never find out what became of the townspeople, which means the readers never would either. I have no problems with that, but if any of you think that would be bothersome, let me know.

[My mother said, "You're writing this book by committee," and I pointed out to her that I've pretty much written all my books by committee, between editors, and copy editors, and other folk in the publishing house making suggestions for improvements. Plus, I have been known to ask friends for advice while I'm writing.]

Onto the hanging. Paige Y., Anonymous Glen, and Anonymous Nancy all liked the hanging idea, but Janni thought the farmer would simply slit the throat of the guy stealing his food, and and Caroline agreed. In addition, I received an e-mail from a regular blog reader, pointing out that lynching is a part of Southern history, and I need to be sensitive to it as an issue.

I guess the reason I didn't think of it as lynching was because my image was from Western movies, where race isn't an issue, and most of the hangings portrayed are done within the law.

The truth of the matter is I love my hanging. I love the idea of this kid not believing it could actually happen to him, and I love the readers making the same assumption. I also have an image of Caitlin not believing it, and one of the other kids saying, "You've never seen a hanging?" in a state of total skepticism, and Caitlin replying, "Of course I've seen hangings, but never of anyone I knew." A lot of my Caitlin image these days is a girl who has been relatively protected from what's going on, and now having to cope with the various horrors that everyone else takes for granted.

Some of that I could handle with a quick brutal death (throat slitting), but I'd lose the sense of shock the readers would feel when the guy actually does get hung. I keep picturing all these young teens humming "Reprieved" from Threepenny Opera, as they cheerfully await the last minute rescue. And then I traumatize them.

It takes so little to make me happy.

So I've been coming up with reasons why the farmer wouldn't just slit the kid's throat. I have three, of which I favor number three:

1. There's a bounty on lawbreakers, and the farmer will be rewarded for bringing the kid in (this seems to me to be a very dubious means of enforcing laws).

2. The kid is grabbed on the farmer's front porch, and the farmer is going to slit his throat, but his wife tells him not to, since she'll have to clean all the blood off the floor, and it would just be less messy to have him hung.

3. The farmer grabs the kid, holds a knife to his throat, and says that while he's tempted to slit the kid's throat then and there, he's a law abiding citizen, so he's going to take him to town to let the criminal justice system do its job.

Caroline also suggested that a more practical way of dealing with food thieves is lock them in jail and throw away the key, letting them starve to death, but I think public execution would be a more popular way of handling that, and any other, crime. We're talking a civilization with a Writer's Guild strike and no American Idol. Sad times indeed.

On a far happier note, I received an e-mail from my editor yesterday. She assured me that Harcourt intends to stay in business, and I had no cause for concern. And here's the extremely fabulous way she started the e-mail:

I’ll admit that I no longer feel as if I can read your blog because when I finally get to read P3B I want to be thoroughly surprised, and you are giving WAY too much away for it to be a safe place for me to be hanging out.

So it looks like all systems are go for P3B! It'll be many months before I'll know if P3B will actually be 3B, but in the meantime, and with your help, I can keep on plugging along and destroying all humanity, with a smile on my face and "Reprieved" in my heart.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Daniel Defoe Loved The Bleakity Bleak

Have I mentioned, more than forty or fifty times, that my favorite part of writing is creating the story? I love making stuff up, getting the plot and the characters to align. The pleasure I get from this stage of creative work is one reason why I'm such an advocate of pre-writing, although, obviously, what I find enjoyable, other writers might not.

I'm at the pre-planning stage with Possible Third Book, and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. It doesn't seem to bother me that P3B may never exist, or that I might write it for naught. I play with ideas, rejecting some, building on others, and I start to see the totality of the book, where it begins, how it ends, and what I want from it.

One particular issue with P3B is keeping the bleakity bleak under control. This morning I worked out vast amounts of social structure, who gets food and how and why, even though I know only the tiniest bit may show up in the book. I've been trying very hard to follow the rule of one my editors- start the story as close to the center of the action as possible- which means for P3B a first chapter that introduces Caitlin, explains her need to get away from her situation, and her acceptance into the acting troupe. Which is a lot to throw into a first chapter, where the readers also have to see how the world is getting along, a couple of years later than Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

As of the moment, Caitlin's father the dentist has made arrangements for her to marry someone so that she'll be protected in the event of his death. He does indeed die, Caitlin only has a week to continue in her home before she has to marry the guy, the acting troupe comes to town, and Caitlin convinces them to take her, which they agree to because Caitlin has been eating three meals a day and they can use someone strong and healthy.

My guess is P3B is not going to be a short book.

Once I get Caitlin into the troupe, my plan is for something picaresque. I have never written anything picaresque, in part because I stink at writing descriptions and when characters move about, you sort of have to describe what each new place looks like. But d&g was a real challenge for me, and I loved writing it, so picaresque doesn't repel me. Also what I'll be describing won't be real, which gives me a lot of latitude.

Anyway, I've been coming up with picaresque stuff. I know that the troupe ends up in The Capitol, which will seem like the Emerald City by the time they reach it. They stay there at least one night, which they spend in a building with heat and hot running water, and their performance goes great, and they get their license renewed, so they can continue to perform, which is the happy ending.

But before then, there's all the gruesome pain and suffering stuff that makes me so very jolly. Lest you think that only P3B has gruesome pain and suffering, let me offer you a visual of gruesome pain and suffering from LAWKI. And while I don't have any such evidence from the dead & the gone, I can say, without spoilering, that there's a reason it's not called the under the weather and the gone.

Right now I have two big gruesome pain and suffering scenes set for P3B. The first, and shorter of the two, has the troupe going into a town where they're scheduled to put on a show, only to find everyone (or nearly everyone) there dead from the plague. They get out of there as fast as they possibly can, but they're terrified that since they've been exposed to the plague, they might come down with it as well.

Personally, I have no idea if the plague can be transmitted from a dead person to a live one, but none of my characters are going to get it. The horror, followed by the terror, will be enough.

My other big gruesome pain and suffering scene is really more of a segment than a scene, and will take place later. As of this morning, the gist was that the troupe meets Jon from LAWKI, while they're all on the road. He's a courier, and he shares a campfire with them, telling them enough about himself that the LAWKI readers can learn what happened to Miranda and the family (I'm hoping they've had some contact with Dad, Lisa and the baby, since people really seem to want to know how they're doing). Anyway, Jon tells them that the next town up has just gotten its recruitment requirements- how many of their remaining young people they have to send to the coal mines. Jon tells the troupe to avoid the town, since the townspeople will take the performers and substitute them, not legal, but definitely likely.

The troupe had been counting on the town for food, so it's a problem to have to skip it, but they do. But everyone is hungrier than they otherwise would be, and Caitlin and one of the boys go out one morning, in search either of food or water (I have a drought going, and water is a very big deal commodity). They find a farmhouse, and the boy decides to take something. Caitlin, knowing the risk, doesn't go along with him, and may even be leaving the scene when the boy gets caught.

Stealing food and/or water is a capital offense, so the farmer and his wife take the boy to town for him to be hung the next morning. Caitlin escapes back to the troupe and tells them what's happening. I guess the recruiters have already come and gone (I gotta to work that detail out), because the troupe goes into town to see if they can save the boy. They're met with flat out refusal, a crime's a crime, but they see the boy, who's in a state of shock that he's going to be dead by the next morning. He'd always felt he'd outlive the catastrophe, that he'd be around when things finally got better. But the next morning, with the townsfolk and the troupe standing around watching, he's hung.

I love this. I figure I'm allowed at least one Big Deal Death per book, and this'll be the one for P3B. I can picture kids reading it, assuming there's going to be some form of rescue. And there won't be. Ha!

As it happens, I told Marci a brief version of this story, and she hated it. She finds hangings distasteful. And I told my friend Christy the same brief version of the story, and she called it a lynching and I said it wasn't a lynching because hanging was the legal punishment for the crime, they just didn't have trials anymore, and she said, no trial, it's a lynching, and I said, look, the situation doesn't exist and the people don't exist, so let's not fight over it. Only the next morning I e-mailed Marci to tell her what Christy said, and Marci e-mailed back that Christy was right and besides hangings were gross.

I like hangings. They're very dramatique, and they have a long history of being popular entertainment (as do beheadings, but they're really gross). Hangings also make a lot of sense as a means of capital punishment, because you can always reuse the rope. You shoot someone, that's one less bullet. Beheadings take skill, electric chairs take electricity...well, you get the idea. This morning I started picturing soldiers with bayonets, protecting those who need to be protected (dentists and the suchlike), but I don't see bayonets as being a particularly sensible means of execution.

So unless one of you can convince me, by way of the comments or the cute e-mail link to the left, that hangings are truly offensive, I'll continue to work out the scene, especially the part about how the troupe can go into town if the town has to send kids to the coal mines.

Speaking of the left side of the blog, I'm pleased to point out the list of states where LAWKI has been nominated for an award has expanded to include South Carolina. I've actually won the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award twice, for About David and The Year Without Michael. It isn't bragging for me to bring up South Carolina, because P3B is currently set there and in Georgia. It was going to be Georgia and Florida, but I found a Triple A guidebook for North and South Carolina and Georgia, so I dumped Florida. From such things, great literature is created.

And speaking of dumped, I'm also pleased to report LAWKI has made it through two weeks of tomato splatting unsplatted. I doubt it will survive much longer, but if you want to see what the splatting looks like (and who the victims have thus far been), follow the link to the left.

Hmmm. Tomato splatting as a form of execution. Nah. Hangings are way more fun.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Have A Pal And Her Name Would Have Been Sal

Until very recently, I used to say The Future Is Unknowable, but then I realized that if I knew the future was unknowable, the future was, to some extent, knowable. I called this Pfeffer's Paradox and it gave me a headache.

I bring this up partly so you'll be impressed I have my very own Paradox, but mostly to ease into the topic of the harsh reality of the publishing industry. A few weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin completed its purchase of Harcourt, beloved publisher of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone (well, beloved except when I'm waiting for advance or royalty checks).

How this will affect the Possible Third Book (aka P3B)? I have no idea. When I spoke to my editor about P3B (in that charming, whiny way I've mastered) back in November, I felt assured that if d&g did well enough, Harcourt would be open to discussing P3B. No guarantees, but certainly a willingness to listen.

But now new people have taken over positions of power at Harcourt, and I know nothing about them. Maybe they hate trilogies. Maybe they hate end of the world books. Maybe they love trilogies and end of the world books and hate me. Maybe their definition of success for d&g is nothing short of #1 New York Times Best Seller. Maybe they don't appreciate writers speculating about them on blogs. I dunno. In the immortal words of James Forsyte, father of Soames, "Nobody tells me anything."

A sane and sensible person would jot down a few notes about P3B and forget it, until such time (next fall, next millennium) as Harcourt expresses interest. But not me. My little mind keeps zooming along, brushing aside as much bleakity bleak as I'm capable of, while figuring out just how the end of the world would be run two years after LAWKI ends.

This is what I currently know: my heroine's name is Caitlin.

Before you go, Is that all you currently know? let me tell you, it took hours to name her. I must have gone through a dozen possibilities, all of which got rejected for very valid reasons. For at least two hours, she was Rachel, until I remembered Baby Rachel in LAWKI. Alicia got dumped because it sounds too much like Alex, the main character in d&g. Lauren got dumped because there's a minor character in d&g named that. Amy and Brooke got dumped when I remembered the heroine of my book Twice Taken was named both Amy and Brooke. I told my friend Hilarie at lunch the character was named Kayla, and then for a little while after lunch she was named Kaylie. I even considered Morgan, which was the name of my very first heroine, Morgan in Just Morgan. I thought it might be a nice, sentimental gesture. Dumped, dumped, and dumped.

So she's Caitlin, unless you hear otherwise (maybe Houghton Mifflin hates the name). And her father's a dentist. If I were cherry picking professionals at the end of the world, I would definitely save the dentists (lawyers, journalists, and Broadway producers can fend for themselves).

I've come up with at least a half dozen different ways Caitlin ends up in the acting company, with five or more of them too bleakity bleak. But I know this about the company- it's run by a gay couple, and at least one of them is a stage magician.

Which brings up a major bleakity bleak issue. Magicians have a lot of props, and touring entertainers have musical instruments, so there are things that have to be transported. I'd originally pictured a mule cart, until Hilarie at lunch asked where the mule came from. So I kept the cart and dumped the mule (I am very suggestible, especially at lunch).

What I need to know is how does the cart get transported? It doesn't have to be a real big cart, although I'd like it to be big enough to carry at least one person (I have this nifty image of one of the girls in the troupe falling and spraining her ankle and getting carried in the cart for one day until it's decided that's too much of a burden and they dump the poor girl on the side of the road, which is how Caitlin, taken on as an understudy, gets to be a regular member of the troupe. You see, by my standards, that's not too bleakity bleak, but then again there are an awful lot of corpses in d&g, and they didn't bother me one whit). I would appreciate suggestions, from you, oh beloved slowly gained readership,because, as of the moment, I have the kids in the troupe taking turns pulling the cart along, and there's a real chance of excessive bleakity bleakedness. Which, now that I think about it, I could blame on Hilarie, since if it weren't for her, they'd have a mule.

It occurs to me that I'd better be careful. Hilarie actually reads this blog (Hi Hilarie. You look fabulous!).

Heh. I wonder how Houghton Mifflin feels about mule carts. With my luck, they love them (and hate me).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sheepless In Seattle

A couple of days have passed since I first had my long sleepless night of creativity, and I still love the idea of a traveling band of actors/performers, making their way around the post Life As We Knew It/the dead and the gone country.

It's been very tricky to work out the plot and characters, mostly because of my concern about being too bleakity bleak bleak bleak. That and logistics. It used to be when I'd write a book, I'd have to work out plot and characters. But now I have to work out plot, characters, and logistics, with, to some extent, logistics coming first. Maybe logistics is simply more fun; it would seem underneath all my creative impulses, I have the soul of a bureaucrat.

Here's how my mind copes with the practical issues. Back when I was writing LAWKI, I thought about creating a pony express kind of system, with messengers on bikes, traveling throughout the country in relay fashion to carry the mail. I pictured Matt leaving home to do it. But there was so much going on in LAWKI, I didn't do anything with the idea.

So now I'm thinking about my traveling troupe, and I can picture them running into one such messenger, only I'm thinking it'll be Jonny, which would be how I could bring a LAWKI character into the story (remember always, with Possible Third Book, that my poor beleaguered editor knows nothing about this, might hate it all, and might not want any third book whatsoever). Jonny (who grew into Jon in LAWKI, but will always be Jonny to me) would make something of a cameo appearance, but he could mention his family and let us know what happened to them.

All right. I like that a lot. But if I put all that nasty snow and ice on the ground, could people ride bikes great distances (we're into logistics here)? Would it be some combination of bike and cross country skis? Most likely the story will take place further south, where things would be a little bit warmer, but would the conditions be that much better than Pennsylvania and New York?

My middle of the night brain starts warming up. What about telegrams? I haven't gotten around to Wikipedia research yet, but my vague memory of the Childhood of Famous Americans biography of Samuel F.B.Morse makes me think telegrams predated electricity (I suppose electricity had always existed, so I guess I mean electricity humans knew what to do with, like for computers and microwaves and dvd players and all the other truly important inventions in my life). You don't need satellites to send telegrams. So maybe the pony express is more like Western Union. Either way, Jonny could be traveling around as a messenger.

So then (sleep, who needs sleep?) I start thinking about forms of power that predate electricity (or Thomas Edison, who I always picture inventing electricity). I'd already thought of coal, and of course there's wood, but what about wind power? Holland had all those windmills. I have no idea what they did, but wind power is an alternative energy source, and if Holland could build all those windmills without power tools, so could my post LAWKI world.

See how civilized civilization is becoming?

Then I started thinking about Miranda, Mom and Matt, and how they were doing, and I pictured them moving into a house that had a greenhouse, or at least a really good solarium, where they could grow enough vegetables to feed themselves. My guess is they could find some Burpee seed packets somewhere. But then I remembered I'd killed off sunlight; the solarium was now a cloudarium. Drat.

That was when I decided humanity would have gone through the five Kubler-Ross stages, and once they made their way past acceptance and didn't die, they'd pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again. Mom and Matt and Miranda and Jon would make their own windmill or whatever, and figure out a way of generating energy for artificial light, so those vegetables could grow. And they'd start trapping animals and fishing (two things they really should have done in LAWKI, but I just never got around to it).

How much of this might show up in P3B? I have no idea. With LAWKI and d&g, I imagined a lot and used a little. Presumably the same pattern will hold. But if I know the world my characters are surviving in, I can create their pasts and plan their futures.

Just as long as I keep things from getting too bleakity bleak bleak bleak, things should work out fine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Next Time, I'll Just Count Sheep

I posted a comment, responding to other comments, in my entry about the ghost, where I mentioned that Life As We Knew It is about the mundane (which it is). If I were asked what its theme is, I'd reply, "Everyday survival in catastrophic times." I had a tenth grade teacher English teacher who was always asking us what the theme was. I resented it then, but as a grownup, I'm not so resistant to the concept. In fact, if you were to ask me what the theme of the dead and the gone is, not that you have or you will, I'd say, "Living on welfare in catastrophic times." Because basically that's what Alex and his sisters are going through, surviving on governmental and religious charity, while being required to follow their rules. Which is also a pretty mundane theme.

I mention all this because I lost a lot of sleep last night trying to work out the situation for the Possible Third Book (hereafter referred to as P3B). I haven't spoken to my editor about it since NCTE in mid-November. I haven't even given it much thought up until the past few days, devoting my brain cells instead to a YA that died aborning, and a middle group book that got written but stank. I think my brain returned to P3B because of the Junior Library Guild purchase of d&g. And it might have gotten pushed along by my editor's naive acknowledgement of her willingness to read blog reviews of d&g. That was all the encouragement I needed to send her a few, which meant I had to reread just about all of them, so I could pick and choose my favorites.

The last I heard, the earliest I would know if Harcourt will want the P3B is early fall, and even though it's sunny and sixty degrees outside, it's still January, quite a distance away from September. But my brain turned to the challenge of P3B, maybe because it's January, the same month I wrote LAWKI and d&g. Maybe my brain just expects to end the world when the days are so short.

This is the problem I've been wrestling with. LAWKI takes the most melodramatic of premises (The World Is Coming To An End! Yikes!) and asks, How do you do the laundry when the world is coming to an end. d&g starts with the identical premise and asks, How do you get by without resources when the world is coming to an end. Very mundane questions.

But when I spoke to my editor, lo those many weeks ago, the P3B would have dealt with brand new characters at a later time frame. Which is fine. Every single P3B (a sequel to LAWKI, LAWKI meets d&g, brand new characters) is fine. I'd be just as happy writing hundreds of books set at the exact same time, I had so much fun the first two go rounds. And I love the LAWKI and d&g characters, so I'd be delighted to find out what happens next to all of them.

But I have to work on the assumption (well, it's my assumption since I am very much queen of this particular universe) that further along, a year or two after LAWKI ends, things will be worse. It'd be nice if things were better, and frankly if I were devoting the rest of my existence to writing these books, I admit to being intrigued about what people would go through when things got better- if your childhood was spent under the circumstances I created, how would your adolescence be under improved circumstances. Never forget, I'm a sucker for consequences. But that would be a Possible Fourth Book, and I think it is extremely safe to refer to that as an Extremely Unlikely Fourth Book instead.

Back to P3B. If things are worse a year or two later, with diminishing resources, then any book would be even bleaker than d&g, which rumor has it, is pretty darn bleak (after all, my brother said it was, and he reads Scandinavian novels). And bleak is right around the corner from melodramatic, and once you turn that corner and start zipping down the avenue, it's hard to get back to mundane.

A couple of times I've come up with P3B plots. One I tried on my friend Christy and one on my editor. Both times they said, politely but firmly, Uh uh. Too ding dang dark. A couple of times I've come up with P3B plots that I've tried out on myself, only to think, Uh uh. Too ding dang dark.

And then there's the problem of the characters from LAWKI and d&g. I get e-mails from people asking what happened to the LAWKI crowd, Dad and Lisa, Dan, and of course Miranda. I hope I'll get e-mails asking me about the d&g characters, once more than a few dozen people have read it. If the P3B has none of them in it, then all those characters become gone, and there's a part of me that doesn't think that's fair. If I were going to read a third book, based on the premise of books one and two, I'd want to know what happened to the characters in books one and two. I even considered asking my editor if I could put at the end of P3B a character listing for LAWKI and d&g, you know, like, "Miranda got a full scholarship to Penn State," and, "Alex is now a United States senator." The thought flitted through my mind that we could have a contest, letting readers suggest what happened to the various characters, with the winning entry put in the paperback of P3B. I can be very ambitious in my fantasy life.

But last night, around 1 AM (sometime between the first and second sleeping pills), I came up with a setup for P3B that, at least on Jan. 8, I love. The way I see the post LAWKI world, things are very regimented. There's a limited amount of food and fuel, and the powerful people would see to it that they got the most of everything, followed by the people they need to make things better (scientists), followed by the support staff (doctors), followed by the laborers. A life support triangle, with the bottom two thirds desperately trying to become laborers, because otherwise they don't get food or shelter (I told you it was bleak).

Now what had been giving me grief was who to put into this plausible (to me at least) world. If I wrote about the laborers, then we'd be in bleakity bleak bleak bleak territory. Think conscripted coal miners (why should I be the only one to think it). Think Miranda doing all the laundry, but for strangers who are eating more than she is and who have the power of life and death over her. You think that's upsetting now? You should think about it at 1 AM, in between sleeping pills. And not only are such setups excessively bleakity bleak, they're also lacking in the mundane. Anyone can end the world and make things outside of our normal experience. The trick seems to be to end the world and still get the laundry done.

So what I came up with in the still of the night was a group of traveling players, sort of a cross between the actors in The Seventh Seal and a USO troupe. One of the great absurdities of America is the idea that in the middle of a battlefield a bunch of actors and singers should show up to entertain the soldiers. I pictured my little company as being mostly teenagers (the P3B is a YA, after all), four or five kids and an adult or two, traveling from place to place on a mule cart. They'd be legitimate laborers, with a schedule of performances for the upper level of the triangle, but giving shows on the road as well, for whatever food they're given and whatever supplies they can steal. One of the group could actually be a character from LAWKI or d&g, and certainly as my little band crosses America, they could run into someone from LAWKI or d&g (not too many, because that would feel like coincidence, but enough so that we can find out what became of at least some of the LAWKI/d&g crowd). We would see how things are in the US through the eyes of these kids, which would defuse the bleakity bleakness, and somehow (hey, the idea is less than 12 hours old), I'd pull off a mildly happy ending.

So that's where things are with the P3B. Whether it'll end up like this, or if it'll ever even exist, are unknowables. But I've always wanted to write a book about teen vaudevillians, and this would certainly be an interesting (to me at least) approach. And it just might keep the bleakity bleak monster from breaking down the door.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ghostly Tale

Around ten years ago, the last time I had money, I bought an expensive new home on the other end of town. It was a center hall colonial, very fancy and up to date, and had had only one owner before me, a young family who had chosen to move closer to the school their children attended.

Within a couple of months of moving into the house, I was aware that there was something other than me and my cats living there. For lack of a better term, I referred to it as a ghost.

I am neither superstitious nor religious. I don't believe in any sort of afterlife. But I've always had a fondness for the concept of ghosts. And the one that came with the house was hardly more than an irritant. No blood curdling howls. No strange apparitions in the middle of the night. Just a tendency to knock things over and move things around. Twice it turned on cassette players (one upstairs, one down, neither time with a cassette in the player). A couple of times it tilted all the paintings on the living room wall. A couple of times it took my comb out of the medicine cabinet and left it on the edge of the sink. Things I hadn't done and my cats couldn't do. Just dumb little things, maybe twenty such incidents over the years I was there.

One day I was walking from the staircase to the kitchen when I ran into the ghost going the other direction. I was so accustomed to coexisting with it, I wasn't even particularly startled. I remember being sorry I didn't have my camera with me, but that was about it, until the next day when I thought, Wow! I saw a ghost!

My recollection of the ghost was it was two or three feet long, torpedo shaped, with no features. It was about four feet off the ground, and it seemed to know where it was going (at least it didn't stop to ask for directions). It was a gauzy translucent white and bore an unfortunate resemblance to Casper The Friendly. One would like one's ghost to be a bit more original in appearance

I did some internet research to see if there was any scholarly work being done on ghosts, since I would have been happy to participate, but I couldn't find what I was looking for. I did locate a lot of websites where people spouted fiction as fact (ghosts like this; ghosts don't like that-as though someone had done a Zagat for ghosts). One place had lots of photographs; my favorite was The Ghost At The Bagel Bakery, which was a photograph of a ghost at a bagel bakery (no report on whether it favored cream cheese or butter).

Sometime after I'd run into the ghost, I attended a small gathering, maybe ten people, all adults, all sane. The subject of ghosts came up (my guess is I brought it up). It turned out three other people at that gathering had seen ghosts. One of the other ghost witnesses was a World War Two veteran, who had vivid memories of seeing a ghost when he was a young boy.

It fascinated me to think that 40% of the people there had seen a ghost. Actually, it still fascinates me. So I'm putting a poll on the left side of the blog, to see how many of you, oh beloved slowly gained readership, have seen a ghost. And if any of you want to share stories by way of the comments section, well, I'd love to read them. Your ghost is almost guaranteed to be more interesting than mine, although it may have a way to go before beating The Ghost At The Bagel Bakery!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Dead And The Gone ARC Lending Library Proposal

I'm a little concerned that Google doesn't understand the &. So from now on, all initial references to the dead and the gone will use the word "and" instead. And maybe even be capitalized, although I don't think that should make a difference in Googleland.

All right. That was just by way of explanation. Here's the real reason for this blog entry.

Way back in November, when I was at NCTE, I took as many ARCs of d&g as my greedy little hands could hold. Many of those copies I sent to as many of you, my beloved slowly gained readership, as I could (just as I have sent to you all copies I've been graced with since then), the recipients selected at random by way of the Bolivian hat.

But back in November, I kept six for my own distribution. One I kept for myself, and one I sent to Janet, to whom d&g is dedicated. The other four I scattered, one to my mother, one to my brother, and two to friends (I actually have more than three friends, but I try not to make them read what I write).

However, since that time, I've found that there are lots of people who want to read d&g, and are impatient (a character trait of my own) and don't want to have to wait until June 1 (me neither). There's one person named "anonymous" who's been particularly crabby about it. And I've long since run out of ARCs to send to everyone who asked.

I therefore requested all four of those ARCs that I gave to family and friends be returned. My mother and brother (well, actually my sister-in-law) have gotten theirs back to me. One friend says I'll have her copy within the next 24 hours. And while the fourth copy may take a little longer, I've already nagged that friend (you think I brag well- that's nothing compared to my nagging skills), so it should show up fairly soon. The idea being that with those four copies, I set up a lending library. This is how it would work (and what you need to consider):

I send out the three ARCs I have (or will have by Monday) to the first three people who decide to go along with this scheme, and e-mail me their names and mailing addresses via the cute little link to the left. The fourth copy will go to the fourth person whenever.

Then as the people finish reading d&g, they e-mail me, and I send them the name and address of the next person on the list. Each person would have the obligation of sending the d&g ARC to the next. Until before we know it, it's June 1, and then you can all go to the library and take it out.

Whoever decides to participate has to be comfortable with the following: First of all, two, or most likely three, total strangers will know your name and address. I'm one of the strangers, and then there's the person who will mail you the ARC, and then you'll probably put your name and address on the envelope when you send it off next. If you don't want strangers to have that information, don't submit your name.

Then there's cost. First class postage is sometimes $3.00 and sometimes $3.17 (don't ask me why it isn't always one or the other). So assume $3.25. Plus the cost of the mailing envelope, unless you reuse an old one. While I won't send you overdue messages, it would be courteous for you to read the ARC relatively soon after you receive it, because there may be someone else waiting to read it. So factor guilt into your equation. Not to mention the trip to the post office.

But if you're willing to be part of a daisy chain of death and despair (and who amongst us doesn't dream of such), then e-mail me your name and address. I promise I won't do anything with it, other than to send it to another person on the list, but again, if you're remotely hesitant, don't do it. Trust me, my feelings won't be hurt. This is just the best scheme I've been able to come up with to give people a chance to read the dead & the gone between now and June 1. When it will be warm and sunny and I'll be having my Cheap And Easy 75th book celebration party (and you can celebrate the fact that it's June 1, which on Jan.3 seems like cause for celebration enough).

PS- Because I just thought of this. I have no idea how many, if any, of you are going to participate, but those of you who have blogs of your own, or post messages at other places, don't mention this little scheme. There are still a lot of names in the plastic sandwich bag holding station, and I'd prefer they get first dibs at the daisy chain of death and despair.

PPS- There will be ARCs of d&g available at Midwinter ALA, for those of you who will be attending or will know someone who'll be attending. I've been meaning to tell you that.

It's Not Bragging. It's Not. It's Not.

And it's just a coincidence that I found the following out on Jan. 3.

I am delighted (actually I'm over the moon delighted) to report that the dead & the gone has been selected by the Junior Library Guild. They had previously published Life As We Knew It.

My editor tells me the JLG rarely takes sequels, which makes this even more exciting.

Okay, maybe that part was bragging. But just a little. And my mother says it's okay to (she's thrilled also).