Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's Here! It's Here! It Came! It's Here!

I got my first copy of the dead and the gone this evening!

It's beautiful!!!

Like the first printing of Life As We Knew It, the cover is embossed, so the moon and the title and my name are raised, both on the front and on the spine.

The book is 308 pages long, and then when it's finished, there's a section from LAWKI- the part where the meteor hits the moon (the very section I read to those wonderful independent bookstore owners and managers who attended Kid Splash just a week ago).

I scanned like a maniac (and with the skill of a gorilla). Here's how the book looks (only much better in real life):

Notice the wonderful chapter headings and the way the book looks like LAWKI.
And just in case Janet Carlson, to whom the book is dedicated, should happen this way, I scanned the dedication page also.
I know I only wrote d&g less than eighteen months ago, and recently I found the manuscript with all my editor's notes, and her cover letter was dated sometime April, 2007. But I feel like I've been waiting forever for the dead & the gone to be real.
Now that I have my first copy, forever seems a lot more tangible. And I am very very happy.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

ALA Schedule

I now have my schedule for the American Library Association conference in Anaheim. I'll be flying in Saturday night, June 28, and flying home Monday morning, June 30.

Here's what I'll be doing on Sunday, June 29:

YALSA Speed Dating (lots of YA authors hopping from table to table): 8-11 AM
Signing at Harcourt Booth- 11:30 AM-12:30 PM
Signing at Scholastic Booth- 3-4 PM

I'm going to put this schedule on the right side of the blog, and keep it there until after the conference is over, so if any of you will be at ALA, you'll know where I'll be and when.

On a slightly different note, I should be getting my first copy of the dead and the gone tomorrow. I am beyond excited.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Personally, I Worry Most About Bad Reviews

Galvanized by the visit of my worldly and sophisticated friends Joyce Wadler and Lew Grossberger, I changed colors on my blog. While I was at it, I put up a poll listing all kinds of things sensible people worry about.

It was startling when I was thinking of worries to list how many of the things I wrote about in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone are genuine concerns today. Of course some of them were problems the world was already facing while I wrote LAWKI, but others have gotten more serious since then.

The list could have been much longer, but there's a limit to how much gloom and despair I want to inspire, at least on my blog. I've got to save something for my books, after all!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Return To Deconstructing Humphrey

My worldly and sophisticated friends, Joyce Wadler and Lewis Grossberger, are here for the weekend. Ironically, I've been instructing one of them on blog tricks (of which I know two, but I use them a lot).

While we've been teaching ourselves blogskills, my other w&s friend was reading the New York Times, and found an obituary for Joy Page, who played the Bulgarian newlywed in Casablanca. She died on April 18, two days after my post about her scene in the movie.

Here's a link to her obituary, for those of you who are interested:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

You Know You're Tired When You Can't Even Come Up With A Title

I considered Yawn but decided against it.

I'm back from South Portland, ME, where I had a great time, meeting many smart likable independent bookstore owners and managers. Matt Tavares, the illustrator of Lady Liberty A Biography also gave a presentation, which reminded me that no one works harder in children's books than the illustrators. The book is absolutely beautiful (I took a copy when no one was looking), and it was fascinating to hear about his process.

Sadly, I had not brought any of my artwork to get his professional evaluation.

I did bring GPS Thingy, after giving it the winter off. We had a lot of heated discussions on the drive to Maine, but once I got to my hotel room and had a chance to hear its side of the story, things calmed down. It helped me get to and from the hotel several times, as well as getting me back home last night. And since I didn't have to worry about when to make the right turn and when to make the left, I got to think a lot about The World We Live In (aka the third book). I am firmly committed to multiple viewpoints, but beyond that, everything shakes and shifts.

Meanwhile, the dead and the gone has gotten its second official review. This one is from Kirkus, which has a long history of hating my work. So that makes this review all the sweeter:


Seventeen-year-old Alex, the son of a Puerto Rican New York City working-class family, attends college-prep Vincent de Paul on scholarship. An after-school job and chores assigned by his building superintendent father keep Alex focused on a better future, with ambitions of attending an Ivy League school through study, hard work and a little faith. But when his parents fail to return home after the catastrophic environmental events following the moon’s altered gravitational pull, Alex suddenly faces the reality of survival and the obligation to protect his two younger sisters. His moral and religious upbringing is continually put to the test as he finds himself forced to take action that is often gruesome if not unethical—like “body shopping,” to collect objects to barter for food. As in the previous novel, Life as We Knew It (2006), realistically bone-chilling despair and death join with the larger question of how the haves and have-nots of a major metropolitan city will ultimately survive in an increasingly lawless, largely deserted urban wasteland. Incredibly engaging. (Fiction. YA)

Among the many things I like about this review (okay, the thing I like the best is the "Incredibly engaging" part) is that it doesn't spend most of its space going- moon/tsunamis/earthquakes/volcanoes. Most of the Life As We Knew It reviews were litanies of disasters, which didn't leave much space for descriptions of the actual story. But now that LAWKI has been out and about for awhile, all that worldwide bad stuff can be shortcutted. Which is fine by me.

Speaking of LAWKI, although I have yet to see a copy of the paperback in a store anywhere, there have been sightings, and I know of at least four copies that have been sold. Okay, I only know of four copies that have been sold, but it's always possible another one has I just haven't heard about. Maybe not likely, but possible.

I'm off to finish unpacking and begin preparations for a weekend visit from my worldly and sophisticated friends. Or maybe I'll just take a nap. An incredibly engaging nap sounds good right now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Deconstructing Humphrey

A handful of bookkeeping notes first.

There've been two additions to the right side of the page. One is Virginia on the state nomination list for Life As We Knew It. As always, I am pleased and delighted.

I also added a visit to the West Hartford, Ct. library on my upcoming dates. They will be using LAWKI in their summer reading program, and were nice enough to ask me there to talk with the kids.

Speaking of kids, I had an excellent time on Monday, doing a library/afterschool visit in Goshen, NY (one town down from where I live). I read the Yankee stadium scene from the dead and the gone and didn't giggle once (I gave it a test run on Sunday, and was accosted by giggles).

Between spring cleaning, Passover, and my upcoming trip to Maine, I may not blog until the end of next week. Of course if something fabulous happens between now and Monday, I may slip something in, but my current plans don't include blogging (or anything fabulous happening). For any of you for whom this wish is appropriate, have a great Passover.

Now onto literature. Yesterday, my friend Pat called. I hadn't spoken to her for a while, so I let her tell me everything that was going on her life before I started my monologue. She seemed satisfied with the 3 minutes 12 seconds I allotted her (I choose my friends wisely). Then after I completed my aging mother rant and meaningless gossip about people Pat hardly remembers, I told her about the third book and Dawn's comments.

Pat and I had an excellent talk (I wish you'd been on the extension so you could have heard it). We talked about Casablanca.

I pointed out that without the flashback to Paris, the audience would have no reason to care about Rick, who is portrayed as unfeeling and not very nice. I realized that even Bogart's movie persona at that point wouldn't have helped, since until Casablanca, as he moved his way upward at the Warner Bros. lot, he mostly played bad people. Lots of dead in the end, name below the title, gangsters.

Pat said that Rick wasn't that bad, because he'd been nice to a woman who was desperate and willing to trade sexual favors to save her husband and herself. I said the only part of that scene I remembered was Rick telling the woman, "Go back to Bulgaria," and since Bulgaria was the only country under Nazi rule that didn't lose any of its Jews, this might not have been such a bad suggestion. Pat didn't remember the line about Bulgaria and I didn't remember Rick being nice, but either way, this is a very minor part of the movie.

Pat said the other reason people care about Rick is that Rick cares about people. He clearly likes Sam and the rest of the Rick's Place waitstaff (one of whom is played by Marcel Dalio, who features in the absolutely most difficult trivia question I ever invented). I said that it wasn't important whether Rick liked them, what mattered was that they liked Rick. Showing that someone is liked is one of the great cheap and easy tricks to making a character likable, just as showing that someone is loved is one of the great cheap and easy tricks to making a character lovable. I used the latter trick once with a character I hadn't even liked. I gave her a boyfriend I loved, and by golly, I ended up loving her as well.

Pat also asked if the third book (whose working title is The World We Live In) was going to start with the deathmatch, and I said yes, that I wanted the book to start with pure testosterone, to compensate for the estrogen that was bound to slip in later. Which means, of course, that I can't start with a scene that shows Luke being liked. I also refuse to have a flashback; no cheap and easy trips to Paris for my anti-hero.

But the point Pat made (when I let her) was a valid one. She said I had to show Luke doing something that would make him sympathetic to the readers. And she's right. I've been figuring I could get away with a lot because the book starts with Luke in an underdog situation, and then shows him as a fugitive. America loves its underdogs and loves its fugitives (one of the more endearing things about Americans is we don't much care whether the fugitive is guilty or innocent; we root for him regardless, like D.B. Cooper).

So while I dust and mop and vacuum, I'll concentrate on things Luke can do in the early sections of the book that will show him as having a core of decency. Standing up to a bully. Saving a puppy. Reading a book. There's got to be something that will feel natural and will build up audience sympathy, so that when Luke does various cold and heartless things, the readers will know that deep down Luke is someone they're right to care about. Not a saint, not a sinner, just a survivor.

That, and spring cleaning and Passover and Maine, should definitely keep me busy for a week!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

News And Noise

News 'n Noise was a little too cutesy even for me.

I'm doing various mother things tomorrow and then appearing at the C.J. Hooker Middle School in Goshen, NY, because the library wasn't big enough (hey, I take up a lot of space) and by the time I get home, I won't feel like blogging (or doing much of anything else, most likely). So I figured I'd slip this entry in while no one was watching.

First off, the news. Thanks to my pals at Google, I found out who will be reading the Listening Library version of the dead and the gone:

Robertson Dean has a very impressive resume:

I look forward to hearing his narration of d&g. I really hope that Random House has actual copies as well as downloads available, since my downloading skills leave a lot to be desired (like everything).

That's it for news (unless you want to hear my spring cleaning schedule for the week). So onto noise...

I figured out why Rachel (intelligent girl) can't start school when she wants, which I need if she's going to accompany Luke (bitter hero) to his Life As We Knew It family's home.

You may recall that Hannah (rich girl) had an indentured servant (serv) named Pet, whose contract Hannah sells to raise the money to pay for Luke's transportation across the river (it's okay if you don't recall it; I'll recall it for the both of us). Hannah does this (I discovered) because Luke used to work at a coal mine her father owns, so Hannah feels a connection to Luke and chooses to help him (Luke isn't exactly a fugitive, but his life expectancy will be much greater if he makes it across the river). Ethan (idealistic boy) gets upset, decides to find Pet and rescue her, etc.

Here's what I didn't know when I wrote all that the other day. Hannah sells Pet to a dealer who tells her that he knows of several area bathhouses that are looking for new girls. What Hannah most likely doesn't realize (I'm not one hundred percent committed to her innocence on this one) is that bathhouses are both bathhouses and brothels (think of them as bathels). That's why Ethan is so upset and determined to find and rescue Pet.

So Ethan goes to Luke and says, I'm going to take all the money I have and use it to buy Pet back, but that isn't going to be nearly enough, so give me the money that Hannah gave you, and with any luck, that should be enough.

Luke refuses. But Rachel gives Ethan all the money she has for tuition. And that's why Rachel can't go to school. It's possible she and Luke go to her relatives' home and find they've all died, so she's stuck with Luke as her only protection.

Luke and Rachel may fall in love, but as of the moment, Luke ends up working with Jon (not that I'm sure what Jon does, but whatever it is, it's tough and manly), and Rachel goes to work with a Morales character (I know what she does and it's tough and womanly).

Now that I think about it, tough and womanly is what I'm going to be for the next few days. Not to mention cute and noisy.

If only I could also be intelligent and rich, life truly would be perfect!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

By The Rivers Of Babble On

When last I wrote, I didn't have much of an idea about the third book and I didn't have a cat on my lap.

Well, both of those things have changed.

The cat is Emily and she isn't even sitting on my lap; she's standing, resting her fairly substantial rump in the crook of my arm. The things I put up with.

Back to literature. I spent at least twenty four hours floundering. I had several wonderful scenes, but I wasn't at all sure I could use them. They were very dark and not necessarily appropriate (curse you, sex and violence!). I was feeling the weight of Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone.

Shamefacedly, I must admit that I've taken to calling LAWKI/d&g, "The Future Classics." Sometimes I even call them the FCs. I'll try hard not to call them that here, but I make no guarantees.

But then, in a rare burst of sensibleness, I thought about what LAWKI/d&g were really about, which is family. My immediate response was a sullen, yeah, well that's the problem, because if Luke has any kind of family he's not going to need to get to Pennsylvania and hook up with the LAWKI family. Which is true.

But there are different kinds of family in this world. I have friends who I think of as family (and I'm even more fortunate because I have family I think of as friends, but that's neither here nor there). What Luke needed wasn't necessarily blood kin, but people he was connected to and concerned about.

Yeah, I know this would have been simple for you, but it was a real breakthrough for me. Because once I realized that, everything, and I mean Everything, fell into place. Even some of the noiresque stuff works. And the ending...If such be possible, the ending has gotten even better.

The book now has three basic sections, the first and third bookending the middle and far longest part of the book. In the beginning, we meet Luke. His mom (Lisa) is long dead, and his dad (Dad) died four years before the book begins. When Dad died, Luke was immediately taken to the mines (he was about 12 at the time). At the start of the book, Luke is in a death match, the winner of whom (who is not supposed to be Luke) will be liberated from the mines. Luke wins, gets liberated, and is encouraged to get out of the area, cross the river, and move to the east (where he will eventually find his family).

Luke hooks up with a business that transports people to the river. He travels with a married couple and four other teenagers, Hannah and her indentured servant Pet, Ethan, and Rachel. All of them are planning to cross the river, which is never done casually. Hannah is doing it because she's part of an arranged marriage. Ethan is going to avoid being recruited (kind of a draft dodger). Rachel is going because there's no education available for teenage girls west of the river. Luke is given food and protection in exchange for work, so he's both of the group and outside it. And the climate changes started while Luke was stuck in the mines, so when he sees blue sky and stars for the first time, the others have already experienced it.

Since the idea is only two days old, I can't tell you much about what happens on either side of the river, but I do know some stuff. The way it works with the powerless is that you're contracted for seven years of labor (Luke in the mines, Pet as a servant). Then, if your employer is satisfied, your option is picked up for another seven years (so Luke would have had to work in the mines for another ten years, and Pet would have to be an indentured servant, or "serv" for about ten years as well). After that, you're on your own, but after that, you're most likely dead.

When it comes time to cross the river, Luke finds out that he'll need a fair amount of money, to pay for transportation and some kind of papers that he doesn't have. Then Hannah gives him the money, explaining that to get it, she sold Pet's contract (or, if you want to look at it that way, Pet). Hannah is very pleased with herself for having come up with such a creative solution to Luke's problem, and for what she regards as a real act of charity, but Rachel and, as of the moment, Ethan are appalled (I haven't worked Ethan out yet, but currently he's idealistic). But Luke accepts the money and crosses the river.

Alas for Luke (but good for the readers) he develops a conscience and starts feeling guilty. Here's where things get a little tricky (curse you, sex!). I know (at least right now) that Luke and Ethan are both having sanctioned sex with Pet. But I can't exactly spell that out and keep the potential school market. But I do want it clear that Luke feels some connection with Pet, because I want him to talk about all this with Alex when he finally meets him (the exact details of which I've yet to work out).

Somewhere on the eastern side of the river, Luke and Rachel shake Ethan (although it is possible that Ethan refuses to cross the river and chooses to look for Pet instead, even though this means he stands at risk of being recruited). Then, for reasons yet to be worked out, Rachel doesn't go directly to school, but accompanies Luke when he meets the LAWKIs. Because I want Miranda to open the door, and Luke is just frozen with fear and longing, and Rachel steps in and says she's Rachel, and Miranda falls all over her, convinced this is Baby Rachel. Eventually, of course, the misunderstanding is cleared up, but Luke, who is already Outsider Incarnate, feels that much more alienated. But by book's fabuous end, Luke is accepted for who he is and more importantly can accept his family for who they are (I'd tell you who they are, but I haven't worked that out yet, although I am amusedly considering the possibility that Miranda is married to Brandon the figure skater).

In addition to minor stuff like figuring out plot and characters, I need to do research. Here's what I currently know about the Mississippi River: It's long. I've got to locate those coal mines and work out routes, travel agent kind of stuff. And figure out what things look like 16/17 years later. My brother has volunteered to push the moon out of orbit (well, he said he'd go to the library and see if he could find something about the moon), so I don't have to worry about that. I'm always willing to power share, if it means less work for me.

Speaking of which, I'm title hunting again. Various of you pointed out that Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone are both five word, single syllable, titles, so I'd like the third book to have a title like that. Suggestions would be much appreciated.

Well, Emily is no longer on my lap, so I suppose I should get up and do something, like take a nap. There are some perks to being old, self-employed, and the author of Future Classics, after all!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sex And Violence

It's hard being the author of future classics.

You think I'm kidding, don't you.

In the olden days (a couple of weeks ago) I could write a book and not worry if it might somehow diminish the reputation of my future classics, on account of a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't written any future classics. Those were happy times, madcap and carefree.

But now I'm burdened with the weight of fulfilled potential. All those people throughout the years who'd whisper about me, "Someday she's going to write one of those future classics," now have the satisfaction of whispering, "What an overachiever that Susan Beth Pfeffer turned out to be."

Okay. Nobody's whispering anything. Or if they are, they're whispering about my rather peculiar fashion sense or the effect of gravity on my jowls. And I'm still left with the burden of writing a third book that connects with Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone, even if it doesn't turn out to be a future classic also.

Here's what I know about the third book. First of all, whether Harcourt ever even reads it, it's the third book, not the possible third book. At some point I'll give it a useful nickname, but until then it's the third book.

Secondly, it's about a boy named Luke who's the son of Dad and Lisa from LAWKI. He's 16, maybe 17 years old, he lives west of the Mississippi, and the book is about his journey back east to Matt, Miranda, and Jon, his other family, who he's never met.

Third, somehow he meets up with members of the Morales family, from d&g. If I can pull it off, and maybe even if I can't, the last one he meets will be Alex.

Fourth and last, I know how the book ends. Luke is back in PA with the family, accepted as their brother. Miranda gets out her diary, and the last line of the third book is:

"Lisa is pregnant," Miranda began. "Dad called around 11 o'clock to let us know..."

Here's what I don't know: Pretty much everything else. So it's a good thing I'm not in a hurry to write the third book. I'm busy in April and most likely I'll be busy in May and I'm definitely busy in June, so I'm thinking the third book will be written July/August. Unless, of course, Harcourt tells me before then that they're not interested (but I don't think they'll make any decision that soon).

I have two key issues with the third book, sex and violence. Neither LAWKI nor d&g has a lot of sex in it (like pretty much none), and on the whole very little violence. Lots of dead bodies in d&g, but not much violence. I have no idea how d&g will do, but LAWKI is making its way into school systems, which makes me very happy. I love hearing how whole classes of kids are enjoying the book. I want those kids to want to read d&g and the third book also.

But when I think about life 17 years after LAWKI/d&g, I see a society with ritualized violence and massive amounts of sexual oppression and exploitation. Which are great fun to write about, if not to live through.

So I've come up with several plot twists and turns that I adore and reject. I think I can get away with some violence (this is America, after all, and PG13 is violence inclusive). The sex is a more complicated situation. First of all, I have to have at least one strong teenage girl character in the book. Miranda has Matt and Jon, Alex has Bri and Julie. Luke needs someone. I don't want to give him a sister because that's too strong an echo of the previous two books. But if it isn't his sister, and he's traveling from out west all the way to Pennsylvania, and he's a living breathing teenage boy without adult supervision, then there's going to be sex.

My current plan is to pretend the book is a post Hayes code movie. Characters can have sex just as long as it's off screen and never acknowledged. Which eliminates a perfectly lovely pregnancy subplot I invented on the streets of New York this weekend.

So I'm still working on the feel of the book, reconciling the changes that would have happened to the world in the sixteen or so years since the end of the future classics, while staying true in tone to those books, with their matter of fact, reasonably easy to identify with, narrations.

No matter what, I love the ending. All I need are the 335 pages to precede it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It Was A Fine New Year's Resolution While It Lasted

But I'll ease into the bragging, so you'll hardly even notice when I begin.

As you know, on account of it's on the right side of the page for all to see, Life As We Knew It achieves official paperback status on May 1, and the dead and the gone will be officially published in the United States on June 1. But I'd noticed that Amazon and Barnes & Noble were both claiming they had LAWKI paperbacks in stock. So I e-mailed my incredibly kind and patient editor about this, and she responded that while the pub dates were the official pub dates, once a bookstore gets copies of Harcourt books in stock, they can start selling them. So anyone who is interested might want to be on the lookout for paperbacks of LAWKI any old time and for d&g in May.

I also learned this week that the recording of the audio version of d&g (Listening Library) is about to commence. I was contacted to make sure they knew how to pronounce Pfeffer, for which I am very grateful.

See, that's not bragging.

Now here's a little bit of bad news. LAWKI is no longer nominated for the Rhode Island Young Reader's Award. Some other book won, so I took RI off the list. Fortunately, Oklahoma nominated LAWKI, so I was able to slip Oklahoma onto the list while none of you were looking.

I'd really like it if LAWKI won something other than Most Depressing YA Book Ever, which, while a great honor, didn't come with a plaque or medal or free meal.

Heh. I'm doing very well with the not bragging part of this blog entry. It's always good to throw in a little self-pity (my absolute favorite emotion) to throw the scent off.

The following doesn't constitute bragging because it's clearly not true. Bragging only counts if there's some tiny semblance of reality. But this sucker amuses me so I'm throwing it in.

Barnes & Noble has customer reviews, and naturally I check to make sure they're favorable (and don't read them if they're not). In my obsessive checking of all things dead and gone, I discovered that it had its first review over at B&N. Technically speaking, the review has nothing to do with d&g, but who cares. Somebody pretended to be somebody famous when posting the review:

Customer Reviews
Number of Reviews: 1Average Rating:
Write a Review
Dead and Gone Gerard Way, in My Chemical Romance (band), 03/27/2008
Life As We Knew It is now my favorite book. It's told in the perspective of a highschool girl trying to survive Earth, as it strives to survive after the Moon is hit by an asteroid.
Also recommended: Life As We Knew It

My Chemical Romance is now my favorite group ever! Although I'll be happy to switch allegiance to The Rolling Stones or The Dixie Chicks if anyone wants to pretend to be them instead.

Now for anyone who can't get enough of me (a group that consists of me), Cynthia Leitich Smith has a Cynsations interview, in which I reveal how totally ignorant I am and the advice I'd give a younger version of myself:

I hope some of you are still here, because the major major bragging is about to begin. There's a newspaper in Great Britain called The Guardian, and it had a sixteen page slick paper supplement for Spring '08 Children's Books. It covered picture books, middle level books, YAs, non-fiction, etc. with short reviews of about a dozen books in each category and one review singling out the best of the current bunch.

The last page of the supplement was devoted to classics. Real ones too, like The Secret Garden and The Snow Goose. They selected two books as Future Classics. One of them was Life As We Knew It!!! And the other was The Dead and the Gone!!!!!

Yes, you are currently being bored by the author of two future classics. And it only took me forty years and seventy five books to achieve that status.

Wait until Gerard Way finds out!