Monday, October 31, 2011

Instead Of Thinking About Writing I'll Write About Thinking

Every morning Scooter offers me the option of lying in bed for half an hour and thinking about a sample story for The Shade Of The Moon The Short Story Version. This is very generous of him, since what he really wants is for me to get out of bed and feed him (a message he communicates by a great deal of purring and head butting and stroking and clawing and biting).

But I'm finding it hard to concentrate on stories. At least not my own stories. I'm reading constantly these days. I read nothing all summer long, and now all I want to do is read.

It's not like I'm reading great literature (although I did reread USA by John Dos Passos, which is my intellectual achievement of the past 3 years give or take a decade or two). In the last month or so, I've read memoirs of Paul Henreid, Dorothy Hamill, and Mel Blanc, and (how I wish Blogspot would let me underline- that and really deserves special emphasis)a biography of DeForest Kelley.

Sadly, these all get kind of smooshed in my brain. I seem to remember Bugs Bunny skating pairs with Ingrid Bergman on the Starship Enterprise (you'd be astounded how far those throw triple axels go in a gravity free environment).

When I'm not reading, I'm obsessing over raincoats with removable linings. To be honest, this obsession is roughly 24 hours old, but it's really taken over what little remains of my brain. As you know, in a week I'll be flying over the Atlantic (and I'm delighted to report not only will they feed me dinner, but something resembling a breakfast, and how I wish I drank coffee, because I'll sure need caffeine to keep me awake when my body is yelling, Hey it's 2 AM!). Given that it's an 8 hour flight (I thought it was 6 because I subtracted wrong), I'll definitely want to sleep, which is close to impossible when you fly 99% Class. But rumor has it airlines no longer offer blankets and pillows, since they figure 2 meals and not crashing is sufficient to satisfy us lowly folk.

So I figured that if I got a raincoat with a removable lining, I could use the raincoat as a blanket and (another and worthy of underlining) remove the removable lining and use it as a pillow.

Is that not the cleverest thing ever?

Today I went to Burlington Coat Factory to examine their raincoats with removable linings and while they had a few, none of them fit me. There was one that was super big on me (I call those Dondi coats), and if I can't find one that fits, I guess I can buy that one. These are essential decisions, because I bought a new pocketbook to take to Germany, and while it's more than big enough under ordinary circumstances, I'm not sure it can hold a sweater to use as a pillow, which is why the removable raincoat lining is such a darn brilliant idea.

Let's hope Kohls/Marshalls/Sears/Penney/Macy's has one that fits.

Ooh. If I can fit a pillowcase in my pocketbook, I can stuff it with the raincoat lining on the flight over, and then I can put the pillowcase in my suitcase and shove my dirty clothes in it.

I'm so smart it scares me. Well, I scare easily.

I also have yet to figure out what clothes to take with me, although I did discover I owned a black blazer, which has been hiding in my closet for at least 7 years.

The thing is I have to look presentable Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and that's asking a lot of a wardrobe that generally doesn't have to look presentable for more than two days in a row. And while the temperature in Buxtehude should be about what it is here (without, I trust, mid-autumn snowstorms), I don't know if the buildings will be well heated or moderately heated or not heated at all. So I have no idea what I should wear under that black blazer.

Then there's figure skating season to focus on and excitement that one of the Presidential debates is going to be held in Hempstead, Long Island (a mere 8 miles from Woodmere, where I grew up), and trying to analyze why it is I'll believe that anyone on death row is innocent while any Republican accused of anything is guilty, guilty, guilty.

This is actually quite a lot to preoccupy me, and it doesn't even include making a list of all my passwords so if the plane crashes and I have to swim across the Atlantic Ocean in my raincoat without lining, someone I love and trust will be able to answer my emails as I do the backstroke to Greenland.

Well, at least there's one thing I can cross off my list. I don't have to decide what to send Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries as a wedding present!

Monday, October 24, 2011

It Might Be Easier Just To Learn German

I'll be going in a couple of weeks to Buxtehude, Germany to receive the Buxtehuder Bulle Award for my novel Die Welt, wie wir sie kannten, which I usually think of as Life As We Knew It. On a scale of 1-10 in personal excitement, this is roughly a 12. I'm already devoting vast amounts of time and energy on shopping for the trip and trying to figure out what to take and will the airline feed me (the answer to the latter is yes, so now I'm trying to decide if I want one of their regular meals or a kosher one or a vegan one).

But I'm not alone in my excitement. Google is thrilled for me also. It lets me know about German articles that mention my upcoming trip (although they don't mention that the airline is going to feed me). Since the German articles are invariably in German, I take them over to Google Translations and let them tell me what's up.

The only problem is sometimes the translation could use a translation. Here's the translation of the first article I saw, last night:

An awards ceremony with pizzazz

Buxtehude Bulle: On 11 Susan Beth Pfeffer November is celebrated on the stage Halepaghen
Hannelore Aldag Buxtehude.

On Tuesday, 8 November, flies Susan Beth Pfeffer in Hamburg. Will spend a short week, the American in Buxton, where she was winner of the 40th Bulls will be celebrated. For the ceremony, on Friday, 11 November, starts at 19:30 on the clock Halepaghen stage, has put together the cultural office one intriguing program with interesting protagonists.

Susan Beth Pfeffer learned this summer that she has for her thrilling science fiction novel "The world as we know it" the won with 5000 € prize Buxtehuder children's book prize, she got joy ecstatic: "This is fantastic I am. very happy to Germany. "

With readings in high school in the South and the 63-year-old writer Halepaghenschule the conversation with the young people will seek. A dialogue with the adult Susan Beth Pfeffer leads on Wednesday 9 November, at a public lecture, which begins at 19 Clock in the town library. There, visitors dive into "The world as we knew it," Miranda learn and know their family and their desperate struggle for survival. An asteroid strikes at the moon. The Earth's satellite is catapulted out of its orbit. Extreme weather changes, floods and earthquakes are ravaging humanity, whose blue planet has fallen overnight from the joints.

When it comes to the infinite reaches of space, he knows his stuff.

With Professor Dr. Erich Übelacker the Cultural Office of the awards has won one award presenter, who has made himself a name with his profound knowledge. One of the many milestones in his professional vita led the scientists to Hamburg, where he headed from 1975 to 2000, the planetarium and in that time for the tripling of the number of visitors saw - a result of its innovative management and planetarium concerts, lectures, navigation courses, children's shows, exhibitions and even weddings under the stars. Erich Übelacker hosted TV shows about astronomy and space, the combination resulted in an NDR report and starry sky, wrote for magazines and newspapers and has written for children and youth-oriented textbooks on the subject of stars and space.

They "verrappen" classic press and masters such as Goethe, Schiller, Heine and Fontane their own personal stamp on - with great success. And it happened: On a Sunday morning, the Casper family sat at the breakfast table and Nicola was the poem "It's him" recite by Edward Möricke. Then the girl had absolutely no desire to. Nicola found it much more fun to give to verse in a kind of chant for the best. Quickly she had supporters behind him and shortly afterwards "The young poets and thinkers" were born, four young people from the area of ​​beech wood, bring to the awards ceremony an unusual program to Halepaghen stage. The audience experiences the "Erl King", the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Mr. von Ribbeck on Ribbeck" with a difference.

Staying in Buxton Susan Beth Pfeffer also leads to the neighboring city of Hamburg. There she reads on Thursday evening, 10 November, as part of the series "Young American literature in the Harbour City" from her new novel "The Lost New York", a sequel to "The world as we know it", which is also in the Carlsen Verlag. Before the New Yorker on Sunday 13 November, will fly back to the States, her on Saturday, 12 November, once again honor. Then, on a bronze plate Buxtehuder BULLEvard sunk with their name on the pavement.

Admission to the reading and during the awards ceremony is free. Who wants to secure a seat for both events should be on time cards in the Cultural Office at City Hall, get into the city library in the street and in the fishing town in the Viverstraße information.


Fortunately for me, there were additional articles this morning. Thanks to this one*, and to Google Translations, I think I have a better idea of what's going on (except this one leaves out the bronze plate, which on a scale from 1-10 is a minimum 14):

Buxtehude. Susan Beth Pfeffer, this year's winner of the Youth Book Prize "Buxtehude Bulle" is on Friday 11 November, the award in the form of bull sculpture personally accept. The American woman has succeeded with its World Under goose scenario "The world as we knew it," which was published in 2010 in the Carlsen-Verlag, to appeal to the primal fears of the people and to remind them of their helplessness before the forces of nature.

Presenter is the longtime head of the Hamburg Planetarium

As a presenter for the awards ceremony, which begins at 19:30 on the clock Halepaghenbühne, Konopkastraße 5, won the Cultural Office of the Buxtehude astronomer and longtime director of the Hamburg planetarium, Erich Übelacker. For the accompanying program provides the group "Young poets and thinkers" from Hamburg.

The group consists of children and young people who enjoy it, and classic poems by Goethe, Schiller, Heine and Fontane not only to recite, but to bring it as a rap on the stage. Well known are the "young poets and thinkers" among others from the film "Rabbit Without Ears".

In addition to the evening event is Susan Beth Pfeffer, which on Tuesday 8 November, arriving in Buxton, is read in high school on Wednesday and Thursday at the South Halepaghen school from their work. Live she is in a public lecture on Wednesday, 9 November, experience of 19 clock at the town library in the fishing road 2. She is also on Thursday 10 November, from 19 to clock in Hamburg America Center, the Sandtorkai 48, a guest. There it is in a public lecture about her sequel "The Lost New York".

Admission to the ceremony and is free to the readings. Tickets are available at the Cultural Office of Buxtehude, phone 04161/501 23 23 04161/501 23 23, in the town library, telephone 04161/99 04161/99 90 60 90 60, and in the city Buxtehuder information, phone 04161/501 23 48 04161 / 501 23 48, available.

The decision to nominate, pepper novel with the bulls Buxtehude, is already on 28 June this year appealing: the jury awarded 83 points for her novel, 36 of which came from the young people and 47 from adults. "The world as we know it" is the first book published in German by the author who in the U.S. has already published more than 60 books for children and young adults.

Winfried Ziemann has set the price in 1971 to life

The prize of 5000 € Buxtehude Bulle is one of the most prestigious German literary awards. He was initiated in 1971 by the late bookseller Buxtehuder Winfried Ziemann. Every year since then, the best narrative, published in German youth book awards. This year the award is the 40th Given time. The aim of the prize bull is to move young people to read, while promoting good children's books. The town of Buxton has agreed to take ownership 1981st (tau)

So this is what I know is going to happen. In thirteen days,I pack my camera and prepare to say "danke schoen" and "guten tag" every chance I get. I eat (badly) on the airplane, and then I arrive in Hamburg and am taken to Buxtehude, where the mayor will greet me (approximately a 16 on the 1-10 scale). Then I go to sleep so I can be ready for school visits and library visits and award winnings over the next three days. On Saturday I'll be taken to see the sights and on Sunday I fly home, to be greeted by Scooter who already seems somewhat concerned about my leaving him.

And in the thirteen days before I go, in addtion to more shopping and packing, I have to obsessively check ten day weather forecasts for Buxtehude, and clean my apartment, including the downstairs hallway, which has cobwebs you would think are Halloween decorations but alas are real and genuinely yucky, and finish reading Dorothy Hamill's memoirs (she just won the Olympics and there's still half a book to go) and buy some euros and maybe write a Shade Of The Moon short story to see if I can do it.

Cobwebs notwithstanding, on a scale of 1-10, I'm a 20 in joy ecstatic!

*The link no longer works for me, so you may have to take it on faith.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Looking For Answers In All The Wrong Cookies

I took my mother to Dr. Hearing Aid this morning (she has successfully adapted to her new hearing aid and no more appointments are called for), and afterwards we had lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant.

Since my life is a neverending succession of questions (What book should I read next? Should I hold it against the Texas Rangers that George Bush goes to their games? Will I ever get around to cleaning the downstairs hallway? How much more can I shove into the freezer?), I naturally turned to the fortune cookies for answers.

Here's what my mother's cookie said:

Slaying the dragon of delay is no sport for the short-winded.

My mother, being 100 years old, is kind of past the dragon of delay situation.

Here's mine:

We treat this world of ours as though we had a spare in the trunk.

Now that's probably very profound, and no doubt I could learn something from it, if I understood exactly what it meant. Do we drive the world over nails and shards of glass? I never drive my tires intentionally over nails and the suchlike, and even worse, I never learned how to change a tire, and nowadays they don't put really good spares in the trunk anyway, just those scrawny scary things that you know aren't going to last until you can get your car to someplace that knows how to change a tire.

But I am very good about recycling, and I think the fortune cookie should give me some credit for that.

Speaking of recycling (this transition is so brilliant I'm darn near dumbstruck by it), I've been thinking about recycling some of the characters from Life As We Knew It and The Dead And The Gone and This World We Live In in The Shade Of The Moon Take Two, if I ever write it.

One of the characters under consideration is Miranda's friend Sammi, who leaves midway through LAWKI, never to be heard from again. I've always been interested in what becomes of Sammi, and a couple of people have left comments on this very blog suggesting a Sammi story, should I write TSOTM Take Two volume of short stories.

This morning as I snuggled with Scooter, I thought about a Sammi story, and I realized two things. The first, and most dazzling, was that Sammi specifically tells Miranda she's going to Nashville, which is in Tennessee, the same state that Sexton, Tennessee is in, even though I made up Sexton, Tennessee and didn't make up Nashville. I've been very reluctant in my ponderings to have characters bump into each other, since that feels far too coincidental, but if Miranda is in Tennessee anyway, she could legitimately decide to look for Sammi in Nashville.

With that in mind, I tried to work out a Sammi/Miranda story and here's the second realization. If I tell the story from Miranda's point of view, it's a chapter. If I tell it from Sammi's, it's a story.

Last night, mostly to see how things stand, I made up a listing (I can't call it a chapter outline, since I'm hoping to have stories, not chapters) of the stories I sort of know about. This morning I added Sammi to the list.

I have minimal concern about people reading this list and figuring out the plots of the stories because most of the things on the list don't have plots yet, and even if they do, my handwriting is so bad there are a couple of words even I can't read, and I wrote the list less than 24 hours ago, so you'd think I'd remember what I wrote.

Oh well. The dragon of delay doesn't stand a chance against me. Whatever else you might think about me, I am definitely long-winded!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Short Story Collections, It Seems, Put Scooter To Sleep

Of course, one advantage for Scooter in napping is it allows him to wake up at 6:40 in the morning and subject me to some rousing (in both senses of the word) purring. Since it's against this particular self-employed person's code to get out of bed before 7:00 AM (I mean, what's the advantage of being self-employed if you have to get out of bed before 7 AM), this gives me some time to nestle with Scooter (it's the only time of day he's even remotely affectionate)and ponder.

Lately what I've been pondering is Shade Of The Moon short stories. I have several things to work through before I even begin to remove the unsigned contract from its happy home in my file cabinet.

First amongst these things is the difference between a story and a chapter. I'm good at writing chapters. I've understood chapters ever since one of the many excellent editors I've had the good fortune to work with explained to me that characters have to do something in each chapter. It's not enough for the characters to talk about what they did in the previous chapter. The characters have to continue to do things.

Of course in stories characters have to do things too. So here's the difference between stories and chapters. Stories have beginnings, middles, and endings, while chapters are mostly middles, with a little bit of an ending, enough to either give the reader a chance to go to the bathroom or to make the reader decide to read one more chapter before going to the bathroom.

For me the real difference is chapters are easy, stories are hard.

But that doesn't mean stories aren't fun to think about, especially with a purring cat curled up beside you. I have completely arbitrarily decided there should be 14 stories, plus the prelude and coda (previously known as the prologue and epilogue, but prelude and coda are prettier words and much easier to spell).

This is what I have in my mind so far (I have nothing on paper, or computer, or whatever):

1 story about a boy who lives in a house that's being taken over to be used in a safe town and the Marines are doing it so the boy meets Alex's brother Carlos. This is the only one of the stories that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

2 stories about Alex's friend Chris Flynn, who's the character I most want to know what happened to. One when things are relatively okay for Chris and one when maybe things have gotten a whole lot worse.

2 stories about Alex, one with Miranda and one without.

3 stories about an as yet unidentified girl who seemingly has no connection with any of the characters, but at the end of the third story there's some kind of surprise connection. For a while there, the unidentified girl was a Duke's daughter, and while she might not end up quite so noble born, I do think she'll be a child of privilege and possibly not an American who happens to be here so she's stuck. Dukes' daughters, by the way, are Ladies and not Dukettes (I did research).

1 story about Miranda, because there's got to be at least one story about Miranda. Or maybe 2, if Alex gets 2. But don't ask me what the stories will be about because I don't have the slightest idea.

While I'm willing to turn my back on the vast majority of The Shade Of The Moon First Effort, there are a couple of things I mention happening while the family was on the way to the safe town that I would prefer to keep. One was Matt and Syl going off on their own and the other was Dad dying before they get to the safe town. So I'm trying to work those things in. Dad dying is particularly tricky, since I don't want to devote a story to it. Or maybe he won't die. I don't know.

What I do know is for any of this to work, I'd better figure out a whole lot more beginnings and endings and a whole lot less middles!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Would Take My Brain To The Dumpster But It's The Only One I've Got

Hmm...Change "brain" to "heart" and there might be a country song there.

What I should do is take the unsigned contract for The Shade Of The Moon to the dumpster, because my bad wicked brain is coming up with short story ideas and book structures and all kinds of things that take time and energy and bring back insomnia. Not stress, because the contract after all is unsigned (and probably already buried under a pile of things in the file cabinet, which isn't the tidiest place in my apartment).

I don't like insomnia and I'm still trying to regain my energy, and while I have plenty of time, I ought to be spending it on cleaning my apartment and atoning and useful stuff like that. Not in making up Rules For A Volume Of Short Stories, when I'm the one writing the stories, so why do I need to make up rules?

Wanna hear the rules? Every story has to have a character with a stated connection to a character in Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, or This World We Live In. For example, a story could be about Alex's friend Chris Flynn (that's one of the ones giving me insomnia), or it could be about a figure skater who casually mentions knowing Brandon the figure skater. And the stories will take place over a 2 year (give or take) time frame, so it can end with Miranda and/or Alex making it to the safe town, because lots of people want to know what happens to Miranda and Alex. The stories would be chronological, and have some kind of date (like March Year 2), so the readers will have a sense of when it's happening. I even have a prologue story and an epilogue story in mind and I remembered a moment ago a middle of the book story that would connect in its way with the prologue and the epilogue, but I'd almost forgotten it, which is what happens when you have insomnia and an unsigned contract and you really really need some time off.


Anyway, there's a big difference between coming up with ideas for stories and actually writing stories, and then there's another good sized difference between writing stories and having your publisher like the stories you've written. So the contract will remain unsigned (although I did notice when I took the file cabinet pictures that it's right on top of the files, and easy to locate, at least for the time being).

Oh how I love killing off all humanity. Which is probably something I should seriously atone for!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Status Report (Low On Status, High On Report)

As you know, because I griped about it all summer, I had a Sept. 1 deadline for The Shade Of The Moon, my title for a fourth moon book (the first three, in case you've forgotten, having been Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, and This World We Live In). As you also know, because I crowed about it at the time, I met the Sept. 1 deadline and submitted the manuscript to my editor.

Then came the waiting time, which no doubt, felt longer to me than to you.

I've been writing for a living for over 40 years now, and I've learned a thing or two in that time. I've learned the checks never come as fast as you want them to, and that editors dawdle about telling you bad news, while generally telling you good news pretty swiftly.

So as the waiting time progressed and my editor told me nothing, I figured out she and my publishing house didn't like the book. Maybe they were trying to like it. Maybe they were trying to figure out how to tell me they didn't like it. Maybe they were trying to figure out what could be done to make it a book they would like. Lots of maybes, but all leading to they didn't like what I'd written.

During the course of September, the contract (contracts move as slowly as checks) finally arrived at my apartment. But I'd had enough time to think about it to decide whenever it came, I wasn't going to sign it.

My reasoning went as follows (and it never changed): My publisher doesn't like the book. If there were no contract, they'd simply reject it. Because there's a contract, they have to figure out what to do about it, and that's going to mean a lot of rewriting and time pressure and general dissatisfaction both on my part and theirs. But if I don't sign the contract, there's no contractual obligation on anyone's part. So what if they reject it? I've had lots and lots of rejections in my life, and most of them have come at moments far more financially vulnerable. I've got money in the bank and Social Security beckoning and why should we all be miserable?

I guess what I did was reject the rejection.

I left the contract on the kitchen counter, gave myself a weekend before emailing my agent to let her know my intentions, and waited to hear from my editor. A week or so later I did. She sent me two lengthy, well thought out emails about the manuscript, with lots of suggestions about how to make it work. She assured me Houghton Mifflin Harcourt wanted a fourth moon book. The email was pretty much as I imagined it would be.

I gave myself a few days just in case I was going to change my mind, and then I emailed her back and said the contract was unsigned and would remain unsigned and no one had anything to worry about. What I didn't tell her was my biggest worry was how I was I going to tell all of you.

My editor emailed back and said she'd call me in a day or two, and in a day or two, she did call. We had a very nice chat. She said they really want a fourth moon book and I should feel free to sign the contract. I said the contract had made its way from the kitchen counter to the file cabinet, but I wasn't going to sign it unless HMH and I were all on the same page about what a fourth book should be like. I said the one thing I knew about a fourth book was it had to be completely different from the first three, and the only thought I had was one I'd played around with for quite a while and that was a volume of short stories, some of which would have Miranda or Alex or other characters from the books and some of which wouldn't.

My editor said that short story volumes were a hard sell, but teachers and librarians were always asking for them and in this case it was an established concept and she liked it.

I said that was good but the contract was staying in the file cabinet. Then we talked about family and the suchlike.

So that's where things are now with The Shade Of The Moon. Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while may remember I had a completely different third book that I rejected before anyone had a chance to read it. These books are a lot of fun to create, but they're very hard to get right. I see the world as darker and darker and darker still, and I get way too dark and violent and depressing (while having a darn fine time doing so).

What I do know is I'm very close to brain dead right now. Between pushing to meet that Sept. 1 deadline and dealing with serious mother stuff, I've been on a high stress level for several months. Now my mother is settled in at the nursing home, and I have no professional obligations other than going to Germany to get my award, and staying in touch here, and answering emails.

If my brain starts coming up with short stories, I won't stop it. I'll write one or two or three, and if I think they're good enough, I'll send them to my editor. But I'm not pushing myself. There are books to read and movies to see and I've been neglectful of my friends for months now. I have to do my mother's laundry (not to mention taking her to Dr. Hearing Aid later today and to the dentist tomorrow morning). Not to mention Scooter's current obsession with twist ties, which don't toss themselves.

So thank you all of you for your support and interest in The Shade Of The Moon. If there's a fourth book, I'm keeping the title. And if there isn't, I'm keeping the title anyway. It's a part of my life, just like you are, and I don't give up things I care about easily.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Wall Of Ego Has A Lovely New Addition

I went to Tennessee this weekend for the Tennessee Association Of School Librarians annual conference and while I was there, picked up the 2010 Volunteer State Book Award Young Adult Division for Life As We Knew It.

This was not a coincidence. They were kind enough to invite me, and even kinder to me while I was there. I had a great time.

I've known for a while that the Wall Of Ego was going to need some redecorating with the new arrival. It is the 2010 Volunteer State Book Award, after all.

So this afternoon, and after a mere 7 additional nail holes, the Wall Of Ego has been completed.

Well, completed for the time being. My ego is ever expansive, and I suppose the Wall Of Ego could expand accordingly!