Monday, March 26, 2012

The Ring Of Truth

The question I'm most commonly asked (and I think the question most writers are most commonly asked) is where do I get my ideas. I probably know the genesis of 2/3s of my books; the other third is lost in the mists of time.

But of all the books I've written, The Ring Of Truth is the only one that started with an image. I'm not a visual person, and I'm certainly not a descriptive writer, but one day I pictured a room, and from that came the book.

At the time I wrote The Ring Of Truth, I was intrigued by the Big Lie, the kind of falsehood that starts out almost casually and takes on a life of its own. I'd been exploring various plot possibilities that hinged on a Big Lie, but for some reason or another, I couldn't make any of them work.

Now things get hazy in my mind about the origin of the book. Because for reasons I don't remember, and quite frankly can't even conceive, I decided the Big Lie in question would involve teenage girls and prominent politicians.

The teenage girls, I understand. That's who I write about. It's the politicians I have trouble with (well, I still have trouble with politicians, but for far different reasons).

When I came up with The Ring Of Truth, I was doing most of my writing for one publishing house and had an extremely comfortable relationship with my editor there. I approached her with the idea for the book and she gave me the okay. In retrospect, this was as loony on her part as it was on mine. But I gleefully wrote the book and she edited it and it got published.

A couple of things happened after that. The reviews (and they included a New York Times Book Review review, so the book was taken seriously) all thought the book was about sexual harassment. I guess sexual harassment was the hot topic of the day. But for me, it was just the McGuffin, the incident on which the various Big Lies would play out.

The other thing that happened was my realizing that not only did teenage girls have no interest in state politics, they didn't even know what a lieutenant governor was, so why should they care if some character or another claimed said lieutenant governor made a pass at her?

As you may have guessed, The Ring Of Truth was not my biggest selling book.

Now, I don't read my books after I've written them, so I haven't read The Ring Of Truth in 15 years. The reviews that I found for it said there were unexpected plot twists, but I'll have to take their word for it, since I don't remember what they are. I remembered the name of the heroine's best friend (Justine) but I didn't remember the name of the heroine (Sloan).

But what I remember most vividly is the image of the room and a mirror that sometimes reflects what's in front of it and sometimes doesn't.

The Ring Of Truth is now available on Kindle and on Nook.

Read it and let me know what the plot twists are!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The (Extremely Tentative) Return Of The Shade Of The Moon

When I was a senior in college and interested in getting a job in publishing, I was told one way of entering the field was by writing a book. Even if the book didn't get accepted, the publishing house would be so impressed they'd hire me.

I decided to give it a try. Only I knew how easy it is to say you're going to do something and even begin and still not finish. So I told my friends and my family and my professor that I was going to write one, and since the fear of humiliation of not finishing outweighed the pleasure of not working, I wrote the book.

I'm kind of doing that now. For much of the winter, I've been playing with a whole different approach for a fourth moon book. I finally worked out one I really like, and I've begun writing it.

I do mean begun. I've written a grand total of 7 pages. I haven't gotten a work rhythm down, and I won't for the next couple of weeks, since next week I'll be obsessively watching the World Figure Skating Championships online, and the week after that I'm going to Texas for the last of my school visits.

It's been my dream forever that the brain could somehow transmit a book to paper while leaving the fingers out of it, but that hasn't happened yet, so I guess I'll actually have to work to get the book written. It won't be easy, given the temptations of a March that thinks it's June, and a cat who thinks I should play with him on demand, and a 647 game FreeCell winning streak. Not to mention my mother's laundry and other such obligations.

I'm not going to indulge in spoilers, but I will tell you that I'm holding onto the title The Shade Of The Moon, that the book takes place two and a half years after the end of This World We Live In, that the setting is in and around the safetown of Sexton, that Jon is the main character, and that we learn what is happening with Miranda, Alex, Matt, Syl, Mom, Lisa, and Gabe. Although I don't think we'll actually see Syl, and I'll probably avoid writing Gabe scenes, since he's 3 years old, and I don't do 3 year olds very well. And naturally, there'll be new characters to meet.

My friend Princess Summerfallwinterspring, who is pretty much the only person I've told any of this to, commended me for my extraordinary persistence (although she may have worded it a tad less nicely). The truth of the matter is I loved writing Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, This World We Live In, and all the various incarnations that never got published. Their characters and the world I created for them have been a part of my life for over 7 years now. And I guess I'm just not ready to give them up.

Oh well. I'm rapidly running out of excuses not to work. The Shade Of The Moon, here I come!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bidding A Sad Farewell To The Best Winter Ever

Spring starts tomorrow. It's also my Cousin Ellen's birthday, and the last day in Life As We Knew It (which I know because it's the first day of spring and my Cousin Ellen's birthday).

Ordinarily, I'm very happy to greet the first day of spring and to say farewell to winter, especially March, my absolute least favorite month of the year. And quite frequently, in that irony Nature loves so much, it snows on the first day of spring, as a nasty reminder that nasty March is going to last another nasty week and a half.

But not this year. Oh no. This year, I absolutely adore March. It's been sunny and 70 degrees for a startling number of days, and later this week, in honor of spring, it's going to be sunny and 78 degrees. I saw daffodils blooming at my mother's nursing home last week. What a winter.

As it happens, starting in April, I have to go back to work, or at least that which passes for work in my delightfully semi-retired life. I have a school visit in Texas (the last one I have scheduled, so it may well prove to be my last one ever, although I'd still say yes to Paris or Hawaii), and I'm a very small part of a very big science fair in Washington D.C. at the end of April. It's such a big event that they're having a wine and cheese reception for us authors with Mayim Bialik and the guys from Mythbusters. I'm taking my friend Renee, who is very worldly and sophisticated, and will keep me from swooning in excess.

In May I'm going to upstate New York to be a small part of a big library event. And in June, I think, I'm talking to local librarians, but don't ask me about what. Something Junish, I guess.

Meanwhile, dear darling Google (they want my personal information, well, let them have it) sent me the sweetest email yesterday morning, to let me know the San Diego Union-Tribune had mentioned Life As We Knew It in an article on YA books.

All right. I'm off to run various errands and to have lunch with Marci, at the brand new restaurant, Mr. Sushi Bar & Grill (actually I think it's just Mr. Sushi & Grill, but the Bar adds a particularly nice note), after which she's coming to my apartment to figure out how to sell off some of my entirely too massive collection of old movie magazines.

Winter ends with a bang around here!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Evvie At Sixteen

For better or worse, I am a very prolific writer, which is how I came to write over 70 books in my long, semi-illustrious (well, nearly semi) career. And the way you get to be prolific is by being able to come up with ideas easily.

I used to take great pride in my ability to come up with ideas. I felt (although I don't remember ever putting this theory to the test) that if someone challenged me to come up with an idea, I could on the spot.

One afternoon, I decided to challenge myself. I have a vague memory of cleaning my front porch (which I did maybe once a year), and saying, "Okay, Pfeffer, come up with an idea. I challenge you." Or something like that.

But I couldn't come up with an idea. No matter how I dusted and swept, no idea came to mind. I was almost concerned about the lack of ideas. Self-confidence was rapidly waning.

The next morning I woke up, still idealess. But sometime during the course of the day, I came up not with one idea, but five.

I love family saga novels, which makes sense because I love families. And I thought, why not write a family saga novel for teenagers?

The immediate problem was that family saga novels tend to be very long, and this was in the pre-Harry Potter days, when a YA novel was supposed to be 200 pages or less. Now that I think about it, writing such short books no doubt helped my prolificness along.

So I decided to divide my family saga novel into five books, four about sisters, when each one was sixteen, and the final one about their mother, when she was sixteen.

I had an enormous amount of fun creating the family. The girls were the Sebastian sisters, Evvie, Thea, Claire and Sybil, each very different from the other. Their parents, Nicky and Megs adored each other. Nicky was the kind of guy who made and lost fortunes. Megs came from old money, but sadly, no longer had any.

I loved the idea. My editor loved the idea. I loved the books. My editor loved the books. I remember her calling me after seeing the Woody Allen movie, Hannah And Her Sisters, to say the Sebastian sisters were better sisters than Hannah and hers.

Even the reviewers loved the books. My favorite review maybe of all time was the School Library Journal review of Sybil At Sixteen:

The Sebastians continue to be some of the most complicated, intriguing people in contemporary YA literature; their saga demands that readers confront the true essence of family.

Evvie At Sixteen is now available at Kindle and at Nook. It's the second of my books that I've put up there.

My hope is enough people will be interested in Evvie that I can put her sisters and mother there as well!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ji suteikia man didelį malonumą

To announce that we have sold Life As We Knew It to the Lithuanian publisher Media Incognito.

Well, technically, I didn't sell anything. My agency has an agent who finds all these international publishers and convinces them to buy my books. I just cash the check and find room on the bookshelf to put them.

For those of you not keeping score at home (I'm the only one who does), here's the list of the countries LAWKI has been or will be published (in the order in which I remember them):

Germany (where it won an award)
UK (where it almost won an award)

Since I doubt I'll learn Lithuanian by the time the book comes out (or ever), I've decided to master Lithuanian cooking instead. I may not be an international superstar, but at least I can be an international supperstar!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Year Without Michael

In my career, the three books that have had the greatest critical and commercial success were Kid Power, Life As We Knew It, and The Year Without Michael.

My guess is if you're here, you're familiar with Life As We Knew It. And I'll write about Kid Power some other time. But now I'm going to tell you about The Year Without Michael.

There are certain themes I return to regularly and certain structures I always enjoy. Michael is an example of both of them. Its plot, a family torn apart when their young teenage son Michael disappears, is in its own way quite similar to Life As We Knew It. Its structure, third person, episodic, with dates rather than chapters, is the same as The Dead And The Gone.

I chose to write Michael because I wanted to explore how it felt to live through a situation without resolution. At the time, someone I knew was fighting cancer, a life of illness, treatment, remission, illness, treatment, remission, then illness again. I also knew someone who had suffered severe brain damage. In both cases, these were people I cared about, but both of them were loved by people I loved. In both cases, it was wrong to give up hope, but in some ways hope was more difficult than acceptance. Since I didn't want to write anything too specifically about these people, I chose to explore the dilemma by writing about a missing person.

The Year Without Michael is told from the point of view of sixteen year old Jody, Michael's older sister. In this era before cellphones and the Internet, Jody is plunged into a world of uncertainty. Her parents are devastated, her younger sister is acting out, and yet Jody has to cope with everyday life, school, friends, family.

The book worked. It got my only starred School Library Journal review, and a great New York Times review (here's the plant my publisher sent me in celebration).

There were so many fine things said, my publisher printed a bunch of them as part of a publicity brochure.

The Year Without Michael was my second book to win the South Carolina Young Readers Award (About David was my first). It was my only book to be optioned for an After School Special. A Tony Award winning playwright was hired to do the adaptation, but it never got made (an episodic book about a family with a missing child didn't really lend itself to an hour long format for kids).

While I was going through my Michael file, I discovered a letter Robert Cormier had written to my editor.

Thanks for sending along Susan Beth Pfeffer's novel, The Year Without Michael. It's a wonderful book on an important topic. Her style--- that staccato prose and crackling dialogue--- is mesmerizing. I read it in one sitting. Pfeffer breaks your heart but she somehow manages to put it together again although the edges remain jagged. A beautiful job.

Several years after its publication, the American Library Association Young Adult Services (YALSA) named The Year Without Michael one of the 100 Best Books For Young Adults, published in a 25 year period.

I'm very pleased that The Year Without Michael is now available on e-book formats, including Amazon and Nook.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

All Good Stories Deserve A Punchline

As you may recall (since I know you commit all my blog entries to memory) a month ago I donated blood, fainted in the parking lot, and ended up in the hospital emergency room. For further details (mostly about the tragedy of not eating the big donut), you may return to the original, highly dramatic entry on the subject.

Yesterday in my mail, I found the bill from the emergency room, for $250.00. You wanna know what I got for my $250.00? A chicken salad sandwich and a blood pressure reading. Oh, and the thrill of knowing that for one brief shining moment, I was a Code Blue.

Now my friends took me out to Sunday brunch, and I backed my car into a concrete planter, and it cost $325.00 in repairs, but at least that was my own doing, and next time I'll be more careful.

But all I did to deserve this wretched miserable $250.00 emergency room bill was donate blood, and not put up a fight while I was lying on the pavement being told I should go to the emergency room, even though I knew all that had happened was I gave blood and fainted.

Le sigh, le sigh, le sigh. Here I am, trying to relearn how to live on a budget (and the ever rising cost of gas isn't helping out one bit), and in the course of a month, I end up with $575.00 worth of bills for eating out and being a good citizen.

I think from now on I'll stick to staying home and eating my own chicken salad sandwiches!

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Very Quick Update (Since I'm On My Way To My Mother's)

My YA novel, The Year Without Michael is now available on Kindle and Nook.

When I have a few moments to myself, I'll write an entry about the history of The Year Without Michael. Today is just the announcement of their availability.

While I was checking to see if Nook had Michael ready, I found a link for a book about Life As We Knew It. I know nothing about the book, so it would be wrong of me to recommend it, but it's the best darn subject for a book I've ever seen.

My agent has agreed to represent my manuscript Dummy, but she's undecided about who to submit it to. I'll keep you posted as she keeps me posted.

My mother awaits. I must be off!