Sunday, December 7, 2008

Miranda's First Diary Entry in This World We Live In

April 26

I’m shivering, and I can’t tell because something strange is going on or because of the dream I just had or just because I’m in the kitchen, away from the warmth of the woodstove. It’s 11:15 PM, the electricity is on, and I’m writing in my diary for the first time in weeks.

I dreamed about baby Rachel. I dream about her a lot, the half sister I’ve never met. Not that I even know if Lisa had a girl or a boy. We haven’t heard from Dad and Lisa since they stopped here on their way west, except for a couple of letters. Which is more than I got from anyone else who’s left.

Rachel was about five in my dream, but she changes age a lot when I’m sleeping, so that wasn’t disturbing. She was snuggled in bed and I was reading her a bedtime story. I remember thinking how lucky she was to have a real bedroom and not have to sleep in the sunroom with Mom and Matt and Jon, the way we have for months now.

Then in the dream the lights went out. Rachel wanted to know why.

“It’s because of the moon,” I said.

She giggled. A real little girl giggle. “Why would the moon make the lights go out?” she asked.

So I told her. I told her everything. I explained how in May an asteroid hit the moon and knocked it a little closer to earth, and how everything changed as a result. There were floods that washed away whole cities, and earthquakes that destroyed the highways, and volcanoes that threw ash into the sky, blocking out sunlight, causing famine and epidemics. All because the moon’s gravitational pull was just a little stronger than before.

“What’s sunlight?” she asked.

That was when the dream turned into a nightmare. I wanted to describe sunlight, only I couldn’t remember what it was like, or what the sky looked like before the ash blocked everything. I couldn’t remember blue sky or green grass or yellow dandelions. I remembered the words- green, yellow, blue- but you could have put a color chart in front of me, and I would have said red for blue and purple for yellow.

It’s been less than a year since everything changed, less than a year since hunger and darkness and death have become so commonplace, but I couldn’t remember what life, life the way I used to know it, had been like.

But there was baby Rachel, or little girl Rachel, in her little girl’s room, asking me about how things were, and I looked at her and she wasn’t baby Rachel anymore. She was me. Not me at five. Me the way I was a year ago, and I thought, that can’t be. I’m here, on the bed, telling my half sister a bedtime story. And I got up (I think this was all the same dream, but maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was two dreams and I’ve just combined them), and I walked past a mirror. So I looked to make sure I was really me, but I looked just like Mrs. Nesbitt had when I found her lying dead in her bed last fall. Only upright. But old and dead.

It probably was two dreams, since I don’t remember baby Rachel after the part where I got up. Not that it matters. Nothing matters really. What difference does it make if I can’t picture blue sky anymore. I’ll never see it again, or yellow dandelions or green grass. No one will. It’s not just me, or Pennsylvania or even the United States. It’s everywhere on earth. None of us, the ones of us who are still lucky enough to be alive, will ever feel sunlight again. The moon’s seen to that.

But horrible as the dream was, that wasn’t what woke me. It was a sound.

At first I couldn’t quite place it. I knew it was a sound I used to hear, but it sounded alien. Not scary, just different.

And then I figured out what the sound was. It was rain. Rain hitting the roof of the sunroom, hitting the skylights.

The temperature’s been warming lately, I guess because it’s spring. But I couldn’t believe it was rain, real rain, and not sleet. I tiptoed out of the sunroom and walked to the front door. All our windows are covered with plywood, except for one in the sunroom, but it’s nighttime and too dark to see anything anyway, unless you open the door.

It really is rain.

I don’t know what it means that it’s raining. There was a drought last summer and fall. We had a huge snowstorm in December and then another one later on, but it’s been too cold and dry for rain.

I probably should have woken everyone up. It may never rain again. But I have so few chances to be alone. The sunroom is the only place in the house with heat, thanks to the firewood Matt and Jon spent chopping all summer and fall. We’re in there together day and night.

I know I should be grateful that we have a warm place to live. I have a lot to be grateful for. We’ve been getting weekly food deliveries for a month now, and Mom’s been letting us eat two meals a day. I’m still hungry, but nothing like I used to be. Matt’s been getting stronger and I even think Jon’s grown a little bit. Mom’s gotten back to being Mom. She makes us tidy our mattresses every morning, and at least pretend to do some schoolwork. She listens to the radio every evening, so we have some sense of what’s happening other places. Places I’ll never get to see.

I haven’t written in my diary in a month. I used to write all the time. I stopped because I felt like things were as good as they were ever going to get, that nothing was going to change again.

Only now it’s raining.

Something’s changed.

And I’m writing again.

First B3 Report

I wrote 24 pages (two days worth of work; I want to write 12 pages a day, although I have to admit Wednesday, when I began, the 12 pages took longer than I'd thought they would), and then I realized that I needed to get the action going in the story faster. I can get lost in the beginnings of my books, establishing background and characters, but that doesn't mean readers want me to take my time. As one of my editors taught me a long time ago: Start the story as close to the center of the action as possible.

This is good advice, but particularly tricky for B3. On the one paw, it's a sequel to LAWKI. On another paw, it's a follow up to the dead and the gone. But on a third paw, it's a book some people who've read one but not both of those books might read. And on the fourth and final paw, it's a book some people who've never read either book, or who read and forgotten them, might read. I guess that's four and a half paws, which could give you pause.

Did you know that Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand? I saw A Man For All Seasons in NYC yesterday and Sir Thomas More never mentioned that once.

Back to B3. Having written 24 pages, I've cut 4, to get the action moving faster. Then yesterday, while waiting for the play to begin, I realized that I'd made a plot mistake. I have Matt not walking to town because he's still too weak from the flu, but I plan for Matt to walk to the Delaware River to go fishing for shad (Todd Strasser pointed out to me that shad run in the Delaware. Todd loves to fish. I thought shad looked like minnows, but I researched them and they look like full grown fish). I also decided, so that the action could move along faster, that Matt would meet and marry Syl while he and Jon are there fishing for shad. I figure there are a number of people there, all of whom presumably learned from Todd that shad run in the Delaware in the springtime.

I had Miranda and Jon walk to town so they could talk about all the deserted houses and how they should go through them to see what they could find. Originally Matt was going to find Syl in one of those deserted houses, but now that he's going to meet her at the Delaware, maybe I should dump all that stuff, which would certainly move the action along that much faster. Heh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Possible New Character

Between the bat incident and Dad and Lisa showing up, Matt returns to the house bringing a teenage girl (roughly Miranda's age) with him. He introduces her as Syl and explains that they met a week or so earlier in a house he thought was deserted. They've seen each other every day since and this afternoon they exchanged vows, so as far as he's considered, Syl is his wife.

Syl is very very thin (but looks like a model somehow) and has clearly been around. She's not from Howell, but has been dumped there by a guy who traveled with her and then left her there.
Miranda feels betrayed that Matt never confided in her and that he's brought back a girl roughly her own age, who he claims to love. Syl is filthy and Miranda is given the job of bringing in snow (or rain barrel water) for Syl's bathwater. But it's Matt who stays with Syl while she bathes, and it's clear from Matt's actions that he truly regards Syl as his wife. They move into the living room, even though it's the room furthest from the woodstove, and therefore coldest. Presumably Mom and Miranda in the kitchen, and now Jon alone in the dining room, have to give up one of their electric heaters each, which makes their rooms colder.

Possible things that happen with Syl: Syl is the cause of Horton's death. They've all but run out of cat food, and Syl decides Horton would be happier free, so she lets him out of the house. Miranda and Jon search for Horton and find his dead body in the woods.

Syl gets pregnant. This would be announced after Dad and Lisa arrive. Now food has to be shared even more disproportionately.

When Jon blurts out about the safe town papers, Matt (or maybe Syl) suggest that since Julie will be safe at the convent, Syl could go with Miranda and Jon, at least until the baby is born or if she isn't pregnant, until Matt can find a decent place for both of them to live. This adds even more tension to the exploding papers scene, and maybe Matt and Alex come to blows (with Miranda so confused about who she's angrier with, she can't even take sides).

When the tornado hits, Miranda is outside and sees it coming. She has a choice between going to Mrs. Nesbitt's and warning Dad and his family (which include Charlie, Alex and Julie) or going back home and warning Mom and her family (Matt, Jon and now Syl). For a moment, Miranda is paralyzed, then runs to Mrs. Nesbitt's. Possibly Syl dies in the tornado.

If Syl dies in the tornado, then the exploding paper scene has to take place before then. Unless Matt, still grieving, learns about the papers, and becomes enraged that Alex never offered them while Syl was there, since she could have been sent in lieu of either Julie or Miranda. Either way, he and Alex can get into the fight.

If Syl doesn't die, then she too is a suspect when Charlie dies. And she goes with the family at the end of the book. But I think it's stronger if she's dead by then, and we get to see Matt's devastation at her loss (and we don't water down the power of Lisa's heartless statement about how Charlie had to be stopped, by having another seemingly heartless character potentially involved).

The strongest argument against Syl dying is you don't want this to become a Bonanza style family- marry Hoss or Little Joe and inevitably end up dead. Since Charlie, an outsider dies, it might not be good for Syl, the other outsider, to be the only other character who dies. Maybe Syl doesn't die, but wanders off, having gotten what she needs from Matt and his family, while causing them great pain and division. Matt would be just as distraught and angry, especially if he senses relief on the part of Mom and maybe the others (certainly Miranda). In which case, Syl wouldn't be pregnant, but would leave after the tornado (when things are at their worst, since Dad's crew has moved back into the house). Maybe Matt tries to find her and is gone a couple of days, which increases Mom's anxiety about letting Miranda go with Dad, Julie and Alex on the trip to the convent. Maybe Matt finds Syl but she won't come back with him or let him travel with her, which would leave Matt resenting his family situation even more.

A couple of other possibilities- Jon blurts out about the safe town papers after he finds Horton's dead body- "I'm glad we're leaving you behind when we go to the safe town!"- something like that.

Another thought- bringing in Syl may eliminate the need for the whole bat incident.

Matt finds Syl after she runs away and brings her back to the family, where she stays and goes with them at the end.

Miranda to Julie, "How would you feel if your brother suddenly brought home a girl and said she was his wife."

Julie, "I don't know. Relieved?"

Julie about Alex, "He's done everything he's had to do, but nothing that he's wanted to do."

When Alex leaves Miranda and Dad, Miranda is a little surprised that he doesn't give her the safe home papers. In spite of everything, he's holding onto them in case Julie ever needs them.