Thursday, January 8, 2009

B3 Turns 50 (Pages That Is)

I'm back at work on This World We Live In, aka B3, and I just finished and printed out page 50. I'll do ten more pages tomorrow, taking advantage of the cushion of a few extra pages this week, because I was able to salvage the first five pages or so from my original effort in December.

The biggest challenge so far is the willingness to work. Once I get started I'm fine, but when I have errands to run beforehand or any kind of distraction, I have to push to get going. In the immortal words of Lou Grant (or whichever scriptwriter wrote the immortal words), "That's why they call it work."

One thing I'm totally ignoring is chapters. When I wrote Life As We Knew It, I didn't include chapter breaks. They were entirely Harcourt's idea. I think I did the same for the dead and the gone, only since I knew Harcourt would want chapters, I put them in before sending the manuscript off. So the first 50 pages of B3 are one giant gloomp, although I know for sure that there'll be the start of a new chapter at Miranda's May 13 entry (I'm writing May 12 now).

It turns out sequels are tricky suckers. If someone picks up B3 without having read LAWKI or d&g (could be my new editor, whoever that may end up being, although my guess is said editor will read the first two books before grabbing the infamous red pencil), they have to understand what's happened beforehand. But I discovered yesterday the risk of repeating material.

In LAWKI, Miranda and Mom have some really big fights. I decided to put one in B3 at a moment when Mom feels particularly vulnerable, since Matt and Jon are gone for a few days, catching shad in the Delaware River (Miranda doesn't go with them because I know nothing about fishing and there are limits to what I'm willing to learn for my fiction). But as I was writing the fight scene, I realized I couldn't just repeat the fights they'd had in LAWKI, even though when mothers and daughters fight in real life, a lot of times they cover their customary turf. It wasn't so much the setting off point, since explosions can start with different fuses. It's the screaming back and forth that has to be different, yet still believable for those characters, given that most of the people who read B3 will have read LAWKI first.

Or take the scene which I was working on before I reached page 51 and called it a day. Mom just made the very interesting (to me at least) point that perhaps all the loss they'd endured before had been preparatory for all the loss they've suffered in the past year.

Now Miranda can't think of pre-LAWKI loss without remembering her friend Becky, who dies before LAWKI begins. She just can't. So even though B3 is moving along without any references to Sammi or Megan or Dan or Mom's boyfriend Peter, I had to have Miranda think of Becky. It would be untrue to her character if she didn't.

It's a tricky balance. Later on in that scene, I threw in a real fast reference (and not really a necessary one) to Henry, the guy Matt worked in the post office with. I needed a name more than anything else, and I'd already referred to a couple of people from Miranda's school, so I didn't want to use another one of them. I could have gone with something like Joe, who worked at the deli, but that got me thinking if Miranda would even know the name of someone who worked at a deli. She mentions fast food chains in LAWKI, but not neighborhood stores. So I used Henry instead, although it could be confusing to first time readers, who might wonder why or when Matt worked at the post office.

Speaking of Matt, tomorrow he and Jon should be returning from their sojourn at the Delaware, shad and Matt's extremely unexpected bride Syl in hand. Or on bike. I have a line I came up with in Missouri that I've been looking forward to putting in B3 for months now: It was like the whole world came to an end just so you could really notice her cheekbones.

Then I'll take the weekend and most likely Monday off. I'm having lunch with my mother on Monday, and that means buying groceries for her and running some errands of my own on my way to her home. And I have no illusions that I'll get home mid afternoon all fired up for a good day's work. But I figure if I average 50 pages a week, then 8 weeks would mean 400 pages, and I certainly don't plan for B3 to be 400 pages long. Syl's cheekbones aren't going to be that worth noticing. But I'm excited about adding a new character to the mix, so I'll be ready, even eager, to resume work on Tuesday (or so I tell myself on Thursday).