Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It Made Sense At One In The Morning

I have worked out the ending to This World We Live In.

You may notice there's no B3 in the blog entry title, and I'm not warning you about spoilers. That's because I decided I'm not to going to tell you what the ending is. Not now, not ever. Or at least not until the book is published, which is a year or more away.

I came up with the idea last night during a particularly nasty bout of insomnia (I had a fine time at my cousin Danny's wedding, by the way). My brain clicked into gear and when it does that, it's hard for me to unclick it.

Somewhere between 1 and 1/2 sleeping pills, I got up and emailed my friend Christy to tell her what the idea was. The last idea I shared with her (one I didn't tell you about), she responded to with, "Yikes." I didn't take that as a positive.

I'm going to quote a little bit of last night's email I sent Christy, because I think it will give you a taste of what I was working through when I should have been sleeping. I'm taking my chances that you won't regard it as a spoiler:... comes to face with death, which she acknowlolrfhrd sd nojyjionhinhh moyjhinhnrdd nothingnrdd- im really drugged and sneezing0=

My favorite part is the sneezingo. Or snee-zingo! if you prefer.

This morning I woke up and thought about my 1 AM inspiration and still liked it a lot. I thought about it some more while I did a half hour on the treadmill, and then I called Christy and ran the idea past her. She gave it the Christy Seal Of Approval. I would quote her exact gerund but that might give away some of the essence.

I still have some decisions to make before rewriting the ending, and I'll have to do a bit of reconstruction to get the story where I'll need it to be. I'll tell you the following three things and then I'm not going to reveal anything more about it.

There's a little scene I quoted over at thirdmoonbook, with a Bible lesson, and I'm going to change the Bible story. Same basic scene, but a whole other lesson.

The new ending isn't the same as any of the endings I've discussed here or at thirdmoonbook. It shares some elements, but it's very very different.

It isn't a trick ending. No one wakes up and realizes it's all been a dream.

Because to know me is to mock me, I'm going to put a poll up where you can give vent to your cynicism that I can keep the ending a secret from all of you. Which I can and I will. But mock away.I don't care. I got my ending and my nojyjionhinhh!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Further Musings On The Third Possible B3 Ending

How many possible B3s have there been? Was it seven? Maybe This World We Live In will have seven possible endings all its own.

But as of the moment, I seem quite settled into the idea of Mom mercy killing Charlie while almost every other character is there to witness it. I did briefly consider having Syl be the one to grab the shotgun from the LAWKI house, then Mom demand Syl hand it over, which Syl does (and which the readers assume is because Mom is so horrified), and then Mom shoots Charlie (having taken the shotgun so the killing wouldn't be on Syl's conscience).

But I remembered from one of the previous B3s that I should always keep things simple, and Syl to Mom to boom! is one step more than is needed.

What I'm working through right now are the consequences, and oddly enough, for the moment at least, the character most affected seems to be Alex (who's lying semi-conscious at the LAWKI house while this happens).

For starters, there are those safe house passes (I swear those passes are as difficult for me to deal with as the never ending volcanic ash). The clever twist ending I'd come up with had Alex telling Miranda to give the passes to Lisa for her, the baby and Julie (an idea Alex had previously rejected). Then when Alex is strong enough, they go to Mrs. Nesbitt's no longer existent house, and Alex discovers what Miranda already knows, that the safe house passes can't be found.

I think when I wrote the first Charlie dies version (less than a week ago, but you don't expect me to remember), the same thing happens. It didn't seem to bother me that Alex and Miranda go over to Mrs. Nesbitt's house, where Charlie has been buried alive.

Maybe now it's because I've blown poor Charlie's brains out, going to the house to look for something seems distasteful to me. So I'm thinking Alex keeps the safe town passes in an envelope taped to his chest, in which case, the passes are available, and Alex can act on his decision to share the passes with Lisa and the baby.

The other consequence I'm pondering is how Alex responds to Mom's killing Charlie. By Alex's heartfelt religious standards, this is a mortal sin. Miranda wouldn't see it that way, because she heard Charlie begging to be killed, and because it's her mother who did it.

But if Alex and Miranda get into a fight over this, it can't be cute and casual. Alex, under the best of circumstances, isn't a cute and casual kind of guy, and when it comes to a fundamental disagreement over the sanctity of life, I can't see him compromising or letting love and/or hormones overcome his strong sense of morality.

When I discussed Mom killing Charlie with my friend Christy, she pointed out there has to be at least some hope at the ending of the book. My previous ending for both versions of B3 has been positive- Miranda frightened of the future, but believing that there will be one. If the ending is the families split up, with Dad, Lisa, Alex and Julie going off to the safe town, while Miranda, Mom (with blood on her conscience), Matt, Syl and Jon take their chances in Pittsburgh (and you have no idea how much I wish Pittsburgh were a more glamorous choice)...well that's not just open ended. That's open ended and depressing.

So clearly there's some more thinking that has to be done. But that's the fun part of writing for me.

Or at least that's what I keep telling myself!

Yet Another B3 Ending

About half an hour ago (as I was moving the sheets from the washer to the drier), I got to thinking yet again about the ending to This World We Live In. You may recall I wrote an ending on Friday, then decided it wasn't strong enough and wrote another ending on Saturday.

Something about wet sheets made me think about my original plan for the ending of B3- Charlie not merely dying, but being killed by one of the other characters, and Miranda choosing not to know who did it. The Saturday ending simply has Charlie dying (on Friday, Charlie lived).

I remembered that I wanted Charlie's death to be a mercy killing because I wanted something complicated to end the book with, a debatable moral issue.

So as I moved the sheets to the drier, I considered changing the ending yet again. As of the moment, Charlie is crushed to death as he tries to get out of Mrs. Nesbitt's demolished by the tornado house. Dad declares that Charlie died immediately.But what if Charlie doesn't die immediately? What if he's only partially crushed and is crying out (as I originally planned for him to do), Let me die! Let me die!In an earlier part of the book, Miranda and Alex come across a houseful of food, and a shotgun. Miranda is the last person to carry the shotgun, which means it stayed in her house.

So now I'm thinking Charlie's lying there in agony and (hold onto your hats), Mom goes back to the house, gets the shotgun, and kills Charlie with it.Talk about moral ambiguity!

The other possible shooters are pretty much anybody but Alex (who's still semi-conscious). But I can't see Julie leaving Alex's side, Matt, Miranda, or Jon caring enough about Charlie to put him out of his misery, Dad leaving Lisa (who has just escaped also), Lisa, who most likely wants only to be with baby Gabriel again and Syl. But Syl, who Jon and Miranda regard as responsible for Horton's death, is too obvious a choice. Which Mom certainly is not.

So that's where things are at this moment. The idea is less than an hour old, and I'm not going to do any rewrites until next week at the earliest, so I have time to consider and reconsider. There's an old Hollywood rule that if you establish there's a gun early in a movie, at some point later in the movie that gun will get used, and I don't like following cliche rules, so I'm not crazy about the shotgun being mentioned and then a hundred or so pages later being used.

But I do love the image of Mom (Mom!) shooting poor Charlie's brains out. And since this blog is all about process, I figured I'd let you know where the process was taking me.

And now I'll fold the sheets.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Services

June 18

The four of us walked over to Mrs. Nesbitt’s the morning, splitting up once we got there. Jon went to the living room, where Alex and Julie have set things up, and Matt, Syl and I stayed in the kitchen with everybody else.

Dad and Alex must have moved Mrs. Nesbitt’s kitchen table back in, because we sat around it for our prayer service. It made things feel more ordinary, and I was glad for that.

Someone would start a hymn, and whoever knew it would join in. I asked for “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” since I remembered that was Grandma’s favorite, and that made Dad happy. There were some prayers and Syl talked about the peace she felt when she accepted Christ as her savior. I guess that happened after the moon goddess Diana proved to be such a dud.

Charlie gave a sermon, if you could call it that. He said he’d been thinking a lot about Noah and his family lately, what it must have been like for them, those forty days and forty nights. As far as they knew, they were the only people left on earth. Everybody would be descended from them, but only if they survived, and they had to trust in God that they would.

“I bet the rabbits weren’t worried about that,” Charlie said. “They just did what rabbits do. But it’s our curse and our blessing to remember the past and to know there’s a future.”

He reached over, touched Lisa with his right hand and Syl with his left. “Our past is gone,” he said. “But our future is in this room right now. Little Gabriel, sleeping peacefully in his crib. The children Syl will bear. Miranda too. Their babies, born and unborn, are God’s gift to the future, just as much as the ark was.”

Dad squeezed Lisa’s hand. Matt squeezed Syl’s. And I felt very much a part of something and very much alone.

B3 C'est Fini Twice

I finished the first draft of This World We Live In Friday night, went to bed quite satisfied with myself, and woke up early Saturday morning and decided to junk much of what I'd written the night before. So I gave myself one more day of procrastination, returned to the ending of the book in the afternoon, and finished B3 for the second time Saturday evening.

In the Friday night version, probably because I was in a good mood, I didn't kill off Charlie. Saturday morning I realized without his death, things were a tad on the anticlimactic side (although I had come up with a nifty plot twist for those cursed safe town passes).

I had originally planned for Charlie to fall, become paralyzed, beg for his death, get his wish, and Miranda would choose not to know who had put him out of his misery.Now he just gets crushed to death, which makes the plot a little less unresolved.

The thing that fascinated me most was the Friday night version was 282 pages long, and the Saturday version, where I added Charlie's death, was 282 pages long. I have no idea how that happened. Then again, I don't really know how I wrote 282 pages, when every single day I had to work, I postponed and postponed and postponed again. But I definitely have a completed first draft, waiting for me to read it (which I will today, since I'm real curious about the book, having already forgotten most of what I've written).

After I read it, I'll put it aside for a week or so (this is a busy social week for me anyway, what with my birthday on Tuesday, lunch with my friend Geri on Thursday, and my cousin Danny's wedding on Sunday), and then reread it, noting where it needs work and where to put in chapter breaks. Then I'll do the rewriting/polishing. My guess is, now that I've killed off poor Charlie, that I'll need at least one more good Charlie scene, so the readers will be really upset when he dies. Charlie is a sweetheart of a character, but I don't recall him being that involved in the action for a stretch, and it could be helpful to throw him in a little bit more.

What did surprise me as I wrote was how involved Miranda and Alex got. I'd figured they'd have one little kiss, but whoo. By the end of the book, that one little kiss had turned into a lot more. I'm choosing not to know just how much more, but things do get pretty hot and heavy. Miranda does the pursuing, but Alex allows himself to get caught more than I had anticipated.

Syl, Matt's bride, also developed in ways I hadn't expected. I thought she'd be kind of a new agey airhead, and she has elements of that. But she's also a lot tougher than I'd originally intended, a lot more willing to confront reality (and to confront Mom).

And for those who worry about such things, there's religion all over the place- Sunday services and Bible study and hymn singing and the only religious character who doesn't make it is poor sweet Charlie. In fact, in celebration of the completion of the first draft, I think I'll go over to thirdmoonbook and put in Charlie's little sermon, so you can see what a darling he is.

And while you're at it, you can see what a darling I am also!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Miranda And Syl Talk About Safe Towns

There are two versions. First the one I rejected:

Mom looked skeptical. "Even if a place like that exists, how would Alex have gotten passes to it?" she asked.

Syl shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe he stole them. But safe towns definitely exist. I met a girl who lived in a town that had been made into one."

"What do you mean?" I asked. "How do you make a town into a safe town?"

"All I know is what she told me," Syl said. "Her mother taught at Sexton College. I remember the name because of Anne Sexton." She glared at Mom, who I guess knew who Anne Sexton was. "French, I think," Syl continued. "Not that that matters. This girl, I guess she was your age, Miranda, because she was still living at home when it happened. She said it was rough, but not too bad at first. I've never heard of Sexton College, but I gather it had a big agricultural department, where they grew crops. They had an early harvest, and the professors all shared, so there was food for a while. But then, right after the air got bad, everyone who lived in the town was told their houses were being taken by the government, and they all had twenty four hours to pack their belongings, and they'd be driven by busses to the nearest evac camp. From then on, they'd be on their own. And that's pretty much what happened. A bunch of the professors got together, to find out what was going on, and they were told the town was going to be used as a research facility, and their houses were needed for the scientists and their family. For the greater good. Not that I've seen much good coming out of it."

Now here's the much longer, way better version:

“There was something you said once,” I began. “About truck drivers.”

“What about them?” she asked, propping herself up with her elbow.

“You said they stopped sometimes when they were going to safe towns,” I said. “And picked people up.”

“Girls,” Syl said. “I don’t think I ever saw one stop for a guy. And they never did on the way to safe towns. The trucks would be filled with supplies then. On the way back, after leaving stuff off, they might stop for a girl.”

“Did they ever stop for you?” I asked.

“What business is that of yours?” she said.

“No,” I said. “I mean, you don’t understand. I was just wondering if one of them told you where he’d come from, where the safe town was. That’s all.”

“No,” Syl said. “They knew better than to talk.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay. I’m sorry if I bothered you.”

“That’s all right,” Syl said. “It’s a different world out there. Matt understands that. Well, he claims he understands, but he doesn’t like hearing about it. What it’s really like. So I don’t talk to him about it. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t either.”

“I didn’t intend to,” I said. “This has nothing to do with Matt. Or anything you did with truckers.”

Syl gave me a funny look. “What are you asking about?” she said. “Safe towns?”

I nodded. “I thought maybe a trucker told you where one was.”

“It wouldn’t matter if one had,” Syl said. “Safe towns are for the important people, scientists and millionaires. It’s not like you can go knocking on their doors and they’ll let you in. I know Laura’s had some books published, but that doesn’t make her important enough for a safe town.”

Alex wasn’t either, but he had passes.

“But you know they exist,” I said. “Did the truckers tell you about them?”

“The truckers kept their mouths shut,” Syl said. “It’s a good job, being a trucker. You and your family get to live in a decent home, with food and fuel. Not a safe town, maybe, but good enough. You get a job like that, you don’t break the rules.”

“Except picking girls up,” I said.

“There’s no rule against that,” Syl said. “As long as you get your work done on time.”

“Well, thanks anyway,” I said. “I thought you might know where a safe town was, but I guess you don’t.”

“Sit down,” she said. “I hate the way you’re standing there, glaring at me.”

“I’m not glaring,” I said, but I did as she said, and sat on the mattress by her side.

“I know something’s going on,” Syl said. “Hal refuses to talk to Lisa about it, but the tension over there is even worse than the tension over here. If that’s possible. And since you’re asking about safe towns, I have to assume that has something to do with it.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know anything about safe towns,” I said. “I remembered your mentioning them, that’s all. And maybe I did fantasize we could get into one, but apparently we can’t, and you don’t know where one is anyway, so what difference does it make.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t know where one was,” Syl replied. “I said none of the truckers ever told me.”

“You mean, you do know?” I said. “Someone else told you?”

For the first time since I’ve known her, Syl looked uncomfortable. “Look,” she said. “There’s things I’ve told Matt and things I haven’t, but the only reason I haven’t is because he hates hearing about them. All right? I’m not ashamed of anything I did. I’m alive and I’m here because of what I did. Matt knows that. He accepts that. But he doesn’t like the details.”

“I won’t tell Matt,” I said. “I swear.”

“Scout’s honor?” Syl asked, and then she laughed. “All right. I believe you. And it doesn’t matter anyway. I was in an evac camp. This was, I don’t know, maybe a year ago. Pretty early on. The camps have guards, military police, young guys mostly. And one of them had gotten his hands on some booze. Gin, vodka. I don’t know how, but he and his buddies decided to party. Which they did with some of us girls. We left the camp and broke into an empty house, and had a good time.” She paused. “It really was fun,” she said. “But the important thing was keeping them happy. If a guard liked you, you might get extra food or a blanket. It was better if they liked you.”

I looked out the window at the perpetually grey sky.

“There were lots of girls,” Syl continued. “Girls and women. The guards had their pick, so you did whatever they asked, and you tried to make them feel important, like they were the star quarterback, and you weren’t even a cheerleader.”

“Matt isn’t like that,” I said.

“No,” Syl said. “Matt isn’t anything like that. Neither is Hal or Charlie, or Alex. And the guards wouldn’t have been like that either, probably, if things hadn’t changed. But things did change, so they were full of themselves, and if you wanted some extra food, you acted like they were the greatest things on earth. And they loved talking about how powerful they were. Maybe because they weren’t really powerful, or maybe because they were a lot more powerful than they ever used to be. Anyway, we were all a little bit drunk, and they started bragging about how many people they’d killed. Then they started talking about the first time they’d killed someone. And one of the guys said the first time he’d killed people was when he’d been assigned to clear out a college, to make it a safe town. It was funny, he said, because it was Sexton College, and he’d applied there and been rejected, and there he was, shooting professors who were resisting. I said I hope he got the dean of admissions, and he laughed.”

“How can you remember the name?” I asked. “If you were drunk?”

“I wasn’t that drunk,” Syl said. “And I was still trying out different names, so I thought about Anne Sexton, only Anne is pretty dull and you can’t call yourself Sex. So I went with Sylvia Plath instead. I like her more anyway.”

I had no idea who she was talking about, but it didn’t matter. “Did the guard say where it was?” I asked. “Sexton College.”

Syl shook her head. “He’d said too much as it was,” she said. “The next day all the girls who’d been at the party were rounded up and told to leave the camp. Three of us stuck together for a while. But then one girl got sick and the other girl was her sister, I think, or her cousin, I don’t know. Anyway, they stayed behind and I kept going. That’s how it was. People came and went. The two months I’ve been with Matt is the longest I’ve been with anyone, since before.”

“Matt loves you,” I said.

“I know,” Syl said. “Isn’t it amazing.”

There was nothing I could say to that. I got up, thanked Syl, and left the room. And now I’m in my closet, writing all this down, trying to figure out how to find out where Sexton College is, and what to do if I can find out.

Writing And Rewriting B3

I spent much of the weekend working through a problem I had with This World We Live In. Have I mentioned this is a very tricky book to write?

Among the reasons why B3 is so tricky is because I have to be honest about what I've already written in Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone without revealing too much about either of those books. I've already discussed the Mami/Papi issue, but now I'm coping with the passes to the safe town that Alex has.

I can't pretend those passes don't exist. In fact, it's completely my fault Alex has them with him. I remember contacting my editor after the manuscript had been rewritten and saying we had to put in something about Alex taking the passes with him at the very end of d&g. That was because I had a completely different third book in mind, one where the passes were a major part of the plot.But in this B3, they aren't really a major part, or they haven't been until page 220 or so. Still, I can't leave them out, because if I do, someone who's read d&g will say, "Well, why doesn't Alex use his safe passes? I distinctly remember him taking them with him at the end of d&g."

So they have to be worked into the plot, without my saying how Alex got them (because there will be people who read B3 without having read d&g and will then go back to read d&g, and won't they be surprised to discover Alex has a whole other sister, because I don't mention Bri at all in B3).

Frankly, I needed an explanation why Alex wasn't using the passes, so I decided it's one thing to have passes to a safe town and quite another to know where a safe town is. Alex, Bri and Julie were going to take a bus to one, but they didn't know where the bus was going. And safe town locations, I figure, are kept pretty quiet, since they don't want riffraff like you and me showing up.

Thus the passes had to be mentioned, safe towns had to be explained, and locations had to be located. All of which I did at the end of last week, but unfortunately, I left myself with a minor plot issue, which I spent a merry weekend working out. Alas, one minor plot issue involved chucking about ten pages of manuscript and rewriting same today. Where once I was on page 235, now I'm on page 233. But the problem is solved and the book is tighter.

Something I've discovered from doing these while I go along rewrites is every third word in the manuscript is "just." When I eliminate all those justs, the book will probably be 123 pages long, and how the editor will love it.

While it's true I could write another scene today (and get the book back to 235 pages), I think I'll stop until tomorrow, when I absolutely swear I'll get a whole bunch more written. In the meantime, I'm going to move this entry over to thirdmoonbook, and put there the scene between Miranda and Syl where Miranda learns that Syl knows where a safe town is. There are two versions, the one from last week and the far better one I wrote today, so it'll be a nice compare and contrast for those who are interested.