Thursday, July 28, 2011

Page Turners: What's the Driving Question?

The past few weeks I’ve read several practically impossible to put down books, and it got me wondering what it is exactly about a book that makes it so compelling. Especially because the books I’m talking about are very different on the surface (and underneath the surface too). A memoir. The third book in a teen romance series. A man vs nature YA adventure. And an angsty soap-opera-y teen fantasy with a mythological twist. The obvious common denominators are good, solid writing, interesting and complex characters who seem real (with the memoir, of course, they ARE real), and a strong plot.

Plot is one of those elements that I used to struggle with in my own writing. Boiled down to the basics, plot is simply the sequence of events in a story. This happens then this happens then this happens. The trouble is, how do you decide what happens next when you’re the writer? I imagine with many formulaic action/adventure type stories (especially movies) you’ve got a group of guys in a smoky room just throwing scenes out there to see what sticks. First, we’ll have a car chase and then we’ll have an explosion and then we’ll throw in another car chase followed by a sex scene. But those stories, once you strip away the special effects, are really about nothing. Often, they’re even boring. To truly be compelling you’ve got to place a character into the action that people care about. If they don’t like the main character, if they don’t at least sympathize with him on some level, then really, what difference does it make if he’s in a car chase or running from an explosion or tangled up in the sheets with some random beautiful girl?

I’ll leave the creating a complex, sympathetic character issue for another day, and instead focus on plot. I’ve learned over the years that what it all comes down to—what makes a reader continue to turn pages (and, strangely, what makes a writer keep writing them)—is one question. Patti Gauch, former editor at Philomel and now a writing teacher and speaker, put it this way: “The character is basically being shot through the book like a pinball. He will hit obstacles and exterior stuff, which will play off of the interior stuff. What will he do? How will he deal with it? A question overlays the entire book. The writer must say it, explicitly or implicitly, from the very beginning.” She gave the example of The Wizard of Oz. Will Dorothy get home? But you can probably think of a ton of other examples. Will the guy who's afraid of the water in Jaws kill the shark? Will Luke and his friends beat the evil Empire in the Star Wars trilogy? Will Harry Potter triumph over Voldemort? These all seem like battles, and in a way, they are. A battle between the main character and someone or something else. It's English 101--Conflict.

I realized that the books I read recently all had an over-riding question. And since they contained characters that I worried over, I was eager to turn the pages and see how the question would be answered.

The memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson, might seem like an odd choice as a page turner, (see the previous blog entry for the complete review) but on the first page Munson relays the news that her husband may no longer love her. The book had more going on it than that, of course, but I was turning pages to find out what was going to happen to Munson. Did the guy love her or not? Was he going to stay? Was she going to keep him after his midlife crisis pretty much put their family through hell? (I won’t tell you the answer.)

The third book in a teen romance, We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han, was a perfect, light summer read that I carried around the house until I finished. I'd already read the other books in the series, The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You, so I already knew and loved the characters. Belly, who spends summers at a beach cottage with Conrad and Jeremiah, two brothers she looks up to and tags along after. They merely tolerate her existence, until the one summer she turns pretty….The books deal with her attraction to the two boys and their growing attraction to her, which threatens to tear all of them apart. Big question: Which boy will Belly choose?

I read the man vs nature YA adventure, Ashfall by Mike Mullin (release date: fall, 2011, Tanglewood Publishing) in one afternoon. The main character is Alex, a fifteen year old computer geek and taekwondo expert. At the beginning of the novel Alex fights with his parents after refusing to go on a weekend family trip to visit relatives. They reluctantly leave him home alone, and unfortunately, for Alex, that weekend the super volcano underneath Yellowstone (which really exists. Yikes) erupts and destroys half of the country. This novel was all action—one horrifying challenge after another as Alex makes his way 140 miles, by ski, over ash, through scenes of death and destruction, to find his parents. You won’t be able to put the story down until you know if he makes it.

The angsty, soap opera-y teen fantasy with a mythological twist is Fury by Elizabeth Miles. (Simon Pulse pub. August, 2011) This book has a great hook. The furies from Greek mythology, those crazy vengeful sisters who choose deserving humans to punish, are back, and for some reason, focusing their attention on two clueless teens in a small town in Maine. The narrative goes back and forth between the two kids, detailing their numerous faults and sins, with the furies in the background plotting their relentless, manipulative revenge. I’ve read reviews of this book online and some readers, apparently, thought the kids deserved their fate. But I didn’t. I was biting my nails in growing horror, worrying over Emily and Chase, who, okay, are a tad shallow and sometimes downright cruel, but aren’t we all? At times? I mean, who hasn’t had a secret crush on a best friend’s boyfriend? Ultimate, page turning question: will the furies pursue these kids to the bitter end—(gulp)—death?

So, there you have it. Four compelling, wildly different page turners that reminded me what makes a page turner. And here’s the cool takeaway lesson for writers: Figuring out the over-riding question of your book might be the key to the whole plot thing. At least it is for me. Start out with your sweet, sympathetic, very-real-in-your-own-mind character and plunk him down in your made up but also very real created world. Then let him go, asking, What if this? What if that? What will my sweet made up little guy do next?

The only way to know for sure is to write the book. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a page turner of your own. If not, well, at least you answered the question for yourself.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Free Agent (This is not the story you think it is)

So a few weeks ago my darling agent of nearly two years decided to retire, and upon hearing the news I found myself sobbing in a hotel bathroom (see my blog about college road trips, zombie apocalypses, the highly over-rated Amish, and tour guides at Princeton who stretch the truth). But this story is not about that.

Sure, I could bore you with the gory details of my freak-out, which involved blubbering into my cellphone to my dearest writing friend, saying over and over, I can’t DO this again (meaning, cold-querying agents while simultaneously submitting stuff myself and collecting inevitable rejections), but whispering it, so my son who was watching Star Wars with his best buddy in the other room wouldn’t overhear and think his mother had lost her mind when we still had miles to go and many more colleges to visit and hear chirpy barely out of their teens tour guides relay fun hyperbolic facts about eccentric scientists and their allegedly visitable labs.)

What I really want to talk about is this great book I read, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is, the heartbreaking and surprisingly funny-at-times memoir by my new hero Laura Munson. My rational, logical son would likely disagree with me, but I believe that books (and people) have a way of popping into your life just when you most need them. Example: I met the dearest writing friend when we were standing in a Port-a-potty line at a writing conference. And I discovered Munson’s memoir at a used bookstore while I was gliding by the memoir/biography section on my way to pick up every book in the Ender’s Game series for said logical, rational son. (He wants to reread them all. But he doesn’t want to buy them new and put money into the pockets of an author he disagrees with. See HIS blog on the subject, immediately preceding this entry.)

Munson is cool. I knew this from the very first page of her book. “You might think all this would find me in a place of intense panic,” she states (upon hearing her husband say that he no longer loves her) “but I’m choosing something else. I am choosing not to suffer.” Turns out that Munson had an epiphany the week before this potentially earth shattering news. She’s a writer. At that point in her life she had written FOURTEEN unpublished books, and she was getting tired of that fact. Tired of having to tell people she was a writer then having to add that, no, they couldn’t buy her books at a bookstore. Tired of writing and writing, and never seeming to get anywhere with it. She comes to the conclusion that pinning her success and happiness on something out of her control is a ridiculous waste of time, and she decides that she will embrace this bit of wisdom: the end of suffering happens with the end of wanting. She says this twice. The end of wanting. Which was helpful to me. I had to read the statement twice more. And it hit me that I’m tired of wanting too.

But how do I stop wanting to be published? Happily for me, Munson had the same thought. She asked a famous author friend of hers. How do you spend your life writing without wanting to published? And he answered: “The only difference between being published and not being published”—(wait for it…)—“is being published.”

Yeah. So it annoyed Munson too. But then she gets the horrifying news from her husband about not loving her anymore and the real bottom drops out of her world. Head still spinning and heart breaking, she wonders if she can put her new found epiphany about choosing not to suffer into practice. The man is clearly having a mid-life crisis. Maybe she can just step aside and let him have it. In the meantime she won’t freak out about it. She’ll take her pleasures where she can get them. And when he’s done, he’ll either come back to her.

Or he won’t. Not something she can control either way. The book is the four and a half month true story of how she coped. The irony is not lost on Munson that it becomes her first published book. Strange thing, fate.

Self-pitying digression: I liked having an agent. I’ll admit it was for mostly lazy and vain reasons. Lazy, because I really really really hate the work involved in writing pitches and query letters and synopses. And I hate studying the market and keeping up with submissions and (ugh) rejections. Having an agent meant I could devote all my time to writing. She took care of the irritating details. She absorbed the blows of the rejections, which she was kind enough to call, “passes.” I can see that I was probably a fool to put all this stuff on her. Especially because now I’m a little hazy about where my manuscripts are and what kind of editorial feedback I really got. (I do have a nice agent at the same firm who’s taking care of this during my transition into free agentdom. Last night she forwarded me a ton of correspondence so I got to see bam bam bam all of the dreaded passes in one big soul searing dump. Serves me right.)

The vain aspect comes into it because I liked saying, “I have an agent” to people after they asked me what I do. ("I'm a writer and I don't have any books published yet, but I have an agent" was my standard line.) An agent is an outward symbol to the mostly disinterested world that there’s SOMEONE out there besides relatives and dear friends who recognizes that what you write is worthy (ie, publishable). I had a professional, book-loving person in my corner. An advocate. A cheerleader. Rah Rah Me.

Vain. Like I said. And now as I find myself slipping into boo hoo self-wallowment (I know. Not a word) I say a giant Thank You to Laura Munson.

Thank you for baring your soul and writing your book, Laura. (Can I call you that? I feel like you’re my long lost twin except you’re way prettier and you went to boarding school and you ride horses and live in Montana and you’re now a best-selling author.) Thank you for giving me the nice psychic smack that I needed when I needed it. It is silly to expect my happiness to come from outside myself—from something I can’t control. I have a good life. I have two beautiful brilliant healthy happy children. I have a loving husband of twenty years who has never had a mid-life crisis. (I asked him last night and he confided that he felt like having one but then decided to buy a new car. Whew. Hardly a crisis at all.) So who cares if I have an agent or not? Who cares, really, if I ever get a book published? I'm still a writer. And the truth is, I live out my dreams every day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Blog From a Teen Reader

Hearing all these crazy stories of my mom’s e-fame has finally gotten to me. I crave some of the attention that you 41 blog-readers can provide. And I assure you that there are exactly 41 of you, if there were more, my mother would have eagerly informed me of your multiplication at once (“Wow! 42 readers?! That’s impressive, mom”). So now that I command the attention of a legion of people I don’t know, I will declare a book (well, 9 or 10 books) that you should read. And you probably will heed my suggestions because apart from the convincing argument I am about to make, I am also in a position of authority in writing this blog (whether or not I deserve it) and people love authority figures.

It is kind of hard to explain to you all 9 (or 10) books that you need to read so, with the help of Wikipedia, I can provide you with a handy diagram down the page a bit. The first book is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game which, if I had to make a guess about my demographic, is a book you have heard of but have not read. I’ll give you a quick summary (without giving anything away of course): Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a 5-year-old “third” in a future when no family is allowed to have more than two kids. His birth was authorized, however, because the International Fleet—designated to train and command Earth’s defenders from alien threat—felt that if the trends seen in his older siblings continued, he could become a genius of the caliber required to save Earth. They soon wisk Ender away to the space station known as Battle School where all the best and brightest kids are taken to be raised as soldiers so that they can stop the looming invasion from Earth’s insectoid extraterrestrial foes: the Buggers. Right off the bat, it is made clear that Ender is Earth’s best hope for survival, but that doesn’t earn little Wiggin many friends in the hyper-competitive atmosphere of the Battle School. Ender devotes himself to preparing to fight the Buggers but he quickly realizes that the teachers are not telling him the whole story. How is Ender supposed to defeat the alien onslaught when it seems like he’s the only one trying to stop the Buggers, and everyone else just seems to be trying to stop him?

You wanna read Ender’s Game now don’tcha. Well you should probably just minimize this page and go to the library right now and read it. I’ll wait. Ok now that you’ve finished that fantastic book you’re probably saying “But Ben, I want more Orson Scot Card! What happen’s next in the ‘Enderverse’?” and that is where I come in with this diagram outlining all the stories of the Enderverse. The blue are books and the pink are short stories.

Above: The production value of mom’s blog increasing greatly due to the addition of helpful graphics

I’ve been saying you only have to read 9 (or 10) books because A War of Gifts only barely touches on the overall story of the Enderverse since Ender is merely a side character in it. To read the diagram, start at Ender’s Game and then you can either go down through Ender in Exile to Speaker of the Dead etc. or you can go over to Ender’s Shadow which takes place parallel in time to Ender’s Game from the point of view of another Battle School student, and then read the next three Shadow books. I’ll leave that decision to you. So now that you have already read Ender’s Game and are preparing to read Card’s other books, I think you’re prepared to hear Orson Scott Card’s dark non-secret. He is clearly and obviously a homo-phobe.

Now normally I would just brush aside that information saying Card is merely a self-loathing, closeted homosexual like apparently every other outspoken homophobe in the news lately. But just listen to (read) this quote from Wikipedia: "Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down..." Orson Scott Card said that. Can you believe it? Neither can I. His essay on why Intelligent Design should NOT be taught in schools was rational and logical (read it here) yet his views are the exact opposite of mine in one area I typically equate with whether or not a human being is at all rational.

So yeah… I went through and read almost all of Orson Scott Card’s books in the Enderverse anyway. But I had to stop short in Children of the Mind because it’s a very philosophical book and I couldn’t stop thinking about how hearing him out is like supporting his warped (though certainly unique) world views. I was so disappointed and disallusioned and dissed-off at, like, humanity. How could a person who produces such awesome books be so not-awesome?
Above: The face of a homophobe who happens to also be an excellent writer

Now you’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this. You’re doubting my ability to keep this blog positive and coherent despite knowing that I am the authority figure in charge here and I wield my blogly powers for good, not evil. As I’ve been going through and rereading all of the books in the Enderverse lately, I have been trying to deal with the paradox of bad author vs. good book and that led me to what I think is a very important conclusion when it comes to literature.

A book is an entity separate from the author in every way. Bad people can write good books and good people can write bad books. Everyone knows judging a book by its cover is wrong, but that should be extended to judging a book by anything but its contents.

Now look at how I made my revelation about literature all clear and separated-out from the rest of the blog like that so that you could tell it’s important. Recognizing that a book is not its author is really significant. For example, even though I think the Twilight books are poorly written and also boring (my mom actually made me listen to the book on tape—which is a story for another day—so I’m not just speculating about its terribleness), if I met Stephanie Meyer I would try my best to not let my opinions on her books influence my opinions on her character.

Another example is when I had to read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in 10th grade. My teacher introduced the book with an essay about how the whole thing is inherently racist and therefore bad. I mean, come on! Give the book a chance! The entire time I was reading the book I kept waiting for the racist part to happen so I could come to class the next day and discuss it with disgust to my fellow classmates. But it turned out that I wasn’t offended by any of it, and if I hadn’t read the whole thing thinking Twain was a racist I think I would have enjoyed the book so much more (and if only I could have thought of the thesis of this blog back when I had to write my paper on Finn, I would’ve gotten a much better grade!).

All that realization aside, though, there is one instance in which I refuse to follow my own guideline from above. And that book is Marianne Wiggin’s horrible atrocity commonly known as Evidence of Things Unseen, but in my heart it is known as Spectres of Agony! Mutilator of Worlds … Blood (I’m just thinking of bad things here). I could open that can of ridiculous metaphors and dialogue without quotation marks (really, who doesn’t put their dialogue in quotes other than Cormac McCarthy?) right here but I think this blog is already running too long. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that that book is so bad as to override my new rule of not judging and author by her books.

Right here we’re just going to have a little aside where I point out the astounding coincidences in this blog that should further persuade you to read Ender’s Game (even though you told me up there that you’ve already finished it). First, Marianne WIGGIN is like Ender WIGGIN. Craziness. And, in Battle School, the kids are divided up into groups of 41 … the exact number of readers of this blog. Now we’ll move on.

With my new-found knowledge of literature in hand, I feel properly equipped to reread and re-enjoy Card’s entire Ender series. Judging the book on its relationship to me, not its relationship to Card is better all around. Card gets the money from my purchasing his work, and I can read what are really genuinely good, insightful, philosophical and well-written books. There really is too much to gain from this series to turn it down because of something its author said. And so now I leave you with that unbiased and objective view on one of the best science fiction books of all time. I’m putting away my mighty virtual pen of blogging now and thus losing the authority it provides. So now you’ll have to take it from this teen on the frontlines of YA novels that Ender’s Game is a must for any writer or reader.

--Ben Eskildsen

P.S. I know I know, stop flattering me. This blog was so amazing that you think I should start a blog of my own and then go on to garner fame and respect from the entire world while still living in my parent’s house like Peter Wiggin (seriously, read Ender’s Game, you’re running out of excuses now), but this blog has taken up some small fraction of my life and, like Henry David Thoreau once said:If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.” Just kidding. The real quote is: “It seems to me that I have several more lives to live, and can not spare any more time for this one”.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ah Love

Remember your first love? Remember that electric charge that shot through your fingertips when his hand brushed against yours? Remember waiting by the phone for his call? (For those under thirtyish: phones used to be attached to the wall, usually in the kitchen. If you were lucky, it had a long boingy cord you could stretch into another room so you could talk with some degree of privacy and not suffer your little brothers dancing around you chanting Jody’s got a boyfriend Jody’s got a boyfriend.) And remember when he dumped you for a girl named Stacy and you buried yourself under your covers and cried into your pillow until you had no tears left to shed and then you would torment yourself by accidentally on purpose running into him (and that twit, Stacy)?

Ah. Young love. There is nothing more wondrous and painful. And if you want to experience it again, in all its heartbreaking and dramatic glory, I’ve got the book for you.

But first, an aside about that still-bugging me article in the Wall Street Journal by Meghan Cox Gurdon. I heard her on NPR debating YA author Lauren Myracle, and I have to admit that she—Gurdon—sounded more reasonable and intelligent than I had assumed. But still. There is something that ticks me off about one person deciding what is appropriate reading material for an entire group. Kids (like, uh, people) are different. Some can handle more mature material and some aren’t emotionally ready for it yet. Some are exposed to far worse things in their own lives than ANYTHING they could read in a book. I’m sorry if there are some people out there who don’t understand that or don’t want to believe it. And I still maintain that kids will be drawn to the books they are ready for when they are ready to read them. In the end, they can always close the book. And as a former English teacher and mother of two teens, I can guarantee you, they will. I can also guarantee that when we tell kids NOT to read a book, it makes it all the more likely they will seek it out. This dates me, but the censored, “trashy” book when I was a teen was the series Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. (Which also happens to be about young love, albeit of the twisted, incestuous variety.) Everyone I knew was reading these books, passing them around like they were illegal drugs under the cafeteria tables in our Catholic high school.

Love comes in many forms. And kids, who are trying to figure things out about the world of love, can safely and cathartically experience it in books. It might disturb adults that a teen’s first experience will be of four pale waifs locked in an attic by their evil selfish mother, but I’m going to assume that none of us rabid readers of VC Andrews thought that turning to our brother in times of crisis was a swell idea.

But okay. Let’s talk about a good book about love. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. What makes a good book about love, you may be asking? Well, first, I think it has to have realistic, complex characters and not the one-dimensional variety of perfect, handsome boys with hard-planed chests. I don’t even know what this means exactly, but I’ve been coming across this description over and over again since I first read it in Twilight. Yes. Edward Cullen has a hard-planed chest. That’s also ice cold. Not sure why this is appealing to teen girls. I think I’d rather run my hands over a warm, hard-planed chest. But maybe that’s just me.

I don’t know what kind of chest Cricket Bell, the handsome boy in Lola and Boy Next Door, has. But I do know that he’s a brilliant inventor. He’s shy. He’s fiercely devoted to his twin sister who is an Olympic level figure skater. And his upstairs bedroom window is directly across from Lola’s upstairs bedroom window. Lola is a costume designer and creative wig wearer with a complicated family. Her two dads are over-protective, but only because they don’t like her boyfriend. It’s not Cricket. It’s Max, and Lola is crazy in love with him even though he’s much older and sometimes mocks her fashion style. Also, she’s still ticked off at Cricket for breaking her heart several years ago. And even though he was her first love, she’s not holding onto any feelings for him. Really. She’s over him. She loves Max now.

Perkins gives us a love triangle with real people (not vampires and werewolves) and no easy answers. Lola and the Boy Next Door is sweet and angsty, just like young love. It’ll be out in September so make a note to look for it in then. In the meantime, check out Perkins’ first book Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a perfect summer beach read that’ll have you time-traveling back to your teen years before twitty Stacy came into the picture and stole your first love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fearing a Zombie Apocalypse? I Have a Solution

I’ve just returned from a marathon college road trip with my son, his best friend, and his best friend’s mother, Lisa. We traversed the state of Pennsylvania, entered the Twilight Zone of freakily designed highways (Route One outside Princeton), and took in the glory of the Hudson River Valley in New York. In the back seat the boys watched every Star Wars movie in random order, while occasionally helping the mothers navigate. (And by navigate I mean we screamed at them and they pecked at smart phone buttons and lazily offered directions.)

Fun quotes from the trip:
“How did people ever get where they were going without smart phones?”
“When I get married my wife better be a cartographer.” (Best friend’s reply: “Yeah, but just because she could make maps, doesn’t mean she could read them.”)
“I don’t really care where Betsy Ross’s house is.”
“That’s no moon. That’s a space station.” Also: “Jar Jar, throw me the Booba!”

Anyway, we had a grand old time despite several moments of mildly shattered illusions.

Mildly shattered illusion numero uno was my long awaited trip through Pennsylvania Dutch Country. A little history: my husband and I have driven route 76 through PA many times, and every time I toy with the idea of swinging down to Lancaster to spy on the Amish. (This wish is tied with my husband’s desire to take an exit off 55 South in Arkansas to eat at a restaurant that touts on its interstate sign that it’s the "Home of The Throwed Rolls." My husband’s heard that you sit at your table and the waitstaff literally throws rolls at you. Whenever we blow by that exit, he sighs and says, “Maybe next time.”) We were making good time on 76 so Lisa agreed to a stop in Amish Country.

Well. It was just disappointing on so many levels. Sure, there were some quaint farms and the stray horse and buggy. But mostly it was just a string of crappy touristy stores and restaurants. One sold Amish Barbecue. Which we passed on.

Mildly shattered illusion number two was our realization that college tour guides stretch the truth on campus tours. (Okay, sometimes they just make stuff up off the top of their heads.) Our sweet entertaining guide at Princeton pointed at a building where she said Einstein had his lab. She told us it was kept like a room in a museum and we could go up and look at it after the tour. Lisa and I dragged the uninterested boys all over campus later to find the building again.

Three different passersby gave us directions to the room, which we eventually found, locked. Fourth passerby shook her head and said it was a professor’s office. “But it’s supposed to be Einstein’s lab,” I told her. To which she answered: “I don’t know why they tell people that.”

By now you may be wondering what this blog has to do with a zombie apocalypse. All week I was reading the novel Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts. (Simon Schuster. Release date: Nov, 2011). Young Adult literature is awash lately in post-apocalyptic novels and I have read my fair share of them. The best, imho, is the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I also liked Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (The title alone is awesome); Matched by Ally Condie (Just got the ARC of the sequel Crossed and have high hopes for it); and Across the Universe by Beth Revis. These books all have one thing in common: they take place years after some cataclysmic event destroys society as we know it.

Dark Inside, however, plops the reader right there, in the moments leading up to and during the cataclysmic event itself. I was at the edge of my seat with this book. It didn’t help that some of the nail-biting action took place on public transportation and I was reading bits of it while shuttling my son around the Philly subway system.

The book is basically a teen version of Stephen King’s The Stand. Multiple characters experience the beginnings of the end of the world and eventually meet up to figure out what to do next. Loved it for its straightforward language, complex character development, and absorbing, suspenseful plot. I’m already eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Every now and then, on walks across bucolic campuses or during traffic jams when the boys were between Star Wars movies, I’d mention something that was going on in my Dark Inside book. So on the way home, when Lisa decided that she needed to redeem the Amish culture in my eyes by taking me through Ohio Amish country, apocalypses seemed to be in the back of everyone’s mind.

We stopped at a store, which she said was where real Amish people shopped. At first the boys didn’t want to get out of the car. (These were the final hours of the marathon trip and they were begging to just get home.) But eventually they turned off their electronic devices and followed us into a 32,000 square-foot wonderland of 19th century necessities. Hand cranked washing machines. Composting toilets. Oil lamps. The boys drank smoothies made by a cheerful, pink-faced Amish girl and plotted out strategies for holing up in this store in case of an Apocalypse.

I am sorry that I cannot share the name, cough, Lehmans, located on 289 Kursen Road, Dalton Ohio, cough cough because, as my son just reminded me when I told him about the subject of this blog: “But then everyone would go there.”

Here's my final word on the matter: print the directions out now. You probably won’t get a good signal from your smart phone when the end of the world begins.