Herein is the first installment of my Alexandra Quick Rereading Project, wherein I reread every chapter of my series (something I have not done since posting them) and post such author's notes as seem interesting or relevant to me.
But first, a little history, and for those of you who've been reading my author's ramblings for a while, I know I have told you most of this before, so deal.
How I became a Harry Potter fan
In the summer of 2007, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, I had not read any of the Harry Potter books. I was aware of them, of course, and even my mother had read them, but I hadn't caught the Potter-mania. I'd seen the first two movies, and thought they were charming enough, but I just didn't get why adults would be this invested in a children's fantasy series. It sounded like the sort of thing I would have enjoyed a lot as a child, but didn't have much interest in now.
I should mention this also came at a time when I, despite having always thought of myself as an avid reader, and a wannabe writer, was in a long, dry literary doldrums. I was not actually reading a whole lot, maybe getting through a handful of books a year, and I hadn't written anything substantial in years. What writing I did do was mostly in online message gaming.
But anyway, the last book of the Harry Potter series came out and everyone was going nucking futs over it. So I watched everyone around me walking around with this big orange book for a few weeks, and finally thought, "Oh, all right, I might as well see what this is all about." I went to the bookstore and bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and devoured the entire series over the next month.
Yes, I really liked it. There were a lot of things that just whizzed by me because I was reading it all at once. I did not experience the years of speculation and theorizing and fan fiction and shipping that most HP fans did. By the time I got to the Battle of Hogwarts, though, I was really, really engaged — like, I freaking had to know who would live and who would die.
Of course I didn't think it was the best thing I'd ever read, and it certainly wasn't the best writing I'd ever read, but it touched me and got me invested as few books I had read in my life had. The ending, even the Epilogue, which I only really became critical of later once I'd had time to let my thoughts settle, left a deep impression on me. Dang, I was moved by a bunch of wizards in a children's story!
And since I had been a roleplaying gamer for many years, my first thought was, "This would make a cool message game."
What is this fan fiction nonsense?
I never wanted to roleplay or GM Harry and his friends at Hogwarts. What's the point of retelling that story? I always hated games based on popular fiction where the Player Characters are just sidekicks to the canon characters.
So first I thought about running a next-gen game. Then I thought, well, what about the rest of the wizarding world? Why not run a game set here in America? That way, I wouldn't have to worry about getting every little detail from the books right - I could just make up shit, which is usually what I like to do anyway.
I started thinking about what an American wizarding school would be like, how I would handle the magic system*, what sort of plots I could throw at the Player Characters, and one thing that occurred to me immediately was that, well, roleplaying a bunch of children usually isn't that interesting. Unless there is some definite goal or something else to make them do more than act like kids, all I'd have would be kids throwing spells at each other like 1/2-level magic users. So, they need an adversary. A... plot. Oh wait, what am I going to do, just create some kind of Dark Lord in America? Hmm...
I do not know when or how exactly Alexandra first materialized in my head. But I got the idea for this American girl, a witch — yes, a somewhat Harry Potter-like character, but different (!!!), and I was coming up with story ideas for her, and realized this really wouldn't work as a game, because I'd be turning her into a Mary Sue.
That's when the idea of writing fan fiction first occurred to me. I knew what fan fiction was, of course, but I'd never really written any, nor had I read any since reading some of my friends' anime fanfic in high school. So I went looking for Harry Potter fan fiction.
Yeah, my first few attempts, wherein I braved fanfiction.net and harrypotterfanfiction.com, nearly convinced me that there is no such thing as non-sucky fan fiction.
And I knew nothing about the fan fiction community, so I left some reviews that were... unkind. I helpfully pointed out to authors when they lacked a basic grasp of English grammar and punctuation, plausibility, or anything remotely resembling a plot.
No, honestly, I wasn't trolling and I wasn't trying to be cruel. I just had no idea how low the bar was.
Eventually, I found a story that was... readable. It was so good compared to what I'd been reading that I actually praised the author for writing a story that was fun and readable, even if it did have a lot of awkward dialog and implausible events and OOC characterization and silly fanservice...
What? I was trying to be nice!
This story is still an active WIP, btw. Ironically, in the time that I've written five fan fiction novels, this author is still, every few months, releasing a new chapter. It's really... not that good, but I still read it out of affection and nostalgia.
So, anyway, I quickly came to one conclusion:
I can do better than that!
I was not part of the fandom, and had no particular interest in going around making a name for myself. I began writing Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle partly for fun, and partly to test a hypothesis: if my story was any good, eventually it would attract an audience.
I spent the next five months writing it. From August to December of 2007, I spent much of my free time writing my first fan fiction novel. I told nobody about it, and it never even occurred to me to post any chapters before I had finished the entire book. Nor did it occur to me to have anyone else proofread it for me. (Who the heck would want to proofread fan fiction? No, I didn't know what a "beta" was at that point.) I was arrogant enough to be confident in my writing abilities -- not that I thought I was perfect, or even necessarily good, but I knew that with a little help from a spellchecker, I could at least write technically competent English, and for damn sure I could write better prose than 99% of what was on fanfiction.net.
I finished AQATTC, reread (and reedited) the entire book again, ran one more spelling and grammar check on it (Microsoft Word's grammar check is mostly useless, but it does find the odd typo or misplaced punctuation mark), and on December 23, 2007, I uploaded Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle to fanfiction.net. All 29 chapters. In one night.
Yeah, I had no idea about building an audience, or how quickly new HP stories appeared and then disappeared on ff.net's daily feeds.
I sat back and waited for people to notice it.
One of my first reviews said:
I think you're a good writer with not a lot of reviews because you wrote a Harry Potter fanfic without Harry Potter in it. People on this site are really hesitant to read a fic with an 'OC' character in it, much less are they ready to read a fic with ALL OC characters. After this, try writing your own stuff for Fictionpress, you'd do well.
Just a heads up, though: watch out for Mary Sues. I didn't get to read the whole thing, but try to avoid making your character the mainstream perfect character, who's got gorgeous eyes and gorgeous hair and an awesome personality and magical abilities. It's just overdone.
On the positive side, you have a hige knack for being able to catch certain things in your writing, like the old lazy childhood summers, a Madeline/Harry Potter-style child with magic abilties, grounding- and not making it cheesy. Good job o
Well, the "Madeline" reference pleased me, since that's exactly what I was going for with chapter one, but what's wrong with OCs? And hey, if you read the book, you'd know Alex isn't a Mary Sue!
Okay, so yeah, after my minimal research into the world of Harry Potter fan fiction, I had no idea how many "instant back-button!" reflexes I was triggering by posting a story proudly proclaiming itself to be a story about an American witch OC (who is described as having bright green eyes in chapter one, no less!).
Despite the sluggish start, people did eventually start noticing AQATTC, both on fanfiction.net and on FictionAlley and Mugglenet Fan Fiction, where I had also started posting it — this time forced to post only a chapter at a time because the latter two are moderated archives and I had not yet earned unmoderated posting privileges. I got an amused PM from swissmarg (who had been moderating all these chapters I was trying to upload at once on FictionAlley) who said very nice things about Alexandra while also pointing out to me that I might do better by spacing the chapters out a little to let people start to notice the story.
Next, I actually start rereading
So that was all prologue. In my next AQ Rereading Project post, I'll actually start talking about Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle and maybe even post author's notes for Chapter 1 if I can stop rambling...
* In case you are wondering, my game system of choice for a Harry Potter RPG would probably be Fudge.