Chapter One: The Naiad Pond.
So, the first thing I notice as I begin rereading Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle is that the prose is not as bad as I feared. I know I've gotten a bit stronger mechanically and with dialog and such, but really, I was thinking I would start rereading my first book and just cringe, but while there are certainly some sentences I'd like to polish a bit, it's not terrible. Mentioning an Interstate in the first sentence probably caused more than a few back buttons to be pressed, and I think the "crouching tiger" line tripped over the line from clever to twee, but overall, I still think I generally captured the mood I was going for — one of those endless Midwest summer days with three children lounging about enjoying their last days without adult supervision, and the fading years of their pre-teen innocence.
Lila Zill Alexandra Quick
I won't rehash my "writing method" here - you're all pretty familiar with it because I gripe and gnash my teeth over it whenever I'm writing. I usually have only a loose outline when I start writing, and that was certainly true as I began AQATTC.
As I began writing the first chapter, I had a loose plot in mind, but mostly what I had was characters. So here's Alexandra
It is interesting to reread my early descriptions of her. (Of course this particularly chapter I have reread often enough.) Alexandra hasn't changed in my mind, but she has evolved. Some of this, of course, is a function of growing up — fifteen-year-old Alexandra at the end of AQATSA is not the same girl as eleven-year-old Alexandra at the beginning of AQATTC. But I know she's changed in subtler ways from my earliest conception of her. I envisioned her as a bright adventurous girl, full of trouble, something of a tomboy (though she wouldn't exactly think of herself that way; she's mostly gender-oblivious at this point). A little bit of Madeline, a little bit of Ramona Quimby, a little bit of Lyra Belacqua, and a little bit of Mathilda Lando.
Not this French.
Not this cute.
Not this blond.
Not this psycho.
Splendid Stars Space Robots!
Brian and Bonnie were secondary characters, but I knew they were always going to be Alexandra's anchor to the Muggle world, in many ways more so than her mother and stepfather. I had them fully developed in my head, and still do, just as I know a lot about Mr. and Mrs. Seabury and what kind of parents they are, even though they're unlikely to ever be more than the incidental characters you've seen
Okay so maybe I was being a little precious with Splendid Stars Space Robots and Dragon Battle trading cards. But I had almost forgotten that I actually described Alexandra as a shoplifter. She was stealing shit at age 11! In this book and the ones that follow, Alexandra can be pretty awful at times, but she's rarely malicious or outright dishonest.
Brian had seen Alexandra do magic, so he believed in magic, past the age when most kids became skeptical of such things. He had not, however, actually seen any of the supernatural creatures Alexandra claimed inhabited Larkin Mills. Gnomes in her back yard, a ghoul seen through the broken windows of the upper floor of the abandoned Third Street Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse, a giant black bird, larger than an airplane, flying low over the town one evening, and now, a naiad in Old Larkin Pond.
This is what you call a seed, ayup. I knew that someday I was going to do something with the Regal Royalty Sweets and Confections warehouse. I even had a vague idea at the time that it was an abandoned wizarding business. But the inspiration for Martha didn't come to me until I was writing book four, and likewise, I hadn't planned out the Pruett connection this far back.
"I smell mortal flesh, I smell blood. I smell a little girl, Up to no good."
Yes, I know "blood" and "good" doesn't quite rhyme.
So anyway, here comes what will turn out to be the first of Benedict Journey's murder attempts. I'll talk more about Journey later. I'll note here that I had the vague outlines of the Journey plot sketched out in my mind when I began writing this book — that is, I knew he was going to be the villain, and why. But you'll notice some of his murder attempts are... kind of stupid, and not very well explained. How did he plant a kappa in Old Larkin Pond? Let alone Redcaps? Well, maybe he didn't. Maybe magical creatures tend to show up wherever there are witches and wizards, and Alexandra's growing magic attracted them.
Or maybe I just hand-waved a lot. I figured Ben Journey had connections to the Dark Convention and he could just... I dunno, order a crate of Redcaps?
Brian thought of Alexandra as fearless, but that wasn't entirely true. She was bold to the point of recklessness, and found it exciting and interesting to do dangerous things, but she wasn't stupid, and only a stupid person felt no fear when there was good reason to be afraid.
I spent so much time rewriting this whole scene. Although I might have been naive about many aspects of fandom, I knew what a Mary Sue was, and I didn't want Alexandra to be one. So how can I make an eleven-year-old girl brave and adventurous and kick-ass without turning into a total Sue? I had to mention her showing at least a little fear. Of course, then I had her tossing fireballs from a makeshift "wand" made out of a tree branch. In fairness, though, Harry Potter Apparated before he ever went to Hogwarts — I've always assumed that children can manifest very powerful spontaneous magic under the right conditions, and that was my justification.
I still like that scene.
By the time she turned the corner and arrived on Sweetmaple Avenue, Archie was already coming down the street towards her. Her mother and stepfather had by now called Brian's parents, who must have extracted a confession from Brian, so Archie was headed towards Old Larkin Pond to look for her. When he met her on the street, dripping wet, shivering, and smelling like pond-scum, he was too angry to say anything, so he just pointed, and Alexandra slunk into the house.
Here is our first look at Archie, and our first view of him through the Alexandra-filter. Now, Claudia and Archie's fitness as parents has been discussed already (and I'll discuss it again), but I always saw Archie as a decent if not fantastic stepfather. He's not terribly affectionate, and like Claudia, he fumbles in his parenting of Alexandra — a lot. Here, through Alexandra's eyes, he's a bad-tempered oaf who came tromping out to scold her, yell at her, and generally make her life miserable after she's already been through soooooo muuuuuch! (Let's all pause to play a little violin for Alexandra. ;)) Does Alexandra notice anything other than the fact that he was "too angry to say anything"? Is it possible that he was not just angry, but worried, and relieved upon discovering her all right and not drowned in Old Larkin Pond, run over while crossing the Interstate, or abducted in Old Larkin? Naturally, that never occurs to Alex.