Okay, this has been a long, slow reread, but that's about the pace at which I am writing book five. Sorry. :\ So, here we are at the final chapter.
When I first began writing Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle, the possibility that my juvenile protagonist could provide an entire series arc was little more than a glimmer of an idea. As I have mentioned before, my American wizarding world was originally an idea sparked by an RPG that never happened. But somehow I managed to write an entire novel, something I had failed to do in all previous (non-fan fiction) attempts, and by the end, an entire series had taken shape. Still a fuzzy shape, but I actually knew long before I wrote the final chapter that I was going to write a sequel.
Writing seven books still seemed out of my league; but here I am, six years later, working on book five.
So, chapter twenty-nine was not so much the denouement of book one as the set-up to the next book.
It starts with a little detail I'd forgotten — that Alexandra didn't go to the first Mors Mortis Society meeting she was invited to.
It wasn't fear of the Dean or the Governor-General that made her decide not to show up at the basement juncture specified on her invitation. It was the worried looks Anna and the Pritchards still gave her. They denied that they had any doubts about her, but Alexandra feared what they would think if she did hang out with other Dark Arts enthusiasts.
It was new for Alexandra, worrying about what her friends thought, and actually deciding not to do something because of their opinions. She didn't like it. It made her annoyed and a little resentful. She was in a bad mood as everyone began leaving for the summer.
I was trying (maybe belatedly) to show Alexandra had indeed grown some in this book. And she had — she actually decides to do what she knows her friends would consider the "responsible" thing to do. This is something she will do again in future books, but of course it rarely lasts long — she resolves to be "good," to put others ahead of herself, and then inevitably is driven to go back on whatever resolution she's made.
While we're at it, let's address Gamp's Law:
“Well,” said Constance, and she produced her wand. “Let's eat!” She conjured loaves of bread and a basket of fruit, and a fresh-baked pie, while Forbearance conjured a pitcher and then filled it with ice-cold tea, pouring from the end of her wand. Anna and David sat down as well, and Anna gently pried the book from Alexandra's fingers and tossed it aside. Alexandra scowled at her.
I got almost as many complaints about this as I did about the Fidelius Charm. Yes, I know it's Rowling canon that magic can't create food. I also know it's Rowling canon that Molly Weasley conjured sauces with her wand.
For the record, my interpretation of "conjured" here is that they materialized food they had previously prepared elsewhere. Which I realize is not totally consistent with how I use "conjure" in other contexts, where it's implied that it means actually creating something out of thin air.
But that's okay! Magic, and magical terms, are not always 100% consistent. Rowling sure wasn't.
The first part of the chapter is Alexandra taking leave of Charmbridge, and saying good-bye to her friends. There is a little bit of interaction with everyone, even Darla and Angelique, before Alexandra returns home to Larkin Mills.
207 Sweetmaple Avenue has yet to be rebuilt (hence book two starting with Alexandra in her bedroom in the crappy apartment she and Claudia and Archie are staying in), and Alexandra and Brian aren't on speaking terms, so there's just one more scene to wrap up the book: the letter from Abraham Thorn.
My Dearest Alexandra,
I know you will be astonished to receive this letter from me, but I know also that you have been expecting it. Believe me, I wish I could deliver this message in person. I wish that I had not been absent from your life until now. There is not a day in the last twelve years that I haven't thought of you, my darling daughter.
I'm sure you have many questions. You deserve answers, and so much more. The manner in which you learned about your father is not the way I would have chosen. What happened this year at Charmbridge was beyond anything I might have anticipated. Benedict was a good friend, once, and I would never have believed him capable of such betrayal. You can be sure, Alexandra, that I have loyal friends who would never, ever harm you, and that they, and I, are watching over you now. Just as the Governor-General and his minions are, but they care nothing about you. They want only to get at me, and that is why I cannot come to you in person. I desire nothing more than to hold you in my arms, my dear child, as I did when you were a baby, but circumstances will not allow it, not yet.
You may be angry at me, Alexandra, and I don't blame you. I ask only that you reserve your judgment until I've had an opportunity to face you and answer whatever questions you may put to me. I promise, that day will come.
Alexandra, I have always been watching over you. I know that you survived your trials this year with courage and wit and skill, as befits a daughter of mine, and I am very proud.
I hope you will give some reply, even if it is angry and accusing. Just a brief note, or a word, for I so long to hear from you.
Your loving father,
Abraham Everard Thorn
Abraham, like Alexandra, can be quite facile in justifying himself. He is full of Reasons why he hasn't been able to see Alexandra before now. And of course there are reasons he won't actually tell her about until much later (like the promise he made Claudia, to stay out of their lives). But Alexandra rightly calls him on this. Abraham, like Claudia, does love and care about Alexandra, but wins no parent of the year awards. And his letter was meant to show that he's both a caring, if absentee, father and a manipulative, self-justifying schmuck with agendas that take precedence over his loved ones.
Like I said, Alexandra is a lot like her father.
But this scene was also important because I wanted to show that, as curious, conflicted, and eager to find out the truth as she may be, and even as burdened as she may be by secret insecurities (what with nearly everything about her parentage still being a mystery to her), if there is one thing Alexandra has no issues with, it's setting boundaries.
“You can tell my father,” she said very calmly, “that he obviously knows where to find me.”
Okay, there were some details here and there I had forgotten, but overall the first book was still fresher in my mind than I thought, considering how long it has been since I'd read it in its entirety. And I still find it a pretty good read, if definitely longer than it needed to be.
This was, as I say, the first novel I'd ever written to completion. Now, with six novels under my belt (four Alexandra Quick stories, Hogwarts Houses Divided, and my OF novel), I've learned a few things about writing. I don't know if my writing has gotten a lot better, but at least there are some newbie mistakes I don't make so much anymore. You may have seen that I beat myself up quite a bit over dialog, pacing, and excessive word count in this book. Those are the errors that really stand out to me. Pacing is an issue I continue to have in all my books; it's hard to step outside the author's POV and see whether or not things you find interesting will actually be interesting to the reader. I've become a bit better at cutting fat out of a manuscript, reducing word count to make it leaner, but I still am not as confident as I'd like to be in structuring a novel-length work.
Alexandra as a character remains very much a different cup of tea for different people. I have heard the entire spectrum of opinions about her from "She's a completely unlikeable little brat and she doesn't change or grow up at all" to "I just want to give the poor girl a hug."
Alexandra is the character I want her to be. I do try to improve my writing with reader feedback, but I never alter my plans for a character's arc based on what people would "like" to see. She'll continue to be endearing or infuriating depending on your flavor of tea.
What have I learned from this reread? Well, I made note of a few unfired Chekhov's guns, and am pleased at some of the ways in which my writing has improved. There were some chapters I still think hold up pretty well, and others that beg to be rewritten (though I am not going to go back and rewrite previous books). Some things were less obvious than I thought, and things that I think are too vague and hand-wavey, most readers evidently don't care that much about.
A lot of little seeds I planted in book one continue to grow, and some have yet to sprout. Some of those seeds I planted deliberately, as soon as I knew I was going to write more books, others were just cool ideas I had when writing them that I have now finally decided what to do with. And others might remain unused.
AQATTC was, in my opinion, a decent first novel. Certainly not good enough to be published (even aside from being fan fiction), but some writers talk about the first manuscript they ever finished with horror, rereading it and being appalled at just how bad it was. I don't feel that way. There are lots of issues, with prose and plotting and characterization, that could be improved greatly in AQATTC, but I maintain that it's not terrible — it's not even bad. Which is not to say that it's my best work. Or that what I am writing now is as good as I'd like it to be.
I started writing Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle in July of 2007. I had never written fan fiction before. I was unknown in any fan fiction communities. I knew very little about fandom. I spent six months writing AQATTC, and released it to the world on Christmas Eve, 2007.
Now, I was kind of arrogant. I had read a fair amount of HP fan fiction by then, and most of it sucked. And I knew I didn't suck! So I had a belief that people would recognize that here is a writer who doesn't suck and my story would eventually acquire an audience because not sucky.
And I wasn't completely wrong. But while I might still be a little arrogant, I have a slightly less inflated opinion of my own writing now.
I knew I was writing in a niche, but I didn't know that OCs are anathema to much of fandom, that American wizarding stories are detested by much of HP fandom, and that Alexandra would be widely perceived (and dismissed) as fem!Harry.
I also didn't know that HP fandom was past its peak. Some readers have suggested I might have become a BNF if I had started writing Alexandra Quick a couple of years earlier. Maybe, though see above — I think for a large segment of the fandom, AQ would always have been "That fem!Harry American OC by some writer who's maybe okay with grammar and spelling."
So, on 12-24-07 I uploaded all 29 chapters at once, unbetaed, to fanfiction.net, and then, with the eagerness of every first-time author, I kept checking my email to see if anyone would review it. I think the first review came within a few hours. I got several very short but positive reviews over the next few days... and that was it.
Meanwhile, I started uploading to Mugglenet Fan Fiction and Fiction Alley. Since I was stuck in the moderation queue, my chapters were released more slowly there, which helped me build an audience, though the total readership of both those forums is a fraction of ff.net's.
I did slowly build my audience, and was gratified by the reception it had (and bemused by DLP's reception), but I wanted a bigger audience. I already knew I was going to write more AQ stories, but people kept telling me that no one likes OCs and no one wants to read about American wizarding schools.
So... I wrote Hogwarts Houses Divided. Yes, I originally started HHD as a calculated attempt to build more of a fanbase which would then read my AQ stories. I think I was semi-successful, in that many people have told me they became AQ fans after reading HHD, but HHD remains to this day far more popular than the Alexandra Quick series. I still get more reviews, favorites, etc., for HHD than I do for all my AQ stories put together.
I hope you have found my self-reviews entertaining or at least interesting. For my own entertainment, here is a poll.
And yes, I am going to continue the AQ Reread Project with Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below.
Where did you first read Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle?
When did you first read Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle?