I am actually rather agnostic about both the Word of God and the Author Is Dead, but I do believe that a story should stand on its own, without intervention, explanation, or clarification from the author. You may not care or want to know what Inverarity intended, what Inverarity was thinking, or how Inverarity feels about what he wrote. If that's the case, no problem, and if you still have critiques, lemme have 'em. But if you don't mind having your reading of the book "tainted" by the author's voice, this is my big rambling tl;dr Author's Notes on Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment, in which I will answer questions (but not give any extra-book "canon" information) and discuss my reasons for doing certain things. All below the cut...
Above the cut, though, a special mention to people whom I've mentioned before but deserve mention again: my betas, Miles2go and swissmarg. They pointed out everything from typos to plot holes, and the result was absolutely a much tighter story. For those who say that my writing has improved since Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle, I'd point out that AQATTC was never seen by betas or anyone else before I posted it online.
Also, I neglected to mention (gotta fix that when I post revised versions of the entire story) that the reference to "dead man's finger" in the last chapter of AQATDR actually came from swissmarg's story Survivors, which is the only Snape/Hermione story I've ever read that didn't suck greasy hairballs. (I still think Snape/Hermione is complete mindfuckery, but seriously, Survivors is a good story.)
Second, a shout-out to anthonyjfuchs, the diligent maintainer of the Quickipedia, which I'm sure will be useful to those of you trying to remember who's who and what's what when you come back to Alexandra Quick after a year or more. Although it's a public wiki, and therefore open for anyone to contribute, almost all of the work has been done by Anthony. (I occasionally make small corrections, but otherwise try to leave it alone.) Yes, I actually named William's familiar in his honor. Anthony has recorded nearly every little detail about the AQ universe revealed in the books so far. (Though I notice you never did catch the passing mention of the names of two of the Pritchards' brothers. ;))
All right, on to the authorial pontificating...
I'm generally quite happy with the reactions to Alexandra Quick and the Deathly Regiment. So far, no one has told me it sucked or was a let-down after the first two books. It's actually a little daunting when so many people say, "You're getting better and better," because seriously, how many authors can maintain a monotonic improvement across a seven-book series? (Rowling didn't, in my opinion.)
But of course, the comments and reviews and feedback did not consist entirely of paeans to my brilliance. I got a fair amount of good, useful (sometimes bruising, but still useful) critique. Most of the criticism I found to be more or less valid, even if I might quibble about the details. A lot of it I was expecting (including a certain bombastic fan erupting over the Max/Martin revelation -- more on that below, and stop gnashing your teeth, fpb). Chapters where I knew not as much happened, relatively speaking, to advance the plot, were usually noticed and commented on. On the other hand, there were a few bits that I thought were among the weaker parts of the story, and no one commented negatively on them at all. (No, I'm not going to tell you what they are! :P)
So let me just go over all the topics I can think of, in no particular order.
The Deathly Regiment
I think I made it as explicit as could be in chapters twenty-nine and thirty, but the Deathly Regiment is a regime: like John Knox's Monstrous Regiment of Women (which referred to the notion of female rulers), the Deathly Regiment refers to the Confederation's pact with the Generous Ones, and the rule -- in fact, the basis of much of the Confederation's power and authority -- that results from it.
Actions have consequences
If there is one theme I am writing into my AQ stories, it is that actions have consequences, and all decisions have a moral weight. And since this is a magical universe, sometimes those consequences are supernatural in nature, and the moral weight that attaches to them can extend beyond simple cause and effect in the material world. I'm not talking about karma or an afterlife here: I'm talking about, for example, the fact that Rowling clearly implied in her books that certain magical practices can stain your soul. Why is the Killing Curse an Unforgiveable? Because it kills people? There are other spells that can do that. The Killing Curse has no other purpose than murder. Now, you can argue from a utilitarian perspective that sometimes war is necessary and why not use the most effective weapons to win that war blah blah blah, and that may be true in the real world, but I think the magical world imposes moral constraints that are less... utilitarian. Myths and legends are full of this sort of thing, and every religion has similar principles, from the Bible's "As ye sow, so shall ye reap" to the Three-Fold Law.
(No, I don't believe this is true in the real world any more than I believe in magic.)
So anyway, the Confederation's Deathly Regiment has consequences. Alexandra's actions have consequences. Abraham Thorn's actions have consequences. Does that mean everyone always gets what they deserve, and the universe is ultimately fair? No, even the magical world isn't that just. But if you accept that sacrificing children is a Bad Thing on principle, then even if you can make a utilitarian argument for why it's necessary/justified, it's still a Bad Thing and that means Bad Things will happen as a result.
Death has consequences.
I used to be a comic book fan, though I haven't really kept up with comics in quite a few years. One of the reasons I got tired of comics (superhero comics in particular) was the cheapness of death. It's axiomatic in comic books (as in a lot of TV, science fiction, and fantasy) that nobody stays dead. I am amazed how often Marvel or DC have these huge dramatic storylines where they kill off a major character, and fans actually take it seriously, as if there's even the slightest chance that that character won't be back.
So I understand why some people thought that Alexandra might actually be successful in her quest, but I made it clear from the beginning that the whole point of book three was that obsession and an inability to let go was doing nothing but causing Alexandra grief. I don't think death should be cheap, even in fantasy. If you do cheat Death, there will be a cost.
Who are the good guys?
So now that you know the dark secret at the heart of the Confederation (or one of them, anyway), you might still reasonably ask: who's worse, the Confederation or the Thorn Circle?
Abraham Thorn killed a lot of innocent people when he crashed the Roanoke Underhill, and he's likely to kill more if his insurrection continues. Probably more than have ever been sacrificed by the Deathly Regiment. Does that mean he's more evil than the Confederation? Is the Confederation's practice of sacrificing a child every seven years morally defensible if it has saved many more lives?
You can probably guess where I stand. But Abraham Thorn is, by any definition, a terrorist. Of course, that doesn't mean Abraham Thorn is wrong. A lot of revolutionaries were fighting very real evils... and they used brutal methods to do so, and often created regimes just as brutal as the ones they replaced.
In Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic was corrupt and ineffective, but in a bumbling mostly well-intentioned sort of way. Voldemort, on the other hand, was 100% pure Evil, so there wasn't a lot of ambiguity in the conflict.
The public face of the Confederation is an inclusive, multi-cultural society governed by democratic principles. Under the surface, it's something rather different. But that doesn't mean that you can just write them all off as bad guys. What should you do about marauding Powers and magical beasties and a wizards' war? (Maybe not sacrifice children? But something had to be done...) This will be explored further.
Geming Chu and Abraham Thorn represent two different faces of the opposition to the Deathly Regiment, while Alexandra has yet to truly decide where her loyalties lie.
The Deathly Token and the Sacrifice
This was one of those things where I've worked out complex magical rules, never explicitly stated, and then find that something that's clear in my mind is not nearly as clear to the readers. So a lot of people thought, "Why did Darla still have to sacrifice herself after Alexandra closed the gate to the Lands Beyond with Death's token?" And, "Does Alexandra still owe the Generous Ones her life after Darla's sacrifice?"
The answer to the second question is yes. The Generous Ones are essentially performing a "service" for the Confederation when they send the seven-year sacrifice to the Lands Beyond. Tiow made it clear that they wanted Alexandra's sacrifice strictly for their own gain. Her bargain is not part of the Deathly Regiment.
As for the first, the deathly token satisfied the requirement to close the gate to the Lands Beyond, but it did not constitute a sacrifice. As of the closing of the gate, the Confederation still needed its seven-year sacrifice. (Darla probably didn't even understand how Alexandra closed the gate, but she knew that unless someone else went to the Lands Beyond, her sister would.) So, that's why tossing the coin didn't get either Alexandra or Darla off the hook -- it only prevented them from having to sacrifice someone right then to close the gate that the Generous Ones had opened.
Poor Darla. I do feel sorry for her, and I hoped that readers would too, even after I built her up as someone for them to hate. Everyone thought she was insane and/or evil, but really, she was neither, at least not at first. She just wanted to save her sister. She told Alexandra the truth when she said she never wanted to hurt anyone. The key word being wanted: as she proved, that didn't mean she wasn't willing to.
Darla was Alexandra's dark reflection; her mission paralleled Alexandra's. Self-centered, obsessed with a well-intentioned, one might even say noble goal, but willing to lie, mistreat her friends, and play with Dark Arts to get what she wanted, Darla might not have been quite as talented or clever as Alexandra, but she was definitely far more underestimated. The real difference between them was revealed in the climax: Alexandra, for the second time, discovered there was a moral boundary she wasn't willing to cross. (You, the readers, may have known right away that Alexandra was never going to kill someone to bring back Max, but she had to work that out in her own mind.) Darla had no such compunctions.
I definitely do not think Darla was a hero. No matter what her intent, what she did was obviously unforgivable. She never wanted to hurt anyone, but she spent too long staring into the abyss. If she wasn't damned after killing Ms. Gale, then killing her own familiar certainly took her past the point of no return. (Not that killing a cat is worse than killing a person, but Ms. Gale really was an accident, whereas she killed Mr. Whiskers -- her own familiar, a creature who loved and trusted her completely -- with deliberate intent.)
Alexandra Quick is dark and depressing
One of the criticisms I get most often is that AQ lacks the light-heartedness and the sense of fun that Rowling's series has. Some have said that AQ is just too depressing, and I did get one review in which a reader basically told me that s/he wasn't going to continue reading because I abuse Alex too much and don't let her win enough.
Umm, guilty as charged. And I make no promises that this will change.
Okay, that's not entirely true. First, this is one of those points I'd quibble with -- I think Alex does win a lot, but never easily, and rarely is it a free and clear "Win!" where she walks away victorious and unscathed. But the last two books, in particular, have been pretty serious downers, haven't they?
Well, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that I think you'll find books four and five less depressing, and more school- and character-oriented, and with Alexandra (having grown up quite a bit in book three) being less of an annoying brat and getting to claim a few more victories. And since being told that the American wizarding world isn't as interesting or creative as Rowling's does sting a bit, hopefully you'll see a bit more magic and sensawunda in the next book.
The bad news is that this doesn't mean it will stop being a darker story than HP, or that I'm done being mean to Alex. As for the sense of fun, I've tried to inject humor and wonder into the story, but let's face it, I'm not JK Rowling, and what you see is what you get. I know what kind of story I want to tell, and how I want to tell it. I'm open to criticisms with regard to the quality of my storytelling, but "I wish Charmbridge was more like Hogwarts and AQ was more fun" is kind of like "OCs suck and I don't like American wizarding world stories." That's a perfectly legitimate preference -- there are plenty of other writers who write what you're looking for.
If you keep in mind that I think Rowling pulled her punches and let everyone off too easily in the end, then you shouldn't be surprised that my stories are not full of wonder and squee. By the same token, I'm not trying to be all grimdark and morbid. I've seen HP fan fiction that goes all the way into adult dark fantasy, and while that, too, is a legitimate storytelling preference, it's also not where I'm aiming to go. But as I've said before, if you're expecting an Epilogue where Alexandra basks in the coziness of her nuclear family, you're going to be disappointed.
So, I've already been accused of Dumbledoreing Max, as well as falling back on the Dead Gay trope.
Let's address the first one first. Rowling took a lot of flack for announcing that Dumbledore was a Friend of Dorothy. The complaints mostly boiled down to (1) it was unnecessary and smacked of a publicity stunt,and (2) why didn't she say it in the books if she thought it was important?
I take Rowling at her word when she says that she always envisioned Dumbledore as gay. I know some folks claim that she just made it up after all the books were published because she wanted the attention, and I think that's both unlikely and a pretty cheap accusation. Basically, you're calling her a lying attention whore.
Point 2 is more valid -- while there isn't necessarily any reason that Dumbledore's lavender leanings should have come up in the books (because let's face it, how many teenagers want to even think about their hundred-something-year-old headmaster's sexuality?), I do think that if Rowling thought it was important enough, she could have found a way to mention it, or at least hint at it much more strongly than she did. I think she didn't because she just didn't want to deal with the outrage it would have provoked. Once the books were all published, she could say whatever she liked, because there wasn't actually any of the Teh Gay in the pages. I think it was a bit of a cop-out, but given that there wasn't a compelling narrative reason for her to have included it, I don't blame her too much.
Now, wrt Max and Martin: when I first created Max, I knew two things very early on. The first, of course, was that he was going to die. The second was that he was gay.
Now, I am not one of those writers who believes that my characters "speak" to me or decide things about themselves. My characters don't tell me that they're gay or straight: I decide they are.
With Max, though, it wasn't the case that I thought, "Hey, it will be cool and extra-tragic if Max is gay!" Rather, I was thinking about him and his relationships quite a lot, and while my characters don't tell me, "Hey, I'm gay," sometimes things do just fall into place in a way that intuitively makes sense (I believe some authors call this "inspiration"), so I can't tell you exactly how I came to that conclusion, but it just made sense to me and fit everything else I had envisioned about his character. Max was gay.
No sooner did I realize this, than I thought of the aforementioned Dead Gay trope. Yes, I remember the great upheaval in Buffy fandom when Tara died. (Now c'mon -- in fairness, Joss Whedon always kills off happy couples! You should've known Tara was a goner as soon as she got with Willow.)
What to do? Well, while I think writers should be conscious of what they write, I also think they should be true to what they want to write. And take the hit, if it pisses fans off. This will not be the first time I write something that pisses some readers off.
As for how I revealed the relationship: there, I have to plead guilty. Yes, the final scene in AQATDR was sort of a gratuitous insertion because I wanted it there, in the text (in "canon," if you will), that Maximilian was gay. What if I hadn't written it and just mentioned it in one of my LJ author's notes? Then I'd have been accused of pulling a Rowling.
FWIW, both of my betas told me that they thought the scene seemed a little gratuitous and didn't add much. Which is true -- no one needed to know Max was gay, it didn't make any difference at all in the story. This was one of those rare cases where I went ahead and did something to satisfy an authorial indulgence, because you can get away with that in fan fiction. If I'm at fault for anything, it's for not finding a more clever or organic way to drop the info in somewhere along the way. (There were some very subtle clues in AQATLB, but since the story was told from Alexandra's point of view, it just wasn't something she was likely to notice or think about.)
And there you have it. Didn't like the revelation? Too bad -- I'm not sorry. Think I could have written it into the story better? Yeah, I do regret that. But I'm not going to lose sleep over it.
Who Stunned Alexandra in the basement?
Someone with a wand.
Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above
I have a vague, general outline of AQATSA in my head, some notes scribbled down on paper, and the first chapter written. As is always the case with my stories, I know where I want to go, and a few key events along the way, but everything in-between has yet to be filled in, and those intermediate events will probably change a lot.
Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above will be about escaping your fate or choosing it, and also about vengeance and forgiveness. Alexandra will uncover more secrets and lies. Her world will get a little larger. You will learn more about Cultures. There will be Native American wizards. Also, werewolves. And Ozarkers. Lots of Ozarkers. And someone will die.
Naturally, all of the above is subject to change.
Do feel free to comment and ask questions. I'll continue posting stuff on this here LJ, mostly book reviews and random writer's musings, but it will probably fall back to the frequency level it was at before I finished AQATDR.
I will be working on AQATSA -- it's not like I'm putting it on the shelf or anything. But I will be dividing my time more than I did in the case of books two and three, which is why I'm estimating that I won't finish until some time next year. Still, as long as I average one book a year, I'm keeping up with Alexandra's in-universe timeline (and also doing better than Rowling did), so I think that's a pretty reasonable pace.