Annotation Alcatraz Chapter One
So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.
The first line here was the original inspiration for this book. I got that line before anything else. I still love it–particularly since it plays into the theme of this book by not really giving you any information on Alcatraz’s predicament. More on this in later annotations.
I grew up in the Hushlands
There was some confusion about the Hushlands vs. the Free Kingdoms in this book. Originally I called them the Inner World and the Outer World. Even when I wrote that, I knew it wouldn’t work–and it didn’t. They aren’t two different worlds, but different regions in the same world. Plus, people had a lot of trouble remembering which one was our civilization and which one was the fantasy kingdoms.
After trying various names, I ended up with Hushlands (which was suggested by one of my friends, I believe). It seemed like a good mix with the Evil Librarians. I think Free Kingdoms and Hushlands are a lot easier to keep straight.
I did worry a little bit about doing another “hidden world in this world” book. However, in writing fantasy, you really only have three options. There’s the high fantasy paradigm, where there is no connection to this world. (Like what I usually write.) Or you can do a fantasy alternate reality, where a lot of the things are the same, but some things are different. (This is what comic books generally do–it’s our world, plus fantastic elements that everyone knows and accepts.) I didn’t really want to do that, so I was left with number three: the urban fantasy “there’s a hidden fantasy world that nobody knows about” paradigm.
I hope I can add something new to the genre. I’m not too worried, since I’m very confident in this book. Plus, there is enough satire and sarcasm in the book that–in part–I’m making fun of the genre.
The Revision Process
As usual for my books, chapter one is the most revised chapter in the book. Getting the balance between humor, character, and plot establishment in this chapter was a bit tough. The first draft (which I’ll try to remember to post to my website so you can compare) was too long. As the book went through drafts, paragraphs were cut, trimming it down and trying to concentrate on what we really need.
This was important for this book. I still worry that chapter one is one of the least funny. We don’t really get to the right voice and tone for the book until chapter two.
I tried to fix this, but it proved impossible. The reader has to be acclimatized to the characters before I can do anything else in this book, and so I have to focus on Alcatraz’s strange power and the way he feels about life before I can get more wacky.
Some of the cuts from this chapter include a fun line involving one of Alcatraz’s former foster mothers and cookies, a longer explanation of the postage stamp mystery, and a crack about Joan being a liberated woman. That last one was edited out so that I wouldn’t have as many women throwing things at me.
Anica is a good editor, by the way. She knows how to write for kids. I’ve got a feel for how to do that, but I sometimes let my desire for a good line or quick joke overshadow the clarity of the book for the target age group. I do leave in some of my obscure jokes (as you’ll see when I make fun of Heisenberg), but Anica is great at pointing out phrases or words that just won’t work for the audience.
Oh, and my favorite “stealth” joke in this one? Alcatraz calling “Alexander” a great name. Alexander the Great. Ha.
One edge of the paper was covered with wild scribbles
Ah! Scribbles on the package. See, they’re there in the first few paragraphs.
The biggest change to this chapter was one I couldn’t talk about above. You see, in the original version of this book, Alcatraz was far more self-aware of the fact that he was intentionally driving his foster families away. In this chapter, he saw it as a game. Originally, he didn’t burn down the kitchen by accident–he did it on purpose to get the parents to send him away. He did this because the first few families sent him away after he got attached to him. So his goal with later foster parents was to push them away first before they could do it to him.
Getting rid of this knowledge was one of the very first things that Anica suggested. You see, Alcatraz has such a great chance for character growth and revelation later on, when he’s in the prison, that having him be aware of what he was doing the whole time undermined what could have been a great scene.
I agreed with this immediately, since I’d been thinking of doing the same cut. The edited manuscript, then, has him accidentally setting the drapes on fire, then not caring about it. I think that gives me a nice balance.
However, the broken smoke alarm here is a reminder of the original draft. I left it in, implying that Alcatraz does partially know what he’s doing, even if he won’t admit it to himself. He broke the smoke alarm because he knew that by fixing dinner, he would likely start a fire. Grandpa Smedry hints at this later.
See the published version.
Compare the early first-person draft.