Annotation Alcatraz Chapter Three
Who to Blame
There are two people you can blame for this book. (No, I’m not one of them. We authors never take responsibility for things like that.) They are Stacy Whitman and Heather Kirby, the women who worked on me for a period of several months to get me to start reading kids’ books. I’d always said that I wanted to get back into YA and middle grade (even if I wasn’t sure on the distinction then. Not sure if I am now, actually…). However, I’d just never gotten around to it.
Well, these two–along with Ms. Fish–just kept recommending books to me. Eventually, I broke down and started reading them. (Though, if I trace it back to the real beginning, it was when my friends Faith and Nathan started reading the Lemony Snicket books to each other while they were engaged. I was the roommate who had to deal with them snuggling on the couch all the time…)
Anyway, back around 2004 I started reading a lot of YA books. I found I liked them, and remembered a lot of the ones I’d enjoyed as a kid. The more I read, the more I realized that a lot of the really exciting fantasy worldbuilding was going on in the kids’ book world. I also realized that you can get away with my kind of humor in kids’ books much more easily than you can in adult books. (I’ve written one other comedy, but something just didn’t work about it. I now think that if I’d shot for a younger audience, it would have been far more successful.)
All of that led to me writing Alcatraz during a short break between Mistborn books two and three. It was a quick write–took me sixteen work days–and was essentially an extended free write, intended to get something out of my system so I could get back to Mistborn. (Though at the same time, Alcatraz made for an excellent break from the Mistborn world, which is rather dark.)
I didn’t expect much from the book. It was fun, but had been done more as a writing exercise than anything else. A way to clear my system of all the kids’ book ideas that came to me during my readings in the genre.
Then Joshua and Steve–my agents–got hold of the book. They sold the heck out of it, and we discovered just how many people loved the concepts in it. We ended up getting a four-book deal from Scholastic, which tickled me pink. Not just because I got paid for a book I didn’t expect to earn a whole lot from–but because it let me write more books in the series! (These are a blast to work on.)
Something massive crashed through the wall of my house.
Some notes on the chapter itself. First off, the car crashing into the room was one of the later edits to the book. Originally, I just had Alcatraz go with Grandpa Smedry in that scene when he looks out at the car on the curb.
This scene–the original–bothered me for a couple of reasons. It seemed out of character, for one thing. I mean, why would Alcatraz go with the crazy old man? He didn’t believe Grandpa Smedry, and thought he was crazy. I needed more of a reason. On top of that, it seemed like the pacing of the book was just a bit too slow at this point. I needed something to increase the tension. So, poof. A gun (this guy was originally going to show up later), a car crashing through the wall, and an escape. I’m pleased with the changes.
We are civilization’s only hope.
I do wonder if this conversation with Grandpa Smedry took too long. I might have covered the same information too many times here. Both my agent and my editor, however, kept noting that we need to make certain there’s a feeling of tension here. We need to know why the sands are so dangerous, and we need to know that they have to be recovered immediately, lest the world suffer a dire fate.
Though, of course, the sands aren’t really that important to get back immediately. It’s not like as soon as the Librarians make the Lenses from them, they’re going to be able to use them as a weapon. They don’t do things like that. However, though Grandpa Smedry suspected this, he didn’t want the Librarians to know–better to let the Librarians think the sands are a powerful weapon. And they are very important. So while a bit of this tension at the beginning might be undermined if we knew immediately what the sands did, it’s still important that they get recovered.
The whole “Gak” sequence. Makes me laugh every time, even though it’s rather dumb. That’s my humor for you.