Saturday, June 27, 2020

Sat outside and doodled today! Don't you just love the smells of summer? I love summer except when it's too hot. It will probably be in the triple digits here by July, so I figured I'd get my actually-enjoying-summer in while I could.

Anyway, here is Quinny being her epic lucent mage self! She's casting the bifrost spell, which creates a rainbow bridge that she can skate on. I needed a way for her to get around quickly and I felt like sprouting wings was boring.
I heard back from my editor about Pixeldust! She actually really likes it, which is a huge relief! Yes, there are parts that need fixing, but overall she says it's her favorite of my books so far. I'm really glad, because I was kinda worried it was just a weird mess, haha. I probably need to start thinking more highly of my own work.

Here's what she had to say about it:

“Pixeldust” is a deep dive into the exciting and enthralling world of video games. Plot twists abound as our heroes experience the virtual world of ​Heroes of Avonell, ​even while everything they know about the game threatens to come apart at the seams. With multiple new worlds to explore and an ever-increasing list of opponents to defeat, this is a fast-paced and exciting read that artfully incorporates powerful themes like personal identity, empathy, and the power to change -- as well as a villainous plot for global domination, of course! 

That being said, there will be a pause in new chapters of Worth Searching For as I revise Pixeldust and get it ready for my proofreader to look at. I know, Chapter 3 of WSF ends on a pretty cliffhangery note. If you don't want to wait to find out what happens next, you could always read the story as it appears in the Neopian Times, or my second revised version on Pharazon's petpage (his full Neopet name is ArPharazonTheGolden *cough Tolkien nerd cough*), but honestly I vastly prefer this third revision, and please don't ever read the cringey Neopian Times version or you will never respect me as an author again.

I'm super excited to move forward with Pixeldust, and I hope to have it published sometime in July!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Worth Searching For, Chapter 3


The heavy smell of incense saturated the air as Hyren followed Blynn through the old wooden door of an upstairs shop. On the other side was a small waiting area, littered with cushions. A grouping of lanterns hung from the ceiling, shedding a cool, soothing ultramarine glow. Silk paintings of Shenkuuvian landscapes adorned the walls. The ambience began to make Hyren quite sleepy, a sensation not helped by the two hours it had taken them to find this place. It was times like these that made him miss his old mutant body and its incredible endurance.

“What possessed you to think this was a good idea?” he grumbled to Blynn. “We should have gone to the palace and gathered more information instead of this… hokey nonsense.”

“Shh, don’t be rude,” the Zafara hissed. “That dockworker told us this was the best place in the city for information.”

“I don’t trust weirdos who think the phase of Kreludor will influence someone’s luck at the stock market,” Hyren said. He wrinkled his lack of nose at a zodiac chart on the wall, showing a circle of Petpets accompanied by rings of broken and unbroken lines. “Most of this doesn’t even have anything to do with real magic, it’s just stuff superstitious pets thought up that sounded mystical, and other pets believed them.”

Blynn approached the elaborately embroidered curtain at the back of the room. “Most of it’s not real magic,” she said. “For every fifty frauds, there’s a genuine soothsayer. Some pets do have that gift.”

“Are you going to stand out there all night or are you going to come in?” asked a voice from behind the curtain. It was husky and female, relaxed but with a bit of a professional clip. “I have no other clients right now.”

“O-of course,” Blynn stammered, pulling the curtain aside. A beam of soft orange light fell on her face like she’d found a portal to Moltara. “C’mon, Hyren.”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Worth Searching For, Chapter 2

Hyren felt like his stomach had dropped to his stubby blue knees. “Terra? Terra!” he shouted, not bothering to disguise the panic in his tone. He pushed past the Grarrl in back of him, who let out an annoyed growl, and looked around wildly at the sea of pets that had gathered to watch the parade.

The Grundo’s antennae quivered as he strained to hear his owner’s voice over the din of the crowd, in vain. His eyes darted back and forth, but Terra’s braid and Pharazon’s faerie Draik wings were nowhere to be found. His stomach clenched into a knot and his hand strayed toward the sword at his waist.

A paw clutched his shoulder and turned him around. “Hyren, what are you doing?” Blynn asked.

“They’re gone,” he breathed, staring into her magenta eyes with a growing frustration and fear. Every moment he spent talking was another moment lost in looking for them. “I took my eyes off of them for two seconds and they’ve—disappeared!” He’d looked after them for years, promised them he would protect them, and now his worst nightmare was coming true. The full realisation of that sickening feeling started to wash over him and his antennae drooped.

The Zafara gave him a gentle shake. “Calm down—just calm down before you hyperventilate, okay?” she said. “They’ve gotta be around here somewhere.” She scampered out of the cluster of spectators and he followed, both of them swinging their heads about for any sign of their owner and younger brother. “Maybe they just got distracted or something,” Blynn said, turning to analyse the crowd from the back.

“But they were right behind us,” Hyren said. He still couldn’t see them. His grip on his sword tightened. “People don’t just disappear like that. Terraaaa!” His voice echoed across the lantern-canopied streets, absorbed into the noise of a celebrating city.

No one replied.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

I can't believe I never posted this here! This is the picture I drew for my Petpet Spotlight entry for Gwyneth... and she won

I also wanted to make sure this picture was on the blog because it's such a great portrait of Gwyn to use for reference for my Neopets fanfics. She is basically one of those enormous dogs who don't realize how big and strong they are. Which is a problem for something the size of a small elephant.

Worth Searching For, Chapter 1

I hope everybody's ready for some prodigiously long Neopets fanfic. :)

As per tradition, I'm going to give you a little director's-commentary breakdown on this story first. I started conceptualizing Worth Searching For as I was writing Worth Fighting For. Specifically, the seed of the idea came about when my very helpful editor for that story noted that I didn't really give the Werelupe King any motives in that story. That was something I hadn't really thought about--I just needed a reason for Blynn and Hyren to have to work together, and a turning point for Hyren to realize how much he really cared about the kids. So I decided that the Werelupe King wanted Terra to adopt him because he had actually been created by an owner and then abandoned, and like all tragically abandoned Neopets in Neopian Times stories, wanted to be adopted again super bad. I went more into his psychology in the short story "That Great Hunger".

Well, that made me feel really bad for him (not surprising), and I decided maybe Terra really would be a good owner for the Werelupe King, since she's so good at helping folks with her compassion and patience (see: Hyren). But I knew that bringing them back together again would require some fancy plot acrobatics that would take Terra and her family on an adventure from the streets of Shenkuu to the wild woodlands of the Meridell region, and it ended up giving Pharazon a pleasantly surprising amount of character development besides (which would carry over into later stories).

Incidentally, the story starts in Shenkuu because I was taking a class on East Asian history and kinda fell in love with ancient China, and just really really wanted to write something set in Shenkuu (if at least temporarily... but I would get my Shenkuu fix again in a much later story). Not even mad. I totally couldn't help but slip in Shang Dynasty oracle bones, which may hold the record for nerdiest and most obscure real-world historical reference to ever get into the Neopian Times. You're welcome.

Another reason this story came about was because I was going through a series of rough friend-breakups at the time, and really wanted to write a story about a friendship that worked, despite getting off to a rocky start. Writing can be really cathartic like that sometimes.

That being said, I went through a huge learning process with this story--specifically, with later realizing large parts of it simply didn't work. Whatever you do, don't read the version that got published in the Neopian Times--it's super cringey, and Isengrim and Terra are just not themselves at all, and, ugh. No. It doesn't work. (To be fair to my editor, she tried to tell me, but like I said, I was going through a rough time and not really thinking straight sometimes.) I did some very extensive revisions a few years back (you can find my notes on that under the "Neopets" tag, way back in 2017), but wanted to revisit the story before putting it on the blog because there were still parts I wasn't quite satisfied with (as I've been blogging about lately).

But now, finally, I feel content with it. The characters and their relationships are exactly what I feel they should be, as is the plot (and I think I ironed out all of the prose mishaps). I feel very proud and happy to finally present it on this blog, and I hope readers enjoy it. Because I sure had fun working on it.

“Look out!”

With a whistle and a bang, fireworks shot through a narrow alleyway. Multicoloured streams of sparks twisted over the paving stones, and silk-robed Neopets let out shouts of panic as they dived away.

The fireworks arced into the night sky, where they swelled into the fiery shapes of a Kazeriu, a Dandan, and a Pandaphant. The three phantasmal Petpets cavorted above paper lanterns and tile eaves, eliciting cries of awe from the streets below, before dancing to the roof of the Imperial Palace and fizzling out. A roar of cheers and applause erupted and then died as the crowd was swept into other festivities.

“So that’s what Shenkuuvian potsherds do,” said a disco Zafara standing in the alley as she twanged the rubber of her slingshot affectionately. “Different from the Lost Desert variety, huh?” she asked as she looked over at her companions with a toothy grin.

Terra peeled herself away from the wall. The pale-skinned, copper-haired owner readjusted her glasses and brushed off the sleeves of her plaid flannel shirt, trying to look unruffled. “Blynn, next time you do that,” the young adult said shakily, “could you at least warn us first?” Her blue eyes were still wide from being startled.

“That’s it,” a blue Grundo said, stumbling out from behind Terra. “You get your magic slingshot privileges taken away for a week.” His antennae were flattened against his head as he pointed an accusing finger at his sister. Somehow, he did not quite cut the imposing figure he wanted to. Perhaps because he was less than a metre tall.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Today's writing notes:

Working on: revising Worth Searching For

I finished revisions! I didn't really have too much to change, but there were still some areas that badly needed work.

Is it weird that I was excited about having to retool an entire episode in this story? Managing information just makes me really happy I guess! (Is that why I like baseball so much? So many stats!) There's something so satisfying about making a story the best it can be, and making sure it falls in line with future stories so that the whole body of work flows as a harmonious whole.

So upon taking another look at the Caxton Bank chapters, I realized Isengrim's role in the whole thing just wasn't working. In earlier versions, when he learned their granary had been destroyed by a Monocerous, he was angry at them for not fighting to defend their village from the creature, not understanding that they were farmers and not warriors like his Werelupe pack, and initially refused to help them, believing that they were weaklings who deserved their fate. Terra had to give him a crash course on how kings are supposed to actually protect their subjects, and how he shouldn't be pushing them around and making them afraid of him, and then abandoning them when they need him.

Problem is, that worked with Isengrim's initial, not-very-well-thought-out personality, but not at all with the personality I actually discovered he has as I continued to write him (yes, characters work that way). Isengrim isn't stupid, he's an excellent leader (hence why he's the Werelupe King), and he is naturally a very protective, generous, selfless person. But at the time of WSF he was also extremely xenophobic and had a huge chip on his shoulder from all the antagonism he and his Werelupes got everywhere they went. So his anger at the Caxton Bank situation should stem from taking out his frustration on the peasants who label him a monster and a tyrant, and it's up to Terra to explain to him that he's just perpetuating the cycle by acting in exactly the way Werelupes have been stereotyped. Isengrim will have to let go of his anger and pride to actively foster peace between his Werelupe pack and their non-Werelupe subjects.

I'm also feeling quite pleased that I seem to have grown as a writer even in the two or three years since I last revisited this story, as I keep finding other places that need polishing or sometimes even altering. For example, I cut out an entire conversation between Isengrim and Terra at the end of chapter 16, because while it was cute, I realized it just didn't add anything to the plot or their character development, and did not really wrap up the whole episode in a way that drove home the important lessons learned. I think their new conversation at the end of the chapter does a much better job of that.

Also, I had a lot of fun playing up Skoll's being a manipulative jerk to Pharazon. It's so dreadfully confusing when someone who is manipulating Pharazon brainwashes him about someone else being manipulative who isn't, turning Pharazon against Isengrim and even ultimately Terra, all to gain Pharazon's trust for nefarious purposes. What a toe. *maniacal cackle*

(And I think that gives a subsequent story a lot more emotional impact... but I'll talk about that one when its time comes.)

I'll start putting chapters up soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Today's writing notes

Working on: revisions to Worth Searching For

Swords make me ridiculously giddy. I'm so glad I got to cram this story so full of nerdily-detailed swordplay. Also I realize I have not used a zweihander yet in a story and I need to fix this. (Hyren's/Isengrim's faerie sword is a claymore, not a zweihander.) #SwordNerd 

I think one of the toughest things about this story is that Isengrim's personality in it is a tough, tough balancing act. He goes through such a drastic character arc that I've found it tricky to get his evolving dynamic with Terra (and the rest of the world, really) right while still staying true to his core personality. He's an extremely complex person, especially in this story where he undergoes so much change, so I'm hoping my edits will help solidify and clarify the many layers of his personality. 

It doesn't really help that the first time I wrote this story, I gave Isengrim a vastly different personality that did not work at all and didn't mesh well with how I wrote him in subsequent stories. I had to do a lot of retooling during my next round of edits to make his character work, and looking at it now I'm still seeing some bumps that need fixing. What I'm trying to get across is that Isengrim is not a sociopath like Dr. Sloth, but he's really angry at his creator, the outside world, and life in general--but once he finds himself with an owner again, he can't shake an innate drive to be nice to her and take care of her, because deep down that's the sort of person he really is. And Terra is brave, kind, and patient, all traits that Isengrim's creator lacked, so he can't get himself to be angry with her despite his trust issues. He experiences a great deal of inner conflict from the time they re-unite to when they reconcile the next day, so I hope I've done an okay job explaining his erratic behavior during that time span.

Also, I had a lot of fun coming up with the chapter titles in Brightvale, a Complete History. My headcanon is that the War of the Typefaces was a major armed conflict between schools of type designers who had differing opinions about what typefaces looked better. Serif or sans serif--pick a side! And don't even get them started on glyph width!

I hope other people enjoy these strange nerdy tidbits I keep throwing into my writing.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Today's writing notes

Working on: revisions to Worth Searching For before I put it on the blog

Yes, I'm revising Worth Searching For again. But like I said in some recent posts about revising On Borrowed Wings, as a very high-achieving perfectionist writer, I really like making sure my work is the best it can be before presenting it to the public. And if that means revisiting older work and giving it another run-through to make sure it's up to par, I am totally okay with that. (It also means more busywork while I wait for Pixeldust to come back from the editor, and I hate being bored and unproductive, so.)

These edits to WSF will not be as extensive as my last round of edits back in early 2018 (if you want to go back and read my notes from that project), but I am enjoying the opportunity to once more pick through the story with a fine-toothed comb (er... keyboard?) and smooth out any bumps. For example, I've already altered a bit of dialogue in the first chapter to make Pharazon sound more like the personality I finally settled on for him (youthful and insecure) rather than how I had largely been characterizing him for my Neopian Times stories before that (a somewhat sophisticated intellectual). I've also been making Hyren a little less abrasive, because even though he can be kinda grumpy sometimes, I think his default is to at least speak to his family kindly.

Also, I am aware that the entire dinner scene in the first chapter is super long. But I just had too much fun interweaving a family dinner with plot exposition for people who hadn't read Worth Fighting For, because WSF is a direct sequel to that story. 

And I realize I never did actually determine who wrote Pharazon's fortune. I probably won't ever make anything of it, but I like to think it was probably some Kaia-like individual working at the fortune cookie bakery who had a prophecy and enchanted that particular cookie to go to Pharazon. They're in the right line of work.

I hope the tension between Terra and Pharazon comes across okay in the beginning of the book. What I was trying to portray is that Terra is a very pro-active, determined person with a good dose of warrior spirit, but Pharazon is very mild-mannered, dislikes adventure, and is used to his family doing all of the fighting for him. So when Terra and Pharazon are in danger and Blynn and Hyren aren't around, Terra suddenly finds herself not only trying to handle the situation all by herself, but also attempting to do damage control as Pharazon's panic and cowardice makes things worse. When things crumble, it makes Terra really frustrated as her attempts to rescue herself and Pharazon get foiled by the very person she was trying to help, but Pharazon is too busy freaking out to notice or care about his owner's stress.

Another thing I've been trying to do with these edits is make the character development clearer. It's such an important facet of this story, but I feel like in my earlier versions, there were parts where I was kind of vague about it and/or didn't have a solid enough handle on the characters to be able to portray them in a way that is accurate to later stories. I know it's sort of a moot point because of course I was able to develop them more in later stories, but keeping a body of work cohesive is important to me, and I figure there is really nothing preventing me from going back with the hindsight from later stories and tweaking earlier ones to make them ring truer to the characters.

Friday, June 5, 2020

I had a little spare time, so I thought I'd doodle another Pixeldust character!

This is Marlowe, the leader of the thieves' guild in Avonell (you might remember my sketch of her from a few months ago). Although usually a notorious outlaw who's committed the kingdom's biggest heists, the charismatic, quick-witted grimalkin has called a temporary truce with the other leaders of Avonell to fight the threat of General Noggerath.

Ironically, Marlowe is actually the nicest and friendliest of the five Avonellian faction leaders; she just got programmed with some regrettable ethics. But her AI is so advanced that she's able to overcome her programming, and ends up being a valued friend and ally to Quinny and Lorik when the other faction leaders start going haywire and antagonizing player characters.

Marlowe is also the most wildly popular character in Heroes of Avonell and gets the lion's share of the merchandise in real life, much to the chagrin of someone who's used to keeping a low profile.