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    Brandon Sanderson

    She single-handedly ended the drought in Kalbreeze during the fourth-third century.

    By the way, the fourth-third century thing is intentional. They keep track of years a little differently in the Free Kingdoms. There are certain epochs of time. So the first-first century would be kind of like our A.D. 0-100, but the first-third century would be like A.D. 200-300. On the other hand, the second-third century is more like A.D. 1200-1300. (Though the dates are a little off–they’re not analogous. The first-third century is more like 2000 B.C. our time. More in later books.)

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    Brandon Sanderson

    I made them hate me. On purpose.

    This chapter was the one where I really started to delve into character. It just might be my favorite in the book. Now, maybe, you can see why I had to take out the self-awareness at the beginning of the book. This chapter has real power because Alcatraz is being forced to admit uncomfortable things about himself.

    From the very get-go, my goal in this book was to write something funny that also had a strong character with a good character arc. That’s why I started the first chapter with Alcatraz burning down the kitchen. He was a solid character in my mind–a combination of a lot of different sides. The kid who wanted to be loved, the sarcastic teenager who pushed people away, the cynical older teen who is writing these books. He’s a guy who’s been through a lot, and I hoped that with this chapter (and the next) I could show some depth in a book that otherwise might be dismissible as a simple farce.

    We also start to get into Bastille’s character here, though a lot of what I’m going to do with her is reserved for later. In my mind, this series is about her almost as much as it is about Alcatraz.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    The something hard I was lying on turned out to be the ground.

    There’s a small Douglas Adams nod in here, by the way. That’s what the “No, it didn’t want to be my friend” crack is about with the ground. My editor tried to cut it, since she didn’t get it, but I insisted that it remain. Maybe nobody will get it, but it makes me laugh–and sometimes, that’s what humor is all about.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Eleven

    Authors like to torture people.

    If I had to pick, this would be my second-favorite rant. The mousetrap one is fun, but this one actually says something. It offers commentary. Even if it is ridiculous.

    I’ve wondered about this concept. Why, exactly, do authors do what they do? Why do I write books, and why do I get a thrill every time I see a character in as much pain as I put Alcatraz through in this chapter?

    I acknowledge that I’m probably not a sadist. It’s more that I love seeing good character development. Books are about emotion, and I get the greatest satisfaction from a story when people become so attached to the character that they feel like they know them. Then, when something bad happens, it’s heartwrenching, and the book gains meaning. Not because of what it says or its grand philosophy, but because it means something to that reader at that moment.

    And when there are victories, they really feel like victories. Nothing is better than that.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    They named prisons after us.

    Here we get the reason why everyone has prison names. I figured this makes sense, in the twisted reasoning of this book. Alcatraz the First is a famous hero in the Free Kingdoms. So, what do the Librarians do? They make sure everyone in the Hushlands associates the name Alcatraz with something base.

    It was fun when I actually managed to work out a reason behind the loony choice of my hero’s name.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    It was a person I had known for my entire life: Ms. Fletcher

    The Ms. Fletcher scene has some interesting things to note. First off, if you figured out before Alcatraz that the person whose footprints he was following had to be Ms. Fletcher, you’re not alone. I realize this isn’t the biggest twist ever. However, there’s more going on here than you might suspect.

    Particularly with the fact that she lost her keys. That’s important. You’ll find out in book two why. Also, there’s more about her footprints that will be answered later in this book.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Character Growth

    And, speaking of character, another of the fun themes of this book comes out in this chapter. One of my points is to show all of these wondrous, incredible things–then relate them to Alcatraz and his growth as a character. From the very beginning, the narrator has tied the two together. For instance, the reason Alcatraz begins believing that Grandpa Smedry is his grandfather is because he’s seen so much that is insane, the idea of this man being his grandfather doesn’t seem so out of place.

    This character, Alcatraz, has some things he needs to learn. We’ll get into them in the next chapter. However, all of the craziness–even the implausibility–happening in this book is a foreshadowing of the ability he has to change the most incredible thing of all–his own mind.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Ten

    Are you annoyed with me yet?

    This beginning is exactly what I like about the form of this book. Here, I can go on and on about how you shouldn’t separate readers from the payoff of cliffhangers–all the while keeping you from getting the payoff of the cliffhanger at the end of the previous chapter.

    This whole theme started with that first line, and my desire not to get right back to Alcatraz on the altar. As I thought about it, I realized there were a lot of ways I could play with the form of a fantasy novel–or any novel–while at the same time following that form. This became almost as fun for me as character or setting.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Peteridactyl

    There are some jokes in this book that I don’t expect anyone to get. There are others that are just for a select group.

    If you didn’t notice, I spelled pterodactyl differently every time I put it in this chapter. There are a good half dozen or more places where it’s misspelled, each time in a new way.

    I put this in not because I expected the average reader to notice, but because it gave me glee to think of the proofreaders, editors, and spelling-minded people who read the book trying to correct each instance–then groaning when they discovered that I’d done it on purpose. (Evil laughter.)

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Worldbuilding After The Fact

    That said, this chapter has some of the strongest historical worldbuilding in the book. This information–about Silimatics, the Incarna, and Biblioden the Scrivener–was all added to the book later as I developed it. The thing about a big free write like I did is that it just . . . well, wasn’t publishable.

    Once I had a draft of the book, I knew that it would need stronger worldbuilding if I was going to make a series out of it. I needed a history for the Librarians, and motivations for what they were doing. So I did a lot my brainstorming for this book afterI wrote it, which was kind of an odd experience.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Nine

    Dinosaurs

    I’d like to be able to tell you where this came from, why I put it in the book, but . . . well, I have no idea. Remember, this book was–in essence–a long free write. I didn’t have much of an outline, setting, or anything else in mind. When I got to this point in the book, I thought, “Hey, talking dinosaurs. Let’s put those in.” So I did.

    I enjoyed them, however, and had a lot of fun using them. They show up later in the plot–if I add something to a book, even in a free write, I don’t want it to be random. Things exist in stories for a reason, even if that reason is to give a deeper explanation of where the English language came from.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    New Continents

    The existence of three new continents is also a bit of a stretch. Though I appeal to Plato here as an explanation, it’s still mostly lighthearted. I can’t hold this book to the same scientific rigors as my other fantasy novels. Not only would it undermine the book, but it would also make this one feel too much like everything else I’ve written. I wanted to see what would happen if I gave myself a little more freedom. This is the result.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Eight

    Elevators? How Primitive

    Of all of the things in this book, I think this chapter has the biggest stretch when it comes to worldbuilding.

    I really liked the concept of Free Kingdomers thinking of our modern world as primitive. Them thinking swords are more advanced than guns is a really fun reversal. However, it’s a tough one to justify.

    I ended up leaving this concept in because of the way it made the book feel, but I would never have done so in a more solemn fantasy novel. If you’re wondering, the reason for Bastille thinking that stairs are more advanced is the following:

    Once, the Free Kingdoms used stairs. They eventually moved on to primitive elevators, but when Smedry Talents and other magical abilities began to get widespread, things with moving parts had a large chance of breaking. Plus, people developed Silimatics–the technology of the Free Kingdoms. Soon they were building stairs again. Partially for health reasons, partially because elevators weren’t very safe, and partially because silimatic stairs–which moved on their own–were so much more convenient (for those who could afford them).

    So technology regressed while progressing at the same time. And people like Bastille can look back at elevators and say, “We stopped using those because they weren’t advanced enough.” We get an explanation like this in the book, regarding guns, in a little while.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Favorite Joke

    The Summa Theologica comment. I first remember encountering this book (which is on Catholic doctrine) when I was a freshman. Some of us went out to a local used bookseller, and one of my friends said he was searching for a copy of it. I thought he was so smart. He wanted a book that had a Latin title. Ooooh.

    I bought a hardcover copy of The Hobbit. Still have it.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    People who weren't impressed by how advanced my culture was

    Man, this book is preachy, isn’t it? Ah well. Good thing it’s written from the viewpoint of a guy up on his soapbox dispensing wisdom. Otherwise it might get pretentious.

    Isn’t it funny how I can get away with so much in a book like this? If I tried to be this overt with theme and message in one of my epic fantasies, it would completely ruin the book. I always talk about how books shouldn’t have intentional messages–only the messages that the characters want to talk about. However, you can’t help having things come through anyway. And as soon as I started writing in first person with a humorous tone, all kinds of things popped out.

    In this chapter, we get Alcatraz having to face the fact that America doesn’t have all the best stuff. This is kind of hard to swallow, sometimes. Everyone wants to believe that their country is the best, and I’m afraid that Americans sometimes tend to go overboard with this.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Seven

    Unwittingly made a friend's pants fall down

    Humor is hard to write. Not only is it subjective, but in a book you don’t have the benefit of a laughing crowd to help you get into the mood.

    Because of these things, I know that everyone who reads this book is going to find some of the jokes lame. The best I can do is try to cover the range of different kinds of humor. That’s why there are non sequiturs–where I mention random absurdities–mixed with jokes about a boy’s pants falling down and random discussions of books by Thomas Aquinas breeding with copies of Little Women. Hopefully, the amalgamation has something that entertains you.

    By the way, that crack about Alcatraz making his friend’s pants fall down wasn’t in the original draft. Instead, it was a crack about Alcatraz making a girl’s shirt fall off. That’s what I’d do if I were a teenage boy with the power to break things. However, when we decided to go middle grade for this book instead of YA, making a boy’s pants fall down seemed to hit the humor level for the age group better than jokes about shirts falling off. Unfortunately.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Information. That's the real power in this world

    Everyone is an academic. (Or, well, nearly everyone.) This is intentional. Grandpa Smedry gives us a speech here about information, and if I had to pick one theme for this book, his comments would be it.

    Isaac Asimov once complained that fantasy was all about dumb barbarians killing smart wizards–thereby making the genre anti-intelligence. I’ve always found this a shortsighted way of looking at the genre. To me, it’s all about being clever. I wanted heroes who were academics. People who were what we would call nerds. And I wanted to show them using information–rather than weapons–to save the day.

    I do worry, however, that Grandpa Smedry droned on a bit long in this chapter. It’s the last place where I think we have this problem in the book, but this chapter itself is essentially one big conversation while preparing to go into the library. Not a lot happens.

    We get those sometimes in my books. Hopefully, they set us up for the drama and climaxes later on. We need to know the characters, and have a groundwork, for the quick pacing that happens from chapter seven onward.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Six

    Kindly pretend that you own a mousetrap factory

    This mousetrap example is exactly the sort of thing I can do in a children’s book that I haven’t ever been able to make work in an adult book. I’m not sure why it feels so good in this format, while doesn’t quite fly in an adult book. Maybe it’s because when you write humor for the adult sf/f market, it seems like you can only do humor. You can’t have a hybrid story like this. Pratchett comes the closest, and I think his novels are legitimately good stories with good humor in the mix. But everyone else who writes humor seems to get dismissed as “just” humor. Their books don’t get much attention.

    Here, however, I could–I thought–make a book work with good worldbuilding (if a little funny at times) and powerful characters who have actual character arcs in a book that is–essentially–a comedy. I think it’s because in the children’s field, books don’t need to be classified by genre. They already have a genre. They’re children’s books.

    Either way, the humor in this book just works very well for me. It’s absurdist with a hint of satire, and it left me free to play with the form of the novel as well as the content.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Bastille

    Bastille’s character came quite early, and I was very pleased with how she turned out in the book. I did tweak a few things, making her a knight instead of a bodyguard, to keep her from looking too much like the bodyguard daughter in the Artemis Fowl books.

    By the way, Bastille says something along the lines of “We’ve got plenty of sand” in this chapter. If you’ve finished the book, you’ll note that she’s not nearly as ignorant about the types of sand, and the importance of them, as she’s acting here. She pretends she knows less than she does because she doesn’t like to be reminded of her failure. However, she’s not very good at pretending, as she reveals later in this very chapter where she explains auras to Alcatraz.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Setting

    Where is this book happening? If you’ve wondered this, you’re not alone–and you’re also not going to get an answer.

    One of the reasons I write epic fantasy is because I have complete control over my settings. I know where things are and what they look like, and I’m the ultimate expert on the details. But when you write in this world, you can get one little thing wrong, and then end up having all kinds of complaints from readers who get distracted because you describe a real library the wrong way.

    Plus, I like it when you can put yourself into the story. You can imagine this happening pretty much anywhere–I’ve even allowed foreign publishers to change Alcatraz’s national identity, if they want. Doesn’t matter to me. This story happens in “our world,” and that’s all the detail I wanted to give.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Five

    Prison Names

    Why did I use prison names? Well, the truth is . . . because. It felt kind of fun.

    It wasn’t one of the things I’d been planning for the book. I knew I was going to name someone Alcatraz, but not that I’d use prison names for other characters. And yet, as I did it, I realized that Bastille was a great name for a girl and that Leavenworth would work really well for Grandpa Smedry’s real name.

    After that, the joke took on a life of its own, and everybody got a prison name. A real-world explanation for this is coming later in the book.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    People generally don't recommend this kind of book

    This chapter has my favorite of all twenty chapter-intro essays, by the way. I’m somewhat passionate about this one in particular. I think that we put too much emphasis on certain books while ignoring others. I don’t think we should ignore the books about boys and their dogs, but we should know that they just don’t work for some people. People like me.

    Fantasy books made a big difference in my life. I didn’t find traditional “literary” books, even ones for kids, to be challenging. Fantasy engaged my imagination, however, in ways that no realistic book ever could have. Fantasy made me think, made me dream, and now I’ve become an author of it.

    Things aren’t as bad for kids now as they were when I was growing up. However, they’re still pretty bad for older people. I have a friend who was in a creative writing class last week where the professor said–in reference to popular fiction–“You have to decide if you want to write for the most people, or for the best people.”

    “Best people”? What the crap? This is the sentiment that has always bothered me. If a person likes a certain type of fiction, they’re a better person than someone who likes popular fiction?

    People are equal. People’s interests are equal. Not all fiction may appeal to all people, but who is anyone to judge another based on what they read?

    That said, maybe someone someday will give me one of those shiny circular awards just to make me eat my words.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Chapter Four

    Smedry Talents

    We’re hitting our stride now. I think that this is where the book starts to really reflect what I imagined for it. Here, we’ve got some genuine tension, some worldbuilding, and some utter silliness.

    One of the early ideas for this book was a magic system where the characters had powers that sounded like drawbacks, but which could be used in ways that were clever and interesting. Grandpa Smedry shows this off for the first time in this chapter by arriving late for the bullets.

    As you might have noticed, it’s a kind of metaphor. I find that often, our drawbacks are advantages in disguise. It all depends on how you look at it. I’m often fond of pointing out that arrogance misused will turn you into an annoying person–but if you channel that same energy into believing in yourself, you can accomplish some fairly amazing things.

    It takes a lot of thinking to come up with the right Smedry Talents. They have to be things that you can explain in one sentence, and have to be hindrances that a lot of us feel that we have. However, I also have to be able to twist them around so that they can be used in interesting ways.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    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.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    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.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    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.)

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    Brandon Sanderson

    The Simpsons Did It

    I worried a little bit about having Grandpa Smedry and the other Free Kingdomers misunderstand American culture so much. They don’t quite get it. This is a fun plotting element, and it gives explanation for some of Alcatraz’s past (you’ll get this later) but it’s also worrying because it’s similar to something that was done in Harry Potter. (The Weasley father tries to do things like Muggles, but doesn’t ever quite get it right.)

    I almost cut this element from the book because of the similarity. Those of you who know me and my work probably already understand how much of a “Don’t do what I’ve seen done” reaction I have. If another author has done it, and I’m not parodying it or changing it enough to be unrecognizable, then I don’t want to put it in my books. Even if I knew nothing of the other author and their work.

    In this case, I didn’t cut it. I do happen to like Harry Potter, and have read all of the books, and so I was even more tempted to edit this out. However, in contemplating it, a certain episode of South Park came to mind. In the episode, one of the characters is constantly crying out “Simpsons did it!” to plot elements or ideas that the characters tried.

    The point in the episode was that the characters kept getting frustrated because all of their great ideas are things that the show The Simpsons had already done in one of their episodes. I can see the writers of South Park and their frustration in this episode, and see it as a reaction to times when people emailed them and posted on forums, chastising them for copying The Simpsons. The problem is, as the show points out, The Simpsons has pretty much done everything. The writers couldn’t afford to undermine their own show by trying to cut out every little thing they thought of that happened to be similar to something in another show.

    Harry Potter dominates the market right now. And the thing is, a lot of the things in Harry Potter weren’t invented first by Rowling. They’re staples of the genre, or ideas that have been done other times by other books. Rowling does them very well. However, if you try to cut out anything from your books that might hint at being similar to Harry Potter, you’re going to have a frustrating time.

    Yes, we need to innovate. Yes, I prefer books that are original. However, I’m already writing a book about a cult of evil librarians that rule the world and a boy with the magical power to break things. Neither are ideas I’ve ever seen before. I didn’t feel I needed to expunge everything that might reference another work. If I did, I worry that my novels would be so original that they’re inaccessible.

    Just my thoughts on the matter. Wow, that turned into an essay. I didn’t mean it to be one–it was more for my own benefit than for yours. But that’s what you have to deal with in these annotations. I’m even more free than I am in my books to write whatever the heck I want.

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    Brandon Sanderson

    Alcatraz, My Boy!

    Here we get Grandpa Smedry, introduced for the first time. As I believe I mentioned earlier, I wanted this book to be a subtle satire of some of the books on the market in fantasy. Not a full-blown satire, of course–I don’t tend to like books like that. They’re forgettable. Instead, I wanted something that had its own world, magic, characters, and story–but something that also occasionally took a subtle shot at the fantasy establishment (of which my other books are a part).

    I love fantasy. However, what I loved about writing these books was that I could strip away some of the self-importance and seriousness. Standard epic fantasy, as a necessity of the genre, takes itself very seriously. These books don’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want the stories to have structural integrity or good storytelling; it just means that they can be a little more silly at times.

    All of this leads to why I wrote Grandpa Smedry the way I did. I wanted a wise old mentor character. We’ve seen plenty of the type–Belgarath, Gandalf, Dumbledore. However, I wanted to make him a total spaz. Hence Grandpa Smedry, who’s a great Oculator and a very competent person–but who is also a complete spaz, and who is sometimes his own worst enemy.

    His curses, by the way, are all the names of my favorite fantasy and science fiction authors. (In no particular order.) So, in this chapter he curses by Melanie Rawn’s name and Robin Hobb’s name, I believe. That’s only the beginning. [Assistant’s note: Terry Brooks and David Gemmell are also sworn by in this chapter.]

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    Authorial Interruptions

    The style of these interruptions–we’ve got one at the beginning of each chapter–is intentional. I’m not shooting for brilliant humor, most of the time. I am the type of person who likes dumb humor. Groaners, you might say. That’s why I post Amphigory comics on my site. Bad puns, jokes that deserve rimshots, that kind of thing.

    So, what I tried to do with a lot of these inserts was have a final “pow” of a line that creates a jarring gap between the last bit of the humor and the reintroduction of the story. Instead of a smooth transition, in other words, I wanted a harsh one.

    I can’t quite explain why I like this so much in mixture with the humor. For one thing, I think it lets the reader keep the commentary and the story straight from one another. Also, I think it gives a stronger emphasis to the jokes–which, like the aforementioned rimshot, gives an unconscious clue to the reader that yes indeed, that was a joke. A lot of the humor in this book has to do with non sequiturs and the like, so making them stand out more seemed like a good instinct.

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    Chapter Two

    I'm A Writer

    In making this book first person, I gained one thing that is really cool. I was able to write the book such that the method of writing it proves–or tries to prove–what Alcatraz is trying to get people to believe about him. He says in the prologue that he’s not a nice person. Then he proves that by being mean to the reader through the way he writes the narrative.

    I really like the way this works in the book. It’s much better than the joke of having the third-person narrator actually be the subject of the novel. My literary love of postmodernism and self-awareness tingles marvelously at this aspect of the book. (And I do something similar in the sequel, which I’ve finished writing.) The book itself is a form of proof of what the character in the book claims.

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    Alcatraz's Self-Awareness

    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.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #441 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    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.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #442 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    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.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #443 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    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.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #444 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Author's Foreword

    This is probably a good place to talk about the shift from third person into first person.

    The book was originally written in the third person. There was a narrator telling us this story–someone listed as “Cecil G. Bagsworth the Third” on the title page. (Cecil, by the way, was invented by my friend Dan Wells as a humorous alter ego. I borrowed him for this as an inside joke, but eventually cut him–then put him back in as Alcatraz’s Free Kingdoms editor.)

    There was a joke inherent in the narrator guise for this book. As the novel progressed, you realized that the author of the book was indeed Alcatraz, who was writing it and talking about himself in the third person. This let me have all kinds of jokes where the narrator would exaggeratedly describe Alcatraz as being smart, witty, or handsome. It also let me get away with some very clever word plays.

    The problem is, it was too clever. Meaning that it was something I found funny, but that undermined the book. Since it was so convoluted and strange, it distracted from the story and the characters. It also felt a little bit too much like the Lemony Snicket narrator used in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.

    Credit for getting me to change the book from third person to first person goes to my agent Joshua and his assistant Steve. Joshua was very firm on the need to swap out the third person narrator for a first person that would bring us closer to the character of Alcatraz, while at the same time give a more solid narrative reason for all of the diversions and asides in the book.

    Once I came around to this suggestion–which didn’t take much–I realized that I’d need a foreword to explain why Alcatraz was writing this book. Now that the ‘third person who is the first person’ mechanic was gone, I could create and use a backstory for why Alcatraz is writing his memoirs, which I ended up really liking (far more than what I lost) for what it let me do.

    This introduction not only lets me acclimatize readers to the difference between Librarian lands and the Free Kingdoms, but also lets me begin to establish the character of Alcatraz the failure–the person our hero will become. That gives some tension to the narrative, I think, as the reader wonders how Alcatraz ended up like that. This introduction gives a framework to the fictional publication to the book, giving us a story we can all–as readers–be part of: the resistance against the Librarians.

    Assistant Peter’s note: I’ve put up the original third person versions of the first two chapters. You may enjoy comparing them to the final versions.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #445 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Dedication

    This book is for my father.

    It’s a tough call, to match all the people you want to honor with the right books. My mother got my first book, which was a good match for her because it was very easily appreciated by people who don’t read fantasy and sf. And, of course, she’s my mother–she deserved the first book.

    Next, I went for my grandmothers. I’m afraid that matching a book to my maternal grandmother was pretty much impossible. She’s not a fantasy reader, and though she loves me and reads my books out of solidarity, I know that she doesn’t really get them. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, is pretty much insane (in a good way), and she loves fantasy novels.

    The next book, however, needed to go to my father. I think this one is a good match for him. The boy in this book, Alcatraz, is about the same age that I was when I discovered fantasy novels–and the kid on the cover actually looks a lot like I did when I was that age. It’s a fun match, and the Brandon of that age owes a lot to his father.

    My father spoils people outrageously. That’s just one of his things. He takes care of us, and gives us what we need–and more. In my case, that was books. He fed my addiction, making sure I was always supplied with things to read. And, because of that, I ended up becoming a novelist.

    So thanks, Dad.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #446 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Half Title Page

    This will be my first book ever published that doesn’t have a map in it. There was never really talk of one. For reasons that will be explained in the book, I didn’t want to start with a map that might give away interesting plot elements about the geography of the world. However, any other kind of map–of the city or library–would just kind of be boring. So I didn’t intend to put one in.

    However, the lack of one is another highlight of something that my editor, Anica, kind of wanted with this book. She hesitated when I talked too much about titles that mentioned things like “The Sands of Rashid” because she didn’t envision the book being as much a straight-up fantasy as I did.

    This wasn’t a disagreement, more just a difference in viewpoints. I’m a fantasy writer–that’s what I do. I write epic fantasy books. This one, however, does take place in the “real” world, and Anica wanted to market it in a way that would–hopefully–pull in a larger, crossover audience. That’s another reason we went with the pulpy title. From the cover, you can tell that something cool is going on–we’ve got flying books and a kid wearing some strange glasses. However, it doesn’t scream “epic fantasy.” I was originally hoping for a feel more like the Edge Chronicles or Spiderwick, but this pulpy feel seems very different to me, and I like things that stand out. We’ll have to see how it goes over.

    Alcatraz Annotations ()
    #447 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Title Page

    Well, here’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing: the annotations for Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. I’m looking at the proofs right now (January 2007), and have to say I’m impressed–and a little bit amazed–at the whirlwind (at least in publishing terms) history of this book.

    I’ll talk more about that later. For right now, however, perhaps hearing the various different titles that were proposed for the book will give you an idea of how crazy the life of the novel has been.

    One of the very first things I started with, when formulating this book in my head, was the name Alcatraz for a protagonist. At the very beginning, I was planning for Alcatraz to be the name of an adult private investigator in a wacky mystery series. He’d solve crimes by getting all of the clues wrong, and interpreting them in strange ways, but then end up catching the crook anyway.

    Yeah, I know. The story has come a long way. I never got very far in the Alcatraz detective story. I thought about it a few times, but then eventually discarded it. The name, however, stayed–and I eventually added Smedry as the surname. Now I had a pretty fun name–Alcatraz Smedry–but no story to go along with it.

    Eventually, as I’ll talk about, I drafted the first version of the novel you now hold. At that point, I named it:

     

    The Absolutely True–And in No Way Embellished–Tale of

    ALCATRAZ SMEDRY

    and the Sands of Rashid

    by Cecil G. Bagsworth the Third(a pen name of Stet Cannister)

    Based on a story.

     

    Whew! That’s a mouthful. I particularly liked the “Based on a story” crack. However, after my agent Joshua suggested switching the book to first person, I couldn’t keep this title anymore. So I had to come up with something else. By draft version 3.0, this book had come to be named Alcatraz Illuminated, book one of the Sands of Rashid.

    I liked the sound of this title, but it has some problems. Primarily, I was still imagining this book as a young adult book–and it took my editor at scholastic to suggest it be middle grade to really get the feel on target. However, Alcatraz Illuminated just didn’t seem like it would fit with a middle-grade audience. Plus, on paper without a cover illustration, it sounds like a documentary book about Alcatraz Island.

    So, once Scholastic had picked the book up, we started to talk about different potential titles. Early on, Anica established that we really needed to lose the Illuminated, and I agreed. We went through various rounds of emails with suggestions.

    • Alcatraz Smedry and the Sands of Rashid(This one had problems in that it just sounded too “Harry Potter” to me. Plus it just felt a little bland.)
    • The Completely True, and in No Way Exaggerated, Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry(Harking back to the original title, but this felt too long.)
    • The Autobiography of Alcatraz Smedry, Librarian Slayer(He doesn’t really kill librarians, though.)
    • Alcatraz Smedry and the Incredibly Long, Exaggerated, and Somewhat Boring Fantasy Book Title(I kind of like this one still, but no one else took it seriously.)
    • Lenz-Wielder(If we wanted to go really fantasyish.)
    • The Utterly Unheroic Adventures of Alcatraz Smedry Versus the Evil Librarians(This is the one that stuck around the longest.)

    Eventually, we decided to simply go with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. It cut out a lot of the jokiness from the title, but it gave us what we wanted. Enough questions in the title to make people pick it up, with a good snappy feel to it. It got “Evil Librarians” in the title, which the marketing department really, really wanted. It got Alcatraz being used in a way that didn’t imply a documentary about the prison.

    The title does give the book a bit more of a pulp feel, which is just fine, since that kind of fits. We’ll have to see what the whole package looks like. I have seen the cover, and love it, so I think I’m going to be pleased.

    Assistant Peter’s note: I think Brandon forgot that he wrote these annotations. He seemed surprised when I mentioned that I had found them. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that this is the only Alcatraz book that Brandon annotated. Enjoy.

    Defending Elysium Annotations ()
    #448 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    It’s hard to dig back through my memory to the days when I wrote the rough draft of this story. What was going through my head?

    The story was written on a beach near Monterey California, and remains the only published piece of mine I did entirely in longhand before transcribing to the computer. I’d never been to Monterey before, and a friend was able to trade something he did at work for a week’s stay in a little condo-style hotel. We had two rooms and a very nice view over the city down toward the water.

    So I guess I was doing the whole bohemian thing. During these days, I hadn’t yet gotten published (this would have been late 2001 or early 2002). I had graduated from college, but had been rejected from all of the grad schools I’d applied for. I’d written about a dozen novels, and was annoyed with myself recently for not writing books that were true to what I wanted to be as a writer.

    The call regarding the sale of Elantris would not come for another year or so. I was working a graveyard shift at the hotel, renting a room in a friend’s basement for $300 a month, and spending all the time I could practicing my craft. (In part to delay thinking about what I was going to do with my life since my writing wasn’t selling and grad schools didn’t want me.)

    Over the next year, I would write a book called The Way of Kings, the best—yet most flawed—book I wrote during my unpublished years. A massive, beastly epic that was my symbolic discarding of any desire to chase the market or write anything that was not the type of writing I loved to read.

    That was my mind-set. I remember a couple of long afternoons sitting on the beach, listing to the waves and staring out over the ocean as I wrote. A good friend named Annie was there for most of it—you may know her as the woman that Sarene from Elantris was based on—writing in her journal. Micah (you may know him as Captain Demoux from the Mistborn books, and also as the official Brandon Sanderson jacket flap photographer) was in and out. Mostly he was off taking photos.

    I remember wanting to see if I could imbue a short story with the type of characterization and multiple plots that I liked in my epic fantasy. I had an idea for a character with a deep and interesting past, alongside a nice dissonant element (a secret agent working for the phone company). That, along with an interesting idea for an ending, grew into this story.

    Oddly, I was able to make this work in a short story the way I wanted, while writing shorter novels hadn’t worked for me. I chalk that one up to me starting to find the natural size for a story and writing it at that size. Ironically, the novels I’d written recently (Final Empire and Mistborn, the ideas for which would eventually be recycled into a single volume you know as Mistborn: The Final Empire) were ones that I’d tried intentionally to write “short.” And in doing that, I’d ended up filling each book with too few ideas for even their short length.

    With “Defending Elysium,” I took a short story (well, novelette) and filled it with as many ideas as I could pack into the space. The result is a very dense story (in plot, history, and world terms) that ended up satisfying all of the epic storytelling buttons I like having pushed.

    I ended up submitting this to The Leading Edge (the magazine I worked on) during one of my last months there. I did it under a pseudonym, a practice common for staff members, to get some feedback. (The Leading Edge gives feedback on all submissions. I didn’t intend to publish it there; I just wanted some honest opinions.) Turns out that one of my best friends read the story, then spent about an hour the following evening telling me about this great story he’d read out of the slush, and how he couldn’t believe that such an awesome story had ended up getting submitted to TLE just out of nowhere. (That gave me an inkling that the story might have some potential. . . .)

    That’s the background on the story. For those who like to dig deeper into the meaning and context of a story, perhaps that’s given you something to chew on. This was a melancholy time of my life—perhaps the time when I was most adrift—yet at the same time, it was one of the most artistically uninhibited times of my life. No contracts, no deadlines, no artificial rules imposed on myself. I had decided that the world could do whatever it wanted, and I would just write what I loved even if it never got published.

    So, of course, the following year this story got a Writers of the Future nod and Elantris got picked up by Tor.

    Perfect State Annotations ()
    #449 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Consequences of the cut

    Cutting the last scene was not without costs to the story. For the longest time, after removing this scene, something about what remained bothered me. I had trouble placing what was wrong.

    The story went through editorial revisions and beta reads, none of which revealed what was bothering me. This process did convince me to add two scenes. The first was scene with the “paintball” fight in the noir city, which was intended to mix some action and worldbuilding in while revealing more of Kai’s personality. The second was the flashback scene where Kai and Melhi meet on the “neutral zone” battlefield, intended to introduce Melhi as more of a present threat in the story.

    Something was still bothering me, even after these additions. It took me time to figure out exactly what it was, and I was able to pinpoint it in the weeks leading up to the story’s publication. (Which was good, as it allowed me to make some last-minute changes. I’m still not sure if they fixed the problem, but we were satisfied with them.)

    The problem is this: removing the final scene hugely undermined Sophie as a character.

    The deleted scene provides for us two complete characters. We have Kai, who wants to retreat into his fantasy world and live there without ever being forced to think about the falsehood he’s living. He wants just enough artificial challenge to sate him, but doesn’t want to explore life outside of the perfect world prepared for him.

    As a contrast, we have Sophie, who refuses to live in the perfect world provided for her—and is so upset by it that she insists on trying to open the eyes of others in a violently destructive way. She tries to ruin their States, forcing them to confront the flaws in the system.

    Neither is an ideal character. Sophie is bold, but reckless. Determined, but cruel. Kai is heroic, but hides deep insecurities. He is kindly, but also willfully ignorant. Even obstinately so. Each of their admirable attributes brings out the flaws in the other.

    This works until the ending, with its reversal, which yanks the rug out from underneath the reader. Sophie’s death and the revelation that Kai has been played works narratively because it accomplishes what I like to term the “two-fold heist.” These are scenes that not only trick the character, but also trick the reader into feeling exactly what the character does. Not just through sympathy, but through personal experience.

    Let’s see if I can explain it directly. The goal of this scene is to show Kai acting heroically, then undermine that by showing that his heroism was manipulated. Hopefully (and not every scene works on every reader) at the same time, the reader feels cheated in having enjoyed a thrilling action sequence, only to find out that it was without merit or consequences.

    Usually, by the way, making readers feel things like this is kind of a bad idea. I feel it works in this sequence, however, and am actually rather proud of how it all plays out—character emotions, action, and theme all working together to reinforce a central concept.

    Unfortunately, this twist also does something troubling. With the twist, instead of being a self-motivated person bent on changing the mind of someone trapped by the establishment, Sophie becomes a pawn without agency, a robot used only to further Kai’s development.

    Realizing this left me with a difficult conundrum in the story. If we have an inkling that Sophie is Melhi too early, then the entire second half of the plot doesn’t work. But if we never know her as Melhi, then we’re left with an empty shell of a character, a direct contradiction to the person I’d planned for her to be.

    Now, superficially, I suppose it didn’t matter if Melhi/Sophi was a real character. As I said in the first annotation, the core of the story is about Kai being manipulated by forces outside his control.

    However, when a twist undermines character, I feel I’m in dangerous territory—straying into gimmicks instead of doing what I think makes lasting, powerful stories. The ultimate goal of this story is not in the twist, but in leading the reader on a more complex emotional journey. One of showing Kai being willing to accept change and look outward. His transformation is earned by his interaction with someone wildly different from himself, but also complex and fascinating. Making her shallow undermines the story deeply, as it then undermines his final journey.

    There’s also the sexism problem. Now, talking about sexism in storytelling opens a huge can of worms, but I think we have to dig into it here. You see, a certain sexism dominates Kai’s world. Sophie herself points it out on several occasions. Life has taught him that everyone, particularly women, only exist to further his own goals. He’s a kind man, don’t get me wrong. But he’s also deeply rooted in a system that has taught him to think about things in a very sexist way. If the story reinforces this by leaving Sophie as a robot—with less inherent will than even the Machineborn programs that surround Kai—then we’ve got a story that is not only insulting, it fails even as it seems to be successful.

    Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do have a tendency to do that. Either way, hopefully you now understand what I viewed as the problem with the story—and I probably described this at too great a length. As it stands, the annotation is probably going to be two-thirds talking about the problem, with only a fraction of that spent on the fix.

    I will say that I debated long on what that fix should be. Did I put the epilogue back in, despite having determined that it broke the narrative flow? Was there another way to hint to the reader that there was more going on with Melhi than they assumed?

    I dove into trying to give foreshadowing that “Melhi” was hiding something. I reworked the dialogue in the scene where Kai and Melhi meet in person, and I overemphasized that Melhi was hiding her true nature from him by meeting via a puppet. (Also foreshadowing that future puppets we meet might actually be Melhi herself.) I dropped several hints that Melhi was female, then changed the ending to have Wode outright say it.

    In the end, I was forced to confront the challenge that this story might not be able to go both ways. I could choose one of two things. I could either have the ending be telegraphed and ruined, while Sophie was left as a visibly strong character. Or I could have the ending work, while leaving Sophie as more of a mystery, hopefully picked up on by readers as they finished or thought about the story.

    The version we went with has Sophie being hinted as deeper, while preserving the ending. Even still, I’m not sure if Perfect State works better with or without the deleted scene. To be perfectly honest, I think the best way for it to work is actually for people to read the story first, think about it, then discover the deleted scene after they want to know more about what was going on.

    Even as I was releasing the story, I became confident that this was the proper “fix.” To offer the story, then to give the coda in the form of Sophie’s viewpoint later on. It’s the sort of thing that is much more viable in the era of ebooks and the internet.

    Either way, feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think. Does it work better with or without the deleted scene? Do you like having read the story, then discovered this later? Am I way overthinking what is (to most of you) just a lighthearted post-cyberpunk story with giant robots?

    Regardless, as always, thanks for reading.

    Perfect State Annotations ()
    #450 Copy

    Brandon Sanderson

    Why I cut the deleted scene

    This story began with the idea of taking some common tropes in science fiction—the brain in a jar, the Matrix-like virtual existence—and trying to flip them upside down. In every story I’ve seen with these tropes, they’re presented as terrible signs of a dystopian existence. I asked myself: What if putting people into a virtual existence turned out to be the right thing instead? What if this weren’t a dystopia, but a valid and workable system, with huge benefits for humankind?

    Kai’s and Sophie’s stories grew out of this. I loved the idea that putting people into simulated worlds might actually be the rational solution, instead of the terrifying one. An extreme, but possibly logical, extrapolation of expanding populations and limited resources. There are certain branches of philosophy that ask us to judge what is best for all of humankind. I think an argument could be made for this case.

    This is the first reason why I cut the deleted scene. It shifted the focus too much toward “Let’s escape the Matrix” instead of the theme of technology doing great things at the price of distancing us from human interaction.

    All that said, Sophie’s arguments in the story do have validity. One of my thematic goals for the story was to reinforce how the fakeness in Kai’s and Sophie’s lives undermines the very things they’ve built their personalities upon.

    For Kai, this is his heroism. The fact that there was never any actual danger for him meant that he was playing a video game on easy mode—all the while assuming he was on the most hardcore setting. This asks a question, however: if his heroism felt real to him, does it matter if he was never in danger? I’m not sure, but I found it one of the more intriguing elements of the story to contemplate.

    Sophie has a similar built-in conflict. Just like Kai’s heroism is undermined by his safety net, her revolutions and quests for human rights are undermined by the fact that she was fighting wars that had already been won in the real world. Her state was intentionally built without these things, just so she could earn them.

    And yet, does the fact that the conflict has been won before make her own struggle any less important and personal to her?

    She thinks it does. She thinks that the conscious decision of the Wode to put her into a world with fake problems and suffering is an unconscionable act. One that undermines any and all progress she could have made.

    I like that the deleted scene helps raise the stakes for questions like this. However, there’s a more important reason why I felt I needed to cut it. And that has to do with a problem I have noticed with my writing sometimes: The desire to have awesome twists just because they are unexpected.

    In early books, such as Elantris, this was a much more pervasive a problem for me. I was eventually persuaded by my editor and agent that I should cut some of the twists from that book. (There were several more twists in the ending; you can see the deleted scenes for Elantris elsewhere on my website.) I was piling on too many surprises, and each was losing its impact while at the same time diluting the story’s theme and message.

    I felt like this ending was one “Gotcha!” too many. I see this problem in other stories—often long, serialized works. The desire to keep things fresh by doing what the reader or viewer absolutely would never expect. Some of these twists completely undermine character growth and audience investment, all in the name of a sudden bang. Sometimes I worry that with twists, we writers need to be a little less preoccupied with whether or not we can do something, and a little more focused on whether it’s good for the story. (With apologies to Ian Malcolm.)

    A twist should be a natural outgrowth of the story and its goals. In Perfect State, I decided that my story was about Kai getting duped: duped by the Wode, then duped by Melhi. The twists in the published version contributed to this goal, giving in-story proof that his heroism could be manipulated, and that his existence had grown too comfortable.

    I worried that the extra epilogue would divert the story away from these ideas. And so, in the end, I cut it. (Though I’ll talk in the next annotation about some ramifications of this that still trouble me.)