Now, this might come as a surprise to some of you, but a man named Albert Packard did not write Cavern of Babel. That’s right. I know it seems like it would have been fated: that someone born with a name like “Al Packard” should one day grow up to write the Definitive Alpaca Fantasy Novel (DAFN). Would that it were true. But it isn’t. I wrote that book as a work-for-hire piece for Diamond Triple C Ranch. But I thought that the DAFN written by Bryce Moore just didn’t have the same ring to it. So I put on my creative thinking cap and came up with Albert Packard. I think it fits the whimsical tone of the book.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
I almost always name my books once they’re finished. Thus, for most of the drafts of Cavern of Babel, I referred to it simply as Buttersby. I was first approached about writing an alpaca book back in the summer of 2005. Gwen Coltrin, one of the owners of Diamond Triple C Ranch, had come up with a couple of alpaca characters she hoped to use to promote alpacas: Buttersby and Meander. Buttersby was described to me as an adorable huacaya who would get into adventures, and Meander was her fun-loving sidekick. Ultimately, she wanted to have an open-ended series of books with them as the main characters. I brainstormed some various ideas about plots with her before we settled on a very rough outline. Then I went to work.
In all, I believe I went through six drafts of the book before it was finished. The first draft was written on a month-long trip to Slovakia with my wife. Originally, I had planned one short book that traced Buttersby’s journey from the ranch in Virginia, to Peru, and then back to Virginia again. However, once I had finally written the part when she arives back in the United States, I realized that it was far too long, and far too unfocused to stand as a book. If I were to split that one story into several parts, however, I could expand on themes that I had been glossing over before, and the individual pieces would (hopefully) be stronger than they were then as a whole. So I chopped the one book into thirds, and took the first third and went to work.
(As a side note, I still intend to use pieces of the second two thirds, although they might not appear exactly as I’ve written them. Many things changed while I was reworking Cavern of Babel, and so those changes need to be reflected in the later narrative. I still think Buttersby gets home to Virginia one day, but I’m not sure if she’ll take the exact same route she did in the first draft.)
The name of the cave where Buttersby gains the universal tongue also took a while to come into focus. In fact, in the first draft, I couldn’t come up with a suitably cool-sounding name for it, and so I just put it in as the Cave of XXXXX. (I will often do this, using a series of capital X’s as a substitution for something–that way, when I need to go back later and fix it, it shows up easily on the screen.) I sent that version to my writing group, and they helped me brainstorm some possible alternate names. Cavern of Tongues was one that was bandied around for a bit, but I thought it entirely too squishy-sounding. I’m honestly not sure who suggested Cavern of Babel, but somehow or another, it wound its way to the cover. Although the original draft hadn’t had nearly as many fantastical elements in it, the final draft (as you know) did. Thus, I felt that Cavern of Babel represented the ultimate goal of the novel, and when Shawn decided to pick that scene to use for the cover illustration, that title made even more sense.
Once there, another debate arose. I had been referring to the book as “The Cavern of Babel” (note the article at the beginning). When Isaac Stewart, the book designer, made the mock-up of the cover, he left out the “the.” He thought it sounded better without it, but I wasn’t sure. Once I get used to something, I usually like it to stay the same, and I was definitely accustomed to that “the.” However, I discussed the matter with Gwen, and after far more deliberation than was necessary, we decided to keep the “the” out. Talk about a lot of drama over something that probably isn’t important at all.
Perhaps the first thing I should address is why I chose to have information about alpacas at the beginning of each chapter. This is type of material is sometimes referred to as a Chapter Bump. Originally, I didn’t have any of these in. In fact, during the first draft, I used a narrative style that tended to lecture. I would go off on short tangents about alpacas–what they did and didn’t do, their biology, eating habits . . . So my writing group noticed that for the most part of the story, I had this fun adventure about an alpacanapping, but every chapter or so it was rudely interrupted with the print-equivalent of a stern-faced biology teacher. It just didn’t fit.
Thus, one of the first things I did when rewriting the book was attempt to take those pieces out entirely, instead choosing to have the information come up naturally in the text. However, I discovered a problem: it just didn’t feel right to have Buttersby or Meander or some other character spout out those informational tidbits, either. I didn’t feel like I could cut them completely. Many people have no idea what alpacas are, and one of the reasons I had been hired to write this book was to correct that. It was intended to instruct. Thankfully, that’s what writing groups are for.
One of my writing group members, Brandon Sanderson, regularly includes chapter bumps in his novels. I had been watching him do it for years, but I had never thought of actually doing it myself. However, by turning all those informational tidbits into chapter bumps, I was able to leave the instructional material in without having to worry about where to put it in the narration. Problem solved. (Of course this brought up a problem later on, when I was running out of interesting tidbits about alpacas to include. I wanted to make sure the tidbits related to the chapter they preceded in at least some manner, and I had to get rather inventive from time to time to come up with appropriate ones.)
With that said, on to the actual chapter. None of this appeared in the first draft. Not a single sentence. In Draft One, I had Buttersby being transplanted to a different farm, one with no other alpacas. That draft essentially started with Chapter Two, with the horse afraid of being spit on. However, many of my pre-readers noted that it felt unnatural to have Buttersby moved to a new farm, just to be alpacanapped as soon as she got there. The plot structure was too repetitive. Actually, here might be a good spot to include a snippet of an approach I use from time to time to get myself out of sticky situations in plots. I like to write my way through it. I’ll open up a blank page on my computer and then just start writing what’s essentially a one-sided conversation about the problem I’m having. I almost always find that by doing that, I’m soon writing again, whereas if all I do is stare at the part I’m stuck on, then I can sit for hours without making any progress. Here’s some of what I wrote when I was trying to decide what to do about the beginning:
“Okay–I need to figure out how in the world I want to really start Buttersby in this next draft. I think what’s holding me up is the fact that I know I need to have Buttersby just get stolen once, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it. I want to have more than one type of animal on the ranch. I want it to be “multicultural,” if you will. But how would alpacas and normal animals live together? I think what I’ll do is have the humans on the farm decide to branch out into other types of animals. So instead of having Buttersby go to the animals, I’ll have the animals come to Buttersby. That should work. But then how can I have Buttersby be forced to talk to the animals? She’s chosen as the representative of the alpacas to the other animals–because she’s the leader.
Another question. Why in the world would humans let Buttersby stay in the new barn? Maybe to clean out stall by stall of the old barn.”
You can see that I pretty much stuck with that solution, although I ditched the “representative” idea in favor of the “cleaning out the old barn” concept.
I was glad I got to add this chapter in. I liked being able to show how Buttersby was treated in her home-society–I think it makes a nice contrast with what happens to her later on. Also, it let me introduce how alpacas view humans and other animals, something I hadn’t been able to get to until later on in the first draft.
As a side note, and while I’m thinking of it, I realize that some people have noted the main weakness of the book is its loose plot structure. A lot of what happens to Buttersby seems random at times. The biggest question of all of course being why she was alpacanapped. The main reason for this apparent hole in the plot (and the reason for most of the others, as well) is that the book is the first in a planned series. I do know why Buttersby ended up where she did–including why humans would do such a thing–and that will come out in the course of the series, should Diamond Triple C Ranch ever make back its initial investment. (They’re not making these to get rich; they’re making them to get more people to know about alpacas.) So if you’d like to know the answers to these questions, just encourage everyone you know to buy the book. 😉
At any rate, that’s about all I have to say about this chapter for now. Thanks for reading!
This chapter stayed fairly constant through the various drafts. Like I said in the last commentary, this is where the book originally began. The biggest difference is that in the original, Buttersby was on a new farm in this scene, not just on a different part of her old one.
I realize I didn’t talk about the word “Smokebutt” in my last commentary, and there’s an interesting story behind that. Originally, I referred to them just as Transports, but Isaac (one of my writing group members) thought it would be more true to the alpaca world view if they had their own word for them. As I recall, he put it like this: “They’d probably just refer to them as those strange hard things that had smoke coming out of their butt.” And thus, Smokebutt was born. One of my favorite things about this book was trying to see everything how an alpaca would see it. That gives me a chance to get creative and have fun with what I’m writing, which inevitably results in better writing. The sole request of Diamond Triple C Ranch had been to have a book with alpacas in starring roles, but there are many different ways to approach that. I could have done something more along the lines of Black Beauty, where it’s a realistic setting with alpacas in their proper place. The main plot in a book like that would perhaps be the friendship a girl makes with an alpaca, or how a small farm raised an alpaca to become a champion. Either of those books could have been great, I’m sure, but there was one problem: I could never write a book like that, and if I tried, it would be awful. It’s not that I have anything against that style, but it’s just not something I read widely, and it’s not something I know a lot about. Of course, I also don’t know much about any prophet mice scurrying around, but the fact is, I write fantasy. I read fantasy. I know fantasy. And so a book with alpacas in it inevitably became a fantasy book with alpacas in it, since I was the one writing it. In the first book I wrote (Into the Elevator), one of my main characters was a talking key named Slaptrap. Just like with the alpacas in Cavern of Babel, I developed a key society for him–doing my best to think about how keys would think and how they would view the world and what they would want out of it. Maybe it’s a bit scary that I actually came up with something. At any rate, exercises like that make me look forward to writing.
The only other item of interest about this chapter is the picture for it. Shawn originally was just going to illustrate the cover and then one picture of Buttersby and one of Meander. However, once he read the book, he was intrigued and interested enough to want to do an illustration per chapter, which he then negotiated with Diamond Triple C and was given the green light. I think his illustrations add a lot to the book, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. It took him a while to complete them all. He would first do sketches of possible pictures, and then I would look at them (as would Gwen at Diamond Triple C), and we’d express our opinions, and then he’d work up a final version. This worked like clockwork for the first chapter–it was always the barn from the beginning. But for the second chapter, it took some trial and effort to nail down the right version of Red. Here’s Shawn’s preliminary drawings:
The one version of Red looked too old, and the other too scared and young. But as always, Shawn came through with a great final picture that blended elements of both. I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to have so much input on the illustrations. With a big publisher, they usually decide through their art department what will be done and what the look will be. The author and illustrator don’t have any contact with each other, for the most part. Not for me. In some cases, I’d like what Shawn drew so much that I’d go back and rewrite some of the book to make it match the pictures more.
Anyway–that’s all I have for this chapter. Comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first half of this chapter didn’t change much during the revision process, except for the alteration of having Buttersby stay on her farm–just move to a different part of it. But I addressed this in the commentary for chapter two, and I don’t have more to say about it. However, this chapter is most notable for the entrance of Ozzy.
I’m really not sure where Ozzy came from, or why he showed up here. Well, that’s not completely true. Right before I first agreed to write Buttersby, I went to a Harry Potter murder mystery party hosted and written by Brandon Sanderson. It was just a gathering of friends, and we all dressed up like characters from the book. (My wife and I were Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson (or whatever her last name is)). In fact, maybe I’ll include some pictures I took of the event.
Denisa and I in costume
The whole group. Heather’s the one in the pink top, and Brandon (for all you Brandon stalkers out there) is Dumbledore, behind her. No. That isn’t his real beard. For some reason, Harry and Ginny showed up ultra casual–that’s Harry in the shorts on the left, with his arm around Ginny.
In any case, at the party, Heather–Brandon’s then girl friend–came as Professor Trelawney, the kooky divination teacher at Hogwarts. Her version of Trelawney was so over the top, it stayed with me for quite some time. (Great job, Heather–in case you’re reading this.)
Anyway, after my writing group read the first draft of Buttersby, they commented on how it would be more interesting if there were more of a supernatural slant on it from the beginning. In the first draft, the mystical elements don’t show up until the Tale and the alpaca dance. I tried to think of a way to inject more oomph and get things rolling faster, as well, so that the book had more of a cohesive feel to it. I came up with the idea of having a prophet show up and warn Buttersby of what was coming. But it couldn’t just be any prophet.
I don’t know why I chose a mouse. I have a thing for rodents–I think they’re funny. In fact, they usually show up in one way or another in each of my books. The Adventures of Barboyhas the main character turn into a squirrel, and Weaver of Dreams has flying chipmunks of death. So maybe it felt natural to me to fall back on a rodent. Then, when I was trying to think of how a mouse prophet would behave, Heather’s performance came to mind. Having that much energy and confidence packed into a body about two inches tall appealed to me. Ozzy was born, and he has since become a favorite of many who have read the book. (If you want a laugh, you should convince Janci to do her Ozzy impersonation some time.) I think Ozzy added a lot to the book, and I’m thankful to my writing group for suggesting that I add more mystical elements. The book is much better for it.
On another note, there’s one other item of interest concerning this chapter. Shawn originally wanted to use the picture of Ozzy prophesying for the cover. His first choice to illustrate this chapter was a picture of Swogger the foul-mouthed pig.
However, when Gwen (the owner of Diamond Triple C Ranch and the funder of the book) saw the sketch of Swogger, she was not amused. Pigs are her favorite animal, and she just couldn’t bear to have them represented so poorly. Her suggestion was to make Swogger more appealing in the picture, but I didn’t want to rewrite his character. I liked him; he’s sort of the anti-Wilbur (from Charlotte’s Web). So instead we went with the picture of Ozzy as it appears in the book now.
That’s it for this commentary. As always, if you have any comments or questions of your own, don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com Thanks for reading!
Ah, the appearance of Meander. This chapter hardly changed during the course of the revision process, largely because it contained two things that had to happen for the plot to get going: Buttersby had to get alpacanapped, and she had to meet Meander. Actually, there are hints in this chapter that point to why Buttersby and Meander are getting alpacanapped, and originally, this all would have come up later in the course of the book. However, since I decided to just do the first part of that book as a standalone, these are hints that won’t entirely make sense until later on in the series. I just bring it up now as a way to show that I do in fact know why Buttersby is taken from America to Peru. But I can’t tell you that now without ruining some later twists and turns, should I ever be able to write the sequels.
I’ve always liked Meander as a character. When Gwen first told me about her idea for the book (which, in case you’ve skipped some annotations, was essentially two character sketches, one for Buttersby and one for Meander), I immediately liked Meander more. He’s more the kind of character that I usually write about. Buttersby was going to need to grow and become likable as a character, but Meander could be likable right away. As soon as he appeared in the narrative, I knew who he was and how he would behave.
This actually brings up an interesting question: where do characters come from, and how can you draw them well? My response to this question represents what I think about it right now, and I realize that what I say may seem off to many. Perhaps I’ll even come to disagree with it myself, but it’s how I view it now. I don’t think writing a good character is all that difficult, really. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be to me. I know there are writers out there who devote pages and pages to defining who their characters are, right down to what their favorite foods are or where they went to school in second grade, and maybe this helps those authors. I don’t think it would help me. The biggest step in writing a good character (for me) is being able to get inside that character’s head. It’s the ability to look at the world through a different lens and not let your own opinions and views muddy it up that much. You have to understand what a character wants in a scene or a story, and then let that character act and speak accordingly. That’s probably what the goal is of all those pages of back history other authors write about their characters.
Once you can do that, the only thing left to do is to give the character a few defining quirks or characteristics–things that are unique to him or her. In Meander’s case, this would be his inexplicable ability to do anything and everything with relative ease. He’s constantly upbeat, no matter what’s going wrong around him. And he says “Howdy” when he meets people.
That’s it. From those two steps, I make most of my characters. In fact, I usually don’t do it all that consciously, either. Once a character appears in a scene for the first time, I start to get to know him or her as a person. By the end of the book, I know him or her well enough that they’re now a character. Then, I go back to the beginning of the novel and make sure that that character is consistent throughout.
I’m sure that there must be a better, more refined way of creating characters. The simplicity of how I described it is probably making countless author cringe. And as I look at it, I think I’ve oversimplified step one. It’s sort of like telling a person how to make a watch by saying, “First, put all the gears into place. Then wind it. Done.” Sure, it generally describes the process, but it leaves out everything that’s really important.
I don’t know . . . this commentary has gotten far off course, and I’m not sure if I’m making any sense at this point anyway. I think the bottom line for me is that I enjoy trying to see things from different viewpoints. That’s why I liked trying to figure out an alpaca world view, and that’s why I can get to know my characters as I write them. For any aspiring writers out there, my advice would be to write and read. Write write write. Read read read. The more time you spend on your first book trying to perfect all the characters and settings and plot twists, the more time you’re wasting, in my opinion. Realize that your first attempts will be bad. Give yourself time to get better–and you get better by writing, not by planning.
Uh-oh. I seem to have gotten on a soap box now, and I can’t get off it. Well, I didn’t have much to say about this chapter, anyway, and obviously I have a lot to say about advice. I think I’ve done enough damage for now. If anyone has any comments or questions, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post to my blog. TTFN.
This was another chapter that had little change in it during the writing process. One of the first things I thought of when I started writing what became Cavern of Babel was how alpacas would view other alpacas. It seems to be a common mentality in life that people view those who are different as being inferior. Whether it’s racism, sexism, xenophobia or whatever, it’s something that has caused almost limitless pain and suffering in the world, and it’s something I think is baseless. An advantage of fantasy is that the author can show everyday emotions in an unusual way, so that readers can step outside the ordinary to see things in a new light. So with Buttersby’s prejudice against Suris, one can laugh at her for thinking she’s better than another alpaca for petty reasons like the length of her ears or the look of her fiber. To humans, they’re all alpacas anyway, so what’s the big difference? But isn’t that how alpacas would view human bigotry? This is something that obviously became one of the themes for the book, especially once Buttersby was thrown into the caste system later on. I didn’t want to get too heavy-handed with it, but it was an interesting area to explore.
Enough of that heavy sort of talk. I have a treat to show on this commentary as well. I think one of the trickiest parts of the illustration process for Shawn was getting the alpacas right. (Although perhaps he’d have to speak for himself on that count.) I know that Gwen was a real stickler for how Meander and Buttersby ought to look, and Shawn went through multiple versions of them before we settled on the final drawings. Actually, Meander came a lot more quickly than Buttersby, but I’ll save the Buttersby versions for a later posting. For now, here are some of the previous looks of Meander. My biggest requirement was that he look laid back, but not stupid. Shawn ended up capturing him extremely well. The first picture is the original concept drawing of Meander by Gwen. The others are Shawn’s early efforts.
That’s all I have for this time. Thanks for reading!
One of the difficult things about writing this chapter was trying to convey what was happening from an alpaca point of view, but still being sure that the human readers would understand what was happening, as well. Basically, Buttersby and Meander go through a series of take offs and landings–as well as their fair share of turbulence–before they come to a stop in Peru. Think about it–no small plane could make it that far (from Virginia to Peru) without having to stop for refueling. Some of this should give hints as to who is transporting the two alpacas from American to Peru. For example, it’s clearly someone who has a fair amount of money and influence. (But that’s the only clue I’m giving for now.) Another thing I’d like to point out is that Buttersby and Meander have only a very vague idea of how far they really are from their home. All they know is that they got on the plane (silver goose), and got off it quite a while later. I don’t think they can really conceive of going as fast as a plane goes. This is something that will come in to play later on in the series.
One other element that came up in this chapter was the foreign tongue: Tralpacish, as it came to be called. I knew that the likelihood of the animals in Peru speaking the same language as the animals in America was slight. Remember, I’m a linguist as well as a writer–one of my undergraduate degrees was in linguistics. At first, I called the foreign tongue Spalpacish, which I really liked. It made sense to me that alpacas would call their own tongue after themselves: alpacish. And it being in Peru, where they speak Spanish, I thought it’d be funny to use Spalpacish. However, this caused a couple of problems. First of all was the fact that my readers who spoke Spanish kept on wanting to think of Spalpacish as Spanish, which it wasn’t in my mind. Secondly, it didn’t make sense to me that these alpacas would think of their language as some derivative of a different tongue. It didn’t fit with their world view. So they would probably call what they spoke Alpacish, and what Buttersby spoke something else. But that would make things too complicated. I finally settled on Tralpacish, as a form of true-alpacish. That just goes to show the amount of thinking I put in to something that ended up not really being that big a part of the book. Still, language problems as a whole come into play a lot, so it was important to get the details down.
This was also a chapter where I had my first really cool experience with Shawn as an illustrator. Up until here, he had always drawn characters that were close to how I had pictured them. With the drawing of Don Cimarron, he really went above and beyond the call of duty. It was the first time I’d looked at a drawing of something I’d written and realized I’d done a poor job of describing it, because that drawing captured everything so much more clearly than my words had done. That’s one of the reasons I like adaptation so much. You take something from one form and put it into a second different form, with its own strengths and weaknesses. I’m good at describing spunky characters and the messes they get themselves into (and out of), but I know that physical description isn’t one of my strong points. With Shawn, he deals exclusively with description when he illustrates–he can focus on depicting something in great detail. In this case, he did such a great job that I went back to the text and rewrote my description of the alpaca leader to match his picture better.
I know I need to improve my descriptions, and I’m trying to do that. It’s just not something I naturally focus on in my first drafts. I like to get down what happened and what was said–getting caught up in where people were standing, what the room looked and sounded like and such normally just derails me. When I write my second draft of Lesana, I think I’m going to go through each chapter and work on those kinds of details. When I watch movies sometimes, I try and pay attention to how the actors are conveying emotion through their movements–not just through what they’re saying. Ideally, I’d like to be able to describe my characters well enough that the readers get the same feeling as viewers get when they watch a good actor. Everything feels natural and right. But I know I’m a ways away from being able to pull that off right now. Still, it’s a goal I’m shooting for.
This is the first chapter where language really becomes an issue. I think a large portion of this conflict came from my own experiences with language. I was a linguistics undergrad in college, and I speak English, German, Slovak and some American Sign Language. My first real bout with wrestling with a foreign language came when I moved to Germany for two years. I’d had plenty of German in high school–four years–so I had thought I wouldn’t have much trouble handling the language. I quickly learned that there was a big difference between book knowledge and the actual application of it. The first place I lived was a little town named Schwarzenberg, where the locals speak a dialect of German called Erzgebergisch. First of all: dialect? German has dialects? I’d never thought of that before. It was a foreign language, so everyone spoke it the same way my German teach did. Right? Wrong. Even other Germans made fun of Erzgebergisch, saying it was unintelligible. You can imagine what it was like for me.
Those first few months were very difficult. I remember one time I was sitting in a meeting with Germans and one other American, and they were all rattling on left and right, all of it completely going over my head. When you don’t understand what people are saying, you start to pay more attention to other clues you might pick up, like facial expressions, intonation, voice volume–that kind of thing. These Germans were talking so loudly they were almost yelling, they were gesturing wildly with their fingers and hands, and they all seemed to be interrupting each other. I leaned over to the American and asked, “What are they all so upset about?”
He stared at me in confusion. “They’re not upset,” he said. “They’re just talking.”
I hadn’t thought that the expressions, intonation and voice volume would be foreign, too. It was. So I can really understand where Buttersby was coming from once she’s faced with this daunting situation. At the same time, I think it’s a really important step for her. She was so full of herself at the beginning of the book that something had to happen to her to bring her down, or else I wouldn’t have wanted to keep writing about her. This was the perfect device. The fact that Meander can pick it up so easily only makes it worse for her.
Anyway–that’s about all I have for you for this week’s chapter. Till next week!
This chapter marks the beginning of some massive rewrites I did after the first draft. Originally, I summarized pretty much all of Buttersby’s break down at Ranchero Diamante. I basically just told the readers that Buttersby had a hard time of it, and that she came to feel like she was of no worth. However, when my writing group read that, they didn’t buy it. It’s my experience that whenever a writer tells you something instead of showing it, I’m naturally skeptical. So I can be told that two characters are in love, but that better not be a major plot point, or else I won’t believe it. Then again, if the author shows the two characters interacting and comes to the conclusion that the two are in love, then the author can do a lot more with that same relationship. It all depends on where the conclusion comes from. Does that make sense?
So in this section, it was one thing to say, “Buttersby thought she was worthless.” But since a large part of the point of this book was illustrating how Buttersby changed and came to realize the value of being less prideful and self-centered, when the time came for Buttersby to be changed, no one bought it, because they had only been told Buttersby had a breakdown. They didn’t see it, so to them, it was as if she hadn’t had one. Hence, I needed to show some of the things that happened to Buttersby to change her. Since I didn’t want to have a series of Buttersby-has-it-rough episodes, I chose to give one sample of what happened to her. I was quite pleased with how it turned out.
One other element I wanted to discuss here was the “blahs,” or the way I tried to convey how Buttersby heard a different language. Really, I saw three approaches to this. On the one hand, I could make Tralpacish mirror Spanish, and put in some words in Spanish here that Buttersby wouldn’t understand. My second option was to invent a new language and use that for Tralpacish. This might have been diverting, and I probably could have done it with my linguistic background, but I frankly didn’t want to devote the amount of effort it would have taken. This is a fun, light book–not Lord of the Rings. (I guess there’s another option close to this one–just make up some gibberish and throw it in, but I could never do that. It would be cheating.) The third choice was to just have Buttersby not understand what was being said. Having listened to my fair share of foreign languages, I know that often you don’t even have any clue even where one word ends and another begins, especially if you have no training in the language. So this third option seemed the best, since the story is from Buttersby’s point of view. I’ve always loved the teacher’s voice on the animated Charlie Brown specials. “Wha wha wha wha wha wha whaa.” When I was teaching freshman composition, one of my students was trying to convey a different language, and I suggested he use “blahs” to fill in for it. It worked wonderfully there, and I was happy to be able to do the same thing here. I don’t know what everyone else thinks about it, but I liked it.
Anyway–that’s all I have for you this week. As always, if you have questions or comments, please email me, and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.
Wow–what a short chapter. It’s actually probably a good thing for me, since right now, I’m swamped with end of the semester work. So it’ll be nice to just comment a bit on this chapter and leave it at that. I enjoyed depicting the different approaches to living in a new situation. I honestly think that a lot of it has to do with attitude. Meander has a “can do” attitude. He’s willing to try, and more importantly, he’s willing to fail. From my experience, when you’re too worried about being “cool” or not looking like a fool in front of other people, you’re much less likely to learn new things and master them.
This is something I’m always reminded of whenever I look at my son. He’s so full of life and free of inhibitions. If he wants to dance in public, he’ll dance. If he sees someone coming down the street that he wants to talk to, then he’ll talk to them. He’s not afraid to say words wrong–even though he has by no means mastered the language. He’s not afraid to mess things up. I tried to show this sort of attitude through Meander.
Of course, the difficulty with writing a book from a particular point of view is that everything that happens is filtered through that point of view. Thus, since Buttersby didn’t notice Meander trying to do things and failing at them, I couldn’t put that in. She’s so focused on herself and on her own failures that she can’t focus on anything else. All she sees when she looks at Meander is the end result: he fits in. (Though I admit that Meander is far more skilled at fitting in and learning new things than anyone I’ve ever known, my son included.)
I think I’m a lot like Buttersby in this situation. I like being good at things–I like the end result being in my possession. But I don’t like having to struggle through trial and error (and the risk of looking foolish in front of others). Take my writing as an example. I’m in a writing group with Brandon Sanderson, a friend who is–let’s face it–an amazing writer. He’s got book deals coming up left and right, he’s written well over two million words of stories, his books–even his drafts–come off looking like shining examples of fantasy. I am very happy for Brandon, and I’m very thankful to be in the same writing group with him. He offers fantastic critiques and is able to cut straight to the root of my struggles as a writer. But at the same time, I compare my writing to his and feel woefully lacking. Mentally, I know I don’t need to be where he is right now. I need practice and effort and trial and error to get better. But there are times that I fall into the Buttersby trap and just wallow in remorse and self-pity.
Unfortunately, it’s one thing to be able to write Buttersby out of her mess and have her learn how to overcome this problem, but it’s another to deal with it on my own. It’s something I’m working on, and I hope to always get better with it. And I think it’s important that we realize that most–if not all–people deal with this in one way or another. So here’s hoping we all can learn a lesson from Buttersby and Meander. Till next week!
Wow. I didn’t actually realize until just now that I had two really short chapters in a row. I suppose that’s one of the side effects of having rewritten the book numerous times–I start to focus on the small things and let the bigger things go, assuming that they’ve already been taken care of. Oh well–it means that there was another great illustration by Shawn, and that I have another light week of commenting this week. (This is actually a very good thing–I went to my grandmother’s funeral today, and it took a lot out of me, so I’m not in my tippy top commenting form. Please bear with me.)
This was another complete insertion that came after the first draft. Originally, Buttersby went from the ranch to the jungle of her own free will and choice. She decided that she’d get even with the rest of the alpacas by leaving them. Convoluted logic, but you find that a lot in all people. As I’ve said before, I’m very pleased with the direction the revision of this book went, and I think it’s a stronger book because of it.
This actually brings me to another thought. Up until recently, I’ve never really plotted a book out before in detail. Cavern of Babel was generally thought of, but the actual course of the book changed a lot in the revision process. It makes me wonder what I would have come up with if I had sat down to plot the book out completely ahead of time. Would I still have met Ozzy? He just came to me out of nowhere, and he’s one of my favorite characters that I’ve written. Naturally there’s no way of knowing what would have happened if I had approached the book differently, but it’s still interesting to me to wonder. It’ll also be interesting to see if my writing group still likes my writing, now that I’m taking this plot-it-out-ahead-of-time approach. Will it change the spontaneity? Will it be an improvement? Many questions. Writing is such a process of self-discovery. There are many different approaches, but you need to find out what works for you. It’s sort of like that oft-used eyeglasses analogy. Just because a pair works great for one person, doesn’t mean you can use the exact same thing and haveit work great for you.
In fact, that analogy seems to work really well for writing–at least for my writing. A lot of the times I take a revision to writing group and I’ll ask them, “Better, or worse?” It’s strange, but for me, I don’t often know until I’ve done something whether it was an improvement or not. Only afterward, looking back at the process as a whole, can I know if what I did worked. With plotting ahead of time, I always thought I’d hate it. Now that I’m doing it, I think it’s working very well from a get-words-on-the-page point of view, but then the question is if it works from a reader’s point of view, too. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Anyway–that’s all I have for this week. I’ll leave you with a preliminary sketch of Shawn’s that he did for Ozzy. It took us a bit of back and forthing for Ozzy’s eyes to come out right. I pictured them blank white, but as you can see in this pic, at first they were just milky and a little cross eyed. Poor Ozzy.
This is a chapter that contains probably one of the more bizarre scenes I’ve ever included in one of my books. (And for those of you who have read some of my other books, you’ll realize that that’s saying something.) Dancing and singing alpacas? Let me tell you how this came about. I knew that I wanted to establish more the mystical traditions of the alpacas. I wanted them to have more of a history and culture than they did in the original draft. As I recall, when Buttersby went to the Cavern of Babel in the original, that’s the first there was really mention of the whole idea of Arks. It didn’t fit in with the rest of the story. So I wanted to put it in earlier, but I didn’t just want to throw it in as an afterthought. It had to be part of the alpacas–part of their culture. Alpacas come from Peru, and it made sense that they would have a long history and quite a few traditions, just like people. The Feast of the Arks was born. I just loved the idea of having this secret ceremony that humans have no idea about–that as soon as the alpacas are alone, they all start doing these strange things. Since Meander and Buttersby were descended from these Peruvian alpacas, I thought it would make sense if some of this dance were instinctive. Since Meander is so willing to follow his heart and desires, he fits right in. If Buttersby would have let herself, she could have done the same. Naturally she doesn’t–she’s far too uptight to let herself go like that.
In my experience, Americans are for the most part much more like Buttersby. As a culture, we’re very uptight and not willing to do things that don’t fit into our strict range of experience. In some ways, this is a good thing. We value our culture and try to stick to it. But I think at the same time, we end up missing a lot of wonder in the world, just because we–as a culture–have decided not to accept it. So maybe one of my thoughts of this section of the book was to hope people might ask themselves if they’re ever like Buttersby. Do you ever pass up a wonderful opportunity just because you’re afraid of looking stupid or not fitting in? Sometimes it’s a good idea to let go of your self image so that you can do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.
Not that I want to seem like I’m trying to preach something through my writing. Primarily, this was a cool scene I got to write about singing and dancing alpacas. But there’s some of my philosophy lying beneath it, as well. I don’t necessarily think I did that intentionally, but rather that I couldn’t help but expressing my ideas through my writing. They just seep through.
Anyway–that’s all I have for this week. I have to say that the picture that went along with this chapter is one of my favorites. Shawn did a great job with those alpacas. Bye.
The Great Flood tale is a story that is shared by many cultures, so I thought, why not alpacas, too? Actually, this is an idea that I’d had for quite some time before I found a place to put it. Originally, I wanted to write a story about a groundhog that went looking for the Groundhog Ark, who was secretly substituting for Santa Claus. (Yeah–my mind works like that.) When my writing group suggested that I increase the amount of alpaca mysticism in Cavern of Babel(which at the time was just referred to as Buttersby), I first thought of doing something with the Tower of Babel. Later on in the book, I already had references to languages and how they emerged, and if I had more of a Tower of Babel story, then it would let me call the Cave where Buttersby learns the Universal Tongue the Cavern of Babel, which I really liked as a name. Once I connected the Flood Tale with the Tower of Babel, I just had to put a strong alpaca spin on it, and the end result is Chapter Twelve.
There’s not really much to add about this chapter, except that–if I ever get to write the sequel–there are elements in this chapter that would figure prominently in the next book. It’s now been almost two years since I was working on Buttersby. I’d really like to get back into that world–I liked being there, talking with Meander and Ozzy. It’s strange, when you write a book. I get to know the characters, and I find myself missing them from time to time. I know that there’s nothing stopping me from revisiting that world (except all the other worlds demanding my time), but it takes effort to reinvest myself into a project, and it’s not something I want to do unless there’s a chance of it getting published, or at least getting read. I’ll most likely get my Buttersby “fix” in a while by writing a short story about her and her friends. I’ve already started it, but I haven’t had time to go and flesh it out.
Anyway–I guess none of that has anything to do with this chapter, and that means that I’m just rambling at this point. This is a signal for me to stop for this week. TTFN.
As I said in a previous commentary, originally Buttersby chose to leave the ranch on her own, primarily as a way to guilt trip the other alpacas into feeling sorry for her. As a matter of fact, you can read that original scene here. In any case, when I added the mystical elements and made it so that Buttersby was to be the “Sacrifice” of Rancho Diamante for the year, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Buttersby’s character still seemed very much in the “I’m only going to leave because I want to, not because you tell me to” mode, but as I had first done the revision, she had left because she was told to. Does that make sense?
In any case, I revised the revision to make it be more of a compromise between the two approaches. She’s still told that she has to leave, but she mentally decides she’s not going because she’s been told to, but rather because it’s what she wants to do. As I describe it here, it seems kind of strange and convoluted to me, but I think it’s something a lot of us end up doing in our daily lives. There are some things in life that we just don’t have that much control over. To deal with this, I think we tend to try and come up with reasons that show that, actually, we do have control–we just happen to end up choosing to do the things we would have to do anyway.
Take my son, for example. There are times that I tell him he needs to do something that he doesn’t want to do. Maybe clean his room. For the first while, he has a fit, but then (once he decides that’s what he wants to do anyway) he cleans it cheerfully. Maybe it’s some sort of built in mental coping mechanism. In any case, Buttersby follows this pattern in her decision process here.
Well, that about sums it up for this week. I hope you read the deleted scene and enjoy it. As always, if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to email me and make yourself heard. Happy Wednesday.
This was another chapter that didn’t really change much in the revision process. A large part of this chapter comes from my personal experiences camping as a child. It’s not that I was particularly awful at it. Just mostly. I was never a Boy Scout, and I hiked mainly because everybody else was doing it. When it came to putting on a backpack and trudging up a hill (basically what hiking boils down to), it seemed like something I ought to enjoy, so I did it. And I certainly liked talking about it after it was done–kind of like a war wound I could discuss with other people.
“See that big mountain there? I climbed it.”
But I hated climbing it while I was actually doing it. If I had been put in Buttersby’s situation here, I’m sure I would have ended up on the wrong end of some fangs in next to no time. I would have been just as incapable of building a shelter–and I even have opposable thumbs to help me. There’s this show on the Discovery Channel (Man vs. Wild) where they have a man go into some remote place and rough it for a week or so. I watch it with a sort of morbid fascination–the same feelings I watch Dirty Jobs with. There are things in life that I honestly hope I never have to do. I work in a library and I write books. I like being outdoors now and then, but I don’t like the thought of being too far from civilization. And now you know something about me that you didn’t before.
So why did I put Buttersby into this situation? I think some of it was that I could put her in a conflict where I could think about how I would handle it. Sometimes I like to explore vicariously–by putting my characters into situations and then seeing what happens. That’s what happened to poor Buttersby in this scene.
In any case, that’s about all I have to say about this chapter for now. Questions or comments? Please email me.
The biggest change in this section–and from here on out in the book, actually–is that Meander shows up. In the original, Buttersby didn’t see Meander again until she went back to the ranch (something which all you astute readers no doubt notice doesn’t happen in the current book.) However, everyone liked Meander so much–and his relationship with Buttersby was so important–that I couldn’t keep him away. He just had to come along for the ride. This was really important, since it allowed Buttersby to have her character climax which comes later–the one where she admits that she’s friends with Meander.
Something else I’d like to note here is how much I changed the style of narration of the book between the first draft and the final. In the original version, there was much more of an intrusive narrator. What I mean by this is that there was a narrator who actually addressed the audience from time to time. Many of these comments were turned into chapter bumps (the little tidbits about alpaca life that appear in italics before each chapter), but some just had to go completely. Here’s an example of one:
(For a bit of background, this selection came right after the narrator had told the audience all about Vicunas and how special they are–facts which Buttersby was still in the dark about. The Vicunas, on the other hand, had just told Buttersby that she ought to be honored to meet them.)
So you can see that while you and Buttersby were rather ignorant about Vicunas until a few moments ago, it was a terrible state to be in. Everyone should know about them. What person’s—or alpaca’s—life is complete if they have never even heard the word Vicuna before?
Unfortunately for Buttersby, she didn’t have the benefit of the narrator. Many people suffer from this. You might have heard of the benefit of the doubt, where you try to go easy on a person because there is some doubt as to what they actually knew or intended to do, no matter how things may seem. The benefit of the narrator is quite different. It’s when you have someone—like myself—present to always fill you in on all the most important facts. With the benefit of the narrator, for example, Sherlock Holmes would never have needed to deduce anything. A narrator spoils a good detective story faster than a llama can spit. If you started out a book with the first sentence being, “The butler did it,” then you don’t really have any incentive to keep reading to find out who done it. Such is the power of the benefit of the narrator. You have it, Buttersby didn’t. Which is why when Middle said, “You’re welcome,” Buttersby thought Vicunas were quite possibly the world’s most stuck up creatures.
So you see? That’s an intrusive narrator. I changed this because I didn’t really like it, and neither did my trusty writing group. It came across sort of like some guy in a movie who won’t shut up. Annoying.
Another item of note here is the single full page illustration in the book appears in this chapter. Shawn originally wanted to have this as the cover illustration, but the editor decided it didn’t focus enough on Buttersby. Too much Meander. Still, we liked the look of it, and so it was decided to include it in the book in its present incarnation, as a black and white full page.
In any case, that’s about all I have time for today. As always, if you have questions or comments, please feel free to email me. I’m happy to address pretty much anything anyone would like to know. Have a great day.
This chapter changed quite a bit through the course of the rewrites. The main reason for this is Meander. Once he showed up, everything had to be different. Add to that the fact that Ozzy had appeared to Buttersby and warned her about the Cavern of Babel, and you end up with a much different course of events. More mysterious, since Buttersby knows that there’s something specific out there that she’s been warned about. As an example, here’s the first draft of the section that eventually evolved into this chapter:
The three of them told Buttersby to follow, and she did, even if it looked like they weren’t going anywhere in particular. (Which is how she got lost in the first place.) As they walked, Middle—whose name was Sherpa—explained things.
“The wild is no place for an amateur,” she said. “There are too many ways to die, and too few signs of danger. Look around you. What do you see that seems like it could hurt you?”
Buttersby did as told. She didn’t see anything with pointy teeth, and no large pits to fall into. “It’s cold,” she said at last.
Sherpa nodded. “Cold can kill you as easily as anything. It is good you realize that. What else?”
Buttersby looked harder. She had liked the feeling she got when Sherpa complimented her, and she wanted to impress the Vicuna. But wanting something and getting it are two different things, as I’m sure you’re aware of. “That’s all I can see,” she said at last.
Porter—the mean one—snorted. “Big surprise.”
Napsack, the third, shushed him. “Don’t be so hard on her. She’s had a long day.” That was all very well of her to say, but the longer Buttersby knew her, the more she was convinced that Napsack was a few sheep short of a flock.
Sherpa ignored both of them. FIND SOME DANGERS AND DISCUSS THEM.
Buttersby was feeling quite weak-kneed at this point. Half of what Sherpa had said, she had thought of trying. PUT THIS IN EARLIER. “I see,” was all she could manage to say in response.
“You had better. Here we are.”
They had come to a shallow cave in one of the rolling hills. It yawned open wide enough that Buttersby didn’t have to stoop to enter the room, and the interior of the cave was much cozier than the ones she had imagined herself finding. It looked . . . lived in. But it was small.
“This is all of you, then?” she asked.
“All of us?” Napsack said.
“I—I thought there must be more of you. A herd.”
Porter laughed. “Herd? Whoever heard of a herd?” It was a mean laugh, made meaner by his silly pun.
“It is just the three of us,” Sherpa said. “We had more in our XXXXX before, but times have been difficult for us lately.”
This brought to mind all the dangers Sherpa had listed earlier. No doubt they had the most to do with why things had been hard for the Vicunas. She realized that Sherpa had likely been speaking from experience.
Sherpa continued. “So—now that we are here and you can make yourself comfortable, I would like to hear how it came to be that an alpaca from so far away came to be lost in the wilderness of Peru.”
Buttersby swallowed. No matter what Sherpa had said about being more comfortable, Buttersby found herself decidedly uncomfortable as the three pairs of eyes settled on her. “From far away? What makes you think that?”
Porter sniffed. “Only the fact that you’re so clueless.”
“It’s the language,” Napsack said. “This is such an odd one, and we’ve never spoken it before.”
“Never spoken English? Then how did you learn it?” Buttersby asked. She backed up against the wall. New things were coming at her so quickly, she needed some stability, regardless of the form it took.
“Simple,” Napsack continued. “We just visi—”
“None of your business.” Porter glared at Napsack, and the other Vicuna dropped her head. Porter turned his stare back to Buttersby. “Vicuna matters are best left to Vicunas. That’s all you need to know. All that matters is that we can speak with you. Be thankful for it.”
Sherpa smiled. “It’s been a long day. I’m sure you need some rest. Tomorrow will take care of itself, so for now we’ll leave you here. Sleep—we’ll make sure you come to no harm.”
Buttersby didn’t think it was possible she would be able to get to sleep. She was too confused and curious. Napsack had clearly been about to speak of a place or a person they visited to learn English. She wanted to know where or who that was. But she could tell from the expression on all three Vicuna’s faces that they weren’t going to tell her anything that night. So she nodded. “Thank you very much,” she said.
“We’ll see you in the morning.” Sherpa gestured to the others, and they turned to leave. “Sleep well,” she said as they exited the cave. Buttersby tried to answer, but she ended up yawning instead. Maybe getting to sleep would be easier than she had first thought.
END OF EXCERPT
You’ll note some things I did while I was writing–every now and then I’d come to a point that I needed some research I hadn’t done. Instead of putting everything down and going to do that research, I’d put a note in ALL CAPS that would remind me to come back and fill the section in later. I find that when I’m writing, a lot of the time it’s better to keep my momentum and write what I want to instead of forcing myself to write everything in order, from beginning to end.
You’ll also note that some of the mechanics of the Universal Tongue changed during the revisions. At first, it was just the capability to learn and speak other languages very quickly. It was only after I had taken time to think about it more and see the Tongue “in action” that it settled into its final form.
I think this just shows how things can change while you write. For me, it’s best to keep things fluid and let them go where they need to. Usually I come up with better ideas in the course of writing, and so it takes some time to tweak everything and get it set up right. The first draft is in some ways a discovery process, and then the second draft entails getting all those “discovered” pieces to fit together.
Not much changed in this chapter, with the exception of Ozzy showing up in Buttersby’s dream. In fact, there’s not a whole lot I’m seeing in this chapter to comment on. Instead, I think I’ll write a bit about how I feel I’ve grown as a writer in the time since I worked on Cavern of Babel.
I’ve always heard authors talk about how they’ll look back at something they wrote and cringe, because they would change it so much now. I don’t think I’ll ever cringe at Cavern of Babel. It represents my best work at the time, and my best effort toward what I wanted it to be and what the publisher asked it to be. At the same time, there are certainly ways I’ve changed as a writer, and I would do some things differently now.
My biggest change in my approach would be that I would have been sure to have the book plotted out–at least generally–before I began my second draft. I’m not yet ready to say that I will always plot a book out before I write it, although I’m certainly leaning in that direction right now, but I will say that by the second draft, I plan to always know exactly how the book is going to be plotted. In other words, the first draft is often a “draft of discovery” for me. I may think the book is going to go one way, and then it goes in a different direction. This is all fine and good, but the end result of this is that sometimes the first draft can have a sort of “patchwork” feel to it. It starts out as one sort of a book, then it morphs into a second and changes into a third or fourth by the end. For me, I think it can be advantageous to let the first draft do this. In Buttersby’s case, it’s what led me to the story of the Arks and the alpaca mythology, which in turn led to Ozzy and so forth. However, when I use this technique, I’m beginning to realize how important it is to take the time and iron out the plot before I move on to the second draft. Don’t be afraid to completely lop out sections that no longer fit the book, or create new ones that will fit it better. With Babel, I believe I should have changed the beginning of the book more drastically than I did. Taking the time to look at the plot as a whole would have shown me how to do this.
I’ve always had a problem summarizing my novels to other people, and I think this is one of the main reasons why: I never took the time to step back from the story and see what it was really “about.” Understand what happens when and why. This is something I first tried with Ichabod, and now I’m applying the lessons learned to my rewrite of Lesana, and it’s going very well. There are still some bumps I’ll need to iron out in the third draft, but the story seems much more structurally sound to me now.
Anyway, that’s all I’ll say for now. I think it’s interesting to look at my writing and see how I’m changing and growing as a writer. Encouraging. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please email me.
This is a chapter where the addition of Ozzy and the larger role of Meander really paid off. There’s so much more you can do with a scene when the main character isn’t alone. Having someone else there allows you to have conversation, and for your characters to voice their emotions and frustrations. Better yet, when you have a lone character, the writing can get bogged down in description and thought, whereas with two characters, there can be more action. Take this as an example.
At first it wasn’t so bad. The light from the outside carried down remarkably well. Buttersby didn’t realize that her eyesight was growing accustomed to the lack of light at close to the same rate as the light was disappearing. The tunnel was even and straight. It had smooth edges, and looked to have been made by humans. They were the only ones she knew who were big on straight things. She turned at last to look behind her. The opening was a distant speck of light, but it was bright enough that when she turned back to go forward, everything seemed too dark. She fought down the urge to panic, and she kept walking.
Then the tunnel turned.
Buttersby found this out the hard way—literally. She ran nose first into the wall. Only by feeling in front of her with her toes was she able to see that the tunnel was now headed to the left. She took another look back at the light, and left it behind.
Now she was in total darkness. She wasn’t walking quickly. If you had seen her in the light of day, she would have seemed quite silly. As if she were walking on a tightrope, without the tightrope. Each step was deliberate and slow. Buttersby had no desire to kiss a wall with her nose again. This turned out to be a good thing, because seventy steps or so past the turn, the tunnel came to an abrupt end.
Buttersby tried to remain calm. She felt around with her toes, thinking at first that the past must bend again. It didn’t. Was this it? Had she done it? Perhaps all that was required of her was to walk down the tunnel and back—proving her courage. There was no way to tell. But the thought of coming back in the light and facing the three Vicunas, only to discover that she hadn’t finished her task after all, was too much. She felt around further, this time using her nose as well.
The wall in front of her was as smooth as the sides of the tunnel. It didn’t appear to have any pattern on it to speak of, and she couldn’t find one of the curious knobs humans were always sticking on doors for some reason. Buttersby turned her focus to the area to either side of the dead end. There she felt a small raised portion of the floor. It was up close against the wall, and if she hadn’t been feeling around for anything, she would have missed it. It felt about the size of one of her toes. She pressed it, and heard a click.
Undoubtedly you would have done the same thing. Video games have taught us all how every time you can’t go forward, it’s likely because you’ve come to a puzzle or have forgotten to pull some lever. But please realize that not everything in life is like a puzzle from a video game. In real life, a click in an unfamiliar place can be a very bad thing. Say you were a tomb robber in one of the great pyramids in Egypt. A click there could be the sound of a trap being sprung, and the walls closing in to crush you. Buttersby wasn’t a tomb robber in a great pyramid, but she had a similar feeling. When she heard the click, she startled backward and thought about running away. But all that happened was the wall in front of her swung away to reveal faint light. It had been a door after all.
At first it wasn’t so bad. The light from the outside carried down remarkably well. Buttersby’s eyesight grew accustomed to the lack of light at close to the same rate as the light was disappearing. The tunnel was even and straight. It had smooth edges, and looked to have been made by humans. They were the only ones she knew who were big on straight things. She turned at last to look behind her. She screamed in terror.
“Howdy,” Meander said. The opening behind him was just a distant speck of light.
It took a few moments to catch her breath and be able to speak. “You idiot! What are you doing here?” Buttersby asked. She had pictured herself as being rather heroic, in a sort of sacrificial way–heading down into the dark with nothing but her courage to keep her company. Having a Suri along for the ride seemed to take some of the heroism out of it. Of course, her irritation lasted only as long as it took for her to see how far the light was now, and how dark it was around her by comparison. She could only see an outline of Meander against the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t alone.
“Are you kidding? I didn’t want to miss out on this.” Meander looked around. “It’s pretty dark in here. Do you suppose something lives at the bottom of this tunnel?”
“Of course not.” Buttersby turned around to look back down into the darkness.
“That’s good,” Meander said. “Because I’d hate to go through all this adventure only to be mauled by a bear at the end. Then again,” his voice brightened, “maybe it’ll be an anaconda, instead. That might make it more worth my while. It’d be like getting hugged to death.”
Buttersby cleared her throat. “Um . . . right.”
“Shouldn’t we be going on now?” Meander pushed up against her. “Bear or anaconda–anything would be better than just standing here being bored.”
Buttersby stumbled forward a bit at his push. She hadn’t been thinking of going forward. Going back seemed like a much better decision right then, but she couldn’t very well let Meander see her be a coward. “Let’s go,” she said.
There wasn’t room in the tunnel for Meander and her to go side by side, or even switch places so that Meander could lead, so Buttersby stayed in the lead. The tunnel turned soon after. Buttersby found this out the hard way–she ran nose first into the wall. Meander found this out the soft way–he ran into Buttersby.
“Would you give me a bit more space?” she asked once Meander had backed up enough so that she wasn’t sandwiched against the wall.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s a bit dark in here.”
Buttersby only grunted in response. It was nice to have something to be irritated about. It made her think less about anacondas and bears and how cramped it was in that tunnel. “Let me see what’s happened up here,” she said. Only by feeling in front of her with her toes did she discover that the tunnel was now headed to the left. “Come on, let’s go.”
Now that they were in total darkness they weren’t walking quickly. In the light of day, they would have seemed quite silly. As if they were walking on a tightrope, without the tightrope. Each step was deliberate and slow. Buttersby had no desire to kiss a wall with her nose again. This turned out to be a good thing, because seventy steps or so past the turn, the tunnel came to an abrupt end. She managed to tell Meander to stop before he ran into her again, too.
Buttersby tried to remain calm. She felt around with her toes, thinking at first that the path must bend again. It didn’t. Was this it? Had she done it? Perhaps all that was required of her was to walk down the tunnel and back–proving her courage. There was no way to tell. But the thought of coming back in the light and facing the three Vicunas, only to discover that she hadn’t finished her task after all, was too much. She felt around further, this time using her nose as well.
“What’s happening?” Meander asked.
Buttersby shushed him and tried to focus. The wall in front of her was as smooth as the sides of the tunnel. It didn’t appear to have any pattern on it to speak of, and she couldn’t find one of the curious knobs humans were always sticking on doors for some reason. Buttersby turned her focus to the area to either side of the dead end. There she felt a small raised portion of the floor. It was up close against the wall, and if she hadn’t been feeling around for anything, she would have missed it. It felt about the size of one of her toes. She pressed it, and heard a click.
She startled backward into Meander, sending the two of them crashing to the floor. In front of her the wall swung away to reveal a glowing light. It had been a door after all. The mouse was waiting on the other side.
Sure, the narrator changed as well, but hopefully you can see how the scene improved with the addition of Meander and Ozzy (more on Ozzy next week). Foils have been used by writers for centuries, so why not alpacas? In any case, that’s all I have to say about that, and I’m out of time right now anyway. I had to work today instead of tomorrow, so the commentary this week was a little tight on time. Hope you enjoyed it.