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