Extended Author's Notes
Perhaps I should begin by apologising to anyone who clicked on this expecting another chapter of the story. Unfortunately, you won't be getting another chapter of the story here. Instead, I'll be giving you a glimpse of what was going through my mind during the writing of this story. Of course, you don't have to read this chapter. In fact, I'm probably being quite pretentious writing it, but as a reader I was always quite curious about what was going on in the author's mind. As promised there is a teaser at the end of these notes, so if you want then you could skip to that.
Of the stories that I've been working on recently, the two that I've spent the most time on are Stetsons and Fal'Cie and Headed West. However, although Stetsons and Fal'Cie was posted first, it was not actually the first Western themed FF XIII story that I had in mind. As a matter of fact, the general idea behind Headed West was actually the inspiration for Stetsons and Fal'Cie. It was a matter of certain real life circumstances that led to Stetsons and Fal'Cie going up first, while Headed West got put on the back burner for a while.
Recently, however, I went overseas for a month for a holiday. I realised then, that I would have a great deal more free time than normal, so I decided that rather than just lying around, I could spend that time writing. To make things interesting, I decided to set myself a challenge, of sorts. First, I wanted to see if I could get a decent story written up inside a month. Indeed, I really wanted to participate in last year's NaNoWriMo, but due to circumstances, found myself unable to do so.
Headed West also represented another first for me. Stetsons and Fal'Cie was actually my first attempt to write anything with a Western theme (I tend to find myself more comfortable writing fantasy or science fiction). However, Headed West was my first attempt to write an extended piece in first person. There are a number of reasons for this, but really, the main reason is that writing in first person is a weakness of mine, as I tend to gravitate toward the third person. Headed West was my way of trying to address a weakness of mine while having fun. After all, ignoring your weaknesses often ends up with them getting shoved in your face, and although I don't consider myself to be particularly attractive, the thought of having the first person shoved into my face sounds both fairly painful and oddly disturbing.
To put things simply, the end result of writing during my holiday produced Headed West along with a fair number of chapters from Stetsons and Fal'Cie. I started Headed West on the 21st of December 2010 in a serviced apartment overlooking Manila and finished it on the 18th of January 2011 in the same serviced apartment. Along the way, I worked on it through New Year's celebrations involving copious amounts of alcohol, fireworks, and karaoke, and a festival involving parades and drums at all hours of the day (and night). I also spent a lot of time thinking about the story while on a flat-bottomed boat going between islands that moved in ways that no seaworthy vessel should move (not a pleasant experience, I assure you, especially when one family next to me started praying – trust me, the way the boat was rolling about, they were justified).
When writing Headed West, each chapter was written in two stages. In the first stage, I wrote up a draft. Now the thing about writing up the draft was that rather than worrying about everything being perfect, I just wrote. It didn't matter how badly the chapter was going, or how poorly I thought I was expressing myself. I just wrote. In the end, it is much, much easier to fix a finished product than it is to come up with something new. The whole point of just writing the draft regardless of quality is that it let me get my ideas down on paper. Once I'd gotten the draft written up, I went back and did a full revision. For some of the chapters, this was a full rewrite, but for others (almost all of them, actually) it was more a case of fleshing out the ideas, improving the expression, and fixing up the grammar.
As an aside, I think one of the traps that's very easy to fall into is to try and make each chapter perfect as you go along. What often happens then, is that you can spend hours just getting the first page or so up only to get stuck a few pages in when you realise that the plot you want to run with doesn't actually make sense. By just trying to get the ideas down on paper (or onto your computer) regardless of how well its written, you have the chance to see which of your ideas is heading in the right direction and which are dead ends. Once you have the overall picture (i.e., the draft), then its usually a lot easier to go back and fix things up because you already know where it is you want to go, and which parts are important.
As for the plot of the story, I will admit right up front, that I didn't plan the entire thing beforehand. In fact, I made each chapter up pretty much as I went along. Now this is clearly something that some people will not like doing and that's fine. Extensive plotting beforehand obviously has its advantages, but at the same time, some people (e.g., me) find it easier to just go with the flow before going back and revising to make sure that everything fits together. If you are going to just go along with the flow, then it definitely does help if you're able to keep the whole plot together in your head and update it in your mind as you go along. I would also strongly recommend just jotting down any ideas you might have, even if you're not sure that they'll fit into the overall plot. Indeed, some of my favourite scenes (e.g., Lightning teaching Hope how to ride a chocobo) were things that I didn't initially think I would include, but jotted down anyway.
However, while I didn't plan the whole story out beforehand, I did start off with a very good idea of what kind of story I wanted. I wanted a journey story and that meant that even if I didn't know what would be happening in the middle, I already knew what would be happening at the start and what would be happening at the end. For the chapters in the middle, I really was pretty much making things up as I was going along.
With regards to the contrast between Stetsons and Fal'Cie and Headed West, I think it's fair to say that the latter has a much more serious tone. Part of that is due to what inspired Headed West (more on that in a second), but part of it is also just because I happen to enjoy humour, and in particular, I enjoy alternating between writing things that are humorous and things that are more serious. Indeed, writing only serious stories would probably drive me insane, which is why the stories I've posted up so far tend to veer between the serious and the humorous.
Now, onto the big question: what inspired Headed West? It may surprise some of you, but I don't consider myself to be a particularly big fan of Westerns. Rather, I'm the kind of person who will read or watch just about anything. Indeed, it's a long running joke between me and my family that I have the most useless mutant power in the world: the ability to identify any movie after watching less than 10 seconds of it.
However, even thought I don't particularly favour Western novels, one of my favourite novels of all time is a Western. The novel I'm talking about is "Shane" by Jack Schaefer. To put it simply, "Shane" is one of the best novels that I've ever read, and this is despite the fact that it's really quite short. If you haven't read it, I would definitely recommend giving it a go, I think you'll quite like it.
Without giving too much of the plot away, "Shane" is told through eyes a boy named Bob who lives with his parents, Joe and Martha. A stranger by the name of Shane comes riding in one day and for various reasons ends up working for Joe on the family farm. For a while things are good, but trouble comes when Fletcher, the owner of a big ranch nearby, starts to put pressure on the homesteaders (Bob's family and some others) to try and get them to move out so that he'll have the whole rang for himself. In the end, it's up to Shane to settle things.
What I found so interesting about the story was the interaction between Shane and the family. Even Bob, who isn't exactly worldly, could tell that Shane had been in all kinds of trouble. But Joe, Bob's father, was still willing to give Shane a chance, because he saw that deep down inside where it mattered most, Shane was a good man, maybe the best man he'd ever met.
While I don't pretend to write with anywhere near the skill of Jack Schaefer, I will say that Headed West has very similar themes. Like Shane, Headed West is, on some level, a coming of age story. Hope learns to see the world more broadly, perhaps more truly, than he ever has before. At the same time, Headed West is a story about second chances, not just for Hope and his family, but for Lightning too.
Lightning is, without a doubt, based on the iconic hero figure common to Western novels. She has a dark past and seems, at first glance, cold, and perhaps cruel. Yet beneath that, at the very centre of her being, is a sense of common decency, of goodness and honour that even her past cannot erase. It is this basic decency that drives her to protect Hope and his family, to give them the second chance she never had.
The idea of the war against the tribes was modelled on another period of American history. In particular, it was modelled after the conflicts between settlers and Native Americans during the colonial period of the United States. I also kept thinking about the American Civil War when I was thinking about Lightning's past. The reason is, I kept imagining Lightning as a Confederate soldier fighting to protect her home and family even though she abhors slavery. Of course, that's not what happened in Headed West, but it was something that kept popping into my head. Indeed, as I'm writing this, I'm picturing Lightning in a Confederate uniform and Fang alongside her in a Union uniform.
So there you have it, the story behind the story. As a final point, I would like, once again, to thank you, the readers. Your support has been absolutely wonderful and without it, I'd probably be lying in a gutter somewhere broken and dispirited and being gnawed by a gang of mangy cats… okay, that's probably not true (there is a distinct dearth of mangy cats where I live), but you get the idea. You guys do matter and your feedback is very much appreciated. As a gift, I'd like to present the following teaser.
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I heard the wolves before I saw them and for a moment I couldn't quite believe that they were there. They'd gotten bolder over the last couple of nights. One of them had even broken into the sheep's pen and taken a few of them, but I never thought they'd come out during the day. But once I heard that howl and heard those growls, I knew the wolves were there.
And out there with them by the sheep pen was mother. I grabbed my knife, pistol, and a shotgun and practically tripped out the front door, I was going so fast. They were already halfway to her by then, and I fired as I ran. The shotgun roared in my hands and I bit back a cry at the sudden sharp recoil.
One of the wolves was flung back, its grey pelt splattered with red. Mother screamed and I fired again, wildly this time, but still managing to catch another wolf in the side. The other wolves split in two, half of them going for mother, and half of them headed my way. There was a cry from the door behind me and I knew that father was there.
"Nora!" father screamed and then there was another roar as he fired his shotgun at the wolves.
Mother finally broke out of her fright and half fell, half scrambled to turn and run back toward the house. The wolves were right on her heels by then, and I wanted nothing more than to go to her and help, but the wolves were rounding on me too, and drawing my pistol I had no choice but to fire and hope that I could discourage them. There were more wolves than I had bullets in my gun, and I doubted they'd give me the chance to reload.
I hit the first two easy enough, but then they closed in and my hands were shaking so bad that I could barely aim. For a moment, I panicked, but then I heard a voice in my head, cool and calm, and deadly. It was the same voice I'd heard these past four years whenever I was in trouble, that same voice that had gotten me out of more fixes than I cared to count. It was Lightning's voice and right now she was telling me to calm my nerves and take my time, to make each shot count.
So I did my best to stop the shaking in my hands, and waited till the wolves were almost on me, so close that I could hardly miss. And then I fired. And fired. And fired until the gun clicked empty. The wolves went down around me, not all dead, but definitely injured, and I fumbled for my knife. It was a good knife, the one Lightning had given me, but somehow staring down the jaws of a wolf it didn't seem nearly good enough.
But then I didn't have time to think anymore, because one of the wolves was on me, pawing and biting and it was all I could do to wedge one hand up under its head and push to keep it from ripping out my throat. I lashed out blindly with the knife, wildly, and felt it cut into flesh and then a shudder ran through the blade as it bit into bone. Yanking the knife back and forth, I tasted blood, my own or the wolf's, I wasn't sure, but didn't care. I was screaming, yelling, or maybe I wasn't saying a thing, but I kept my hold on the knife and stabbed and stabbed until the wolf wasn't moving anymore.
I shoved it off and rolled away. My eyes saw mother had somehow made it to the house, but only because the others had heard the cries of the wolf I'd killed and were now turning to face me. They ran toward me and I could tell right then, that father couldn't get a shot off, not with me so close to them, and I staggered up to my feet, the knife in hand. At least mother and father were safe…
And then one of the wolves was flying sideways, a spear driven right through it. My eyes flicked from the wolves to the rider tearing toward us. She was riding a sleek brown chocobo and her arm was still outstretched in the act of throwing the spear. It was an impossible throw – well over thirty yards – but she'd made it look easy.
She was in amongst the wolves in a flash, her chocobo kicking at all sides, as she drew a second spear and leapt out of the saddle. She was a blur of motion with long raven hair and eyes a brilliant, shining green that seemed so utterly alive that for a moment I couldn't take my eyes off her.
The wolves reeled away from her and I couldn't help but compare her to Lightning. Lightning had been fast and sure and precise, much like her namesake. This woman though, was like a force of nature, a typhoon or a raging fire. She swatted one wolf out of the air as it leapt toward her, then spun to drive her spear to another. Wrenching the weapon free, she slammed the blunt end into the stomach of another wolf and then cut another two out of the air with the blade of the spear. It was beautiful to watch and the long blue thing that she wore – she had to be from the tribes, I realised – was caught in the rush of her movement.
As the wolves circled, I scrambled away and back toward mother and father, all of us now watching with guns in hand, none of us able to take a shot with the wolves so close to her. But if I thought that the woman might be worried, she wasn't. Instead, she threw her head back and laughed – laughed at those wolves, not because she didn't think they were a challenge, or because she was crazy, but because she was rejoicing, rejoicing in the thrill of battle, the rush and flow of movement where even a single mistake could mean the difference between life and death. She was laughing because she even there, surrounded by the chance of a swift death, she felt alive.
It finished in a flash, the wolves blurs of grey, and the woman all swirling blue, and black, and green. When it was over, the wolves littered the ground at her feet and she took a moment to check that they were done, before she turned to us. Yet despite all she'd done, I wasn't afraid, and neither, I thought, were mother or father for there was a look on her face, not a wild or angry look, but rather a look that seemed warm and almost amused.
She looked at us a long time, taking our measure, I guess, but then she nodded to herself and headed our way, her spear held loosely in one hand, the weapon slung over her shoulder. It was an almost careless posture, and one I felt she'd taken quite deliberately to try to put us all at ease. She opened her mouth to speak and then stopped as her eyes dropped to the knife still in my hand. Her eyes widened a bit and her mouth worked with no sound coming out and then she laughed, long and hard, and real.
"It figures," she said, her voice oddly accented "That I'd find something like that right when I'd just about given up hope of finding anything."
I blinked and looked down at the knife. "You mean this knife?"
She smirked, and I had a feeling it was something she did a lot, the expression seemed to come so naturally to her. "Yes, I am, kid. Mind telling me where you got it from?"
"A friend," I said softly. "A long time ago."
The woman grinned. "Didn't know Sunshine had all that many friends." She tilted her head to one side. "Was your friend named Lightning?"
I gaped. "How do you know Lightning?" Beside me, I could feel mother and father tense, as well.
At that her smirk faltered and in the instant before she had it back on I saw a whole heap of emotions run through her. "How do I know her? Well, me and Sunshine go way back." She chuckled. "The name's Fang."
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I neither own Final Fantasy nor am I making any money off this.
I am horrible, aren't I? I can't promise that the sequel will be up and about, but when I finished writing Headed West, I couldn't help but imagine what a sequel would look like and the above is something that popped into my head.
As always, I appreciate your feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.