Those of you who have read my fics in other fandoms (LXG, Zelda, etc.) may remember that I have a peculiar habit; I like to finish many of my longer stories with an FAQ chapter where I provide detailed author's notes and answer questions which have been left in reviews or sent to me in private messages. Basically, I force you to do the textual version of listening to me babble.
As one of my coworkers puts it, I am blessed with an overabundance of quirk.
In any case, this is a joint one of those, for the entire trilogy. So without further ado, I present...
The Fullmetal FAQ: About the Elemental Chess Trilogy
Where did you come up with these plots?
In the case of Flowers of Antimony, I was at work (as indicated in the opening chapter) and I started getting images for a very disjointed story. I saw a few things clearly from the get-go - Roy declaring Ed's wedding an "international incident" was high on that list, along with Winry's wrench-laden bouquet and what she would do with it. The rest filled itself in gradually, over the course of a little more than a week of character-driven insomnia. Considering how close I came to ripping my hair out at certain points, I'm really surprised it came together as quickly as it did.
Brilliancy is another matter. I had absolutely no intention of writing a sequel to FoA, as I told my husband when he teased me about it. But as I put it to a friend of mine, the Team Mustang muses basically took my brain hostage and refused to give it back until I gave them their own story. Admittedly I can think of worse situations, but it was still very impudent of them to do this.
As for Three Generals, when I realized that Brilliancy had become more convaluted than I wanted and needed even more time to be properly resolved, the creation of a trilogy seemed like the only sane option. It was far and away the hardest one to work out, because for days I couldn't come up with a plot. I was literally struck by the idea for the murder frame-up while getting ready to go to my mother's house on Easter, and I yelled so loudly that my husband thought I'd fallen in the shower.
Why the themes?
Why not? No, actually, in the case of FoA I had the word quintessence in my mind from the start, and the story was almost dubbed that. I found the website I mentioned and looked up its meaning, and it intrigued me but it didn't seem right for the whole story. So then I thought, wouldn't it be perfect for the ending? And if I'm using an alchemy term for the last chapter, then they should all be alchemy terms! And as it turns out, alchemy has some really pretty terminology; I love words. Some of the alchemy terms worked for their respective chapters, like Aqua Regia for the chapter of Ling's wedding, but not all.
As for the chess theme, it seemed only right for the king and queen and their loyal pieces. Those terms all came from Wikipedia, in case you were wondering, and I tried harder to make them fit the chapters to which they were applied because that was a lot easier to do than it was with the alchemy terms.
The reason I chose shogi for the third theme is because it's a chess variant with a few alchemical influences, most particularly in the symbolic representations of some of the pieces - so it combines the themes of the first two stories in the trilogy, and similarly, their plots get connected in the final installment. Furthermore, shogi is more about chess than it is about alchemy, and Three Generals is more connected to the plot of Brilliancy than it is to the plot of Flowers, so it made sense that way too. Tada!
The reason I chose Elemental Chess for the overarching name of the trilogy is because it's the name of a chess set that was specifically designed to be a combination of chess and alchemy, so what could be more appropriate?
How long did it take you to plan everything out?
I admit that I laughed in my sleeve every time I got a review complimenting me on how well I organized and planned out these two stories. The truth is...I planned very, very little of the trilogy. Some stuff I knew going in, but not all, and in a very real sense it felt like I was making it up as I went along - or, as has happened with other fanfics I've written, it felt less like I was telling the story and more like the story was using me to tell itself, and I was as curious as anyone else to see what would happen next. My stories have a tendency to be smarter than I am.
Many of the details came as a result of me saying "Hey, wait, if I were the reader I would want this explained! I had better explain it!" An example of that would be Breda's "Zen state" (to quote one of you) regarding Black Hayate in Brilliancy; I was trucking along merrily through that chapter and suddenly realized that Breda had been around Hayate all day without freaking out, so I needed to clear up why that was. (The explanation even makes sense in terms of the canon - if you recall, Hayate was in the sewers with Roy, Riza, Fuery and Breda on the night before the Promised Day, and Breda never flinched once.) I can be very selective about the reality I choose to accept, but I can also be insanely pedantic about needing even the smallest loose ends wrapped up satisfactorily.
Three Generals, however, did get some planning, mostly because the main idea was so tricky - and could have gone wrong so easily - that I wanted to make absolutely sure I knew what I was doing. But "writing by the seat of my pants" for the first two installments worked surprisingly well, so I made sure to do some of that too.
Where did you get the names for your original characters?
Simon Sikorsky and Paul Douglas were named courtesy of my friend "Sweet Caroline," also known here at FFN as Karabair. I was struggling to name them and she very kindly came to my rescue, and kept with the military's airplane theme at the same time. Sikorsky is named for the Sikorsky R-4, the first helicopter, and Douglas is named for the Douglas aircraft company, one of the three companies who joined forces to create the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress. Many thanks go out to Caroline, who has also written FMA fanfic that you should absolutely go and read.
Andrew Piper, who joins the fray in Three Generals, was also named (by me) for a military plane. The Piper J3 Cub was the primary training aircraft of the Civilian Pilot Training Program during World War II.
Acheron, on the other hand, shares his name with both a Royal Navy submarine from World War I and, perhaps more appropriately, with a river in Greece; the Acheron was, in ancient mythology, one of the five rivers of Hades and was regarded as being 'the river of pain.' (For the record, no - I don't know how to pronounce it, but in my head I always say it as "ATCH-er-on.")
Can I draw fanart based on your stories?
I'm really excited that this was actually asked! The answer is yes, yes you can. All I ask is that you let me know where I might see the finished product, and - if it's at all possible - that you post a link to whichever story it is you're using for inspiration. I will then proceed to squee and bounce and gush and tell everyone I know to go and look at the lovely thing you did. And as I mention in the author's notes on one chapter of Brilliancy, one of you encouraged me to have my own manga, so if you're interested in turning these stories into fan doujin, I'd be very intrigued to see what you have in mind.
As I write this final chapter, some of you have actually already done art for the trilogy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Is this really the end?
It's not, to be honest. It was going to be...but it looks like there's going to be one more story, eventually. There's going to be a prequel, which currently has the working title of Triumvirate. I will be writing this as part of the 2011-2012 FMA Big Bang, which unfortunately means that none of you will be able to read it until spring of 2012. This story will focus on the Ishvalan War and the relationships between Roy, Riza, and Maes Hughes. I hope you'll enjoy it as well as you've evidently enjoyed these three.
Are you actually Hiromu Arakawa using a fake name?
No, I am not. And I am beyond flattered - not to mention shocked as hell - that anybody would even think to ask. I mean... wow, guys, talk about greatest compliment ever!
About Flowers of Antimony
How did you come up with the name for Ling and May's traitorous half-brother?
In all truth, I found a website that listed Asian baby names, and I picked out a likely combination. According to the site, Dong means "from the east," and Bao means "precious treasure."
Grumman is so much fun!
I know, not a question, but such an oft-repeated comment that I thought I'd throw it in. Yes, he is. Quite honestly, the bachelor party chapter in which he pretends to be drunk was hands down my favorite thing to write. It came very naturally and I made myself crack up repeatedly. I was sorry not to give him a bigger part in Brilliancy, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it considering what was suspected to have happened to his only grandchild. (I was very close to my own late grandfather, and when I imagined him reacting to Hawkeye's supposed fate as if it had happened to me, I felt like a monster for even considering putting Grumman through that.) When it was determined that there'd be a third story, I knew I was going to have to make sure he pulled off some Badass Grandpa antics, because he's an awesome character!
What was Roy going to ask Riza before the photographer interrupted, when she was tying his tie on the morning of Ed's wedding?
Well, they had just been speaking of Grumman's decision to repeal the anti-fraternization law. Basically, he was about to ask if she'd go on a real date with him when they got back to Ishval. Of course, they were engaged before the day was over so it ended up being a bit of a moot point anyway, but rest assured, they had a couple dinners out before he got sick and delayed the wedding. It's possible that sometime I will write a side story featuring at least one of those dates. Extremely possible. As in almost certainly going to happen.
Is the Xingese marriage ceremony you present here based on anything real?
Nope. Completely made that up. The only things I really didn't invent were the cloth of gold and cloth of silver costumes; I don't know how common they are to find anymore, but in medieval times, cloth spun from real gold and silver was frequently worn by royalty on special occasions.
What's with Roy and the potatoes?
Okay, this requires a little explanation, and I'm not promising that it will even make sense. I knew that I wanted (or rather, was being coerced by the muses into wanting) to do the sequel, and I had the title and chapter titles picked out, but I simply could not find a starting place. I was at work, and I was straightening a display which included one of my store's cookbooks. This cookbook is organized by which foods are in season at different times of the year, and for some reason the display book was open to the beginning of the winter section, which features a picture of potatoes. Literally, I looked at the word 'winter' and a picture of potatoes and in my head this became "winter potatoes." Out of that came the immediate knowledge that Roy eats winter potatoes in Ishval and he's not happy about it, because he's tired of them, but Riza's the one who prepares them and that makes it okay. My sources of inspiration are many and varied.
Why didn't Riza keep her last name when she married Roy?
(Thanks to loyal reader/reviewer lecchan for bringing this up.) Well, for one thing, there's no indication of any other woman in the FMA universe doing such a thing. So while I did consider it, I thought perhaps it's just not something that they do in Amestris. And then of course, she and Roy have had their eyes on the prize for years, and well, "First Lady Mustang" sounds better to me than "First Lady Hawkeye-Mustang."
How did you come up with the idea for who sent the coded message that brought Team Mustang to Ishval?
Confession time: My reviewers forced me to change tactics! Really, you did. I posted the chapter with the message and was feeling all clever about it; that message was supposed to have had completely different origins and intentions, so I was just sitting smugly in my little fortress of solitude and devising the next chapter. And then the reviews started rolling in, demanding to know who would know the chess code outside of the group, and I realized that I had just painted myself into a corner. So I thought and I thought and I thought, and it occurred to me...there was one other person who could theoretically have known about the chess metaphor, and if he'd managed to pass on that information to a trusted source...the rest came tumbling out faster than I could scribble it down.
What exactly was wrong with Roy?
Roy's illness, the one that kept him from getting married when he planned, was basically a lot like scarlet fever. If you've ever read Little Women, you might remember that Beth was sick for several weeks, and afterwards remained under careful watch because it had weakened her. Roy was strong enough to fight his way back, but Riza and Marcoh were keeping an eye on the situation because a fever like that can have long-term effects and they were concerned about him relapsing. He became sick in the first place (toward the end of Flowers of Antimony) because he was working too hard, and he relapsed because, after pushing himself harder than he should have to get the glass factory squared away, the shock of losing Riza was more than he could take. At this point, I'm honestly not sure Roy knows how to live without Riza. I mean, in the canon the guy was seriously considering human transmutation in order to spare her life, and I for one would really like to know what he'd have done if May and the chimera hadn't shown up when they did.
Seriously, what in the world made those guys think that they could get Roy to start another war?
They were banking on the idea that even if Roy didn't resurrect the Ishvalan campaign, what they did would create enough unrest in the East that it would make him (and consequently Grumman) look bad. Shaking Mustang loose would theoretically lead to Grumman being shaken loose, and the ensuing chaos would give them the chance they were wanting to conquer the country. Of course, when that didn't work, we had to have a third story.
And the flashbacks?
Just my headcanon seeing the light of day. I'm funny about stupid details; I actually thought to wonder what happened to Riza's groceries after Barry attacked, for instance. So I answered my own questions.
When does Brilliancy take place with respect to Flowers of Antimony?
At the start of Brilliancy, the Mustangs have been married for just shy of six months. I was trying to give a clue with the age of little Lucas Elric (who, incidentally, was named after Luke Triton from the Professor Layton games). So figure that the first chapter of Brilliancy starts about five months after the end of the FoA epilogue.
Why did you bring in Olivier Armstrong?
I had two reasons. One, she's awesome. Which is reason enough.
Two, she was apparently extremely miffed that I didn't include her in Flowers of Antimony so she demanded to appear in the sequel, although I was able to persuade her to let me give her just a cameo until the third story. (Yes, my brain is a very amusing place.)
About The Game of Three Generals
How did you tie the whole thing together if you made it up as you went along?
Very carefully. I had a little help, too, most notably from my friend Janelle ("jellyjay" here on FFN). Thanks also go to Velgamidragon, who corrected a small error I made in the first chapter.
Does 'Three Generals' refer to Roy, Olivier, and another character? Who?
Thanks to reader/reviewer FirstMoon for this question. Yes, there are three Generals - Roy, Olivier, and Piper. Piper is the Silver General, Olivier is the Gold General, and Roy is the Jeweled General. Originally, the third General was actually a reference to Grumman, who of course was a General before he became Fuhrer, but as I was working on chapter five the character of Piper appeared in my head, and I realized this was a much better idea.
Was General Hakuro in on the plot?
Nope. Whatever else you can say about Hakuro, in this particular instance he was completely innocent. He didn't even know Acheron existed. He just liked Piper and wanted to put in a good word for him with the man that he had already deduced would be the next Fuhrer.
You evil person, how could you frame Roy for Grumman's murder?
It was honestly the most intelligent and unexpected thing I could imagine for the final plot. What that says about me, I don't know.
So Acheron and Dong Bao were in it together? How did you come up with that?
That was the help I received from Janelle/jellyjay - she made a suggestion during one of our marathon email conversations, and it was just the hint I needed to unlock the rest of the plot. She is awesome.
What was with the conversation between Armstrong and Miles?
As you probably guessed eventually, they were speaking in code. (You don't think Roy's the only one who can use codes, do you?) She was telling him to bring Roy's men from Ishval to her family's mansion.
What made you decide to have Riza get pregnant?
Well, in all truth? My original idea for that firing squad scene had them both convicted and sentenced to death, although that was at a point when I was kicking around having them sentenced for their Ishvalan war crimes. And then my brain, which is apparently sadistic, pointed out that it would be even worse if she were pregnant when convicted, to which I replied that her execution would be delayed until after the birth. Eventually I came up with the alternate conviction situation, but Riza being pregnant stuck with me. We know from the canon that she would in all likelihood kill herself if anything happened to Roy, but if she were having his child, that would certainly stay her hand - and since she didn't have any reason to expect him to survive the firing squad, I thought that the pregnancy provided a good failsafe. And if nothing else, it would be worth it just to be able to add Pregnant Badass to the list of tropes invoked.
For what it's worth, when I started the trilogy I had no intention of writing in a pregnancy for Riza at any point. (Of course, when I started the trilogy I had no intention of it being a trilogy, but that's beside the point.) But I'm really glad I did, because I think this worked out well. As noted above, my stories have a recurring tendency to be smarter than I am.
I couldn't decide whether to give them a son or a daughter; there were compelling reasons for both possibilities. So I took the third option (to invoke yet another trope) and gave them one of each. Also, interesting fact: women over the age of 30 are more likely to conceive twins than younger women.
Why the choice of names?
I did consider naming their son for Hughes - but everyone does that! So I decided to go a different route. Roy and Riza are the king and queen of our chess set, so their children needed names that fit the theme. Thus, their son is Brendan, which is Gaelic for "prince." I couldn't find a name meaning "princess" that I liked, however (except for Sarah, but that's a character in my novel so I didn't want to repeat, plus 'Sara' was Winry's mom). Instead, we got Riana, pronounced ry-anna, which as indicated in the story is old English for "little queen."
Hey, you told us that the story wouldn't end happily for everyone!
That's right, I did. And it didn't end very happily for Acheron or Dong Bao, did it?
Credits, Thanks, and All That Jazz
Of course, the number one credit has to go to Hiromu Arakawa, the creator of Fullmetal Alchemist. Despite my having been in the fandom for a relatively short time, I have to say that this series has given me characters that I love just about as much as characters from fandoms I have been involved with for years. Obviously, anything you read about in these stories that you recognize belongs to her and/or her associates; I don't own anything except the original characters in the trilogy, a stack of manga, a Roy Mustang plushie, and a State Alchemist's pocketwatch.
Second only to Arakawa-san, I have to thank my good friend Andrea. She was the one who loaned me her Brotherhood DVDs in order to foster my growing addiction, and bought me my Roy Mustang plushie. If you're wondering why there wasn't a chapter dedicated to Andrea, that's because the entire trilogy is dedicated to her. Surprise, Andi. :)
Props and thanks to my other friends who are FMA fans, either because they already were and they just waited around for me to jump in or because I met them as a result. I wanted to list you all by name, but there are just too many! Special thanks to Caroline and Janelle, who as noted above were directly helpful to me in the creation of this trilogy. Also, thanks to my friend Naomi, who has no interest in FMA whatsoever but very graciously let me natter at her about these fics while I was working on them; she was even the one who helped me figure out how to rig Grumman's office and the reason for his going into hiding.
Many, many thanks to a man who will probably never read this - my husband, Kevin, who is the sweetest and most tolerant person I have ever known. Not only does he put up with my crazy sleep schedule when I'm in the midst of a plot bunny outbreak, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty to do things like chauffeur me to conventions and keep our cats from nomming on my plushies.
Thanks also go to Vic Mignogna (the English dub voice of Edward Elric), for being so amazingly kind to me the two times we met in person this year, and Todd Haberkorn (the English dub voice of Ling Yao), for being awesome during our lone meeting and for even becoming my friend on Facebook. As mentioned in the author's notes, I got to hang out with them for a little bit during the writing of Flowers of Antimony and they are both just lovely, lovely people. I'm sure they will never read this and probably don't even remember who I am, but I wanted to thank them all the same.
And last but by no means least, thanks to all of you! Your reviews, private messages, additions to your favorites lists, and whatever the heck else you did to turn these fics into the ridiculously popular things they are have really made me smile. I'm so appreciative of everyone who has taken the time to read these stories. I'm hoping to take a vacation from Amestris now and turn my focus back to finishing my novel, but I do participate in the weekly competitions at LiveJournal's FMA fic contest - so this fandom has not heard the last of me by a long shot, especially with the prequel in the eventual works. And in the meantime, you can read about my real-life adventures twice a week in my blog; the address is on my profile, and it's there that I hope to soon be announcing the novel's publication. So if you really enjoy reading the words that tumble out of my head (and it would appear that quite a few of you do), stay tuned.
Again, thank you...for everything. You have brought no small measure of joy to my fullmetal heart.