• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Jestor

King of Spades
28 Badges
Jun 24, 2004
1.384
4
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Prison Architect
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury Pre-order
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Crusader Kings Complete
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II
  • 500k Club
  • Victoria 2
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
Johan11: University. One of the top universities in the US, along with Harvard, Princeton, etc.

In another update, I've been waitlisted by UNLV and should find out next week if I've been admitted or not. The AWP conference is this week, so most of the faculty will be there I imagine (as well as a good number of people here at UArk).

The good news is, if I'm admitted, I'm guaranteed a TAship.

So yeah it's going to be a nerve-wracking week of waiting, fo' sho.
 

unmerged(195368)

Second Lieutenant
5 Badges
Feb 15, 2010
181
0
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Darkest Hour
  • Deus Vult
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
I'm going to finally take the plunge and read this amazing monstrosity, as if I needed any other distractions from school... wish me luck, see you on the other side.
 

Jestor

King of Spades
28 Badges
Jun 24, 2004
1.384
4
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Prison Architect
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury Pre-order
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Crusader Kings Complete
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II
  • 500k Club
  • Victoria 2
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
Threedog43: Glad to hear you're enjoying it! :)

Second-to-last bit of MFA news. I found out this afternoon I've been accepted by UNLV, which comes with a guaranteed three-year assistantship that pays my tuition and comes with a small monthly stipend. Needless to say, I'm stoked. :)
 

unmerged(195368)

Second Lieutenant
5 Badges
Feb 15, 2010
181
0
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Darkest Hour
  • Deus Vult
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
Holy crap that took way longer than it should have. That........was...........amazing! Some of the best characters ever written!
Hope the sequels good!
 

Hawkeye1489

Defensor Fidei et Ecclesiae
18 Badges
Jul 28, 2004
533
27
  • Diplomacy
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Knight (pre-order)
  • 500k Club
  • 200k Club
  • Rome: Vae Victis
  • Victoria 2
  • Europa Universalis: Rome
  • Europa Universalis III
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Deus Vult
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
Well Jestor, I too am here to sing your praises. I started reading as a off chance one night as I couldn't sleep. It took me through the first paragraph of the first post to realize that it was the actual AAR, but after that you had me. Such character depth and the ability to consume the reader, you are a terrific author. It took me a couple nights (of which I somehow inserted your characters into my life in the middle of a dream, a first for me and definitely a testament of your writing ability) and finally plowed through the last 15-20 updates last night...to which if I fail the final exam I took today I will blame you entirely ;). As to your personal life, congrats on UNLV, I have a friend who goes there as an undergrad, and she absolutely loves it. Also a shame about the lost save. I was looking forward to the sequel which I did read through, and I gotta say, I liked Becky as a supporting role, but now that she ruined any kind of relationship with Nick and Melody, I kind of don't like her. I must have a very highly philosophical/secretly romantic mind, cuz unlike a few people around here, I was hoping from the very beginning that Nick and Melody would work out, and when I read the title of the sequel I though my hopes would be crushed lol. At any rate, good job Jestor, and I wish you good luck and God speed with everything that you do.

Cheers,
~Hawk
 

BraidsMAmma

Second Lieutenant
8 Badges
Dec 29, 2010
133
0
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • 500k Club
Just finished reading.
Awsome AAR (having only read two AARs and the other being Rome AARisen I consider myself to be very lucky) and an interesting turn for the Byzzies...
But if the sequel really is dead (and we'll never get to know what happens) please change your signature not to give false hopes.

Lots of love from Sweden, this has been a great story! =)
 

Jestor

King of Spades
28 Badges
Jun 24, 2004
1.384
4
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Prison Architect
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury Pre-order
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Crusader Kings Complete
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II
  • 500k Club
  • Victoria 2
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne

Fookison

Iron Chef
27 Badges
Feb 27, 2006
1.207
0
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Imperator: Rome Sign Up
  • Europa Universalis III: Collection
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Knight (pre-order)
  • 500k Club
  • 200k Club
  • Rome: Vae Victis
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
  • Victoria 2
  • Sword of the Stars
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Rome Gold
  • Europa Universalis: Rome
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Heir to the Throne
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • For the Motherland
  • For The Glory
  • Divine Wind
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Europa Universalis III: Chronicles
  • Europa Universalis III
  • Deus Vult
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Cities in Motion
Interesting Jestor!
Glad to have you back on the scene. Lets all root for Louis!!
If this is anything like your last iteration, we are in for a treat!!!
Cheers!
F
 

jyx12

Second Lieutenant
78 Badges
Jul 22, 2012
191
2
  • Crusader Kings II
  • Europa Universalis IV: Wealth of Nations
  • Europa Universalis IV: Call to arms event
  • Heir to the Throne
  • Victoria 2: A House Divided
  • Victoria 2: Heart of Darkness
  • Rome: Vae Victis
  • Europa Universalis IV: Pre-order
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Mount & Blade: Warband
  • Victoria 2
  • War of the Roses
  • 500k Club
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Death or Dishonor
  • Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado
  • Europa Universalis IV: Rule Britannia
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Europa Universalis IV: Common Sense
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Europa Universalis IV: Cossacks
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Stellaris
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Cadet
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Europa Universalis IV: Rights of Man
  • Stellaris: Leviathans Story Pack
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Together for Victory
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven
  • Prison Architect
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Expansion Pass
  • Age of Wonders III
  • Imperator: Rome
  • Stellaris: Distant Stars
  • Europa Universalis IV: Golden Century
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Europa Universalis IV: Dharma
  • Europa Universalis IV: Cradle of Civilization
  • Cities: Skylines - Parklife Pre-Order
  • Hearts of Iron IV: Expansion Pass
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Europa Universalis III Complete
  • Cities: Skylines - Parklife
  • Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise
  • Europa Universalis IV: Art of War
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
Wow!
Just wow.

I randomly,I don't even remember how,stumbled on this AAR,while being bored.
And since the first post,it interested me.
Then,as the history lessons begun,I saw it was CK,the first one,not the newer - which I neither had played,nor read an AAR of - which actually made me think of dropping it,as I don't really know the gameplay.
But the next time I was bored,my browser guided me here.
So I decided to continue reading.
And over the next posts,I understood that it was the right decision,and that me lacking knowledge in the original CK doesnt influence how great this AAR is.
Part of was fascinated me,was the deSemurs,having a rise I never would manage to compete with in CK2.
But the other part,which started a bit less,but grew ever larger,until it devoured the deSemurs,was the story of Nick.

Due to me not reading it live,I didnt have the possibility to give feedback over the single parts.
But it also spared me from having to endure those cliffhangers from longer when my browser and time allowed me,though sometimes it was a significant amount of time,in the end making me curse your cliffhangers nevertheless.

I now,after multiple days of reading this (No,I didnt read it multiple days by time,as obviously I don't read amazing stories 24/7) I finished it.

And I wanted to express my congratulations and gratitude for you finishing this glorious story.

There were many twisted turns,some more,some less expected.
As obviously I didnt expect the well-loved teacher morengay to get an attack,though I after a few pages was sure he is somehow connected to Melody.
While my first thoughts of how,were wrong,they also are irrelevant,as they all were less fitting than your final ending.

I am now going to read the sequel.
Damn you if it is also made of cliffhangers,and curse you a second time if its not awesome!


EDIT:

Now I see the sequel never really started over more than a few posts.
Damn shame.
It started interesting.
And I saw a note of the BG&HC mystery in it,though I think slightly less hard to guess.

 
Last edited:

Jestor

King of Spades
28 Badges
Jun 24, 2004
1.384
4
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Prison Architect
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury Pre-order
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Crusader Kings Complete
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II
  • 500k Club
  • Victoria 2
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
jyx12: Just saw this now and I'm very happy to hear that you enjoyed it. :)

As it turns out, someone who read the whole thing very recently on another forum PM'ed me some questions about it, so I thought I'd post and answer them for those interested.
 

Jestor

King of Spades
28 Badges
Jun 24, 2004
1.384
4
  • Cities: Skylines
  • Crusader Kings III
  • Prison Architect
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury
  • Shadowrun: Hong Kong
  • Shadowrun Returns
  • Crusader Kings II: Holy Fury Pre-order
  • Crusader Kings II: Jade Dragon
  • Crusader Kings Complete
  • Crusader Kings II: Monks and Mystics
  • Crusader Kings II: Reapers Due
  • Crusader Kings II: Conclave
  • Crusader Kings II: Horse Lords
  • Crusader Kings II: Way of Life
  • Crusader Kings II
  • 500k Club
  • Victoria 2
  • Sengoku
  • Semper Fi
  • Hearts of Iron III
  • Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
  • Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion
  • Crusader Kings II: Sons of Abraham
  • Crusader Kings II: The Republic
  • Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India
  • Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
  • Crusader Kings II: Charlemagne
Jestor's Interview (Of Sorts) With Sterlingice

First, I started reading on the Paradox forums as it's so active but I decided to walk away for fear of spoilers. How much did audience participation sway where you were going with the writing? I even saw polls or posts about which country to follow (inconsequential to the story) and if he should end up with Melody or Becky. The latter I would never leave in the hands of the audience as it's just too critical, but it makes me think of being a GM in an RPG where you roll dice behind the screen and summarily ignore them because you know how you need the battle to turn out to push the plot forward. I will probably spend the next few days reading what was written there now that I am done with the story so hopefully the rest of the questions are not so redundant.
The biggest direct impact the audience had was in choosing the original county, which in turn became responsible for Melody's slightly Francophone tendencies. I say slightly, because the French-Italian nature of the de Semur empire meant there was more of a fusion of the two to create its own cultural identity (somewhat like Catalan, in some respects). Other than that, I used the audience participation as things to consider and play around with in my head, but there wasn't any truly major impact.

Wait, I take that back after going further down. The audience had a significant role in Caveman's blossoming into a mid-major character.

I've never written anything very long but it feels like there are two distinct schools: plot or character, both with strengths and weaknesses. Either you work from a fairly rigid plot outline or you start from scratch and let things evolve naturally with maybe only a few pivotal scenes in mind. The former has tighter plot while the latter has tighter characters as that's the main focus of each. Unfortunately, the weakness of each is, of course, the opposite. For plot-based stories, the characters seem inorganic as you have to fit square character pegs in round plot point holes while the character-based suffers from plot meandering and the plot ends up far afield of where you started with no good reason or explanation. How do you tend to write and how did the writing process work for this story, in particular?
Character/organic. Plot is too artificial because then you're writing to a plot rather than to an actual living, breathing world and its inhabitants. In my MFA program, several of our workshops with one of the faculty ended up discussing the difference between plot and story, and how story is more important than plot. To put it another way, it's very clear when a work is plotted and when it's a story. The difference can also sometimes help distinguish between genre/popular fiction and literary fiction. Most of the former is plotted; most of the latter is story, with the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology.

For example, plot-based narratives are usually much better at pacing and tend to have far more satisfying endings. Character-based narratives often struggle with pacing and, as reading through any number of literary magazines can tell you, are frequently terrible with endings. (Which is why I often call short stories in workshop literary magazine-esque - usually as a negative term that involves a weak ending and oftentimes bland characters ironically, but they'll be very technically polished. Sometimes *too* polished at the expense of vibrancy.)

The writing for this spread across a year and a half during a busy part of your life. Did you get tired of waiting for inspiration and just plow ahead? I ask as I saw two scenes as disjointed. The first is the ending, tho, perhaps you always had the framework in mind. The second was the engagement to Chet: did you have that in your mind all along? Or did that just develop throughout the course of writing? Were there times when you had a great idea for a cliffhanger for a session with no thought or regards on how to complete it (the X-Files model)? If so, were there ever plot twists you regretted taking after putting them down but couldn't since this was done in a dynasty forum? What are the difficulties with taking so long to write a story?
Yes and no on the just plowing ahead. Mostly no, but sometimes if I had just a fragment of an idea in mind and it'd been a while since I updated, I just ran with that fragment rather than letting it develop as I did with some other scenes. The ending, yes, I do regret that. As I believe I said somewhere along the way, my original intention was for the story to end with Nick making his choice at the dance. I should have just gone with my first hunch rather than tack on the second ending.

It reminds me of Jack Nicholson's comment to Elijah Wood after the screening of Peter Jackson's adaptation of Return of the King: "Too many endings, kid. Too many endings."

I was not requesting this of the story but have you ever considered rewriting any stories you did in the past, knowing how it turned out in the end? You can't do that with a living story that is out there as we've that even insignificant changes to Star Wars can get fans up in arms but what about unreleased stories? Have you ever gone back, retconning some items in the past: emphasizing/de-emphasizing certain characters or removing some "fake" foreshadowing to events you never went anywhere with/adding true foreshadowing to items that actually occurred? I think narratives, in general, in the last 30 years have been more and more stripped down to their core plot essence, which in my mind, is a good thing as it adheres more towards the principle of Chekov's gun. An Agatha Christie novel would try to hide a single gun in plain sight with a few red herrings but as you read more and more you're able to think meta-fictionally about those things to defeat the author's system. But now, "post modern" writing turns that on its head with something like "Lost" where they just scatter 100 guns on stage so you stop trying to guess which one will go off. However, this invariably ends poorly as people are more disappointed at the 80 that fail to go off than pleased at the 20 that actually do.
Rewriting, yes, including throwing out entire chapters of my MFA thesis and completely rewriting them from scratch. I don't rewrite as much as a lot of people I know, though. I'm just not that type of writer. Others will go through five or six drafts of a story before they're happy with it. For me, I tend to work within one original document and revise from there. It's too exhausting a process to rewrite anything longer than a chapter or short story from scratch for me personally.

The historical, spiritual, and paranormal disappears as you go along: was that a conscious decision? Also, that's not to say there ever was anything concrete but we had hints about Melody's family, the Hidden Stones story, and all sorts of rich family lore. Early on the story could have been about anything, and please forgive the cliches as I'm trying to talk in broad literary tropes that would have been more capably fleshed out, from Melody or even Nick being a long lost de Semur (I was certain we'd at least end up there) to her being a Bram Stoker variety vampire to her parents being Illuminati. We could even have had something as fanciful as the Romeo and Juliet model involving each being of the supernatural warring houses in de Semur going back to the 1100s. It's certainly not the road traveled but the pieces were there. So were there any plans to go that route or just hints dropped to add mystery to Melody?
Hints dropped to add mystery to Melody for the most part. Although by the end of the story, I think the reader should have a pretty strong grasp of Melody and her background... or at least as strong as the narrative allows. :D "Hungry Stones" I threw in there just because I absolutely love the story and I thought the readers might draw some parallels between Tagore's tale and the narrative. That and Junot Diaz's "Aurora" are probably my favorite short stories of all time (that I can remember off the top of my head anyway).

For the most part, I don't like the supernatural in stories. Well-done magical realism, yes. Varying degrees of fantasy, if well-handled, yes. Supernatural/paranormal, no. While there does tend to be occasional hints of magical realism popping up now and again in my work, it's never a primary focus.

Melody is the star of the show: she is what is new and unique. I'm not much of a character reader so Melody the person is not what is captivating to me. However, the glimpse into the rich and powerful world is fascinating as is the way it molds her character. I have no idea if it's even vaguely realistic or where I would turn to literature that studies true longstanding wealth in more than just cliches but it's what makes the read for me. Her knowledge that she can control the world in an old money "this is how it has always been and will always be" way is new and interesting. Slamming Caveman and then dragging Nick around, drugging Nick, showing the letter to the cop: these are not the calculating ways of the nouveau riche who know they could go back to who they were at any time. So where did the motivation and source material come from to write her? I saw hints of Gatsby but there has to be more than that.
The physical source material, as I've said elsewhere, came from this absolutely gorgeous girl who sat next to me in Japanese history class at my final undergraduate school. (Interesting side note - I asked her to Formal during my pledging semester and she said yes, then backed out two days before because her boyfriend was coming into town for a friend's birthday party.)

Gatsby, and Fitzgerald's writings in general, have always had a strong influence on me, along with Nabokov and, in the last few years, Haruki Murakami. So Gatsby is a definite influence. The other is my own personal history of becoming attracted to upper class girls without realizing they're of a higher economic status. Granted, they're nowhere near Melody's level. They're not even nouveau riche. Rather, they're what we might call well-to-do. And yet, these rich girls are littered throughout my fiction, alongside mock-heroic diction.

Eventually I need to find the right story for this sort of girl, get it published, and then move on to something else. Or maybe I don't. Who knows?

To me, writing Melody would be a paradox. She's going to be less and less interesting the more you know about her and, inherently, as you write more and more about a character, they become more and more approachable. Compounding that problem, frankly, you're going to run out of things you can identify with and personal experience you can draw from as no author is from that world. Someone like that wouldn't deign to write a story for the masses about living that life, she or he would just go out and live it. A real strength of the story is that you supremely succeed in the task of making her moments "onscreen" jump off the virtual pages (the only notable exception for me is when she goes from icy to desperate, talking to Nick after getting engaged- it seems very out of character), even if just in a note or voice. But the struggle comes in where all the others around her need to fill in the plot holes that she can't when she's not around. In short, she sucks the air out of the room so that everything pretty much has to be about her whether she's there or not. How did you try to balance the reveal on a character that clearly benefited from her mystery?
I made the revelation come at a moderate pace. I wouldn't say no author is from that world, depending on the world you're talking about in terms of the upper-class strata (Note: Despite aristocratic thought-tendencies, I myself am that most common of creatures - a Midwesterner from middle class stock). This is also where you start getting into things like research, which clashes with my writing methodology. For some authors, research is great and works out well. Not for me.

It's interesting that you highlight Melody as the star of the story and an overwhelming presence. That's traditionally not the case with my female characters, who some readers don't consider to be real, distinguishable or believable. Then again, most of those making this charge tend to be women in their 30s, for whatever reason. Older women and younger women do buy in, so I'm wondering if this isn't an issue of the women in my generation (since I'm also in my 30s). In fact, in an early draft of the first couple chapters of my eventual MFA thesis at Arkansas, one of my professors noted that I'd captured the voice of a certain type of high school cheerleader "perfectly. Perhaps too perfectly." and mentioned that this was the sort of girl she herself had hated in high school.

The fact that she *is* so powerful is a good thing, though. It's precisely the effect I wanted for her, once I figured out who she was.

I don't know how best to word this so I'm just going to come out and say it: why Nick? You mention some of it in the afterwords, that he's an "everyman" so we can relate to Melody. But that role could have been filled by any of dozens of archetypes. In the end, Nick is the narrator but this story is not even half about him unless we're talking about the Nick-and-Melody relationship unit. I don't think he's the unreliable narrator that Holden Caulfield is as there's nothing wrong with Nick mentally any more than the rest of us but that does make it suspect that Melody would choose Nick. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop: Nick was a de Semur, Nick was from a rival family in Europe, Nick was originally just a plot device for Melody to piss off Daddy/make someone else jealous/be slumming with the "common folk", etc. I even thought we might go somewhere with the archery angle but it was used in the current plot not for any backstory. In short: I get why Nick liked Melody but I never got why Melody liked Nick. He was necessary in that he served the rhetorical purpose of being the stand-in for the reader but I'm not sure he could ever grow into a capable foil for Melody. My best guess is that either you know a lot of Nicks or feel you have some of those qualities so you can most easily write in a foreign situation with a familiar voice. But that's just an off the wall guess, so: why Nick?
You've hit on the biggest problems of both this story and my MFA thesis. In both cases, nobody could really figure out why the girl would be interested in the protagonist, and it was a huge issue in the latter case for a lot of people. Several people also struggled with having a real sense of who the protagonist really was as a character or felt that he wasn't strong enough yet to be a worthy character within the narrative. Clearly, these are consistent problems in my writing that I need to work on or watch for. I tried to explain it here by having Melody say there's no explaining love, but that didn't quite work, unfortunately. My MFA thesis, I defended it by pointing out that it was only half the novel.

The easiest solution to these recurring narrative problems would probably be to get a girlfriend or twenty, and figure out more logical sources of attraction from there.

What goes into picking the supporting cast? It sounds like from the afterword that you pick what fits best for the situation and then assume you can fit them in to the larger picture later (ala Becky). The Becky subplot never quite works for me because, like everyone and everything else (Nick, Becky, Drake, Caveman, the history class)- their primary purpose is to be vehicles to tell Melody's story. Silly as it sounds to say it this way but if she were to end up with Nick, it's not "The Beautiful Girl and the History Class", it's "That Girl He Met Because He Couldn't Go Out With the Beautiful Girl from the History Class". The story, as a whole, slows down when it's about something or someone else. And this view is probably why I'm no good at writing characters: I'm a plot writer to a fault and my characters suffer for it. I'll try to write utility characters that end up fairly boring as I know they serve no greater plot so I don't want to waste words on them. However, by the end, Becky, Caveman, and even Drake all have some character heft to them so I think this all comes back to the character/plot choices made early on.
The Becky ending almost happened. It's a common enough theme in fiction, both literary and film - the guy's dream girl turns out not to be the right girl, but a second, (usually, but not always) less pretty girl who has more compatible or kinder traits turns out to be The One. But the more I thought about it, the more I said fuck that. Too damn much of American fiction these days is about settling, rather than reaching for our ambitions (even if I myself have shown worrying signs of starting to settle with a life, but that's neither here nor there).

I think the Becky problem is mostly one of pacing - The rebound happened too quickly for some readers, which I can see. While such rebounds have been known to happen, they need to set up better in fiction, with light touches beforehand (this starts getting into the wiring metaphor one of my mentors used, but that's getting a touch off track).

The supporting cast and minor characters in my fiction appear naturally. Sometimes they expand to a larger than intended role like Caveman. Sometimes they end up much more minor than I'd originally anticipated like Drake. Personally, I love developing minor characters. They're often the ones I find myself wondering most about and remembering most clearly after reading others' work. The perfect example of this is Count Greffi in A Farewell To Arms. So it's not really a matter of conscious choice that minor characters appear - they're organic too.

I'm going to agree with the afterword about "a reduction in the quality of writing for those final scenes". Did you know how you wanted to end it at any time before the end? I feel like Melody's story starts out grand and mysterious but gets dragged down to the reader's level as we go along. What other endings and plot twists did you have in mind? I'm hesitant to put this as it's unduly harsh but: Were you just trying to finish? There was a jump from 3P-limited-Nick for the entire story to other narrators. I like the idea of blind and heightened hearing as that could be used as an effective plot device but I found it hard to follow what was going on. We had people coming up to him while he was trying to shoot in this high stakes game? Was he just hearing voices far off? I think it was a mixture of both but I'm not sure. The problem is that I'm not sure how I would have finished the story either: I liked the idea of a duel and even could have seen it on the grounds at the mansion. However, going to range seemed really contrived, just to keep the CW scene from just being extraneous. On that tangent, do you keep a list of plot items just hanging free, waiting to be connected back up? It was something I thought about while reading this and am strongly considering doing it for any longer works: basically, spare character and plot parts I can use later.
The whole archery duel was literally an idea that came to mind as I was writing what I intended to be the original ending - where Nick makes his choice at the dance. It's one of those things that was a damn cool idea in theory, but in practice, it was a trainwreck, especially since the multiple voice perspective was handled so damned clumsily. What happened was I got away from the original way the story worked and tried to go full-on cinematic route (I literally pictured these scenes in my head as it would appear on film) and I got so fixated on that it completely threw everything off.

I *might* have made it work if I'd taken more time with it. On the other hand, it could be, as one of my mentors like to put it, that it would have been "breaking the contract you've established with the reader in the beginning of the story and the rules by which the story operates". This happens sometimes, even in celebrated fiction (The Jungle, I'm looking at you). While I don't think the disruption was nearly as bad here as it was in Jungle, the disconnect is still clear.

I noticed the sequel just kindof died. At first I was happy there was one but a bit disappointed as I read: the intro is very morose and only gets a little glimmer of hope in the last entry where she is being whisked away from her life. I feel like it was heading down the road of the modern serialized tv show arms race (think The Shield or The Sopranos or, tho I have not seen them, what I've read of The Wire or Breaking Bad). There's a need to continually ratchet up the tension because viewers start getting immune to the previous tension level. The narrative relies on shocking the audience but you have to always have to push it further. It's just not where your strengths as an author lie and I suspect why you had difficulty motivating yourself to keep writing. Just look at the treatment of Caveman: I think it was a little harsh in the first story to the effect of pushing Becky towards Nick but in the second, you skewer the poor bastard. The challenge of following up an epic with another epic is awfully daunting. In my mind, to make a sequel, you're going to have to reinvent Becky, introduce a new character or challenge bigger than Caveman, and do that all with the shadow of the Melody-Nick juggernaut story looming the whole time. As a writer, that would be a challenge but not one I would relish.
Believe it or not, I had plans for this, and reading over it now, it's still possible to go forward with it, so I'll hold off on commenting further on it other than to say that the shock of the initial scenes wasn't going to continue going forward. Rather, it was designed to... well, I'll wait on that until I decide whether or not to pick it up again. I will say that it was written during one of my worst semesters at Arkansas, which probably affected the story to some degree.

Would it/will it be as good as the original? No, probably not. It's dangerous to go back to the same well, particularly in fiction, unless it's a setup clearly designed to be a series. This is where Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her has gotten slammed, I think. Bringing back a short story collection based around Yunior was going back to the well originally drawn for Drown, and while I'm enjoying TIHYLH a lot, in terms of technical prowess and sharpness of narrative and character, it's clearly inferior to his first short story collection, which had a genuine masterpiece or three in it. I've not gotten the same sense from TIHYLH at all.

And as long as I'm mentioning Diaz again, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, his award-winning novel, is one I have mixed feelings about, but I'll refrain from launching into a diatribe about that.

Thank you for the time in reading this and I hope for a thoughtful response. I hope anything negative is taken as constructive criticism and genuine interest. I wouldn't have written this if it was just another work of fiction but it definitely got in my head for the couple of days it took to read it. It also really helped me put my theory of writing cap on for some other projects I've been considering for a long time. So, again, thank you for any thoughts on any or (hopefully) all of these questions!
Thanks for taking the laborious effort of reading this and providing these excellent questions. :) They personally gave me some own food for thought in my writing, both in terms of this story and in terms of other projects.