Welp, that's the end of Part 2 of It's A Fox Thing.
Much as with the original arc, I'm sure you guys can pick up on the fact that Sanguine Shadow was based off of the current political climate. This past year was absolutely hellish for me, and I've had to struggle a lot with depression and the immense feeling of powerlessness and pain in a world that feels like it'd gone mad. It was like we'd been beset by sinister forces from without and within. So for me, this was my way of both venting and coping.
In the process, I learned SO MUCH in writing. How to craft a long-form story, how to balance a large cast of characters, how to pace myself in writing, how to set scenes in new and refreshing ways and give each narrator a different and unique "flavor" in how they provide an internal monologue. Judy by far was the most challenging, but I think that towards the end I came to figure her out. I've also developed the endurance to write upwards of 10,000 words a day. It feels great, because I feel completely different from the author I was a year ago.
And honestly, I have all you guys to thank in participating in this project with me. Thank you all so much for taking the time out of your lives to read my work and offer commentary. I totally appreciate it.
Now, I wanted to take a moment to answer a couple objections that were brought up early on by some of my readers.
"The pacing of the story is a problem." Can't disagree there. Initially I'd thought that this story was going to be about 30-40 chapters long. However, a piece of fiction is a living, evolving thing, I've found. A plot this long and complex is a wriggly little beast, and keeping it under control was like trying to drag a dog over to the tub for bathtime. It kinda gets away from you and drags you along in several different directions before you can tame it. Things that I'd thought were obvious at the time needed more details to keep them from becoming plot holes, or I'd be swept away in a scene that demanded more detail and attention.
Another complicating factor is the fact that fanfiction is necessarily published in a chapter-by-chapter format. If I were writing a traditional novel, I would of course be editing each chapter as I went along. Yet in the end I would have the entire thing written before I went back and reviewed it as a whole for pacing issues and plot holes and see how each chapter flowed into the next, and I'd be able to fix up earlier chapters and make sure the book as a whole worked before I sent it off to publication. But here on AO3 or , if I went back to review my work and found weaknesses in chapters I wrote two months ago, they're kinda locked in and I can't exactly make major changes anymore. At least, not without alienating some readers. So I hope you guys understand this.
"The Vulpes Sanguinis were totally OP." Well, I had of course meant to generate that *perception* to make them appear to be an intimidating foe. To me, being OP means that a character or organization has absurd and unreasonable advantages. Yet the reality is that while the Praetors were highly trained and Rufinius was meant to be a brilliant strategist, a lot of their strength was built on legitimate trickery and guile rather than spooky mystical reasons. A lot of their plots succeeded in large part because Elkredge was feeding them inside information, for example.
"The scent mask is a totally OP Macguffin." This surprised me, actually. I mean, we have a world populated by mammals with significant sensory advantages over us humans. The sense of smell in wolves and other predators in particular is something that would make espionage and infiltration *very* difficult if a countermeasure like a scent mask hadn't been developed. Hence, scent mask. It also provided a pivotal plot point, since this was how Nick was outed by Lenny as someone who really did have connections to the VS, likely as a Praetor. I also wanted to create a sharper distinction between the techniques of the Praetors VS the ZIA Agents with this: while the ZIA use drones and electronics to get things done, the Praetors focus more on biomedical applications, as well as physical and psychological training. Two somewhat opposite approaches.
"You have too many OCs." Well... yes. As I mentioned in another author commentary section, the story I wanted to tell was one of complex espionage and intrigue, with multiple motives and plans crisscrossing each other. And that *requires* a large cast. I mean, Elkredge's identity as the Mole needed to be hidden behind multiple red herring characters for this plot arc to be effective, and that was just one thing! Each secondary character also helped provide another perspective to help get a more multifaceted view of the plot. But I did try to keep the focus on Nick, Jack, and Judy as the central characters. Jack was supposedly trying to defeat the Vulpes Sanguinis, when in reality a big (but not the only) motivating factor for him was revenge. Nick wanted desperately to protect Judy and try to do the right thing, in the rapidly diminishing hope that they'd still be together in the end somehow. Judy's arc was about her trying to stay true to her beliefs in a situation where she's liable to buckle and break.
"Your OCs are all terrible people." A matter of perspective, I'd say. I try to craft characters that have more severe flaws than you'd normally see, largely because people who are a bit more fucked up tend to provide more interesting narrative, as well as deeper insights into what it means to be human (or in this case, mammal). This is because I think that people in general are more fucked up than we like to admit.
"Rather uncomplimentary statements about my portrayal of Nick/Judy." Here's something I only recently came to realize... is that I think that this may be due in large part to a culture clash. Because the culture I grew up in and mainstream American culture have some pretty stark differences. In my culture, we tend to value being more cautious or quiet when we speak, out of fear of being judged negatively for even minor things. And this leads to a lot of tension because it makes communication with Americans rather difficult. When I'm around others of my ethnic background we understand that there are subtleties in communication, and the refusal to speak around certain topics in certain situations is something you need to let go.
This is in part what I wanted to fuel the tension between Nick and Judy... the fact that they are from two *very* different cultural backgrounds. Judy being a bunny and living in a family unit of 300 or so others and in tight-knit nuclear units of litters means that privacy is pretty much nonexistent, so she's much more comfortable with open communication. Nick on the other hand, he's from a culture that suffers from a great deal of institutional discrimination, so he's had to keep things internalized his whole life. For him, keeping mum when things are scary is in his view the right thing to do. And it's this clash in values and perspectives that is putting so much strain on the two by the end.
Another element of cultural dissonance: the idea of suffering. Where I come from, there's a certain value in suffering for a greater cause. Some of the core stories we're told as children, the historical fables given to us to teach us values, tell us that sometimes one must endure suffering towards a greater cause. In this view, pain isn't just necessary sometimes. It can even be desirable or heroic. And it feels like this is why I subconsciously shaped Nick's plot arc in a way that spoke to me, but didn't resonate well with certain other readers. The closest Western European analogue for my version of Nick might be the Byronic hero, which yeah wouldn't be for everyone.
Frankly, the negative comments I received on AO3 about how I portrayed Nick and Judy were the most worrisome ones for me, especially since my biggest nightmare scenario here is being a literary equivalent of Borba (bc life totally begins at conception). Apologies to Borba of course, because I don't want to crap on their art... but I definitely do see some parallels between how critics have felt about this story and how critics reacted to the reaaaaaaally controversial abortion plotline Borba did, and that leaves me feeling icky.
So... where do we go from here? It's honestly hard to say. I do love Zootopia. I love the fan community and I'm also quite invested in the interpretation of the world and the characters I've made in these two stories. I have so many ideas for what to do now: Maybe a little look into the life of Thomas Daywood as he goes back to school. Or few short stories of Milo's new life in Feltaleza. I even had a separate story idea involving a Zootopia/Hannibal Lecter crossover, because I'm a horrible person and I love dark shit like that.
Yet the top priority of course would be giving Nick and Judy a satisfying resolution where they recover from their angst and come together once again. In Part 1 they were tested and came through stronger than before. In Part 2 they were pushed to the brink and nearly broken. And a Part 3 would be a much shorter and personal arc, straying far away from action and centering more on Nick, Judy, and Jack healing from the traumas the endured.
A couple things are holding me back though, and I gotta be honest here because I don't wanna make promises I can't keep. First off... after writing a solid 400,000 words of Zootopia fanfic (!), I feel like I'm finally able to work on the fantasy novel I've been wanting to write ever since I was in high school. I mean, it's about damn time I tried to go professional. Can't be worse than Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James, amirite? I mean, quality of writing aside, these two stories are more than the first three Harry Potter novels *combined*. If I wrote another 8 or so chapters, I'd be hitting the length of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wowsers!
Another problem is that after focusing on writing Zootopia stuff for 10 months straight, I'm feeling a little burned out from the fandom as a whole, and I'm worried that if I do push myself through a Part 3 I wouldn't be able to give it the love it deserves. I think I just need some time to recover, focus on some other personal projects, and maybe work on my original writing for a little while.
Finally... a lot of the comments I have received elsewhere have gotten a little heated. While I came into this originally promising myself I'd take every criticism earnestly and learn from them, somewhere around chapter 30 or 35 things just got downright toxic. I really don't wanna be a whiny little turd about this, and I do apologize if I come off this way because I am legitimately fairly sensitive as a person, but I think I need to step away for a while and recover before I can do the Part 3 I'd originally planned some proper justice.
Though I did find it darkly humorous that when one of my beta readers googled the title to this story, one of the top related search terms that came up was "zootopia self harm fanfiction." Ouch!
I realize that some of you who disliked this story likely won't be following the next one if and when it comes, so I'll just thank you for following through with this one to the end despite your dislike of it. But for those who did enjoy "In the Sanguine Shadow," I thank you dearly for following and commenting this whole way, because you guys genuinely helped motivate me to keep going when I was feeling down. Not even kidding, you guys are awesome, every single one of you. And though I can't make any promises for a Part 3, I'll do my best thinking about you guys.
After all, Nick and Judy deserve a happy ending together.
If anyone wants to contact me personally, do message me here or on tumblr. My username there is silverstripeszoot