Hey, AtkaSura! How are you?
So, do I look at the camera, or. . .? No, don’t look into the camera? Alright. Wow, those lights are bright. Are you recording? You are? Oh. Uh. I’m great! You? (It should be noted that I’m probably writing these responses at some ungodly hour.)
Okay, let's get some of the typical stuff out of the way; why did you write this?
It just sort of came to me, probably in the shower. I’d hazard a guess that the idea to create a story of my own stemmed from reading fan comics like this one.
I started thinking, Wouldn’t it be cool if those artists made a story about the Air Nomad genocide? I wonder if there were any survivors, and what the Fire Nation’s reaction to them would be. I began to really get into it, thinking up characters and scenes, until it struck me. Wait a minute. I’m a half-decent writer (or so I’ve been told), why don’t I make this?! So I sat down one day and typed it out just to see what would happen. The rest is history.
You mentioned feeling unhappy with the name, The Hunt. Is there a particular reason?
It just seems so generic, and I’m overall pretty bad at thinking up clever or meaningful titles. Originally, the title meant “The Hunt (for) Survivors of the Air Nomad Genocide,” but as the story evolved, the fanon focused less on Atka and Jin evading firebenders and centered more on their own internal struggles. If you really want to reach and get philosophical, I suppose the name could refer to each character’s hunt for their inner strength. Or something. Now whenever I mention this fanon, I just call it “Survivors of the Air Nomad Genocide” and omit “The Hunt.”
Is this your first fanfiction?
Yes. Fanfiction was an entirely new world to me, but I’m glad I stumbled upon it. This is also my first time writing a narrative piece with multiple chapters and developed characters. (Well, I did write parts of an “epic novel” when I was a wee child, but that was of the “spec ops commandoes drop into a volcano super-lair while fighting off space pirates” variety.) Usually I stick to short stories, poems, and academic papers. All have been the result of an assignment, either as homework back in the day or coursework now. I don’t think I’ve written anything without a due date attached. In fact, it’s only been academic for the past four or five years. I haven’t even read a recreational book in ages, just textbooks. That’s probably caused some rust to accumulate on my writing skills. Fanfiction is a refreshing change of pace.
What made you decide to write it in the way you did, with the chapters all over the place?
Inexperience. Simple as. I was completely unaware of sites like the Fanon Portal/Fanfiction.net and the formats they use. In the beginning, I didn’t have chapters or a complete storyline. I just wrote out the core concepts of my idea. I wanted to have a solid grasp of the beginning, middle, and end before I fleshed out any intermittent parts, so I focused on those first. Then I wrote down sections as they came to me. This all happened over the course of several months, so I didn’t even know the story would reach a point where it needed chapters. I thought it was only going to be two or three pages long at most. The result was the convoluted mess you see. Believe me, it’s all been straightened out in my head. Once I clean up these existing chapters, I intend to follow a more traditional/easy to read chapter by chapter format. However, as I go through and polish what I have written, I sometimes worry that I am George Lucas-ing my work and making ‘improvements’ where none are needed.
Why did you decide to publish that way, too? Especially with the way chapter 9 ended?
There’s a method to my madness. Or rather, there was. Because this was my first Fanon, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about “getting it out there.” The idea was to post an outline of the core story and gauge how viable it was based on feedback. I posted what I had on /r/thelastairbender (the only place I knew) and was surprised to see that it was pretty well received, so I added to the story bit by bit. Eventually, I thought, “there has to be a better way.” I tried fanfiction.net for a while, but the story sank under an ocean of Zutara slash. Deviantart went relatively unviewed with no comments to speak of. Then I found the fanon side of the Avatar Wiki, so I decided it was worth a shot to post it here. To my surprise, the fanon had generated some interest. Soon after, the fanon reached a point where I needed to divide what I had into chapters and it’s been expanding ever since.
The ending of chapter nine has a lot of wrinkles that need to be smoothed out. It may or may not end up completely different by the time I get around to polishing it. I’ve considered un-publishing that chapter for the time being, but I’m not sure if I should. On the one hand, the writing is very rough and doesn’t have the full weight of the reader’s connection to the characters behind it. Then the suspense becomes ruined once I publish chapters 3-8. On the other hand, I’d like for people to know the gist of this story start to finish in case I prove to be incapable of completing it myself.
In short, I thought it was better to receive feedback on a haphazard mess than to get no feedback at all.
You've already used flashbacks, notably in the first chapter with Atka, and you mentioned wanting to use them again. Are you planning on using them for Jin as well?
I have plenty of flashbacks in mind for Jin, including the day she earned her tattoos. Hopefully, these bittersweet memories will add greater emphasis to the tragic events taking place. Take that tattoo flashback, for example. Jin trained her entire life to become a master and wears her blue arrow with pride. Now, with the Fire Nation breathing down her neck, those arrows have become one giant, flashing neon “kill me” sign. They’re a curse; a permanent target that must be hidden away beneath heavy layers of clothing and bangs. This inevitably triggers a panic attack, resulting in a frantic attempt to claw at her skin and tear the tattoos from her flesh.
Will the reader ever find out whether Sura truly did die?
Good question. I intentionally left it vague. Is Atka seeing her spirit in the beginning, or a hallucination? Nobody found her body so there’s no way any character could know for sure. Sura’s name translates to “New Life” in Inuit, meaning she either found new life as a spirit, brought a new life into Atka’s life (Jin), or survived and found a new life elsewhere. (There’s some semantic satiation for ya. Life, life, life.) Of course, as the author I can tell you she’s dead as a doornail, but that lingering uncertainty acts as yet another torment for Atka.
How do you combat writers block?
I’ve found that if I try to brute my way through it, the writing takes a serious hit in quality. Now I just wait for it to naturally pass, hopefully before I forget everything I wanted to write. That’s part of the reason I’m so far behind. I have at least two more chapters mapped out to the point were I can read through them in my mind, so to speak, but despite my efforts I simply cannot write them down. My mind goes blank. Even more frustrating: as of late, whenever I feel inspired to write I have some other priority. I fear those chapters are slowly slipping away.
You can easily see the difference in the fluctuating quality of my work. My fanon An Oral History of the Hundred Year War was written entirely within ‘the zone,’ meaning I made almost no edits except for typo fixes. What you see onscreen is exactly what was in my head. In SotANG, on the other hand, sections like “Village Encounter,” chapter nine, and the temple scenes were completely brute-forced. They’re not even close to what I have in mind, and it pains me to see them in that state.
Which scene are you happiest with?
I’m rather happy with Zheng’s scene in chapter two. I feel that I’ve succeeded in establishing his character and setting him up for some heavy development down the road. Looking at it now, I see some grammar issues and minor things that should be fixed. But again, George Lucas. I don’t want to inadvertently break the flow, so I won’t touch them. For now, at least, until someone other than me points them out. Creators can only see flaws where others see beauty.
My second favorite bit of writing would be the Winking Spider-Rat. It’s a pretty good scene that’s buried beneath a bunch of bleh. I intend to add a bit more set up to that scene, including Atka and Jin arguing the merits of spending the night in a seedy inn, Jin’s “this place gives me the creeps” attitude upon entering, etc.
Do you like Atka's past, or Jin's the most?
I love writing Atka’s character. He’s been through so much. Jin has had a relatively happy and normal life up until the genocide. Atka, on the other hand, has suffered greatly. He was nearly killed by a feral wolf as a boy, lost his sister later in life, couldn’t bear the guilt and ran as far away from home as he could, half hoping he would die. But, he didn’t, so he’s resigned himself to living alone.
Both characters are like living, breathing people to me, so I enjoy writing them both. In terms of the past, though, Atka has Jin beat by a mile.
Do you know when the other chapters will be released/finished?
I currently have no idea when I’ll be able to publish new chapters. If this were a perfect world, I’d already have chapters two, three, four, and nine finished at least. What’s currently written is only a shadow of what’s planned out in my mind.
How often do you write for this story?
As often as possible. If I feel the ‘zone’ coming, I try to drop everything (essays, projects, sleeping, gaming) and write before the moment passes. Unfortunately, I’ve become increasingly busy and cannot afford to stop what I’m doing to write down ideas. It’s already starting to cost me, as there are a few fantastic scenes that I simply cannot remember. I still have the story, but the details can only go unwritten for so long before they disappear.
Can you tell me a little more about Admiral Zheng?
Zheng is staunchly loyal to the Royal Family, but that doesn’t make him blind. He lives and breathes the military lifestyle. It’s been a part of him for his entire life. In a way, Zheng is the antithesis of Admiral Zhao in TLA. Unlike Zhao, he preforms his duties as an admiral with humility. Zheng rose through the ranks with a level head and a determination to serve his nation. Witnessing the Air Nomad genocide firsthand had a profound impact on him. His belief that the Fire Nation can do no wrong was shaken to its core. The death and devastation he saw, both to his own forces and to the Air Nomads, eats away at him. He slowly becomes disillusioned with the concept of Sozin’s “March of Civilization.” How does slaughtering an entire culture at such great a cost contribute to the spreading of their nation’s prosperity? His orders to raid the Southern Water Tribe sow further seeds of doubt, as he once again finds himself attacking a defenseless village. (I’m not sure if defenseless is the proper term, but it’s late and I can’t think of any other. He doesn’t necessarily see them as innocent per se, and they can hardly be called defenseless considering the Air Nomads took a sizeable chunk of soldiers with them and the Water Tribes have their warriors.) As stated in his character summary, Zheng soon resigns and attempts to drown his disillusionment in drink. He no longer recognizes himself or the Nation he once loved.
Do the readers know the man with the tattoos in chapter 9?
I’ve noticed that a lot of early readers thought that man was Zheng. That’s about as far from the truth as one can get. Zheng views himself and the Fire Nation as a monster, the last thing he’d want is more senseless death. I’ve been thinking about adding sections or chapters from that character’s perspective, starting with him watching Zheng speak to Sozin from the shadows of the War Room. That should clear things up.
Will there be more scenes of death and destruction?
Lots more. It’s a shame that I’ve had to brute-force chapter two. That's sucked most of the impact out of those scenes. One I have those actually written to satisfaction, it should be some pretty heavy stuff. I also have a chilling (hopefully) scene in the works wherein Zheng explores the Air Temples post-genocide. Without spoiling anything, there will be several more scenes involving death and destruction scattered throughout the fanon.
What kind of bond do you want Atka and Jin to form?
I started writing this story before The Last of Us released, but I see a lot of Atka and Jin in Joel and Ellie. Both characters formed incredibly close bonds that were hard-fought and tested through hardships endured. Atka begins to see Jin as a surrogate sister while Jin views Atka almost as a father figure. I’m not sure how much sense that made, but it is pretty much exactly like The Last of Us.
You said somewhere that it may take years to finish this story - is that actually accurate, or are you just exaggerating?
I hope I’m exaggerating! But, in all likelihood, it probably will take that long. I mean, look how long it’s taken me to answer this interview! (Nearly a week and a half).
Do you have any other fanfiction plans? Will they be as tragic as this one?
Yes, I’m currently developing a story inspired by a mix of Slavic folklore and the Avatar world. It’s based upon the belief that spirits cannot cross the threshold between one’s home and the outside world uninvited. I’m not sure I can give the concept proper justice through a descriptive summary, but I’ll try. The story takes place several years after Korra’s sudden death at the hands of a vengeful spirit. Her demise and subsequent shattering of the Avatar cycle has thrown the world into a state of spiritual collapse. The material and spiritual worlds have become locked in an eternal solstice, bleeding together until both are nearly indistinguishable. This created an influx of malevolent spirits, now roaming freely and wreaking havoc upon humanity. In a desperate attempt to stave off the world’s end, the Order of the White Lotus created a group of ill-fated spirit hunters called Doormen. It is the Doorman’s duty to patrol the streets of humanity’s villages and cities; moving door-to-door to ensure that the sanctity of each threshold remains unbroken. (It makes more sense in the story, trust me. It’s like trying to describe a movie or book in a few words: Game of Thrones is about dragons, ice-zombies, armies, and incest. Doesn’t do it justice.) The Doormen soon learned that it’s almost impossible to win a fight against angry spirits and their numbers began to dwindle. That’s all just backstory, though. The story itself focuses on one such Doorman’s lonely midnight patrol through the Dragon Flats Borough. He reflects upon his past as he preforms his duties, all while under the constant threat of death or worse. If all goes to plan, it should be pretty dark and tragic.
Now that Book Two has released, I get to use terms like post-Harmonic Convergence, era of Vaatu (instead of Gui), and dark spirits.
Is there anything you want to say to fans and/or lurkers?
First, thanks for reading or showing interest in this fanon! Feedback is always appreciated. It might not look like much now, but the story just might turn into something amazing. Or, it could all fall apart on me. I’m not sure which is most likely. Be sure to check back every few months as I make changes and improvements to existing chapters. Something that’s cringe-y now just might be intense or heartbreaking once I hone my skills.