This Red Business started with a lot of strange, central questions, but one has stuck out to me as something that needs addressing, that needs to be set in stone where people can see it. It is the central question that led to Pumpkin the Badger, an actual, honest-to-the Ash-and-Birch, North American badger. What happens to Awakened animals? What happens to animals gifted, or cursed as Pumpkin occasionally sees it, with sentience through no fault of their own? How do they confront life with senses, emotions, and instincts that countermand higher processes of reasoning? Essentially, I began my manuscript by asking what happened to Scrappy-Doo after the series ended. On such questions, my hopes are borne. Pumpkin spent her 26-ish years on the as-yet-unnamed planet of my secondary world stumbling through these and more.

Some clarifications are in order: Pumpkin the Badger is not anthropomorphic, and no furry beyond the stripes the gods gifted her. My sole concession lay in giving her opposable thumbs so Pumpkin could work her six-shooter a little easier and I wouldn’t have to break my brain figuring out how badger paws could manipulate objects. She is short, unrefined, tattooed, gruff, kind, angry, scared, filled with grit and curse words, and as human on the inside as I could possibly make her. On the outside, she is all badger. This choice opened up possibilities when writing. It gave me all sorts of excuses to focus on sensory details, on split-second decisions, to mirror the ways that my ADHD both helps and hinders me. It gave me an excuse for Pumpkin to have that deep-seated sense of longing for her family, her sett, that my Italian-American upbringing left in me. Pumpkin has forged her family in the way that I am still forging mine. Through Pumpkin, I could engage all five senses. Her hearing is acute. Her sense of smell often drives her to distraction. Sometimes she can zero in visually on the most important, salient detail.

Pumpkin’s long years in the wilderness are like mine, a soul-searching that brought me back to where I started, to family and to community. I tried to go this alone before, to stubbornly ram my head through publishing until I became some sort of author and vanquished imposter’s syndrome. That got me nowhere, worse than nowhere. Pumpkin and I try to learn from our mistakes, to get better, to keep putting one foot or one paw in front of the other. So I’m trying to build my community now. Friends, family, acquaintances, idols. A constellation of support to sustain me in dark times. You, my dearest reader, are part of that constellation, shining just over there.

Other questions lurk throughout the manuscript, decision points that allowed me to twist and turn the typical fantasy tropes, to create a world where Pumpkin could exist, a world centered on the huldufolk, the helpful people who often go invisible, but are always there. I built a world centered on gnomes and dwarves because I could. This is a world of muskets, badgers, bigfoots, fairies, dragons, emotional stakes, gods, family, and the tall, tall trees of the Pacific Northwest. At its heart are human stories, where the choices of individual characters affect the world around them. This Red Business is a place where I could answer what happened to Scrappy-Doo after the show ended.