This was longer ago than I care to remember, but when I wrote the original description for Michiko, I based it on what memories I had of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. The staff was part of that first description, and has stayed pretty much the same. Michiko herself, however, was much tamer. Her hat was yellow then, her jacket was all yellow with no color trim, and she wore black boots.
I carried this description over to the first drafts of the book, but I found Michiko herself changing. She lost a level of boastfulness and name-calling, though it hasn't gone away completely. Her core personality evolved into the cute, sweet, caring, smart-aleck butt-kicker we now know. Still, when I handed off the descriptions to Willow for the initial sketches for the cover, I kept Michiko's look the same. (I didn't mention the boots, since we had originally discussed a 3/4 pose instead of full body, but everything else was there.)
Willow's original sketch for Michiko came back they way I had wanted, with karate shoes, and while it was good, it lacked something. She needed to be cuter and smiling, less serious, but I also realized that Michiko looked bland. Drab. Boring. And while Michiko may be many things, boring is not one of them. And since I had described her that way, it was my fault.
So, I asked Willow (apologetically, since I should have seen it in the first place) for a few changes to liven Michiko up, involving adding red. (I'd done the online research on images of Sun Wukong at that point, and he always seemed to be wearing something red, so it was a natural.) I mentioned changing the color of the hat to red, adding a red trim to her jacket, changing her karate shoes to red high-top sneakers, and maybe adding something else splashy...like a red belt or sash.
Which is why my jaw dropped when I saw this second sketch. I hadn't mentioned a scarf. I hadn't even thought about one. But Willow did.
With that, Michiko now had a distinct look, flashy but not too overdone. I loved it the moment I saw it, to the point where when Willow tried to shorten the scarf in a later sketch, I told her to keep it long. Why mess with the coolest scarf since Dylan on the cover of Blonde on Blonde, or maybe since the Fourth Doctor was passing around the Jelly Babies?
I went back to my draft of the first book and happily revised Michiko's description. Then, I tried to find other places to work in the scarf, and when I found one, I realized that I needed to do a better job with explaining what Beth was thinking at that point, so I did some rewriting. You may have read these paragraphs from Chapter Two in the online preview on Amazon but I'm still going to repeat them here, because at the risk of being boastful, I think this came out really good:
The Monkey Queen smiled. "I need you, Beth. How would you like to help me save the world?"
Beth had not expected to hear that. "M-m-me?" she said.
Beth stared at Michiko. She saw the scarf drifting in the evening breeze, Michiko's smile, the excitement and joy in the Monkey Queen's eyes. The geek girl part of Beth stirred, the part that wanted to chase Golden Snitches, stand with the Browncoats, ride on the Catbus, the part that wanted to take the wheel of an airship and set a course for the second star to the right. And that part almost said, When do we start? But the realistic side of her spoke up first.
"Michiko, I don't know," Beth said. "I'm no hero. I'm not a fighter or a wizard. I'm just a college student. Okay, maybe I'm a college student who's read every Discworld book and watches way too much Doctor Who, but I'm nothing special. The only things I'm good at are sewing cosplay outfits, diagramming sentences and finding plot holes in bad movies."
"Seems like you're qualified to me," Michiko said.
"But it sounds dangerous...it sounds crazy...oh, this is all too much." Beth shook her head.
"Maybe it is, but do you know something, Beth?"
"You haven't said 'no' yet." Michiko grinned and winked.
I know I sometimes overdo it when I praise Willow. (I'm surprised she hasn't told me to tone it down already!) But I will always be grateful that an inspiration she had inspired me in turn. I'm glad that she gave Michiko a scarf, and I'm glad that I get to work with Willow.
(Let me know in the comments if you like these behind the scenes posts; they're a bit more time-consuming than most, so your feedback is appreciated. Next week: How characters can catch you by surprise.)