Trivia: The Healers’ Purpose

(contains spoilers)

0.5: It doesn’t have a dedication on purpose. Book 1 had a serious dedication, book 2 had a wacky (though heartfelt) one, and book 3 doesn’t have one. It was released near the first anniversary of a family member’s death, and so for me, that’s the dedication in itself. That family member hated being talked about in general and on the internet in particular, so even saying this is a little bit … questionable, but I’ll take responsibility for that, and leave it there.

1. IT TOOK FOREVER, and stressed me out a lot because it took forever. 

I started this book shortly after the second one was finished, in 2016. Probably two years frittered away as I tried to figure out what to do with A&K’s relationship. There was a draft where they parted ways, but I did not have the “be as cruel to your characters as possible” spirit to finish it. There were a few where Kei moved out for most of the book, which I still think would be a healthy thing to do in that situation, but it felt contrived. I wrote flash-forward shorts for as many scenarios as I could imagine and tried to decide which one felt right for the characters.

Ultimately, I attempted to thread the needle: instead of resolving the “romance or friendship” question, I wanted to shape the story so that the question wasn’t answered and in a way, no longer mattered. An Option C, if you will. I did some reading on queerplatonic relationships, and while I’m not sure that label is appropriate for these characters, those readings helped to inform the direction the characters took. (Some people use the term quasiplatonic, so there’s that, too.)

Meanwhile, the “outside conflict” took shape, pulling in influences from real-life medical history, particularly the Broad Street cholera outbreak of 1854 and the story of Ignaz Semmelweis clashing with physicians of the era over hygiene practices. (Both of which happened in the 1850s. Someday I will have to kick the hornet’s nest of “when we are” in this series. It has its own history, okay?)

In the draft that resulted, an outbreak of a lightly fictionalized version of typhoid fever rolled through Wildern. Since scientific discovery in the story-world hasn’t yet reached the point of adopting germ theory, no one realizes that it’s caused by water-borne microorganisms. The healers investigate its source partly for Science! and partly because they’re being blamed for it, as are the new immigrants from Yanwei.

This draft was written mostly in 2018-2019, and while editing in late 2019, the sense of “oh, let’s… not, after all” started to rise. By March 2020, I finally decided to scrap the draft.

A lot of that draft survived; the healers still had Science! to do, Agna still worked herself to a standstill via catching a more ordinary flu, and there was still tension between adherents of different healing traditions. But the Big Ticking Clock got dismantled. Instead, I picked up elements of mass hysteria incidents in history to introduce the Tufarians’ magic loss, and eventually managed to come up with a Big Dramatic Incident that attempted to tie together Agna’s and Keifon’s storylines.

The last piece to fall into place was Agna’s losing her own magic. Up until the bitter end, Agna actually worked herself into being sick, a remnant of the epidemic plot, and the Tufarian priests were the only ones who lost their magic. It was a forehead-slap kind of moment when I realized that we could just combine those two plot points.

Ultimately, I probably wrote twice as many words as made it into the final draft, including several iterations of breakups and Relationship Talks, a whole section of Agna getting hospitalized with the sickness she now doesn’t get, more stuff in the lab including a part where a new healer (who now doesn’t exist) makes up a theme song for feuding science nerds Ettore and Alme, and the full text of that side trip in Ceien where A&K attend a professional wrestling match and find that one wrestler’s character is a political-commentary parody of Kazi.

But we eventually made it.

1.5. There were originally six new healers, and more emphasis on the “rich/noble families getting their kids out of Dodge” subplot. It was also a clearer catalyst for Agna’s promotion to team lead. However, most of the kids had only one or two featured scenes and beta readers found them difficult to tell apart, so I culled the herd by half. (In retrospect, the older healers are still a bit of a herd, but Agna is called out as the 7th addition to the team in book 2. Stuck for now.)

2. The expat party at Tai’s parents’ house was written as part of book 2 and moved later because it broke up the flow of that book. Kei puts off going far too long as a result, but I think it fits better here. It also allowed for A&K to get to know Tai and Whalen earlier — they were originally introduced at the party, and that’s less fun than having them build a friendship. (plus, you know, Kei’s themes in this book, etc. etc.)

(There were also nearly a dozen drafts of the party alone, affected by what else was going on in the story.)

3. Apparently someone goes on a trip 3/4 of the way through every book? I enjoyed Ceien. I’ve spent a lot of time developing Wildern as a setting, and it was fun to catapult out of that and just make some stuff up without worrying about my nemesis, continuity. Also, it was fun introducing some ambiguity about whether dragons used to exist in this world. Did they? Do they still, somewhere? Are they just dinosaurs? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

4. Before I write anything in Wildern again, I will need to finish mapping it. (See above re: nemesis.)

5. Playlists: The music I vibe with is generally based on a mood rather than genre or lyrical theme. Book 3’s most frequent writing music was A Moment Apart by ODESZA. Beyond that, there were the “chill” playlists so popular as sonic wallpaper. And I got back to making actual playlists with book 3, which was fun to listen to on commutes. Otherwise, it was back to game soundtracks: this time the rotation included Abzû, Coffee Talk, Donut County, and Unpacking, along with Hades for the fire chapters.