Welcome to the second episode of Afterthoughts, a blog series in which I talk about the process of writing each of my releases. Today’s subject is MIST AND MEMORY, the second volume of The Heartwood Chronicles. Be aware that these posts are NOT spoiler-free.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: But why MIST AND MEMORY?
At the time I decided that MIST AND MEMORY would be my next release, I had three works-in-progress to choose from. Two of those–the last book in my most popular series and a standalone romantic fantasy–were the more commercial picks. And yet I went with MIST AND MEMORY, the latest installment in a story I don’t really know how to market. The reason? Besides the fact I am very fond of the characters and excited about where Heartwood is going, MIST AND MEMORY was the lowest-hanging fruit, the one book that was closest to publication. After two years of no new releases, I craved a win and thought the momentum from publishing would give me the energy I needed to complete my other books. So far, it seems to be working.
Okay, then what’s the deal with Naia’s magic?
Probably one of my biggest concerns was how readers would response to Naia’s magical arc. When you see her in the Whispering Winds arc, she is a competent wind mage whose real talent lies in manipulating water. When Troi gives her the figurative nudge to use the element most suited to her, Naia catches on right away, creating several serviceable water bridges (with Amber’s help) and water spheres.
And then along comes the Cloud Village arc, and suddenly Naia has lost control of both air and water. What gives? Why did I make Naia to struggle so much?
The answer lies in how I view magic in this story. To me, magic is creative potential and the use of it an art. And artists, no matter how experienced, can be blocked, and sometimes that block is psychological. For Naia, who grew up with certainties that have now been shaken (eg. “Kaidan mages only manipulate air”), who has struggled to fit into her society, it made sense that a period of re-evaluation would also be a time in which she was having a hard time with her magic.
The second reason is that doing magic is a human endeavor, and human learning can be messy and non-linear. I wanted to reflect some of the realities of learning a skill, where you may start out with a streak of beginner’s luck, then slump as you overthink what you’re doing, and finally climb upward through intentional practice. Uneven development is a thing. Humans are not machines. I didn’t want to write a magical arc as advancing through the levels of a video game.
Maybe this part of the story didn’t bother you. None of my betas found it to be a problem. But in case you were wondering, yes, I had my Reasons for writing Naia’s magical development the way I did.
What does it mean to be human? Whoa. Now we’re getting deep!
One of the questions I found myself exploring through Amber’s storyline is what it means to be human. Since arriving at Heartwood, Amber has had to readjust her expectations of normal and possible. She encounters super-powered mages who can survive great falls and explosions. She works with a boy whose difficult magic causes him to shift forms. And then she meets the embodiment of her own magic–who also happens to be her mirror image. How does Amber see these characters and respond to them?
This theme is not intentional. Nor is it uncommon. It rose organically from a story about a girl who leaves her ordinary world for a land full of marvels. Her encounters defy her expectations, as is true of any life journey.
Saving the important question for last: Why the cliffhanger?!
The original plan for Mirror Vale arc called for a neatly wrapped-up resolution. However, as I was nearing the end, my brain balked and refused to go any further. I went back to the drawing board and realized it’d be better to move into the next arc without giving my young mages a respite. I’d followed the adventure away-return home pattern a couple of times already, but now that things are getting serious with the Red Dawn, it made sense to keep ratcheting up the tension.
I have Thoughts about the next arc, tentatively titled Sky Island. There are a few different ways I can proceed, so I’m taking time to think them through.
And there you have it: the answers to questions you never knew you had! If there’s anything else you want to know about MIST AND MEMORY, leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed this installment of Amber and company’s story.