Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, the final book of the trilogy, is due out October 4, 2011. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at http://www.janicehardy.com/ , chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story ( http://blog.janicehardy.com/ ), or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.
Birth of a Book: The Story Behind The Shifter
By Janice Hardy
My fantasy adventure, The Shifter, started out as a pretty simple idea. What if someone could pull pain from one person and shift it into another?
There were a lot of evil uses I could think of for this skill, but I wanted to do a story about healers and explore the darker side of a magic that is almost always portrayed as a good thing. I started thinking about pain shifting. How exactly would it work? Maybe this was the way people treated illness and injury. A healer would pull pain from someone and put into something to store it.
Of course, that made me wonder what they’d store it in.
I created a magical metal called pynvium, which could be enchanted to hold pain. When someone was healed, their pain was taken away and then put into this metal.
The next question was easy--what would they do with all that pain-filled pynvium? They couldn’t just store it forever. They’d have to get rid of it somehow, like toxic waste.
Then it hit me—what if there was a darker side to healing? What if this society bought and sold pain just like any other goods?
That opened up a lot of new questions. If people were buying pynvium, then what were they buying it for? It seemed to me, that something full of pain would make a great weapon or a great defensive item. Imagine a burglar who sneaks through a window and gets zapped by a windowsill lined with a pynvium strip. Or a bracelet that would hurt anyone who tried to grab you? It didn’t take much to see there were a lot of interesting things I could do with pynvium.
But first, I needed someone who would sell these items and weapons. I just couldn’t see the same person who healed you, also selling something to hurt you. A person who would do that would be in it for themselves, maybe even part of the seedy underbelly of the healing world. I figured this group would be looked down upon by most people, and used only as a last resort.
I called these guys the pain merchants. They bought pain from the poor and used it to fill pynvium items that they then sold to the rich for a lot more money.
One of the things I liked about this situation is that any time someone is healed, that pain gets turned into something that could hurt others. I really loved that you could help someone, then turn around and use it to create something to hurt them.
Something was still missing from the story, though. I just didn’t know how my pain shifter fit into this world. I knew she was different, I knew her ability was rare and dangerous, and I knew she had to suffer because she could do it. I just didn’t have a clue how it all went together. But I was close.
Then one day I was flipping TV channels and came across a rerun of the show, Firefly. An important part of the show’s history is that there had been a war for independence and the heroes had been on the losing side. I knew instantly I’d found my missing piece.
What if my city had tried to rebel and been crushed? What if that city was still under occupation by enemy forces? And what if my pain shifter was an orphan from that war?
It all started to fall into place and Nya was born. An orphaned girl who could heal by shifting pain from person to person, but who couldn’t shift that pain into pynvium like a regular healer could. Because of this, she had no way to make a living and had to struggle every day just to find food and a place to sleep. It made her vulnerable to the pain merchants, who would happily take advantage of her ability. If anyone ever found out what she could do, they’d either lock her away or use her as a weapon against her own people.
I felt just making Nya poor wasn’t enough, she needed bigger challenges. So I gave her a lifelong dream to be a real Healer and work for the Healers’ League, even though she knew deep down they’d never let her join.
Since she couldn’t put pain into pynvium, she was useless to them. But I wanted her to know what she was missing, so I also gave her a younger sister, Tali, who has a normal healing skill and has just joined the League as an apprentice. Tali has all the things Nya wants, but can never have.
Nya naturally loves her sister, and has spent five years taking care of her after their parents were killed in the war. But she’s a little jealous because Tali’s life is so easy. Tali feels guilty because she knows she has what her sister wants, and there’s not much she can do to help her.
But I wasn’t done being mean to Nya. We all know that in any good story there’s a huge problem that has to be overcome. In The Shifter, Nya has two big problems. One, is that Tali disappears from the Healers’ League. Two, in order to save Tali, Nya has to do some things she knows are wrong—things that require her to use her shifting ability for the pain merchants. What made it even more interesting is that the bad things Nya does actually help people.
This is an aspect of the story I really liked. Putting good people in situations where they have to do bad things. Think about it…how many bad things can you do and still be considered a good person? Is there a line you can’t cross? And what if those bad things have a good result in the end? Does that make it okay, or is it still bad? These are all questions Nya faces and she doesn’t always have the right answers. It really puts her in some tough moral quandaries.
Luckily, Nya is the type of person who doesn’t let anything stop her, and she charges in without thinking when people she loves are in danger. This makes it easy to keep her up to her eyeballs in trouble.
I don't know about you all but gosh, that guest post sure has me wanting to read this trilogy even more! Thank you Janice for writing this. :D
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