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  • Writer's pictureA. A. Vora

A Tale of Two Babies

Content & trigger warning: this post contains mentions of infertility and miscarriage.

My mother always tells me that everything—good or bad—happens for a reason. To go with the flow. That any suffering in my life that I perceive as undue or unfair is a result of my past karma, and my job is to simply weather it best as I can. I try to believe this philosophy and maintain a positive outlook, although I can’t say that I’m always successful. But one thing I think I’ve been successful at is using writing as a catharsis, putting my pain down on paper and letting myself heal through my stories and characters.

Now I admit that I’ve lived a blessed life, and in no means is this post meant to be a kind of sob story. But I want to talk about a particularly difficult couple years, during which my husband and I were dealing with an infertility diagnosis, severe endometriosis, surgery, multiple miscarriages, IVF… all that fun stuff. How personal disappointments and (perceived) failures shaped my upcoming novel, SPIN OF FATE. And how finally, after years of struggle, my book baby and human baby ended up coming into the world together.

Maybe you’ll find this post mildly intriguing. Maybe you’ll find it resonates. Maybe you’ll find you’re not remotely interested in these topics, or would rather avoid reading about them. But this is a story I’ve always wanted to tell—and I think now I’m finally feeling brave enough to tell it.

So what does infertility and miscarriage have to do with a YA fantasy novel? Good question. There are three main elements in my book that were influenced by what was happening in my personal life.

First and most significant is the character of Meizan. SPIN OF FATE has 3 POV characters—Aina, Aranel, and Meizan—all of whom have an equal chapter count. To briefly summarize each of them…

  • Aina grew up in the lower realm of Malin, where she and her mother were runaways living in destitution and danger. One day, Aina accidentally ascended to the idyllic upper realm of Mayana. Rather than enjoy her peaceful new life, Aina’s goal is to descend to Malin so she can reunite with her mother.

  • Aranel lived a sheltered and plentiful life in Mayana. Despite his privileged upbringing, he is extremely insecure about his status and wants to do better for society; which leads him to accept a perilous secret mission in Malin where he will spy for the powers-to-be.

  • Meizan is one of the last surviving members of Kanjallen, Malin’s most powerful warrior clan. The rest of his clanmates were either been captured, or worse. Meizan doesn’t give a shit about ascending—he just wants to free his clanmates and survive another day.

When I queried the draft that would later become SPIN OF FATE, only Aina and Aranel were part of the main cast. Meizan didn’t exist, even as a character in my head. My agent Jon gave me some suggestions for revision, none of which included adding a new character. But while I was revising, I experienced a rather harrowing miscarriage.

That particular pregnancy had progressed further than any of my others. Due to timing and other factors, it was the one which I felt most certain would succeed… and the one that devastated me the most when it didn’t.

You know how sometimes, when you’re confronted with news so shocking and debilitating, your brain sort of short-circuits and doesn’t know how to respond? So it ends up responding in the most weird, inappropriate way that has nothing to do with how you’re actually feeling?

Well, that’s what happened when my doctor gave me my miscarriage diagnosis. The Japanese word for miscarriage is ryuuzan (流産). And my brain’s entirely unsolicited thought when my doctor uttered that word was to go, “Hey, Ryuuzan would be a really cool name for a character”. (It most definitely would not).

I ended up taking a week off work to deal with the aftermath. I remember crying on the phone to my mother, who comforted me being saying that 'this is all destiny' and 'souls only enter a body when they are ready to be born' and 'it’s unfortunate, but have faith that things will happen when they’re meant to'.

I kept repeating these words to myself to try and work my way through the grief. And I had a couple horrible nightmares about a little boy who would never be born. And after discussing all of it with my husband, somehow those thoughts and phrases both disassociated and combined into the idea of a little boy who was born to an unfortunate destiny. Which in Japanese could be phrased as 'zankoku na unmei ni umareta ko' (残酷な運命に生まれた子).

And from that phrase—'zankoku na unmei', which means unfortunate destiny—the idea of Meizan was born. A boy born to misfortune. A boy who, some might say, never should have been born. The respective kanji (命残) don’t exactly translate in Japanese, where readings and interpretations can vary. Although they could if you wanted them to, since you’re allowed to assign almost any reading to kanji characters when it comes to given names.

Please note that I am not trying to imply here that Meizan is some sort of manifestation of the baby I miscarried—because I categorically do not think anything along those lines. But in those miserable weeks after my diagnosis, and following the actual miscarriage, I buried myself in revisions to escape from all the… well, all the everything. And Meizan’s character sort of wrote itself, and ended up being a favorite of both my agent and editor.

The second element has to do with a main character’s struggle with magic. Every human born to the SPIN OF FATE universe is capable of a magic ability called channeling, wherein, simply put, they can connect to and use the ‘soul’ of the environment around them to perform tasks—similar to nature chakra usage in NARUTO. Channelers can walk on water, shape rock, control fire, fly on swords… all those cool things. For a vast majority, channeling comes as naturally as breathing.

But one MC struggles throughout the course of the book. Even their basic channelings end in failure, and they find themselves unable to properly function in a world where everyone else channels without a thought. There is a reason for this, which I won’t reveal here because of spoilers. But said character experiences substantial frustration and anger—because why is that they alone seem incapable of doing what comes so easily to others? In a universe where channeling is almost akin to a fundamental biological process, how is it fair that they’re consistently denied the chance to succeed, and for no fault of their own?

You can probably guess how this connects to my thoughts on my infertility diagnosis. It took me a surgery, lots of medication, and IVF to finally carry a pregnancy to completion. But during all the ‘no’s and the ‘almost’s, I remember feeling so deeply angry—with myself, with my body, and with the universe for the injustice of it all. Why was it that others found it so easy to have multiple babies, yet I could hardly get a single fetus to survive? Why had I been denied this ability to reproduce, a biological ability of humankind? I admit these thoughts were unhealthy and toxic, but I had them at the time. And I dealt with them by giving my character a sort of channeling infertility.

There’s actually more here—related to comorbidities, surgeries, and how things that seem like curses can work out to be boons—but I won’t get into that until well after SPIN OF FATE publishes.

The third element is a lot simpler and has to do with SPIN OF FATE’s title. You see, my journeys to birthing a book baby and an actual baby sort of happened in tandem. My period of consecutive miscarriages coincided with a slew of agent rejections. I signed with my agent around the time I started my IVF egg retrieval process. My book deal offer came right before I had surgery. The contract finalization and first round of payments happened during my egg insertion (if the order of those things confuses you… it’s a long story, but I had to have a surgery post-retrieval and pre-insertion). So it seemed like my book and baby were kind of destined to not happen together… and then happen together.

Now finalizing the title for SPIN OF FATE took a good 9 to10 months—basically the course of my (successful) pregnancy. There was a long chain of mails between my editor, agent, and I. We’d brainstormed over fifty titles, which had also been discussed internally at Putnam. We simply couldn’t agree on any (for anyone interested, my personal preference was SPIN OF OUR SOULS) and it was taking way too long.

Then, a couple days before my baby’s due date, I started experiencing contractions. They got pretty intense, so we checked-in at the hospital one night. I was, for reasons that are now beyond my comprehension, determined on having an unmedicated birth (I think it had something to do with the whole ‘child bed is our battlefield’ thing from HotD + living with severe endometriosis for over a decade having convinced me I had an extremely high pain tolerance—hah!).

During those torturous hours at night when I couldn’t sleep, I received another email about titles from my editor (because, time zones). I replied suggesting SPIN OF FATE. I still don’t know why, because I had never liked that title when it was on the shortlist. But in a hazy, pain- and hormone- induced delirium, I fired over the email.

The next morning, my editor replied saying the team loved it, and yes, finally we have a title we all agree on! At the time I was still only 4-5 cm dilated, which meant there was no guarantee things would progress that same day. But my book finally had a name, and given how all my successes and failures had aligned in the past… I was convinced it was a sign that my baby, too, would enter the world and claim their name on that very day.

And guess what? I had to be induced for medical reasons (and also ended up begging for a last-minute epidural because the pain was bloody unbearable, and I really should have taken it the previous night). So, after everything during my labor proceeded in a manner almost entirely antithetical to my childbirth plan… my baby ended up born on the same day we finalized SPIN OF FATE’s title. Coincidence much? I like to think of it as destiny.

There’s a fourth point, that’s actually related to my after-birth experience. I had pretty bad postpartum anxiety, and spent the first couple nights in the hospital an absolute emotional wreck. My brain kept concocting the most ridiculous scenarios about how my baby might fall sick or get hurt, might suffer, might—well, I won’t get into it, but they were some pretty dark and irrational thoughts that refused to leave me alone. There’s a character in SPIN OF FATE who talks a bit about their child in one of the last few chapters. And that entire monologue was basically my thoughts, sort of verbatim, one night when I was dealing with postpartum anxiety and thought the best way to deal was… whip out my phone and type it all out? Things got infinitely better once I was out of the hospital and back home, and everything now is as normal and happy as it can be. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Well, that’s it. I may come back and update the second point a year or so from now. But in the meantime, if there’s anything I learned from this entire experience, it’s this: writing is my catharsis. My escape. My therapy. I first started writing as a destressing exercise to help myself power through an intense corporate job. And since life is full of ups and downs, I’ll keep writing—especially during the downs.

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