On Heart of Briar, and Writing a Character with Asthma, by Laura Anne Gilman

by Laura Anne Gilman, author of Heart of Briar (on sale now from Harlequin LUNA)

I never planned on writing Heart of Briar.  It wasn’t until Mary Theresa, my editor, asked about a new book that the idea of playing with the Tam Lin legend occurred to me. And once it landed, the idea wouldn’t go away.  There were so many ways I could run with it, without treading on things other people have already done so brilliantly…

The original conceit, that Tyler would be stolen via the very modern means of an online chat room, came to me almost instantly (Anyone who has ever dealt with on-line dating is probably nodding their head sagely about now).  And my elves were not going to be nice.  At all.

The addition of other creatures slid into place next – the time-of-duress treaty between supernaturals and humans against the preternatural elves gave the world layers and complications.  AJ and Martin started talking to me almost immediately.

[In fact, AJ wouldn’t shut up.  Once you meet him, this will not surprise you at all]

But my heroine, Jan?  Jan was an enigma to me at first.  I knew that she was a geek-girl, a techie, smart and capable.  I knew that she loved Tyler.  I knew that she had a streak of courage in her that even she didn’t understand, entirely.  But what made her that way?  What shaped her?  Until I understood that, the book went nowhere.

It wasn’t until I wrote the line “her chest felt tight, and she reached for her inhaler” that it came to me.  Jan – who would have to face down elves and kelpies, race into battle and run away from danger, fight monsters to save the world — had asthma.

Huh.  I tried to think if that had been done before, in contemporary fantasy, and couldn’t think of an example.  Which, really, was a shame, since so many people deal with it on a daily basis.  Okay, I thought.  This could be interesting.

I don’t have asthma, myself.  So I turned to friends and readers who did, asking them how it felt, what triggered it, how they dealt with it.  And every person came back with a slightly different story, but the same underlying response: it made them self-conscious.  It made them aware of their bodies, constantly monitoring their reactions, and forcing them to avoid things that might trigger them.

For Jan, it’s dust…and stress.  My heroine had been trained since childhood in all the ways not to be a hero.

So there I had a character who had, basically, trained herself to avoid stress, to back away from conflict and anything that might put her at risk for an attack.  And her character unfolded, the conflict of loyalty and caution, bravery and self-preservation.

Having a character with a chronic condition tends to inform the character – at first, rather obviously. There’s the risk of thinking “all right, what would she do here?” and “how can I use that there?”

But the fact that Jan needs her inhaler, that without her meds she’s at risk, were simply part of the character, the everyday things she has to deal with.  After a while it became a thing to keep track of, like any other element.  Just like all my friends, Jan’s asthma may have shaped her, but it didn’t define her.  Although, far as I know, most of my friends don’t also have to deal with almost getting killed by flesh-eating gnomes, drowned by a troll, abducted by elves, and arguing with a snarky but unsexy werewolf…..

 About Heart of Briar:

“He has been taken. And you are his only chance.” 

That wasn’t something Jan expected to hear—especially from strangers who’d just rescued her from some mysterious and ferocious creatures. And she really hadn’t expected her rescuers to be shape-shifters….

Now it turns out her boyfriend, Tyler, hasn’t gone missing, he’s been stolen—and Jan’s the only one who might be able to get him back.

From Elfland.

Yeah, Jan’s pretty sure the entire world’s gone crazy. Even if the shifters claim that the naturals (like her) and the supernaturals (like them) belong in this world…but the preternaturals, what humans call elves, don’t. And they’ve found a portal into our world. A doorway they can use to infiltrate, to take, to conquer.

And now Jan’s not just Ty’s only hope—she’s got to rescue humanity, as well….

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4 Responses to On Heart of Briar, and Writing a Character with Asthma, by Laura Anne Gilman

  1. Well now I really have to read this. I have had asthma for over 20 years and it definitely defines me days. I have found painfully few books and movies that get asthma, that accurately reflect it; most get the facts wrong and misrepresent it.

    I’m looking forward to reading this.

  2. Looking forward to reading Heart of Briar. It sounds delicious.

    “I tried to think if that had been done before, in contemporary fantasy, and couldn’t think of an example.”

    I did a heroine with asthma too (Extraordinary, a YA fantasy). I think there are more out there, for sure.

  3. Nancy W – excellent! It’s so widespread in the population now, it seemed crazy that no-one else had used it….

    (I’d put out a call on Twitter a few weeks ago asking if anyone could remember titles, when I couldn’t think of anything. I got some romances suggested, but no fantasy)

  4. Owlet by Emma Michaels has a young girl as the heroine and she has asthma. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14059271-owlet?ac=1