Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about "gestation". No, not how John and
Aeryn begat a kid. We know that part. I am referring to how this particular story (Birthright)
came into existence inside my head and what stray thought was responsible for catching the
interest of the Youses Muses Gang.
I am going to start with the boring stuff. Chronology. If you take a look at when Birthright was
first posted, you will discover that it was written a few months after the announcement that
Farscape had been cancelled. In fact, with the exception of Body Guard, it was the FIRST
totally original, decent length story that I wrote after the cancellation. I know that if you take a
quick run through the Chronological Listing of my stories, it does not appear that way. There
seems to be quite a few stories in between; but I had not truly been clobbered by the Youses
Muses Gang until the day they dumped Birthright into my brain and then ran off laughing
hysterically, leaving me to figure out how to commit the story to paper.
The Vote and Lost Porkie are both very short, and were the result of impromptu challenges. Child
of the Night was already completed. It had been written as sort of the literally equivalent of a
guilty pleasure, and was hanging out on my computer, not scheduled to be shared with the
public. If it had not been for the cancellation, and the Youses Muses Gang declaring a period of
mourning during which they refused to come up with new story ideas, there is a good chance I
never would have shared Child of the Night. Moving on down the Chronological Listing, we come
to Heaven's Gate. Once again, a majority of that story had already been written. I had run
headlong, at a high rate of speed, into a dead end. I also did not like the direction the plot was
taking, and had therefore tossed it into my "junk pile" directory. When the Youses Muses Gang
made themselves scarce, I pulled out Heaven's Gate, dusted it off, changed the direction of the
story somewhat, and finished it off.
I would like to claim that Guard Duty broke the fic-drought. The only problem is the length. It is
relatively short ... by my standards. I consider it more of a vignette than a full-blown story.
Which means that the drought was not over.
Once Upon A Microt is yet another response to a challenge, and is fairly short and light-weight.
There is nothing wrong with light-weight, except that at the time I was still waiting for the Youses
Muses Gang to end their self-imposed sabbatical and get back to work. This was not the sort of
thing that indicated an end to the Muses Vacation.
Then came Birthright. At last. A longer story, with some heft to it. The Youses Muses Gang was
It all started with the ending. Yes, I know. What can I say? I often come up with the end
of the story first. After all, how can you know where a story is supposed to be heading if you do
not know the destination?
As I talk about creating Birthright, try to keep in mind that we (all of Scaperdom) were going into
the last 11 episodes of Farscape ... ever. While the second half of Season 4 was one heck of a
ride, as promised, it was incredibly bittersweet because we knew it was the end of the show. Even
when I was laughing at something in one of the episodes, I was also permanently close to tears. I
was desperately clinging to the idea that John and Aeryn would always be out there, in the
Uncharted Territories, fighting, loving, arguing, laughing, and raising a family. I needed to believe
that they would always be there.
That's where Birthright began.
John pointed into the night sky. “Look up. We’ll always be there. Even if you can’t see us, we’ll be
there.” ... There was a swirling flicker of a black overcoat, and then they were gone except for the sound
of their feet rustling through the drifts of autumn leaves and the echoes of their laughter as John and
Aeryn hurried into the dark, following their son to their place in the stars.
This moment was the first one to come into existence. I think you can see why. I would have
given almost anything to have John and Aeryn show up at my back door some autumn evening
and say this to me. That was never going to happen, so it became a piece of a story instead. But
it's very clearly an ending, not a beginning. This is the quintessential "not the right place to
start". So there I was, poised in front of my computer, needing an entire story to put in front of
it. Within a matter of microts, it became a story involving Jack. With rustling leaves, it had to
involve Earth, and if it involved Earth, Jack was going to be in there somewhere, especially
considering that line of dialogue from John.
The next piece of the story arrived in the form of a question: What if at some point in the future,
John contracted an Earth-based health problem that no one in the Uncharted Territories had ever
seen before? Where did that idea come from? The Youses Muses Gang. That is as close to an
answer as you are going to get. It is always the fault of the YMG.
There it is. That is the gestation of Birthright. The last few lines, and an illness. Everything else
is nothing more than letting those two seeds grow, and then adding prose until I had a full-blown
story to post.
The one remaining hurdle to clear before I could get the story written was figuring out what was
wrong with John. Initially, I tried cancer. It did not work. I cannot explain why. It just didn't. So
I switched to Alzheimer disease. That worked. It packed an enormous emotional punch, and fit in
very well with the existing repetitive theme of everyone messing with John's head. It was
Farscape, it was dramatic, it was heart-wrenching, and it was an unbelievably cruel thing to have
happen to John, Aeryn, Ian, Jack, and everyone else around them.
Two things about using Alzheimer's in the story. First of all, at the time that I wrote Birthright, I
had never come in contact with anyone with the disease. If I had, I'm not sure I could have
written the story that way. In the years since I wrote the story, my mother has developed
Alzheimer's. She is currently in late mid-stage, and progressing relatively quickly into end stage.
If she had begun showing signs of the illness prior to 2002, I doubt I would have chosen to inflict
it on John. I would have either taken another route or not written the story at all.
Which leads to my second comment about Birthright and Alzheimer's.
I got it wrong. Seriously. I did my best, I did a fair amount research about the progression of the
disease, and I got it wrong.
I need to put a qualification on this. Every person who develops Alzheimer's is different. The
disease is incredibly random, and manifests itself in as many different ways as there are patients
afflicted with it. So there may be readers out there who have loved ones exhibiting precisely the
behaviors I had John display in the story. But overall, based on the typical progression of the
disease, what I described is not accurate. As a result, I can still go back and re-read Birthright
without turning into an emotional mess.
I have another story, however, in which I describe Alzheimer's correctly -- absolutely, horrifically,
devastatingly correct ... in reverse. In this other instance, it was entirely by accident. I had no
idea what I was doing at the time. I was making stuff up, with no intention of trying to mimic an
Earth-based disorder or disease.
If you want to know what Alzheimer's is like for the patient and the family, if you want to
understand the frustration, the outbursts, the anguish, the work involved, the relentless slow
progression of the disease, then read Child of the Night. What John goes through is Alzheimer's
in reverse, dismantling a human being's ability to function and care for themselves one small step
at a time, often without rhyme or reason, until their body eventually fails, and they are left trapped
with nothing but their own disorganized thoughts, incapable of assembling the pieces into a
coherent whole. It is all there, right down to how, in the moments when he is most injured, John
has one single familiar piece of information that he clings to, that provides an anchor in the midst
of the confusion.
The only difference between the story and real life is that John is getting better, not worse.
Not exactly the most cheerful way to end a wingnut, I'm afraid. There is an interesting lesson
about writing tucked away in there, however. Sometimes a writer manages to inject patterns or
themes or symbolism or hidden meanings into a story unintentionally. In some instances, it may
be their subconscious at work, doing a better job of being creative than the writer herself. Other
times, it is just what I described here: an accident. Here's to more accidents ... but only the ones
with happy endings.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *