PMC Spoilery Things Pt. 3
It's time for the heavy.
When I first wrote Valerian, it was back in a world where 'content warning' didn't exist and we casually rated books like we do movies: PG, PG-13, and R. At least, on the site where it was written, we did. Back then, I would have considered book 3 of the PMC to be at around PG-13. It had mild swearing and violence.
When Valerian was published, content and trigger warnings were still not normal. But if I were to publish it today, the one thing I would ensure was in the front of it is this: Content Warning: Explicit Depictions of Self-Harm
I don't know what else might need to be added to that, but those are the two things I think of now that I never had to think about back then.
To be honest, I would not say that Valerian is the darkest book I've ever written. I have listed on my Twitter that I write a lot of murder-happy MCs and I'm not lying. Yet, I will admit that writing Valerian was harder because of how deep into her own hurt Lex is. As someone who suffers with the many faceted faces of depression regularly, it was both an act of relief and an exercise in masochism to write this book.
Writing the dedication was probably the hardest part, though. How do you take a book filled with nothing but pain and hurt and dedicate that to someone you love? I couldn't do it. I had to dedicate it to myself. At least I knew I could relate.
I'm happy, in a way, to say that this is the darkest Lex goes in the entire series. I'm proud of her for overcoming it. And a little horrified at how far she took it in the first place. But she survived her way, and I can't begrudge her for the choices she made.
This is where I feel the need to stress that the creation and the creator are not one in the same. Lex's battle with her grief is very little like my war with depression. We are not the same. What we've endured in our lives are entirely separate circumstances, and we see a lot of things differently.
Lex is not, in any way, a self-insert, fantasy wish-fulfillment character. In my mind, she's a person. Her own person, with her own life, her own problems, and a woman who endures until she finds a solution. Honestly, I could go on a full on tirade on how different we are from each other, but I just don't feel like it. If you can't take my word for it, then you'll be pretty shocked if you ever meet me in person and realize we have very little in common.
Though, I will say that the one thing we both despise (and rightfully so) is the mistaken impression that Romeo & Juliet is a freaking romance instead of a tragedy. (God, I hate that stupid play and every single person in there deserved the ending they got.)
In regards to self-harm, I know I don't have to explain it. But I'm still not sure 'suicidal ideation' is the right phrase for what Lex encounters. There's no depiction of a suicide or its attempt in this book (unlike Oleander, which also could've used a Content Warning). What it has, however, is a lot of discussions around suicide and the reasons for committing it, including with a ghost who took his own life. Ideation seems an appropriate word for this, since it can still be a sensitive subject for other readers.
To refocus this a little more on Lex, I would say that this book is a monument of her grief. It is grief that she's feeling. Not depression. Yes, there's a difference. Yes, Lex knows it. No, there are no limits regarding grief. It doesn't end at a certain time, or take the form of constant weeping and lamentation. Sometimes it appears as an unquenchable rage and you just have to ride it out. For Lex, she became her wrath and she didn't care who she consumed.
Rox was always meant to be her foil. Not as someone who took the rage into herself, but as someone who forced her to tone it down out of pure human decency and consideration.
Rox reminded Lex how to be human. She reminded her why she should bother to remember. She reminded her that she could still laugh and enjoy things and that it wasn't somehow a betrayal to those who are gone. She even pointed out that she could love again. My point, of course, is that Rox's role cannot ever be overstated. From the very first painful draft, Rox has been at the center as a way for Lex to recalibrate what life, love, and family mean to her.
She's also unique in that she is enduring her own grief while simultaneously battling depression. So, with Gage to act as the depression scale, and Lex to represent grief, you get a slight glimpse into the life of someone who has to deal with both at the same time. There are days where it's three steps forward, and the next you take six back. Rox embodies this and I kind of wish she was appreciated more–especially by me.
Gage is another character that I don't discuss much, and I think that's because Lex was so dismissive of him. There's not a lot we learn about him, but some of the most pivotal moments happen simply because he exists. That's his role. To bring together those that otherwise would have gone on alone and ignorant. I cannot overstate Rox's significance enough, but nor can I downplay Gage's.
If I'm being honest, I don't remember much about writing the second draft of Valerian. It came out in this whole, big chunk. Kind of like Lex saying, "Here! This is what really happened, you idiot." (Because, yes, the first draft really was that horrendous.)
The only scenes that I really remember that fit closely with the first draft are everything that happens once Lex sees Matt again. I remember writing that in the first draft, wondering as I was typing if it was Nathan waiting for her. When she said Matt's name, I was shocked, because I thought I'd left him behind in Oleander for good. Then he showed up in such a way that it was so organic and absolutely something he would do.
Everything that happened after Matt's sudden reappearance needed to happen. To get Lex right with herself, she needed to lash out so badly that only she could take the hit for it. The visions in the coma were the only things that didn't always match up. Not the least of which was the part concerning Mary Sullivan.
You see, in the original drafts, Mary Sullivan showed up in only two books: Ivy and Avens. Nowhere else. So, as an author stretching out this one mystery through this one young woman's life, I took a creative liberty and made her relive something that would break her heart more than a little.
I regret nothing.
Lex needed that, too. That reminder that her heart could break more than it already had. And the realization that happiness was still possible, so long as she knew where to look for it.
I also believe I created the timeline during the writing of the second draft, more or less to track how many scars Lex acquired. (Yes, I counted up each and every day, several times, to make sure I got it right. Even Leap Day.) Which, of course, triggered the need to do the timelines for the other novels. And I've been doing them ever since; even in my fantasy novels with made-up calendars.
So, to wrap this up as much as I am able, here is the timeline for Valerian:
July 19, 2002: Lex burns the first ivy leaf in her arm at midnight
July 27, 2002: Lex chops off all of her hair and dyes it black
August 2, 2002: Lex gets her nose pierced
June 30, 2003: Lex gets her tattoo
September 9, 2003: Lex burns an oak leaf in her arm (427th scar); gets held back in class; sees Nathan; garners interest from Rox; learns Gage’s name
September 10, 2003: Lex burns an ivy leaf by her elbow; argues with Gage; Rox dyes Lex’s hair
September 11, 2003: High dosage of valerian; argues with Gage, psychology teacher offers number for therapist and calls her house to confirm; argument with parents and Gage
September 12, 2003: Lex wakes up heartsick; spends a silent day with Rox; talks to Gage about the choices he made and why
October 13, 2003: Lex dreams of Nathan at her house; her grief calls up a thunderstorm; tells Rox about Morgan’s suicide (454th scar)
December 19, 2003: Lex and Rox talk about soulmates (521 scars)
December 20, 2003: Lex learns her dad might be deployed
January 8, 2004: Rox re-dyes Lex’s hair (541 scars)
January 9, 2004: Mr. Middleton confronts Lex for the last time
January 30, 2004: Lex lays it out for Gage and waits for him to come to his senses (563 scars)
February 14, 2004: Gage figures it out; Lex confronts Rox; reveals the truth (578 scars)
February 29, 2004: Gage says goodbye and moves on (593 scars)
April 6, 2004: Lex attacks Matt and falls into a coma (630 scars)
July 18, 2004: sideways hourglass is burned inside of her wrist; envisions Mary and William; it changes to a vision of her saying goodbye to Nathan (733 scars)
August 13, 2004: Lex wakes up from her coma; burns valerian on her arm (it’s a Friday the 13th) (759 scars)
August 27, 2004: Lex’s family leaves Oceanside