Writing about terminal illness is a big challenge. While I was able to draw and extrapolate somewhat from my previous experiences with infertility, I do not personally have experience battling a life threatening illness. I was fortunate to have a sensitivity reader who did have personal experience with terminal illness read the book and offer very insightful feedback.
First, she advised me to introduce more moments of joy into the lives of the rosemarked. While it’s true that terminal illness is a very difficult thing, people are resilient and able to find pockets of light even amidst the sorry. The glimpses of festival celebrations inside the rosemarked compound, as well as several of Mehtap’s harp playing scenes, were added as a direct result of this feedback.
In my earlier drafts, I unwittingly spent a lot of time talking about how the rosemarks and umbermarks looked. My reader gently reminded me that there was a lot more to the disease than its aesthetics. So upon revision, I added more about what the rosemarks meant to Zivah herself, and how they impacted her life.
Another thought my reader had was about how Zivah’s family reacted to her disease. In earlier drafts, I had Zivah’s family pleading with her not to try such foolhardy cures. But actually, it’s often the family who pushes hardest for the cure, sometimes even after the patient itself has resigned herself to never recovering.
One thing which I was nervous about but my reader ended up liking were my big emotional scenes. For example, the scene where Dineas accuses Zivah of toying with him to fulfill her fantasies of living a normal life and she finally loses her temper at him. Also the scene in the Emperor’s garden where she shares her fears about love and death. I was worried that they would be melodramatic and romanticizing illness, but those scenes got the thumbs up.