Telling a Different Kind of Love (and Death) Story by Sarah Chorn

Two of the prominent themes in Of Honey and Wildfires are love, and death. Love, for example, is such an interesting topic for me because it seems to typically either be romanticized or condemned. However, I have both had cancer, and I did my undergraduate internship in a cancer hospital, so I got to see, first hand, how complex and painful love can be. How hard it is to love someone, and be completely unable to do anything but watch them die. I understand the merciless cruelty of hopelessness and helplessness.

I wanted to try to tell a different kind of love story. The one that rarely gets told.

Love is not gentle. It is not soft. Love is the wildfire, and we walk into it over and over again, offering up our souls, and thanking fate when we get them back broken, sharp, and covered in char.  – Of Honey and Wildfires

In the first draft of this novel, I ended up giving Ianthe cancer, but one of my beta readers suggested that tuberculosis was probably more period-relevant and a lot of her symptoms were very TB-ish anyway, and so in my second draft in the book, Ianthe ended up with TB.

In order to write about TB, however, I had to do a whole lot of research about it.

Likely, when you think of TB in the Wild West, you’ll think of Doc Holliday, who notoriously had the disease while he was embroiled in many of his larger-than-life events. John Henry (AKA “Doc Holliday”) was born in August, 1851. He watched his mother succumb to a slow, wasting illness at the age of fifteen, and was later conferred a Doctorate of Dentistry in 1872. Shortly after that, Holliday was diagnosed with TB. Holliday was known as a drinker, a gambler, and could handle weapons and was ready to use them at a moment’s notice.

In May of 1887, Holliday was getting worse. He traveled to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to try breathing sulphur vapors, which was, at the time, believed to help those with TB. As it is stated on this website:

Tuberculosis, also known as “consumption” is a respiratory illness caused by breathing in bacteria. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can cause coughing (including coughing up blood), shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever, amongst other symptoms. TB is highly contagious, and is spread through droplets in the air. Currently, there are drug resistant strains of TB, and it is still considered a major deadly illness. However, antibiotics can be effectively used to treat some strains of TB.

Back in the 1800’s however, TB was a deadly disease, of which there was no cure, but a whole lot of hope for cures. Early on, when the West was still untamed and being explored, Colorado became known for being a place criminals went to hide out. However, as TB surged on the East Coast, some doctors believed that dry air, high altitude, and lots of sun would help treat the disease, if not cure it.

Starting in the 1860’s, people from all over began traveling to Colorado to undergo TB treatments there, to the point where entire towns were built around these treatment facilities. (Read more here)

Tuberculosis huts in Austin Bluffs, Colorado – from

In fact, Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a town that was built largely due to the influx of consumptive patients arriving at sanatoriums, looking for a cure. In the 19th century, consumption was the leading cause of death in America. Many people moved out West due to a faint hope that something could be done out there, that could not be done on the East Coast, and plenty of doctors were around with remedies that often delayed death, but did very little in the way of curing.

Penicillin wasn’t identified until 1929, but it proved to be ineffective against consumption. It wasn’t until the 1940’s when streptomycin was discovered that a cure was found. (more here)

However, at its peak, some estimated 60% of the people who lived in Colorado also had consumption. When you boil that down, that’s a huge number of consumptive individuals, and each one of them had family, people who loved them, who were suffering right alongside them while they suffered and died from an illness that, at least at the time, was incurable. That is a whole lot of pain felt by a whole lot of people.

1909 X-ray from the American Quarterly of Roentgenology of tuberculosis of the lung, from

So now that we’ve had the very brief bullet points of TB, perhaps I should address how I used some of my research in this book, and why, specifically, I decided Ianthe needed to have it.

First of all, I set this book in a sort of Wild West, though in a secondary world. A lot of the world building I did was based on where I live, which is Utah. Some of the mountains, the horizon scenes, the wide-open sky, all of that is based on what I look at when I stand in my back yard and look around. What I also know is that the big belief in the 1800’s was that the dry air, altitude, and sunny skies were believed to help the hearts and lungs work more effectively for patients with consumption, and what better place for all that, really, than right here? While Utah is not Colorado, we are neighbors, and share a lot of similarities in portions of our climates, so it wasn’t really a big leap to have consumptive patients and sanatoriums in Shine Territory, which is largely based off of where I live, geographically.

When Cassandra is learning that Ianthe has consumption, her parents discuss exploratory treatments for her, which were, if not cures, meant to prolong her life and ease her symptoms for some time. Ianthe, throughout the book, is undergoing some of these trial treatments, and except for the occasional flare up, they do help her. This is also based on my research. Most of what people thought of as treatments weren’t actually treatments at all. They did, however, often prolong the consumptive patient’s life, as well as its quality.

But more importantly, why did I feel like one of my main characters needed to be saddled with something like this?

I guess, in a lot of ways, it goes back to my days spent working in the cancer hospital, where I would see families coming and going, all of them facing mortality, and all of them dealing with the agony of loving someone who is sick. There are so many people out there, who every day, love so hard it hurts, and I really wanted to explore that connection, not just with Ianthe and Cassandra, but also Ianthe and her mother. Ianthe and the world around her.

Ianthe, in a lot of ways, is a bridge in the story between two different plot arcs, but more than that, I really wanted to explore one of the aspects of love that is hardly ever fully explored. Terminal illnesses, whether cancer or consumption, are never asked for. No one wants them, but they happen, and they happen mercilessly. One thing I learned in my life is that cancer is never just felt by one person. The entire family fights it. The entire family suffers and struggles. No one gets a choice, it’s just the way it is. And the more I looked into consumption pre-treatments, the more I realized that consumption was very similar to cancer. Imagine that at one point 60% of the population of Colorado had consumption, and every one of those people were part of a family, or had friends. Connections.

That’s a lot of pain, and a whole lot of loss.

Through Ianthe, I told the story of a lot of the people I have seen in my life, who are either looking their end in the face and loving in spite of that, or who are loving while losing the person they love. Love is not easy. Love is not soft. Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes loving is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Sometimes love requires a kind of strength you never knew you had, and I felt like that was a story that needed to be told in Of Honey and Wildfires.

About the Author

Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a writer and editor, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.

About the Book

Of Honey and Wildfires
by Sarah Chorn

From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.

What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.

The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.

Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.

If you missed it, you can read my 5-star review here

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