The Alt Ending of All the Birds in the Sky (Part 1)

For years, I’ve been promising to reveal ALL about the alternate ending that I scrapped from my novel All the Birds in the Sky. There was a whole extra reveal, which would have turned everything on its head, and a lot more layers to the world. And for various reasons, this seems like a good moment to get into it.

Not surprisingly, there are major huge spoilers for All the Birds in the Sky below. Also, I’m not going to try and reproduce the actual ending, because that’s like 50-60 pages of text, but I’ll try and curate a few representative bits to include below. Also, I’m breaking this article up into two or three newsletters, because it’s so complicated.

Spoilers for All the Birds in the Sky follow—and if you haven’t read the book, some of this might not make all that much sense.

In a nutshell, I ended up cutting a lot of stuff out of AtBitS, especially in the second half, because it was just TOO MUCH PLOT and it got in the way of Laurence’s and Patricia’s arcs. I’ll break this stuff out into separate topics, for ease of reading.

Healers vs Tricksters: If you’ve read All the Birds in the Sky, you’ll know that witches used to be divided into two different groups: healers, and tricksters. They almost went to war 200 years ago, because of a dispute over what to do about the Industrial Revolution. The healers wanted to step up and put a stop to all this pollution and exploitation, while the tricksters wanted to remain humble and not interfere with the rest of the world.

Instead of going to war, though, the healers and tricksters made peace and joined together into one community of witches, thanks to the leadership of a witch named Hortense Walker, who was born a slave in Barbados and escaped using magic. Fast-forward to the present, and Patricia is taught that healers and tricksters have been fully unified, which is why Eltisley Hall and the Maze were combined into one school of magic.

But in the original version of AtBitS, you start to realize that the healers and tricksters aren’t quite as unified as we’ve been told. Patricia, herself, keeps questioning whether she’s more of a healer or more of a trickster. She’s constantly healing injured creatures and fixing broken things, but she also turned herself into a bird and is constantly luring people into making bargains with her. There’s a hint of this in the final book, when Patricia is talking to Carmen Edelstein, but in the earlier drafts she obsesses a lot about which label fits her best.

At one point, Patricia’s internal monologue goes:

Nature was full of tricks, never played you straight. You would read all the signs and then the weather would betray you. Nature raised up species only to pull the food webs out from under them. Creatures got misled into evolving to fill a particular niche, which was then erased like a sand cave at high tide. So it made sense that nature needed trickster soldiers.

And then in the end, there’s a moment where Kawashima basically tells Patricia that she’s really more of a goody two-shoes healer, but the tricksters kind of conned her into thinking she was one of them.

The EACH Program: Meanwhile, there’s that weird school Patricia and Laurence go to, Canterbury Academy. You might remember that Canterbury Academy has a very wacky curriculum called the Saarinian Program, involving lots of memorization and standardized tests and discussions of Rutherford B. Hayes. In the earlier drafts, this was called the EACH program — and you start to see hints that the EACH program is administered by some clandestine society of techno-monks. (?!?) We glimpse these dudes at one point, and they’re clearly some sort of cult, who worship some ancient elder gods or something.

Laurence turns out to have a natural aptitude for the EACH program, which gets stranger and stranger as he gets older. When he’s fourteen or fifteen years old, he wins some weird prize and becomes the Golden Scholar, meaning that he’s scored the highest on the EACH exams of anybody. Here’s a bit from the earlier draft:

The most advanced stage of the EACH Golden Scholar exams, administered in a tiny side room at the local community college that was more akin to a bank vault than a classroom, had been pretty nakedly a master test in the arcane science of the Megaliths. All pretense of being a standardized test, of assessing your compliance with some natural educational standard or your readiness for college, fell away, to be replaced by pages of incomplete equations and questions that could have been free verse, or maybe a really heavy-duty theoretical philosophy textbook, or the ravings of a man with a spike buried in his brain. Laurence had been 14, or maybe 15, sitting in this airless room with a pile of Number 2 pencils, and a humongous blue Slurpee, practically dancing in his seat with excitement to see what they came up with for the big finale. And then... the bewilderment. The pages of gobbledygook that practically melted your brain to look upon them.

Remember how Laurence is helping to build a wormhole machine that leads to another planet, in the final version of the book?

Welp, in the earlier drafts, he gets most of his understanding of wormhole science and arcane physics by going through these bonkers tests and lessons administered by the EACH Program. (Which, you’ll recall, is called the Saarinian program in the final book.) And you guessed it — this wacky school curriculum is actually a plot by some aliens who are trying to invade Earth, but they need to trick humans into building a gateway to allow them to travel here.

When Laurence is sixteen — around the same time that Patricia is going to Siberia and trying to save the planet from a dangerous oil project — he goes to a special summer camp for kids who got high scores on the EACH exams. There, he soon realizes that he and his fellow kids are having their brains rewired so they can build this wormhole machine for the alien invaders. Laurence sneakily turns the tables on these monsters and destroys the wormhole machine. Except that now, he still has knowledge that nobody else on Earth has, about how to build one of these things. This knowledge sure comes in handy, when Laurence is an adult and he joins a last-ditch effort to build a machine to help humans escape from a dying Earth.

Still with me? I know, I know, it’s a lot. And maybe you’re starting to see why I pared it back.

Meanwhile, remember Kevin? The webcomics artist that Patricia starts dating when we first meet her as an adult? He was also at that summer camp with Laurence. He was one of the other kids who scored high on the exams, and all he knows is that he went to this special camp and he was finally surround by other nerdy weirdos who understood him, and it was the happiest time of his life. And then, right before something extra-amazing was supposed to happen, the camp ended early. Kevin soon recognizes Laurence as the EACH Golden Scholar, the guy who got the highest scores out of everyone. And Kevin is determined to get an explanation from Laurence as to what the hell happened that summer — which creates friction in his relationship with Patricia. There were some very awkward double dates, in the earlier drafts.

Meanwhile, Laurence realizes that Kevin was also at that summer camp, and thus Kevin’s brain has also been rewired to make him good at building wormhole machines. But Laurence doesn’t want to explain to Kevin about the “alien invasion” thing, for reasons — so he starts scheming ways to use Kevin, the same way the counselors at that camp were using all of the kids there.

Wow, this already got long, and I still haven’t gotten to the actual alternate ending. I’m going to have to pick this up again next time…


Something I Love This Week:

Tomorrow is the release date for Never Have I Ever: Stories, a short story collection by the brilliant horror/dark fantasy author Isabel Yap. I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this book, and it’s just so gorgeous. Yap’s writing soars and conjures amazing worlds, and she wraps Filipino mythology together with urban-fantasy tropes into something really unique and wonderful. Some of these stories get really intense and scary, but there are also some really beautiful queer love stories, which will just grab hold of your heart and never let go. If you’re looking for a potent burst of storytelling brilliance AND a haunting set of supernatural tales, Never Have I Ever is here for you.

This Week’s Music:

If I was gonna list my top 10 favorite live albums of all time, probably half of them would be Go-Go music. Go-Go is a musical genre that combines elements of hip hop and old-school funk, which became a thing in Washington DC.

Go-Go is really designed for live performances. One of the main characteristics of the genre is that the music never stops—each song just segues into the next, with this driving percussion-heavy beat going the whole time. Chuck Brown put out a bunch of incredible live albums, both with and without the Soul Searchers. And Trouble Funk had a few amazing ones, too.

I have a special place in my heart for 2 Places at the Same Time by E.U. (aka Experience Unlimited), the band best known for “Da Butt.” It’s basically two live medleys that just do not quit, plus a bonus track. The good news? You can get 2 Places at the Same Time on iTunes and other services for just around $4. The bad news? The digital download is not super well remastered: it’s way too muddy, distorted and hard to hear. I had to go back to listening to the vinyl-rip that I had made for myself.

My Stuff:

Publishers Weekly put my upcoming YA novel Victories Greater Than Death in their list of the most anticipated books for children and young adults coming this spring. And they’ve also said some super nice stuff about it in their review. Just a reminder that we are running a HUGE pre-order campaign for Victories, in which you can get a gorgeous enamel pin for ordering early. And if you pre-order from an indie bookstore, you can also receive four gorgeous art prints. Your pre-order for Victories will enable me to keep writing books, rather than having to go get a real job.