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On August 5, 2017, Amanda Johnson woke up with a headache so consuming that she memorialized her misery. In her datebook entry that day, she sketched a girl with her head crowned in jagged shards of torment, her eyes squeezed shut against the pain. “Headache!!!” she wrote next to the drawing. Downstairs, her parents were making breakfast, but the only thing Johnson could imagine putting into her body was Tylenol. She gulped down two, then made her way to her computer, which was set up on her father’s drawing desk.

Johnson, who was 31 that summer, was living with her parents in Mission Viejo, California, while she finished her second novel—a steampunk saga set in an alternate version of the First World War. She had planned to spend the day editing a chapter, but the daggers behind her eyes persisted, and the screen’s glow seemed to make them sharper. “I tried, but I just couldn’t do it,” she recalls now. “I had to go lie down.” By that afternoon, she was worried enough that she contacted her doctor, who referred her to a neurologist.