Wednesday, August 13, 2008

About Those Dragons...
by Deborah Cooke

People seem to be intrigued with the fact that I decided to write about dragons, although I'm hardly the first to do so. My own fascination with dragons started with Smaug in THE LORD OF THE RINGS - which I read obsessively and repeatedly as a teenager - because I thought Smaug was gorgeous. I halfway thought that Smaug should have gotten the better of Frodo, not the other way around, because I enjoyed his riddle games so much. For a number of years, I also collected the LOTR calendars showcasing illustrations by the Brothers Hildebrandt - you can guess which ones were my favourites! One of them is on the index page of their website:

I think it's the mark of writers to play "what if?" games with stories and story elements that they enjoy. (I, for example, rewrote LOTR as a romance, focussing on all those untold scenes between Aragon and Arwen that Tolkein didn't write. This was a big clue as to what kind of stories I was destined to ultimately write!) Readers, in contrast, seek out more stories showcasing the same elements. So, I read no stories about dragons after LOTR - in fact, I deliberately avoided them - because I was more interested in my own vision of fictional dragons. I have sketchbooks filled with dragons somewhere, although my drawing abilities never approached that of the Brothers Hildebrandt. NO doubt about it - those dragons had hold of my imagination. It was only a matter of time before they found their way to my fingertips.

Dragons are one of the oldest story elements used by humans - they star in stories from all over the world, showing all sorts of different abilities and affinities. The one trait they have in any culture's stories is a terrifying and beautiful power. But it's kind of odd, when you think about it, that so many cultures would invent a creature so similar. That led me to wonder - what if dragons are real? What if storytellers weren't inventing dragons but sharing tales of seeing them? What if there are times in which dragons reveal their powers but the rest of the time they're just like us?

Enter the Pyr, my dragon shape shifter heroes. From this germ of an idea, everything pretty much fell together.

Pyr is the Greek root for "fire", the element with which dragons have the strongest affinity. Classical Greek myth also includes one of the oldest recorded dragon stories, probably the oldest one in the west, as you'll learn in KISS OF FURY. I liked the idea of the Pyr being an ancient species and also of them being a primal force in their own right - it made sense to me to name them from the Greek root.

In Chinese culture, dragons are protrayed more sympathetically than in the west. They're more organic than destructive. They govern the four elements, which linked perfectly to my notion of the Pyr being ancient and natural. I tied that idea into my worldbuilding by giving each Pyr hero an affinity for one element in addition to fire, then having his mate "complete" him by having affinities for the other two. True love should complete both parties, don't you think? I like when the whole of their relationship is greater than the sum of the parts. The four elements - earth, fire, water, air - in union is often believed to create a union of spirit. Perfect. (N.B. Actually, in book #4, the heroine has the affinity with fire, not the hero. It's a neat part of their relationship, but no more spoilers on that yet.)

I also liked the concept that dragons had a bond with the earth that was stronger than ours, so I gave them an ancient responsibility. They usually defend a hoard of treasure - what better treasure for my dragons to be charged to protect that Gaia herself?

And that gave me the conflict between my good dragons - the Pyr, or the true Pyr - and their enemies - the Slayers. The Pyr believe that humans are among the treasures of the earth to be defended, while the Slayers believe that humans are destroying the earth and must be eliminated to protect Gaia.

Just to complicate things more - and make the stakes more personal - I decided that my Pyr must mate with human women to make more Pyr. I gave each Pyr a destined mate, and a period of potential conception marked by the "firestorm", a feeling of intense heat and heightened desire. Firestorms of huge importance to the Pyr are marked by eclipses, and often a prophecy from the only female Pyr - the Wyvern - who has the power to see the future but no obligation to share what she knows.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I was chatting with my friend who is a brilliant astrologer. She commented that we were entering a period of karmic balancing, and that we could expect a bunch of natural disasters as Gaia tried to correct her own balances. This period is one of the nodes of the moon and is called - are you ready? - the Dragon's Tail. How about that? It's happening right now and asts 8 or 9 years, which made right now the perfect setting for an enormous battle between my Pyr and Slayers over control of the earth.

All of this structure was great fun to pull together, but the best part was getting to know the Pyr themselves. I love that they have tasks or specialities within their group - Quinn, in KISS OF FIRE, has the hereditary role of the Smith, for example. He has the power to heal his fellows, at least once he decides to use it. Donovan in KISS OF FURY might be the prophecied Warrior who can lead the Pyr to victory - if he can accept the advice of his mate, the Wizard, and begin his transformation himself. Erik in KISS OF FATE is the leader of the Pyr who has to balance not only his responsibilities to the whole against his own desires, but has to come to terms and make amends for his past mistakes. The Pyr have forgotten a bunch of stuff, through disorganization and lowered population numbers - Erik explains that to us in KISS OF FATE - which means the Slayers are ahead of them on that. It's more fun when the heroes have to play catch-up to win.

My Pyr heroes aren't immortal, but they age slowly until they have a firestorm and create a son - that gives me a wider variety of responses to that first twinge of the firestorm, depending on the character of the Pyr in question. Quinn, the romantic, wanted to have both his firestorm and his mate, but not deal with the other Pyr. Donovan, the bad boy, wanted to have his firestorm but not create a child - he gets caught between his own reservations and his loyalty to the team. Erik -- well, we'll talk about Erik in February. Many of you know that Rafferty has been yearning for his firestorm for a long time, and will be glad to hear that he'll get it in book #6. Of course, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for that - it won't be quite the leisurely courtship he's been hoping to savour.

I could go on and on because I'm having a lot of fun with the Dragonfire series - instead, why don't you ask me a question?

We'll have a doorprize today, a signed copy of Dragonfire book #2, KISS OF FURY, to be awarded off to someone who asks a question. Since we're at J.K.'s blog, she can pick the winner.

Visit Dragonfire online at
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THANKS SO MUCH TO DEBORAH FOR VISITING TODAY! Leave lots of comments for her because I can tell you right now you're going to want a copy of KISS OF FURY! I've already devoured mine and can't wait for book 3!


Maggie Robinson said...

This sounds fascinating! I love dragon tales (very into Shana Abe). I work in a library where we have not one but two enormous dragon books that trace the dragon concept in so many cultures. And of course Jan. 16 is Appreciate a Dragon Day! Good luck with this series!

Kimber Chin said...

I'm always intrigued by how authors world build.
You're up to book six.
Will there be many more in the series?

M. said...

hi, j.k. and deborah,

i never really thought about how dragons are part of the lore of more than one culture. off the top of my head, i can think of european dragon stories (religious and fairy tales) and chinese, but i don't know of any others. did the dragon concept originate in china and travel back to europe wiht marco polo, i wonder?

do dragons appear elsewhere in the world?

(please don't enter my name in the draw as i've previously had the good luck to win a copy of 'my immortal' - i'm 20 pages in, j.k.!)

Tiffany Kenzie said...

I too love dragons! I even have a tatt on the back of my neck... and more planned of dragons.

First dragon romance I read was Shana Abe... what a story teller.

I have the first of this series on my TBR! It sounds exciting!

J.K. Coi said...

My fav dragon was also Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit. So cool, I remember shivering under my covers while reading it when I was little!

J.K. Coi said...

Maggie, I didn't know there was an "Appreciate a Dragon" Day, that's neat!

J.K. Coi said...

Tiff, I remember being intrigued by Shana Abe's story, although not enough to get it at the time. Maybe I should go pick it up.

J.K. Coi said...

M. I love the chinese folklore surrounding the dragon culture! I've done a lot of reading on it and took a course in University that touched on it, which was really cool!

Hope you're enjoying the book!

Deborah said...

Appreciate a Dragon Day? That sounds like a lot of fun. (Hmm. I'll have to put something on my blog for that!)

Thanks everyone for the fun comments.

Kimber, I have a plan for 13 books: 6 are contracted but only 3 are completely written - I have some work to do!

M - there are dragons back to Babylon, so many and so widespread that it's tough to tell who started the stories.

tetewa said...

I enjoy reading about dragons and this series sounds great. Do you have a favorite dragon movie?

Deborah said...

tetewa - I haven't seen many dragon movies. Yup, I avoided them too!

What's your favourite one?

Amy Ruttan said...

Book SIX!! Wow I admire you Deborah. Any pointers for writers trying to write a series?

alepard said...

Many people often equate dragons with evil, yet the Chinese culture revers the dragon as luck and good fortune. It's why there are so many symbols entranced in their culture. Maybe they are the "teeth" who will emerge to fight with the Pyr against the Slayers? Just a plot twist to consider.

Deborah said...

alepard - Ah, the Dragon's Teeth are well defined by now, but thanks for the idea. You'll hear more about my version in Erik's book, KISS OF FATE.

Amy - I've taught entire workshops about writing linked series. In fact (hmmm) I think I taught one at RWA National in Reno in 2005. You might be able to find a recording of it someplace (like at our RWA chapter?! LOL!) Or you could just ask me ridiculous numbers of questions, say when we're trapped in a vehicle together.

Seriously, there are many variables to consider when planning linked titles. They don't just happen. Think of synopses to the power of three! They require a lot of planning upfront to work.

I'll stop now before you all fall asleep. :-)

J.K. Coi said...

Thanks again Deborah! I'll post the winner on the blog tomorrow!

Amy Ruttan said...

Thanks Deborah! LOL!!

I'll remember synopses to the power of three for sure. hehehe.