On Tuesday night I did a book event at Paperchain bookstore in Manuka. I was interviewed about why I wrote about nasty beasts in the Dragon Wine series by the wonderful and clever Craig Cormick.
A bunch of great people came along, some friends, work colleagues and people whom I’ve never met. I had a fair dose of nerves beforehand, which freaked me a bit. I’m not shy normally and don’t have a problem with public speaking. I figured this time there was nothing between me and my audience and that might account for the stage fright. I had to front up and talk about my creative work. Not about my day job. Not introducing another writer etc or talking about writing retreats etc. This was me answering questions about Dragon Wine. It was stimulating and exciting and scary at the same time.
I was going to write this post up just after the event while it was all fresh in my mind, but I went out to dinner and got home late. I didn’t drink or anything because I had a surgical procedure the next day. I’m at home today recovering.
So we were there to talk about my dark, epic fantasy novel Shatterwing, book 1 in the Dragon Wine series. Some people would call it grim and dark.
Craig asked me about the opening scenes with grapes and dragon dung.Where did that come from? I used to have a little vineyard and I’d be there pruning, checking for disease, spraying etc day after day. Being a writer I imagined stories etc. Originally the beginning of the series was going to be a short story, a vignette about the young boy and his mentor. In this case it was going to be a woman instead of an old man and in the end the kid says see you later instead of following on some quest. People who read it thought it was a chapter one of a larger work and so I kept writing.
During the interview we talked about about what the story was about. I said it was about how low human kind can go and what makes us worth saving. That’s what it’s about for me. The narrative is mostly about Salinda and her quest to save people and definitely about finding a way to save the planet. There is a cast of characters who help her with that.
We also talked about the dragons. Not so much about why dragons but about what they symbolised for me as a writer and in the story. When the world, Margra, was split thousands of years before, dragons appeared. They ate the bodies of the dead, billions of them. Dragons have their own essential magic and for me this is a life energy, a gaia-type magic, and probably the dragons symbolise the environment. People need dragons to survive except they don’t know it. We need the environment to survive and we do know it some of the time. That’s what comes to mind for me.
Often while writing this story over the years, I’ve toyed with the idea of calling the dragons something else, but I couldn’t think of anything else that didn’t sound lame. Once I described them they would sound like dragons to a reader. When I looked into dragons, they are part of many cultures’ mythology so why not Margra’s as it was a human-based one? I’ve not read much dragon fiction myself but there you go– Dragon wine from grapes grown in dragon dung.
Other things we talked about was the nasty world and where I got that from. Craig said he expected it to be more brutal given what some people say about the book and he was left wanting. Others the content is a bit too much. This really goes to show you how subjective reading is and also the tolerance for brutality. Some scenes in Shatterwing are not comfortable reads and nor are they meant to be. One reader comment I saw online said she stopped reading because the language got flat in those scenes so her reason for stopping was two fold-content and form. The flattening of the language was deliberate on my part. The scene stood for itself and there wasn’t any way I could embellish it with language without feeling like I was glorifying it. I just kept to the facts.
The humans are nasty in the story. I did a bit of research into what people do to each other when they have control. For example, the Stamford Prison Experiment. Then the revelations coming out of Iraq. Pretty looking people, the people on the side of right, debasing Iraqi prisoners. What a shocker! Another aspect for me was growing up during the ‘Cold War’ and worrying about surviving a nuclear holocaust. I was living in NZ at the time and we were meant to be one of the lucky countries. There were articles in the paper about growing food, about surviving. But I always thought that there would be a law and order issues. I might have a garden but I’d have to defend it from someone who wanted my food. Also, just to add a bit of perspective, I was abused as a child. If you couldn’t trust the people closest to you, how could you trust others? I’ve seen glimpses of bad stuff people do. That has to colour my perspective. And the icing on the cake, well just listen to the news as there is a lot of bad stuff happening in the world. So Margra is a planet with very little rule of law. It’s petty war lords and corrupt government and rebels fighting whoever is in charge and each other. Not a nice world at all.
I’m going to leave it there for now.