Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Dragon is born...part II

In my last post I explained how I discovered the hero of my first book while doing historical research on the era of King Arthur. Welsh king Maelgwn the Great, a.k.a. the Dragon of the Island, more than filled my requirements for a compelling protagonist.  Now all I had to do was find a heroine capable of holding her own against his larger-than-life persona. I came up with Aurora, a Roman British princess whose passion and determination is more than a match for Maelgwn's. To secure peace for her people, she is forced to marry the barbarian warlord. But it's not dread of his fearsome reputation that unnerves her, but rather the way his kisses and caresses make her feel.
Although I created these characters from my own imagination, I really wasn't prepared for the way they sprang to life. About halfway through the book, I remember having the sensation of watching a movie, and all I had to do was write down what happened. The rest of the plot took a lot more thought and effort, but the love story seemed to write itself. I knew these people. They were as real as my own family.
But it wasn't until my husband read the book and told me he adored Aurora because she was obviously based on me, that I realized where my heroine had come from. Yes, Aurora does share a lot of my characteristics. Of course I don't have super-model looks (I imagine Aurora as resembling model Christy Turlington, although with a little more meat on her bones. The raw, challenging environment of the dark ages hardly favored the anorexic-prone.) I also doubt that I'm as brave and determined as Aurora. And I hope I'm not quite as rash and impetuous. But if Dragon of the Island is a "book-of-the-heart", then Aurora is some sort of spiritual sister. (In fact, her sisters in the book were loosely based on my own sisters when they were young.)
I also have to say that I am much happier with my own real-life hero than I would be with my fictional creation, as my husband is a definitely more civilized and easier to live with than a dark-age barbarian. (As much as my husband liked Aurora's character, he thought Maelgwn was "sort of a jerk".)  Therein lies the beauty of fiction. I get to thrill to the dramatic heart-pounding adventures of my characters and vicariously experience their passionate romance. But whenever I want to, I can get up from the computer and return to my comfortable, safe and relatively uneventful life, with its modern benefits of antibiotics, indoor plumbing and refrigeration (not to mention chocolate, as many of my friends would add). This lovely balance of imaginary excitement and the calm, mundane everyday perfectly suits my temperament. That's the reason I hope to write fiction until the day I die.
Meanwhile, my characters never really have to face that sort of mortality. In my books, the bold, glorious Dragon and his beautiful consort can endure forever!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Dragon is born...

   In 1989, I had emergency back surgery when the nagging pain in my hip, which had troubled me for several months, turned out to be caused by a herniated disc. The nerve compression was severe enough that they decided to do surgery. As they were going over the possible risks of spinal surgery, including death, my first thought was: "I can't die and leave my children" (they were only 3 and 4 at the time). My second was: "I can't die, I haven't written a book yet". Woozy with drugs and still in pain, I realized I would never feel fulfilled until I at least completed a novel.
I was always a voracious reader (when we were first dating, my husband nicknamed me "Read-O-Vac") and I majored in journalism in college and did a lot of writing in my jobs in advertising and p.r. But I never dared to attempt to write fiction. Back then, most of what I read was classic literature, contemporary literary fiction or massive historical novels. I was convinced I had neither the talent nor the research capabilities to write anything like that.  
That all changed in 1990, when I started work at a public library, and discovered most of our patrons were reading commercial fiction and genre fiction. For the first time I began to feel like "you can do this". Having always loved historical novels, and particularly the romantic parts of them, I decided to write a historical romance. In choosing my time period, I considered my favorite historical novels: the Merlin series by Mary Stewart (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, etc.), Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliffe, Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. They were all set at least partially in Wales, and two of the stories take place in the time of King Arthur. 
I went to the Wyoming State Library, which back then had a good British history and literature collection, and began my research. Everything I read reinforced my fascination with this era. And then, in some obscure dusty tome discussing the historical evidence for King Arthur, I read about a monk named Gildas, who had written a manuscript in the early 6th century called On the Conquest and Ruin of Britain. The manuscript was not a historical account of the era, but a heated condemnation of five kings, who Gildas blamed for pretty much everything wrong in his time period. Chief among them was Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd, who Gildas refers to as "o, thou dragon of the island." Gildas account of Maelgwn was quite venomous, but his words revealed a larger-than-life and intriguingly complex man. I instantly knew I'd found my hero, and inspired by these historical tidbits, I began writing.

The Year of the Dragon

According to the Chinese calendar system, this is the "year of the dragon". On this website:,  I found this information:
"The year of the Dragon is the year for great deeds, innovative ideas and big projects. In this year success in particular can expect people who are dealing with finances. This will be advantageous time to begin new projects in business and social level. Dragon gives happiness and success to all good and honest people. Also, those who have great talent. 2012 Year of the Dragon is favorable for the establishment of family, the birth of healthy and smart children. During this period we should be bold and not humble."
These words might almost be written with me in mind. I have undertaken a big project, self-publishing six books as ebooks. These books are like my children, and since two of them have never been published before, it's kind of like a birth. I'm also trying to be bold and not humble, and promote my books and my writing with enthusiasm and confidence.
And, finally, four of the books are part of my "Dragon of the Island" series, which includes my first book of the same title, so the "Dragon" part is especially fitting.
The first three novels were published in print over fifteen years ago, while The Dragon Bard has never been published. Making these stories available to readers has been a dream come true for me. In future posts, I'll share more stories of my journey to this place.