The storyline for Dragon Pawns evolved over more than two years, as I began working on it in March of 2002. That’s when I decided, due to the success of The Magic Bicycle and The Vampire Hunters to focus my writing on novels for
a young adult audience. I already loved writing fantasy, and I wondered what kind of tale would interest the millions of Harry Potter readers.
I didn’t want to do a story about a university for wizards, as that had been done. Then it struck me. Wizards have familiars and pets that help them in their magical endeavors. Where are they trained? Does each mage train his or her own?
This line of questioning lead me to conclude there could be an academy
for wizard familiars where animals and creatures were trained to be assistants.
Then I realized there could be more than one: one for creatures that fly and
one for grounded animals. My mind immediately seized on one for flying animals, since I live in a rural area where I get to watch hawks and eagles soar. This was further prompted by having a pair of redtail hawks nest close by and raise their young, including perching on our house and hunting in our yard and the surrounding neighborhood. Thus, FAA was born, a play on the acronym for the Federal Aviation Association.
Being a lover of the Lake Tahoe area, I chose to set my academy in an
alpine lake setting similar to the Lake of the Sky, which became Skye Lake. The Sierras became the Serrias, Emerald Bay I kept the same, but I expanded its small island to house the academy, which means I had to enlarge the entire lake basin. Often, islands are used for bird sanctuaries because it keeps away ground predators. Araho Island is one such place on Pyramid Lake north of Reno, Nevada. I developed a curriculum, staff, and campus, keeping in mind the students would be avians.
Well, that still wasn’t enough for a story. It’s only an idea and a
setting. The feeling of being an outcast, being different, and fitting in, or
awkward is a fairly common experience for youths on their way to being adults.
Almost everyone has experienced such moments in their lives, whether it is
changing schools, moving to a new place, or changing jobs. We are always trying to find our place and get comfortable.
As my readers know, I am a big fan of dragons, and have several stories
about them left unwritten: Durgie the irrepressible and talkative dragonnette, was a huge favorite for many of the readers of Wizard Sword. Many thought it should have been named Durgie and the Wizard Sword. Some requested further adventures of the diminutive dragonnette. I took these suggestions to heart, and although I didn’t use Durgie, I decided my story would revolve around a runt dragon named Lance who failed his test of dragonhood because everything was too hard and too big. Some of this was inspired by my two year old. (He didn’t walk until 20 months because he liked being carried and or having things carried to him, a sort of royalty complex.) The main character’s father would consign the runt to the academy ‘to make something of himself.’
The original title was The Littlest Dragon, which sounded like it was for
a younger audience. It was soon changed to The Runt Dragon. In laying out Lance, I looked at what he could and couldn’t do. In following in Durgie’s footsteps, I made him interested in playing music, atypical of the mighty dragons whose nature is might, ferociousness, hoarding, and
combative. I wanted Lance to be the opposite. I needed to give him some skills, and he volunteered to be a fantastic flier and good hider, which allowed him to avoid bullies and his six older brothers, including one who had gone over to the Shadow and blamed Lance for his accidental blinding. From that, Lance became accident prone and clumsy, which would add humor and get him blamed for the acts of the Mad Prankster, a sort of terrorist who plagues the students. All of us have had our klutzy moments. Imagine being that way all the time! You would be shunned.
Because Lance was a misfit, I thought it would be normal for him to be
attractive, or attract other misfits. Along came Dellen, a musician who talked all the time. He was inspired not only by Durgie, the rock ‘n roller, but by my son, who was a chatterbox. I thought this would make a good counter to Lance, who was supposed to lie low, and his dragon nature, which prefers solitude and silence. Then friendship would grow out of their love for playing music. This led to other strange musicians, including a flying/gliding squirrel (certainly inspired by Rocky), a pinioned snake, and a winged cat who hates birds and can’t fly and is despised by the birds.
I thought my story would appeal to dragon fans and readers of Redwall and
perhaps Watership Down. In those books, all the characters are animals. Then I realized I might be limiting my audience. There are some people who can’t relate to animal characters and wouldn’t be interested. If I was going to appeal to Harry Potter fans, I needed a wizard. And since Lance was male, I wanted a female character. Thus, Julietta Magnus was born. I can remember the exact moment, because that’s when the story took off in my mind. Along with her, came the idea of a Seventh Sense. Often seven is
considered a lucky, or magical number. If the sixth sense was paranormal (as in the movie The Sixth Sense) then the seventh sense could allow one to cast magic. From the seventh sense, came the Seven Sources, an expansion on the
normal four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) that fantasy often uses to compose the world. Dragons, above it all, are the eighth source.
If magicless people were Commoners, what were wizards? I decided on the
Arcane, which means mysterious, because their origins are a mystery. (And an important part of the theme running through the trilogy.)How did Jules end up at the academy, since all the students are animals? I decided on her mother being a teacher at FAA. Already, one of the themes in the story was Lance overcoming his failure in his test to make some-thing of himself, to prove, even if he was small, that he had a dragon heart. I decided Jules should be a failure, too, and that together they would help each other overcome their bad habits. Failure would bring them together, and a silver lining would be found in storm clouds.
Now, I had a hot temper as a youth, and having taken that aspect out of
Brin’s character in Wizard Sword (I didn’t want my son to have a bad temper). I wanted to address it again. It is often our emotions, minus thinking, that get us in trouble. Our too high expectations also lead us to our greatest disappointments.Jules was rounding into shape. Because of her temper, she would fail her entrance exam to Solomons University of Wizardry and end up being forced to go with her mother to FAA. But Jules couldn’t think it was her fault. It’s always somebody elses fault, so I needed someone to blame. Her twin brother, Darius, was born.
To make the failure even more devastating, I decided that Jules should
have spent most of her life in the magicless Common Lands (our world, the real world), forbidden to use magic and compensating with sleight of hand. That would create more frustration when she failed, crushing two hopes: going to the school for wizards and returning to her homeland. Why she has spent most of her life in the Commons, away from magic, became an important part of the story.
Originally, I wanted a character who could relate to the real world, enabling
them to make real world comparisons when describing things and events.
So, I finally had my main two characters, both sent to FAA because of
failing. This idea was reinforced during a visit to China Springs, a youth
detention camp. They were trying to make the best of a situation, being somewhere they didn’t want to be because of something they had done. They had to deal with the consequences of their actions, just like Jules.
Thus, the mage philosophy of TEARs was created Think first, Emote second,
then Act to get a desired Reaction. To avoid tears, use TEARs was created.
All actions and emotions, even anger, start with a thought, even if it is just
“That makes me angry.”
It took about a year to write the first draft of the story, and during
that, I discovered Lance was accident prone because his magic was chaotic, like those of his race’s hate enemy. Another reason to exile him. Instead of being sent to FAA, he ran/flew away from home. To add tension to the storyline, I placed it during the time of a war between dragons species. That speeded up Lance’s testing, which is why he failed. He was waiting until the last minute (or year) to study.
At first, I had Jules too inexperienced to be able to fly, whizzing
around on campus on a magic carpet. That sounds fun, but it wouldn’t challenge or frustrate the character. Her inability to fly became a fear of heights, another challenge to overcome, and something else to frustrate and anger her. Imagine being on an island where everyone can fly and the place is designed for avians. Inadequacy in flying would give Lance something to teach her, while she helped him with magic.
Like in most romances, I realized it would be best if Jules and Lance
didn’t get along well at first. His accident proneness and her temper made this easy, especially since she would be working in the library. I didn’t really care for some of my best friends at first, thinking they were a little strange, so that resonated with me.
Also, in trying to flesh out Darious, I realized he could be like Jules,
which is no fun , or opposite Jules. That seems to be the way of twins,
inseparable or polar opposites. Darious became a disenchanter, someone who breaks down magic.
In wanting to further separate myself for the Harry Potter comparisons, I
decided that the Headmaster, instead of being the most powerful wizard, would be a burnt out shell of a great wizard. He was doing this in retirement.
Along the way, I realized Jules’ father, who is missing, helped invent FAA and the Maze underground cavern and training grounds. Headmaster Loremane’s illness and inability to cast magic would show the price magic could exact in casting magic. One of the rules of fantasy is that magic must come with a price. I find that missing in the Harry Potter stories, as magic doesn’t seem to have a consequence. I have often been told I use too much magic in my stories, and thought it would be a challenge to teach Jules not to use magic all the time. It ages and ravages the body. Think before you cast magic, goes along with TEARs. When Jules and the Runt Dragon was “done”, I passed it by my nephew and several students at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School here in Gardnerville thinking I should test it out on my target audience. Most of my first reading editors are adults, and they weren’t my audience. The middle schoolers loved the story, but thought the beginning was confusing, were unsure what levers were, and didn’t understand the differences between dragonettes, drakkes, and dragons. It was
also too long, so I went back to work, fixing it, tightening and trying to
shorten it.Since I had already planned on it being a trilogy, I moved some of the characters, especially a drakke named Melody, whose relationship with Lance hindered his friendship with Jules, into the second book. That seemed to open up more opportunity for Lance and Jules to share quality time and their friendship really blossomed.
I read their evaluations, which for the most part were raves, and made
some minor adjustments to the story, including several errors. (Dellen being in a class when he wasn’t supposed to be. Flying out a roof, that instead of
being opened, was closed.) There was also some dismay that the issue with the Stalker was left dangling. A good story, or a well written one, flows in a circle, with the beginning relating to the end. So I made another adjustment, which ended the tale on a feel good note, leading to book 2. Other late revelations, the ones that come after the story was “done” included integrating Jules use of sleight of hand magic, Lance’s experience with
a lever, and trying to direct his random magic (which sagas well into book 2)
and an expanded use of the Maze, which was too cool to be relegated to such a small part in the story. I also added intrigue, by increasing the involvement of a nasty pixie. All these changes helped cement the story, and in the end, I had book one of The Seventh Senses Trilogy.
Some of the students liked the title, Jules and the Runt Dragon, but just about as many thought it was boring. After much thought, I changed it to the Dragon Pawns, which fits both characters roles. It is obvious at the end of the book why this applies to Lance. It will be clear why this is true of Jules in book 2 tentatively titled The Impatient Fire.