Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dragon Therapy

In between monster writing & editing sessions, I'm reading Kiss of Fire, the first novel in Deborah Cooke's Dragonfire series (I went and bought the first two in the series, as promised) and feeling very glad I did. As I suspected, the first novel in the series sets up the author's world-building for me in increments so I can get up to speed on a very complex paranormal/alternative/secret society. This will help me as I read on toward book three, which was the book I picked up first and then set aside.

So far I like the characters in book one. Although they fit the typical hero/heroine paranormal romance template (he's a protective alpha male with the soul of a beta, and she's every clueless gal born with a secret power she has yet to discover/manifest) I still like them. The writing is lovely, the storyline is solid and it all works. Even the well-covered destined-to-mate aspect of the plot isn't putting my hackles in raise mode. If I carry your book in my purse when I go to pick up the kids from school so I can read a couple pages while waiting in line, trust me, it works.

What I like in a read is not always what gets my personal stamp of writer approval. For example, if a guy comes into my bookshop and turns into a dragon, one of my characters would not take it in stride. My characters are probably going to freak out. There will be screaming, and running and, if possible, a shrieking 911 call. Sara, the protagonist in Cooke's first novel, does none of my character type things. She sits down hard on the floor. While dragon guy shifts back into human form and tries to enlighten her as to her role in his life as his destined baby incubator, she still doesn't freak. She thinks a little about dipping him in chocolate, but ultimately doesn't believe him and (nicely) kicks him out of the store.

It's not what I would write. The dragon guy would be in some serious trouble in one of my stories. He wouldn't get a chance to casually chat about destiny and mating; he'd probably be busy removing some sharp pointy objects sticking out of his hide. He'd likely have to grab my girl and fly off to some hidden crystal cavern where he could keep an eye on her while she works through her rage, fear, denial, etc. She'd try to kill him and/or escape, they'd tussle, things would progress from there. Love isn't a polite dance to me; as Pat Benetar advised, it's a battlefield.

I'm also wondering just how you fit a dragon in a bookstore. The logistics of it. How passing pedestrians would react to seeing through the front window this dragon guy in his scaly form. The books catching on fire when he exhales. Smoke alarms going off. The fire department arriving. That sort of thing. I'm all about the reality and the chaos.

These are very pretty dragons, too. Jewel-like scales, gorgeous eyes, in colors that have a lot of semi-precious stone references: topaz, malachite, garnet, etc. It's a trick many romance writers do to make a traditionally unattractive creature more appealing to the female reader; kind of like toy manufacturers turning big, smelly, sweaty horses into My Little Rainbow Ponies. I'm not really a fan of that either; I like the creatures to be creatures, warts and all.

So how can a writer like me enjoy a book by a writer who doesn't write like me, has a different approach to characters and makes very different story choices? While I may think about how I would have written the story I'm reading, I try not to take the judgmental approach. Every book does not have to be written according to some list of rules and procedures in my head. As a reader I want to be more like a sponge -- simply soak it all up and let it engulf me. Then, when I'm fully immersed in the other writer's story, I judge my feelings, not the other writer. Did I enjoy the entire experience (even if it wasn't what I would have done?) If yes, I'll buy more of that author. If it was fair to middling, I'll probably try the author again. If I didn't enjoy it at all I'll probably pass on the author (exception: if it's a new author I may give them some time in the biz before trying them again. I try never to judge an author by the first five novels.)

If I've not become immersed, it's always because something kept me out of the story. Less than professional writing is #1 on that list; derivative writing is #2. If you're not writing at a professional level, you won't immerse me, and I guess that's just an occupational hazard. If you've cloned something I've already read by another author, ditto.

If I've been burned too many times by other authors in that genre, I think that factors in as well. I've mentioned that I am not a fan of dragon books; for years I've avoided them like writer conferences. I think it came from a combination of first having read the best dragon books ever published and then plowing through all the subsequent dreck trying to find more gems. Eventually I just got tired of the mediocrity and quit buying them. It's been at least four or five years now since I read a dragon book, so I've had time to get over my unhappy reading experiences. Reading Deborah Cooke made me realize that; I'm not sneering every time a dragon pops up in the story.

This will be helpful in years to come for another reason -- my daughter is crazy about dragons, loves to read and write dragon stories, and even draws and sculpts dragons (here's one of the dragon figurines that she made freehand in Art class last year.) Sometimes I wonder if she gravitated toward them because of my dislike -- the classic teenage response -- but it's now become her thing. I don't have to like everything my kids like, but I like to stay involved. Kat has already worked her way through all of my dragon book keepers, now maybe I can find some new works that she'll enjoy without giving myself a migraine in the process.


  1. First, I love your daughter's dragon! Seriously adorable.

    Second, for those of us who are spanky new to dragon stories, which ones are you referring to as the best dragon stories written? (I know, it is sad, the volume of books I am clueless about.)

    Loved your description of your reading process. Very similar in how I read--I like being a sponge. I may not write the same way as someone else, but I can still fall for a compelling story.

  2. Right. I assume you have the Hurog books, by Patrica Briggs.
    One series that I fully recommend, is Curt Benjamin's novels about Llesho and his journey. They are great, and they contain dragons, but they are secondary characters. Not sure how easy you can find them, though.
    I think Mary Janice Davidson have a YA series about a dragon girl, too.

  3. Ha, as I was reading through your post, my first thought was about the logistics of a dragon in a bookstore. Wouldn't his wings knock over all the stacks? Either that, or he wouldn't be able to unfurl them due to the space restrictions. And surely someone has to walk by and notice a giant creature occupying all that space.

    I try not to judge books I read by whether I'd write them that way as well. Sometimes, if I come to an unsatisfying plot point, I might frown and think it could be better done another way, but ultimately I just try to look at it as "This was the story the author wanted to tell", and if I think of something that would be significantly different and better, I might try to spin my own story out of that (making sure I can do so without plagiarizing the original story--in other words, I should be inspired, not copying).

    And I must say, you not judging an author by the first five books is a lot more fair than most readers or editors would be!

  4. "the best dragon books ever published"
    Which are?

  5. Yup, I'm curious too --which are the best dragon books in your opinion?

    Ha! I think you've a new blog topic :)

  6. You know, I love Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson books, but have never read the Hurog series. I did read Her Majesty's Dragon, but I got bored after book two.

    Funny thing to me about this post - I'm still working to finish a book by Thursday for a conference where I can shop it around a bit. (Up till 3AM! Woohoo!) And my story involves an Alpha werewolf and a woman, destined to be his mate, who is very powerful in the dreamscape but doesn't know it. HA! When I read what you said I almost burst into tears. I wanted to yell, "But mine is good...I think!" Then I saw that you don't judge by the first five books. I just want to say THANK YOU for that! : )

  7. Have you tried Naomi Novik's dragon series? It's a retelling of the Napoleonic Wars with an air force of dragons. I'm enjoying them very much. The first book is His Majesty's Dragon.

  8. Love your daughter's dragon. My oldest son doodles dragons a bit but other than Eragon I haven't seen him read anything with dragons in it. I'd love to have him read the Dragons of Pern series...or at least some of it (I think it's at 22 books or something now!)

    I'm glad to hear Cooke's books seem to be as good as advertised because I should have the first one in my hands by the end of the week. YAY

  9. I too want to know what the best dragon books ever were.

    I know, for me, I loved the Dragonriders of Pern (before she passed the series off to her son). And I can't imagine any other dragon stories measuring up to those.

    I tried the first of the Shana Abe books, The Smoke Thief, and thought the hero was kind of an asshat. And I felt the emotional connection between the hero and heroine was totally manufactured by the author. They "loved" each other because she told us they did, I saw no real evidence of that for myself.

    But, anyway, yes, what are your favorite dragon books? *curious face*

  10. Toni wrote kind words for my daughter's sculpture, and: Second, for those of us who are spanky new to dragon stories, which ones are you referring to as the best dragon stories written?

    The very first dragon novels I read were the Harper Hall (aka Dragonsong) novels, then the rest of the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey. I was in the military at the time and traveling around the world, so it was hard to get them, and it took me another ten years or so to collect and read them all. Then I went into a literary phase and stopped reading fantasy.

    Much later on in life I read another pair of dragon books, Dragon Blood and Dragon Bones, by this (at the time) virtually unknown fantasy writer named Patricia Briggs, who blew me away.

    Then about a year after that I was one of the very first people to read a series of dragon books for Avon Eos by Holly Lisle, which were the World Gates Books.

    These three ladies were the best in the genre. However, there were a lot more authors trying to write dragon books, and I thought they'd be as skilled, and of course it was all downhill from there. I did try for a couple of years to find something at least half as good, and couldn't. I don't know if it was dumb luck or believing a lot of undeserved hype, but I ended up reading a lot of very bad dragon books, getting disgusted and giving up on that type of fantasy story altogether.

  11. My first dragon books were the same as yours. And I'm another one longing for really GOOD dragon books out there. Must check this series out!

  12. The very first dragon novels I read were the Harper Hall (aka Dragonsong) novels, then the rest of the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey.OMG same here! Everyone has given me grief over reading the Harper trilogy first...ha to them.

    I was one of the very first people to read a series of dragon books for Avon Eos by Holly Lisle, which were the World Gates Books.Loved these too.

    I'll have to find the Patricia Briggs TBR list groans every time I check you blog LOL

  13. Thanks, Lynn. My pocketbook just wept tears, because I'm going to have to get these now (well, as many as I can).

  14. Lynn --

    I keep saying that I don't like vampire or shapeshifting romances and then I keep adding another author who writes those onto my auto-buy list.

    When I found out that one of my favorite historical romance authors was now writing as this 'Deborah Cooke' person and writing dragon/shapeshifter romances, I was not really sure I could suspend my disbelief and my dislike for 'those' books. In spite of stuffed dragons of all kinds being the main decoration in my office and having about a dozen of them sit up on my shelves watching me write, dragon books were simply not my kind of books to read. But I am glad I did...

    I read the blurb for the third one, was intrigued by it and picked up the first two while waiting for the third. It took me about one day to read each of them! I lost myself in the story and only a very few times did I ask myself the same questions you asked yourself -- how could a dragon fit in a bookstore!?, etc.

    Once again, my narrowmindedness was beaten down a bit by a good author writing a really good story... Darn! Where will this end?