Thanks for doing this interview. First, could you tell us a bit about yourself? What got you into writing and other biographical goodies?
I’m pretty sure it was a toy castle that sent me over the edge and into madness. I was four years old when I told mom I wanted to be a writer. Dragons and castles gave me reason to live from elementary school through college at Northern Arizona University. I loved my English classes, but pursued my other passion and earned a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science in 1996. I’m a registered nurse in a cardiac unit where I work the night shift keeping the forces of darkness away from my patients. I’ve also worked as a computer game consultant, a copyeditor, and as a proofreader for a small press publisher. My short stories have been published in various large press anthologies from DAW Books, such as: Fellowship Fantastic, The Dimension Next Door, Imaginary Friends, Catopolis, Furry Fantastic, and Terribly Twisted Tales. I’ve also published three of my Pirate Witch stories in the Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms anthologies. The first two novels in my Iron Dragon Series, The Golden Cord and The Dragon Hunters are out now. Book two, The Dragon Hunters released May 15 of 2009, and both books feature covers by world famous fantasy artist, Ciruelo Cabral. I love teaching writing to people of all ages, and I’m the editor of the free Writers’ Symposium Ezine, dedicated to “Helping Writers Write.” To sign up for the ezine or watch a video about the Iron Dragon Hunters, visit me online at www.paulgenesse.com.
The Dragon Hunters is book two in your Iron Dragon series (preceded by The Golden Cord). Could you tell us a bit about this particular book and the series as a whole?
The tag line for The Golden Cord is, “Only some bonds can be broken,” and the description is: “A hunter must leave behind his true love, give up all hope of survival and guide his most hated enemies on a suicidal journey to the lair of the dragon king.” That description does describe the series as a whole, as well as the first book. The novel is for ages 12 (or so) and up, and is considered YA, but I think of it more as a teen to adult novel. Ten and eleven year olds usually love it too, but it’s a little scary for some of them. About book two, The Dragon Hunters, the tag line is: “On this hunt, you give up everything,” and the description: “The last of an order of dragon hunters must track down the Dragon King’s Daughter and stop her from getting the Crystal Eye, an ancient artifact that will cause the destruction of their world.” Book two is such a vicious novel, in my opinion. My fighting gloves, which were on in book one, are now coated in broken glass and feature six-inch long spikes that cause permanent damage. The poor characters have a really hard time in this book, and I’m very proud of the obstacles they have to overcome. The world is much harsher than the main character, Drake, realized. Things are not black and white. Survival may mean giving up any hope that he has of ever returning home.
How do you feel about the YA category? Do you feel that it is misleading to potential readers (i.e. it puts off adult readers because they assume that it is essentially dumbed down for youngins)?
I do feel that the YA category is misleading to most folks, including me. A large amount of very advanced novels get lumped into the YA category, but they’re really not books specifically for Young Adults. They’re books for anyone of any age. The truth is that the specific category books get put in are marketing decisions by the marketing people at the book publishers. YA books sell more and if the books can be put into that category, many publishers put them there. The book industry is driven my marketing.
This particular installment in your Iron Dragon Series expands the scope of the world you began in The Golden Cord ten fold by taking Drake and his two Drobin comrades into new territory, particularly into an expansive desert with its own peoples and cultures. Can you talk about your approach to world building here? What was your inspiration for the people of the Khoram Desert?
I love world building in general, and the world of Ae’leron is a massive world of mountainous interconnected plateaus with sheer cliffs at every edge. When you look off the edge, all you see is an ocean of clouds, the Void. No one can see beneath the mist that obscures the view into the Underworld. Planetary geography, such as Olympus Mons on Mars (it’s 65,000 feet tall and 500 miles in diameter) inspired me. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano and so are the plateaus in Ae’leron. National Geographic Magazine and all the shows about the world in general influence me. Now in book two, the characters get away from the edge of the world (the lip of the Void) and go to the interior, the Khoram Desert. I grew up near Death Valley and spent most of my life in the desert, so living there had a huge influence on me. I was inspired by the Northern African cultures of the Sahara, the ancient Israelites and the ancient Egyptians when I created the Mephitian culture there. However, I wanted to take the Mephitians to a different level of technology. The Mephitians are an amalgam of several different groups from our world, and have become something all their own.
Obviously you can only put so much worldbuilding into one novel. Will we see much more of the Mephitians in the books to come? What about other cultures?
The Mephitians (pronounced: meh-FEE-shuns; sorry, the phonetic spelling looked dumb to me: Mefishuns) will have a huge role in the rest of the series. Books three, four, and the finale, book five will feature them heavily. As far as other cultures, the dragon culture will get more page time. I love the scenes from the dragon’s, Wingataurs, and their other minions' points of view. There will also be some exploration of the lands to the north of Drake’s village, Cliffton. It will become quite obvious why Drake’s people fled those lands and chose to live in the dangerous and deadly, Thornclaw Forest.
Would you say that you put a good amount of research into the real world for the express purpose of sharpening your worldbuilding skills or finding inspiration? Aside from National Geographic, where do you often go to find those unusual tidbits that make fabricated cultures particularly detailed and fascinating?
I put a lot of research into my work. Much of that research is in the books I read, both non-fiction and fiction. The Handbook of Ancient __________ (fill in the culture) are completely awesome, as are many Children’s books about the ancient world. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn from them. I also travel as much as I can and watch TV programs about the ancient world. Reading historical novels about ancient cultures is fun as well as educational. You find something there and then learn more about it through further research, then use it in your own work. Getting out into our world is great too. Experiencing other cultures and meeting people from different walks of life is an important aspect of my method. My trips to Europe, Canada, and across the U.S. have been fabulous. Speaking to my patients in the hospital, where I work as cardiac nurse, gives me a lot of great stories as well. Going on long hikes in difficult terrain is also quite amazing. You begin to understand how difficult traveling long distances on foot truly is. However, just growing up where I grew up, in the middle of nowhere near Death Valley, made a huge impact. One thing that affected the Iron Dragon books and shaped my thinking on why the people in Ae’leron hate birds is this: I remember that my home town was infested with birds. They would haunt the trees, watch you wherever you went, scavenge off the garbage, act in generally annoying ways all the time. I know I imagined they were spies of the enemy, sent to watch me. This influenced my writing a lot, and I think that our experiences growing up creep into our writing whether we like it or not.
I think one of the interesting things about this book is that it tries to inject some ambiguity into the dragon species, which we have largely taken as evil by default. What acted as inspiration for your breed of dragons and would you mind divulging a bit about them (their history, etc.)? What made you want to create dragons that don't necessarily fit into the cliches (as mounts, primarily, or as mindless monstrosities)?
The history of the dragons in Ae’leron is somewhat lost to the ages. What the main characters know, since Bellor is a Dracken Viergur Master, a Dragon Hunter Master, is that the dragons were once in command of the plateaus. Then the Drobin (dwarves) and Nexans (humans) came and changed everything. The dragons lost their dominance and were either killed off by the interlopers or by each other as they struggled for dominance. Where the Mephitians fit into this picture is not known--for now. There’s a lot more in the book about the dragons, but I don’t want to spoil it here. Suffice it to say that I don’t want to write the same old stuff about all dragons being evil. Dragons in the Iron Dragon Books have their own agenda. They do what they want to do and from their point of view, they should be in command. After all, they are the smartest, longest lived, and strongest in might and magic of all the races. Why shouldn’t they be in charge? I enjoy writing about dragons that fit into the gray area of individual motivation and shifting alliances.
What are some particularly memorable dragons for you (in any medium)? Why?
Of course, I love the dragon Smaug, in The Hobbit. He’s my favorite dragon. The scene with him and Bilbo talking is so classic and awesome that I will never forget it. I also love the dragon in the movie, Dragonslayer, which is still a pretty cool movie even today. However, the most awesome dragon in any book I’ve ever read is Black Kalgalath, in Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar novel, Dragondoom. Many fans agree that this is the best Mithgar novel, and Black Kalgalath is a big reason why. Black Kalgalath epitomizes the true power and intelligence of dragons. If you haven’t read Dragondoom, please put it on your list. I have personally chosen to show dragons in a slightly different light in my Iron Dragon Series. There aren’t many of them left, though they were once the dominant power in the world. Now, they must use subversion, rather than overt force to take over the world. Draglûne is a nasty and scheming mastermind, and his minions are everywhere. They worship him as a god, and why shouldn’t they? He is the Dragon King.
The Dragon Hunters also complicates the romantic relationships between some of your characters, with betrayals, deceit, and more filtering into the story and tearing apart friends and families. Would you say that some of the most important aspects of your novels are centered around the relationships of your characters, whether good or bad? Do you see these sorts of breaks and emergencies of relationships as powerful events that help shape your characters as the story progresses?
I agree with you. The most important aspect of all of my books and short stories is the characters. The bonds between the characters is critical, as it is on the battlefield between soldiers in arms. The breaking of bonds is huge and I love putting the characters in great distress. Book two brings in new characters that test the relationships set in book one. I’m so cruel to Drake and his true love, Jaena. Their love is tested to the extreme.
Why are you so tough on Drake? Do you secretly hate him? Or is this just a thing that writers do (torture their characters emotionally and physically as much as humanly possible)?
I do hate Drake, but I also love him. I hate and love him as I hate and love myself. There’s a lot of me in him, and there’s no way around that. Truly, I am so tough on him because he is experiencing a very difficult situation and I want it to ring true and be real. Also, I want the reader to love him, and they love characters that are made to suffer. As I write scenes my first impulse is to be nice to Drake, and the other characters, but then I remember that if I’m nice to them, the reader can relax--and might put the book down. The world where Drake lives is rough place, but honestly, it’s a pale reflection of the horrible place Earth has been now and in the past.
Who are some of your writing and fantasy influences?
J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, Michael A. Stackpole, Dennis L. McKiernan, Kij Johnson, Frank Herbert, Stephen R. Donaldson, Anne McCaffery, The Thieves World books, and my writing buddies, Brad Beaulieu and Patrick Tracy.
Since SBS is primarily a short fiction and poetry magazine, could you talk about your short fiction writing? What do you like most about the short form and do you have any advice for writing short stories?
I love short stories, though I used to think of myself as strictly a novelist. My advice: GO OUT AND WRITE SHORT STORIES! You can finish them in a couple of weeks or less. Novels go on for years sometimes. I love that you can easily finish a short story and my best advice for writing them is: limit the number of characters. Stick to one character’s point of view and explore that character. You don’t have time to have a big cast.
What other projects do you have in the works and can you tell us a bit about them (short stories, novels, etc.)? What about projects you're thinking of, but haven't started yet?
I’m rewriting book three of the Iron Dragon Series, The Secret Empire, at the moment. I’ve written all five books in the series, but am making the old manuscripts better.
I also want to turn my pirate witch stories into a novel. I think it would be quite cool to write that. Also, my short story in Fellowship Fantastic, Almost Brothers, needs to be chapter one of a novel. That book is going to be so powerful and someday, I’m going to write it.
This year, I’m going to finish two books, The Secret Empire (a rewrite) and Medusa’s Daughter, a manuscript I had to put on hold when the Iron Dragon Series took off. Medusa’s Daughter, an adult fantasy--a dark fantasy love story--set in ancient Greece is about the mythological Medusa. Tag line, “Can true love break the curse?” The description is: Medusa’s daughter has inherited her mother’s terrible curse and longs to escape her lonely life on the shattered island where her mother and aunts have been exiled. But when a mysterious sailor washes ashore she falls in love, then discovers there might be a way for the curse to be broken. She must look into the eyes of her true love, but if he’s not, she will kill the only man she ever loved.
I’ve posted the first draft of chapter one on my website. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and the Medusa myth has always been one that piqued my interest. The story came to me as I was reading up on the actual myth. There is no mention of Medusa having a daughter, but I thought that if she was indeed raped by Poseidon, there could be a child. What would she be like? How would her mother treat her? The story went from there. I’ve approached the tale with a more realistic slant and a dark tone. I really love the novel and can’t wait to finish it. I’ve written 75,000 words, including the beginning, middle and end, but have some interconnecting to do and expanding. I also need to write a little epilogue chapter. Book one is self-contained, but it would be a trilogy called the Gorgon’s Kiss trilogy.
What general writing advice would you give to budding writers out there?
Perseverance is key is you want to get published. You’ve got to want it so bad and then be intelligent in how you go about the process. Becoming a good enough writer (to get published) is a long journey that takes years and never stops. Don’t be afraid to write something down because it’s not perfect. You can’t revise a blank page. Get something down, understand that it probably sucks, then make it better. And keep making it better. Learn as much as you can from books on writing. I have several suggestions on my website in the Writer’s Resources section as well as in my free ezine.
Now for a silly question: If you could put one person into a glass jar to keep as a pet, who would it be and why?
Yoda of course. He’s a freaking Jedi Master.
And there you have it. Hope you all enjoyed it!