Menacing lizards (little dragons?)

Today we were menaced by a collared lizard. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

We had been out for a walk at about 8 AM. In Arizona. When it’s supposed to be (only) 109. (It was 116 yesterday, so I’d say 109 is an improvement.) Anyway, the heat has made the insect population explode. By extension, the lizard population has also exploded. They’re everywhere, lots of different kinds, all looking at you sarcastically as you walk by.

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This lovely guy is a Great Basin Collared Lizard. Look at the condescension in his eye.

Anyway, we were walking along one of the nearby washes, which is full of brush and animal life. A good sized collared lizard ran away from us into the bushes as we walked along. Suddenly its mate popped out onto the sidewalk.

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Not my photo–it’s from WIkimedia Commons

He looked like this one. Only with more red. He flattened himself to make himself look bigger, and extended his throat dewlap thing, which I’d only seen iguanas do when afraid or scared. Then he started doing pushups.

Lizard Pushups

This is a display of aggression. He was warning us to leave his territory, he was top lizard, and we were unwanted predators.

I sat and laughed. I mean, getting menaced by a critter the size of my foot is pretty funny. His resolve faded as we walked closer, and he zipped into the bushes again. Poor lizard, I don’t mean to laugh at you, but you’re just so funny.

Now imagine if he was elephant-sized and doing an aggressive display to lurking humans. That right there is a dragon.

I think it would be fun if somebody wrote a story with an actual reptilian dragon that actually exhibited reptile behavior. Imagine the huge dragon basking on a rock in the early morning, watching his domain and hoping a female shows up. 😀 Who shows up to ruin his day? Some irritating dragonslayer. Cue the aggressive head-bobbing and pushups, man!

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Dragon on the rock by Antimad1
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Fire and Ice Cream – cooking in books

In his book On Writing, Stephen King observed that people love to read about work. That’s why Tom Clancy novels are thinly disguised manuals about how things work, yet people read them by the truckload.

The cozy mystery crowd is the same way. Is there knitting on the cover? There’d better be technical knitting stuff in the book. In one of my Facebook groups, a reader complained that Silence of the Flans didn’t actually have any flans in it.

When I read mysteries that involve the victim being poisoned via blueberry pie, I want to know about that pie. Did it have a normal crust? Or was it a Marie Calendars sour cream blueberry pie? Is there some twist to baking it, like all the tricks it takes to make a perfect cheesecake? How do you hide a bitter poison in a sweet confection, anyway?

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The cozy mystery genre is hot right now, but it’s been flooded by a lot of indies who don’t really understand the genre. They promise a culinary cozy, then the dessert in question is barely mentioned. Does the heroine run a cupcake bakery? Tell me about cupcakes. I want to know the sizes, the types of batter, the way the icing is piped. Does the heroine sell those tiny cups of frosting that were so popular a few years ago?

When I set out to write a culinary cozy with dragons, I picked ice cream, since it’s my favorite dessert. I love eating it and I love making it. In the book, the heroine debates things like almonds vs walnuts in rocky road. She constructs the perfect coffee ice cream.

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I looked up tons of recipes as I wrote. Having never made Rocky Road before, I checked that out. Turns out it’s a kind of frozen chocolate pudding with nuts and marshmallows folded in. I researched coffee ice cream. You make a custard with coffee in it, the higher quality, the better.

This book is packed with cooking. When the heroine isn’t interviewing people or eavesdropping on conversations, she’s mixing up ice cream or batches of brownies. At home she cooks breakfasts worthy of a restaurant.

Food is comforting. Eating it with friends is comforting. In all my books, across all genres, my characters experience downtime and safety with food. I guess I have too much hobbit in me.

My first dragon cozy, Fire and Ice Cream, launches today. I hope people like it, because I want to write twenty more of these. The characters are adorable and the mystery is fun to figure out. And there’s so much food.


fire-and-cre-cream-coverTianna Tokala is starting a new life in Carefree, Arizona, working in an ice cream parlor. She also has the magical ability to turn into a small dragon called a drake. All she wants is a quiet life where she can make ice cream with her wonderful ice breath.
But when her manager is found dead with a bowl of Tianna’s Rocky Road ice cream beside her, Tianna springs into action. With a knack for observation and her enhanced drake hearing, she delves into her manager’s smoky draconic past.
Aided by a secretive drake, a single mother, and a four-year-old dragon shifter, Tianna must unravel the web of lies that surround this dragonic death … or there may be more fire than ice cream.


 

Watch out, paranormal cozy mysteries: here there be dragons

Last time I talked about five worldbuilding tricks I learned from the show Grimm. I mentioned that the reason we watched the show wasn’t for the monsters or the grisly murders–it was for the cozy character development.

While going through a stressful patch in my life a few years ago, I rediscovered the mystery genre. Particularly the cozy mystery genre. These are the stories where the heroine, usually part of a knitting club or a restaurant or a bookstore, suddenly finds a dead body. This launches her into an amateur investigation, questioning the natives of her quirky hometown, and discovering the murderer before the police do a la Hercule Poirot.

There’s a whole subset of these called paranormal cozies. Here the sleuth will be a witch of some kind, or be able to see ghosts, or be psychic in some way. Often there will be cats that talk and help her solve the mystery. Also, interviewing ghosts of the murdered always has its thrills. There will be magic, usually in small doses. But otherwise it’s the same quirky characters, the same small town, the same heaping doses of good food, books, and humor.

After reading a few piles of these, I went looking for cozies with dragons in them. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “if the sleuth could turn into a dragon?” I’ve loved any kind of shapeshifter for years, but the shifter genre is predominantly hardcore porn these days. I’d like something lighter. Like a dragon shifter who solves murder mysteries, interviews quirky residents of her hometown, eats lots of good food, and trades zingers with her friends.

I couldn’t find any. NONE! Oh, I found every kind of witch you can imagine. I found witches + werewolves, even. But no dragons.

So I took the worldbuilding I had learned from Grimm and began building my own world.

Imagine the world of Grimm, where instead of wesen all over the place, there are a couple kinds of people who shift into dragons, or a smaller subspecies called drakes. Drakes have ice breath instead of fire. Dragons hate them, so drakes live on reservations for their own protection. Instead of Grimm, we have slayers, who can identify both kinds of shifters. But slayers don’t actually slay dragons anymore–they just see them. Sometimes they become lawyers who sue dragons, because the worst thing you can do to a dragon is to take away their horde, right?

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Male and female drake (Bruce and Tianna) looking up clues on a smartphone.

So into the middle of this interesting world comes Tianna Tokala, shy, introverted drake who takes a job in an ice cream shop in Carefree, Arizona. Her boss, a dominating dragoness, winds up dead after eating ice cream Tianna had just made. Now Tianna is not only a suspect because of her cooking skills, she’s a drake suspected of killing a dragoness, which brings in a whole extra element of intrigue. Tianna and her friends Katie and Bruce must team up to figure out the real killer before more people wind up dead. Or before Tianna winds up behind bars.

The first book, A Dragon by the Tail, will launch in a few weeks. I’ve almost finished writing the second book, and I’m mulling over the third. They’re super fun to write, and these characters and this world are totally adorable. I hope readers love them as much as I do.

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When a reader loves a dragon

I recently joined an online book club that one of my friends started. I’ve tried a few book clubs before, but they tended to read books I didn’t care for.

This club carefully vets books and has a panel of judges who decide what book we shall lavish our adoration upon that month. Then we readers get to vote on what cover art we like best. (Tongue firmly in cheek, here.)

Anyway, this month, we picked Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia.

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Dragonfriend on Amazon!

See what I mean about voting pretty much because of the cover art? Hee hee. Anyway, it’s upwards of 500 pages and I read it in about two days. It’s amaaaaaaazing. It’s the sort of thing I expected Pern to be. (I went into Pern as a wide-eyed teen who didn’t really like sex or politics all that much, BUT THAT’S WHAT I GOT BOY HOWDY).

In Dragonfriend, Lia is an adopted princess who gets diced up and tossed off an airship by the bad guy who just took over her kingdom. She’s saved from landing in a volcano by a tiny dragonet who sort of parachutes her into a tree. The dragonet, Flicker, falls in love with Lia, and they become close friends, even though humans aren’t allowed on the sacred Dragon Isle.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that all the islands stick up out of the Cloud Sea, which is made of poison clouds. Nobody goes into them and lives to tell the tale.

There are magic-wielding martial-arts monks. There is a big, bad, blue dragon named Grandion. There are hints of a coming apocalypse. There are deep conversations about love and belonging. There is self-sacrifice. It’s beautiful.

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Mt. Roraima, inspiration for an island in the Cloudlands

Marc came around to show us pictures of Ethiopia where he lives, tell fun backstory bits, and drop cool pictures.

So that’s where I’ve been lately. Got walloped with tonsillitis and then laryngitis, which means that basically all I can do is lay around and read. I certainly don’t have any voice to do anything with.

Come join our book club and read amazing books with us! The authors come schmooze and post cool backstory bits and giveaways.

Dragons and fairies – interview with Ralene Burke

Today I’m interviewing Ralene Burke, author of the fantasy novel Bellanok. I just finished reading it, and it was a fun, gentle romp through a fantasyland with a heaping helping of faith. Here’s the interview!

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 1.  Welcome to the blog, Ralene! Thanks for joining us! First, tell us about your book. What genre/age group is it for? And what’s the story about?
Bellanok is a contemporary fantasy geared toward readers in their 20s. Although, I’ve heard from readers of all ages, including YA readers, who have enjoyed the story. Here’s the blurb:
A haven for myths and legends . . . until evil discovers a way in.

With evil darkening the mountains to the north, the fairy queen, Fauna, must journey from the island realm of Bellanok to the modern world to find the man the Creator appointed to save their kingdom. A man she has been dreaming of her whole life.

Brian is a down-on-his-luck pastor on the verge of giving up on God. He’s tired and frustrated–a failure. No sooner does he make a decision that jeopardizes his career than an unusual blonde woman shows up and tries to convince him he is some kind of savior.

Fauna must open Brian’s eyes to a different reality, and Brian needs to embrace the haven’s secrets. If neither of them succeeds, Bellanok will succumb to evil and the world will lose all trace of innocence.

2. What made you want to write this particular story?
It all started with a prayer. I was asking God for guidance on where to go after finishing edits on a WIP. The first chapter of Bellanok popped into my head. After a couple of days with that chapter demanding to be written, I sat down and cranked it out. That seemed to alleviate the urgency while I finished the current WIP, but the story was still building in the back of my mind. Once I had time, I was able to start cranking out the story.

3. What was your favorite part to write?
Any part with Roman in it? Seriously, Roman was my favorite character to write—mostly because he’s just so different from me. But he says many things that I wish I had the guts to say. Ha!

4. What was the hardest part to write?
I can’t tell you that without revealing a major plot point in the story. I will say, bring out the tissues! The second hardest part to write was the end. For several scenes in the final battles, Fauna and Brian are in separate places with different dangers around them.

5. This book was originally written in serial format. What are the pros and cons of writing that way?
Ah, yes, the serial project was an interesting experience. I had fun with it and would totally try to do it again (though I would change a few things).
Pros: The serial format allowed me to keep putting my name/story out in front of readers with each release, thus helping to build a following more quickly.
The serial forced me to think on my feet and make a cohesive story without being able to go back and change things. So it was a great exercise for stretching my writing muscles.
Cons: Ideally, each part of the serial would have released about 6-8 weeks apart. Due to life, that didn’t happen. So while the serial format did help to build a following, it wasn’t as effective as it should have been.
I don’t like not being able to go back to previous parts and change details or plot lines. Of course, that could be solved by writing the whole thing first—but that would have taken too long!

6. The theme of Bellanok is a journey back into faith. Why is this important to you?
It’s important to me because much of Brian’s journey is mine as well. I’ve always been a believer, but it wasn’t until my 20s that I reached a time when my faith was challenged, where I felt that I just couldn’t connect with God.
While it didn’t take me journeying to a mystical island to save unicorns to find that connection, God did have to bring me to my knees before I was able to see the problems.
I think many people go through the same kind of challenges—each unique to the person—but with the same struggles and desperation. Bellanok helps readers to sort through the coinciding emotions and thoughts while escaping with Brian to fight the battle and save the world.

Thank you for joining us on the blog today, Ralene! Best of luck with Bellanok and all future books!

Check out Bellanok on Amazon!

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RALENE BURKE BIO:
Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a freelance editor’s sword, or a social media wand, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to help everyone SHINE BEYOND! She has worked for a variety of groups, including Realm Makers, The Christian PEN, Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, and as an editor for several freelance clients. Her first novel, Bellanok, is available on Amazon!
When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .
You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website.

Sketches of dinosaurs, dragons, and drakes

In my teens, I took art classes from a terrific teacher named Ron Moore. He taught everything–painting, pastel, wood carving, clay sculpture, you name it, he’d teach it. Anyway, while learning to sculpt animals, we studied anatomy. I learned proportion tricks, what joints did, how shoulders behaved, and on and on. I sculpted animals, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, anything that struck my fancy.

That training still resides in my head. So when a friend suggested that I draw an amargasaurus, this training kicked in.

First off, this is an amargasaurus.

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Amargasaurus from Wikipedia

Pretty gnarly-looking sauropod.

Mr. Moore always taught me that if I did artwork from another artist’s work, I would copy all their mistakes and make them worse. (Boy, have I seen new artists do that.) So I went hunting for the bones of this sucker.

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Amargasaurus skeleton from Wikipedia

Okay, so, all the spikes are attached to the vertebrae. Notice the way they lay. If he kept his neck straight, they’d more or less lie down. But if he bent his neck, they’d fan out and display whatever skin stretched between them.

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Like this.

So now we have this idea of a dinosaur bending his neck around to show off his frill. He’d have to bow his head a lot. Now we get ideas of what a courtship display might look like.

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They might have danced like this. Ever seen an iguana display his dewlap to attract a mate? It’s pretty funny. Or like that red-capped manakin bird.

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It’s really fun to extrapolate from dinosaur bones. It’s not like anybody can go look at one and disprove my idea, right?

Anyway, the same process applies to building dragons. Here’s a reference sheet in progress for a story I’m writing with little drakes and big dragons.

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Drakes and dragons

As you can see, my drakes are very lizard-like (with pterodactyl wings), while the dragons are the traditional European dragons. Lots of comparative anatomy studies while drawing these, trying to make them work. Well, as well as any six-limbed creature would work. There’s a lot of biological hand-waving when it comes to dragons.

While dragons would be majestic predators, drakes would fly on highly-maneuverable albatross wings, able to pull off midair gyrations like those of a flycatcher.

I suppose I ought to put some kind of a tail fin on them, so they can steer. But then, not all pterosaurs had them, either. What do you guys think?

Hobby dragon pets, part 2

I’ve gotten a few more dragons done from H. L. Burke’s Cora and the Nurse Dragon story. Check them out!

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Each of these dragons are cat-sized, and would make great pets–if you don’t mind a few minor house fires.

Part 1 of the Hobby Dragon Pets

I’ve been a bit behind on blogging, because I’ve been on a reading binge. Mostly I’ve been cleaning out the books that have been sitting on my Kindle for ages, unread. It’s kind of fun, because I go in to the process expecting to throw out 70% because of the excessively poor writing. So far I’ve only thrown out one, so either the overall quality of books is rising, or I’ve gotten luckier in my choices.

I had to stop halfway through Secchia’s excellent Aranya (dragon shapeshifter!) to reread my own book Malevolent, and its unpublished sequel, Malcontent. I want to draft the third book over Lent, and release the second and third books a month apart.

Boy howdy. Malevolent is good, but Malcontent ratchets up the stakes and action. I was reading a car chase scene, and thinking, I need one of these in book 3, but it needs zombies. Or ghouls. Whichever is scarier.

So if I don’t get any more dragons done for a while, that’s where I am–buried in the third and final Malevolent, trying to come up with something that will entertain you.

Hobby dragon pets, part 1

H. L. Burke recently released a new book, Cora and the Nurse Dragon, this one about people who collect little dragons like Pokemon.

The dragons were so fun and diverse, I had to take a shot at drawing them. Here’s what I have so far:

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I have the rest sketched, but not colored yet. They’re all bright colors with neat abilities. Not sure I want to try drawing the Nurse Dragon of the title, because, well, he’s already so cute on the cover!

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Isn’t he adorable? And so tiny! Most of the dragons in this story are little, which is one reason I wanted to draw them.

More coming soon!

Why do we love dragons so much?

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Girl and Dragon by Sandara
“There are certain things in life that are glorious, and they are glorious for everyone. There are more that are hard, and they are hard for everyone. We like to see these things retold, but with dragons.”

— Erin Bow

I’m halfway through H. L. Burke’s Cora and the Nurse Dragon book right now, and enjoying it immensely. Then I wondered, “Would I enjoy this book as much if it was about cats or dogs?”

The swift answer, “No.”

The rejoinder, “Why?”

J. J. Abrams gave a TED talk about mystery boxes. In magic shows, the part that the audience enjoys is the buildup–the slow revelation of the mystery–the suspense–before the big reveal. We love mysteries, especially mysteries leading to more mysteries.

What’s inside the box? What if once we open it, we find another box, equally mysterious? That’s what kept people watching LOST–that slow trickle of reveals that led to more questions.

Dragons are like that. Since they’re mythical, writers aren’t held to any hard and fast science, the way cats and dog are. Do they breathe fire, ice, or poison? How does that work, exactly? Do they fly? How do an extra pair of limbs attach to a quadruped? Can they speak, or are they telepathic?

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Apis, by windfalcon
Every author’s answer to these questions is different. The only things we know for sure is that dragons are huge, awesome lizards, and figuring out what they can do is one of the mystery boxes of the fantasy genre. We’re always happily looking forward to a new twist on dragons, the way a magician’s audience expects to see people disappear, transform, or be sawed in half.

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Dragon Valley by kerembeyit
Any mythical creature can be a mystery box. For instance, the wicked unicorn in Stengl’s Moonblood is full of surprises, to the extent that his storyline overshadows that of the heroes.

The gryfons in Kara’s Song of the Summer King series are a fount of questions that are slowly being answered–after all, we know they stole their gold from dragons, but how did they come by their vivid plumage colors? Where did the Wyrms come from, and can the hero gryfon ever communicate with them?

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Skyfire by Nambroth
But again, we come back to dragons being the biggest, most delicious mystery box of all. From Pern to Earthsea to Nice Dragons Finish Last to Game of Thrones, dragons are not only fantasy standard, their mystique continue to delight audiences to this day.

And by the way, Cora and the Nurse Dragon is yet another fantastic dragon story, taking the Dungeons and Dragons hierarchy of metallic vs chromatic and using it in a whole new way. One more mystery box to add to the playground that is the fantasy genre.