Monday, February 02, 2009
Make-Believe Mondays with Deborah Cooke
Today on Make-Believe Mondays, my guest is Deborah Cooke.
Deborah, first, tell us a little bit about the manuscript you’re working on now.
Deborah: Right now, I’m writing Dragonfire book #4.
The Dragonfire series has been a terrific challenge for me – it features heroes who are dragon shape shifters. These dragon shape shifters are called the Pyr, and the treasure they guard is the earth itself. The good Pyr (the “true Pyr”) consider humans to be part of the earth’s treasures, while the bad Pyr (the Slayers) believe that humans need to be exterminated – along with the Pyr who defend them – to save the earth. The Pyr mate with human women, and their encounter with their destined human mate is called the firestorm – literally, sparks fly between them. (And yes, this means that the heroes often have some fast talking to do!) The series is set during an astrological phase called the Dragon’s Tail, which a node of the moon – it’s right now – which is the time of the last great battle between the Pyr and the Slayers. So, each book features the Pyr facing a challenge from the Slayers while one Pyr negotiates his firestorm.
There’s a lot to balance in these books with the world being so complex and omnipresent, and the romance needing to be satisfying as well. The challenge is keeping the series fresh and giving each hero a different personality and personal crisis to face. In book #4, Delaney – who died in book #1 and was revived with the Dragon’s Blood Elixir by the Slayer Magnus in book #2, then discovered that he couldn’t trust his own impulses in book #3 because Magnus had control of him still – has put himself on a suicide mission to destroy the Dragon’s Blood Elixir and seriously weaken Magnus’s power. Delaney doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, because he thinks his life is a hell. He wants to do something for the good of the Pyr, instead of being driven to destroy them by Magnus.
Of course, he isn’t counting on having a firestorm, or on the determination of Ginger Sinclair. I’m having a lot of fun with these two strong-minded characters!
You can read more about Dragonfire at www.deborahcooke.com
Debra: Oh, that is fascinating! Okay, going to the top of my must buy, must read list. Somehow I had missed this series.
Ray Bradbury said, “We are cups, constantly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” How do you keep your creative cup filled?
Deborah: I knit.
Debra: Yes, you do. (smiling)
Deborah: Actually, there are other crafts I do, but knitting is my current favourite. I love playing with colour and with texture, and knitting combines that pretty well. I don’t always make garments, because then there’s the whole issue of fit and flatter – I knit a lot of socks and lace. They’re kind of one-size-solutions!
In the past, I’ve done a lot of dressmaking – but there’s that fit and flatter frustration factor – and I love to piece quilts. The trouble with quilts is that I like piecing them better than quilting them – piecing is the colour work – so I have backlog of quilt tops in need of quilting. I don’t like the look of machine quilting, so do mine by hand. It may take me a while to catch up.
Especially if I keep knitting instead. I also like all the colours and textures of yarns that are available. A yarn store or a small mill is a dangerous place for my wallet. I just want to take all of the pretties home!
Knitting is portable too – I can knit in the car or on the train, in the kitchen while dinner is simmering, or do a couple of rows right at my desk while I’m thinking. I like that a lot.
One of the best things about knitting for me creatively is that it seems to let my imagination wander by itself. I focus on the knitting – purl a stitch, knit a stitch etc. – and admire the fabric that’s taking shape, and all of a sudden, I know what comes next. Or I begin to hear the dialogue between my characters. It’s a magical thing, but whenever I’m stuck, a bit of quiet knitting will usually sort things out. I knit a bit every day, just to keep the story rolling in my mind.
You can peek at my adventures in knitting on my blog, which is called Alive & Knitting www.delacroix.net/blog
Debra: There is something about repetitive motion I think. Going for a walk, riding a train, something as simple as ironing, that allows the creative muse to play. So now I will think of you with your magic knitting needles creating stories full of magic. :-)
Some very famous authors have played with language, creating words for people or places that no one has ever heard of. Have you ever played with words in that way and if so how?
Deborah: Well, whenever an author creates a fantasy world, there are things that need names, things that don’t have names in the world we know. We have dragons, of course, but no naming for good dragon shape shifters vs. bad dragon shapeshifters. We have no name for the mating phase of a dragon shape shifter. What is a female dragon shape shifter called, and how is she different?
So, I needed to come up with some names for these things in my Pyr world and more. I focused on the idea that my dragon shape shifters are a very old species, so I chose names that seemed old to me. “Pyr”, for example, is the Greek root for “fire” – think of pyrotechnics, or pyromania. The oldest story that is obviously about dragons is a Greek story, so I thought picking a name in that language was fitting. I also had to define their capabilities, which was intriguing – what can they do? What can’t they do?
I enjoy the fact that the Pyr’s numbers have been vastly diminished and that the social structure they once had has eroded and things have been forgotten. (Erik explains that to us in KISS OF FATE.) I like how they need to remember or rediscover these things, or interpret prophecies that seem enigmatic or just irrelevant. They’re all pretty down-to-earth pragmatists so interacting with legend and myth is frustrating to all of them. I like that.
The most interesting thing for me, though, has been giving the Pyr their stories and myths. I’m really enjoying the process of taking human stories about dragons and turning them around to be the Pyr’s stories. I love the Pyr’s creation story – “In the beginning, there was the fire and the fire burned bright…” – it’s really fun to echo the style of this kind of storytelling but change the content.
Fortunately, humans have always told a lot of stories about dragons, so there’s a lot of material to play with!
Debra: And I do love it when you play, creating such fascinating stories.
As a child did any particular book or author pull you into their imaginary world?
Deborah: I read a lot of fantasy novels when I was a kid, precisely because they had complex worlds. I liked the idea of slipping away into an alternate universe, where magic could happen and where the good guys invariably won.
After fairy tales, one of my favourite series was J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I’m not sure how many times I read it, and I read many of the ancillary works as well. I also was quite disappointed by the cursory treatment of Arwen and Aragon’s romance, so rewrote LOTR as a romance when I was a teenager. I didn’t understand then that that was what I was doing, but putting Arwen and Aragon front and centre made sense to me – maybe that was indicative of what I’d end up doing for a living!
Debra: Oh, yes, I felt like that was missing as well. I wanted to know more about their love story too!
If there were no categories for books, no reader expectations to meet, and you could create the wildest work of imagination that you could think of what kind of story would that be?
Deborah: Many writers fight against categories for books as being restrictive, but I think they do serve a purpose – as readers, we want to know what to expect from any given book, and book categories instruct that. For example, a romance will follow the story of a couple falling in love and negotiating their relationship to a permanent one. Categories of fiction also provide valuable clues to writers about structuring their work, in order to better satisfy that reader expectation. A romance, for example, because it focuses on the relationship, begins with the couple meeting or interacting for the first time, and ends with the HEA resolution. All other elements of the plot fit inside of those brackets. (There’s a post on my blog about this, called A Plot Is Like A Sandwich - which explains this more thoroughly.)
Part of what we forget sometimes as authors is that the reading experience is an exchange – in order to be working writers, we need readers, and we will only have readers if readers find something to love in our books. A big part of that is delivering to the expectations of a category of fiction. It’s true that an author can write a book without any structure or without adhering to any recognizable framework, but I’m not sure that that book will be an interesting read. I have a number of those books on my shelf – or have had a number of them on my shelf! – they tend to not get read the whole way through, and they certainly aren’t keepers. I want to write keepers.
So, the challenge to all writers is working within the framework of expectation, pushing its edges a bit but still deliverying a satisfying read. The other facet of that is that markets are fluid and reading tastes change, so what constitutes a satisfying read is a bit of a moving target.
I think there’s more latitude for my writing a satisfying read right now, with the market being more open to elaborate world-building. I love elaborate world-building! Ten years ago, it would have been very hard to sell a series like Dragonfire, because there was a perception in the romance market that the world building should be subtle not omnipresent. I was always pulling back on details in my Delacroix medievals, so being able to let loose and make things complicated is really exciting to me.
The trick is building the detail and the surprises inside the parameters of expectation. I think that’s a perfect balance, between giving readers what they want and letting authors be creative.
Debra: Deborah, I am always learning some bit of wisdom from you. Thank you for that and thank you for joining me here on this Make-believe Monday to share a little bit of the magic of writing with our readers.
Deborah: Thank you, Debra, for inviting me!
Visit Dragonfire online at www.deborahcooke.com
Visit Château Delacroix at www.delacroix.net
Visit Claire Cross online at www.clairecross.com
Blogging weekdays at www.delacroix.net/blog
Debra's News/Debra is watching:
Debra will be knee deep in revisions this week and ordering bookmarks as well as participating in a Valentines Day game with Samahain. Stay tuned to
debraparmley.com for changes and updates.