Grayson loves dragons and dinosaurs, and has managed to tie them together in a wonderful, magical story in The Dragon Waking, a middle grade fantasy.
The Dragon Waking
For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their enchanted slumber. When Rose and Jade come face-to-face with a rival dragon in a battle over neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, it will take all their courage to avert a catastrophe sixty-five million years in the making!
The dragon raised its head very slightly, watching her intently.
Rose still trembled at the sight of the dragon’s long talons and massive jaws, but she mustered her courage and edged closer. The dragon slowly extended its great head toward her as she approached, a posture that suggested both restraint and intense curiosity.
Rose’s sense of fear melted into wonder. Never had she seen anything lovelier than the tremendous green dragon before her. The elegant shape of its head and neck, the subtle shadings of green on each of its diamond-shaped scales, the delicate patterns on the translucent membrane of its folded wings – every feature of the dragon struck a perfect balance between beauty and power.
– from The Dragon Waking
What inspired you to write The Dragon Waking?
It’s the sort of story I wanted to read. That’s usually my starting point… the reader in me wishes a certain kind of book would be waiting for me on the shelves, and then the writer in me decides that I’d better get working to make that happen.
More specifically, I’ve always loved stories of dragons, especially the ones in which dragons and humans are companions. Not that I don’t enjoy a good rampaging monster story with a dragon as the star, but I’m more moved by stories like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books – stories about the friendship between a humans and dragons.
I’ve often found myself spotting dragons in the environment, like clouds or rock formations shaped like dragons. I liked to dream about those formations waking up and becoming actual dragons. From those daydreams, the world of The Dragon Waking crystallized on a particularly productive evening of staring off into space.
Do you have more stories planned in this world?
I’m currently working on the second book in what I intend to be a trilogy. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I think there could be plenty of room for more short or long stories on top of the trilogy I have planned.
What did you find to be challenging with writing this story?
Well, it was my first book that I truly wanted to finish and get published, so there was a huge learning curve. The biggest challenges came from learning the conventions of the middle grade genre, and the first of these challenges was figuring out that the book was actually middle grade! I went in thinking it would be YA, and wrote it with that idea in mind. The resulting story turned out to be a better fit for middle grade, though.
Then the next big challenge was compressing the story down to middle grade length, which is a lot more restricted than YA. This was a crash-course in editing like I’d never experienced it, and I learned a lot.
The audience for The Dragon Waking is middle grade. Do you write stories for other ages?
I’ve got two novel-length manuscripts awaiting a second draft. One is a YA story to start a new series (really YA this time, I think). The second is an adult supernatural thriller. I’m quite excited about both of them, and I’m eager to get them into shape to pitch to publishers… if only pesky things like bills and my full time job didn’t keep getting in the way.
I do write short stories sometimes too, though I tend to focus on novels. I’ve got a sidestory from The Dragon Waking available on my website, and a couple other stories I’m going to try to get published this year if I can. I think my favorite of these is a story called “Crotar” about a 19th century British naval vessel encountering a very strange being in the south Pacific.
What’s important to you about Rose, and why did you give her these characteristics?
Rose has a lot of fine qualities, but I think the two most important ones are imagination and compassion. People tend to think of imagination as the ability to come up with things that don’t exist, which is part of it. But I also think a strong imagination is what allows us to see our world with greater clarity, and perceive truths that exist beyond accepted facts. It’s Rose’s capacity for imagination that allows her to see Jade and connect with her–most people couldn’t deal with the “impossible” appearance of a dragon in their world.
Compassion is just as important for Rose. Her compassion is why she can overcome her fear and connect with Jade, and sympathize with Jade’s mission to awaken the rest of the dragons. Rose is 13, which is a time when we’re still concentrated pretty much on figuring ourselves out, but that inward focus doesn’t mean we can’t expand our perspective and put ourselves in another’s shoes. I think Rose trained her compassion in working with horses, and learning to see the world through the eyes of an animal with a very different perspective than a human.
The Dragon Waking includes both dragons and dinosaurs. Why did you decide to include both? What’s the relationship between dragons and dinosaurs in the story’s world?
Is it not a kind of chocolate and peanut-butter combination? Seems so to me. In any case, I’ve always loved to toy with the idea of what would have happened if an intelligent, civilization-building race had evolved from the dinosaurs instead of mammals. At some point, it clicked that dragons would be a perfect candidate for that race.
In terms of the story, in the first book the main antagonist is a dragon who has disguised himself as a casino mogul named Rex Triumph, and has a dinosaur-themed resort in Las Vegas. When he gets back his full power, he naturally wants to bring back the old world he used to know. So he ends up animating a lot of dinosaurs, which in turn give our protagonists a lot of trouble.
In addition to writing, you also have a web comic. How did that start, and what do you enjoy about the comic that is different from what you enjoy about writing?
That’s Thunderstruck, and I started writing that as a conventional paper comic back in the mid-90s. At the time, I wanted to be an independent comic book artist-writer. Unfortunately, I chose to follow this aspiration right about the time the entire comic industry underwent a massive implosion, so the whole plan stopped being viable as comic stores folded left and right.
But the story stuck around, and when webcomics started to become a legit avenue for self-publishing, I revived Thunderstruck in that form. I wrote for many years, took a hiatus for a while to focus on my fiction career, and then came back and hopefully will be able to follow the whole complex story to the end.
The thing I like most about comics as opposed to straight prose is the ability to use artwork to express a story. Not only can a good picture be worth a thousand words, a visual medium like comics can sometimes express things prose never can. Yet comics still lets you keep many of the advantages of prose. It’s a unique medium and I enjoy exploring the various ways you can use it to tell stories…even though I feel like I’m a pretty limited artist, by comparison to many others out there.
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?
Currently it’s the second book in the dragon series that’s getting all my attention, apart from my monthly engagement with writing the webcomic. There’s a lot of fun things about this book. There’s a change of setting, as part of it takes place in Hawaii. It’s also a story where Rose’s friend Clay gets to share the spotlight. He gets to come into his own this story and has to fend for himself when Rose and Jade are engaged elsewhere. We’re also going to get a new villain I’m really looking forward to introducing, and we’ll find out some of the mysteries we haven’t yet touched about dragons.
Grayson Towler has had a lifelong fascination with dragons, dinosaurs, magic, and the mysteries of the natural world. In addition to being a storyteller since he could first string words together, he has been a marketing copy writer, web designer, substitute teacher, comic artist, and small business owner. He and his wife, Candi, and their dog, Luna, live in a house owned by three relatively benevolent cats in Longmont, Colorado.
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