Writer's Corner

Shana Abe

December 18, 2007

A few years ago, I was bowled over – make that totally blown away in a completely knock-your-socks-off kind of way – by The Smoke Thief. It was lush. It was lovely. And, as so many others have said before me, it was incredibly lyrical. With Queen of Dragons, the last in the promised drákon trilogy, set for release on December 26th, Shana Abé took time out from her magical world to answer a few questions about the books, why her original trilogy is now destined to be more, (yea!) and how her own high school geek-dom resulted in the writer she is today.

--Sandy Coleman

 

I’m lucky enough to have gotten a chance to read Queen of Dragons early and I think it’s fair to say that fans of The Smoke Thief and The Dream Thief are going to love it. Could you tell our readers a bit about the plot?

Thank you! I hope they love it; that was part of the point, LOL. Queen of Dragons picks up with the story of Maricara, Princess of the Zaharen, and Kimber Langford, Earl of Chasen. Both are powerful drákon; both are natural leaders of their kind. Yet the culture of the Zaharen drákon is tremendously different from that of the drákon of Darkfrith. The English dragons possess great powers, but live their lives under a strictly regimented set of laws, one of the most primary of which is: secrecy at all costs. They mask themselves very carefully as a typical group of eighteenth-century rural villagers and land-owning aristocracy.

The Zaharen, although of more diluted blood, have lived openly as what they are for generations amid the bleakest, highest peaks of the Carpathian Mountains. Their noble line is served by serfs of both human and mixed dragon heritage; their history permeates the folklore of the range. Even if it’s not openly discussed, everyone knows about the dragon-people who dwell in the castle Zaharen Yce and the scattered hamlets around it.

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“Everyone” includes a group of human hunters known as the sanf inimicus, who, after nearly a century of rest, have begun, for an unknown reason, to stalk and kill the drákon once again. They start with the emissaries - Maricara calls them spies - Kimber has sent to the Zaharen from Darkfrith.

And about Maricara: It’s considered a biological impossibility for a female to lead this race of creatures. Her dragon Gifts manifested at a very young age; as the only female of her people who could complete the Turn from human to smoke to dragon, she was wed to the ruler of the Zaharen and went instantly from serf child to princess. But her husband is now dead. So Mari did what countless leaders have done throughout history - she installed a puppet regime in the form of her younger brother, and rules through him.

She’s very clever, and realizes that no one is really fooled. She’s always been more feared than admired for her Gifts, and in the end Mari knows she’ll be forced out of power. She’s not a despot. For years she’s done her best for her people, but now that drákon are being slaughtered one by one, she realizes it’s time to leave. She must go to England to warn the drákon there about the danger that approaches them.

The English dragons, meanwhile, have been living in a slow boiling frenzy ever since they discovered they’re nott the last of their kind, as they had always believed. They’ve never considered the Zaharen as anything but a danger to their survival, and have had plans in place for years to assimilate them into their own society in order to contain them.

Kimber is the Alpha of Darkfrith, and at this point he’s holding his tribe together pretty much by the skin of his teeth. His parents have fled the shire; his youngest sister ran away and wed a human and still hasn’t returned; all three of the drákon he sent to the Zaharen are missing. All the careful constructs of his society are eroding away, and the life he’s always known is gradually, irrevocably dissolving around him.

And then he meets Maricara, who eludes all his guards and hidden traps and slips into his elegant country manor house as easily as if she’s just strolled into a pub. Naked. (Because when you Turn to smoke, all your clothes are left behind, naturally. LOL.)

The unexpected arrival of the princess sends this rigidly contained group of creatures spinning. Kimber and Mari square off, each deeply attracted to the other, each determined to live their lives their own way.

After Maricara come the sanf inimicus, and a whole new kind of war begins.

Without giving too much away, though your drákon series has been billed as a trilogy, unless my sequel radar is severely defective, clearly there’s more to come, right?

Your radar’s not defective, LOL! Originally there were going to be three books about the drákon, but Bantam (and I!) loved the concept so much that now there are five books planned. I’m working on the fourth one right now. *s*

Your prose has been called lyrical by many – something with which I wholeheartedly agree – but I would also add that your writing is romantic in almost a larger-than-life way. Does the fact that your characters are actually not human give you some latitude to go…well, bigger?

Thank you, and that’s an excellent question. The short answer is: Yes. Most people are more open to accepting the unfamiliar rules and conditions of a fantasy character than they are for a more standard human character, even if both characters are purely fictitious. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed writing historical fiction, as opposed to employing a contemporary setting. There is a veil between ourselves - our time - and a period setting; I can paint all sorts of word pictures upon that veil, and if they are subtle enough, they fade into an accepted part of the milieu.

We are a civilization of skeptics. I believe that’s an inevitable result of living in an age that is so richly saturated with readily available news and information. I think that although many of us are willing to accept the extraordinary in thoughts, actions and lives that do not truly intersect with our own, we are far more dubious regarding the same things in people or events closer to us, either geographically or culturally.

Except, of course, for the more extreme daydreamers, like me. We tend to believe in all sorts of silliness: dragons and living smoke and magic. For us, most anything is possible. *g*

Lynn Spencer, the first reviewer of The Smoke Thief at All About Romance, wrote this about the book: “Shana Abe's lush historicals often feature strong Alpha heroes and couples in conflict - this story is no different. However, Abe's latest tale crosses a line that many readers may find uncomfortable. Indeed, instead of a romance, it seemed to me that I was reading the story of the destruction of a rare and beautiful creature by a man who wishes to possess her instead of loving her. Instead of entertaining me, it rather depressed me.” To be completely honest, I’m usually quite sensitive to the issue of overly dominant males and I didn’t read the book for some time because Lynn is someone with whom I normally agree. Clearly, you’re walking a fine line here. What’s your take on exactly what crosses it – and what doesn’t?

And that’s why I don’t read reviews, LOL.

No, seriously, I’m pleased by the fact that she found Rue to be “rare and beautiful.” That’s how I saw her too. However, she was far from destroyed: she flourished. By the end of the book, she had found love and an accepted, admired place in the tribal hierarchy of her society. In fact, Rue proved to be the strongest presence overall. She had the choice to marry Kit and return with him to Darkfrith or not. She ultimately chose to be his wife; she was not forced, nor was she coerced. She was in love, yet she still demanded changes in her tribe, conditions for her return to her childhood home. She had power, and she was not afraid to use it.

I think it’s telling that the reviewer refers to Kit, the hero, as “a man.” He’s not.

Something to consider about The Smoke Thief, and about all the books in this series, is that I’m not writing about people. I’m writing about beasts disguised as people, and that is a very different thing. I make it very clear in both the mythology of the drákon and the presentation of the structure of their society that they are far more primeval in their personal relationships than are human beings. I certainly don’t mean that in a caveman-like sense. I mean it in a pure animal sense. Their mores are different; their entire culture is different. They are not us - they are stronger, darker, more magical - yet they emulate us. That’s one of the things that makes them so interesting.

It would be very easy, if overly simplistic, to compare the tribe of drákon to a wolf pack in the wild. These creatures do have some wolf-like tendencies. There is an Alpha. He is the dominant male. As a member of his tribe, you submit to his leadership or, for the good of the group, you are eliminated from it. The end. If I had wanted to write about a happy, politically correct group of humans, I would have. But these are dragon-people, and they must obey their own set of ancient laws or else risk extinction. That is not an exaggeration, nor is it a concept to be entertained lightly.

Was Kit Alpha? Absolutely. He had no choice; it was the role he was born to assume. Was he a monster? No, absolutely not. Even as a child, he had a softer side, a strong sense of compassion for the weak, and that side of him was only reinforced by his experiences as an adult. His pursuit of Rue was based initially upon the very real threat she represented to those he had vowed to protect: his tribe. But it evolved into love, and at end of the story (I don’t think this is a spoiler; I hope not) he realized that taking Rue as his mate by force would be unbearable for them both. That’s why he offered to simply let her go and live her life away from the tribe. He loved her that much.

I went to our readers to find out what they’d like to ask you, so here goes. What authors do you most enjoy reading and who would you say are your influencers?

I have to admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a book purely for pleasure. I read a lot of research-y things these days. *s*

But I have a background in theater, so I’ve read a lot of playwrights. Everyone loves (or loathes!) Shakespeare, but I’m also a fan of Moličre, Voltaire, Marlowe, and (dragging us back to a more contemporary time) Christopher Fry.

When I first began reading romance, I started with novels from authors like Laura London, Victoria Holt, and Elizabeth Peters, which was really fortunate for me, because the quality of work from all of these folks is so very high. I was hooked.

I have a lot of friends in the industry now, so I can’t say who’s better than anyone else, LOL. I think that because this particular field is so competitive, it’s rare to find a book that totally disappoints. The romance genre as a whole showcases a ton of talent.

All that being said, my most favorite book of all time isn’t really a romance. It’s Watership Down, by Richard Adams. <g>

One of our readers is clearly a big fan of The Secret Swan. She wonders if your portrayal of the teenage girl with the agonizing crush on the cute boy who doesn’t even notice her was drawn from personal experience since you realized her character so perfectly. Also, how much of your own personality do you put into your heroines?

Oh, boy. First of all, I need to give you an idea of what I was like from kindergarten all the way up until my junior year of high school: Scrawny. Chalk-white pale. Lank, dark hair that would never hold a curl. Terminally clumsy. One tiny degree away from being legally blind, so I wore those impossibly thick, heavy Coke-bottle glasses that shrink your eyes to pinpricks (this was before anything like ultra-thin lenses). If I took them off, I literally could not see a half inch from my face, although they hurt my nose all the time. And did I mention shy? Shy, shy, shy - cripplingly shy, and utterly invisible to Anyone Popular. If a cute boy ever had approached me, I’m sure I would have fainted from the lack of blood to my brain; it would have all been in my cheeks from blushing so furiously.

So, yeah, that was me. And I’m not complaining about it, because being the shy, invisible girl means you learn to observe those around you very well, which is a lovely skill to acquire. You dream a lot, too, because your inner fantasy life is so much more fun than your reality. *s*

I had all kinds of crushes on boys! In a way, it was totally safe for me to do so, because there was no chance that A) I would ever actually meet my crush face-to-face; and B) anyone else would ever find out, especially if I kept my mouth shut. Which I did, purely out of self-preservation. I attended an extremely large, extremely snooty high school; you knew the kids in your clique, you knew the names of the popular kids - because everyone knew about them, even if you never once were graced with a “hi” from any of the Golden Ones - and that was it. All the other anonymous thousands were sorted into groups of interest. I, for example, was considered a Theater Geek, one of many. I hung out in the Fine Arts building all the time, safely surrounded by a gaggle of my own kind. *g*

I’ve noticed my heroines tend to be intellectual loners, rather like I was. But usually I make them more bad-ass than I ever dared to be. It’s fiction, after all, LOL.

A common complaint from many of the readers who post at All About Romance is that far too many historical romances seem to be set in England these days. One of our readers wonders if you plan to continue to explore the Eastern European setting that you used in The Dream Thief in future books.

Really? Uh-oh. Um...LOL. Okay, Queen of Dragons is set partially in Eastern Europe, but I must admit, most of it is set in various locations around England.

The drákon book I’m working on now (untitled - sorry!) is going to be mostly set in Paris, a few years before the revolution. I’m having a lot of fun with that, actually.

I can’t speak for any other authors, of course, but I will say that setting a story in a primarily English-speaking location eliminates a great many linguistic headaches. For example - and speaking of high school! - back when I was in school, I desperately wanted to take French. I’d had two years of Spanish in jr. high and was ready to move on to French. My mother totally quashed that. She said that Spanish was a more practical language to learn in terms of a future career in the U.S., which is fairly true. So I ended up with six years of Spanish, and no French.

Little could my mother have known I’d be a romance novelist! French would be so, so, sooooo much more useful to me now. It was the court language of the Georgian world; everyone of good breeding learned it and spoke it. It was, in fact, the universal language of Europe at that time, which is how I was able to have Maricara and Kimber understand each other at once, even though she’s Romanian and he’s English. They connect in French.

I don’t speak French. I must piteously beg my French-speaking friends for their help whenever I need to write things in French. I’m a grown woman, and that’s just sad, LOL.

You can see where I’m going with this. It’s a lot simpler to just bypass the whole foreign language conundrum by setting a story in, say, England, with English-speaking characters. Yes, I know that Georgian (or medieval or Victorian, etc.) English was really very different from what we speak today, but it was similar. It wasn’t...French.

And again, after all that moaning and groaning, I’m setting my next book in France. Ha!

 

Shana Abe on the allure of the Medieval romance
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