A lot of writers I’ve spoken to at conventions swear by the little extras at their table– I already have pins and little polymer dragons, but they particularly talk about the power of concept art and maps.
Which resulted in the following conversation:
Me: “Hey, do we have room in the budget for concept art?”
Partner: “For which book?”
Me: “I was thinking a map and some characters for the one I’m working on now… but maybe start with Urban Dragon? Arkay, Rosa, maybe Meph?”
Partner: “…If you add Terry to that list, by god I will make room in the budget.”
Sometimes it slips my mind just how much he loves Terry.
For those who don’t remember, Terry is the groundskeeper of the Hoarde’s secret base– a multidimensional amorphous conglomeration of eyes, teeth, bones, and miscellaneous viscera, who accumulated all those various bits and pieces from the trespassers they’ve devoured over the years.
They’re also an insatiable gossip and an utter drama queen.
Really, most of the Urban Dragon series can be boiled down to “mix one part sinister and one part silly, and add a bit of gore for good measure”.
I kept getting reminded of that trying to explain my characters to the artist. Arkay and Rosa are easy enough– I’ve described them to cover artists enough times that I’ve got that part down.
I spent a whole lot of time describing Meph’s physical features like he’s some kind of action hero, and then I tried to sum up his vibe: “he takes himself way too seriously, which usually results in him being either very flustered or very confused, especially when he’s around Arkay.”
I can’t wait to see how the art turns out, but I’m really most excited to see what this artist does with Terry.
My beloved eldritch abomination is either going to be a whole lot of fun for them, or else they’re going to be an absolute nightmare.
Since I started doing author panels at conventions, I’ve gotten one question thrown at me a few times: “How do you come up with characters?”
And inevitably, my process is just a little bit different from the other authors at those panels, because mine plays a lot into my face blindness.
For those unaware, face blindness (or prosopagnosia) is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. If I see you at a convention and I introduce myself to you twice, that’s why: I remember having talked to you, but I can’t keep in my mind what you actually look like. Like a lot of people with the disorder, I tend to compensate with other details– if you’re wearing a particular costume, for example, or if you’ve got a visible tattoo.
I once had a pair of coworkers who would often be on shifts with me together. They were both blonde, both in their early twenties, and both fairly petite and thin. In my first few weeks on the job, I could be looking at one and standing next to the other, and I would have absolutely no idea which one I was talking to unless I looked at the nametag; sometimes I would continue a conversation I’d started with one coworker but speak to the other one, not realizing that these were two different people. After several weeks of working there, I got to know them well enough that I learned to recognize them– and at that point, I realized that aside from their hair and body type, they really looked nothing alike. In the first few weeks, I also had a bad habit of giving sales pitches to my coworkers as they were walking back from the bathroom, because I couldn’t recognize that they were the same people that had been hanging out with me a few minutes before. It was only when they visibly recognized me that I was able to say “wait, they know me? Oh, that’s actually my manager”.
That tends to come across in my writing.
“Believe it or not, age/race/hair/eyes really didn’t make a person much easier to identify. I was more interested in details that made him stand out: a hyena-like walk that was somehow both a sulk and a swagger; a penchant for bad spray tans and expensive hair gel; a tendency to wear designer clothes and colognes, usually with no regard to whether they actually suited him.” — Urban Dragon Book 3: Dance with the Devil
When I create a character, I tend to start with the role they have in the story, and from there I default to the way I would remember them if I were to meet them: what impression would they leave behind?
With Arkay, even before she was a dragon I knew she was overly energetic, mischievous, and overprotective, that she liked to pick fights, and that she was physically so small that people always underestimated her (which she found hilarious). The over-protectiveness developed into a dragon’s territorial nature; the fact that she was an Asiatic dragon informed her ethnicity, etc.
With Rosario, the first things I knew were that she was homeless because she found Arkay under a bridge, and that she was incredibly brave and kind– because you kind of have to be, to nurse a forty-foot dragon back to health. Details like her sexuality, her body type, and her ethnicity are all informed by the research I did based around those two details. Her gender was actually the last thing I chose for her.
Raimo was meant to be an overly friendly viking; the Contessa is an anachronistic embodiment of Medici wealth, power, and style, where stilettos are both the shoes she wears and the weapon she prefers.
Details like race and gender are often among the last details I choose for my characters, unless they’re intrinsically tied to some detail in that character. With both Arkay and Raimo, I couldn’t picture either of them as anything but Japanese and Scandanavian, respectively, because that was already built into those foundational details of the character.
That’s not to say they’re not incredibly important– the race and gender do so very much to inform a person’s experiences as they move through life and is a defining part of who they are, and they can radically alter the kind of tropes that play out with those characters– but they’re not the first places my mind goes when I’m creating those characters.
But if you’re ever wondering why I describe my characters the way I do– or, rather, why I don’t describe my characters with the kind of details other authors might– that’s why.
I’ve poured a lot of myself into this series over the past several years. Creating this series in serial format means there was never any one given release day to anticipate or celebrate, so much as a single several-month event. And as much fun as it’s been, it’s also been exhausting. But then, that’s one thing I think a lot of us can share. The holiday season, for all its joy, also comes with its own array of stresses.
This time has been busy for Arkay, too. She’s got a Hoarde to protect, hostages to save, and a war to fight. But she’s also got allies in this fight, and she’s got a plan.
So before we begin– before we start a new series, before we take off to visit family, before we don our aprons and greet the customers, before we enact the gambit that changes the world– let’s take a moment, just a moment, and breathe.
It’s the beginning of the end, and the story of the Urban Dragon is starting to draw to a close. That’s right: Crusader Non Grata marks the last arc of the series.
When we last saw our heroes, Arkay finally accepted her place as leader of the Hoarde, with all the restrictions and responsibilities that entails. But while she’s busy trying to do right by the monsters who depend on her, other people are getting left behind.
Still reeling from the trauma and manipulations he faced at the hands of the Contessa, Meph has decided that all dragons need to go, and he intends to start with Arkay and her followers. His old cohorts are happy to use him as a wild card– and then dispose of him the moment he fills his purpose.
There’s only one person left on Meph’s side, and that’s Arkay. But her new position is a balancing act of public relations and politics, and reaching out to him might just bring the whole thing crashing down.
It’s time for another stop on our blog hop, but this is a particularly special one for me.
The first stop is a fun one: A breakdown of my top ten favorite authors on Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews, which was great for really getting me thinking about the books I read and why. I’d love to see how your favorites match up with mine.
The second is Brooke Banks’ review of Mark of the Dragon, and she tackles the story from a perspective you might not have seen elsewhere. I highly encourage you to check it out.
It’s time for the next chapter of Urban Dragon: Forest of the Damned.
When we last left Arkay, she teamed up with the ex-monster hunter Mephistopheles to rescue Rosario from the clutches of the Order. But Rosario isn’t out of danger yet. When modern medicine fails her, Arkay makes a dangerous gamble.
There’s a monster known for bringing people back from the brink of death: the mysterious ThreeClaw. Arkay’s not afraid of a fight, monstrous or otherwise. But there’s one problem: first she’ll have to cross the Forest of the Damned.