Todd Lockwood is best known to fantasy readers for his gorgeous cover artwork, but his debut novel, The Summer Dragon, proves that Lockwood's genius spans the writing realm as well.
With echoes of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, The Summer Dragon takes us into the world of a young woman who sights the near-mythical Summer Dragon—a creature whose appearance signals change (and not necessarily the good kind of change). Maia wants more than anything a dragon of her own to train and ride in her quiet town, but war against a new, horrific enemy as well as her own role in the unearthing of a repressed political faction hurls her into dangerous headwinds she will have to learn to survive.
Todd Lockwood spoke with us about crafting his debut novel, the care and feeding of dragons, and more:
Amazon Book Review: You’re famous for your gorgeous artwork that appears on book covers and in games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. What inspired you to take a leap into a different creative world and write a fantasy novel?
Todd Lockwood: The truth is that I’ve written all my life. I learned to draw by telling myself stories, in comic book form. I was drawing and telling stories together all the time. It was my primary form of entertainment. “Make-Believe” was my escape.
The time came when art paid the bills, and so it took precedence. The other muse found an outlet through D&D, though she was never really satisfied. Our games inspired a book even then, Ring of Moons, drawn from our gaming. Looking back, it was derivative, though a good tale I think. But the technical hurdles slowed me down. I’d written it entirely in long hand, and the notion of transcribing it stopped me cold.
I decided a decade ago to do a book of art telling the tale of a Dragon War (that was my working title for the longest time), intending it to be mostly art, but when I started writing the backstory, for the purpose of pinning the images together with a throughline, I discovered I had a bigger to tale to tell than art alone could manage. I had characters, with stories! The muse was reawakened with a vengeance. I spent several years drafting and redrafting, workshopping and taking classes, reading all the books on plot and story I could get my hands on. I always had an ear for prose, I think, but I had habits to learn and break. I got excited about this world because it wasn’t drawn from D&D but from real-world politics and clashes. But with dragons.
Young people who bond with their dragons is an evergreen fantasy trope that you’re giving a fresh new story. What is it about this intersection of growing up and responsibility that appealed to you as a writer?
That’s hard to say. My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m a sucker for nostalgic looks back. This isn’t that, though I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I channeled Scout and Jem and Atticus a little bit. The things I had to say that mattered most to me were themes of Honesty and Truth and Fairness, though. When I knew that my heroine would be a dragon-rider, I decided to begin the Dragon War with an actual beginning—the acquisition of a hatchling. I felt like the questions a young person would ask would lead to those themes. Young adulthood is the time we all really start wrestling with the nuances of what those words mean.
The qits—the baby dragons—learn to play and communicate as they grow. Did you model any of their actions on those of real animals?
Absolutely. They have the nobility and presence of cats, the loyalty of dogs, the inscrutability and deadliness of the big raptors. I even borrowed from ideas I have about dolphin intelligence. They’re all my favorite animals rolled into one.
Animal thoughts interest me greatly—I want to be inside their heads. I want to know what they’re thinking. I tell my talkative cat, Paikea, all the time that she needs some consonants if I’m ever going to understand what she wants. Interspecies communication is a fascinating thing in the real world, so simply having dragons that spoke perfect English didn’t interest me. It was too convenient. There’s work to be done bridging the divide between creatures that may think entirely differently, and fun to be had in exploring the possibilities.
Faith and doubts play an important role in motivating characters in The Summer Dragon, and you’ve given the religion that underpins Maia’s world a lot more nuance than many other novels do. How did you develop the religion, with its focus on omens and fear of heresy, that drives Maia to her first major rebellion against authority?
When I was younger, I absorbed the works of Joseph Campbell like oxygen. He revealed to me the common themes that run through all the ancient religions. It’s fascinating to see how they influence each other, changing into other things over epochs. And yet each wants to be seen as the one and only Truth. Prophecies are written and “revealed” as old in order to boost current needs. It happened all the time. Organized religion especially wants to rule. It wants to control. And it does it through manipulation of every story.
But religion, belief, and faith are very different things. Each demands its own obeisance. Religion wants authority. Belief wants passion. Faith wants the truth. Sometimes the three come together, but it depends on not only the institution but the individuals who act within its precepts. When authority and truth come in conflict, passion can be distorted, and belief shattered—or transformed.
Happily, this is clearly only the first book in a planned series. What’s your plan for the rest of the series?
I plan two more books. Together they will tell a single story arc, of which The Summer Dragon is but the first act. When I set out, I’d planned six shorter books, each with a complete story arc but each also aligning on the larger arc. My editor convinced me to pair the first two, the middle two, and the last two as three volumes, and she was right to do so; it made the debut a much stronger work overall. Incidentally, that’s how the book came to have a Part I and a Part II with their own title pages and prologues. That will continue because I like how it worked out—it kept the pace and tension up, and allowed for a satisfying finish to each half, but with cliffhangers to urge you on. The character you see in the prologues of The The Summer Dragon will be a player in Book II, and the prologues there will create a similar but different bridge.
What books are you reading now that you’re recommending to friends and other readers?
I most recently finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, and loved it. I have The Windup Girl near the top of my to-read list. His prose is full of imagery, which I love, and passion and emotion. More important, he explores issues relevant to our survival, which is the sort of science fiction I adore most. It’s what I hope to do with The Summer Dragon and the coming sequels, though fantasy is more about the internal world, and I like that too.
I’m looking forward to the anthology Unfettered II from Grim Oak Press, because Unfettered the first was an astounding project. I recommend it not because I have a short story in it that reveals ancient history from my universe (I do), but because the book was created to pay off the cancer debts of its editor, Shawn Speakman. It collected stories from some of the biggest names in fantastic literature, set loose to write what they would without a constraining theme—unfettered. The second volume will do the same thing, but now the profits will go into a fund for other writers who find themselves in dire financial straits due to illness. It’s noble and selfless and I love it.
Frostborn, the first book in the Thrones & Bones series by Lou Anders, is a fun read, perfect for family-time with kids of all ages.
Beyond that, the list of books I haven’t yet read is far longer. Within reach of my hand as I type are Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn, by Jamie Maslin; The Ultra Thin Man, by Patrick Swenson; and Nightborn—the second in Lou Anders’ T&B series.
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