Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress must use her wits to escape from a dragon, but only compassion can set her free from both dragons and men.
Brian Thao Nguyen Gunney was born in Vietnam and escaped to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. After briefly considering a creative writing major, he earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and scientific computing from the University of Michigan. He drew on his technical training, outdoor experience, and interest in history to bring dragons into the real world in his first novel, Dragon’s Ridge. Brian works in scientific computer simulations. He writes, hikes, runs, and bikes in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two teenage children.
Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress is snatched, saving a child from a dragon, and the world believes her dead and eaten. For centuries, Gascony’s top predators have treated humankind as easy prey.
But Isodore’s misery has only begun. On a lonely ledge high in the Pyrénées, where even the famed dragon slayers won’t go, she comes to terms with the nature of dragons, her fate in her captor’s hands, and her own dark secret. A child survivor of a dragon’s wrath, she has relied on her wits to stay alive. But it’s compassion that gives that life meaning, stirring a warrior’s idealism, breaching class divisions, and sustaining love for an outcast. On Dragon’s Ridge, Isodore’s struggle brings the two virtues into conflict. She placates her captor to plot her escape, unaware that the plan will cost her a part of herself she can never get back.
Dragon’s Ridge will test the fortitude, resourcefulness, and humanity of the humble headmistress. It will forever change her, the lives she touches, and the world she lives in.
Writing Dragon’s Ridge was an opportunity to present a fantasy setting with scientific plausibility. There is a tradition of minding scientific plausibility in sci-fi, but not so much in fantasy, maybe due to the reliance on magic to explain things. In real life, science and technology are governed by natural laws, with limitations and consequences. When fantasy resembles that, the story feels true to life for me. When it doesn’t, it’s like a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’ve enjoyed stories like that, like fairytales or humor or satire. But for adventure stories, I want to feel like I’m right there with the characters, sharing their world and their agency. Scientific implausibility makes it difficult for me.
To complement scientific plausibility, I used a real-world setting. My goal was to make the setting as authentic as possible from the scientific and historical perspectives.
What brought you to writing? I have a very active imagination. A story gets inside my head, and I have to write it down so that it won’t distract me from my work. I had never thought of myself as a writer until I looked back on my life and saw how much writing I had done. Writing is something I’ve returned to time and time again.
Tell us about your writing process: Ideas linger in my head, sometimes for years. They grow without direction or constraint. Sometimes, they collide and happen to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. I think that’s when they turn from ideas into story and grow like a rolling snowball. That’s the inspiration. The telling of the story is the work. My California Writers Club – Tri-Valley Branch critique group, helps keep me making progress. Talking about my drafts helps me think about it, dissect it, understand what’s going on, and see things I had overlooked. Not only can I fix what’s wrong, but I can also find out what else I could add to the scene.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing characters who are very different from me. I have to get into my characters’ heads to see how they think and respond, but it’s hard to get into a head that’s very different from mine. For example, I’m rather introverted, so it’s hard for me to write outgoing characters at a party.
In the editing process, polishing the manuscript for publication is challenging. Writing is fun and something I do for myself. Moving toward publication means getting a lot of technical things right. It’s important but tedious. I struggle with certain details of the English language, particularly with verb tenses and plurals.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Being around writers in TWC reminds me that it’s okay to write. The encouragement I received kept me going when I was stuck. My critique group helps to keep me writing regularly. I knew nothing about publishing or marketing books. Learning from speakers and my peers about how all that works is very helpful to give me an idea of the road ahead.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The idea first came to me about thirteen years ago, and I put the first words down eight years ago. I worked on the book six out of those eight years. In all, I wrote five complete drafts.
How long to get it published? Once I decided to publish the book, it took almost two years. I continued working on the manuscript because I was still studying the art of writing and incorporating what I learned into the manuscript as I was preparing for publication. I didn’t have any luck after a few months of trying the traditional publishing route. I believed I had a good story to tell, so I approached Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press, an independent publisher in our writing club.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No. As long as a character is authentic, I find them interesting. My characters seem to have minds of their own. If they go off-script, that’s all the better. It shows they’re independent of me. The best ideas come from them acting on their own.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? As a novice, I used to be concerned that I didn’t have enough subplots, but when I saw how long Dragon’s Ridge was getting, I stopped being so concerned. Weaving in subplots, for me, is a lot of work. I usually don’t know the subplots ahead of time, so when I get an idea, I have to do quite a bit of rewriting and editing to weave it in tightly.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Isodore is fighting for her life from the first scene, so the stakes start out very high for her. But it’s when she wants more than just to live that the reader sees the full depth of her character. For her, the stakes were raised by the opportunity to get things she had thought were out of her reach. Can she bring peace between two enemies? Will she avenge the injustices she had to endure? Could she be her true self? It’s similar for the antagonist. He’s not concerned only with the present struggle. He wants to survive the changes he knows are inevitable, among other things.
I didn’t start the story with complex stakes. They kind of created themselves. I think authors get to play god in their stories, but I don’t think I’m the kind of god who rubs my hands together saying, “Ah-hah!” After constructing the premise of Dragon’s Ridge, I mostly left the characters to find their way to the ending. I like being the observer more than the master.
What kind of research do you do? I had to learn a lot about the setting to figure out how the characters would interact with it, everything from the daily life of peasants to historically significant events. I read up on medieval history, and it’s fascinating. The medieval world was dynamic and lasted a thousand years. It started as the remains of the western Roman Empire and became the foundation of the Renaissance. Popular culture often portrays a composite setting, putting together elements that didn’t overlap much, if at all, in real life.
An example is the chivalrous warrior knights in shining armor. Knights of the Early Middle Ages didn’t care much about chivalry, which was a concept invented by the clergy to incentivize more civil behavior from the warrior class. By the time shining suits of armor came around, knights pretty much stopped being warriors. They were more like athletes competing in tournaments.
I also read about the people, their language, and their technology. I studied the geography and the ecology of the region. I obviously inserted elements of fantasy into the setting. Still, I wanted to keep that minimal and make the setting as historical as I could.
For scientific realism, I had more of a head start because of my aerospace engineering background. To make sure I had scientifically plausible dragons, I did some aerodynamics calculations, which led to a blog post. I also looked at recent theories on giant pterosaurs. I was comforted that my dragons aren’t much different in size than those prehistoric flyers.
I even made tallow torches to verify that what I wrote about them was accurate.
After studying the medieval world, I can’t help but change my perspective on my life a little bit. Salt, one of the cheapest and most ubiquitous commodities in our world, was once available only to the most important people of the medieval world. Now, when I measure out half a teaspoon of salt, I feel rather privileged.
How do our readers contact you? https://dragonsridgebook.com/
In addition to presenting the book, the website has a blog and a contact page. I also have set up an author page at Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21950689.Brian_T_N_Gunney
Brian enjoying the great outdoors.
Into Madness (Born from Stone Saga – Book 1 of 3)
After a decade in hiding, captured, and imprisoned, Ravin Carolingian believes she has nothing more to lose. Instead of the execution she expected, Ravin faces a forced marriage to Brakken, the son of the man who killed her father and toppled her kingdom. Blinded by hatred, Ravin vows that marriage will never take place. Instead, she will exact revenge, no matter the cost.
Following a series of magical attacks, and as she fights the unnatural attraction she feels for Brakken, Ravin is left to question everything she thought she knew about herself. Still, as the line between ally and enemy blurs, one thing becomes clear, if she is to help the Carolingian people, Ravin must escape the evil that walks the halls of the palace she once called home.
The second book in the trilogy, Heart’s Divided, is due to be published in May of 2021, and the third, The Reckoning, later that fall.
Do you write in more than one genre? Memoir, short stories, and fantasy.
What brought you to writing? As a child, there wasn’t much I loved more than reading. Actually, there was nothing I loved more than horses. In my youth, I didn’t have a horse; I fed my passion by submersing myself in books: My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, and any novel where the protagonist was a girl with a horse.
As an adult and a trainer of racehorses, I started writing freelance for industry publications, like Backstretch Magazine, Bloodhorse, and The Racing Form. From there, I branched out and started writing special feature articles for local newspapers, like The Contra Costa Times, Tri-Valley Herald, and Valley Times.
When I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, I was encouraged to write a memoir. My book is about the horse I owned and trained to run in all three legs of the American Triple Crown of Racing—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
With international recognition for Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure, I tried my hand at telling stories. Short stories kept my interest until a close friend encouraged me to try the NANOWRIMO challenge. Four years later, I published my debut novel, Into Madness.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I would have to say hybrid. Literary agents, through their query submission standards, make it difficult to hire them, emphasis on hiring them. To send a query, you must follow their detailed outline—and whatever you do, don’t deviate from their outline—and, by the way, don’t expect to get a response unless they pick you. Still, I prefer a readers’ opinion over an agent who’s looking for a reason to reject rather than enjoy.
Where do you write? And what about distractions? I sit at my kitchen table here in Central Oregon and gaze out at a bucolic scene for inspiration. Here are my distractions:
- I get to watch as the deer clear cut my garden.
- Squirrels chew off the sprinkler heads, trim the siding, and shorten the roof’s metal exhaust pipes.
- Don’t even get me started on the Robins.
- Pine needle hurricanes.
- Still, the quail and their walnut-sized babies are as cute as all get out.
Do you ever develop plots or characters around real-life experiences? Memoir aside, in my first book of short stories, For Want of a Horse, I drew on my twenty-four-year experience with training racehorses. Some of the stories were real-life incidences, though a few I embellished.
The current novel that I’m writing and have tentatively named ‘Out of the Blue’ is a middle-grade novel about training and racing dragons. So, of course, after more than one-third of my life spent at the racetrack, I change everything that has to do with hoofed animals to winged animals.
Since dragons don’t eat hay and grain, I doubt children will like the idea of leading lambs down the shedrow at feeding time. Feeding the dragons was a problem to overcome. An essential part of the story, it had to be ironed out right from the start.
How do you come up with names for your characters? That’s the easy part of the creative process, at least for me. I develop a character in my head, and then the name comes easy. I Google popular names for specific eras in history—for instance, Irish names in the 8th century. I don’t use character names that aren’t easily pronounceable. To me, those types of names tend to slow down the reader.
Do you use real settings or make them up? Unless it’s a massive city like New York, London, Beijing, I like to make up a name located in a recognizable area. Heaven forbid that a real town resident reads my book and calls me out on a lake that doesn’t exist.
In my historical fantasy, Into Madness, I loosely based the world I built in a Baltic region. The landmasses and names are all created. However, there was a Carolingian in history. I liked it, so I used it. (My sister, who I lost to cancer, was named Carol. Might have something to do with the name choice and why I liked it.)
Have you ever developed a quintessentially eccentric character? At first read, this question seemed simple, but I found myself stumped. Once I begin to interact with them within the story, my characters become very real to me, and I don’t think of them as quirky or eccentric.
What is one of your favorite books? Why? Lonesome Dove — If I had not seen the mini-series first, I would’ve put this book down in the first chapter―pigs, dust, and rattlesnakes. For me, it started so slow; it was an effort to turn the pages. When I finished the book, I grieved. I grieved because there was not another page to turn, I grieved for the loss of the friends left behind within its pages, and I grieve even now―because I wasn’t the one who wrote it.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? As an author? Literary agents. ?
Looking to the future, what do you see? Finding within myself the focus necessary to finish the three novels I have in the works. And in particular, I am excited about the dragon racing novel. The characters are so endearing, and the plot elements are so current. My characters face prejudice, racism, bullying, climate change, species extinction, fair play, and hope within the story’s overall umbrella.
Any other thoughts you care to share? I have heard many reasons why writers write—the list is long. A good story is a gift. A gift that you get to share over and over again. And each time you share it, you enjoy it once again along with the recipient.
We don’t need to ask a comedian what’s the best part of his performance. It will always be the audience’s laughter, right? As an author, I find no greater pleasure than the thought that my words, my story, brings a few minutes or a few hours of entertainment into someone’s life.
What do you find to be the best part for a writer? A review. A five-star review was recently posted on ‘Into Madness,’ in the comment section was a “ :)” and nothing more. While I like to hear my readers’ opinions, what they liked, what they wanted, still that smiley face was just as encouraging as any other review. It told me so much about how my story had affected my reader. And, just as important, that smiley face encouraged me to get to back work.
For those of you who hesitate to take the time to post a review, remember even something as simple as a smile is manna from heaven for the writer who has spent hundreds of hours alone bringing words to life.
How can our readers contact you?
It is with pleasure that I welcome Jordan Bernal as a guest blogger.
Jordan is a long-time friend and mentor. She writes fantasy with elements of mystery and romance. We are sharing two of her fantasy stories today.
The first, The Keepers of Éire (Celtic Dragonriders Book 1), is a modern-day fantasy. For centuries dragons have protected Ireland, their existence kept secret with the help of earth magic and their human riders. Now that secret is threatened as the bodies of four riders are found at sacred Irish sites. Christian Riley, a man with secrets of his own, is haunted by vivid dreams of each slaying. Devan Fraser, an American searching for her Irish heritage and the meaning of an inherited dragon ring, stumbles into the mystery of the murders. Christian’s only memento from the mother who gave him up for adoption is a dragon pendant that matches Devan’s ring. Together they discover their destinies, the truth of dragons, and the depth of honor and loyalty people will go to protect the ones they love.
Jordan’s latest work, The Keepers of Alba (Celtic Dragonriders Book 2), will be released on September 1, 2020. Devan Fraser, the only rider with the magical ability to hear and bespeaking all dragons, is thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict, decades in the making. Separated from her beloved, Christian Riley, she finds herself in a desperate race against time. Can she decipher the obscure meanings outlined in an ancient prophecy and escape a crazed madman before feuding clans destroy Scotland? Or is it already too late? Is the magic that sustains all dragonkind destined for extinction?
Jordan has allowed her protagonist, Devan Fraser, to tell us about herself and the exchanges she has with the author. To keep some control over where Devan goes with the interview, we’ve given her a few questions.
What was life like before Jordan started pulling your strings? I hate to say it, but my life was boring, with a capital B. You see, I was a researcher at a local university until budget cuts took away my position. So, no job and not many prospects. I started looking for a new job when my parents were killed in a vehicle accident. Oh, and I had just broken up with my fiancé, Rick. Rick will tell you just how much of a bore I am as he spouts all my flaws.
What’s the one trait you like most about yourself? Something that I’ve recently learned about myself: I’m fiercely loyal. Once I believe in someone, I am that person’s strongest advocate. It takes a massive falling-out for me to lose faith in someone I trust.
What do you like least about yourself? That I’m a bit too needy. I tie my self-worth into how much I’m needed. I don’t do well with confrontations. I’m more likely to step back from a situation and thus not deal with it. I’m also a bit too trusting. I’m still a work-in-progress and have my doubts at times, but that’s life, right?
What is the strangest thing your author has had you do or had happen to you? You mean, besides leaving the U.S.A on barely a whim, travel to Ireland by myself, and then finding out dragons do exist? Well, I did learn I have a special magical talent: I can hear and speak telepathically with all dragons. That ability led to saving a bullied wingless dragonet, Grayson. It also led me to become a dragonrider with the Tuatha Dragon Clan.
Do you argue with your author? If so, what do you argue about? Not really. My author, Jordan, really knows me, probably better than I know myself. And while Jordan’s constantly putting me in dangerous situations, I’m learning how strong, intelligent, and courageous I can be. Though, I do wish I didn’t have to be bruised and battered so much in the learning. Oh, and I was a bit nervous about how quickly I fell in love with sexy Irishman, Christian, but I’ll not argue too much as the loving is fantastic.
What is your greatest fear? To be alone. Truly alone. When my parents died, I had no one. I was an only child, and my grandparents and uncle on my mother’s side had all died before I was born. I don’t know anything about my father’s side of the family, as he never spoke of them.
What makes you happy? Being needed. Belonging. Especially belonging to the Tuatha Dragon Clan, being a partner to my dragon: Dochas, and being Christian Riley’s friend and lover. And by belonging, my confidence in my abilities is growing.
If you could rewrite a part of your story, what would it be? Why? Of course, I’d want to have my parents still alive. I miss them terribly. There’s so much I want to talk to them about, or enjoy a walk on the beach, or share a cozy evening sitting by the fire. But without my losing them, I wouldn’t have gone on this wild and crazy journey to Ireland. I wouldn’t have met the love of my life, Christian. And I wouldn’t have become Dochas’ rider.
Of the other characters in your book, which one bugs you the most? Why? Kiely, Padrick’s mother. Kiely is a . . . well, let’s just say she’s a master manipulator as well as a bit of a prejudiced gobshite (I’m learning a few choice Irish slang words).
Of the other characters in your book, which one would you love to trade places with? Why? I can’t think of anyone. I’m finally who I was destined to become. I get to fly adragonback, so my love of flying is set free. I’m madly, wildly in love with my sexy Irishman. Now, if Christian and I can stay a few steps ahead of the killer—at least until we can stop him—my life would be perfect.
Tell us a little something about your author. Where can readers find her website/blog? When Jordan Bernal says she was born on the wrong planet, she’s referring to the third planet in the Sagittarian Sector, known as Pern. So clear and descriptive was Anne McCaffrey in her Dragonriders of Pern series, Jordan was transported into the body, mind, and soul of Anne’s characters. Jordan came away knowing she was destined to be a dragonrider; to hop from one foot to the other on the hot sands of the hatching ground awaiting a dragon of her own. She fantasized about the air currents lifting the dragon she rode, soaring over cliffs and chasms, embracing the joy and freedom as together, they broke gravity’s harsh leash. And most of all, Jordan knew she was meant to create stories with a new set of dragons and dragonriders.
Jordan’s enduring love of dragons and her pursuit of her Celtic heritage inspired her to write and publish novels in her Celtic Dragonriders series through her independent press, Dragon Wing Publishing. Jordan’s website is http://www.jordanbernal.com.
What’s next for you? Lots more adventures (i.e., dangerous situations and personal growth) in The Keepers of Alba (Celtic Dragonriders Book 2) due out September 1, 2020. As you might guess from the title, most of this story takes place in Scotland. Maybe I’ll get to learn about my father’s family after all. I do wonder if I’m related to Jaime Fraser of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Wouldn’t that be awesome! He’s so handsome, for a highlander from the 18th century. But my Christian’s all I need.
What’s on the horizon for you and your author? I’ve had a whirlwind (exhausting, yet exhilarating) seven and a half months (eleven years for Jordan) in The Keepers of Éire & The Keepers of Alba. In between these two novels, I made a guest appearance in Reluctant Paladin—a middle-grade anti-bully story that Jordan published in 2017. I know Jordan won’t keep me at loose ends for too long. After all, Dochas, Christian, and I, along with my other dragon and rider friends, must save the magic from extinction throughout the Celtic lands. That said, it takes Jordan quite a while to write my story. And she’s committed to serving as president for her writing club for at least one term.
Author-Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Devan covered just about everything, but I’ll expand on one thing: the length of time between novels. As a reader, this can be quite frustrating. Believe me; it is for a writer as well. Yet I just can’t write much faster. These novels, except for Reluctant Paladin, are over 120,000 words long. And I have health issues that require me to utilize voice recognition technology (DragonDictate. Yes, I speak Dragon) to tell Devan’s and Christian’s stories.
On top of that, I’m meticulous in my world-building and character development. I find I’m often researching something or some place to use in the novel. All that .takes time. I promise I’ll be as quick as I can in getting Book 3 of my Celtic Dragonriders series written and into readers’ hands.
How can readers reach you?