Special Feature: Author Interview with
by Lesley L. Smith
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.
What is your middle-grade fantasy novel The Dragon Waking
It's about a 13-year old girl in Nevada named Rose Gallagher, kind
of a loner and a geology nerd, who unexpectedly meets a live dragon
while she's out in the desert. First she's terrified, then she's
enchanted, and then she and the dragon--whose name is Jade--become
friends in spite of the fact they can't initially communicate. Once
Rose starts to figure out why Jade is here in the modern world,
trouble really starts to kick in.
The combination of Nevada, dragons, magic, and dinosaurs is
fascinating. Tell us more about your world.
I chose Nevada because I know the area of Boulder City and Las Vegas
very well. My wife was born in Boulder City... and I think Vegas is
kind of unusual as a setting, especially for a middle-grade book.
As far as dragons, magic, and dinosaurs... okay, spoiler alert here,
I guess. The premise behind dragons in this world is that they were
the first civilization that arose on Earth, evolving during the time
of the dinosaurs long before mammals were bigger than rodents. They
built their world with magic instead of technology, and one central
ability of magic is the ability to transmute the shapes of things.
So when the extinction-level comet came along at the end of the
Cretaceous period, dragons survived by going into a deep sleep and
merging with the environment. They changed into rocks, clouds,
rivers, that sort of thing, and have been dreaming ever since.
Dragons can still interact in the world as kind of phantoms
projected from their dreams. Jade appears as the first dragon to
fully wake up, and her job is to bring the rest of the dragons out
of their sleep and restore them to power. Turns out the world is
populated, though, so that's a snag.
By "snag" I mean a casino mogul who is actually a dreaming dragon in
disguise, and a big dragon battle over Las Vegas, plus dinosaurs
rampaging through a casino.
Tell us about your protagonist, Rose. Why is she the hero of this
story? Why do you think readers identify with her so strongly?
So on the surface, Rose is sort of an outsider in the social setting
of school. She has a small circle of friends, she's interested in
art, horses, geology, and fantasy, and she's often targeted by
bullies for mean-spirited teasing. Her mother died when she was
young, and though she loves her father, she has a hard time
connecting with him.
I think what I like about Rose is that she doesn't really see what
makes her special, like most people don't. Rose's two great gifts
are the ability to see things as they are, and to respond to the
world with curiosity and compassion. The first gift is what lets her
accept Jade as real--most people try to find some rational
explanation for Jade if they encounter her, re-framing her as a
hallucination or something so they can fit her into their worldview.
The second gift is what lets her befriend a completely alien being,
which is a good thing. If Jade didn't learn to value humans, she
would've simply completed her mission and set loose a whole
civilization of dragons on our world.
What do you want readers to get from this story?
I want them to be entertained, enchanted if I'm lucky. I also to
have some things to think about. There's a lot of exploration as to
what is and isn't magic, for instance. Rose sees all the things Jade
can do, like shape change and breathe fire and such, and calls them
magic. But through Jade, we see the human world through new eyes,
and to her it's filled with magic. Our technology is fascinating to
her, and even more so is our ability to get along and share
collective goals. Dragons are very individualistic and don't work
together well. The human ability to combine our collective efforts
to make something happen is magical to her. So I'm hoping the book
will help readers take a new look at the things we may take for
granted in life and see how miraculous they are.
Can we look forward to more stories about Rose and her friends in
I'm intending this to be a trilogy... sequel is in progress! There's
also a side-story available as a bonus for anyone who writes me an
online review. [here's the link if you like: http://www.graysontowler.com/stories.html]
Why write for middle-grade readers? Do they present any unique
It wasn't quite intentional, but I think I gravitated to writing for
the age range when I really fell in love with reading. I enjoyed
reading and stories since I was able to process language, but I
remember most vividly the way I was captivated by certain books at
that time of life. So I wanted to do for others what Tolkien, Anne
McCaffery, and Ursula Le Guin (among others) did for me.
As far as challenges, there are quite a few things you need to learn
to write in this age range and make the prose suitable for both kids
and their caretakers--far more so than YA, you still have to really
consider how teachers, parents, and librarians will react to your
work. And I learned how rigid word count restrictions are for this
age. That made editing quite a slaughterhouse...
I get the sense from your writing that spirituality is important
to you. How does this affect your fiction?
Yeah it is... I come from a kind of atheist/secular humanist
upbringing, but over time I've started to believe in a more flexible
view of the universe. The dichotomy I used to believe that
rationality and faith were mutually exclusive. I find that not to be
the case anymore. I think rational thought and spiritual exploration
can co-exist in a complementary way. They don't have to be enemies.
I think this expresses itself in the subject matter I choose for my
writing, and also my sense of how to write magic. To me, the essence
of magic is the unknown, so I don't like to reduce it to just the
mechanics of "speak incantation, cast spell." I like the way Tolkien
wrote magic especially. What exactly did the One Ring do, for
instance? We knew a few basic properties, like invisibility, but
other than that it remained mysterious, just like the extent of
Gandalf's abilities or the nature of Sauron's existence. Maintaining
that sense of the unknown--and faith in what we can't know--is a
great part of both spirituality and fiction, to me.
As a writer, who or what are your inspirations?
Let's see... well, to focus on just one (and there are many,
many sources I draw inspiration from), I'll say dreams are a great
source of inspiration. They're pure creativity flowing around, no
limits. They often make no sense, but I've gotten several of my
favorite story ideas out of dreams, and many more out of daydreams.
Then comes the craft of writing, which means hammering those dreams
into shape for a manuscript.
Do you think our society/culture is more open to fantasy or
fantastical elements now? Why or why not?
Fantasy certainly seems to be on the upswing in recent years, and I
think we can thank J.K. Rowling in a large part for that. In fact, a
lot of things we think of as science fiction, such as Star Wars, is
more "fantasy with robots and space ships" to me. I think fantasy is
easier to write than real SF... the latter requires more research
and more willingness to predict what might happen in the future,
whereas in fantasy you get to make your own rules.
But on the large scale, I think the very idea of "fantasy" is fairly
recent anyway. What we consider fantasy elements today, such as
stories of gods and heroes, were at one time the myths people used
to frame the world and make sense of it. So in a way, society is less
open to fantasy, because we don't process myth in the same way
anymore. Today we use "myth" primarily to indicate something that is
untrue. It used to refer to a truth so great it couldn't be
expressed in a straightforward way. The framework of story was how
we made sense of these larger truths.
What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of short stories
like those in Electric Spec?
The advantage is that each story is less of a commitment of time and
energy to get the point, for both the reader and the writer. The
discipline of the short story is to express what you want to say in
an economical way, without a whole lot of time to build characters
I have a tough time with short stories, though I do write a few. The
common reaction I get when I finish a short story is "This should be
a novel!" That can be a bit frustrating... though I also sometimes
see it as a good sign. On the balance, I'd rather leave a reader
hungry for more rather than feeling sick of a story that went on too
The Dragon Waking is your first traditionally-published
book. What has this journey been like?
Long! And a learning experience. I've had to figure out how to
process rejection, adapt my goals, be persistent when it was
appropriate and let go when it wasn't... and edit. Man,
have I learned a lot of about editing. With The Dragon
Waking, the original manuscript I sent out for submission was
somewhere in the neighborhood of 92,000 words, which I eventually
got down to about 53,000. Some of this was agonizing, as you might
imagine. Other times, it was fantastic. I figured out quicker, more
elegant solutions to plot need I'd addressed in clunky ways before.
Ultimately, I had to really focus on the essence of what I wanted to
tell, so I could preserve and hone that story while paring away
Which has left me feeling both better prepared to go forward with
future projects, and humbled with the sense that I've still got so
much to learn and master.
Do you have a writing support system? If so, who or what? Why is
My critique group, the Inklings, has been essential. For anyone
reading this out there who wants to make a living with writing,
here's my first advice: get a critique group. Put your work in front
of colleagues who are also writers. You learn so much by sharing
knowledge between you, and your writing will improve. Plus, if you
have challenges with keeping focus (like I do), having a regular
goal to work towards is of immense help.
I'm also immensely grateful to my super-supportive family members,
including my brothers, who have both been great pre-readers, and my
in-laws, who have provided both emotional and financial support when
I needed it most. Most of all, my wife Candi is my first reader, my
brainstorming partner, and my lifeline. The Dragon Waking owes
its existence to her more than anyone else.
Thank you, Grayson. This has been super interesting!