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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My interview with fantasy author C.M. Barrett, telling about Big Dragons Don't Cry

I'm glad to have you here today, talking about your release, Big Dragons Don't Cry: A Dragon's Guide to Destiny: Book 1. Your fantasy world co-exists with a present-day human world. How do the inhabitants of the two worlds interact?

The humans of Oasis have been raised to fear a fire-breathing dragon they believe is hungry for their charcoal-broiled flesh. They can't imagine that he doesn't breathe fire, that he's a peaceful being, or that he's much less hostile than they are.

They dismiss the notion that animals have powers of reason and communication as fantasy. Seeing themselves as superior to animals seems like the only power humans have. Little do they know that by giving up false superiority they could enrich their lives through communion with other living things and through experiencing the harmony that rules the natural world. Now that's magic.

Tara, the Chosen kitten, has the mission of bridging the huge gap between humans and other animals. When she learns that the job description includes living among humans, her terror outweighs vague promises of fame and glory. Only when she has a vision of Serazina, the human she's supposed to guide, does she agree to the dangerous and possibly disgusting mission.

Serazina, who has spent all her life hiding the psychic abilities that could land her in the Ward for the Chronically Crazy, refuses to open herself to the even more threatening talent of understanding cats or any animal. The developing relationship between human and kitten is a central aspect of the story and the means by which a so-called fantasy world becomes real.

Two groups or clans of residents live in Oasis, the Earthers and the Godlies. How do these groups differ?

Oasis was founded on the principles of mental austerity and rigor, and its rulers officially suppress emotions, intuition, love of nature, and any behavior not based on logic and reason.

The Godlies take these principles to an extreme, threatening all who deviate with images of an afterlife spent being chased by the fire-breathing dragon who lives in the swamp at the country's edge. They are the doomsayers, claiming that Oasis has traveled far down the road to decadence.

The Earthers, who sense that isolation from nature is creating a crisis in the country, are seeking a deeper connection with the natural world. Like the Godlies, they go to extremes, in this case through their devotion to every rock and twig. As the Godlies defend the traditional values of Oasis, the Earthers persist in smashing them, and neither group knows when to stop.

Most of the Oasans belong to neither group. They muddle about in a mass of confusion and fear.

Please tell us about the setting of Big Dragons Don’t Cry.

Founded by former slaves from neighboring Tamaras, Oasis has been a nation for 500 years. It isn't a technologically advanced society in the science fiction sense; nor is it a feudal world where magic happens to show up. Its level of technology is roughly equivalent to that found in modern societies. As in these societies, the primary focus is on reason and logic. Intuition and emotional intelligence are disregarded. As a result, national leaders are unable to make intuitive leaps to solve problems.

The Guardian, who inherits his position, rules the country with several appointed Councilors. Strictly speaking, it's not a democracy. It might be called a benevolent dictatorship. At least, he tries to be benevolent.

Food and clothing are mostly state-issued, and the physical needs of the people are basically met. The culture is poor in terms of creativity, innovation, and variety.

Geographically, it's mostly farmland, bordered by mountains on several sides and by the sea. The swamp, where much of the story takes place, is located at the edge of the sea.

Which is your favorite character in the book and why?

This is somewhat like being asked which is your favorite child, and I'm tempted to whisper the answer. Instead, I'll begin by saying what I enjoy about each of the four major characters.

With regard to the four main characters, I love the open emotionalism of Druid, the dragon. Though saddled with a huge mission, Tara is a quintessential kitten, mischievous, confident, and very brave. (I never met a kitten I didn't like.)

Serazina, at odds with a world that doesn't accept her, remains true to herself, and I don't think any quality is more important. Phileas has the difficult need to question a society whose values place him in power, and I admire his search for a deeper truth.

In the end, though, I have to choose Tara, the small, courageous kitten who marches into an unfriendly and dangerous world in order to change it. As further evidence of my devotion to her, I have created a blog,, where Tara gives other cats advice on the training and discipline of humans.

What inspired you to create this type of fantasy world?

The first time I went to the Everglades in Florida, I fell in love with it. (I was surprised, because places with billions of mosquitoes don't usually entrance me.)

Years later, the idea of writing a fantasy crept into my mind. This also surprised me, because, although I've always read fantasy, I never thought of writing it. Before I could wonder what I would write about, I remembered the Everglades, envisioned a swamp, and saw a dragon living there. That was the beginning.

Communication with animals has always fascinated me. I have had some surprising exchanges with animals, although I want to make it clear that I am not a professional. I don't get regular messages, even though my cats are getting much better at reaching me, especially where their demands are concerned.

The idea of a society supposedly based on reason and logic also intrigued me. It's not so far off from many modern societies, and the challenges that a counter focus on intuition could make to mental rigidity also in many ways parallels shifts that are taking place in the contemporary world.

The idea of cats bringing it all together made perfect sense and gave me a story I could love writing.

Morale in the country of Oasis has never been worse. The Earthers, a tree-hugging sect, beg forgiveness for their crimes against twigs and weeds. The Godlies preach penitence and suffering and inspire their followers into submission by threatening them with an afterlife spent being chased by a fire-breathing dragon.

All Oasans fear the dragon in the swamp at the country's edge, and they don't know that he fears them. Druid, a water dragon who puts out fires, steams up when he learns that a cunning opportunist intends to exploit dragonphobia and have the dragon killed so that he can level the swamp for suburban housing.

Tara, a kitten with charisma, is trying to bring humans back into balance. She needs to enlist Serazina, a young human woman who hides her ability to read emotions in order to avoid imprisonment in the Ward for the Chronically Crazy. Serazina's troubles grow when Phileas, Guardian of Oasis, chooses her to be the mother of the heir he so badly needs. Before he can consider fatherhood, he needs to stem the mysterious rumors that he's soft on dragons.

Somehow these four must overcome communication difficulties, mutual mistrust, and delusions of human superiority to save the country. Otherwise, even though Druid doesn't breathe fire, Oasis will be toast.

Author Bio:

On my mother's side of the family, I come from a line of storytellers. My grandmother's stories ranged from my grandfather's arrest for draft resistance in England during World War I, the uncertainty of life during the Troubles in Ireland, to the day she decided to leave her marriage (but didn't). My mother's stories described a rural childhood that to a child of a suburb of little boxes seemed idyllic.
Both of them encouraged me to read and provided me with books to feed a growing habit. When I was seven or eight, I discovered mythology, and the gods and goddesses in those tales were as real to me as the dragons and cats in my own stories are now. Thanks to my early training in fantasy, I like to hang out with dragons. Accepting the bizarre directions my imagination takes has allowed me to conjure up Zen cats, cougars, gossip-vending hawks, and other critters.

Currently I live in upstate New York on a wooded piece of land not unlike some of the terrain in Big Dragons Don't Cry.

Website/blog links: A Dragon's Guide to Destiny web site (includes buying information for various e-readers). Blog on creativity (not just for authors). Blog written by a feline main character in Big Dragons Don't Cry.

Orion stood on a ridge overlooking the city. As he swayed, exhausted and hungry, the threads of its winding, dirty streets seemed to tighten around his neck in a noose that limited both breath and freedom.
His sister, Sekhmet, nuzzled him with her black nose. “Lost in thought?”
“Wishing you’d waited a year or so to haul me away from the good life.”
“We thought we’d better get on the road before you wore out your equipment, Mr. Tomcat Stud.”
Orion’s other sister, Bast, trotted toward them, her white fur gleaming in starlight. “We’ve come to the right place. The pull is strong.”
“Praise the Many-Taloned One,” Sekhmet said. “My paws are killing me.”
The lights of the city flickered in eye-burning imitation of the starry sky. “It’s not going to be easy,” Orion said. “The smell alone makes me gag. It’s not just the physical stench, but also the foul odor of self-righteousness and fear. And some of the fear is mine. I’ve never failed before.”
Sekhmet raised her ears. “It’s hard to fail when you mount a willing cat. I’m glad you realize you’re facing a far bigger challenge. It gives me hope that you’ve become something more than a swaggering young tom. She of the Rough Tongue is molding you into the cat you were always meant to be.”
“I don’t know about Her rough tongue, but I’ve never doubted yours.”
Bast growled softly. “Enough. Orion, you have to guide us now.”
Panic bristled his fur. “I don’t know; I can’t feel anything.”
Bast scraped her claws against a flat stone. “Then ask to feel. Have you forgotten you were chosen for more than shining fur and golden eyes?”
“And equipment,” Sekhmet said.
He turned his back on them and washed himself briskly to hide his shame. Any cat could find the guidance of the Long-Whiskered One, but Orion’s ability to sink into a trance had separated him from the other males of his generation and guided his reluctant paws to this cold, windy, hilltop. How could he forget the first lesson all kittens learned? When you got lost, She would always nudge you home.
Orion closed his eyes and began to meditate on golden fur and eyes. The rasp of Her tongue shivered through him, massaging away the tension that had tightened his limbs, clearing away the resistance and fear that had hidden his path, and even temporarily blurring the memory of well-fed, sleek females.
The way became clear, but one final moment of doubt kept him in place. “Are humans worth our sacrifice?”
“Not yet, they aren’t,” Bast said, “but we’re weaving a dream.”
Orion loped down the hill, praying that the gathering strands wouldn’t knot into a noose.
* * *
Emerald rubbed against the rough wood of the grain warehouse floor, howling in agony.
“If you keep carrying on like that, every tom in the city is going to knock at the door,” Misha said.
“You talk as if it never happened to you, old lady. You know some magic to scratch the itch, tell me.”
“No magic, child. It’s a queen’s way to want kittens and a tom’s way to know when she wants them. Neither of them looks at the big picture. That’s why this city is filled with half-starved cats too weak to run away from humans.”
Emerald shuddered. Her mother, Hester, had been one of the victims, taken away with Emerald’s littermates. “Could have been me.”
“Could have been. If you hadn’t been such a mischief-maker, climbing to the top sack of grain that terrible night, you wouldn’t be flicking your tail and shuffling your hind legs right now. You want your own kittens to be drowned or tortured? That why you want to bring them into this sorry slum? The world is cruel to a cat and her kittens, except in the Green.”
Fur and whiskers, Misha would pounce on any excuse to trot out that old catnip fantasy handed down from mother to daughter, but the soft hum that filled her voice soothed Emerald.
“Tell me about the Green, might take my mind off this awful itch, pass the time, anyway.”
Misha closed her eyes and slowly rocked back and forth. “Somewhere, maybe not far away, might be over the next hill if we could only climb it, is a world where everything’s green, bright and beautiful as your own eyes.”
Though Emerald tried to imagine that, she saw instead the pale, sickly stalks of grass that grew up through the cracks in the sidewalk and the pointed dark green leaves with yellow flowers that turned to white fur. Green everywhere? Not likely.
“And fat, tasty mice that eat fresh seeds and grains, and more kinds of birds than you could count, and never a hungry moment.”
“No humans?”
“Maybe some, but the Green is so big you can get away from them easy. And they got their own business to be going about. They got no time for idle viciousness.”
Emerald sighed, the itch beginning to subside. “Tell me more about what it looks like.”
“Flowers, not in some tiny window box or fenced-off piece of earth, but growing everywhere and smelling nice. The ground is soft on your paws, and a breeze always ruffles your fur and makes it clean. The Green has big, tall trees whose branches touch the sky. It’s quiet there: no cars and trucks and footsteps all the time day and night, just the wind blowing through the leaves to sing you to sleep.”

~ ~ ~
Marsha A. Moore is a writer of fantasy romance. The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing. She is the author of the novel, TEARS ON A TRANQUIL LAKE, the first in a trilogy. Part two, TORTUGA TREASURE is contracted for release in January, 2012. Look for her first of an epic fantasy romance series, SEEKING A SCRIBE: ENCHANTED BOOKSTORE LEGEND ONE, to be available late autumn.


Julianne said...

Sounds like a charming story, C.M.! Good luck with it!