Monday, November 15, 2010

Dragons Versus Dragons

Michelle Knudsen has written more than forty children’s books, including LIBRARY LION and THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN (which is being released in paperback in January, 2011). I had the pleasure of interviewing Mikki about the dragons in her stories and the dragon art on the covers:

(Paperback Edition: Candlewick Press, January 2011)

PB: Congratulations, Mikki, on yet another book, ARGUS, soon to be released!

MK: Thank you! :)

PB: You’ve written about bugs, worms, lions, and a myriad of other life-forms. Was THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN was your first dragon?

(Candlewick Press, April 2009)

MK: Yes -- or at least, he’s my first published dragon. I’ve always loved dragons and have written about them before, but Jakl (the dragon from The Dragon of Trelian) was the first to make it into a book. There are some dragon-like creatures in the artwork of my Happy Halloween board book...but those guys are purely the illustrator’s -- Rusty Fletcher’s -- contribution, so really they are his dragons, not mine.

PB: Did you study pictures of dragons before or during your writing process?

MK: Ha -- you should see the walls around my desk. I have many of my favorite dragon illustrations posted up all around my computer, as well as lots of bookmarked fantasy artist web sites and years of dragon-themed calendars and of course, shelves of fantasy books featuring my favorite literary dragons on the covers. (Not to mention my own dragon tattoo!) I also spent some time thinking carefully about what I wanted Jakl to look like, and what kind of dragon I wanted him to be.

(Mikki's tattoo)

PB: Were there any dragons in particular that inspired you to write THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN?

MK: No dragons in particular, although at the same time, all the dragons I loved as a young reader (and an older reader!) have inspired me in their way. Every dragon that made me love dragons and want to write about them contributed to my sense of what a dragon is and could be and what is most special and awesome about them. A couple of my favorites growing up were Stanley Steamer (the Gap Dragon from Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels), and Gleep from Robert Asprin’s Myth series, but I was also inspired by less friendly dragons from various books and book covers and Dungeons & Dragons manuals and other sources. I actually prefer my dragons fierce to friendly -- my ultimate favorites are those that maintain a sense of mystery and alien-ness and dangerousness, even if they do have human friends or companions.

PB: According to an Orbit Books survey of dragon colors, 35% of dragons on fantasy book covers last year were green. Did you decide to make your dragon green for any special reason?

MK: That’s a good question -- and an interesting survey! Green just seemed right to me; when I pictured Jakl in my head, that’s what I saw. He’s actually a darker green in my mind than he is on the hardcover jacket; when Calen first sees the dragon, he’s described as “rich dark green, deepening to nearly black at tail and wing tips.”

PB: Do you think you would have planned a different color for him if you had known green dragons were popular?

MK: No, I don’t think so. Once I really saw Jakl in my head as a green dragon, it would have been difficult to change that. I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to change my idea of what he looked like just to make him stand out more.

PB: Did you ever consider making him another color, like purple?

MK: Nope. Nothing against purple dragons, of course! One of the images on my wall is from John Howe’s cover art for Robin Hobb’s fantasy novel Ship of Destiny (The Liveship Traders: Volume 3), in which the dragons are purple and blue and quite beautiful. But purple just wouldn’t have suited Jakl. He’s a green dragon.

PB: ARGUS is also green. Did you choose green for him too?

(Candlewick Press, February 2011)

MK: I did. I wanted him to be very disturbing to Sally when he first hatches from her assigned egg (her class is doing a science project, hatching chicken eggs). She is expecting a cute little yellow chick, and so I wanted Argus to be green and scaly for contrast. And again, that’s just how I saw him in my head. I often get very attached to my initial visual images of characters, and so unless there’s a very good reason to make them look different, I like to stick with how I first imagined them.

PB: Argus looks friendly while the Dragon of Trelian looks more fierce—a lot more fierce on the new paperback edition cover. If they had a fight, which one would win?

MK: Heh. Definitely Jakl. Argus is a sweetie pie, really. But I like to think that Jakl wouldn’t pick on Argus. Maybe they could be friends!

PB: Do you think Jakl could take out ERAGON’s dragon Saphira or the Hungarian Horntail in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE? (Seen here on the English cover, in fiery glory, which should not intimidate Jakl. It’s all in the lighting.)

(Bloomsbury Publishing PLC – 1st edition; July 2000) (Alfred A. Knopf – 1st edition; 2003)

MK: My money is on Jakl, all the way. Bring it!

PB: Thanks, Mikki, for joining us on JacketKnack for this interview! Congratulations again. We’re looking forward to seeing ARGUS in bookstores in February, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Great insight into the vision an author might have and the illustrations that emerge. I also thought it was interesting that the dragon gets pushed into the background for the paperback edition, especially since the title is "The DRAGON of Trelian".