Someone once said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Jason Denzel can relate to that — life certainly happened to him between writing his previous book on his new one, Mystic Dragon. Here’s how he incorporated what was going in his life into the writing.
There’s that old saying writers hear all the time, “write what you know”, and I never really bought into it until I wrote my second novel, Mystic Dragon. To understand the Big Idea behind this book, you have to first go back to Mystic, the first book in the series.
I wrote Mystic during a secure, happy, and prosperous time of my life, and for the most part, the book reflected that. It showcased a young, bright-eyed protagonist named Pomella who, despite being dealt a rough hand in her culture’s caste system, uses her unrelenting tenacity, talent, and enthusiasm to achieve her goals. (Sort of).
Before 2015, I could relate to Pomella’s youthful spirit. As a debut author, having an opportunity to be published with Tor was a dream come true. I’d been connected to them, and the entire fantasy community for a long time due to my work on Dragonmount, the ginormous Wheel of Time website, and for a while everything went beautifully. My publisher was excited for the book, there was positive buzz, a tour was planned, and early reviews were positive. Life was good, man.
Then a life-sized mystical dragon, breathing red-hot-fuck-it-all fire, burned my life down.
Mystic Dragon was written during a period in my life in which I went through a painful divorce after 15 years of marriage, was laid off from my tech job I’d been at for the same length, and unexpectedly lost my father to a heart condition. I had to sell my house, rebuild my life, find a new job, deal with a multitude of relationship issues, keep it together for my kids, and still find time to write the next book. A book which had to, in my mind, surpass the first one and also not buckle under the weight of being a middle book in a trilogy.
When life sucked the most, I channeled my pain and sadness into my story. I’d decided years before that I would set Mystic Dragon seven years after the events of the first book. This decision didn’t necessarily follow the standard advice given to writers in this genre, but it felt even more right when I began drafting the manuscript in earnest. Pomella and her childhood friend Sim aren’t teeangers anymore. In this second book, each of them have their own version of a mystical dragon breathing red-hot-fuck-it-all fire onto their lives. While they don’t deal with divorce and unemployment, they deal with their own versions of their worlds burning down around them. (Literally, at some points). And there’s a new character, Shevia, who’s centrally featured on the cover, who coalesced into existence during those inevitable days where I wanted to scream and smash and cry. If Pomella represented my last loss of innocence, then Sim was my sadness and perseverance, and Shevia was my anger at having to deal with it all.
Simply put, all of the characters in Mystic Dragon had to grow with me. We had to find our way out of the smoldering ashes of our old lives in order to find a new sun.
Now, several years removed from that difficult time of my life, and with the book finally complete and on shelves, I’m glad I had it as an outlet for my emotions. For better or worse, Mystic Dragon echoes what I went through during that time in my life. And as I write the concluding volume in the trilogy, Mystic Skies, I can already see that the events of the second book will stay with the characters in a similar way. The wounds might mostly heal, but the experience of it stays with you forever.