The Big Idea: L.R. Lam
Dragons! Everybody loves them and they wing their way into all sorts of places in the fantasy genre. Author L.R. Lam was determined to find a fresh spin on the familiar creatures, however, and in Dragonfall, they may just have found one.
For years, I’d really wanted to write myself a Big Ol’ Dragon Book. Like many fantasy fans, a dragon on a cover was my kryptonite as a teenager. The Dragonriders of Pern even “tricked” me into reading my first science fiction (technically, since the dragons are aliens on an alien planet) when I was about ten. But it felt like there were so many dragons, and so many approaches had already been taken. How could I find my own unique spin on dragons? Or, if not unique, at least a little different than what we’d seen before. So I kept writing other things, but a little corner of my mind held space for my eventual dragon book.
Sometimes you get a big, clear Eureka moment for a book, and sometimes you get little details where you’re like “well that’s a cool for worldbuilding, but that’s not a story.” I was wandering around a museum in Berlin in 2011 and there was a collection of ancient Assyrian cylinder seals. The placard mentioned they were sometimes considered magical amulets. For the rest of the museum visit I zoned out, daydreaming about a fantasy society where everyone wore seals and they were carved with symbols of indelible identity, and signing a contract with them was magically binding.
A year or two later, everything clicked when I started thinking about how the seals could work in relation to dragons: humans use them because their ancestors stole magic from dragons, but in the intervening centuries, they forgot what they’d done and now worshipped them as gods. So what if a human character really needed to change the seal and forge a new identity? The big idea of Dragonfall is: “what if your gods hated you? And what if the ‘gods’ were dragons?” Then, just for fun: what if I made my dragons sexy? I love to read romance when I’m stressed out, and I wrote most of Dragonfall during the UK COVID lockdowns, so I was permanently stressed. I now had angry, sexy dragon gods, and my dragon character had elements of being a fallen angel. Star-crossed lovers. There we go. I had the germ of a story. Now I had to build a world, flesh out the characters, and write it. Easy.
(insert hollow laughter here)
I went very nerdy when creating my dragons, looking up various myths around the world and researching lizards, snakes, and dinosaurs for physiology inspiration. I gave my dragons some feathers, like dinosaurs, because why not. I spent a long time deciding whether my dragons should have bat wings or bird wings, and eventually split the difference: bat wings but the top part has some pretty feathers for aesthetics more than flight. I went down a truly wild tangent on lizard reproduction during one evening of procrastination, but it ended up paying dividends.
Several facts ended up proving useful for my dragons: for some lizard species, the outside temperature can affect the eventual sex of the eggs. So, because my dragons were banished to a dying world with rising temperatures, all dragons are female, save Everen, my co-protagonist. He’s the last male dragon and foretold to save his kind. I took inspiration from whiptail lizards, who give birth via parthenogenesis and are all female (they still get it on together to prepare for cloning themselves, though, interestingly. Good on ya, lesbian whiptail lizards). There were some lizard anatomy facts I did not give my dragons: I quite delight telling people that many snakes and lizards technically have two penises (hemipenes). I decided this would be a step too far, so I regret to inform you that Everen only has one. If Dragonfall ever catches on enough to have fanfic, fanfic writers have my blessing to do what they like, though.
Anyway. All that came together into this weird book I love quite a lot. I think, in some ways, it’s the most “me” book so far, full of what my friend P.M. Freestone calls “bulletproof queens,” or the things that say “shut up and take my money.” Thieves, assassins, heists, excruciatingly slow burn romance, lots of worldbuilding lore, playing around with craft (I’m a little experimental with narrative positions in this one). And, of course: Big Ol’ Dragons. And it’s even got one on the cover.