The Big Idea: Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle

You start with an old idea, and from this old idea, you can create something new. So Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle learned, as they looked to legends from their heritage for the new novel Ebony Gate.


When we started writing what would become Ebony Gate, we took inspiration from Asian myth, using foo lions, hungry ghosts, and death gods instead of the standard fare of vampires and fae that already populated our shelves. In particular, we focused on Lóng, the Chinese dragon. Chinese dragons date back to the I Ching, but their appeal is timeless. Post-Ming dynasty Chinese texts tell of nine sons of the Great Dragon Father, each with individual strengths and powers. These dragon sons were powerful gods, capable of controlling the weather and water. We wanted to carry these old myths forward into a modern setting.

We imagined an entire civilization of people descended from these Nine Sons of the Dragon, what their culture and rules would be like. Each family’s identity is based on their Hoard, a trove of artifacts and precious gems, soaked in dragon magic, granting them wealth and power. They model their lives after their dragon gods and call themselves Lóng Jiārén, dragon family. Lóng Jiārén live like apex predators. They are:

  • Secretive
  • Acquisitive
  • Territorial
  • Powerful
  • Fiercely loyal 
  • Prone to violence

For millennia these Lóng Jiārén lived among regular humans, hiding their secrets and husbanding their power. With their amazing talents, they built empires in the shadows. But Lóng Jiārén are not precisely humans, and their dragon nature cannot be denied.

To self-govern, these descendants of the dragons lead ritualistic lives. Their society is governed by laws that supersede any other code of conduct, the first being “Protect the Hoard.” They trade debts and favors that are bound by honor and magic, payable for the duration of one’s bloodline. Wealth, power, and succession are all predicated on the ability to survive amongst the most dangerous people on the planet. 

But in this strict society, misfits chafe under the yoke of these rules.

Despite being born into a family with a lavish hoard, Emiko Soong never fit in. She’s the Broken Tooth of Soong, and has always been an outsider, struggling to carve out her place in this world of the dragonborn. Ebony Gate is a story about one woman navigating the rocky path between a world rife with violence and secrets, and the other one oblivious to the predators who walk among them.

What started as a big idea to bring Chinese dragon lore into contemporary fiction became something much more personal for us—exploring the theme of growing up as diaspora, with a foot in two worlds, and charting a new path that sits somewhere in the middle ground. It turned out, we were writing about our own struggles—but with magic and dragons. The diaspora experience is one of change and adaptation. We hold on to certain old ways, while learning the new ways. 

We’re American, but also Asian-American and we didn’t see ourselves represented in the fantasy fiction we grew up with. There’s something very painful about being cast as the perpetual foreigner in the place where you grow up and raise your own family. It was important to us that our protagonist be Asian, as well as representative of our experiences. And while we are not descended from dragons, our parents’ story of coming to a new world certainly echoes in Ebony Gate. 

In the same way that our upbringing was influenced by old and new cultures, we believe that what we do with our lives also changes the landscape of our home. Along the same vein we hope that Emiko’s story helps broaden the landscape of fantasy fiction. Ebony Gate is a diaspora story with old world legends, new world problems, and a heroine we can all root for.

Ebony Gate: Amazon|Barnes & Noble||Powell’s

Julia’s socials: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok  
Ken’s socials: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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