The many origins and inspirations of The Dreamcatchers

This is the third post on the creation of The Dreamcatchers. I already wrote on the initial origins (where the idea came from, how the dreamcatchers’ appearance was based off Marvel villain, Dr. Doom) and how the book took on a new identity as it evolved, but today I wanted to do a deep dive. Let’s talk more about everything Dreamcatchers, answering so many questions. My goal is to provide you with an inside look at my writing process and even my inner mental workings.

So, without further ado – let’s talk about The Dreamcatchers!

Character names

Every author will tell you that a character’s name matters. It becomes part of their larger personality and an easy mental association as you write. Having the name nailed down can call to mind a fully formed image of the character in your mind.

“Oh, I’m writing about so-and-so! That’s easy! They look like this and they act like this because of what happened years ago, plus this person they met…” You get the idea – the name becomes a mental bookmark in your brain. It marks the start for a chapter detailing your entire character.

So choosing the right name matters. When I began writing Dreamcatchers, I wanted to convey that most of the main characters weren’t human right away. So, I chose names that, for the most part, sounded very alien to me. What better place to start than one of my favorite video games of all time, Mass Effect.

Vakarian Dreamcatchers
“I’m Garrus Vakarian and I was an inspiration for The Dreamcatchers!”

To better humanize Dreamcatcher – give him a life outside of his job – I decided to name him after long-time wing man and BFF Garrus Vakarian. This name grab served another purpose besides honoring a game series. I wanted Vakarian to be balanced. Garrus is always a constant in the Mass Effect series – a character who can be depended on time and time again. That was also my vision for Vakarian. At his best, he is in control and there for his fellow squad mates – just like Garrus.

When it came to the other nefiri, most came to me as I wrote, without one single source of inspiration. There were three exceptions. Fidel, a.k.a. Duckie, was named after a close friend of mine – using her last name instead of her first. Romaniuk has similar origins.

Then there was Zarel – specifically his codename, The Midnight Phantom. When I was younger, I used to attend a camp in Maine called Birch Rock Camp. This place had local legends – stories the campers and counselors told to entertain ourselves. One of my favorites was the Midnight Phantom, a prankster who would move stuff around during the night. You could always tell he’d been there because he would leave his initials – MP.

Since Zarel was intended as a comic relief, I felt that the Midnight Phantom was a natural fit for his codename. In regards to his appearance – I went a different route: ‘

Gorefiend Zarel Dreamcatchers
It’s tough to get captures from old games but Gorefiend’s picture is in the upper left.

Warcraft II was my favorite video game growing up, in large part due to its incredible art style. One NPC – Teron Gorefiend – had what looked like a disfigured face, hidden largely by a scarf and his hood. This image has stuck with me throughout the years and, when the time came, I felt it was a terrific basis for Zarel’s facial structure.

Quick side note: Gorefiend’s yellow hood also inspired the choice of female dreamcatcher garb.

The technology

Part of what I loved most when writing The Dreamcatchers was their technology. On the one hand, it’s very traditional fantasy. A big part of this is the lack of traditional firearms, which made sense to me since there is no gunpowder in their world. To compensate, many dreamcatchers still use bows, namely crossbows. But this does not mean they’re outdated.

At every other turn, I wanted the nefiri to come off as a technically advanced race. Part of it is there world structure. It isn’t easy to navigate the Nether, and Inspiration is even more hazardous. To get around, the nefiri had to be hardy and capable of building impressive machines.

Some of this notion came from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. I’ve always loved how he blended the fantastical with the technological, so I sought to strike a similar balance. If Colfer’s faeries could adapt to a challenging world, then so could my nefiri.

Dreamcatchers damsel pod
The damsel pods were based off of damselflies and have similar designs.

The villain

Incubus was a lot of fun to write as well, in part because he was one of the rare points when I got to project beyond the The Dreamcatchers. To all of you who have trouble understanding what exactly he’s talking about, all I can say is – just wait. After you read The Night Terrors, go back and check his dialogue. You won’t be disappointed.

I knew early on that I wanted him to be a shapeshifter. This comes from my own experience as a lucid dreamer. When I was fighting back against my nightmares, I noticed the more persistent ones had the ability to change forms, adapting to whatever would scare me the most. How nice of my subconscious to put in that extra effort.

In regards to Incubus’ appearance in the Inspiration, I used two primary sources. The first was Hayao Miyazaki and his demons from Princess Mononoke. The second once again came from Marvel. Anyone watching recent movie trailers might have seen this one:

Venom and Carnage are my two favorite Spider-Man villains. I love how their bodies change to fit the situation (like arms turning into weapons). When I was thinking of how Incubus’ skin should look outside of the dream, the texture of the symbiote was in my head.

The music I wrote to

A lot of authors listen to music when we write. I’ve always found that it helps shut out the world and allows me to focus more on the story in front of me. My goal with musical choice is to have it enhance the scene I’m writing. For starters, when Tony and Vakarian fly, I wanted to use something inspirational. The initial teaser music for How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a perfect fit:

Vakarian’s final showdown with Incubus was another moment very charged with musical influence. The initial fight in Inspiration had multiple parts. The showdown with the omen was inspired by part of the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack. Vakarian’s fight with Incubus came from a sampling from V for Vendetta.

As for the fight in the Dream itself? Well, that actually came from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I loved all the imagery surrounding Bard and Smaug. The idea of this single lone warrior against an overwhelming force really summed up what I wanted the final fight to feel like. As much, the music from this scene also factored into The Dreamcatchers finale:

Lastly, we need to talk about Tony and Fidel’s victory moment. Since the book has just come out, I don’t want to go too much into spoilers. For this particular point, I reached back to one of my favorite scenes as a kid and used the corresponding music:

So there you have it! There’s more – so much more to say – but I hope this has satisfied at least some of your curiosity when it comes to the novel writing process. Writers are like sponges. We absorb the art around us and transform it into something new (or at least try to).

Writing a novel is a process, equal parts inspiration from without as well as within. Not all ideas fit together well, and that’s part of the trick. I don’t think I ever would have used anything from Dragonball Z in a “serious” story but for a fantastical adventure like The Dreamcatchers, it made perfect sense.

As a storyteller, feel out ideas by tone and try to group them accordingly. You’ll find it may help!

That’s all for now. If you’ve bought a copy of The Dreamcatchers –  thank you so much for reading it! I hope you found it as entertaining to read as I did to write. I’ll leave you now with one teaser. A look ahead to The Night Terrors. As with Dreamcatchers, I’m using music to help write certain scenes. Here is one of the tracks I’ve been listening to a lot:

As always, if you’d like to get your own copy of The Dreamcatchers, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ta ta for now!

How to Train Your Child to Love Dragons

Dragons have fascinated humanity for millennia. No matter which part of the world you travel to, odds are the indigenous culture had at least one myth devoted to these beasts. While some may run to conspiracy, the logical explanation for widespread dragon mythology is dinosaur bones… or are dinosaurs a cover-up for dragons?!

They’re not. Dinosaurs have always existed but it’s easy to forget that we’ve only started formulating scientific study on these fossils during the last couple centuries. Before then, they were just giant bones – proof that our planet once held strange and amazing animals.

The natural mystery of the dinosaurs gave birth to arguably the greatest fantastical creation of all time. One that symbolizes our creative spirit as a species and adds an element of wonder to our collective consciousness. So, in my mind, passing on this love of dragons is essential in healthy human development.

After all, I love dragons and I consider myself a well-balanced individual (twitch).

Early Childhood

If you’re trying to get your child to love anything then start early. I don’t mean ramming dragons in the face of your baby and screaming “like it!” – rather, maybe just choose books and films that are age appropriate. Luckily, popular culture has you covered.

In terms of movies, recent hits like Pete’s Dragon and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader both feature friendly, nonthreatening creatures. Another obvious choice is the How to Train Your Dragon series from Dreamworks Animation.

If I may state a personal preference and a loved childhood memory, I would recommend Flight of Dragons. This light, whimsical fantasy gives dragon flight and fire a pseudo-science explanation and features a lot more elements of the genre. Talking animals? Got it. Ogres – yeah there’s one. James Earl Jones voicing the villain who turns into a giant monster – okay, we’re onto something here.

Also, it’s got this song:

Yeah, that will be in your head awhile. It’s a wonderfully meta film, choosing the author of the source book as a main character. And speaking of books, you don’t get much more famous than The Hobbit. Read that to your child and I guarantee, apart from the giant spiders, Smaug will be a highlight.

In terms of other books, really you can’t go wrong. There are so many dragon stories out there. I would also advise purchasing those giant picture books – like World of Dragons or something. They’re image focused so literacy isn’t a barrier, and the better ones feature drawings that will compel the development of a healthy imagination.

children dragons
One of the coolest aspects of dragon lore is how many different shapes and designs the creature can take. Try to look for literature that highlights each vision.

The tweens

As kids age, “cool” starts to matter more. Everyone wants to be cool – gotta do the cool things to be cool. However, they’re not quite teenagers yet so, you know, parents have yet to become the exact opposite of cool. So you can still make recommendations but the best bet is just making things available for consumption.

A film like Dragonheart, while rated PG-13, is perfect for this age range. After all, you can’t get much more awesome than Sean Connery voicing a dragon. It’s a little more violent without being Game of Thrones and the sexual innuendos will likely fly over your childrens’ heads… like a dragon, get it? I’m very clever.

Notable books include easy reads like Harry Potter, stuff your child can devour and process easily, helping to fuel not just a love of dragons but a greater affection for reading in general.

Harry Potter children dragon
Harry Potter ages along with the series, but its never particularly terrifying or overtly mature.

Teenage Years

Okay, now you’re not cool anymore. Being a teenager is all about being rebellious. Are they old enough to watch Game of Thrones? Doesn’t matter, they’ll likely watch it anyway.  However, this desire to revolt can be capitalized on with some appropriate dragon literature.

Gork the Teenage Dragon is every story of young adult high school trauma and liberation only… you know, with dragons. We follow Gork, a young, smaller dragon who is too nice for his own good. This hurts his chances of winning a female for the mating dance (a more straight forward name for “prom”) and impressing his family.

Gork has no idea what he wants to be but he feels the enormous pressure to be great. Typical teenager stuff, just substitute the people for dragons.

teenage dragon books
I feel the cover gives an excellent indication of the overall tone of this story.

The Magicians trilogy also provides dragons in more mature setting, although parents have to be comfortable exposing their child to teenage sex and drug use – if anything, it can be seen as prep for actual high school.

At this point, more scholarly works like Beowulf may also be attempted. Video games like Dragon Age also, as the name suggests, feature dragons very promptly. And I think it’s safe to assume that Skyrim will still be being released on new systems, even ten years from now.

And there you have it. Obviously there’s more to cover. I haven’t even scratched the surface of dragon pop culture.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but I like to think that I still remember what it was like to be a child. Dragons are amazing creatures of power and mystery. These are qualities that I believe are attractive to children. Keep in mind, you don’t always have to go traditional.

As I mentioned in the beginning, dinosaurs are part of dragon lore and can easily expand the overall love of fire-breathing winged beasts. There’s also Godzilla, who is pretty amazing and fights other dragon-like creatures on a regular basis. I’m just saying.

Hobbit Changes Part Two: Orcs, Eagles, and the Dragon

Part One here.

Okay, so it took about a year but I am finishing this thought. I know, I know – if I waited just another four years before I did anything I would show promise as a Congressman.

So the Hobbit trilogy, the trilogy that is nearly as fashionable to hate as the Star Wars prequels. Some people have even suggested that they are on the same level, as people have argued that both have an over-reliance on CGI and an underdeveloped story. I would counter and ask someone to please find either the Jar Jar or the Midi-chlorian equivalent in the Hobbit trilogy. Please let me know if you find it and feel like you can make a compelling argument.

Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson's Hobbit? I think not.
Is there anything close to this bad in Jackson’s Hobbit? I think not.

The point is: Love or hate director Peter Jackson’s changes, most of them make sense from a storytelling perspective in the context of the Middle Earth universe. There are, however, a few that are truly disappointing. While I largely defend the Hobbit trilogy… Lord of the Rings these ain’t.

The Orc Design/Effects

This first change is not really a storytelling critique, but rather an effects one. When the Lord of the Rings came out, it wowed audiences with its masterful use of effects. Mixing costumes and model work with the latest in computer technology, those films were able to create an incredibly believable look that reflected a restraint rarely seen today in big budget Hollywood. I’m not sure where those guys are getting their data, but audiences today seem sick of an overuse of CGI.

That said…

WHAT IS UP WITH THE ORCS?!

Or goblins, I want to be politically correct. In particular I’m talking about the two lead baddies, Azog the Defiler and Bolg… the other one. While they can be criticized on more than their appearance (both are rather boring villains who are given way too much screen time), the fact that they are computer generated creations is noticeable. Unlike Gollum, who emotes with the lively presence of Andy Serkis, Azog and Bolg appear stiffer and less, well – alive. This again could have to do with their simplistic motivations. Or it could involve another fact:

The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.
The original costumes were relegated to smaller parts in the final trilogy.

They were originally people in costumes and NOT motion captured acting like the Gollum performance. That’s right, Peter Jackson originally wanted both of the main villains to at least look a little more real. Yet, at least according to this source – Jackson was happy with CGI redos and wished his other orcs looked that way.

I don't know, the original Bolg looks really cool.
I don’t know, the original Bolg looks really cool.

I’m not sure I buy this.

A lot has come out since the release of the Hobbit trilogy that alleges that Jackson did not have as much control as people would naturally think. I mean, after making Lord of the Rings, how could they not…

Are you kidding?

After Jackson’s trilogy single-handedly saved New Line Cinemas from disappearing into irrelevant oblivion (they tried to withhold money from him on those btw) he and his work was still not respected from a studio standpoint. While the other Hobbit production videos (and commentary tracks) all painted a roses-and-sunshine picture, this feels like the truest look at a production that was in major trouble from day one.

Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.
Azog probably still would have been a boring villain, but there is a performance here that has been lost, and that is really sad.

With Jackson never being given the time he asked for, one must wonder: what other decisions were made for him? This would not be the first time that a studio came in, looked at painstakingly crafted practical effects, and said: “kids these days really just want stuff from the computers and the internets.”

Is Peter Jackson the next George Lucas… or is he just one of many directors not fully in charge of their own movies (Edgar Wright, Sam Raimi, Joss Whedon)? We may never know… but damage done in The Hobbit.

The Eagles

Ah the Eagles, the deus ex machina of the Tolkien universe. Need a hand, got to leave a bad situation – the Eagles got you covered. I’m always amazed when fans of the book criticize Jackson’s decision to explain where Gandalf went when he vanished. Without those scenes, Gandalf would just disappear, conveniently only  reappearing to save Bilbo and the dwarves from impending peril. We already got the Eagles guys, we don’t need another one.

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Yet the book did have one very important piece that Jackson’s films omit: An introduction. The Eagles are introduced in the Hobbit and their actions are explained… if only a little bit. How might you ask? Well very naturally, the Eagles can and do talk. They express gratitude to Gandalf as well as state that they have no desire to be a taxi service, especially where “fat dwarves” are concerned.

This is a minor problem, and its omission is far from the greatest flaw in the trilogy. That said, it would have been really nice to give the Eagles their motivation, rather than having them appear yet again to only fulfill plot necessity. Doing so would not only have helped the Hobbit movies, but it would have fixed one of the greatest complaints against the Lord of the Rings, namely explaining why this did not happen:

The Smaug Sequence at the end of Desolation of Smaug

Oh Smaug the terrible, chiefest and greatest calamity of our age!

Wait.

No.

That poor excuse for Rodan can’t even kill a few dwarves running around the Lonely Mountain.

This is the biggest problem with that ending “action sequence” in Desolation of Smaug. Not only does nothing happen to propel the story forward for like.. I don’t know, at least fifteen minutes, the menace of Smaug is greatly reduced. For the past two movies, the horror of this dragon has been built up. When he is revealed, he is depicted as godlike; capable of destroying entire cities without suffering a single injury.

Don't be scared Bilbo! He's definitely farsighted.
Don’t be scared Bilbo! He’s definitely farsighted.

Yet for at least ten minutes, he flails about like a drunk Benedict Cumberbatch, unable to do anything right. Seriously, it goes to the point that Thorin actually taunts him into breathing more fire – that’s how ineffective he is.

A scene equivalent would have been watching Sauron fumble around for the ring for ten minutes at the end of Return of the King before Frodo just kicks it into Mount Doom.

Storytelling tip: if you want a villain to be threatening, they must be effective. What makes it worse, was if the dwarves and Bilbo actually succeeded in doing something (like say knocking off a scale and exposing Smaug’s weakness) the scene would have served at least some point. As it stands, Smaug looks dumb and the good guys do… nothing.

 

All this being said, I still like The Hobbit trilogy. Is it as good as Lord of the Rings, not even close. That said, there is still a love here for a world that is noticeable, and characters who feel real and entertaining (there is also no picnic love scene equivalent to the Star Wars prequels). It is an absolute shame that Peter Jackson was not given the time to do this properly, but never say never.

Remakes are all the rage in Hollywood right now. Who knows what adventure the highly profitable Middle Earth will take next time.

I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.
I would love to see someone try to flesh out the plot of this story into something that is actually fun to dive into.