My short story “Dragon-Born” (found in our latest anthology, Dark and Dangerous Things 2) underwent a convoluted development. This seems typical of my stories. I pants it (aka wing it) a lot, but I’m starting to realize my writing centers around issues that are meaningful to me: relationships, connections, what it means to be a women, how to be both strong and vulnerable, both connected and independent at the same time. Magic, mystery…with a twist of some kind. I love all these things. “Dragon-Born” includes all of them.
The story’s heroine is Jillie, whose strange serpentine birthmark has led her superstitious mining town to ostracize her. Her fascination with dragons doesn’t help her win any favor either.
The story began with a dare from my co-Purple Inker, Donna. We were working on our anthology, and I said, “I need an idea for my second story.” She said: “How cool would it be if you wrote a dragon story? Since we already have a unicorn story.”
Beyond that, I had no idea what to write about, except that I wanted a heroine…a dragon…a romantic element, even if unrequited…and a twist. I distinctly didn’t want St. George showing up with a sword. So, I inserted a young girl with a need to get into a dragon’s den for its magic, and started drafting to see what happened.
What happened was that there was a door made of dragon scales that Jillie couldn’t get through. She desperately needed to get the dragon’s magic, because she couldn’t have children, and that’s why the town ostracized her. She was climbing the mountain to find a solution, her brother helping her. That was interesting. My subconscious is a strange landscape, but when I plumb it, it is infinitely clever. I’ve learned to trust it.
Only thing was, the story was so sloppy and unclear that I couldn’t figure out where to go with it. So I asked the Purple Inkers for suggestions. The most helpful was Meg’s conjecture that my heroine would sleep two hundred years and wake up to find herself turned into a dragon. This, of course, was far more brilliant than my own rough idea, but I knew it needed adaptation, because I wanted to address the theme of human connections.
My heroine Jillie was lonely. That couldn’t be ignored. I had to address it somehow.
So I did some quick Wikipedia research on dragon myths. That gave me the twist I needed to add into the story, one that helped me see how I could make Meg’s idea work for me.
The final piece fell into place because of an ongoing discussion I’ve had with Meg and Donna (and others) about women and writing, society’s expectations on women, how the SFF community views women… Some people won’t buy books written by women simply on principle. As though women can’t write a kick-ass murder mystery or a bloody horror or a techno-thriller that makes Tom Clancy look ignorant.
Added to that were recent news reports that women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work. This is so strange to me. And sad. But it was good inspiration.
I wanted Jillie to show strength in many ways, including an ability to be kind and vulnerable, as well as determined and brave and principled. I wanted her to long for relationships, because it often seems as if people expect women to be either strong OR girly, sexy OR success-oriented. It’s like society can’t see us as being all those things.
But we are.
So I wanted Jillie to be a women who is BOTH, rather than EITHER/OR. And I wanted her to be strong and admirable, but also with a significant need that makes her imperfect, or perhaps a better word is incomplete. I wanted to include a brother who is also imperfect but who loves Jillie, in honor of my relationship with my own brother. I wanted some kind of twist element. And I wanted a dragon who’s sexy and pleasantly male to welcome in that romance element that I wanted to play with.
I put all that together with the intriguing idea from my very early story draft – the idea that the dragon-scaled door was like a hymen, and that Jillie could only get through it by shedding her blood. She wants a relationship and what better image of coming together is there than the breaking of the hymen? So, in my much changed final story, I still found a way to hold onto the blood metaphors and sexual imagery because it was important to me that the story not lose that.
The story itself turned out a lot differently than I originally envisioned it. But I’m very proud of how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it when you read it!