“Do you do any recreational reading?” said I to two teenage girls, one the granddaughter of my step-brother and the other her close friend. They both shook their heads, looking at me as if I had asked them if they like liver.
Since the advent of social media and texting, today’s teenagers read all the time. Literacy is common place in 21st century America, but I wasn’t asking if they could read, I was asking if they read for entertainment. The answer to that question was an unequivocal, “No.”
As an author, especially of a novel that comfortably fits into the Young Adult (YA) category, I feel something much like a cross between disappointment and guilt when I meet teenagers who don’t read for fun. Disappointment because naturally I believe my literature would not only entertain them but would also teach them something about the world outside of the book’s cover, which would not only make them smarter but also happier as they grow into adults. Guilt because of my selfish feelings of disappointment and also that I am one of the myriad authors who have failed to convince the upcoming generation about the joy of reading.
I looked at two copies of THE DRAGONEERS, which I held in my hands. Just minutes prior, one of the girls’ grandmother had told me they didn’t have time to read as school kept them plenty busy. They already had too much to read and they’d never be interested in reading for entertainment. Those are cold, biting words, challenging words, to an author.
Since THE DRAGONEERS had passed the 10,000 copies sold mark, I’ve become comfortable calling myself an author. Previously the novel had placed increasingly well three years in a row in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest. Of course the book didn’t win, or it would have been published by Penguin, which was the grand prize. Getting close in a writing contest is a two-edged sword, an ordeal which often come with a small whisper saying, “Nice try, your book is okay, but face it, you’re just not that good.” Many a promising author allowed that devil’s breath to invade their muse, eat away at them, eventually to bury their hopes in a shallow grave of despair. In order to resurrect themselves, authors need to edit that foul whisper, like so: “Nice try, your book is okay, but face it, you’re just not that good yet.”
One word makes all the difference.
The author’s journey requires you to collect those critiques then educate yourself as required so you can filter them, and return to the page with elixir. Out of the ashes of a nice try and an okay start, a great story can arise. This is pretty much what happened with my debut novel, THE DRAGONEERS.
Published by Narrow Way Press in November 2011, it rapidly rose to the top of the charts with customer reviews. Currently it is the #1 top-rated Epic Fantasy book and the #1 top-rated Religious Science Fiction book at Amazon. The novel has a Facebook fan page with over 214 followers and almost 100 reviews at Amazon, the vast majority of them are the highest rating, giving it an over 4.8 out of 5 stars. The few initial reviewers, as with most books, were from people who either knew the author, me, or knew someone who knew me, but after several weeks, more than a score of people I’d never heard of were also saying how much they enjoyed reading THE DRAGONEERS. Eventually the book collected a few negative comments, which I understand now as the normal course of book reviews. Search at Amazon for any book you believe to be a great book, even the best book ever, and you’re sure to find a small percentage of people who hated it. That’s just the way it goes.
In the marketing of THE DRAGONEERS, four trailers were developed and posted on YouTube and on the Facebook Fan page. Hundreds of people have viewed the trailers and many people have told me how much they enjoy them and the book. I’m convinced THE DRAGONEERS is a good book, yet I know it’s not perfect. If I were writing it today, I’d do somethings differently, as I’m continuing learning better ways to write–perfecting my craft. I’m putting that knowledge to work in Book Two. Anyone who enjoyed THE DRAGONEERS, Book One of the Chronicles of Susah, is going to be very pleased with Book Two.
But my challenge was to interest two young girls in Book One.
I said, “I’ll like you to help me with an experiment, then I’ll leave you alone.” They nodded in agreement, anything to get rid of the old guy talking about reading for fun.
“Please read the first sentence of this book. When you get to the end of the first sentence you can stop.” I handed the open book to them and they huddled around it. Their eyes fell to the page and they read.
Pain, gnawing emptiness, hunger so loud it dominated all thoughts, not mine—even though I could feel it—it came from them.
They whispered something to each other and I took the book back.
“What do you think?”
One of them said, “Well, we’d kinda like to know what happens next.” The other sheepishly nodded in tacit agreement.
“Well, if you want to–if you’d like to read it–I’ll give you each a copy. I’m not forcing this on you, but it you want it, you can have it.”
They both smiled and eagerly nodded their heads. I left them each with their own copy of THE DRAGONEERS and returned to the adult filled room next door.
While we adults talked politics, finance, guns, and religion in the dining room, I kept wondering if the teenagers had just patronized me, you know, took the books to get rid of me. It’s not a crime. Had they argued with me, I would have been able to counter and parry, but with passive acceptance, there was nothing left for me to do. Wondering if they laughed at my sincerity after I’d left them, I hoped they would someday read the story. After all, I was certain they could find something in there to relate to, something they would like.
While the title sounds like just another dragon-book, it is really a coming of age story about Susah, a talented young woman, who refuses to join her three brothers in helping her father advance the family business. She wants to do something exciting with her life. While this story could have been set in any time, the fantastical world she lives in amplifies each step nearly beyond the bounds of imagination.
Against her parents’ wishes, Susah leaves home on a quest to become one of the dragoneers—an elite fraternity of warriors sworn to defend the ancient garden of Eden against all trespassers.
Meanwhile, deep in a lair inside of Sethopolis’ roughest neighborhood, an evil giantess dreams of seizing the secrets of immortality and other powers, which she believes are hidden within the walls of the forbidden garden. Realizing she can’t achieve her dream with just her own resources, she joins forces with a fallen angel, nearly as old as time itself.
Seemingly unaware of the dangers awaiting her, Susah faces the greatest of all challenges. With the fate of the human race depending on their performance, will the dragoneers succeed in defending the garden of Eden against the forces of evil? And even if they succeed, will Susah survive the pivotal battle of good verses evil?
The adventure builds on the little we know about the antediluvian world and overlays it with a blend of technology, supernatural powers, fire-and-ice-breathing, flying dragons, giants, and martial arts to begin Susah’s adventure to discover herself.
THE DRAGONEERS is advertised as a 100,000 word, Genesis-based epic fantasy, which will attract those interested in speculative fiction, especially about the antediluvian world, and will also appeal to readers of contemporary fantasy as well as military fiction.
But what about young people who haven’t developed a love for reading? Even the terms “speculative fiction” and “antediluvian” may be foreign to them. Accustomed to reading only school-assigned books, often followed by a test and a grade, which could easily be interpreted as work or even punishment–how do they even know what they’ll like?
I tried to introduce them to the wonderful world of fiction by convincing them to read the first sentence, but would that be enough? Time would tell.
As the social event came to a close, and it was time to rally young and old alike from throughout the house, I stood against a wall near the kitchen watching as the two young girls filed out of the living room, headed to the car. As they walked, their eyes scanned slightly left to right and their noses were buried into roughly the first quarter of THE DRAGONEERS. I smiled.
That was a good day.
Reading can be fun, but you have to try it before you realize it.
It just makes sense.