We first heard of L.R. Lam and Dragonfall when we were invited to Hodderscape’s party last year. Today we are excited to have her here on United by Pop to chat about her fantasy book.
Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to a dying world. Centuries later, their descendants worship dragons as gods. Everen – the last male dragon, who was once foretold to save his kind – was dragged into the human world. Trapped, and disguised as a human, Everen soon realises that the key to his destiny, lies in Arcady, a lying thief…
Let’s start with a fun one – can you share with us your top 3 favourite dragon characters from animes, books, shows etc.?
Arnan – I am Dragon (a Russian film with gorgeous fairy tale aesthetics and a dragon who turns into a human and doesn’t wear a shirt the entire film)
Smaug – The Hobbit (classic)
Draco – Dragonheart (I was obsessed with this film as a kid)
Honourable mention: Falcor from The Neverending Story
And let’s chat about the map. How and when did you plan the layout of the map?
I’ve wanted a map for one of my fantasy novels since I was a teen, so to get one is so cool. I had cobbled together bits of the map, but when I found out I was actually getting one, I had to quickly figure out how exactly it’d look on the page. I did a draft in Inkarnate, a useful program, and a friend who studied geography helped me a bit too. My rivers still made absolutely no sense according to physics though, evidently, so Deven Rue, the cartographer, thankfully fixed it. She does the maps for Critical Role, and she actually sells a copy of the Loc map on her website, so the idea that people might be running D&D campaigns and literally playing in my world, even if they haven’t read the book, is pretty neat.
Each part of Dragonfall starts with an interesting excerpt, such as an old tale, or a prophecy. What was the creation process like for these?
I stole this trick from Robin Hobb, who has little exposition bits and bobs at the start of each chapter in her Fitz & Fool books. Doing it for every chapter was a bit much for me, so I kept to the start of each of the four parts. Prophecy is a huge part of the book as this is my take on the Chosen One trope, so I put the two most important ones. Old tales can be a great way to hint at themes too, and a big part of the story is that so much history has been lost over the years that the truth of what happened is hard to know, but often remnants of truths are smuggled into stories or fairy tales. It’s a bit of fun, extra worldbuilding.
And in general, when you first came up with Dragonfall, which came first – the storyline or the world?
It’s so hard to pinpoint, as it was a slow amalgamation of lots of little ideas. It started with the stone seals being a way to funnel magic. I’d always wanted to write a dragon book, but it took a while to find my angle and approach (which was evidently to make them hot and give them feathers). I knew I wanted to play with epic fantasy mainstays in an homage to the 90s fantasy I read while growing up, but to give a modern twist, particularly in terms of gender and sexuality. I also wanted to imbue it with a lot of romance, so I added star-crossed lovers and enemies to lovers. It eventually all coalesced into Dragonfall.
And how did you come up with the names of the dragons in Dragonfall? Are they based on any folklore or culture?
A lot of the dragon’s names come from the natural world. For example, Ammil, the previous last male dragon, is from the Devon/Old English term for “glittering layer of ice that dusts leaves, twigs, and grass after a freeze.” I nicked a lot of them from the fantastic Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane, which collects wonderful words for the natural world. The name for the dragon world Vere Celene does come from the term “Verechelen” or “Věri Şělen” which is the Chuvash term for winged, fire-breathing, shapeshifting dragons. However, I tried not to draw too heavily on any specific culture for the dragons but built them from the ground up.
The dragon Everen’s POV is so realistic. How did you think in his perspective?
It was very fun to try and think from a dragon’s perspective! I grew up absolutely loving dragon books, but I noticed in fantasy you basically never got a dragon’s perspective. The dragon was some monster to be slain or an unknowable other. But dragons turning into humans is common in plenty of myths and of course is very common in paranormal shifter romances. To create Everen’s perspective, I did a lot of character work—building the world he’s come from (a dying land with dwindling resources), what he would have been told about humans (that they betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to Vere Celene), and how much he would hate them as a result. He’d also been raised as a prince thinking he would be the saviour of his kind, but he hasn’t been having any visions so feels he’s failing, which tinges a lot of his reactions to things. Lastly, when he falls into the human world, he’s a near-total outsider, and so he’s viewing the world of the Lumet in new eyes. He’s also trying to pretend to be human and isn’t very good at it, bless him.
It’s very lovely to see sign language being portrayed as a universal, common language. Why did you choose to feature this in Dragonfall?
It arose organically. I first started thinking a simple sign language would be useful for haggling at markets across language divides, and that I’m sure historically this happened. Then, when I realised survivors of the plague in this world often had hearing issues (which can be common after illnesses with very high fevers), it made sense to simply expand Trade to be a working lingua franca throughout this world. I have a character who is deaf and doesn’t have to rely on only one person to translate for him, for example. I often wondered why sign language wasn’t taught by default in schools, as it would improve accessibility and have lots of other useful purposes.
And finally, gender identity/fluidity is greatly explored here. Why do you think it’s particularly important in a fantasy novel?
Growing up, the epic fantasy I read tended to default to relatively traditional gender roles, often touted as being in the name of historical fantasy. Despite, you know, dragons. There were a few gender fluid or trans characters I came across and became just that Little Too Obsessed With Without Quite Realising Why (the Fool in Robin Hobb’s work, the Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling, etc.). In Loc, the country in the Lumet where most of this book is set, it’s considered a bit rude to assume a stranger’s gender, so you tend to default to they/them out of courtesy. Once you get to know someone, they tend to share their gender with a one-handed sign in Trade, often without even breaking the flow of conversation. A percentage of the population can shapeshift and if you can afford a master healer, you’d be able to access gender-affirming care pretty easily.
I wrote Dragonfall wanting to create not only a queernorm world but a queer celebratory world. One of my leads, Arcady, is genderfluid and uses ‘any’ pronouns, and I also set up the narrative positions so there would be few third person pronouns for them within the text itself, at least in book one. It’s been interesting as there have been reviews that use they for Arcady, but also she, or he. Everyone is reading the same worlds and spending time with the same character but taking different things away or revealing their own assumptions. Fantasy is all about imagining new worlds, so I imagined one where gender is something to make your own. Also, there are dragons.