As a child, Erin Michelle Sky fell in love with llamas and with the books of Anne McCaffrey, whose Dragonriders of Pern series inspired her to become a writer. When she finally met Anne McCaffrey at a fantasy convention some two decades later, she wept uncontrollably throughout the entire affair. She does significantly better with llamas.
Steven Brown spent his childhood reading anything he could get his hands on, sharing his favorite stories with his younger brothers and then acting them out, especially if this required sword fighting on horseback. When they ran out of books, he wrote his own, including his brothers as the main characters by sketching original illustrations on magazine clippings.
Together, they are the permanent writing team known as Dragon Authors. You can find them most often on Twitter and on their blog, where they review other books and create stick figure videos for YouTube. (And occasionally talk about their own work.)
And today Erin and Steven have stopped buy for a chat about their debut novel, The Intuitives, set for release on July 25th 2017. (I have read it and it’s awesome btw!) So let us dive right in!
Your novel is called The Intuitives. What can you tell us about it?
The book opens in Alexandria, Egypt, with an archaeological excavation. Then it jumps ahead seven years, with every public school student in the US taking a strange, new test with questions like “What color is the best color” and “How hot is too hot?” Based on the test, five teenagers and one pre-teen are invited to attend a summer program in an isolated lodge in Wyoming. But strange things start happening and they have to figure out what they’re really doing there. So it’s a blend of mystery and fantasy.
What inspired you to write this book?
You know, that’s a great question! But for this particular book, it’s a hard one to answer without giving anything away. What we can say is that we were invited to write for a video game in the early stages of its development, so to research the field we started playing different kinds of MMOs. World of Warcraft. Call of Duty. A few others.
One common thread we discovered, connecting these different gaming experiences, is that it tends to make for interesting bedfellows. It’s not uncommon to find a lawyer healing a high school teacher, or a steelworker and an AC repairman protecting a firefighter’s left flank. And the raid leader in charge of the whole thing might be just eleven years old.
We wanted to write a book with that kind of team at its heart. Where it doesn’t matter where you come from, what differences there might be between you, or whether other people would expect you to be friends. All that matters is what you can accomplish by working together—by looking out for each other, and learning to trust each other.
Were there any parts of this story that were particularly difficult to write?
We tend to think of our characters as real people, and real people don’t grow or change in a vacuum. People learn to see the world in new ways because of the things that happen around them and the people they come into contact with. And the most challenging experiences tend to be the most defining. So to write interesting stories—and well-developed characters—we have to challenge them. It’s hard to watch them go through that, to be honest.
As for the process of writing The Intuitives in particular, there’s a great quote by Neil Gaiman from the short story “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories.”
People talk about books that write themselves, and it’s a lie. Books don’t write themselves. It takes thought and research and backache and notes and more time and more work than you’d believe.
Except for Sons of Man, and that one pretty much wrote itself.
With The Intuitives, both of those things were true. A lot of research went into it. A lot of notes and a lot of editing. But it also wrote itself. The characters were so real to us right from the beginning that it felt as though they were right there with us, telling us what they said and did. As though they were telling us the story themselves.
Do you have a favourite character?
Gosh, that’s like asking which of your kids is your favorite! We usually tell people we have a different favorite every time we read the book. Or at different times, under different circumstances. Just the other day we were going through the book, making a playlist of every song Daniel thinks about throughout the text. Listening to snippets of them all in turn. And it made us feel like he was right there with us. Hanging out with us all over again! In that moment, you might say he was our favorite. He was definitely the one we were thinking about the most!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? Anything weird you needed to research?
Oh, that’s a fantastic question! There were a few strange coincidences that came up while we were researching this one. Probably the biggest was this… We knew we wanted to include a lost tomb right at the beginning. We were considering historic figures we could use for that, and Steven wondered out loud, “When did Alexander the Great die?”
We looked it up, and our jaws hit the floor. The anniversary of his death was that very day! And there was this big historic mystery around his body being moved and the tomb having been lost, and people looking for it throughout the intervening centuries. We knew then and there we had to use it.
But of course we researched so many things, and we tried to make the real-life tie-ins as realistic as possible, down to the details. Even if the characters were just walking through an airport, we looked up photos of the concourse and actual flight times. We looked up what day of the year school lets out in different states. And what time the sun sets at that time of year. And what the average temperature and rainfall are in that city. We wanted to know what their lives were really like and to remain as true to that as possible.
What would the main character in your book have to say about you?
Well, the book has six main characters rather than just one. Some might even argue it has seven or eight! So, six to eight opinions on two different authors? Let’s not head down that rabbit hole…
What do you love most about the writing process?
Wow. Everything! The creativity, definitely. Working together. Brainstorming ideas. Researching facts. Crafting the narrative voice. But to be honest the very best part is when people respond to it—when they enjoy it or think about it. Reading comments on Goodreads and blogs, knowing it sparked a conversation.
Just today we mailed an advance copy to a giveaway winner in Africa, and we realized that at least one copy is now on every continent except Antarctica. To think about people all over the world reading something we wrote—that as the sun sets here, someone on the other side of the planet might be sitting on a balcony watching the sun rise and reading our book over a cup of coffee… The sense of connection, and of this global reading community… it’s overwhelming. We just feel overwhelmingly humbled and grateful.
What was the hardest scene to write?
No spoilers, we promise, but definitely the end—because we wanted the story to keep going! There was so much we had to leave out as it is!
You mentioned editing earlier, too. What did you edit out?
It was awful, as authors, having to leave out so much! We had to remove about 60% of the initial plot line before we even wrote it! There’s so much going on behind the scenes that we developed and just didn’t have room for.
Even with the outline cuts, the initial draft had over 114,000 words in it. Way too long. But every chapter was essential to the story! We ended up cutting about 16,000 words—snippets of backstory, conversations that would have planted seeds—trying desperately not to cut into the meat of the story.
Seeds? Do you expect The Intuitives to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Both. We wanted The Intuitives to stand on its own from the very beginning. We don’t like to leave our characters hanging! But we also hope to continue the story and even tell different aspects of it with some tie-ins. We have a lot of ideas, but we’re waiting to see how much interest our readers have in seeing more of the story. We always want to listen to our readers, to tell the stories that interest them the most!
What stories interest you the most in other series you’ve read? What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Steven – The Halfling’s Gem; and the Dragonlance series
Erin – Jig, the Goblin
What is the first book that made you cry?
Steven – That I can remember? I read from the time I was a little kid. We didn’t go to the movies. I read books instead. So I didn’t watch Old Yeller. I read it.
Erin – I like funny books. I try not to read many sad books, to be honest. They affect me too much. I cry over long-distance commercials. Coffee commercials. Thirty second ad… a little girl looking for her dog… will she find the dog??? Omg she found her dog!!! And I’m in tears. It’s ridiculous.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
At least five, in various stages. We have completed drafts of the first two books in an epic fantasy series, but they still need to go through the revision process. We have another completed draft of the first book in an entirely different series—a fun YA fairy tale retelling. And we have two other half-finished books. One is a spin-off in the epic fantasy series and the other is different from any of the others. Much darker. And of course we have tons of ideas for other books, some with even a vague outline and a chapter or two drafted to capture the characters. We’re always thinking about stories!
Million dollar question, are you working on another book?
In this series? Even though The Intuitives works as a standalone, there’s a lot more of the story to be told. If readers want to hear it, then of course we’ll continue! In the meantime, we’re actually writing a book live on Patreon right now, posting it chapter by chapter. That’s the fairy tale retelling, which takes place in England in 1790. Talk about research! It’s a version of Peter Pan in which Wendy Darling was an orphan and is now 17—a total kick-ass, sword wielding, YA heroine—and England is at war with these magical creatures. Pan is one of those creatures, and Hook is an actual Captain in the British navy. The first draft is finished, but we’re revising as we go. You can read the first eight chapters for free. We’re having a lot of fun with it. And, of course, we’re always working on other books behind the scenes too!
What character in your book are you least likely to get along with?
The bad guys.
You can find Erin & Steven @
Book on Amazon: http://viewBook.at/intuitives
Book website (other buy links): http://trashdogs.com
Book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33233918
Authors’ Patreon: http://patreon.com/dragonauthors
Authors’ Blog: http://dragonauthors.com
Authors’ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/DragonAuthors
Authors’ Twitter: https://twitter.com/dragonauthors
Publisher’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trashdogs