Alex London is joining us on From the Mixed Up Files today to talk about the first book in his brand new middle-grade fantasy series BATTLE DRAGONS. Alex is the author of more than 25 books for children, teens and adults, including the middle-grade series DOG TAGS, TIDES OF WAR, WILD ONES, and ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURES. His latest series launches on Sept. 21 with BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES, which is a super fun adventure. Here’s the description:
In a modern mega-city built around dragons, one boy gets caught up in the world of illegal dragon battles and a high-stakes gang war that could tear his family apart.
Once, dragons nearly drove themselves to extinction. But in the city of Drakopolis, humans domesticated them centuries ago. Now dragons haul the city’s cargo, taxi its bustling people between skyscrapers, and advertise its wares in bright, neon displays. Most famously of all, the dragons battle. Different breeds take to the skies in nighttime bouts between the infamous kins―criminal gangs who rule through violence and intimidation.
Abel has always loved dragons, but after a disastrous showing in his dragon rider’s exam, he’s destined never to fly one himself. All that changes the night his sister appears at his window, entrusting him with a secret…and a stolen dragon.
Turns out, his big sister is a dragon thief! Too bad his older brother is a rising star in Drakopolis law enforcement…
To protect his friends and his family, Abel must partner with the stolen beast, riding in kin battles and keeping more secrets than a dragon has scales.
When everyone wants him fighting on their side, can Abel figure out what’s worth fighting for?
Doesn’t it sound awesome? Until you can get your dragon paws on your own copy, let’s go behind the scenes of the book’s creation. And make sure you read to the end to enter the giveaway.
Samantha: Hi Alex! Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files. I loved BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES. Tell us where you got the idea from?
Alex: Thanks so much! The short pitch is that it’s The Fast and The Furious meets How to Train Your Dragon, except that I hadn’t actually seen those movies or read those books when I began this project. Of course, I’ve corrected that oversight now (and am kind of obsessed with the gleeful story-telling chaos of the Fast and The Furious franchise.
As to my inspirations, there are endless sparks that ignite the ideas in any novel, but this one combined so many influences that fueled my imagination when I was a middle schooler. It combines my love of cyberpunk like Akira and Blade Runner with my love of fantasy, of dragon lore, and ultimately of stories set in that middle school time, when young people start to come into their own and realize how much bigger, complicated, and wonderful the world is than they ever dreamed. I wanted to write a story that would have appealed to me in middle school, but that would’ve also expanded my imagination for what kind of a world was possible.
There are sibling rivalries and new friends and high stakes souped-up dragon riding action. There are also, I hope, a lot of laughs!
Samantha: You’ve incorporated a lot of dragon story lore (with the dragons keeping a hoard, for example), but you’ve also expanded on the roles of dragons, like having them be taxis, school buses and cleaners. How did you decide what to keep and what to add for this story?
Alex: Writing a mash-up of genres gave me the freedom to pick and choose what dragon lore was useful or interesting to me. What of my main concerns was using the lore that would make the dragons feel familiar and recognizable, without being derivative or boxing me in to any narrative corners. So, flying and hoarding and breath weapons were a must, but speaking English to humans, as they do in some wonderful dragon tales, was not something I wanted.
Samantha: I love all the different types of dragons you’ve come up with for the story. What inspired each one?
Alex: I couldn’t possibly go into detail on each one here, but I did develop a basic dragon taxonomy when I began, essentially dividing them into Short-Wing, Medium-Wing, and Long-Wing dragons, each more suited to different jobs for humans, and within each category a wide variety of species, from Infernal Long wings whose fire their hot breath from high in the clouds, the short winged Blue Foot, which are like the Honda Accords of the Drakopolis. Then there are the different Reapers, medium winged dragons who make the best battlers with their wide variety of breath weapons and skills, and the related Wyvers, pulled straight from mythology, but in my story, used mostly by the secret police. It’s a lot of fun researching and inventing dragons and their abilities! I spend a lot of time thinking of it like a card game, Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. In fact, I even invented a game just like that for the story!
Samantha: Abel and his brother Silas and sister Lina are all very different. Are you closest to one of them or do they all have similarities to you in different ways?
Alex: I’m probably most like Abel, with my ADHD and tendency to catastrophize, though, like Lina, I’m idealist who broke more than a few rules as a teenager, but like Silas, I can slip into an inflated sense of self-righteousness if I’m not careful. This is the first series I’ve written since becoming a parent, however, so I do find myself identifying a lot more with their parents than anyone else! I hope I could stand up the gangsters and the secret police as well his Abel’s parents do!
Samantha: If you were one of your dragons from Drakopolis, which one would it be and what would be your favorite thing to hoard?
Alex: Oh, I would want to be Karak, the Sunrise Reaper, because describing him was just so cool! The scene where he meets Abel and Roa was the first I thought of, even before I starting writing. And I think I would probably hoard books…because I kind of do already!
Samantha: You’ve written both contemporary and fantasy books, but you said in an interview that the fantasy book Redwall helped you become an avid reader. As a writer, do you enjoy writing one genre more than another?
Alex: I like writing everything! As this fantasy-sci-fi mashup with real themes of middle school probably demonstrates, I can’t confine myself to just one genre. The world is so full of stories, I’d hate to limit myself to just one kind.
Samantha: Do you have any tips for teachers and librarians who are trying to encourage reluctant readers to read more?
Alex: Choice! Letting readers choose their own reading—even if it doesn’t seem like great literature to us—matters. I read far more Calvin and Hobbes as a kid than I did prose novels, and far more illustrated nonfiction magazines than ‘literature’ and far more “trashy novels’ than ‘great books’ and now I’m an avid and critical reader and a fairly prolific writer. People come to it in their own time and in their own ways, and I think we need to model following our interests and knowing when to put books down if they aren’t working for us. Life is too short and there are too many good books to force ourselves to read ones we hate. For every “reluctant reader’ out there, there are books that will feel like their were written just for them. They just need the chance to find them.
Aside from choice, I think removing the stigma from not loving to read could help. We put a lot of moral weight on reading, but I know brilliant people who don’t read much of anything and total monsters who are bookworms. I think reading is a source of great joy, insight, and inspiration, and I want to invite kids into it, but I don’t see any use for shaming them when they aren’t.
Samantha: Finally, can you give us a sneak peek at book 2 in the series? When is it coming out?
Alex: It will be called BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF SPEED. I don’t know the publication date, but I do know that there will be high stakes dragon races, new and wonderful breeds of dragons, and new friends and enemies for Abel and his crew. It’s gonna be a high stakes, high speed, high flying romp, that I hope readers love!
Samantha: I can’t wait!
Enter the giveaway below by July 30 for your chance to get one of three copies of BATTLE DRAGONS: CITY OF THIEVES plus a signed bookplate.