Wednesday, April 1, 2009
"Magic, Mensa and Mayhem" is here!
When I first started writing “The Coming Evil”, I felt like a freak, blending monsters with Biblical Christianity. When I joined the Lost Genre Guild, I met a whole mess of crazy writers trying to chart the same strange waters I was treading and I discovered I was not alone! One of the first people I noticed was Karina Fabian and her story DragonEye, PI, a story about a dragon private detective from another realm, working for God in the Mundane world. Now that’s weird. And in the best possible way. I’ve kept my eye on Vern the Dragon for awhile now and was among the excited when his first misadventure, "Magic, Mensa and Mayhem", was picked up by Swimming Kangaroo Press.
Now the book is here and to help celebrate the “lost genre” of Christian speculative fiction, I sat down with Karina Fabian to talk about Vern.
Greg: Alright, let’s start with the basics. Lay it on me. What’s the book about?
Karina: Here’s the blurb for Magic, Mensa and Mayhem: It should have been a cushy job: Vern, the dragon detective, and his partner, the mage Sister Grace, are given an all-expense paid trip to Florida to chaperone a group of Magicals at a Mensa convention. Then the pixies start pranking, the Valkyrie starts vamping and a dwarf goes to Billy Beaver’s Fantasyland hoping to be “discovered.” Environmentalists protest Vern’s “disrupting the ecosystem,” while clueless tourists think he’s animatronic. When the elves get high on artificial flavorings and declare war on Florida, it turns into the toughest case they aren’t getting paid for.
…“Wisdom of the Ages, Knowledge of Eternity, and I end up a babysitter at the Smart Humans’ Convention.”--Vern
G: Tell me about Vern. How does a dragon become a private investigator in a cramped office in the “real” world?
K: First, in DragonEye, there are two universes: Faerie, the land of magic and legend, and Mundane, which is what you call the “real” world.
Vern is a dragon working off a geas (or spell/compulsion) put on him over eight centuries ago by the Faerie St. George. George removed all this dragon greatness--from size to fire--and told him he could earn it back by serving God and His Children (sentient beings) through the leadership of the Church. He’d done it all from Pope’s pet to scribe to fighting Quetzalcoatl for the souls of the Aztecs. He was taking a “sabbatical” with the Silent Brothers when a combination magical mishap and nuclear accident blew a hole between the two universes. For the first time, Vern felt Called to do something--go across the Gap.
Where he was unappreciated, thanks very much. While living in the garage at Little Flowers Parish and dealing with questions like “Is it housebroken?” and “Did it eat my cat?”, he helped solve a mystery involving an enchanted fruit and a murderous chili pepper field. He couldn’t exactly join the police force, so he hung up his shingle as a professional problem solver. DragonEye, PI: Wisdom of the Ages, Experience of Eternity. Treasures Found. Virginity Verified. Flights extra. Now he gets questions like “Can you find my cat?” and has saved the universe he has a code for such cases--STUC. He tries to charge extra, too. He seems to be getting back his dragoness at a faster rate here, too.
G: Despite the fact he’s a mighty 800-year-old dragon, Vern’s real strength seems to be Grace. What’s her story?
K: Vern’s not 800 years old. He’s not even 800,000 years old. Vern was created at the dawn of time. Thanks to the spell St. George cast on him, he can’t remember most of it, though. He has a fair idea of what he was, though, and what he will be again. Is it any wonder he’s cranky and a bit resentful?
Grace has been a calming influence on him. She helped him discover a sense of fun about his situation--which is ironic, because she’s not much of a comedienne herself. In fact, when they first met, she was as cranky and stressed as he was. More! She had come to the Mundane world to get treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (That story comes out as “Mishmash” in the anthology Tentacles later this year from Samsdot.)
Grace is a magical heavyweight, a nun in the Order of Our Lady of Miracles. She can handle both Holy and neutral magics, and is just a sweet lady besides. She accepts Vern’s dragon nature in a way people haven’t done in ages. Even little things like suggesting he eat on the floor instead of making him sit at the table like a human. She loves him to pieces and has given him a reason to really care about someone other than himself.
I didn’t plan Grace’s name, but it is appropriate.
G: Let’s go back to the beginning. From whence did this crazy story come? And why dragons?
K: I have to thank Michelle Acker and Kirk Dougal. They were looking for dragon stories for Firestorm of Dragons. I just really wanted in that anthology for some reason, so my husband Rob and I brainstormed for ways dragons had not been written. After an hour, we came up blank--it’s all been done!--so we went to go watch the comedy improv show “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” with the kids. They had a film noir skit that had us rolling and I thought, “I can do that with a dragon!” Vern was born.
Magic, Mensa and Mayhem is thanks to Shirley Starke, editor of the Mensan newsletter, The Prairie Dawg. She helped me with a translation I needed for a DragonEye, PI story, “Amateurs,” and asked if she could print it in the newsletter. Since I had that one intended for an anthology, I said no, but I’d write one for her. We came up with a mystery happening at the Mensa World Gathering, and it took off! I’m still finishing that serial, BTW--it took a different turn from the book.
Incidentally, I am offering “Amateurs” free to anyone signing up at the DragonEye, PI website. Go to www.dragoneyepi.net and register, and I’ll tell you where to find it.
G: You’ve got a very real and “lived-in” mythology here. Was that something you were very conscious of—did you sit down and lay out the world in great detail—or has the world grown out of plot necessity? For instance, I know D.M. Cornish, who wrote Monster Blood Tattoo wrote, like, 30 notebooks or something on just the world of the Half-Continent alone long before he ever thought about writing the story, itself. That’s a lot of world building!
K: I probably should sit down and write out the history, but I’m a “pantster,” so I come up with things as I write. I usually have enough ideas and research to get me started, then catch the rest as I go along.
I love reading up on an old myth or legend then deciding how to twist it around. I like to twist clichés to the shattering point.
Elves are a good example: Everybody likes to make them long-lived. Anybody ever think about what that means to their sense of time? Their patience? Their speech? My High Elves are long-lived, and so they are long-winded. As Vern says, it takes them half an hour to ask where the bathroom is. They love elaborate ritualistic speeches, have tongue-twisting names. (Which--if you take time to read them--tell you about the character’s personality. I made a glossary for Magic, Mensa and Mayhem.) They have schemes decades in the making. I knew this much before I started writing about Gozon and Galendor, who play a big role in MM&M. As I wrote them, they not only fleshed out the details, but also introduced me to a startling fact about how artificial flavorings affect Elvish time sense. Took me by surprise, but made for a better story--and gives me the seeds for a great Evil Overlord scheme for a later book.
What I have is a glossary of characters I’ve started and a file with the stories as they fit in a timeline. Ironically, that timeline baffled me for a year until I arranged it by the age of the Costa children. (They play a small but important role in most of the stories.)
G: What’s more fun for you as the creator of DragonEye? Creating the world or writing the characters and their particular story?
K: Characters. DragonEye, PI is full of great characters, and I love getting to know them. They often like to surprise me. Sometimes a minor character will take on his own life, and he’ll come back in a later story. Galendor and Galinda, for instance. I wrote the story of how they met in “DragonEye, PI,” (Firestorm of Dragons). I didn’t expect them to come back and be part of the mystery of Live and Let Fly. I really didn’t expect their marital problems, either. (Vern wasn’t thrilled about that, either. He’s not sure how he ended up being everyone’s guidance counselor in this case.)
Kent and Brunhilde make a brief comeback in the next novel, Live and Let Fly, and Kent gets to direct a play in the novel after that, GapMan!
Some of the characters have stories I only allude to in Magic, Mensa and Mayhem. I figure there are at least 10 cases in that book that I haven’t even written, but my characters know about them--sometimes more than I do.
G: One of the things that I admire the most about DragonEye, PI is how you’ve worked God and Christianity into your world in a very real and practical way. In most Christian fantasy, the trend seems to be to hide God in the subtext or disguise Him with metaphors, but you’ve got God and the Church and faith and prayer right there in the forefront, shaking it up with magical creatures. You’ve not shown any hesitation in talking about God and fire-breathing sarcastic dragon detectives in the same sentence with humor and truth. So, in a genre that makes a practice of talking about God without “talking about God”, why the decision to invite the True God—as Vern calls him—to be a major part of your story?
K: It’s just the way I think. Sorry--short answer for a long question, but that’s really the truth.
I will say this, though: a lot of the well-published books have God in the subtext or in metaphor because that’s the way to make it palatable--and thus publishable--with the large secular publishers. I hope someday to see DragonEye, PI, on the shelves of B&N, maybe even reprinted by a big publisher. However, I write these stories because they are in my head, and I love exploring how faith would develop in a universe where magic is a force like electricity.
When it comes right down to it, though--if you have a down-and-out dragon, you have to have a St. George. And if you have a saint, you need a Church.
G: Now be honest. How many “are you nuts?!” looks have you received over the years when you’ve told people what your story’s about? Any church ladies on your lawn with picket signs or do people seem open to a dragon detective working for God?
K: No church ladies on the lawn, but I did have one very sweet lady tell me that I was writing about Satan. I told her, “This isn’t the dragon from Revelation. He’s only got one head,” but somehow, that didn’t convince her. Since I don’t make any claims for DragonEye, PI being “Catholic fiction,” I don’t run into resistance or accusations of heresy or anything--from Catholics, anyway.
I do get a lot of confused looks, mostly of the “I don’t understand how your mind works, but it’s cool in its own…unique…way.” That’s OK. My husband has the same twisted style I do--he’s my first source for ideas when I get stuck--and we’ve got the kids trained.
G: What’s in store for Vern and Grace? Is there a focal point to your mythology—an “end goal”, so to say?—or is it more of a freewheeling case-by-case series? What’s your vision for DragonEye PI?
K: It started out free-wheeling, but with the novels, I started seeing a progression in a deep backstory. Satan’s army in Faerie is looking to bring the battle to the Mundane world. So, while a lot of the stories and novels will be light and funny--like Magic, Mensa and Mayhem--some will have very serious, darker aspects. They’ll always be fun, though. Vern has a very broad view of things which keeps him cynical but not gloomy, and funny things seem to keep happening to him.
However, I’ll write the stories as they grab my attention, so even though I have a vague overarching scheme, I don’t have a planned out course or a set goal. Unless it’s that Good conquers Evil.
G: I think you’ve really created a very well-rounded and iconic character in Vern—Grace, too. Have you considered opening up your sandbox, inviting other writers to come in and write their own misadventures with your characters? Or is Vern way too particular about who gets to chronicle his life?
K: There’s a spot on the DragonEye, PI website for fan fic--about Vern and Grace, dragons or St. George. Vern, of course, has the right to comment on or outright reject any stories submitted. Grace is a little concerned--she’s heard about “slash.” If she finds out people are writing slash about her, Vern, or any of the major characters, they may stop telling me stories. So please--if you want to write that…stuff…use someone else’s characters.
G: All right, last question. Make a monster boy proud and tell me straight: Will I ever get to see a pack of savage werewolves take on Vern? That might be the single coolest thing ever written.
K: Aargh! Don’t do that to me! Now you’ve got my imagination all fired up. (stomping on the flames.) Right now, I’m writing a science fiction novel, and I have plans for two more DragonEye, PI novels and two short stories--none of which, sadly, involve werewolves--but I will put it on the list.
Thanks, Karina, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. Now, everybody, rush out and order "Magic, Mensa, and Mayhem", will ya? Vern’s gotta eat. In the meantime, dig the trailer!