Monday, January 13, 2014

"Dragon Defender: Dragon Defense League Book 1" by J. A. Blackburn

Dragon Defender:
Dragon Defense League Book 1
by J. A. Blackburn

Dragon Defender by J. A. Blackburn is a middle grade fantasy suitable for children ages 9-12. This book was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2013 Literary Contest.
This book tour is brought to you by Mother Daughter Book Promotion Services. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author. You can also enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card or $50 PayPal cash. Be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For over a thousand years dragons have existed in secret ...
Peter Clark can build a robot from scratch and pick a lock in two minutes or less. But he can't figure out why his mother left or why his grandma refuses to talk about her. When Uncle Dominick shows up on Peter's twelfth birthday with a letter that hints at answers and an incredible story about dragons, Peter follows him, determined to find out the truth about his mother's disappearance.
What he finds is a reality far different from what he ever could have imagined - where dragons live in hiding, hunted by poachers for their magical parts, and a small group of men and women work tirelessly to protect them. These are the Dragon Defenders. Peter's uncle is one. So was his mother. Now it's Peter's turn.

The Buzz
"We read an advance copy of this book on kindle earlier this year and our 5th grade son read it twice and is anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. Great adventure, really kept our interest reading it together at night. This was one of the kids books I most enjoyed reading myself as well. The characters and the plot are well developed, and appealing to a wide range of kids (both genders). The writing is sophisticated but easy to understand, not 'dumbed down' like many kids books. The subject of dragons was so well crafted that it's easy believe that dragons just might exist, after all." ~ 5 Star Review, Leigh A., Amazon
"Reminiscent of the Fablehaven series (with just the right touch of Harry P.) this middle grade book is both an adventure and a pleasure...Fast-paced and full of wonder, this book takes middle grade readers on a vivid journey from the southwestern U.S. to Mexico; where jungles, ancient ruins and local folklore add to the enchantment that Peter finds when he discovers that dragons are in fact, real. As a former elementary school teacher, my strong feeling is that kids will eat this book whole, and then turn to searching for dragon eggs in their own backyards!" ~ 5 Star Review, Grace W., Amazon
"Dragon Defender was an absorbing action packed read! The author pulls you in from the first page and I'm not sorry to say I read it all in the first day. I'm 33 but still! This is a fun book for a chapter a night with your 5 year old (my son is loving it so far) or for yourself. The characters are well developed so you feel like you're really there, and the dragon is so believable. I'd venture so far as to say I had to remind myself that dragons don't really exist ... or do they?" ~ 5 Star Review, MGC, Amazon

Interview with the Author
Hi Jenny, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Dragon Defender.
Thanks for having me!
Which writers have influenced you the most?
All of them! It’s hard to just pick a couple, because every book I read influences me and becomes part of how I see the world. When I was starting to write Dragon Defender, I read On Writing by Stephen King. His point of view about writing had a big impact on me at a pivotal time. For example this quote, “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” One of my edit passes consisted of going through the manuscript and striking every descriptive word. My beta readers said they liked the book but it wasn’t descriptive enough, so I guess I went too far. And I did go back and add some description back in.
Because I was writing with the reluctant reader in mind I was very conscious of what I was competing with – TV, movies, and video games – which are so immersive and fast moving. TV influenced me a lot, because I wanted to create something that could compete. I felt like every chapter had to have an arc – a cliff-hanger, a surprise, and a reason to keep reading. I took that really seriously. There are several chapters – good chapters – that I cut out because they didn’t meet the bar.
Roald Dahl was a big influence – the way he didn’t hold back even though he was writing for kids. Kids can tell, when you’re writing down to them. They don’t like it.
What age group do you recommend your book for?
9-12. I’ve met 8 year olds and 13 year olds who also liked it, and my mom’s a big fan. So that makes it perfect for all ages, right? ;)
Sure thing! What sparked the idea for this book?
Dragon Defender was an idea bouncing around in the back of my head for years before I ever sat down to write. I’ve always been intrigued by creatures like dragons that show up in artifacts left by ancient civilizations world-over, yet are believed to be completely mythological.
It was a simple ‘what if’ question that inspired the series for me. What if dragons were, in fact, real? What if they still exist?
Very interesting. Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
It was the idea about dragons and the Dragon Defense League that came first. Then I had to spend time getting to know Peter, and find out what role he had to play in the whole thing.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
I rewrote the first chapter at least six times. But I think the scene in the cave was the hardest. I wanted it to be a real nail-biter and full of suspense. The kind of scene that you just can’t put the book down. I struggled to describe what was happening when Peter’s flashlight when out and he couldn’t see anything – to make it realistic but also let the reader know enough about what was happening that they could follow along and not feel lost. I had to rewrite that scene a lot of times and it just wasn’t working. Then we were on vacation in Maui and I signed us up to go on a self-guided cave tour. We shut off all of our flashlights and I pretended I was Peter. I actually acted out the whole scene, in the dark. People thought I was nuts. But it helped.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
Mainly I hope reading my book is a little bit like going on an adventure. I want readers to gasp in surprise, to wait with bated breath, I want their hearts to beat a little faster. And when they’re finished I want them to put the book down with a feeling that they experienced something exciting.
I’d love to put a little question mark in each reader’s mind. What did ever happen with dragons? Could they be real?
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me about 8 months. I’ve never worked so hard on anything, and that’s the honest truth.
What is your writing routine?
I have a full time job, so I grab writing time when I can get it. With Dragon Defender, I would get up at 5am, grab a cup of coffee, and write feverishly in the hours before dawn. Something about the dark outside and the quiet inside, coupled with the knowledge that I had to get ready for work, made for a perfect environment.
How did you get your book published?
Hard work, persistence, and a refusal to give up. I queried a total of 55 agents, was rejected or ignored by 45, and had interest from 10. Those may sound like good numbers, but you can’t imagine what it feels like to be rejected 45 times. Character building!
Writing a query to send to an agent is hard. I think it might be more challenging than writing a novel. I rewrote my query probably 45 times. What finally worked for me was pitching it live to agents. That’s where I’d start next time – write something that you can deliver verbally in 45 seconds or less. It forces you to focus and strip out the irrelevant details.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Editing is your best friend. The first draft I did… ok, the first three drafts, were truly terrible. Have people who will read your work and be honest about what you need to change. If they say, “Nothing,” they’re not being honest. I love Neil Gaiman’s quote, “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
And finally, don’t give up. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t think you’ll ever succeed. The people who succeed are the ones who keep going. It’s what everyone says because it’s TRUE.
Great advice. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I have a full-time job that keeps me hopping. Between that, writing, and my family, it’s hard to find time for all the other things I love to do. Like, first and foremost, READING. Followed closely by TV! I’m a sucker for TV dramas like Vampire Diaries, Nashville, and The Amazing Race. I also love to snow ski, walk on the beach, travel, cook, and host dinner parties. I’ve been known to bemoan the fact that our bodies need sleep. Just think what we could get done if we didn’t!
What does your family think of your writing?
They’re my biggest supporters.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
We didn’t have a TV, so I spent a lot of time reading. I’d read everything I could get my hands on, usually between two and twelve times, unless it was really horrible. We moved a lot, and I was an introverted kid, so that was hard on me. But in retrospect I think it was a great experience – I learned how to connect with people, that the only way to make friends is to be friendly because they’re not gonna come to you. I was really imaginative – I’d write radio shows and plays and set up museums with things I found in the yard. My childhood was great. I was one of the lucky ones.
Did you enjoy school?
Yes. Except middle school. We moved halfway through 7th grade and the kids at my new school were brutal. I learned about bullying and mean kids and spent a lot of time in the bathroom crying. But other than that school was good for me.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I read everything! I adored series and mysteries and adventures. I read every single Nancy Drew book, The Baby-Sitters Club, and this book called Baby Island about two sisters who get shipwrecked on an island with all these babies. I want to find that book and reread it. I was always a sucker for a good shipwreck book. I also loved the Narnia books, The Black Stallion, and Island of the Blue Dolphins.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Just one? That’s so hard! I loved Anne of Green Gables. I think that was my favorite.
Who were your favorite authors as a child?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve never not wanted to be a writer.
Great answer! Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Definitely, as do my adult experiences. I think it’s when you’re writing from experience that it works the best. For example, we visited the Yucatan jungle in Mexico and toured some of the Mayan ruins there. That experience absolutely shows up in this book. Also the feeling of not fitting in, and how it can be hard to stand up for yourself but remarkably easy to stand up for other people… these are themes from my own life.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I love hearing from my readers! They want to know about what’s going to happen in the next book, and they’re curious about how I came up with the idea for Dragon Defender.
Hopefully we've answered a few of those questions today! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m halfway done writing a story about a girl named Violet who travels to a parallel fairy world to rescue her twin sister who was kidnapped by fairies. I’m having fun creating evil fairies. Next after that will be the second Dragon Defense League book – The Mountain of Ice & Fire, in which Peter goes to Iceland to help his uncle rescue the Nidhogg dragon from its mountainous lair, before the ICERA (Icelandic Road Administration) unknowingly blasts it to smithereens. The Knights get involved and everything goes south in a hurry. The third Dragon Defense League book will take place in Australia. Which reminds me, I’d better get writing!
Well thanks for taking the time out of your busy scedule to stop by today. It's been a pleasure chatting to you, Jenny.
Thanks for having me!

About the Author
J. A. Blackburn lives in Seattle, Washington in a small white house overlooking the sea with her husband, Jason, her son, Camden, and their dog, Bella. Dragon Defender is her first novel.

Enter the giveaway for your chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card or $50 PayPal cash.