Patrick Matthews Discusses Bradley’s Dragons
Sponsored by Patrick Matthews
The Children’s Book Review | August 1, 2020
A newspaper columnist, editor, and award-winning game designer, Patrick Matthews’ first novel was published by Scholastic in 2013. Mr. Matthews writes fast-paced fiction that takes readers on exciting adventures but also gives them a chance to think about the world around them, to consider hard questions before they need to be answered. Here we discuss his third published novel, Bradley’s Dragons.
Bradley’s Dragons is your third novel for tweens and teens that centers around dragons. Will you share with us what draws you to dragons and when your fascination with dragons began?
My first real experience with dragons was listening to my mother read The Hobbit. In the book, we hear a lot about Smaug (the dragon) before we see him. We glimpse him briefly sleeping on his treasure, and then he shows up for real, “hurtling down from the North, licking the mountain-sides with flame, beating his great wings with a noise like a roaring wind.” That moment took my breath away. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by dragons. Smaug isn’t just a monster; he’s an intelligent force of nature.
Readers who enjoy thought-provoking, thrilling and suspenseful stories are bound to love Bradley’s Dragons. Who would you say is the intended audience of the book?
Great question! Bradley’s Dragons is a hard one to categorize. One of my editors complained that the book doesn’t pick a lane, and she was right. It doesn’t. It starts with action but quickly develops into a mystery. It has magic, dragons, fae, and intense action scenes, but revolves around a twelve-year-old boy’s personal struggles. I guess it doesn’t really have an intended audience. It’s for everyone who wants to lose themselves in a story.
Magic, mystery, family secrets, and danger abound. From where did the inspiration come for this particular story?
The germ of this book came from playing with my kids at a pond. There were some tadpoles in various stages of turning into frogs, and my oldest asked me what kind of frogs they would turn into. I had no idea. They could have been different types of tadpoles for all I knew. It hit me that humans are the same way. We don’t know the types of people our kids are going to become. That’s when the story of Bradley’s Dragons started. I wanted to write a story about that process, about becoming something completely new and different.
Early on in the story, Bradley finds a book about dragons filled with cryptic assertions like “The most important part of your journey is choosing your direction.” How did you come up with these guiding points that instill wisdom in young readers and propel the story along?
The dragon book that Bradley’s dad gives him is the world’s most frustrating self-help book. It attempts to guide without providing answers. To write it, I focused on that core principle and tried to give the best advice that I could.
Bradley is a well-developed character who has to dig deep to overcome his self-doubt and anxiety, learn to trust his instincts, and find his true calling to survive an encounter with a very dangerous foe. Can you tell us about any writing processes you went through to create this compelling protagonist?
Thank you for the kind words! I don’t have one specific technique for doing character work. For me, the most interesting characters are those with internal complexities, so that’s what I strive for. For example, in chapter one of the book, Bradley struggles with a paralyzing fear of strangers. He doesn’t know where this fear comes from and hates that he hasn’t been able to beat it. Worse, he’s developed a fear of being in situations that might trigger his anxiety attacks. On the other hand, he’s an adventurous, curious kid. He and his friend have built a raft, and spend days exploring the swamp on it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, like all of us, he’s more than just one thing.
You have intertwined concepts such as facing fears, growing up, and fitting in, which are well-suited to the intended audience and allow the reader to relate and connect well with Bradley. Was this a conscious intention?
Yes. Those concepts are the heart of the book. Bradley’s Dragons is the story of someone who dreams desperately of being more than he is. All the rest is secondary. The dragons, the fae, the magic, the hunters . . . we all face our own versions of those. Outside forces surround us. Some hold us back. Some propel us forward. Others send us down the wrong path. How we deal with them is the story of Bradley’s Dragons.
Mythical creatures have long been a source of storytelling, yet your depictions of dragons and fairies (fae) have a fresh feel. Why do you think this is?
In my first two books, I went with a variety of traditional western European dragons. For this story, I wanted dragons to be varied and complex, even more than humans. I believe that drive for complexity is why I ended up where I did with the dragons. The fae didn’t start out being called the fae. They were (I believe) an entirely new concept. Once I realized how their characteristics could be seen to overlap with the fae, I moved them enough in that direction to make it work.
The story feels carefully plotted with an intensity that builds and unfolds with talented pacing. Would you say you are a plotter, or did you allow it to evolve as you write?
I start every book in the same way. Once I have a group of exciting enough ideas for me to write a book, I sit down and write the first fifty pages. If I’m still excited and engaged after those fifty, I create a very loose outline, noting key plot points. Frequently, those plot points and characters change during the writing, and I have to update as I go. Bradley’s Dragons was a bit easier when it came to plotting because it has very clear points of tension that are both external and internal to the main character.
One of my favorite pieces of prose from Bradley’s Dragons is: “Moonlight streamed down on Mr. Sallson, but no breeze disturbed the trees around him. No insects chirped in the trees. No frogs called out from the river. The night seemed to be holding its breath.” Do you have a favorite page, paragraph, or sentence you’d like to share with us?
Thank you! My favorite passage is similar. “With a sigh that he felt more than heard, the storm faded away. Instead of heavy clouds, he saw a clear night sky dotted with stars and dominated by the moon. A dragon soared overhead. The creature’s body was massive, bigger than a school bus, with a neck and tail to match.” The dragon battle that scene starts, along with the emotional roller coaster it takes Bradley on, is my favorite.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself, your writing, Bradley’s Dragons, or any other past or future books?
I love fast. I love fast cars, fast trains, fast roller coasters . . . even fast food. I like my books fast, too. When I sit down to write a book, I strive to make it something immersive, that readers will want to race through and enjoy.
For me, though, the best book is one that leaves me thinking and keeps coming back to me in my daily life. I have countless such moments from books that inform my own life. A few examples include digging out the stump with Shane, facing the Gom Jabbar test with Paul Atreides, feeling the call of the wild with Buck, or hearing any of several Atticus Finch’s quotes. These moments (and countless others) give us the chance to think about life in different ways and consider who we are and why.
I’m not claiming that my writing is anywhere near the level of those classics, but my goal is to create those sorts of moments inside of fast-paced stories that are easy to read and enjoy.
The books I’m working on now (the sequel to Bradley’s Dragons, and two entirely new projects) will follow along those lines.
Thank you for this interview. It’s been a ton of fun!
Written by Patrick Matthews
Publisher’s Synopsis: The Hunters are Coming
The first time a hunter came for him, Bradley Nash was only nine years old. That was three years ago.
Now, he lives with his family in a Florida trailer park. He doesn’t remember the attack, doesn’t know anything about hunters, or dragons, or even magic.
As his twelfth birthday approaches, however, his peaceful life starts falling apart.
The hunters are coming, and if Bradley doesn’t figure out exactly who and what he is, everything he’s ever known will be destroyed.
“The novel teems with drama from the first page, and readers will be swept up by intrigue and action.” —The Children’s Book Review
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Second Story Up | July 7, 2020 | ISBN-13: 978-1733077743
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