Dragon Wine Book 1: Shatterwing by Donna Maree Hanson is free in e-book for a short time. As part of spreading the word about Shatterwing, Donna is doing a blog tour (of which this interview is part) and offering a give away of a hard copy of Shatterwing. Winners will be drawn from people who comment during the blog tour. So leave a comment to be in to win.
Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.
Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.
The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But the making of the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.
There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.
Dragon Wine Book 2: Skywatcher, the follow-on book, is also available in ebook and print.
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Donna, when we talked last year, with the books about to come out, you said that it was scary that your baby was finally going to be out in the world for people to read. How’s that been going for you?
I think I’m a little bit more relaxed about my baby being out in the world now. There have been some fabulous reviews and some negative ones, but overall I get the sense that the people who have read it have respected it as a story. It was always going to be difficult for some readers given the dark content. I don’t wish to defend that and I can totally understand their views. The darkness is what came out of me when I wrote the story and writing the story was me processing this world we live in. I’ve been surprised too by some readers who thought nothing of the content. I’ve even said,”Beware chapter ten” but they are like, meh! Others have been traumatised.
What’s stood out most to you about people’s reactions?
Oh dear. I think I covered some of that. I can only go on some of the comments and reviews. I have been so blown away by comments from readers who loved the story and gave me feedback like, “Give up your day job and write more. You’re an awesome writer.” Or emails, “Is there more? If so, when?” I think the most interesting comment was on Goodreads where a reader totally did not like how the relationship between Danton and Salinda went and absolutely hated Nils. She refused to read more of that Salinda and Nils part. I sort of smile and think the story is not over yet. Most of all I am really astounded how some people really get the story, get the message I was going for. Something along the lines of: yes, there are scary monster dragons, but some of the people here are even scarier.
I really enjoyed your villain, Gercomo. I felt like he’d gone right out the far side of insane and run back around to sneak up on sanity from behind. Who’s your favourite character in the story? And why?
I’m glad you liked Gercomo. I certainly had fun writing him. I wanted him to be a product of the world. Someone who had started out normal and got twisted and spat out and then decided, stuff this I’m getting into this gig. I really like his story arc too. More so in the parts of the series that aren’t published! Sorry about the teaser. As for who is my favourite? How can I have one? That’s so hard. Salinda is the main stay and I like her a lot of course. She has a strength and focus that I can only dream about. I love Nils, of course. He’s so neurotic and interesting too. Garan has to be a favourite for me- a combination of innocence and honour. Danton, well he’s my Han Solo type character and I love him to bits. Brill and Laidan are interesting in their own ways and more so because they are the ones who grow and change the most. I don’t think I left any of the main characters out so I know I cheated on that answer.
Ah, you think you cheated, but you’ve given yourself away. What is it about that combination of innocence and honour that appeals to you about Garan in the context of this story?
Well, Garan has been protected from the greater world so he’s more like a person would be if the world wasn’t in the state it is in. So his view of the world is untainted, if you get my drift. Compared to Brill who is an idealist and thinks he is right about everything. Brill has been exposed to the dark side of the world, but has maintained his optimism. Garan has an innocence in facing the world, a certain gullibility and modesty about his abilities. As he has this unspoiled kind of personal ethic he has a sense of honour that he won’t betray. He’d give his all for any of his friends and more so the greater world. He also leads with his heart, despite the risk of it being broken.
I noticed a couple of reviewers (who gave four or five star reviews, mind) commented on how bleak Shatterwing is and that Skywatcher is noticeably less so. Having read it myself, Shatterwing is, y’know, like, pretty fucking grim. Dragon Wine is really one book that’s been cut in two, though, isn’t it? Those review comments made me wonder if there was a conscious choice to lighten book 2 or if it’s just a natural product of the story arc?
As it was written as one book, it was really an effect of the story arc. Danton and Brill together have a great camaraderie and I think that lifted the story somewhat. I did that deliberately quite early on in the drafting as I knew I was running the risk of it being too bleak and bleeding all optimism from the story. I think Brill and Danton and their bond does much to restore faith in human kind. Garan and Laidan have their funny moments too. Although I think getting a laugh out of Salinda might take a while. Nils too is rather serious for good reason. I think splitting the book into two parts affected how people perceived the book. Some readers read Shatterwing and felt overwhelmed, not realising that some of the pay off is in Skywatcher.
It was the publisher’s decision. It’s a new and interesting world in publishing at the moment. So experimenting with how to publish and sell books is all the rage.
Reading Dragon Wine, I thought of Mad Max or The Walking Dead, only with dragons instead of batshit battle trucks or zombies. For me, it had that same wrestle with nihilism at its centre. Margra is a pretty brutal world, and sexual violence is part of that brutality. It fits the world and the characters, but depicting it in fiction is controversial because it’s too often done lazily or gratuitously. Were you leery of going there?
Although despair is quite central to the story, I was thinking more of anarchy than nihilism per se. What are humans like when there is no law and order? What is essentially us. What makes us worth saving? There are certainly examples of anarchy in the world at the moment, also sexual violence, slavery, cruelty, brutality etc. For me as a person and a writer, my mind comes back to what we see, read or hear about what is going on in the world and I question, I wonder and I look for answers without finding any. Dragon Wine is my exploration of that.
Was I leery of going there? Not really. I certainly pulled back on detail from earlier drafts. I’ve read some sexual violence in fantasy and science fiction books myself. Actually recently I was watching Outlander and was shocked by the sexual violence and then I thought ‘aha’ that’s one of my influences because I read that series quite a few times. Stephen Donaldson’s The Gap Cycle also went into sexual darkness in a big way. I’m not the first. Also, I have been a victim of sexual violence and abuse, particularly when I was young and this I realise has coloured my views somewhat. I can’t tell you exactly how, but I have had some feedback where I was asked if I had been tortured because the scenes I wrote seemed so real. The answer is no, but I’m thinking that my personal experiences colour my view of the world and what can happen when someone has power over you. There is also research into this area and like I said plenty of real life examples.
I also have the view that the Dragon Wine series isn’t all fantasy. It’s not about sword wielding and conquering all. There’s a mirror there that’s more real than that and that is why I think it’s confronting.
That’s a great answer – thank you. I want to unpack it a bit. Interesting that you mention Donaldson, since he’s also responsible for Thomas Covenant, aka the Asshole Leper Rapist Hero. Covenant’s crime was something that I couldn’t get past – ten million books sold in the series says I’m wrong, but I think Donaldson was deliberately challenging his readers. Do you think it’s important to write honestly about the nature of violence?
Yes, I think you have to be honest and have to think about consequences. It shouldn’t be a fantasy that you kill people and there are no repercussions. I think that’s not responsible. Salinda as a character thinks about consequences. If you think about her history, she’s faced the consequences of her actions and other people’s. She sees the long game. It’s not always comfortable to do this. Some readers don’t like it, but violence is part of who we are. It’s the not nice part of being a human.
You put me in mind of a recent review of the Jessica Jones TV series, by a former victim of sexual abuse, who said the accuracy of its depiction brought her to tears. How difficult is it to write something that steers close in essence if not detail to such difficult personal truths?
It can be hard to deal with. I recall a friend wanting me to watch a movie that featured sexual abuse and I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. We had a big fight about it and that guy just didn’t understand. That wasn’t entertainment for me. Not at the point in time. Yet having experienced violence or abuse, or witnessed it, you can add some realness to the writing. I’d hate for all that pain to go to waste. I also don’t think we should shy away from discussing these things either. Not talking about domestic violence and child sexual abuse is what allowed it to flourish. Let’s look at this and see it for what it really is. My daughter told me that readers of fantasy want to escape and they don’t want to read reality, however disguised. Some readers are like that. Hey I read to excapetoo. I can zone out in front of a historical drama and watch it for a week. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to watch something with grit. Stories are meant to move people emotionally, or they are meant to entertain. That’s why we have all kinds of genres.
You mentioned last year as well about looking around at the horrible things happening in the world when you started writing Dragon Wine, which was in the aftermath of the American-led invasion of Iraq (and Australia! Us too, us too!) and when the crimes at Abu Ghraib had just come to light. One of the striking things about the story is the fragmented nature of the rebels, who are introduced as spending more time fighting each other than the government. The situation in Syria immediately springs to mind as a real world parallel. Was that rebel infighting something you had in mind from the start?
Well, that is interesting that you bring that up. I listen to the news about Syria and think wow! It’s happening like I wrote it. I just thought it was a natural progression from having a break down in law and order so I wasn’t actually thinking about Syria. Syria wasn’t even on the table when I started writing this in 2003. There were rebels and they fight each other because that suits whoever is in power. Keep them distracted while the government does what it wants. Then use the rebels to extend the government’s own ends without the rebels really understanding it. I think I explore this a bit more in the next book, but I definitely had it seeded in the first two books. It is interesting that the interference has the potential to run awry with the balance of power.
I’ll take a brief moment to talk about myself, because, well. But I’ll circle back to you, promise. I’ve noticed, with my own work, that I can still remember all the stories that never sold (and went to live in the Trunk, instead) whereas, once I sell a story, I immediately start to forget it. It’s like the sold ones have moved out of home and I can repaint their bedrooms now, whereas the unsold ones are still dossing on the couch. Dragon Wine was your long-time passion project, so I imagine it filled up a fair bit of mental couch space. Have you noticed any effect on you, and on your writing, now that it’s living independently?
I think that is true for me with short stories, although those that are very close to my heart stick around and won’t leave. Because there’s more story to tell in Dragon Wine, it’s not quite left me. My baby is out there but there are some siblings waiting to be cut free. I have work to do to get those stories out there. However, that’s a big commitment. Writing the complete series is a big investment in my time and brainpower. I’m not sure the demand is out there for that. Do I have enough interested readers to write the whole damn thing? I’ve written the next two books but haven’t polished them and the last two volumes hasn’t been written at all.
But yes, there has been a change in my writing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I used to spend most of my time on the computer writing. Now I spend far less. Yet I am only a little less productive. I find I am writing better drafts. Instead of 15 drafts I’m writing 3-4 to get it near publishable level. I’ve matured as a writer so I am getting the story construction down faster. Yet what I’m writing is not as vast and as complex as Dragon Wine. That is an interesting thing. I don’t think I’m done with vast and complex, it’s just that I have some other projects that have broken down the stable door and have escaped and I need to get them out so I can sit back down and do some deep and meaningful.
Skywatcher ends with some major unfinished business. Will you be returning to Margra anytime soon?
I’d love to. I conceived the Dragon Wine series as three books (as you do), Dragon Wine, Dragon Wing and Dragon Wane. When the first book got published it was split into two books, so that means I have Dragon Wing either as one big book or as two books. That’s why I say Gerecomo’s story arc is interesting because I have written then next bit. I haven’t started on Dragon Wane the final book. I had always envisaged writing that before the series sold. Unfortunately I didn’t. If readers want more they’ll need to tell me. I need encouragement! It’s a big commitment.
I hope we do see them in print. Thanks so much for your time, Donna.
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Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under a pseudonym paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark)’, Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan digital imprint). Book 1: Shatterwing and Book 2: Skywatcher are out now in digital and print on demand. In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction” for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing.