Shana Abé is one of those authors who doesn't publicize herself much, which is a bit of a shame, cuz she is such a lovely, fun person. On the occasion of her new hardcover release, The Treasure Keeper, I hunted her down and forced her to do an interview with me.
Okay, I didn't have to tie her down, then shove a mike in her face. (Is it just me or does it sound terribly dirty? *g*) But you get my gist. The Treasure Keeper hits the stores today. Go get your copy.
You wrote six straight historical romance and one book of mermaid novellas (2 historical, one contemporary) before you burst on to the scene anew in 2005 with your Drákon series, beginning with The Smoke Thief, featuring an ancient race of dragons who have learned to shapeshift and pass as humans. I know, from a podcast you did with Sandy Coleman of All About Romance, that it had been a long-held desire for you to write romances with fantasy/paranormal elements. Did you also always want to do something with dragons? Or was it a case of “Hmm, vampires, no. Hmm, werewolves, no. Hmm, dragons, well, well, well?”
Actually, you pretty much summed it up right there! I realized I wanted to write about shapeshifting creatures of some sort, but I felt that there were already so many good werewolf/vampire novels out there, I really didn’t want to plunge into that pool.
I used to live in the foothills of Los Angeles, where there are a lot of red-tailed hawks. And I have pet house rabbits. A person with pet rabbits always keeps a sharp eye out for predators when they’re outside playing. I learned to recognize entire family groups of hawks, and I suspect they learned to recognize me. One cast of at least thirteen would circle by nearly every day at bunny playtime in my backyard. Being the superior, brilliant human that I am, I would stand in my yard and try to shoo them away by waving my arms and jumping up and down and yelling, “Go away!” Which astonished my neighbors (not in a good way) and totally frightened my bunnies—but not the hawks. Finally one day the hawks very firmly and rudely responded by, um, loosening their collective bowels directly above me. Seriously. I had to run away and hide under the porch. And it was a huge mess upon landing.
Anyway! Hawks. Despite all that, it’s impossible not to admire their elegance in flight. One afternoon as I was idly watching a courting couple above me, their fantastic circles and loops and turns—with the back of my brain simmering over my shapeshifting, werewolf/vampire dilemma—the answer came to me. It seemed so obvious. Not hawks (I mean, come on, they tried to poop on me!), but dragons. Dragons can fly, dragons are mystical and interesting, and plus, since they don’t actually exist, I could make up whatever traits I wanted to about them. :-)
The Drákon books have been an instant hit with both readers and critics alike. The Smoke Thief was Romantic Times’s Historical Romance of the Year. The second book in the series, The Dream Thief, which totally blew me away, made the New York Times bestseller list and was named by Amazon.com its #1 Romance of the Year. Bantam, your publisher, obviously did anticipate just such a reception, as the series is brought out in hardcover. Did you personally expect this level of success?
God, no. Like most novelists, I try to write the very best book I can every single time. But still, some books just end up being better than others. I don’t know why. As a writer, I do feel a certain tingle of excitement when I compose something I think is good...but I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to think it’s good. I only hope that they do, LOL.
It was a very happy surprise to get the call from my agent telling me that Bantam planned to release THE SMOKE THIEF in hardcover. In fact, I couldn’t really believe it for a while; I thought maybe they had made a mistake. Or that they would come to their senses and change their minds. But they put together a lovely package for it, and I think I’m very, very lucky that it turned out so well.
One thing I love deeply about your books is that they feature power couples. So often in romance--and particularly paranormal romance--the balance of the power is tilted, sometimes overwhelmingly, toward the hero. But your heroines have stunning abilities and nerves of steel and are full equals of your heroes. One of my favorite moments from Queen of Dragons, the third book in the series, is when Kimber, the hero, says to Maricara, the heroine, “Let me ask you, king to king…” Ah, it just melts me when a man is strong enough to be secure in the presence of a strong woman. Can you tell me a bit about how you arrive at this dynamic balance between the hero and the heroine?
It’s a very delicate balance, isn’t it? Personally I don’t enjoy a story as much when either the hero or the heroine has far more power than the other, either by societal or supernatural means. Because I chose to set the Drákon Series in the eighteenth century, and then chose my characters to be beasts disguised as humans, I had already set up a radically inequitable balance between the males and the females. Georgian society never exactly embraced the notion of women’s rights, and on top of that you’ve got this wolf pack-like tribe of beings whose ruling faction asserts that it’s biologically impossible for a female to lead, for example. It’s a double whammy against the girls!
So I definitely needed my heroines to have backbones of steel to deal with this. They were both underestimated and undervalued, even by their own kind. Yet they’re not soft, fragile little flowers who wilt in the face of difficulty. In my mind, these women are real, and that means they must behave in realistic ways. Even today we struggle with the consequences of sexual inequality, so imagine how much more extreme, and socially acceptable, it was then. I don’t know a single woman who feels she’s of lesser value than a man, and certainly not merely because she happened to born with a pair of ovaries instead of the other stuff.
Like real women throughout history, these drákon females have learned to relish their own strengths, to hone them; they understand that the foundation of their world is fundamentally unjust, but they adapt to it. They stretch their boundaries as they can, and sometimes they simply flat-out shatter them. Whether that means challenging the layers of rules that constrict them, or more directly just running away to live free, they make the choice not to endure the role their society attempts to force upon them.
Of course, that means they need a man—a male drákon—who is smart enough and wise enough not only to accept the heroine as she is, but to cherish her strength and individuality. It’s one of the facets of his character that makes him a hero: he falls in love with all parts of this amazing creature, even the aspects of her that buck societal norms and directly challenge his own authority.
In another interview with All About Romance, you described yourself as a young girl as “Scrawny. Chalk-white pale. Lank, dark hair that would never hold a curl. Terminally clumsy.” And you wore coke-bottle glasses because you were “one tiny degree away from being legally blind.” But then you went on to become a runway and print model in Japan. I find that absolutely fascinating—a real life transformation story. How did that impact how you view femininity and beauty and how you craft your heroines?
It’s interesting how our childhood shapes us, isn’t it? In my case, I didn’t get rid of the glasses until junior high school, and by then I was so profoundly shy that my mother enrolled me in modeling and acting classes to try to open me up a bit. I enjoyed acting and tolerated modeling, but I never thought it would really lead anywhere. It was a shock to get an offer to model in Japan as a teenager, and to this day I am so grateful for it, because it turns out that traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures is something I love.
But modeling was only ever a job to me, one I always realized would be extremely provisional. In the end, I modeled professionally for about eleven years, which was longer than most girls I knew. I did it around high school and college and then a little later, and the very best part of it was always getting to travel.
However, modeling is a grueling, fiercely competitive and sometimes vicious line of work, and it can breed monsters. I never once thought of myself as beautiful; I had a good look for a strong market, I was very lucky and that was enough. When you’re surrounded by peers whose jaw-dropping physical attributes become almost commonplace, you search for a deeper connection. You search for the mind, for the heart. You want to learn the who of the person instead the what.
That’s what truly matters. I still believe it. Physical beauty has its advantages, but it’s fleeting, and there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s far more important to develop the beauty of your soul, because that’s forever (or, if you’re of a more non-theological bent, it’s for the whole of your lifetime, at least).
Most of the other models I met were deeply insecure about their looks. That’s natural, when you consider how much emphasis is placed upon the seemingly random arrangement of skin and cartilage and bone. Girls I worked with would freak out over a chipped nail. They had reason to. You could lose a job over it, which might be a significant loss of income. A chipped fingernail! It’s a weird, weird profession.
I’m way happier as a writer, LOL.
You live with half a dozen bunnies and a dog. Now lots of people have dogs, so the dog is not very surprising. How did the bunnies come about? And is that the reason I never read about rabbit stews in your book? :-)
Ha! Once, I think in my first novel (a medieval) I had the hero go hunting and catch a hare for dinner, and I felt like such a traitor after that I never have anyone eat rabbit again. ;-) I’ve also managed to insert the names of almost every one of my rabbits (there’s been quite a few of them over the years) into my books, just for fun.
Many, many years ago, I was a desperately impoverished associate editor at a small weekly paper in Malibu (which shall go nameless but does still exist; it’s a really great paper, actually). We had an office parrot and one of my jobs was to go to the local pet store and get him (her? none of us were really sure) supplies.
The pet store, which I very much hope is now out of business, was a sad, small, dirty place. They sold all kinds of animals, and usually for heaps of money (it was Malibu, after all), but one animal they could not sell was this full-grown rabbit. It was a brown lop, nothing fancy or unique, but they kept it in an aquarium because it kept figuring out how to open the wire cages. The aquarium was so small the rabbit couldn’t even stretch out.
I watched this rabbit for almost six months, cramped and miserable in his glass prison. No one wanted him. I knew nothing about rabbits. I had no money. I could barely afford my rent, but one day I just couldn’t take it any longer, so I bought the rabbit.
I named him Christopher, until I saved up enough cash to have him neutered, and then I named her Katherine. LOL. She was brilliant and sassy and I loved her to pieces. She led to two more bunnies—brothers, abandoned Easter bunnies—and then to another one with a deformed ear, and so on.
That’s how it began. Right now I have five rabbits, some very old, one very young, all rescued, all house rabbits.
You need a good sense of humor to have house rabbits, and a lot of wood toys. They chew through everything.
Book four of the Drákon series, Treasure Keeper, hits shelves today itself. It features a son of the original Drákon couple from The Smoke Thief, the girl he first fell in love with when he was thirteen, and is set in a most intriguing and dangerous time and place. Would you tell us something about it?
Well, twist my arm, LOL. THE TREASURE KEEPER is the tale of Rhys Langford, who (as you mentioned) is the youngest son of Kit and Rue from the first book in the series, and Zoe Lane, daughter of the local seamstress (also a drákon). We glimpse them together as youngsters briefly in QUEEN OF DRAGONS, and she seems a little cold then, even as a girl, but it’s all explained in the new book.
I wanted Zoe to have different abilities from the other drákon, and so, something like a chameleon, she has the Gift of invisibility. She also sees ghosts in glass, and is shadowed by the dead (but not in a creepy way). She’s run away from the confines of the English shire in which she was raised because her fiancé (not Rhys!), who was sent out into the human world, has gone missing. Rhys, however, is also missing, because it turns out the drákon have a dire human enemy: the sanf inimicus, human dragon hunters. Both Rhys and Zoe’s fiancé are thought to be dead, but only Rhys shows up to haunt her in spectral form.
He starts off in the story a lot like what you’d think the younger, handsome son of a ridiculously privileged family would be: cocky, sophisticated, fairly wild and irresponsible. But deep down he’s also kind, protective, and genuinely in love with Zoe, the only vibrant thread of true life in his now-gray existence.
Zoe’s made it to Paris, and it’s just a few years before the French Revolution. It’s a dangerous and gritty and exciting time. Plus, she’s hiding out in a castle, which is pretty cool, LOL.
I had a great time with both the setting and the protagonists. Every time I get to delve into this world, I learn something new. It’s such an amazing process, and I’m truly delighted that other people have enjoyed the stories of the drákon as much as I have. I know I’ve said this before, but I feel so, so fortunate.
Well, I know I’ll be at the bookstore to pick up my copy. Thank you so much, Shana, for talking with me. And thank you for writing your wonderful books.
Thank YOU for your kindness! I was thrilled that you wanted to chat. Like a lot of folks, I’m a big fan of the Fabulous Sherry Thomas! :-)
Below are links to excerpts for Shana's Drákon books