Publishers Weekly Reviews The Dragoneers

This novel defies conventional classification: is it science fiction? biblical fiction? thriller? The story describes a world where flying two-headed dragons and ogres exist, characters with telepathic gifts communicate with both animals and people, a man named Noah builds an Ark in his backyard, and a six-fingered giant named Lilith wants to take over the world. While this collage may have been implausible in lesser hands, the author makes it work, artfully drawing readers into Sethopolis (the “center of the last human-dominated nation on Earth”) and constructing an adventure with attention-grabbing plot twists. 

At the center of it all is 18-year old Susah, a feisty heroine with the ability to communicate telepathically. Sheltered by her father, Noah, from the evils of the world, Susah’s life takes an unexpected turn when her aunt and uncle are killed by a violent street gang. Mesmerized by the soldier who rescues her and the flying dragon under his control, she decides to join the Dragon Corps, defenders of the Eden zone, and become a dragoneer. Lilith, aware of Susah’s gifts, wants to have her killed. As Susah trains to become a skilled dragoneer, she embarks on a collision course with Lilith’s army of giants and ogres as they march toward the Eden zone for the ultimate battle between good and evil. The author has crafted a compelling story…

Wow.  That was beautiful.  You’ve just read 91.8% of the professional review of my full-manuscript submitted to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest.  I feel like a winner, but alas–The Dragoneers was eliminated from the competition as the field was narrowed to the top 1% of the submitted manuscripts.  The top competitor will win a publishing contract with Penguin Books, which includes a $25,000 advance.  The PW review constitutes second prize.

I’ll share the last 20 words of the review with you in a moment–they made all the difference.  If the review had ended as it did above, I’m certain my manuscript would still be in the competition, however, with little chance of actually winning.  To complicate matters, once I finally lost–I wouldn’t really know why.  As it is now–I’ve been given a prize of great value.

Okay, here’s the last few words:

… yet the sudden disappearance of some characters and subplots leaves readers feeling frustrated with the disjointed gaps in the storyline.

Yep.  That doesn’t sound so great on the surface.  But I’m very impressed with that professional analysis.  To explain why I’m happy, I have to tell you about my journey towards getting this far.
After I retired from the Air Force, I dedicated myself to writing the novel that had been boiling inside of me.  Within three months, I completed a 300-page manuscript that covered the 80 years leading up to the great flood.

My oldest daughter, a brilliant young lady who loves to read, became my alpha-reader.  After working her way through it, she carefully commented, “It’s good, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that didn’t use commas.”

I was steeped in Air Force writing techniques.  While having written scores of performance reports, technical manuals, doctrine documents, lesson plans, and even war plans–I was too streamlined in my tactical-level skills to write an adequate novel.  Yes, the Air Force has always discouraged commas.  We use them when we talk, but not in our writing.  But it wasn’t just the comma–it was many other things.
I quickly came to the conclusion that while I was an experienced bomber pilot and a doctrine expert–I was still jut a novice writer. So I went back to school, investing a lot of self-study time in The Chicago Manual of Style and the much thinner The Elements of Style wondering how I’d missed so much of the basics.  In addition, I went back to reading the books I’ve enjoyed in the past, but this time to examine they tactical skills and to learn from them.

And I rewrote–over and over.

With each rewrite my precious daughter would mark up the document–so I could rewrite again.  And we had some great discussions.  She would ask me things about the story, “Why is that character doing those things?”

I would explain all the background logic associated with the conflict and action.  She would listen and nod her head, then finally say, “Oh that makes it perfectly clear now … that has to be in the book.”
Yes, the reader needs to understand the background and the behind the scenes activity–even the stuff that the protagonist’s doesn’t know–in order to enjoy and understand the story.

So I added it.  Then I rewrote the mark-ups, and explained more things about why certain things were happening, only to hear it over and over, “That has to be in the book.”  With time, the manuscript swelled to nearly 700 pages.

At long last, it came time to call on more opinions.

It’s difficult to explain to regular people what you’d like from a beta-reader.  Especially if you’re a novice writer–cause you don’t know.  Bless their hearts, most of them pushed through an epic story that was still rushed and so rough in several areas only to tell me that they liked it.

Then I began the initial submission phase only to collect multiple rejections from publishers and agents–something I’d been told was part of becoming a real author, so I didn’t worry about it.  Then while trying to refine the synopsis, I came to the conclusion that I had more than one novel in my manuscript.  And since everybody loves a trilogy–I figured that was what I had.  After dividing the manuscript into three logical books–I proceeded to focus only on the first one.

Then I stumbled across the 2008 ABNA contest.  Eagerly I entered and made it to the top 17% only to be eliminated when they cut the field to 2%.  The PW review I collected that year said that the story was disorienting and hard to follow.  I needed more help.

Marian Poe, a wonderful lady in the Centenary Writers Group, told me about a night class being taught at a local college.  It was there that I found the novel-writing operational secrets I needed.  Well, they’re really techniques and not secrets–unless you don’t know them.  Connie Cox of Taking Flight, gave me the boost I was seeking but could not find by myself.  Then after extensive rewriting, the manuscript–you’ve just read the PW review of–was complete.

But since I was eliminated–doesn’t that mean I lost?

No.  I didn’t lose anything–I’ve gained much.  Remember how I said that I’d divided my novel?  I cut the story too early.  All those subplots and characters the PW reviewer was talking about get wrapped up in the adventure that follows where I had ended the book.  I’m probably 150 pages away from repairing every negative mentioned in the review.  I made a mistake–there weren’t three books in there–only two.  But don’t fret, I’ve plenty more plots to follow those two.

I’m stoked–fully inspired–and coming back stronger than ever.  Once I’ve made the changes, The Dragoneers will be stronger than ever.  Certainly if I do that, I’ll find the publisher that is willing to make it available on the shelves of a book store near you.

It just makes sense.

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