How Jewels of the Dragon was Written

I published Jewels of the Dragon in 1986, between The Crivit Experiment and Below the Threshold. It is one of my favorite books. And it was my own story, not set in someone else’s universe.

I had a hard time with it at first. I had read another book with dragons in it, and I wanted to do something different — my dragons would be energy creatures, not flaming reptiles. I had a hero who was on a quest to find his father, who had left him and his mother years before. I knew there was a treasure somewhere. And I wanted to experiment with a city shared by two races who very seldom met each other, their separate cities superimposed on each other.

I wrote stuff and threw it away. It wouldn’t come together. I thought about it until I went numb. But there was always something missing.

Diane and I went to Michigan. We hadn’t been there for a while. We spent a lot of quiet time with my mother. Diane wanted to do some sewing one afternoon, so we went to my mother’s sewing room. I was just keeping her company. And while I was talking — yet again — about the problem with the book, something happened, and it came together at last. I had the whole story.

I went to work on it as soon as we got home. It was a western disguised as science fiction. There were places where I used dice rolls to determine outcomes of certain actions, instead of choosing arbitrarily, and I accepted any bad rolls. I invented Rikard’s heads-up weapon system, which he didn’t know he had, until he got the pistol it was made for. He found his father’s trail. He found his father and the treasure. He dealt not only with sentient energy dragons, but old space pirates like his father, and with carniveroous fungoid mycelium monsters. And he killed his father’s murderer.

I really liked the story. The writing was easy. Parts of the story told themselves. Rikard Braeth, and the other major characters, became very real to me. The plot evolved naturally. The ending was strong and gratifying. The book was published, and it did well. I got positive reviews.

Then I wrote Below the Threshold because I had to.

I had intended Jewels to be a stand-alone, but when I finished it, I asked my editor what I should do next, a sequel or something new. And when he said sequel, I knew I was in trouble. But that’s another story.

I was at some convention or other, some years after Jewels of the Dragon was published, and I was talking with someone about how the key to the story came to me in my mother’s sewing room. And that was when I realized that the story of Rikard Braeth’s quest for his father, finding him, and losing him again, was just a metaphor for my own story, of becoming able, at last, to communicate with my father and reconcile him to accepting who I was, finally achieving an understanding between us, and losing him again when he died unexpectedly, not long after.

Because when we had gone to visit my mother, it was to attend my father’s funeral.


You can read a sample here.