While such fantasy novels as The Lord Of The Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice series take the genre seriously, there’s no reason you can’t have a little fun with your fantasy. Consider The Dragon Lords: Fools Gold (paperback, digital), the new novel by Jon Hollins (who’s also known as Jonathan Wood, the author of the “Hero” series: No Hero, Yesterday’s Hero, Anti-Hero, and Broken Hero). Though set in a realm of dungeons and dragons, the book is actually a lighthearted heist tale that reads like something the Monty Python guys might’ve written if they were trying to write a Holy Grail sequel after watching Oceans 11, 12, and 13.
To start, what is The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold about?
The description I ought to give is that it’s a book about a ragtag group of friends — a farmer, a mercenary, her lizard-man companion, a university professor, and a village drunk — all coming together to rob a dragon for less than noble reasons. Of all the terrible things that could happen to them, the worst is that they actually succeed.
But the description I like to give, is that it’s about idiots making poor decisions.
That’s the description the excellent people at Orbit gave it, and I think it’s pretty apt. Those folks are far better at being succinct than the writer of epic fantasy novels. Though Guardians wasn’t in my mind when I wrote it, the book definitely has the “unlikely group of heroes” thing going on that Guardians does so well.
The Hobbit, on the other hand, was definitely in my brain. Smaug was one of the first dragons I ever came across, and he has come to define the beasts for me.
Aside from The Hobbit, what else was an influence on The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold?
Aside from The Hobbit, a lot of the fantasy books I read as a kid in the ’80s and early ’90s influenced the book. Things like Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn, and The Dragonlance Chronicles. I liked the pulp adventure vibe that those novels had. That they were about groups of plucky friends going off and having adventures together. I wanted to capture some of that light-heartedness. And I love writing about group dynamics, and just watching friends interact, so that was part of it.
Also, I knew from the outset that I’d be writing a series of heists, so for that I went to the movie Ocean’s 11, as that hits the formula pretty prototypically. Then, once I’d got that in mind then I just sort of riffed off that and played with it in different ways.
How about the way the book was written, what writers and which of their books do you think were the biggest influences on how you wrote The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold?
That’s actually a difficult question for me to answer. I have a lot of authors who I admire. China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, K J Bishop, Ursula Pflug…but I’m pretty sure that my writing style is nothing like theirs. I think of all of them as being quite careful stylists, with really thoughtful use of rhythms and internal patterns to their sentences. My style is pretty conversational, which I think actually comes a lot from my day job in advertising. There’s also the fact that I’ve written four urban fantasy books under a different name, and that’s a subgenre that demands fairly down-to-earth tone as well, so a lot of my style was developed writing those books, and a lot of that bleeds through.
Dragons have been portrayed a lot of different ways in books, movies, and games. What kind of dragons do you have in the book, why did you go for those kinds, and what were the books, movies, and games that inspired you?
So… I’m going to go back to The Hobbit again. And probably The Dragonlance Chronicles as well, though my memory of those books is hazier. But when I was a kid, dragons were great monstrous things, intelligent but definitely bestial. They were the thing my friend Greg bust out in roleplaying games when myself and the other players were getting rowdy. They were scary. I wanted those dragons in my novel. The sort that would bite you in half if you tried to ride them into war.
The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold is the first installment of a trilogy. When did you decide it would be the first in a three-part series, and what made you think that would work?
The reality of the book market today is that publishers are generally more interested in series than standalone novels. So I knew when I originally came up with the book that if it sold, then it would likely be something that was going to become a series. But I didn’t actually plan out the second volume of the series until after I’d sold the first book. It’s a big time commitment if a book isn’t actually going to pan out. That said, I was fairly confident I could do it. A lot of it comes from making sure you have characters and, possibly more importantly, character dynamics that can continue to give you material no matter the situation you throw at them. Once that foundation is there, then you can just keep building on it.
Without spoiling anything, how much of the second and third books do you have figured out, and how much do you have written? Do you know when the second and third books might be released?
Everything on my end is pretty much happening in year in advance, so right now I’m taking a break from doing my final polish on the manuscript for book two, before I turn in into the publisher. I’m actually a little behind schedule because book two has turned out to be about 50% longer than Fool’s Gold. Assuming they’re able to accommodate my delay, book two will hopefully be out on shelves next summer, and then book three will be available summer 2018. But I still only have a very vague idea of what that’s about. I know the main conflict. Next up is working out the end point for all the characters, and then I’ll get into the intricacies of plotting out their paths to those endings.
One of the things that your publisher, Orbit, and others do sometimes is they put excerpts from similar books at the end of a novel. For instance, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold has a couple pages from Sam Sykes’ The City Stained Red. Do you, as the writer, have any say over whose book will have an excerpt in yours? And, conversely, do you have any say over what book your novel will have an excerpt in?
I do not. That’s a marketing decision on their part. Though I think the pairing is a good one. Both Sam and I are writing somewhat irreverent takes on the epic fantasy genre. I also believe an excerpt from my novel will appear in a forthcoming book Kings Of The Wyld by Nicholas Eames, which also fits into that loose category. So I think there’s a definite effort to make sure that it’s something that might appeal. They’re not just slapping in any old excerpt for fun.
I’m curious how well this works. I mean, it must work if they keep doing it, but have you had anyone say they were going to buy The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold because they read an excerpt of it in another book?
I’m honestly not sure that I can say that I have. Though I do definitely like to read an excerpt of a book before I commit to buying it. I guess that some people must do it, otherwise they probably wouldn’t bother putting them in.
Going back to the “Guardians of the Galaxy meets The Hobbit” line, that sounds like something a stereotypical movie producer would say. Has there been any interest in making The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold into a movie?
Tragically, Hollywood has not come knocking yet. Though if any movie producers with spare sacks of cash lying around are reading this then, you know, I’d be open to that.
Do you think it would work as a movie, or do you think it would be better as a TV show, or maybe a video game?
I think I’m probably a little biased here, but maybe a TV show. It’d be a lot of book to cram into a movie, and how could you possibly cut any of my precious, precious words? I think a mini-series would be a good format perhaps. Six episodes or so… Something like that. I suspect — though I do not know from any personal experience — that adapting a novel is a hard thing because it exists in between both formats in terms of length. Unless you’re looking at something like Game Of Thrones or Wheel Of Time.
If The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold was being made into a movie or TV show, who would you want to star in it?
After some intense discussion with my wife, this is where we settled… For the farmer, Will was actually pretty easy. Nicholas Hoult [X-Men: Apocalypse] feels like he has the right mixture of charm, confusion, and enthusiasm to capture him. For the mercenary, Lette, this was tricky. Daisy Ridley from Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like she could bring the right attitude to the mix, but she’s a little young. Maybe if Lizzy Caplan [Masters Of Sex] put on 50 lbs. of muscle? For the eight-foot tall lizard man, Balur, picking up on the Guardians Of The Galaxy vibe, Vin Diesel did a great turn as Groot, why not give him the chance to have a broader vocabulary? For the professor, Quirk, we liked Thandie Newton [Mission: Impossible 2]. She’s a little older, and has the right feel of wisdom, refinement, and exasperation. And finally, I’d love to see James Cromwell [Star Trek: First Contact] do a turn as Firkin, the drunken maniac. Plus, he’d get to grow a magnificent beard.
Finally, if someone really enjoys The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold, what would you suggest they read while waiting for the second one to come out?
Well, picking up on Orbit’s cue, The City Stained Red is pretty awesome. I’ve also really enjoyed John Gwynne’s The Faithful And The Fallen books, which do a really good and interesting job of updating the classic ’80s fantasy to a more modern model. They’re enormously fat books that read like lightning. Also if someone hasn’t yet discovered Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora series, then more humorous heists lie in that direction.