Warning: spoilers Book 1 Blue Dragon and Book 2 White Dragon
It may be interesting to note that Kumar Raza, the Great Dragon Hunter, does not exist in the original outlines for the first three books of the series. It is common practice for writers in the planning process of a book to create character sheets for the main and some lesser characters that include all the details of a character’s looks and personality and back story. Kumar Raza did not have a character sheet either. He simply was not part of my conscious plans for Dragonbound. How then did such a central character for the whole series come about? It went something like this.
The outline for book 1, chapter 1, scene 1 says Kanvar gets medicine for brother and goes home. The beginning of any book, especially an epic fantasy, the author must first introduce the reader to a new world and culture. Therefore, the first order of business was to put the main character, Kanvar, into his setting, letting the reader discover the world through Kanvar’s eyes as he interacts with it. To do this, I as the writer had to get right down into the center of Kanvar’s body and consciousness. I become Kanvar and hurry with him through the narrow dusty streets of Daro and across the crowded square. But this whole beginning would be incredibly boring if Kanvar just walks through the setting without interacting with it. It would be wasted space and wasted words if it didn’t do more than show setting. Every scene, every line in a book, especially right at the beginning, must pull its weight in the story, doing many things at once: showing setting, conflict, character, tone, and foreshadowing. Therefore, Kanvar can’t just go home. Something has to happen. So Kanvar reaches the market square and is confronted by a bully who mocks Kanvar for his physical disability. Kanvar has better things to do than listen to some stupid farm boy; Kanvar is trying to save his brother’s life. But, Kanvar knows himself, who he is (or thinks he does. Everything he thinks of himself is about to change when he gets home), and he is so deeply rooted in his identity, his retort comes back to the bully without hesitation.
“I belong to the dragon hunter jati. My grandfather was Kumar Raza, the greatest dragon hunter who ever lived.” (Actually the original line just said “I belong to the dragon hunter jati. My grandfather was ______, the greatest dragon hunter who ever lived.” It was much later in the book’s development I went in search of a good Hindi Name that would essentially mean great hunter and named him Kumar Raza)
Well, of course, Kanvar has a grandfather. Since Kanvar belongs to the prestigious dragon hunter caste, it makes sense that he would boast that his grandfather was the greatest dragon hunter. Whatever, moving on with the story. But my subconscious mind had other plans, better plans. My subconscious creative has always been a better storyteller than my conscious mind. The next retort from the bully sprang fully formed from my subconscious, minus the name. “Raza?” the boy’s eyes widened. “You lie. Besides, I heard Kumar Raza went in search of the Great White Dragon and never returned. He’s probably dead, so that makes him the worst dragon hunter that ever lived.”
“Wait a minute, brain,” I said to myself after typing that line. “You realize if you put a spicy line like that in at the beginning, a line that includes an unsolved mystery, that is a promise to readers that you will have to fulfill later.”
“Stop whining and keep typing. I know what I’m doing,” my subconscious answers.
(Yes, I talk to myself. I’m a writer. It’s my job to make up dialogue. But don’t we all talk to ourselves in one form or another when we’re trying to solve a problem or make an important choice in life like where to go for dinner? “I’d really like an Arby’s roast beef. But last time I went to Arby’s the staff was rude to me. You know there’s a new independent hamburger place that just opened. Maybe I should try there. But I might not like it. I know I like Arby’s, in fact I really want a roast beef sandwich, not a hamburger.)
“Well, okay,” I tell my subconscious. “I’ll just leave that line like it is, and if I can’t figure out how to fit that into the story later, I’ll come back and delete it before the book gets published.”
So I continue typing merrily on my way, and Kanvar gets home. Now, I’m once again faced with setting. I must describe what the inside of his home looks like. It is nothing like any modern American house or apartment, so I have to be precise and concise. I have to show the reader with a few very distinct details how these people live, weaving the setting in with the action of his brother dying and the doctor’s life-changing assertion (the death sentence for Kanvar, his father, and his brother) that his brother is a Naga. The doctor gives Kanvar’s mother a cup with poison in it to kill her sons. So, here’s what happened after the doctor leaves to call out the authorities.
Mani set the cup down on the dragonhide-covered table beside the bed and went to a locked chest she kept in the corner. It was grandfather’s chest. Kanvar had been allowed to look inside once or twice. It held grandfather Kumar Raza’s dragon armor, his spear, sword and crossbow. And grandfather’s singing stone. All his tools for hunting dragons.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I say to my brain. “Why in the world would you say she has his grandfather’s chest, including all his gear? Yes, I know his mom needs the singing stone to find out if her husband really is a Naga and a crossbow to kill him when she finds out he is one, but she could have her own singing stone and crossbow. Mentioning Kanvar’s grandfather again here makes no sense. Besides, you already said that grandfather has gone off hunting a white dragon and disappeared. There is no way he would have gone hunting and left all his weapons and armor behind. This is totally bogus. You can’t say this.”
My subconscious answers, “Seriously, shut up and keep writing. I know what I’m doing.”
“No you don’t. You’re crazy. I’m deleting that and rewriting it.”
“Don’t you dare touch that paragraph.”
I sigh. “Fine, but this one for sure I’m coming back and deleting before the book gets published.”
If you’ve read Dragonbound: Blue Dragon and Dragonbound II: White Dragon, you’ll know that I never went back and deleted those early introductions to Kumar Raza. It is those very lines that created what many readers consider the most endearing/engaging conflict in books 1 and 2. The conflict that really carries the stories isn’t so much the conflict with the dragons like I’d planned in my outline. It is Kanvar’s conflict with his own father whom he rightly blames for his grandfather’s disappearance.
So, the question is from what deep internal spring did the larger-than-life grandfather, Kumar Raza bubble up from in my mind? What possible thing could be so central to my experience in life that would make my subconscious mind so fixated on the missing grandfather? After giving it much thought, I have discovered the answer.
My grandfather Doyle Green died from cancer when I was six years old, and I felt his loss deeply. I was old enough to remember spending time with him and have treasured those few memories. But my grandfather wasn’t just any gray-haired old man. He was such an influential man in Utah that his published biography is nearly four hundred pages long. Grandpa Green was a world traveler, a magazine editor, and an author–everything I always looked up to and wanted to be. In fact, I have always felt since his passing that he has never been far from me, that he is watching over me and guiding me in my efforts as a writer.
The stories in his biography show a man truly larger than life, at least life as we know it in today’s world. In addition to traveling all over the world (a trait shared by the mythic Kumar Raza), he spent much of his childhood living in the wild. His father was a forest ranger, and every spring he would ride his horse up into Big Cottonwood Canyon above Salt Lake City and camp out in the mountains all summer long.
Around the age of 21 he went to Tahiti and lived with the natives there for almost three years (makes sense why Kumar Raza would go live with the natives in the book).
After he married, the first house he lived in he made with his own hands, like for real. He made the bricks and everything. I could go on and on about Grandpa Green, so let’s just say that the very much larger-than-life Kumar Raza isn’t so different from my own Grandfather. The only thing Grandpa Green did not have was a twin brother. But of course my grandfather on my father’s side of the family was a twin.
Frank and Fenton Tyler, twin brothers. Okay, that pretty much rounds out the picture of one of readers’ favorite characters in the Dragonbound series. I’m not going to say any more, because that would give even more spoilers to the series than what I’ve already talked about in the first two books. I’ll just say that Kumar Raza is one of my all-time favorite characters I’ve come up with.