Wings of Fire: A World of Pure Imagination
October 2023: If you haven’t already been sucked into Tui Sutherland’s epic Wings of Fire dragon fantasy, dive into the backstories of the ten tribes on two continents with three moons in "A Guide to the Dragon World."
October 2023: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, founder, Inkandescent® PR & Publishing Co. — If you haven’t already been sucked into Tui Sutherland’s epic Wings of Fire dragon fantasy, dive into the backstories of the ten tribes on two continents with three moons in A Guide to the Dragon World.
In this title, we learn the dragons of Pyrrhia and Pantala are on a mission to develop a definitive guide to the lives and history of each tribe told by the dragons themselves.
“It’s sort of hilarious because I was thinking of this book as the nonfiction one,” laughs Sutherland, talking to the Costco Connection from her home near Boston. “Clearly, it’s still fiction, like a little map with letters, interviews, and journal entries that expose old myths and reveal dark secrets.”
Having sold more than 14 million copies and been translated into a dozen languages, Scholastic’s 15-book series has been on the New York Times bestseller list for years. There are also two standalone titles, four short stories, two companion books, and six graphic novel adaptations — all studded with brilliant illustrations.
How has the woman, named after a noisy New Zealand bird thanks to her Mom who grew up there, dreamed up this alternative universe?
“When I was a little kid, we lived in Caracas, Paraguay, Miami, and Santa Domingo before moving to New Jersey for high school, and everywhere I went, I’d make up stories, read stories, and imagine myself in new worlds. After graduating from college, I went into publishing because I wanted to know how books are made. By then, I had written several books of my own, but it was fantasy that captured my heart.”
When her first son was born in 2010, Sutherland wanted to take him on a hero’s quest. “So, I created a series about destiny and what’s written for you versus what you choose for yourself. You can save the world no matter what kind of dragon you are — the fierce bossy one or the tiny optimistic one with no powers. They all have their way of making their world a better place.”
This article was written for the October issue of Costco’s magazine: costco.com/connection
Scroll down for our extended Inkandescent Q&A with Tui.
Inkandescent: Let’s start at the very beginning of your career. Tell us all about you and your journey as a writer.
Author Tui Sutherland: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. That was something when I was a little kid that I loved making up stories. I loved reading stories and thinking about what I would write and reading biographies of authors and imagining myself in that world. Sorry, my dog really wants to come in. Let me just open this door and let him. When I graduated from college, I went into publishing because I wanted to know how it worked. How do books get made? How is that possible? How does it go from all of my scribblings into a full book that other people can actually read? It was wonderful because I learned so much about the editing process, and how to take criticism and think of it as helpful ways to make my books better because I was thinking about it from the editor’s perspective as well. I was learning to be an editor, and then how the whole process of a book getting to a bookshelf happens. I’d written a lot of other things. I have tried a lot of different genres and a few different names along the way.
But I had written several books by the time I was like, okay, I want to write a series about dragons. I love dragons. I’m a huge Anne McCaffrey fan. She was just like, someone that I adored growing up. And I was thinking, like, well, what know? It was the sort of hero’s quest kind of story that had a lot of the things you find in epic have all the fun and the adventures, and we got to be inside their heads the whole time? So that’s sort of how the beginning of the series started. The first five books originally, that was the plan, was five books, and it would center around these five little dragons, so there’d be one who would be the main character for each book, and it would be about how they’re in this prophecy and they have to save the world. But do they want to follow the rules of the dragons who take care of them, or do they want to save the world their own way?
It is about destiny, what’s written for you versus what you choose to do for yourself, and how you can save the world no matter what kind of dragon you are. Whether you’re like the fierce bossy one or the tiny optimistic one with no powers, but you believe in saving the world or the quiet, bookish one, they all have their way of contributing to saving and making the world a better place. That’s a lot of the backstory.
Inkandescent: Which dragon are you?
Tui: I try to put a piece of myself in every dragon, but probably the one closest to my personality is Sunny, the heroine in book five. She’s the optimistic one. She’s the one who’s so excited that they’re in a prophecy, and she gets to save the world with her best friends. It’s fantastic. She’s super positive and makes many mistakes. She’s not perfect, but I think that’s how I would feel if I discovered it was my destiny to save the world. I’d be excited too.
Inkandescent: What inspired this particular book? And how do they all fit together?
This is the guide to the entire 15-book series, and they all fit into arcs that tell the entire tale: books 1-5, 6-10, 11-15. They each have their own prophecy and main characters. Each book has different characters, but they all fit together into the larger story of the dragon world. There are also two prequels, which stand alone, plus several graphic novels. What’s hilarious about the Guide to the Dragon World is that I consider it a nonfiction book. It’s clearly still fiction because it’s about the dragons and their history; it also has maps of their world, details about the habitats they each live in, and correspondences between the characters. We get sort of the true stories from the point of view of the dragons. It’s funny and character-based.
Inkandescent: That’s amazing! So how did you get started creating a world of dragons?
Tui: I first started thinking about the idea of fate versus free will and whether everything we do is already written or we can change it. How much control do we have over our own lives? I had just had my first kid while writing the series, so I was thinking a lot about parenting, what we do to our children, and how they turn out. I looked at this baby, and I was like, he’s perfect. Did I do that? Did he come out that way? I think it’s connected because of fate versus free will, nature versus nurture, and expectations. All those thoughts and feelings were tied to the dragons; they had been taken from their families. There’s a question of what they have that’s inherent to them versus what they have that came from growing up with these other dragons from other tribes in this sort of unusual situation. And expectations, right? There is a prophecy, and the dragons are expected to save the world. I was thinking about that with my kids. How much pressure am I putting on them? What am I expecting from them versus what they want for themselves? The pieces came together as I wrote the series.
Inkandescent: Let’s back up a minute. Why dragons?
Tui: I’ve always loved them! I see every dragon as a superhero. They can fly and are huge, and each tribe has special powers and abilities. I love stories where you take something you think you know and flip it around, where you get to see the inside of somebody else. A while ago, I wrote another book series where you’d read the first book, and then in the second book, you’d see that same character from someone else’s point of view. By the fifth book, you’re learning things about the other characters you didn’t know because you weren’t until you’re inside that person’s point of view. I’m trying to do that with these dragons. For example, everyone sees Sunny a certain way in book one, but when you get inside her head in book five, you see how she sees herself. That goes back to ‘why dragons?’ I wanted to give dragons some respect. In most books we’ve read about them, they are the scary bad guys — giant flying sharks that could eat them at any moment. But in my books, the truth is that they are guarding their treasure and fighting humans and knights to protect what is theirs. I put readers inside their heads instead so we see how they feel.
Inkandescent: Amazing. Tell us a little bit about you first. How old are your kids now? Has the series helped with your parenting?
Tui: My kids are now 11 and 13, and I think so. I mean, I hope so. I also still feel that they are just who they are, and they’re so wonderful the way they are that this can’t possibly be my doing. I joke that I’ve written a lot of really terrible moms because I’m like, well, at least I’m not that bad. Most of these dragon moms are not great in various terrible ways, and I try to think about how this mom could do something different or what’s not working about this parenting style. I love talking to my kids about stories; I think it makes them hyper-aware of stories in the world around them. When we watch TV, I’ll pause it and say, “Oh my gosh, did you see what they just did there? Do you see how that makes this character feel this way to you? Now you care about them.”They’re like, Mom, can we just watch the show? But I think talking to them about that kind of thing is fun.
Inkandescent: Do you think they’ll grow up to be writers?
Tui: Maybe. They’re both huge theater kids. They are actors, and I think at least one has the soul of a director. He wants to get in there and make the story on stage. The other one does these amazing little comics where he draws these amazing little characters. I can’t draw. At all. I wish I could go back in time and become a great artist to illustrate graphic novels. I could see him doing that. Whatever they want to do, there are no expectations, right?
Inkandescent: You have done all of this in 13 years. Are you proud of yourself?
Tui: I feel very grateful. I’m grateful that Scholastic has been super supportive. The art and covers by Joy Ang that are on these books make a huge difference. She is just incredible. You want to write more when you write five books in a world. How often do you get to do that? I’m extremely grateful to the readers who keep reading them. That’s why I get to keep writing them.
Inkandescent: Is this going to be a motion picture?
Tui: We’re talking about it. It would be better as a TV show, I think. You can’t just do book one. It doesn’t end in a final way. You have to go to book five to get to a satisfying ending. And that would be hard to fit into a two-hour movie. But it would be really exciting if they could do an entire TV show. I think it’s much harder to make a TV show than a book. It turns out there are so many more people involved. I’m happily writing; it would be very exciting if it happens.
Inkandescent: Tell us more about your childhood and the path that led you to write this remarkably successful series.
Tui: My mom is from New Zealand. My dad is from around where I am now, in New England. I was born in Venezuela, and then we lived in Paraguay, so I grew up mostly overseas. We spent two years in Miami, then moved to the Dominican Republic before heading to New Jersey, where I attended high school. But still, we traveled a lot. My parents are very interested in everything that’s happening in the world. They met in Venezuela while my mom was traveling and my dad was working there. They’ve always been very interested in showing us the world and giving us a wider perspective on everything happening. I’m grateful to them for that. It’s been hard to do that for my kids, especially with the constraints of the Pandemic, so we’ve spent a lot of time at home. I’m very excited to be traveling again.
Inkandescent: What does your husband do?
Tui: He works with computers and does mysterious technological things with software. We say that at cocktail parties, people are usually interested in my job or his job, and there’s very little overlap. They either understand completely what he does, or they’re like, oh, yes, tell me about children’s books.
Inkandescent: This newest book is the guide to the dragon world. What’s next in the series?
Tui: We are talking about that. I have a bunch of ideas, so I think that there are some things I want to write that are not in the Wings of Fireworld that I want to do first because book 15 is a good sort of pausing place. I would feel bad if I paused the series at book eight or book 13, where it’s like a huge cliffhanger, and then I was like, now you don’t get a book for two years. That’d be cruel. But here is like a good little pause place where I can go write this other thing. There are two other books I want to write and then come back to Wings of Fire. Because what I love about the world is that because it’s a different main character in each book, I feel like it never gets boring for me because I’m always getting to explore sort of a new personality, a new history for this character, and something else that they have to learn. And so there are characters that I’ve hinted at or seen leave at the end of other books that we haven’t gotten back to yet. I want to write their stories. And there’s also all these really young dragons that I’ve introduced that I would love to maybe jump forward in time and see them grown up together because I have a very clear sense of what their characters are going to be like. I have a lot of ideas. We’ll see. I can say I’m pretty sure I’m not done with Wings of Fire.
Inkandescent: Is there a correlation between the Harry Potter series and Wings of Fire?
Tui: I think there are kids that read. This is the best part, actually, of writing the series. I mean, apart from I love being in my office by myself with my dogs, like writing the books, but actually getting to go in the world and talk to the kids, it gives me so much hope because there is so many young readers who get really excited about books. And just to know that there are still kids like that, I think that there’s a lot of, I don’t know, news about how nobody reads anymore. But I know that’s not true because I get to talk to these kids. And not only are they readers, they’re writers, too. They’re creators. They all bring me drawings of dragons that they’ve made up or like stories they’ve written. And I love that. I want Wings of Fire to feel like a giant playground where all the kids are welcome to write their own stories and make up their dragons. Because I think fan fiction is a great way to get started as a writer or a creator. The whole idea of the series is that anyone can be a hero. Like anyone can save the world. It’s not just like me, the writer, or the hero of book one. It could also be the one that you’re writing, even though Clay and Sonny are saving the world their way over here. Like your little dragon could save the world a different way over here. So, I just want all the kids to feel that that’s 100% what I’m going for in the books.
Inkandescent: How long does it take you to write one of the books?
Tui: At the beginning they were coming out every six months, so it was pretty quick. The original schedule. Some of them I could write between like three to four months. I mean, it helped that I spent like a year planning out the world first, so it’s not starting from scratch every time with book eleven, because that goes to a new continent and introduces new tribes and their history. I took more like nine months with that one and then with the Pandemic, the last couple of books took more like nine months to a year because my children were home all the time, which was lovely, but definitely not productive. Between four months and a year, ideally.
Inkandescent: When you’re not doing this, what do you do for fun?
Tui: I read a lot. I love reading. I have two dogs, so they would love to have my attention all the time if they could. And then hanging out with the kids, those are sort of the main things I do. I’m also like someone who can’t say no to anything, so I do a lot of PTO stuff and whatever people call and ask me for. But yeah, for fun. Lots of reading and watching TV. I’m reading a book called The Forgotten Beasts of ELD by Patricia McKillop. It’s like an older book I’ve been hearing about for a long time, but I recently read this amazing dragon book called To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Monique Black Goose, I think it is the correct name, but you should look it up. It’s anyone who’s listening. It’s called To Shape a Dragon’s Breath, and it’s the beginning of, I think, a trilogy or a series, and it is an alternate universe set in Colonial times. And this native girl has bonded with a dragon, so they make her go to this academy where they’re trying to shape her into a proper young lady and tell her what to do with her dragon. But she has her own ideas, and the dragon is awesome. It’s well written. I loved it so much.
Inkandescent: What kind of dogs do you have?
Tui: One of them is a Havanese. She’s actually named after one of the dragons. Her name is Bumblebee. She’s kind of a brat, but I love her. She’s really cute. And the other one is a Maltese poodle mix. His full name is Rainbow Dog because the children named him when they were much littler, and one wanted to call him Rainbow, and the other wanted to call him Dog. For dignity, we call him Bo.
Inkandescent: When did the dragon concept first come to you?
Tui: When I was younger, I read a lot of. Anne McCaffrey was probably the first big dragon that sparked it for me. There was a book called Dragon Song where a girl finds these 9, and they are called fire lizards because there are dragons in the world, but then there are these tiny dragons, and so these tiny fire lizard dragons, she bonds with like nine of them, and they follow her around everywhere. And I was like, I want nine tiny dragons to follow me everywhere. And when I got older, Naomi Novik, wrote this amazing series about dragons that’s the Napoleonic Wars but retold as if we all had dragons then, which were used as warships. There’s this fantastic dragon named Tamarre, who is the, I think, the first one is called His Majesty’s Dragon or Her Majesty’s Dragon. Everything she writes is wonderful.
Inkandescent: The world of pure imagination. You’re living in it, sharing it, making it come to life for the rest of us. What’s your advice to writers?
Tui: I always feel like I could talk about that for so long, especially because it depends on their stage, right? For young writers like the kids I meet, my biggest advice is to keep writing and do it for joy. Jane Yoland has this wonderful writing book called Take Joy that I always feel like is the first one that you should read because it’s about writing. After all, you love it, and not just because you’re like, oh, I have to finish this book and send it to an agent and get it published. I think when you’re young, writing should be more not just for fun, but because you can’t stop yourself because you have stories inside you, and you just want to get them out. I read a lot and then also think about stories. Like I was talking about where every show I watch or every book I read, my brain is going like, well, why did they do that? How did they make that decision? And would I have done that? And what if they had done this other thing? I think that having people to talk to about that is a good way to start thinking about how you want to shape stories, find books you love, and think about what you want your voice to be.
In all the books that I wrote before Wings of Fire, I tested out different voices. And I think that it helped me get to where Wings of Fire is like sort of the actual voice that I really want to have has, like, a sense of humor, and it’s very positive about the world. But there’s other stuff going on. All the books I read, and then certain TV shows also got me to that point of understanding what I wanted to say to the world. But mostly, I would say keep writing and don’t get discouraged, especially for kids. I used to start many stories and then have trouble finishing them, so I would say that’s super normal, and don’t let that discourage you. Just keep going. Just write something else if you want to. It’s all good practice, and you’ll get better as you go along.
Inkandescent: Last question. What do you want to tell the world about yourself and this amazing series, Wings of Fire?
Tui: I guess my main thing is thank you. Thank you for reading it. And for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, I hope that you do love it. And that I guess what I was saying, I hope that it makes kids feel that sense of potential, that they all have this potential inside of them. And then someone asked me once, if you had to describe the whole series in one word, what would it be? And I realized it’s. Empathy. I want the whole series to be about trying to understand each other and knowing that there’s your story, but there’s other people’s stories as well. And I think that’s a lot of what’s going on with the dragons is just trying to see the world through other eyes and understanding why people do the things they do, if that makes any sense.
Inkandescent: That sounds like a brilliant political commentary that is applicable to many things happening in our world today.
Tui Sutherland, thank you so much for your time today. And I’m so excited to share your words of wisdom with all of our listeners on Incandescent Radio and Incandescent TV and also, of course, in Costco’s October magazine. So best of luck to you and this new book, Wings of Fire a Guide to the Dragon World. And we’re going to talk to you again because we want to see what you’re up to in a few years and where this has all led, because I think that TV series is real.