THE JADE DRAGONBALL beautifully blends fantasy, various points of view and different times in history. Fast paced, entertaining, and well written, it’s kind of adventure that compels readers to turn just one more page. I’m excited to welcome the authors, Scott Lauder, and David Ross to Writers’ Rumpus.
Kirsti Call: What inspired you to write THE JADE DRAGONBALL?
Scott Lauder: I met Archna Sharma, our publisher and the owner of Neem Tree Press, some time ago in Dubai at the beginning of the Three Hares project. Archna was very interested in creating a series of high-adventure books that entertained and encouraged readers to explore art, history, and culture. Her vision was an inspiring one. I love the idea that the book might spark an interest in, for example, finding out more about the Qingming scroll, which is an astonishing artwork, or the history of the Northern Song Dynasty, which was a period of such innovation.
David Ross: We were given a great idea to start with. Archna proposed a beautiful opening premise: a girl enters a painting. And not any painting – the Qingming scroll. I was thrilled to not only work on a book with Scott, a friend I hadn’t spoken with since our time in Japan together, but to draw upon my interest in Asian art and culture. I think we really started to gain momentum when Scott suggested we make use of the Three Hares motif. I love how provocative this image is and how it has made its way along the Silk Road.
KC: What was your collaboration process as you created this book?
SL: David and I would ping ideas back and forth, mainly by email but sometimes over Skype. The latter was quite difficult because of the time difference: I’m in the United Arab Emirates; David is in the USA. David is a published poet and I’ve always admired his prose, so I asked if he would be interested in writing the series with me and luckily he agreed.
DR: I had never collaborated with anyone on a writing project before. Being at a distance, we’ve faced some minor logistical challenges but we’ve been fortunate in that technology makes it possible to exchange ideas pretty readily. I can’t quite imagine doing this at any time in the past! That said, collaborative writing is a rather different process from writing alone – it involves very precise and detailed critical feedback from a person with an equally vested interest. Scott is a fine writer and I have learned a lot from working with him.
KC: This story intertwined history and fantasy. How did you research the history and come up creative ways to include it in your book?
SL: Some of the historical material we used came from careful research; some was the result of good luck! The biggest piece of good luck came when I was looking for a way to give the three protagonists a collective identity. I was looking at caves housing ancient Buddhist artworks in China and happened to have a book next to me by Jeff VanderMeer whose front cover was decorated with rabbits when I suddenly realised that the Three Hares motif, which is on the roof of one of the caves housing the artworks and is found from one end of the Silk Road to the other, was the answer I’d been looking for. Another piece of good luck came when I visited the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and found out that there was a Chinese version of the story Cinderella, which I then used in Sara’s adventure. Similarly, while I was writing an EFL textbook, I discovered that one of the first paper adverts came from the Northern Song Dynasty period, and I used that too in Sara’s adventure. As for the planned stuff: I had to do some research about tattoos in ancient China — I had no idea whether they were used or not. It turns out they were, so I used that. The artwork David and I explored in the Jade Dragonball is called the Qingming Scroll and it was entirely Archna’s idea to use it. I’m very glad we did because, as I said above, it is an amazing artwork, a masterpiece in fact.
DR: Doing the research has been so much fun! I love reading up on the histories of the areas we are working with, on Chinese myths, on the incredible impact the Silk Road had on the diffusion of ideas, religious beliefs, and goods for a thousand years. In addition to sources made available on the internet, I was able to bring in some of the understandings I’ve gained from travelling and teaching in China and Japan, and time I spent in India. The opportunity to weave history, fantasy, and my own experiences with the sights, sounds, and smells of these places has given the books a certain resonance for me.
KC: What other projects are you working on?
SL: David and I are currently writing The Three Hares, Book 3 which is provisionally titled The Terracotta Horse.
DR: Although I have a number of books in the works, my primary focus is on completing the third book in our series. It’s very exciting to see the all the pieces fall into place.
KC: What is your advice for aspiring Middle Grade Authors?
SL: I consider myself an aspiring writer, so any advice to others I also give to myself. And the main piece of advice? Never give up! Learn what you can from reading lots of fiction. There are also so many helpful books to guide you towards honing your writing skills such as Writing Fiction by The Gotham Writers Workshop. Try to find someone who is prepared to give you forthright, detailed, well-supported feedback, someone who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings! And that’s the final piece of advice. Don’t be precious about your work. If your story needs to change; if it isn’t good enough, don’t prevaricate; don’t sulk, do it! Change it! And if it still isn’t good enough? Don’t give up. Tell yourself the next story will be better and make it so.
DR: One habit I find useful is keeping a notebook handy at all times. It doesn’t matter how grand or small an idea it is – write it down! Sometimes ideas from two very different times may seem to be nothing much by themselves until they appear next to each other. I like to dictate ideas into my phone and then send them to a master list once they’ve been transcribed. This makes it easy for me to think on the fly when I’m out for a walk. Remember, no idea is too small!
KC: Thank you Scott and David! I look forward to reading more of your books!
Scott Lauder has always been fascinated by other cultures, which inspired his choice to live in myriad countries including Greece, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Japan. Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, Scott now lives with his wife in Sharjah, UAE. History is another of Scott’s passions; both of his graded readers for Oxford University Press were set in the past, one in Ancient Egypt, the other in Ancient Rome. He cites researching the periods for those books and the Three Hares series as “great fun,” a passion that emanates throughout the novel.
David Ross has taught English since 1987, when he began working in Japan. While in Japan, David performed with a rock band for a couple of years and produced an album (Los Turbines). His decade of teaching in Japan provided with the opportunity to travel in Asia, Africa, and Europe. After returning to the United States, David taught at Loyola University in New Orleans, before moving to New York in 2004, where he taught elementary school – and where he still lives with his wife and two sons. In 2010, David received his doctorate in Educational Studies from McGill University in Montreal. Over the last decade, he has spent four summers teaching abroad: two in China and two in Indonesia.