Hellbender, with a capital "H," please!
A hellbender is an aquatic salamander. The reason I know this is that my husband, Mr. G, sent a picture of one to me, thinking that I could use a giant version of it as a model for one of the dragons in my Fangborn novels, Seven Kinds of Hell, Pack of Strays, and, as of next Tuesday, Hellbender. Maybe Zoe could even turn into one, he said excitedly.
Um, no. For one thing, I don't like my dragons squishy. If they're going to be squishy, I want them to go the whole sea monster/kaiju route, which would mean extra tentacles, crazy rows of teeth, and laser eyes, at the very least. This little guy is cute enough, but as I said, squishy and rather dull. Not my idea of a beautiful and terrible creature, like Smaug, say, or one of those gorgeous, swirling images of wise and powerful Chinese dragons. The other thing is that I didn't want Zoe to be able to turn into something that was also colloquially called “mud devil,” “grampus,” or even as Wikipedia has it, a “leverian water newt.” My favorite version, “snot otter,” does not inspire notions of danger or heroics or an awesome protagonist. I'm just saying.
But using “hellbender” as a title...that sent shivers down my spine and more importantly, got me reaching for the keyboard. “The Hellbender,” something or someone who can bend hells? That says all kinds of danger and heroics and awesomeness to me, and all it needed was a definite article and a capital H. In this case, I decided that the “hells” being bent were more in the line of chaos and physics than philosophy, which gave me a bunch of clues as to how the Fangborn vampires, werewolves, and oracles get their powers. (And you can see just a hint of a dragon's tail, in the cover, below.)
I knew by the end of Pack of Strays that Quarrel, a dragon, used the term as an honorific for Zoe, my Fangborn werewolf and archaeologist, as she's trying to defeat the Order in their all-too-public attack on the Fangborn in Boston. She needs to find out why he's using that name, convinced it has a clue to her new powers. And right when she might get some answers...poof. Somehow she's removed from the action to Japan, a whole world between her and her embattled Family. Trust me when I say, she needs all the help she can get by the time Hellbender begins.
Sometimes all it takes is turning an idea around, seeing it from a different angle, to find something that will transform your work in unexpected ways. Crack open a plain-looking stone, and suddenly you can see a cluster of crystals that had been hidden. It was a good lesson in reminding me not to be too hasty in discarding an idea that was initially unappealing. Thanks, Mr. G! XOXO
I am so excited about this book! If you'd like to win a copy of Hellbender (47North, available next Tuesday, 3-31!), leave a comment below. I'll pick a comment left by 5:00pm EDT Sunday, so please check back to see if you've won! U.S. and Canada only, please—sorry, international friends!