Please welcome Gabe Hudson to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Gork, The Teenage Dragon was published on July 11th by Knopf.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Gabe: Thanks so much for having me on The Qwillery! As a kid, I read a ton of Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin and Douglas Adams. And to me, it just seemed like the greatest thing in the world, to be able to write those books. And so somewhere along the way, I started telling everyone that when I grew up I was going to be a writer. Though the truth is back then I hadn’t really written anything. When I listened to that Beatles song Paperback Writer I could sort of feel myself becoming a writer, but I never told anyone about that because I wasn’t sure they’d understand. Somehow with all that telling I think I sort of just talked myself into being a writer. By the time I realized what I’d done, it was too late to turn back.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Gabe: The truth is I have no idea what I am, or how I write what I write—it’s as if when I’m writing or thinking intensely about the writing, I leap into a different dimension, or dream state. But then when I’m done, I wake up and can’t recall the details of my time in that other dimension. The best part about this is that when I go back to the text, I can really see it with fresh eyes, which enables me to make strong edits.
I do know that while I write there’s a tremendous amount of logic involved and bizarre forms of rapid computation are always taking place, but I can’t consciously point at them and name them. Because they would disappear. IMHO, the best assets available to a writer don’t exist in the known world. In that writing dimension, things move too fast for me to compute or process or articulate. I think coming to terms with this, being comfortable with not-knowing, that was such an important part of my evolution as a writer. The mind is shockingly resistant to such a stance.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Gabe: For me as a writer, the most challenging thing is also the most rewarding. To write with extreme imaginative force and comic speed—as a means of accessing the most big-hearted and tender aspects of the narrative. It’s a counterintuitive or possibly illogical strategy. I mean, if your goal is to enter a castle, you probably wouldn’t run away from it.
But that seems to be my way.
Running away from the castle as a means of entering the castle. This means I have to be very present, so that I can pivot repeatedly throughout the act of composition. On a good writing day, I’m sprinting away from and entering the castle so many times that they become one single act.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
If someone was going to create a new universe, I would highly recommend using this book as the original Big Bang materials. Which is what happened to me as a kid when I read this book, a Big Bang inside my head. I doubt very seriously I ever would’ve written Gork, the Teenage Dragon if I hadn’t read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And if you cracked open my head today, I’m sure you’d find a whole galaxyful of planets populated with white rabbits and giant lizards named Bill.
2. The Hobbit
In some ways, Middle-Earth seems to me more true as a historical place than anything I ever learned in a classroom. The beautiful and terrifying Odyssey of Bilbo and and Gandalf and the dwarves permanently altered the lens through which I experienced life. Fired up my capacity for empathetic and imaginative prowess like nothing else, made the metaphor-making muscle in my brain gigantic and hulking. Plus this is where I encountered Smaug the Magnificent. Probably where I first felt the full force of dragon lore. And it was Tolkien’s Smaug that I used as a counterpoint for my dragon, Gork The Terrible. Gork even calls out Tolkien in the first couple pages of my novel, accuses him of gross and irresponsible misrepresentation of dragons And so it is Tolkien’s The Hobbit that motivates Gork to come forth and tell his tale. To set the record straight about his species.
TQ: Describe Gork, the Teenage Dragon in 140 characters or less.
Gabe: Big-hearted sixteen year old dragon goes on epic quest for true love. Plus robots.
TQ: Tell us something about Gork, the Teenage Dragon that is not found in the book description.
Gabe: Gork is an orphan, and for the first three years of his life, he was raised by a sentient spaceship.
Also, on Gork’s home planet Blegwethia, saying thank you is considered extremely rude.
TQ: What inspired you to write Gork, the Teenage Dragon? What appealed to you about writing about dragons?
Gabe: Honestly it was Gork. His voice came to me fully-formed, out of the blue. It felt like a dragon came storming into my life and took over. Later, I realized, it seemed to me there were way too many narratives out there casting dragons as monsters. To the point where it seemed almost a form of bigotry, this mass of anti-dragon narratives. I mean, I thought, let’s hear from the dragons themselves. Wouldn’t that be a more democratic and judicious approach, instead of just accepting the stories told and written by people who might, for all I know, just be very prejudice when it comes to dragons. Let a dragon tell their side of the story, for once. Why in the history of our literature, are we allowing just one side of the story to be the entire story?
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Gork, the Teenage Dragon?
Gabe: Well I read a bunch of books about dragons and reptiles. Also, I managed to stay alive while writing this book, which always strikes me as a form of research. Making sure not to die. Carl Sagan has this cool book full of scientific speculation, called Dragons in the Garden of Eden. In the book, Sagan suggests that for humankind’s early ancestors, dreams and nightmares may have emerged as a necessary tool for evolution. A nightmare would cause you to wake up, and give you the split second you needed to escape from the giant lizard that was about to eat you. Another theory Sagan suggests is that humans have systematically eradicated any species or member of a species that displayed intelligence. That humans are biologically hardwired to perceive intelligence as the greatest possible threat.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Gork, the Teenage Dragon.
Gabe: The cover was designed by the brilliant and supercool Peter Mendelsund. In the novel, Gork has two-inch horns. He gets bullied and ridiculed for his small horns. So you can see on the cover, Gork is using his talons to make the “throwing the horns” gesture. Which is a human gesture. It also suggests that despite the small horns on his head, Gork is giving himself horns through this human gesture. Interesting side note: Buddha was the first person known to use the “throwing the horns” hand gesture, which he did to ward off evil spirits.
TQ: In Gork, the Teenage Dragon who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Gabe: The easiest was the silver cyborg dragon Fribby, who is Gork’s best friend. I could relate to her, and I rooted for her. She’s fierce and a badass, despite the fact that in dragon society, she is treated like a second-class citizen because she’s a machine. She’s obsessed with death, kind of Goth, and she likes Gork precisely because he has a big heart, and he’s different from all the other dragons at their high school.
Possibly the hardest character to write was Gork’s grandfather, Dr. Terrible. The narcissistic mad-scientist dragon. Dr. Terrible desperately wants Gork to change, to become a dominant and ruthless alpha dragon. And to stop hanging out with Fribby, because Dr. Terrible thinks robot dragons should be kept in their place, and shouldn’t be granted equal rights to “normal” dragons. But the truth is Dr. Terrible wasn’t that hard to write. Growing up, I had some overbearing, narcissistic male authority figures in my life. And so the narcissist is a fairly well-known species to me.
TQ: Which question about Gork, the Teenage Dragon do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: Is this the first novel ever to be narrated in the first-person by a teenage space dragon?
A: I don’t know.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Gork, the Teenage Dragon.
My name is Gork The Terrible, and I’m a dragon.
And here begins the story of how I went searching for my true love and then made her my Queen. And I should warn you that when it comes to dragon love stories, well mine is the most terrifying tale of them all. But also the most romantic. For inside my scaly green chest, there beats a grotesquely large and sensitive heart.
TQ: What's next?
Gabe: Right now I’m primarily focused on my book tour, and by focused I mean intent on staying alive. Not because it’s particularly perilous, but because it just seems like an especially ghastly thing to do, to die on your book store. So I am extra vigilant, ever mindful of potential assassins posing as birds in a nearby tree, and hungry crocodiles under my hotel bed. Staying on top of that stuff takes a lot of energy, so I don’t get to write as much as I normally do.
If it’s OK, I’m going to stick my tour dates right down there. And if any of your readers should see this and decide to come check out Gork at a reading, then they should mention they saw this interview on The Qwillery, and I’ll make sure they get the VIP treatment.
And if by chance I do happen to die while doing this tour, then we can just let the below graphic be my digital gravestone:
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Gabe: Thanks so much for having me on The Qwillery! I love your website and blog. I think you’re doing heroic work, shining a light on debut novels. It’s been a pleasure.
Gork, the Teenage Dragon
Knopf, July 11, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
A TODAY Show Summer Pick An Amazon Summer Reading Pick A Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction of the Month Pick
A wacky, exuberant, heartfelt debut novel: the unholy child of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Candles—and this time with dragons.
“No good human won’t love this dragon named Gork.” —Dave Eggers
“A one-of-a-kind coming-of-age story.” —Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate
Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.
Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.
A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.
GABE HUDSON is the author of Dear Mr. President, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hudson was named one of Granta‘s 20 Best of Young American Novelists and was a recipient of the Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction from Brown University, and the Adele Steiner Burleson Award in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, McSweeney’s, Black Book, and Granta. For many years, he was Editor-at-Large for McSweeney’s. He lives in Brooklyn.