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Author Update: RJ the Story Guy

RJ Mirabal (aka RJ the Story Guy) is a retired high school teacher building a second career as a writer. He’s the author of an adult fantasy series (the Rio Grande Parallax trilogy) and a children’s book (Trixie Finds Her People) inspired by his adventurous rescue dog. His newest release is Dragon Train (2020) which takes young adult readers on a unique quest in a different kind of dragon story. You’ll find RJ at and on Facebook at RJ The Story Guy and Dragon Train Quest Book Series. Read more about RJ and his writing in his 2015, 2017, and 2020 interviews for SouthWest Writers.

­­­What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Dragon Train?
This is a story that brings together a motherless boy and a mother who fears she will lose her family. The boy’s mother died while he was a child, but he has no memories of her. The mother in the story (not related to the boy) has three children and a mate who are enslaved. She escapes bondage but fears her escape will mean death to her family unless she can rescue them. The boy and the mother team up to attempt a rescue mission. There’s adventure in that quest, but the relationship of a mother without her family and a young man longing for a mother allows them to develop a close bond. I want readers to quickly understand that and watch how the two work together to achieve their mission and find a meaningful relationship with each other.

Who did you write the book for?
The book is aimed mainly at young readers from ages 11 to 15, though advanced younger readers and typical young adult and older readers should find this appealing. Because of the main character and the many action scenes, I suspect boys would enjoy the story the most. The story’s audience includes anyone who likes dragons, a satisfying adventure, and those looking for stories of how mutually rewarding relationships can develop. Readers who enjoy fantasy and elements of magic will like the story because of the existence of dragons in a pastoral society much like the 18th Century. In addition, the fact that Blue Dragons are intelligent and can communicate with humans telepathically makes the story appealing for most any fantasy reader.

What sparked the story idea?
After writing a fantasy trilogy clearly aimed at mature readers, I wanted to write something more appropriate for young readers. I surveyed a number of books in that genre and realized that dragons appealed to me more than vampires, zombies, and the like. However, I wanted to take a new approach to the usual dragon stories, but what?

One evening, as I was dropping off to sleep thinking about dragons, the words “dragon train” popped in my head. Wow, where did that come from? I researched the internet and Amazon and didn’t find anything to do with dragon trains. Later, on an online European book site, Rakuten Kobo, I found a book with that title, but it was a very different instructional story for children. So, I was convinced I had a fresh idea. But do dragons ride on this train or… It occurred to me that because dragons are big, powerful, and can fly, maybe they could tow a train by pulling it as they flew a few feet above the tracks. Dragons could be a source of power in a world where steam power had not been invented yet. But would dragons really want to do that? If they were intelligent — and I was convinced they wouldn’t be interesting characters if they weren’t highly intelligent — would they put up with that? The answer is “no.” They would resist, but clever and devious humans could develop ways to control the dragons. And on went the thought process.

Who are the main characters in the story?
To avoid writing complicated explanations about how the whole situation in the story developed, I decided Skye (a Blue Dragon) and Jaiden (a fifteen-year-old boy) would first become friends. Jaiden, who lives in a small farming town, wouldn’t know much about the world and how dragons were forced to tow trains. This allowed Skye to explain all this through family stories about how the dragons lost control of their lives. Since I needed a major female character, I decided the Blue Dragon would be a mother. The boy begins to think of her as a positive mother-figure and the story develops from that. Jaiden immediately proves himself to be resourceful and fearless when he helps her escape. He continues to be useful as he helps Skye avoid capture by the humans. Her storytelling and their exploits allow the two to bond since each satisfies a need in the other. And since Skye wants to rescue her family before it’s too late, that provided an adventurous quest to attract a decent-minded, but bored, young man who longed for excitement.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
Since I had decided I needed a world whose technology didn’t include steam power, I needed to develop details of that world which meant research and some careful thinking about how Blue Dragons (the size of a barn) could be controlled by humans. The fun of fantasy is to create worlds, but you have to make it logical because sharp readers can find flaws if you make it too easy for one group of beings to control another group. However, the intelligence of my dragons, their ability to fly, and their strength allowed them to have dominance over humans just a generation or so before my story takes place, so there is considerable tension between these formidable enemies.

I decided against incorporating a lot of magic because so many fantasy stories depend on it for nearly everything. My challenge as a writer was to find ways that interesting beings and civilizations can overcome one another by means other than magic. However, I did give the dragons the ability to communicate telepathically so that Jaiden and Skye can communicate. That also allowed me to develop the dragons into complex characters. I also included other kinds of dragons such as Gold Dragons and Silver Dragons who are smaller, less intelligent, and have different behaviors than the superior Blues. More will be developed about those dragons in a sequel.

Tell us how Dragon Train came together.
From the inception of the idea to the finished book was a little over a year. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but with help of the critique group I belong to, the book fell into place quicker than I expected. Their careful reading and suggestions gave me confidence I was on the right track, if I can be allowed to make a pun on Dragon Train! I was concerned about cover art because I didn’t know anyone who could design and draw dragons. Through Divergent Art, a website collective of artists, I found a young lady known by the name Celebril, who creates beautiful dragons very much like what I imagined when I thought of Skye. I had an image in my head of Skye towing a train with Jaiden in the lead car holding the reins on Skye as if he were the pilot. Celebril was able to create a remarkable cover matching my vision and her rates were very reasonable.

What did you learn in the process of completely this project that you can apply to your future work?
To format this book and a previous book, Trixie Finds Her People, I acquired a program that allowed me to format the book precisely the way I wanted it to look. Since publishing Dragon Train, I have also learned how to completely format and create print-ready PDF files using a new program that works the same way as In-Design. I’m now ready to produce my own books from beginning to end and use Ingram Spark as my printing/distribution service provider.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
First, I eventually realized a writer must learn everything he/she can about writing before trying to get published. Not just the grammar and mechanics, but the process of writing smooth, economical sentences and paragraphs that clearly convey the vision of your story, characters, setting, and theme. And it’s important to find your “voice.” What is, and how do you communicate, your unique perspective of the universe and life as a human being? I found that exploring and discovering those things through writing short works and gaining feedback from fellow writers is how you can learn to write effectively. Without feedback, you’re existing in an echo chamber and may not communicate with anyone beyond the confines of your head. This is what SouthWest Writers, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and my critique group have done for me.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #3

Authors William Fisher, Cornelia Gamlem, Larry Kilham, BR Kingsolver, RJ Mirabal, and Lynne Sturtevant represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with 2020 releases in the genres of historical fiction, business, biography, and several speculative fiction sub-genres. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of interviewed SWW authors for books published in 2020.

William Fisher’s debut novel, Cruel Road (October 2020), is a mid-eighteenth-century historical drama. John Fraser, Scots-Irish gunsmith and militiaman, faces a difficult dilemma when his new and pregnant wife is taken captive by a local tribal chief. This is the story of real-life John and Jane Fraser, among the first settlers of western Pennsylvania. Their lives are challenged by Indian conflicts, French and English fighting over territory, and survival in the Pennsylvania wilderness. The book is a dramatization of true events. Most characters are actual historical characters. John and Jane Fraser are the author’s direct ancestors. Some characters are fictional, and certain actions and descriptions are conjecture.

Visit Bill’s Amazon author page.

They Did What? Unbelievable Tales from the Workplace (September 2020) is Cornelia Gamlem and Barbara Mitchell’s newest nonfiction release. People have been misbehaving at work since work began. If you’ve ever been curious about workplace misbehavior, this book just might hold some answers. A compilation of stories collected from HR and other business leaders have been woven into a narrative that showcases the challenges HR professionals face daily in dealing with employees. They Did What? is funny, sad, and most definitely unbelievable—except it is all based on actual situations.

Visit Cornelia’s Amazon author page.

In Destiny Strikes Twice: James L. Breese Aviator and Inventor (November 2020), Larry Kilham tells the true story of the flight engineer on the first transatlantic flight in 1919 who went on to develop 130 patents for home and military space heaters. Dismissing a high society Long Island life, Jim moved to New Mexico in 1929 to start fresh in the unencumbered West. There he built his oil burner business with sales in the millions of dollars. The twists and turns through his adventure-packed life reveal lessons for everyone including many insights for aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs.

Visit Larry’s Amazon author page.

BR Kingsolver published three novels in 2020 (read the interview for Knights Magica here). The two most recent releases are in the new Rift Chronicles series. In Magitek (book 1, August 2020), the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Danica James’ grandfather wanted to end war. Instead, he broke the world. Through the Rift came demons, vampires, and monsters. Danica is a cop with the Arcane Division. She’s also a magitek. Her job is to clean up her grandfather’s mess. She’s not making much progress.

In book two, War Song (December 2020), Danica James is still a cop with the Arcane Division who works to protect humanity from monsters — whether they be human or creatures from the Rift. It beats sitting in a factory cubical all day, which is where magiteks usually work. Most of humanity hates the magic users who rule the world, but for a hundred years, the Magi have kept the demons, vampires, and other monsters in check. But now one Magi Family has allied itself with the demons in a bid for world domination. It was ugly before, but now it’s getting worse.

Visit the author’s Amazon author page.

RJ Mirabal’s newest release is the young adult fantasy Dragon Train (December 2020). Jaiden, a 15-year-old farm boy, dreams of a more exciting life in a world where people have enslaved dragons as beasts of burden, guard animals, and soldiers. He has never been more than a few miles beyond his farm and the quiet village of Hilltop. Yet Jaiden desires escape from his grouchy and somewhat abusive father. And then the dragon train makes an unscheduled stop in Hilltop. Skye, the huge Blue Dragon pulling the train, may die of exhaustion unless someone can help. Thus, a boy and dragon embark on an epic adventure in the hopes of fulfilling their longing for freedom, excitement, and happiness.

Visit RJ’s website and his book page.

Fairy Trouble (September 2020), by Lynne Sturtevant, is a contemporary Celtic fairy tale. People used to know the truth about fairies and they were afraid of them. When visiting homemaker Ginger Stewart encounters a troop of fairies in the wild, green hills of West Virginia, she learns magic is real. She also learns our ancestors were right. There are reasons to be afraid. Ginger is astounded when a fairy attacks her while she’s calling on an elderly client, Violet. Violet has spent her life hiding the fairies and protecting them from the outside world. But something has changed. The fairies have become angry and aggressive and she has no idea how to pacify them. As the mayhem escalates, Ginger and Violet negotiate a maze of folklore, ancient symbols, and dark family secrets. Will they find a way to restore equilibrium to the fairies before it’s too late?

Visit Lynne’s Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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