The late Dorothea Brande in her 1934 book “On Becoming a Writer,” crystallized a thought I had sensed intuitively during my early years of striving to become a published writer. She explained that in order for a story to be successful, in order for it to have life, both the conscious mind and the unconscious mind have to work together in both counterpoint and in harmony. The impetus for the story had to arise from somewhere deep inside. Somewhere visceral.
Love of a child is perhaps the most visceral emotion I’ve ever experienced. And that’s where the “First Dragon” series comes from.
My son was living in a Third World country which I’d rather not name. In an unannounced police raid, he managed to escape from a friend’s twenty-fourth floor apartment by climbing off the balcony and dropping to the patio below. A fugitive now, the police tagged him with guilt by association. He lived on the fringes of society for some years; afraid to venture to the international airport because he was convinced that he’d be arrested as he tried to flee. I was beside myself with worry. I hired a local lawyer to help. His advice was to lay low, out of the clutches of the police, until formal charges were brought. This can take months and even years—with plenty of opportunities to exchange cash for special treatment along the way.
During this time of anxiety, I decided to write about my son. He has both a legal American name and an unofficial Korean name, since his mother is Korean. From birth, we called him “Il Yong” which means First Dragon, primarily because he was born in the Year of the Dragon and he was our first child. Using that name, and some of the basic outlines of his biography, I moved my son—fictionally—to the Chinese capital of Beijing and turned him into a Private Investigator working for foreigners living in China. The result was six short stories, all of which were published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
When I submitted the first story, the very perceptive editor, Linda Landrigan, asked me immediately, “Is this the beginning of a series?” Although so far I’d only completed one story, I immediately told her it was. I sensed that as long as my son lived in constant danger, I would need the solace of imagining him in another city, in another country, and doing a dangerous, yet rewarding, job. The stories that appeared in AHMM were as follows:
1. “First Dragon,” April 2015
2. “The King of K-pop,” June 2016
3. “Hominid,” March/April 2017
4. “The Smuggler of Samarkand,” September/October 2017
5. “Bite of the Dragon,” November/December 2018
6. “Dragon Well,” September/October 2022
“Dragon Well” was written long before the current publication date but I held on to it because I knew it would be the last. My son, living for so long on the fringes of society, had finally found a way to get safely through the airport. He e-mailed me while he was waiting to depart and then again when he landed in Narita Airport in Japan, where he was transferring to a trans-Pacific flight. At last, he emerged from the International Arrivals Gate at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
A death knell, however, for the First Dragon series.
I’ve learned to believe what Dorothea Brande wrote so long ago. Writers must trust both their conscious mind, the one that is “opinionated and arrogant” and their unconscious mind, which is “shy and elusive.” And my unconscious mind has told me that the First Dragon is home and safe and no longer needs to wander—neither in reality, nor in fiction.