The Dragon Stone Conspiracy A Strowlers Novel by Amanda Cherry Genre: Historical Fantasy
When the Fäe go to war with a Nazi cult, one woman will protect humanity's future.
As World War II rages, accidental immortal Pepper Elizabeth Jones is on the run from government agents on both sides of the Atlantic. Hidden in neutral Ireland, she is summoned to meet with a mysterious general, The Righ, who tasks her to save magic itself from the Nazis. Now, she must race against the clock to stop an evil ritual and prevent the Nazis from gaining a world-shattering supernatural power.
Pepper Jones and the Dragon's Stone is part of the Strowlers Shared Cinematic Universe, a collaborative global story that anyone can join.
Amanda Cherry is a native of Pensacola, FL and an alumnus of UNLV who hasn't been thoroughly warm since moving to the Seattle area in 2003. Amanda's first love was performing, and she has had a successful career as a theatre, television, and film actress.
Amanda's first book was penned in her family's den and published by her father in time for Christmas in 1985, she was six years old. After the limited success of that first outing, Amanda turned to writing stories for fun. She spent the next twenty-odd years doing just that.
A lifelong nerd, Amanda joined the staff at her favorite Star Wars site, Tosche Station, as a contributing writer in 2016 and discovered that letting other people read what she'd written was actually pretty fun. Thanks to the encouragement of a friend, she was invited to submit to Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder in 2016 while living overseas in Berlin, Germany. When she learned that her story was bought, she cried.
Capitalizing on the success of that publication, Amanda's pitch for a follow-up novel was accepted. The rest is, as they say, history.
Amanda once again lives in the Seattle area with her husband of ten years and four year-old son. In her free time, she enjoys driving her little blue convertible and officiating flat track roller derby.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Once upon a time, author Dawn Vogel bought a pair of leggings. They were cool leggings—silver pleather with a black stripe down the side. They were such cool leggings that she wanted to use them for cosplay. But of what?
Several of us on her Facebook reminded her of the fact she’s an author of superhero stories and that it was perfectly reasonable for her to create a character who wears these specific leggings. Sort of legging-ception, if you will.
The character born out of this was The Gray Dawn, a sonically-powered super with a backstory as a teen pop idol. As Dawn was workshopping the idea for the first ever Gray Dawn story, I did what any redhead would do: I asked her to make me a villain. “Maybe an evil record executive!” I said. And she said ok.
She let me help her conceptualize the character and I even got to come up with her name. It was cool. And I said at one point that I wanted to write stories about this character.
I meant fanfic, y’all. Like all the fanfic I had written all through my life. Like the fanfic I was writing every single day at that juncture. Like pretty much every story I had ever put into writing (those picture books I wrote when I was six years old notwithstanding). I was a writer who wrote for fun—certainly not anyone who would ever do writing stuff for real.
But apparently I hadn’t made that clear.
Because, when Nate Crowder, the creator of the Cobalt City Universe (the universe in which The Gray Dawn resides) put out the word he was considering a holiday anthology, and that submissions would be by invitation only, Dawn added my name to the conversation.
And when the invitation came, I decided I might as well shoot my shot. I’d been living overseas, in Berlin, Germany, for about a year at that point. And although I had a visa that would have allowed me to work (I was a full-time actor at the time) my German wasn’t good enough to work where we lived and concerns over Brexit meant those of us with EU work visas weren’t being considered for UK film & TV work. I’d been spending most of my time writing (FANFIC, y’all.) and I had literally nothing to lose by trying.
So I wrote a story and sent it in.
The acceptance email was a great and unexpected joy. People liked the story, and I got paid for writing, and that was amazing.
Then, one day, I was chatting with the folks from DefCon One, the publisher that handles the majority of Cobalt City stories these days about how my character had lost her magic in the short story I’d written and how much I’d like to do a whole book about her getting it back.
And their response was something like, “You should. We’d publish that.”
So I did. And they did. And now I’m an author.
All thanks to a really freaking awesome pair of leggings.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I don’t like cookies. I keep trying different kids of cookies to see if there is a variety that I truly enjoy, but at this point in my life I think it’s fair to say that I just honestly don’t like cookies.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I went to University in Las Vegas and spent a lot of time taking skating lessons at the local ice rink. It just so happened that the rink where I took lessons was also the rink where Olympic veteran Surya Bonaly skated. Once, when a news crew was in the rink (doing a story on her), I was about ten feet away from one of her amazing backflips!
What are some of your pet peeves?
My very biggest pet peeve has got to be judgy people/people who presume the worst of others. We’re all going through Some Stuff in life and there’s just no room in my brain to do anything but give people grace for their choices. Maybe that guy *is* a bad driver, or maybe he’s suddenly feeling poorly and racing to get home. Maybe that person is a jerk for cutting in line, or maybe they misunderstood the queueing system. Life is too short to immediately believe the worst of people.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I’m from Pensacola, Florida and lived there until I was 22. Then I moved to Las Vegas to attend UNLV before finding myself in Seattle.
What are you passionate about these days?
Did I mention I bought a sailboat? Since adding a vessel to the family, I’ve gotten very into sailing as a hobby/developing skillset. But on top of that I’m getting really into maritime history and environmental stewardship. Sailing is an activity that goes back literally thousands of years, and it’s really interesting to me to be finding and understanding where I fit into an age-old tradition and how to carry that tradition forward in the way that best serves the future.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I am an absolute fiend for documentary film and television. If I need to relax, I will turn on something new and interesting or one of my few old favorites and give my brain some facts to chew on that have little or nothing to do with my actual real life.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Ha! Um… Good question. I want to say I have no idea, but when I interrogate that I have to be honest and say that it’s the result of privilege. When my son was little, we had a nanny two days per week who came and took care of him from morning until naptime, giving me all day (sometimes until as late as 5 in the evening) to myself. And he’s always been a very independent kiddo, so even on the days I didn’t have help I was able to work a little while he played quietly. Then, once he was school age, I had Monday through Friday 9-3 to work without interruption. And now that we’re in a pan-dangit I am fortunate to have a partner who is willing and able to do his half of the parenting. It’s rough having everyone home all the time, but our house is big enough that we all have our separate work spaces (online school included) and we have a great yard for playing in. I have every advantage, and I want to cop to that because I hate the thought that another writer mom is out there looking at me and the fact I managed to write, sell, and promote my debut with a preschooler and then do it again with a first-then-second-grader in the midst of the world going to pot and think there’s something wrong with them that they can’t also do that. I had a lot of help: from my child’s natural disposition, to my spouse’s ability to work flexible hours, to the financial freedom to hire help when necessary. I haven’t so much *found* the time as been gifted it by immense privilege.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Spunky, Generous, Thoughtful, Punctual, Creative
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Well, hello there, impostor syndrome, so nice of you to join us this fine afternoon! Seriously: this is a hard one. I think I considered myself a “writer” as in personality type as early as middle school. Writing was my hobby even then, and I think if someone in the theatre (which was my original career trajectory, and a business I worked in for many years) what else I did, I’d have answered, “I’m a writer,” or, “I write stories.”
But the idea of Writer as in professional is still something I struggle with every day. I’ve not had two books published, worked for a role play game, had a screenplay win an award, and had work published on one of the most popular SFF websites in the world and yet: finding myself in a room full of Writers and being able to say “yes, I, too am oe of you,” is a constant struggle.
Do you have a favorite movie?
“Shining Through” starring Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith. There are a few others (including the film version of my favorite book) I adore, but I think that one is my absolute favorite.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I want to answer this with that GIF from “The Emperor’s New Groove” that says, “BOTH. Both is good,”! I tend to write rather cinematic stories and my experience as an actor has led to an ability to write strong dialogue. But the other side of the coin is that we tend to tell stories in books that would be hard to tell on film—mostly due to time and scope. You can’t fit 300 pages into 100 minutes without losing something.
Honestly, I’d love a Cobalt City movie—purpose-written for the medium, and not adapted from any of the existing books. I think the world would translate well to film.
But the best news? STROWLERS (the world behind THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY) already exists in movie form! If you want to see my protagonist on screen, head over to The Fantasy Network or Prime Video and check out STROWLERS, IRELAND. While you’re there, have a look at the Seattle episodes to spend some more time in this incredibly magical universe, and see if you spot anybody familiar!
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Does Harry Potter Land count?
Seriously, though, everywhere is a literary pilgrimage. I write genre fiction, so nearly everything in nearly every story has to be pulled from imagination. And the only way to feed and grow imagination is by seeing and experiencing as much as you can in as many places as you can. So although I have never been someplace purposely to learn more about a possible setting or authorly-inspiration, I travel as much as possible (not so much in the past 12 months) and I soak in whatever I can.
I can tell you that I did sort of the opposite of a literary pilgrimage for THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY by using my own neighborhood in a scene. I needed to put a nightclub near a subway stop in 1943 Berlin. A few clicks of old maps to be sure my local station pre-dated WWII (it did!) and I was all set for location.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A dragon, maybe? But, like, a really tiny dragon that breathes only enough fire to maybe light a scented candle and naps most of the day.
What inspired you to write this book?
I saw STROWLERS on screen in a film festival and knew immediately I wanted to tell a story in this universe. By the time I got home from the cinema, I had the initial kernel of story that grew into THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have no idea! I have plans and ambitions, and the sky’s really the limit. I have quite a few irons in the fire, including my first 100% original work (both of my first two books have been IP/tie-in), a couple of screenplays, and a game project. The one thing I can assure you all of is that I am not slowing down!
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
You’ll have to stay tuned for future STROWLERS content if you want to find out ?
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Dragon Stone Conspiracy?
The main thing you need to know about Pepper Elizabeth Jones is that she is all spunk and grit tucked into a very tidy, feminine, unassuming package. She’s a modern, independent-thinking, sometimes-too-fearless-for-her-own-good woman living in a world that doesn’t yet expect that to exist. She’s no-nonsense and isn’t easily rattled.
When we meet her in the book, she has recently (and quite by accident) come into possession of a magical item that she’s only just learning the consequences of owning. She’s in for quite the journey of discovery, but she’s definitely up for the adventure.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
This is the great joy of writing IP/tie-in fiction. I fell in love with Pepper in the STROWLERS: IRELAND film and knew I wanted to give her the opportunity to punch a Nazi. The supporting cast came from a hodgepodge of faerie tales, folklore, and factual history.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Pepper came with her name already attached. And Sebottendorf was a real person. The others were named based on their characteristics and cultural backgrounds. For the English, Irish, and American folks, I just picked names I thought sounded like them. And for the various fae, I looked up names/words from their native cultures and chose what to call them based on those meanings.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The people behind the franchise. Every time I had a question about Pepper or her backstory, I was able to email both the IP owner and the actress who plays her. How many authors have that kind of access? I felt like I had support from every angle, and it really gave me utmost confidence in what I was doing.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Pepper is the quintessence of the stereotype of an American circa the second world war. She is stubborn and self-assured, bold, clever, and quick-witted. She cannot abide injustice and refuses to stay quiet when there are things to speak out about. If there’s a wrong to be righted, she’ll be the first to volunteer. And although she barely understands the magic she’s been entrusted with, she knows enough to feel empowered by it.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
My first book, RITES & DESIRES, was written under another title—which I came up with based on the A-plot and B-plot of the novel. It went all the way through initial publicity with that title, but then my cover artist mentioned he didn’t like it. And before he hand-lettered the cover with those words, he wanted me to take a minute to be SURE I was going to be happy with that title forever. I went over it with my editor and my husband and the artist and literally anyone who would listen before we landed on the final title.
For this book, I couldn’t come up with anything. It turns out I’m really bad at titles! So I turned it into the editor as THE UNTITLED PEPPER JONES PROJECT. Fortunately, Zombie Orpheus Entertainment is full of brilliant and creative people who were able to send it back titled THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY.
Who designed your book covers?
For RITES & DESIRES I had a say in the cover art, which is actually really strange. Most of the time an author doesn’t know anything about the cover until it’s done. But one of the joys of working with a small press on my debut was that I was welcome to have my fingers in as much of the pie as I found interesting. And for cover art, I had very strong opinions—which led to our hiring the absolutely incredible Lee Moyer. The cover is perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing.
For THE DRAGON STONE CONSPIRACY the creatives at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment put together the cover starting with a photo of Lisa Coronado as Pepper Jones. It’s perfectly evocative of the tone of the book and I am very happy with it.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes. I would cancel COVID and everything to do with it and have the book turned in sooner, revised sooner, and released to an in-person book tour.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
A lot. Mostly about coping mechanisms and self-care, boundary-setting, communication, and knowing my limits. But also about old cars, secret RAF airfields, and the Irish countryside.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Lisa Coronado ?
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I’m so glad you picked up the book and I hope you enjoy it!
How did you come up with name of this book?
Someone else did that for me. I am terrible at titles!
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I think it would have to be the cabaret. Things keep getting curiouser and curiouser and that’s kind of the moment when Pepper is starting to puzzle out that she’s someplace impossible—which is how come she’s not deterred by the idea that she’s being asked to do something impossible. Like: impossible is already happening, so let’s go with it. Also, it’s got some of my favorite ambiance. If I could go anywhere in the book, it would be to the cabaret.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would yo
u do during that day?
I’d go to karaoke with Holde.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Von Sebottendorf was a real person, and McCaslin is based on me. But everyone else is altogether imaginary.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
My stories are all character-driven, so I do let them take the lead. With this book, there’s a lot of push-and-pull between Pepper and the forces who have contrived this errand for her, but one or another of them is always in the driver’s seat… even when I wish *I* was.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
This book punches Nazis! It’s a bold-while-creepy romp through faerie machinations as a young woman comes into her own as the custodian of powerful magic. And she gets to punch a Nazi. What more could you want out of a historical fantasy?
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Several! Many! Both those that came from NaNoWriMo and will never, ever, ever see the light of day and those that are in the draft stage currently but will someday be revised and put out on sub. Oh! And there’s the one I wrote that my agent very kindly told me to put away and forget about.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Oiled oak and apple whisky
What did you edit out of this book?
Hans Georg Hermann Otto Heilege. He was a whole subplot. He was probably 25,000 words when I axed his entire existence. I have this thing I like to do where I write rather terrible people but in such a way as to make you empathize with them and even like them a little, and then once you’re rooting for them, I remind you they’re terrible. You get uncomfortable, I’ve made a statement about the banality of evil, and we all go on with our day.
In this case, he was a dear boy with occultists for parents who happened to be serving in the Afrikakorps. I liked him. He was good. But I couldn’t leave a likeable Nazi in this book. And the more the world turned as I continued work on the draft, the more certain I became that he had to GO. So he went.
The result was an anemic draft and one HECK of a rewrite, but it was the right choice.
Is there an writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
You know… I don’t think so. I’m really fortunate to have a lot of author friends, all at different career stages and with different career trajectories. If I’m looking for specific advice, I have a wealth of answers in my circle of friends, and I can’t imagine there’s any one person who could compete with that.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-
type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
I once won a junior college speech competition with a piece on the historical event I use to get Himmler out of Pepper’s way in the book.
If you start at the U-bahn station mentioned in the book and reverse the directions Pepper is given, you will find yourself at an actual nightclub.
The song Holde sings is “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss Auf Liebe eingestellt” and the song being played on the piano in Vadoma’s inn is “The Boys in the Back Room” both made famous by Marlene Dietrich.
Gallagher’s Boxty House is a real place that is still in business and I highly recommend their food. Although I cannot promise you’ll find the entry to a faerie knowe, I can promise delicious dinner and a cozy atmosphere.
In the car chase, Cav & Horton are driving a Vauxhall 10-4 and Pepper is riding in a Mercedes Benz 170.
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