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SunLit Interviews

Christmas Eve with grumpy grandchildren inspired Natli VanDerWerken to write her book

With family tempers rising, the author sat in her living room and restored calm with a magical tale that became "WindRunner," one in a series of novels

Natli VanDerWerken

Natli VanDerWerken loves Dragons. She has 30 that she collected while serving in the Navy as a meteorologist and anti-submarine warfare specialist. She is the multiple award-winning author of the fantasy series – The Dragon’s Children.  The series grew out of a fairytale Natli told her grandchildren one Christmas Eve. The main character in each novel is based on one of those grandchildren. Natli lives in Aurora, Colorado and is a native of the state. She has a Masters in Computer Information Systems, develops websites, and likes to show Shetland Sheepdogs and quilt in her mostly non-existent spare time. 

The following is an interview with the author.

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Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


What inspired you to write this book?

“WindRunner” is the second book in the fantasy series The Dragon’s Children. The 

series was inspired by a story I told my five grandchildren one Christmas Eve when they were pretty young, I think the oldest was 9 at the time. We’d finished dinner and opening their presents and they were getting ready to go home. 

Tired and over-excited, they were whining and grumping as they put on their coats and boots by the front door. I could hear the tension rising in their parents’ voices. I sat down in a chair in the living room. “I’ve got a story for you,” I said in a very quiet voice. 

“Far away and long ago, there was a castle where three families with five children lived all together. The king had commanded the parents to come and help him at the palace. The parents had never been away from the children and had no one to watch them, so they decided to ask the dragon who lived in the basement.” 

The story just poured out. Pretty soon the grandkids were sitting in a semicircle at my feet, listening with rapt attention. I looked up at one point and the three sets of parents were sitting around the room in their coats, listening to the story.

That’s the beginning of the series. The main character in each of the books is based on one of the grandchildren.

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?

Owen Arach is the second son. He wants to be as brave and smart as his older brother but doesn’t know how. 

In Book 1, Red Dragon’s Keep, he fought well in the first battle against the demons as they attacked his home. His parents have been kidnapped and no one knows if they are still alive. His brother has prepared the Keep as best he can and is now the Duke for all intents and purposes. 

Owen keeps lashing out at everyone because he really doesn’t know where his place is any more. His brother sends him on a quest to find his parents and the second amulet, one of five that must be reunited to call the dragons to fight beside men once again. A magical WindRunner arrives to choose him as a rider. This is where his story really begins.

Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?

I went to Ireland in 2010. My ancestors are from Ireland and I felt as if I’d gone home. The lands in the series feel like that to me. Castles and ruins and villages dot the landscape. 

I’ve had to do research on castles and building castles and medieval society. The characters use swords, so I spent eight hours watching YouTube videos on learning to sword fight so I could describe it accurately. I served in the Navy as a meteorologist and anti-submarine warfare specialist, so I’ve used that background to plot battles, tactics, and strategy for the characters.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?

Beginning. That was the biggest challenge. My body would tighten; my throat would try to close, and I’d get a feeling of panic every time I’d think about writing the book. 

It was just too big and I had too much else to do. Then I hired a landscaper to mow and trim my lawn and garden. My sister gave me my niece’s laptop from high school. I woke up one morning with the first line of the first book right there. “Stop that, Thomas!” 

I went downstairs, opened the laptop, and started writing. 

I knew the main characters, but others appeared and took over. For instance, the heir, Thomas, was walking down the hall to the seneschal’s office, talking with his Sword of Light about his brother Owen. 

Thomas turned into the office and halted in amazement. A black dragon sat in the garden next to the Lady’s Tower, his tail curled neatly over his feet, peering into the room. I didn’t know that the dragon was going to be there. Things I needed, or needed to know, appeared or happened just as I needed them. It has been an amazing journey.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet? 

I write at my kitchen table. There are sliding glass doors opening to the west onto the patio. I look out over the terraced yard and to the mountains beyond. The view gives me inspiration. 

I’ve got a new laptop now and I leave it open so I can write even when I’m involved in something else and an idea blossoms. I write every day, even if it’s just one sentence, one word. It doesn’t matter what time of day. 

Once I start, it’s difficult to stop. There’s a glass of iced tea sitting on the table all the time. Did you know that Skittles® are addictive? And that raspberry chocolate in any form helps your brain? I keep telling myself that.

I’ve got the radio on low as I write or sometimes everything is quiet. I listen to YouTube Celtic music playing when I write battle scenes. I guess I can write in the quiet and with noise.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on “DreamWalker,” the third book in the series. It’s about Breanna Arach who is always right (she’s sure of that). She has to learn to stop telling everyone what to do and how to do it. Interesting people and creatures have shown up. I’d like to have it available by Thanksgiving.

Buy “WindRunner” through BookBar.
Read an excerpt from the book.

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