If you ask Brandon Mull, the New York Times best-selling author of the “Fablehaven” series and more, his job boils down to one thing: daydreaming.
“I’m basically a professional daydreamer,” Mull said in a recent interview. “That’s where a lot of innovation comes from, the thinking and imagining what’s possible and what could be. That’s where we get new things and it’s very useful for making up stories.”
Mull released the last "Fablehaven" book, "Keys to the Demon Prison," in 2010 and for years afterward, the author's daydreaming took him in different directions, writing the “The Beyonders” and “The Five Kingdoms” series among other books. While Mull loved working on these other well-received series, his daydreaming — and fan requests — eventually brought him back to the "Fablehaven" world.
“'Fablehaven' was my favorite cast of characters I’ve created and a wild life preserve of magical creatures is an environment that has so much potential,” Mull said. “Some of my favorite parts of the story were held in the dragon sanctuary and we were only there for one book so as I thought about that, I thought I had more stories to tell. I missed those 'Fablehaven' characters and thought it would be fun to do more with them.”
The result of Mull's missing is the “Dragonwatch” series, set in the 'Fablehaven' world and following the same characters. "Dragonwatch: A Fablehaven Adventure" came out in 2017 and was an immediate best-seller, reuniting readers with "Fablehaven's" main characters, siblings Kendra and Seth, who had to work together to gain the dragon training skills necessary to stop a total dragon takeover.
In Mull’s latest book in the series, “Dragonwatch: The Wrath of the Dragon King,” (Shadow Mountain, 416 pages) Celebrant, the king of dragons, is angry his original plan from the previous installment failed and has a new plan to use the Wizenstone to take over his native preserve of Wyrmroost. Unfortunately for him, the stone is protected by a cursed castle and Kendra and Seth are there to keep him from getting access to it.
“I think part of what makes 'Fablehaven' fun is we explore and bring to life all sorts of different creatures and elements from myths and legends," Mull said. "Whether that’s magical swords or creatures, one of the places I haven’t gone is the trope of the cursed castle. I’ve always found it alluring, Wyrmroost is a big place, and a cursed castle was a cool thing that had a lot of possibilities.”
Part of those possibilities for Mull is stretching his characters in ways they haven’t been before and telling their stories in ways he wouldn’t have been able to if he hadn’t returned to his beloved world. Whether his characters are human or creature, Mull believes that the way their best story is told is to make it difficult for them to get what they want.
“I try to put my characters into tough situations and I let them make interesting choices and see what unfolds," Mull said. "I have bad guys in mind and good guys in mind and as they work against each other, I let them guide what happens. I let bad guys have smart strategies and the good guys, too, and that leads to twists and turns.”
Mull may make his work sound easy — just daydream and then let your characters do the rest — but in reality, the author works hard to tell great stories. Book ideas take years of imagining, then up to six months of first-drafting and on to multiple rounds of revisions after that. But as details emerge and come together, Mull hopes that the reader can finish the second book of "Dragonwatch" and remember something Mull set up back in the first book of "Fablehaven." He said for him, that’s the most gratifying part.
“I try very hard to set up things like clues throughout so the reader can see there’s a grand design to the story," he said. "As a reader myself, it’s very satisfying to see, so I try to give that to my readers.”
Plot clues are just one of the literary devices Mull has down; over the years, he's also gotten very good at the cliffhanger. Mull said he doesn’t like to leave people hanging too badly, but he does believe in giving his readers something to look forward to. And with "Wrath of the Dragon King," this is the most dramatic cliffhanger Mull has attempted.
“I’m a big believer in finishing the story you told but in doing so, you leave the reader with some new trouble that definitely hints at what they’ll deal with in the next book,” Mull teased.
Now that this second "Dragonwatch" book is done, he's looking forward to his favorite part of writing: hearing his reader's reactions to his different story elements. Mull has multiple events coming up, including three in Utah, and meeting readers is what makes the long hours writing worth it.
“It’s a really solitary job, writing a book," Mull said. " … The writer doesn’t get to see the audience reaction. It’s not like a performance on a stage, so the closest I get is interacting with readers on tour and seeing what they like and what they connected with.”
With five books planned in the “Dragonwatch” series, Mull’s strategy is to keep daydreaming, keep planning, keep taking his readers on twists and turns and leaving them clues to follow into the next story.
“There’s more story to be told here. I’ll keep the reader wondering until I’m done.”