Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you for joining us for another interview in our ongoing series! For this interview, we were able to speak with Patrick Matthews, author of the MCA Award-winning book, Bradley’s Dragons! Bradley’s Dragons follows a young boy named Bradley Nash who suffers from anxiety, particularly around strangers after a mysterious attack when he was nine years old. As his twelfth birthday approaches, he discovers that dragons, magic, and hunters are all real and that he and his family are in more danger than he could possibly have imagined. This book is a whirlwind adventure from start to finish, full of magic, mystery, and mayhem! Keep reading to find out more about Bradley’s Dragons and the creative mind behind it, Patrick Matthews!
MCA: Hi Patrick, congratulations on your well-deserved Mom’s Choice Award! Bradley’s Dragons is truly one of those books that once you start, it’s hard to put down. Bradley’s Dragons has it all, great characters, good plot lines, depth, and a storyline that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish! Can I start the interview off by finding out a little bit about yourself?
Patrick: We all carry so many titles these days. For me, that list includes dad, writer, game designer, software developer, and youth soccer coach. Perhaps more interestingly, back in the early 2000’s, I started a company called Live Oak Games. Live Oak produced board and card games and sold them in distribution all over the world. That was a lot of fun. I still design games, but these days I license them to other companies, instead of producing them myself.
The past few years, my focus has been on writing. My first book, Dragon Run, was published by Scholastic back in 2013. More recently, I started Second Story Up as a publishing division of Live Oak Games. The Boy with The Sword was its first book published, and Bradley’s Dragons is the latest. The next one will be the sequel to Bradley’s Dragons. My hope is that Second Story Up will grow big enough to become a new kind of publisher, one that delivers more than just my own work. It’s still early days, though. We’ll see what happens!
Aside from that, I love adventuring. Whenever we can, the family and I hop in the car (or jump on the bikes) and go have an adventure. Sometimes, that means exploring a town or festival. Other times, we discover a new bike trail, wander a state park, or go kayaking. There’s nothing like the feeling of not knowing what’s around the next bend, of sharing new experiences with the people you love.
MCA: There truly is nothing like that feeling! How did you transition from a career as a software developer to becoming a writer?
Patrick: I didn’t really transition. I write books, but my primary income comes from my job as a product manager for Echelon. I enjoy both professions. They work different parts of my brain. Since this is about writing, though, I’ll explain a bit more about why I write. My love of writing started as a love of reading books.
Books aren’t like video games or movies, where you see and hear exactly what you’re supposed to. With a book, the words on the page are only half of the story. The other half, the emotions and energy and sensations, all come from the reader. For example, you can’t read the first Harry Potter novel without feeling what it’s like to have the sorting hat settle over your head. The nervousness, the feeling of the hat on your head, the relief when Harry is sorted… all of that comes from you. The words on the page just open you up to the experience.
The story is a collaboration between the reader and the writer. It doesn’t matter. As the reader, you’re having a conversation with the writer. The writer could be someone you never met, or live on the other side of the world, or even be long dead. It’s pure magic.
Once I realized that, I just had to be a part of it. I’ve been writing ever since, sometimes as a reporter, sometimes as a newspaper columnist, but always working on my own fiction.
MCA: As Stephen King once said, books are a uniquely portable magic! What was your inspiration for writing Bradley’s Dragons?
Patrick: Years ago, my kids and I were at a small pond, and one of them asked what kind of frogs the tadpoles would turn into. I had no idea. I wasn’t even entirely sure which were fish and which were tadpoles.
The parallel between tadpoles and my kids struck me. I had no idea what kind of people they would turn into. Size, shape, attitudes, outlook on life… I had no way of knowing.
That planted the seed for Bradley’s Dragons. We all grow and change. We all turn into different types of people. What if the differences were bigger than that? What if we could also turn into dragons?
If you could be a dragon, what kind of a dragon would you be?
MCA: What are some of the key lessons found in Bradley’s Dragons?
Patrick: While I appreciate the importance of lessons, I prefer to give readers (and their parents) the space and time to consider ideas and situations. You won’t find a lesson in Bradley’s Dragons (or any of my books). Instead, you’ll find things to think and talk about.
So many things in life happen that we’re not prepared for. Over and over again, we find ourselves facing situations or concepts that we haven’t thought about.
Books give us the opportunity to think about things ahead of time. Imagine if the first time you faced a bully, you’d already considered how you would act. The encounter would still be stressful, but instead of panicking, you’d be able to weigh the different options and take the action that most suited you. You’d be able to stay in control of yourself.
Bradley’s Dragons explores a lot of ground: bullying, anxiety attacks, loneliness, courage, empathy, and disagreements with parents. Most of all, though, it looks at the challenge of self-determination. How do we decide who we are?
MCA: Why was it important for you to write a book that addresses the common issues and questions that preteens face well into their teenage years?
Patrick: The challenge of identity is one that we face all our lives. Who do you want to be? What’s important to you? How do you find your way to being the person you want to be?
For preteens and teens, identity is much more confusing. They’re going to schools filled with people who also don’t know who they are. How do they decide what’s important? Is it what makes them feel good? Is it what makes them popular, or what gives them someone to sit with during lunch? They’re under pressures (social, academic, physical, and emotional) that can seem insurmountable.
Bradley’s Dragons speaks to that condition. It’s about a child with a single friend. He suffers from anxiety attacks. His family doesn’t have as much money as most of the rest of the people at his school. With all that hanging over his head, he’s doing the best he can.
And then he discovers that he can turn into a dragon. All he has to do is decide who he is. It’s exactly the question that we’re all facing, and it’s exactly the question you want to discuss with your kids.
Patrick: The response to Bradley’s Dragons has been gratifying. As a writer, I love reading the positive reviews and seeing the awards. I mean, Kirkus called it “an intriguingly exciting hero’s journey that’s also beautifully thoughtful and humane.” You know that felt good.
My favorite response, though, came from a parent. She wrote, “my son just asked me what sort of a dragon I thought he’d be. Thank you!”
It doesn’t get any better than that.
MCA: As an author, that kind of response is so rewarding and all you can really ask for! If you could ensure readers of your book walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?
Patrick: Writing Bradley’s Dragons features the most emotionally complex character I’ve ever written. I didn’t start out with that intention, but once I started looking into anxiety attacks, I realized that I had to go deep. For example, it is not uncommon for people to be afraid of their anxiety attacks. Imagine being afraid of being afraid. How do you escape that cycle? How do you find happiness with that hanging over your head?
I mentioned earlier that I’m not someone who likes to give out lessons, but I hope that readers of Bradley’s Dragons will find themselves considering questions of compassion and identity, that they will be able to use some of Bradley’s struggles to help them with their own.
Thanks for doing this interview! It’s been a ton of fun!
MCA: No, thank you for doing this interview with us! It was so much fun getting to know more about you and how a book as unique as Bradley’s Dragons came to be. Please keep us posted on what’s next for you in your writing career!
You can learn more about Patrick Matthews and her award-winning book, Bradley’s Dragons by visiting her MCA Shop pages.