“Create Your Own Dragons: Fantastical Creatures Shaped by the Natural World”
One of my favorite parts about writing fantasy is drawing inspiration from anywhere—including geography, ecology, and biodiversity. While creating the alternate modern world for The Great Texas Dragon Race, I aimed to introduce kids to diverse dragon species, each intricately shaped by their habitats in Texas and beyond.
In this article, I’ll outline how I used real-world creatures and climates to develop a few of the dragons in The Great Texas Dragon Race. From arid deserts to vast mountain ranges, each dragon possesses unique traits inspired by its specific habitat. I hope these mythical beings will fire young readers’ imaginations while also serving as a reminder of the boundless wonders of our own natural world. You can even try a similar exercise with students who are hesitant to “get excited” about ecosystems!
Species: Cyan Mountain Dragon
Habitat: The Rocky Mountains
Inspirations: Bald Eagle; Side-blotched Lizard
How I Created It:
The fierce Cyan Mountain Dragon was designed as a creature born to soar above the lofty peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I wanted this mighty dragon to easily navigate the rugged mountain terrain by allowing it to blend in with the sky. Stealing from the majestic traits of a bald eagle, I gifted this dragon with exceptional eyesight, allowing it to spot prey high above the peaks.
Species: Mexican Free-tailed Dragonette
Habitat: North, Central, and South America
Inspiration: Mexican Free-tailed Bat
How I Created It:
My Mexican Free-tailed Dragonette borrowed heavily (and I mean, really heavily) from its inspiration, the Mexican free-tailed bat, which lives all across the Lone Star State. (I even had these bats living outside my home in a bat house we installed. . . Yes. We put it there. On purpose.) Resembling a bat in size and appearance, I imagined these fuzzy brown dragonettes with scales peaking through their fur as a nod to their reptilian heritage. Equipped with a pig-like snout and expert echolocation, I wanted these tiny dragons to have unique features which would allow them to thrive in my alternate world just like bats.
Species: Texas Coral Viper
Habitat: Southern United States (and, umm, Texas)
Inspiration: Texas Coral Snake
How I Created It:
The Texas Coral Viper in The Great Texas Dragon Race is stolen from its real-life venomous prototype, the Texas Coral Snake. Its markings of red, black, and yellow (which are also the colors of the “bad guys” in the race… hmmm…) serve as a warning to potential threats. I added to the features of a typical Texas coral snake, both nocturnal and solitary, to make it more “dragon-like.” These additions included ivory fangs the size of golf-clubs and an underdeveloped set of wings. But just like the Texas coral snake, its fangs also release deadly venom.
Species: Purple Lightrage
Inspiration: My dog and cats… No, really!
How I Created It:
My dog and cats inspired this adorable dragon, by I added cobalt blue horns and tiny wings. Its slender frame and wriggly nature make it fun and endearing—a far cry from what most kids think of when they think of dragons. (Because, come on… who doesn’t want a cute little bacon-loving dragon to curl up at the end of their bed at night?)
A Final Note
My hope is that young readers and writers will realize they don’t have to create something out of thin air if they don’t want to. Sometimes, the basic subjects we learn in school can give us fantastic ideas for developing fantasy creatures. This is an exercise I will begin using in school visits this Fall. If you want to try this exercise with your students, ask them to start with a location and build their own dragon based on what it would need to thrive in that location. Maybe they’ll pick a snowy peak, a massive forest, or a backyard. Either way, the world is their oyster dragon.
Published August 1st, 2023 by Clarion Books
About the Book: Thirteen-year-old Cassidy Drake wants nothing more than to race with her best dragon, Ranga, in the annual Great Texas Dragon Race. Her mother was a racing legacy, and growing up on her family’s dragon sanctuary ranch, Cassidy lives and breathes dragons. She knows she could win against the exploitative FireCorp team that cares more about corporate greed than caring for the dragons.
Cassidy is so determined to race that she sneaks out of her house against her father’s wishes and enters the competition. Soon, Cassidy takes to the skies with Ranga across her glorious Lone Star State. But with five grueling tasks ahead of her, dangerous dragon challenges waiting at each one, and more enemies than allies on the course, Cassidy will need to know more than just dragons to survive.
About the Author: Kacy Ritter is a fantasy geek who has lived all across the Lone Star State. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas, and currently resides in Houston with her partner and their daughter. She daylights as a healthcare professional, and loves writing at the intersection of fantasy and Texas Americana.
Thank you, Kacy, for this fun look into your inspiration!