Kid Reporter talks with Dug Steer, the author of the books Dragonology, Egyptology, and the upcoming Monsterology and Spyology

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

There is an -ology world that immerses you back in time to new discoveries and fascinating journeys. Your mind is filled with curiosity as you find your way to the path to learning and exploring dragons, pirates, wizards, Ancient Egypt, mythology, and most recently monsters and spies. I had the extraordinary chance to interview the author of these amazing books. Here is my interview with Dug Steer.

Scholastic News Online:  What inspired you to write your first book?
Dug Steer: Well I always have been interested in dragons, but actually it wasn't my idea to write a book on dragons. The publishers wanted to do an interactive book with pull-outs and things, and traditionally, these have been done for younger children. And they thought it would be a little fun to do it for older children and make it look like an old book. So I was given the task of thinking about how it might be and I talked to the designer and we decided to make it a Victorian book, by a Victorian guy Dr. Ernest Drake.

SNO: Is the character Dr. Ernest Drake from the seeds of your imagination or is he a composite of people you have known in your life?
Dug: I suppose that it's both of those things. I think when you try and imagine and invent characters, inevitably you're going to choose things from your own experience.  But Dr. Drake started off as a letter I was writing, trying to get in my mind how Dragonology could be and the sort of character who might be a dragon. That was the first thing that was written and that's the letter right at the beginning of Dragonology.

SNO: What people did you put into Dr. Drake?
Dug: Well, there are scientists who are passionate about what they did, like Dr. Livingston trying to discover the source of the Nile. There were people like Charles Darwin who set out around the world trip a found amazing conclusion about the course of life on earth.  So it was people like that I was thinking about.    

SNO: In what ways are you similar to Dr. Drake? How are you different?
Dug: I'm similar to Dr. Drake because he thinks that if dragons were real, he would conserve and protect them and not kill them. Dr. Drake loves learning of all kinds. He needs to know as much as he can and respect all the sciences. To be a good writer of –ologies, I need to be the same.

SNO: You write that as a boy, Dr. Drake was fascinated by paleontology. How would you describe yourself, your interest when you were growing up?
Dug: At the age of 11, I was trying to read adult books on paleontology and black holes. My favorite reading was The Hobbit by [J. R. R.] Tolkien; Treasure Island, which I think is perhaps one of the best children books ever written, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; we did have some good stuff.     

SNO: I'm 12 years old. When you were 12, what were some of your favorite books to read?
Dug: I was just about reading Lord of the Rings when I was 12.

SNO: What made Lord of the Rings so special?
Dug: Its epic qualities, the fact that Tolkien studied all this history, he really knew his stuff without trying. Some of the real magic of the old sagas comes out in what he writes because he was such an expert. He was very, very good at writing adventure stories, he came up with a high topic, the ring, and he did it very well.

SNO: Your attention to detail and information is so complete. How do you go about doing the research for your books?
Dug: I read a lot about the topics, most of the topics were things I was really interested in when I was a kid. So when I start, I have an idea of what I want the book to be about and I start on a comprehensive reading course. I usually try to read adult books on the subject that I am about to write about, and that helps decide on the best approach to take.

SNO: What do you think makes dragons and monsters so appealing to kids?
Dug: Dragons are fascinating creatures and they're enormous. They breath fire, they hold treasures and there is a part of them that is different from everyday life, so there is something of the magic you get when you go traveling to places like Ancient Egypt in Monsters and Dragons and stories like that.

SNO: Do you believe in mythical creatures and dragons?
Dug: What I always say is this: There are three kinds of mythical creatures. There is the super massive squid called the Kraken—we didn't believe in that but now as a result of tentacles being washed up on shore and studied by scientists, they are sure the giant squid really exists. So that's something that we thought was mythical, but it's real. Three-headed chimera, with the head of a goat, snake, and lion. I'm afraid I'd have trouble believing in them. Or even thinking that they're even vaguely likely. Big foot and the yeti on the other hand—but I must say I really don't know. I wouldn't vote that I didn't believe in them.

kid reporter with author dug steer looking at the book spyology
Author Dug Steer explains some of the hidden pieces of his book Spyology to Kid Reporter Sam Group. (Photo: Dante A. Ciampaglia)

SNO: Dr. Drake writes, "Work only with those who share your passion," and, "Learn what you can from all of the other sciences." Do you embrace these ideas personally?
Dug: Yes, I definitely do . . . .That's why I put it in Dragonology. To cherish all sciences because I think knowledge is a good thing. It's mainly a good thing from my perspective because I enjoy reading and learning things and that's part of the pleasure of life.

SNO: Is it your hope that in writing the -ology books, children will be drawn to become experts in something they love?
Dug: Yeah, the books aren't message books particularly, but I think that it's important that everyone spends time doing something that they really love so finding that I think is important for everyone.

SNO: From your Dragonology newsletter, I've read that your motto is Carpe Diem [Seize the Day]. Can you say more about that and your philosophy of life?
Dug: Carpe Diem means the only time in which you can act is the present. The only time you can really live, really taste, feel, or see things is now. Everything else is thinking about the future or remembering the past.

SNO: Do you think history is really important?
Dug: Yeah, history is really important because it's part of knowing where you come from. If you don't know your past it's difficult to know your present. It's a bit of a philosophical answer.

SNO: What has been the hardest part writing the -ology book series?
Dug: The fact that since they've become quite successful, there's quite a lot of work to do. I'm doing a series of Dragonology novels [Dragonology Chronicles] and each one ends up having a book so there is quite a lot of work involved. The volume of work sometimes [is hard].

SNO: When you're not writing, what do you do in your free time?
Dug: One of my hobbies is mountain biking. I live near some hills so my wife, Anna, and I go out biking if the weather is good.

SNO: What job would you have done if you couldn't be a writer?
Dug: I used to be a children's book editor working, with other people writing, and that's a pretty good job too.

SNO: What if there was no writing and you could not be involved in the world of publishing?
Dug: I used to be an English teacher when I lived in Spain and I enjoyed that. Paleontologist, naturalist, historian . . .

SNO: What helps you to stay so creative?
Dug: The fact that what I do is a great deal of fun and that's basically it. I love it.


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