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Telling stories with passion

Author Mindy Mejia will have her first novel, The Dragon Keeper, come out in September.

Mindy Mejia grew up with a love of writing. When she was a student at Rosemount High School, she submitted a few stories to Shadows, the school's literary and arts magazine. But when it came time to make a living, she chose a career in finance.

Being an aspiring writer, she reasoned, was a hard way to pay the bills.

Mejia never lost her passion for telling stories, though. She earned a master of fine arts in writing from Hamline University, and she published some short stories over the years. Now, she's getting ready to release her first novel, a sort of love story between a zookeeper and the komodo dragon in her care.

The book, called The Dragon Keeper, will be released in September by Ashland Creek Press.

The inspiration for the story came in 2006, when Mejia was on a work trip to London. She came across the story of a komodo dragon in a local zoo that had a virgin birth, one of two documented in the species.

"It just kind of hooked me," Mejia said. "I felt there was a larger story that should be told."

In Mejia's version of the story the birth draws the media, religious activists and the scientific community, all of which want to be part of the occasion for their own reasons.

Getting from idea to novel required a lot of work. Mejia jumped into her research. She read up on zoos and talked to curators. She researched komodo dragons and their history with humans. The book starts with a brief recap of that history, the earliest zookeepers traveling to Komodo Island to bring back the largest and most impressive of the giant lizards and the animals subsequently escaping from the ships that were taking them to captivity.

Jata, the komodo dragon in Mejia's story, is based in large part on stories about a komodo dragon that lived in a German zoo during World War II. The animal was remarkably docile and would let her zookeeper take her for walks, using her tail for a leash. That's unusual for an animal used to being at the top of its food chain.

The process opened up a new world.

"I've never been a zookeeper," Mejia said. "The closest I've come is taking care of cats."

The actual writing went smoothly, said Mejia, who called the novel the most natural form for her writing.

"Even though I had never been a zookeeper, that imagined world came very easily to life for me," she said.

Mejia looked for an agent without much luck. Her novel doesn't fit any easily-defined categories, she said. Then she found Ashland Creek, a publisher known for putting out works in the eco-lit genre. Mejia hadn't really thought about her book that way, but author and publisher clicked and Mejia was on her way to becoming a published author.

Now that she can hold a finished copy of her book in her hand, Mejia is thrilled with the result.

"It's a dream come true," she said. "It's something I've dreamt about my whole life, holding my own book in my hands and knowing it can be out there in the world.

"The only comparison is holding your child for the first time."

Mejia is currently working on her second novel.