Erin M Evans interview: Forgotten Realms, The Sundering, D&D

Jules-Pierre chats to Erin M Evans, author of a whole string of Dungeons & Dragons books, about races, ongoing series, and twins...

Erin M. Evans is one of the latest authors to join the ranks of the novelists that have written stories set in the Forgotten Realms shared universe. The Forgotten Realms were originally created by Ed Greenwood as a world setting for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The extensive amount of lore developed by Greenwood and other Dungeons & Dragons gamers over the years eventually led to the release of the first Forgotten Realms novel, Darkwalker On Moonshae, in 1987. Since then, Wizards of the Coast has published an almost countless amount of novels and anthologies based on the Forgotten Realms.

Evans’ first Forgotten Realms novel, The God Catcher, published in 2010, was a hit with the fans. She soon followed that first novel with the first adventure of her trademark character, the tiefling warlock Farideh in Brimstone Angel in 2011, and its sequel Brimstone Angel: Lesser Evil, in 2012. She was one of the five authors selected to usher in The Sundering in the six-book series launched in 2013 with The Adversary, chronicling the further adventures of Farideh. Her latest book, Fire In The Blood, was released last year.

We took a moment to talk to her about her work on the Forgotten Realms novels.

Fire In The Blood is your fifth Forgotten Realms novel. The Forgotten Realms Series has been around for nearly thirty years. It’s one of the largest collaborative efforts between writers ever published. What’s it like to write stories set in the same world with so many other writers and what are the challenges associated with that process?

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It’s amazing, and it’s very frustrating, in turns. What is great is that you have this world that people have filled, but it’s not complete. The Forgotten Realms are so big and so flexible that there is room for you to create your own story within it. Having already established details is very inspiring. And you can imagine what else fits in there, and I love that. It really energizes my writing. It can be difficult. You have to check the lore. There might be details you haven’t considered. There are so many novels and so many source books. You may have to change a few things.

There is such a huge amount of lore after thirty years of development, but it’s not like there is a “bible” of the Forgotten Realms data to guide you. I imagine you almost have to be a Forgotten Realms scholar at times.

It’s a lot like writing historical fiction where you have to do a lot of research. The good thing is that you have people to help you. Wizards of the Coast launched these books all set in the same world. So if there is something I need to know about King Azoun of Cormyr, I can go to the continuity people and ask them to pull all the references. You can go through this entire database of Dragon magazine articles and all that stuff they use to pull information. For example, for the book I am working on right now, I want to use a type of wood similar to Koa wood found in Hawaii, which is very beautiful and durable. I can go to Ed Greenwood [the original creator of the Forgotten Realms] and ask him if there is anything like that in this area [of the Forgotten Realms].

The Sundering changed a lot of things in the Forgotten Realms, but instead of going for a reboot, Wizards of the Coast elected to keep the existing lore and history. As a Forgotten Realms author, how did you feel about this decision?

My understanding was that it was on the table to do a full reboot. And all the authors felt that if we scrapped all of the history, we would be cheating everyone out of what made the Forgotten Realms really great. The Realms still feel like they’ve always existed. We can still bring back what people felt they missed in the fourth edition [of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game] without a reboot.

Your latest book, Fire In The Blood, is your fourth novel featuring your character Farideh. Hundreds of Forgotten Realms novels have been published by now, and even though they have featured a number of strong female secondary characters, Farideh is one of the rare main female characters featured in the series. Do you think the success of your Farideh novels will inspire Wizards of the Coast to release more novels with other strong female lead characters?

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I hope so. I think it’s good to have as many different kinds of characters as possible. If we only have characters that are good with a sword, we are not necessarily going to reach everybody. Every author brings his own flavour to the story. My books don’t read like Paul Kemp’s books [author of the Erevis Cale Series], or Ed Greenwood’s books [author of the Elminster books]. Everybody is bringing something new to the table. When you play Dungeons & Dragons, not everybody is playing a fighter-guy with a sword; we’re all attracted to different things, to different character concepts. When you can do all these things, why wouldn’t you?

I mentioned that you created a strong female main character, but you actually created two: Farideh has a twin sister, Havillar. Despite the fact that they are very different, they are both strong female protagonists. What lead to your decision to use twins as your main protagonists, and did you have any idea how compellingly complex their interactions would become down the road after four novels?

Well, I hoped. I found the idea interesting. Farideh turned out to be a character I was playing in a [Dungeons & Dragons] game. My friend and I were developing our characters together, and we thought of twins that looked exactly alike. We played with that idea a lot. I was working on the backstory, and how it would be even more interesting if it were turned into a book. Wizards of the Coast wanted to write a book about tieflings, and I was working for them at the time. They had gone through a couple of rounds, trying to find the right story for that book, and I told them, “I just have to pitch this to you.” It was based on some of the details of my character’s backstory on which I extrapolated wildly. I have two sisters, none of us are twins, but we are very close. Writing about sisters is a relationship I am interested in exploring in fiction, because you get those interesting contradictions. You’re as close to that person as you can be, but at the same time, you still want people to be able to differentiate you. I imagine with twins that it’s even more concentrated.

Farideh is a tiefling. Can you give us a bit of background on that race? Because like R. A. Salvatore [author of the Drizzt novels] said during the Gen Con writers’ panel in 2013, some people still thought that tieflings were little sprite-things?

The tieflings are the results of the union of fiends and mortals. Basically, it’s like your great-great-grandmother got busy with a devil, or something. In the Forgotten Realms, the shift with the fourth edition [of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game] was that all the tieflings became descendants of the devil. Basically, their blood became the blood of Asmodeus, the king of the Nine Hells. So they have horns, and their eyes are solid colors with no pupils. They have kind of pointy teeth. Some tieflings have kind of a reddish skin, but they can have any skin color, because they are half-human, or mostly human, really. And their hair can also be a number of weird colors. So Farideh has kind of a middle-tone brown and purple hair color. It’s a little weird.

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Farideh is not your typical Forgotten Realms hero. She’s not all-powerful. She’s very complex and flawed, and human. Is that part of the reasons why she’s so endearing and why readers can relate to her struggles?

I think so. What I love about fantasy is that you can talk about real world problems with a twist. Even with these big scary things happening, you can still deal with issues like someone having issues with her sister. Those things still happen. They don’t go away because you’re having larger problems.

I know you have another Farideh book in the works. Without giving away spoilers, what can you tell us about it?

I am currently working on another book. It is possibly called Ashes Of The Tyrant. It’s set in the main city of the Dragonborn. It’s been really great because I get to really fill out the Dragonborn culture. The other half of the story deals with a number of other things. I can’t really say more. It should come out next Fall or Winter.

Can we expect more Farideh stories after that, or are you going to explore other story ideas after?

I have one more Farideh book that I promised to write. The working title is The King of Dust, and I hope it will stick because I really like it. That will conclude the six-book story arc that will carry Farideh through the whole Asmodeus issue. Then it’s up to the readers. If people really like these books and they keep buying them, we might be exploring another arc. But I am also working on my own stuff.

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Some people have said that shared universe novel series have little substance, and that they always tell the same simplistic adventures, over and over again. Yet, taking your series for example, Farideh is a complex character, both strong and flawed. Fire in the Blood is a complex sociological tale full of court intrigues and strong character development moments with a healthy dose of adventure thrown in. Given the strength of such well-constructed novels, do you see that negative attitude disappearing over time, especially with the release of such well-constructed novels?

I feel like it’s fading. There is a push, especially with The Sundering to really bring out those aspects of the novel, and they’ve always been there. I think people picked a few bad examples. There are books there are a little less stellar. You can always bring up the bad examples. But if you take the Avatar Trilogy, for example, I think they’re brilliant books. I think it might just be one of those things that some people do. If you don’t like those books, there are plenty of other books to read out there.

Your previous novel, The Adversary, was the third book of The Sundering Series. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed reading a collaborative writers series as much since Thieves World, decades ago. The Forgotten Realms novels in their entirety are a massive collaborative series of stories happening in the same world over centuries, but in The Sundering, you’re essentially telling six different but closely related tales that take place over a short period of time, all tied together by a single world-shaking event. Can you talk a bit about the process? How much of an interactive effort between the six writers was required to make the series work so well?

It was very interactive. Because it was such a big event, each took a character and showed a piece of what was happening through their eyes. The vision they had was that they wanted us to tell a piece of the story. We were very encouraged to make this process our own. They had a series of story summits, which were a lot of brainstorming, a lot of discussing of what we were working on. There are not a lot of serious crossovers where you have to fix things up. For example, there is a character in The Adversary who is from The Reaver [book four of The Sundering by Richard Lee Byers]. And it was suggested very early on that I should have him in the background. You have to check on a few little things. We had a big document we worked off from. There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of discussion. It was a great thing. At the summit everyone talked about his or her book, and it was my favourite part.

Prior to writing Farideh’s adventures, you wrote a first story set in the Forgotten Realms titled The God Catcher. How different was your writing process for The God Catcher from the process of writing a series?

It was so much easier. It was my first published novel. It was a really great experience. And I really love the book. It’s really easier to write something that is a stand-alone that you don’t really expect to pick up again. I’m always fascinated when people ask me when I’m going to write a God Catcher sequel. It loved those characters.

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Any other stand-alone novel ideas brewing?

Right now I’m trying to finish the Brimstone Angel story arc. I liked the Harper characters I created, and I’m always sad I can’t do more with them. So if someone asked me to write another Forgotten Realms novel, I’d write something about them.

Thank you Erin Evans.