I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Erin Evans about Wizards of the Coast’s new book series set to launch in the fall of 2013, The Sundering. Evans book, titled The Adversary, is third in the series, and features her characters from “Brimstone Angels.” Since the time of this interview, her second book in Brimstone Angels series, “Lesser Evils”, has become available for purchase.
Audrey Zuvich: First off I want to talk a little about The Sundering; your main character is a Tiefling?
Erin Evans: Yes!
AZ: Will you tell me a little bit about her?
Evans: I get nervous when people say 'tell me about your character' like it's a trap -- they don't want to hear about it. Laughs. Yeah, Farideh [pronounced fah-REE-dah] is a Tiefling Warlock and in the first book in my Brimstone Angels series titled “Brimstone Angels,” she sort of gets caught up in an infernal pact that she really didn't necessarily mean to make. She's a very good girl and so she discovers that with these powers she can affect a lot of good in the world. She can save people and solve problems and she's putting herself in peril but she's doing it for other people's good. When it comes to The Sundering, that kind of starts to backfire on her cause she's trying to control things she can't really control. [“The Adversary”] is a hard book-- it's a lot of heartbreak and difficult choices and things like that, but I'm really excited about it.
AZ: Those, in my opinion, are always the best kind of books. Are you really excited to be writing on The Sundering series with Ed Greenwood, RA Salvatore, Troy Denning, Paul Kemp and Richard Lee Byers?
Evans: It's amazing. It's hard cause I feel like I haven't entirely wrapped my head around it. I've come here [to GenCon 2012] and I'm sitting on these panels and I'm like 'are they going to tell me to leave soon?' It's really an honor. When they first asked me if I wanted to do it, and they mentioned that it's this big series and they're planning on releasing them in hardcover, and I've only done paperbacks so far, so already I was like cool. And then they told me the other authors and I'm like 'Oh my Gosh! I better bring my A game.'
AZ: You are kind of like the new kid on the block here.
Evans: Yeah, they were joking before that they were going to get me a grey beard to put on so I could fit in.
AZ: Tell me, what was your favorite part to write in the “Brimstone Angels” series?
Evans: Oh! Wow, there's so many. I think... I think there are two things that come to mind. One, Farideh is actually a twin. She has a twin sister who is very wild and carefree, but really leans on her sister a lot to kind of take care of her in a sense. And there are a couple places where I got to tap into that dynamic and there was an argument that they had that felt like every argument that I had with my sisters where it's just not about what you are talking about but about something deep down and I won't spoil it, but the way that it falls out... what happens to stop the argument really, I found very delightful and I liked writing that, those two characters interacting. The other that pops into my mind, Farideh makes a deal with the devil, Lorcan, and even though at the beginning of the book Lorcan seems like he's going to be the villain, when we go to the Hells we see what living in the Hells is like for Lorcan because its not a weird plane to him, it's his home. I loved writing that. It was interesting because I got to tap into the gory gross horror writing that I don't normally gravitate towards, but I really enjoyed it. My mother-in-law read it and was like 'I don't know why you don't like those serial killer novels, that was way scarier!'
AZ: When you have the plot taking your character in one direction, but the character really wants to go in another direction. When you're writing, do you find that your characters actually try to lead you off onto a tangent somewhere?
Evans: Sometimes, yeah. I think I said it in another panel, every time I write an outline, when I go to actually write the book I add a character -- there's a character that I didn't know I needed. So they just sort of come out in the drafting. I think that's the best example of the book knowing what its doing. And another thing is you end up developing themes. You don't sit down with a theme in mind it just comes out. But this, I have to say I was telling Ed [Greenwood] earlier, when I write about Farideh, she's a very private person. She's very, she's kind of shy on some level, I mean she looks very different, and she doesn't like people looking at her cause it usually leads to something bad. So there have been scenes where its almost like she curls up and just goes 'I don't want to do this, can we not do this right now?' and it's like 'No, honey we gotta do this, lets put you through the paces' and you come at it from enough angles to try to fid the right way to go through it which usually ends up being something cooler than I thought.
AZ: How do you like writing another author's world? I mean basically you are writing in Ed Greenwood's creation, the Forgotten Realms. Do you feel constrained by it or do you feel free to make changes, as you'd like to impact it? Do you find it hard sometimes to limit yourself?
Evans: You know the nice thing about the Realms is that its so big and so diverse that if there is something that you're kinda like 'Ah, I don't like that!' you never have to go anywhere near it. And if there is something you love you can play in that all you want and there are lots of places where there's room for you to kind of tweak it so that your story is the best it can be. I love it. I am very fond of an analogy that I've used several times now, that if you think about writing fiction in the same terms as writing poetry; writing something that is just original is a little like writing free verse, you don't have to -- you can do whatever you want, which is not always a good thing, depending on the writer and if you're writing a shared world its a lot stricter, its like writing a haiku or a pantoom or something and unless you are looking at that stricture as an opportunity to be more creative, to bounce off of those rules its a lot harder to do but once you learn to do that it's so much fun. You know that this is a boundary, this is a pillar you have to build around and it helps shape your story but it sort of guides your creativity in ways that I don't know that you could get if you just did it on your own you know.
AZ: Do you have any other current projects that you'd like to talk about?
Evans: Yeah, I just finished up the sequel to “Brimstone Angels”, which is called “Lesser Evils” and features Farideh, her sister [Havilar], and those characters and more of the Harpers. So they were looking at Harpers and they told me I could talk about this -- Harpers and Zhentarim. So I got to look at how the Harpers were changed by fourth edition and how they might come back together and blossom further and I really enjoyed doing that and then also the Zhentarim come back a little in my book, so...
AZ: It sounds very fun. Are there any other characters that you've written that you'd love to go back to or is there a theme or idea that you'd love to work into one of your books?
Evans: Well, my first book was for the Waterdeep series, called “The God Catcher.” I wrote that book and I intended it just to be one book, but then people kept going, 'oh but there's another one coming right?' There was just the sense that the story keeps going and you're going to write it. And the characters in there, Tennora who's a young woman who starts out by getting kicked out of wizarding school basically cause she's not that good at it and then she finds out secrets about her mother and meets this woman Nestrix who might be a plague-changed dragon trapped in human form or might just be crazy. And I really loved writing that friendship between those two women and I would love to do it again.
I have to say though that I have a bigger story for “Brimstone Angels,” which is why I am so glad that they allowed me to continue that into The Sundering. As far as things I haven't gotten around to yet, I love Rashemen in the realms, the masked witches and the spirits and things like that. It's never been something that fits into the books that I've gotten to write, but if I could sometime that'd be great. And then in “Brimstone Angels,” the twins are adopted by a Dragonborn, who is an exiled Psion of this military clan, and I would love to tell his story. He's their dad but you don't really hear that much about him, and seeing how he got kicked out of Tymanther would be really cool and I love that character. I feel like it was really fun to take this race that a lot of people weren't really sure how to relate to or what you do with it and make him really human. First and foremost he's somebody's dad, he cares about these girls more than you'd expect because they are not biologically his in anyway.
AZ: So one of the things that I like to ask authors is what books influence you, what do you like to read, and what have you read recently that you would recommend?
Evans: Yeah. Oh it's so hard to pick favorites. I... you know you read so much that you kind of forget which pieces you're getting from where. My absolute favorite author is a science fiction author Connie Willis. She's the kind of author where she writes humor and you're rolling, you're crying with laughter and she writes more dramatic serious stuff and you're sobbing and bawling and I really, you know if there was anything I could emulate its that... the way that she manages to hook you emotionally. I just finished “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemison, which was beautiful. I could hardly put it down... 'I should be writing but I'll just read one more chapter.' I really enjoyed that, and of course I love reading my fellow Realms authors. I am trying to think of what I just finished...you know what actually what I'm in the middle of is “Death Mark” by Rob Schwalb and I hadn't had a lot of experience with Dark Sun and I think he's doing a fantastic job of showing you the world and all of its -- strangeness.
AZ: Yeah, I've played Dark Sun so I know it can be strange.
Evans: Now I'm like I need a Dark Sun game!
AZ: It is vastly different from all of the rest of Dungeons and Dragons especially with the whole idea of cannibalism as canon. Yeah.
AZ: So what has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Evans: The hardest thing I ever heard, was that some had read “Brimstone Angels” and they said 'at the end its a stereotypical paranormal romance' and I like 'No it's not!' When you get criticism, everybody's read of your book is their own, they bring their own stuff to it and take their own stuff out of it and when you're an author you have to accept that you have a hundred readers that have a hundred different books in their hands basically. But that one I was really tempted to pin that guy down and be like 'No! Don't you do that! It's not. It's really not. It's not a romance.' There are maybe some romantic elements but it’s not a romance. I think the other thing that I hear occasionally is that people say 'I really like it, but I feel like your devils are kind of nice' and I think maybe they want devils to be a certain way. My devils are definitely very self-serving and occasionally it comes across as '[being nice] works for this person... so great.'
AZ: They do say you can catch more flies with honey.
Evans: Exactly! Exactly. It's one of those things where maybe [I] had different ideas of what constitutes the options of lawful evil [than the person criticizing it] and there's not much I can do about that right so nothing changes, but yeah I those are good examples.
AZ: Okay so then what would you say has been the best compliment?
Evans: You know the one that comes to mind right away, there's a fan site for Forgotten Realms called Candlekeep.com and this is where you will find people who are the most passionate about the Realms, the most steeped in the lore and they are a daunting audience when you get down to it. And I knew with “Brimstone Angels” that I was playing with two of the fourth edition races that people weren't really, that fans of the original Realms were the ones who were most unsure of it as far as I could tell from the Internet. So when my book came out and people read it, there was a fellow on there who commented that going in he was not excited and going 'I don't think this is going to work. I don't think these things fit into the Realm.' But he read “Brimstone Angels” and said 'You convinced me. I totally see how these characters work and fit into that world.' That was the best compliment I could get because that's something that I think, I hope, we all strive for because its a larger tapestry a larger continuity and it needs to feel like one piece. So I think that’s sort of the fun part, you take these pieces and sort of weave them in and so somebody who is that dedicated to the larger story acknowledging that it worked for them. I just... I lit up. I was so happy.
AZ: That's fantastic and I love that you do check out what your readers are saying about your novels. So I have one last question for you. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Evans: You know... I feel like there is nothing I can say to tell you how happy I am to be here and provide these books for you. It blows my mind every day that I get to do this for a living. It's just really exciting. I'm choking up a little... I love you guys and I hope that I keep writing stories that you enjoy and that you keep buying them.
Be sure to read Erin Evans’ Brimstone Angels series, “Brimstone Angels” and “Lesser Evils,” both available now, in order to catch up on Farideh and Havilar’s adventures before picking up your copy of The Adversary, the third book of The Sundering series, hitting shelves in fall of 2013.