ERIN M. EVANS got a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis—and promptly stuck it in a box. Nowadays she uses that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. She is the author of several Forgotten Realms novels, including the Brimstone Angels Saga. She lives in Washington State with her husband and son.
Charles Tan: Hi Erin! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.
Erin M. Evans: My pleasure!
CT: Without reading your previous novels, I was able to catch up on what was happening in Fire in the Blood. Are the novels being stand-alone intentional? How do you juggle bringing new readers up to speed, while still addressing the concerns of previous fans?
EME: This question cracks me up, because honestly I gave up trying to be new reader-friendly with this book. It seemed impossible! But apparently I can’t help myself.
I think the key is that the books in the series are both sequential and episodic—structurally it’s sort of similar to a drama you might watch on television. What’s the plot of the week, and how does it fit into the plot of the season, and how does that fit into the plot of the series? If you’re coming in cold, you might not fully understand those larger arcs, but if the “episode plot” is engaging enough, then you can pick up a lot as you go (and hopefully go back to read the earlier titles!).
CT: Your novel juggles various intrigues and character agendas. How did you keep track of everything that was happening in the novel?
EME: I keep most of it in my head, which is a terrible method but it’s what I’m used to. I reread what I wrote quite a bit, which is how I usually remember anything I forgot. The character’s agendas hew pretty closely to who they are, so keeping them at the forefront of my thoughts when I’m drafting is super important—that’s what’s driving everything.
CT: When you wrote Brimstone Angels, did you foresee what would happen in the succeeding novels? How much of Fire in the Blood was part of the original plan, and how much was organic to the novel?
EME: Fire in the Blood is what I’d intended to be the second book of the Brimstone Angels Saga, only ramped up. I’ve been planning a “Cormyr book” since I introduced Brin, the Cormyrean nobleman from Brimstone Angels, but Wizards of the Coast kept coming back to me with other elements they wanted me to use in order to tie into other story arcs.?By the time I could write my Cormyr book, eight years had passed in the story and it became impossible not to raise the stakes to account for that. Originally, the book would have been set in a remote corner of Cormyr and had only a little to do with the royal family. But by the time the Sundering came, it would have been impossible to keep the bigger tale of Cormyr out of Brin’s story.
EME: This book is still set in the world before the 5th edition rules and setting take hold—these are the stories of the world changing, more or less. The cosmology in particular is in a state of flux and so you get to watch that unfold.
The trickiest part is that it’s in flux in the real world, too, and you have all these other authors and designers writing about the same world. It can be difficult to be sure you’re all on the same page.
CT: Do you foresee yourself writing more Farideh and Havilar stories in the future? Do you expect this to be your favored cast of characters in the Forgotten Realms, or do you see yourself branching out to other characters/regions?
EME: I have two more books planned—so six total in the Brimstone Angels Saga. I’m pretty fond of this cast in this setting, and I’ve certainly thought about other “season arcs” so to speak, but I don’t know what the future holds!
CT: What’s the appeal of Farideh and Havilar’s ensemble cast? Will you be tackling Mehen’s love life more in the future?
EME: I like writing about relationships, and to do that, you need a lot of characters readers can invest in. Without an ensemble, you don’t get to use those relationships to imply the character quite as nicely. But this way you get a sense of Farideh, for example, from how she’s perceived by her sister and her father and her friends and her lovers. It makes a more well-rounded character easy.
Not to get too far in, but Mehen does get a chance to have a love life again in the book I’m working on now. His daughters are grown, he doesn’t have a good excuse for avoiding dating anymore!
CT: For Fire in the Blood, were there any specific challenges to writing the novel? At this point, how much of the future is planned?
EME: The biggest challenges had more to do with reconciling my story to the timeline presented by the Sundering. The war in Cormyr is already depicted in The Sentinel by Troy Denning, so certain events are already set in stone. But the fun part is figuring out how different character’s viewpoints would interpret and frame those events.
CT: After writing several short stories and novels in the Forgotten Realms, in what ways do you see yourself improving as a writer?
EME: Every book I feel like I can look back on and say, “Now I do this a little better.” With Brimstone Angels, my editor at the time told me in her first draft notes, that if I was going to give a character a point-of-view, I had to give them a character arc as well. Now, I know plenty of fantasy authors don’t do any such thing, but I think it made my stories tighter and my characters stronger. I think as I’ve gone on, that’s only increased.
CT: When playing D&D, are you more of a player or a DM? Do any of your gaming experiences make its way to your stories?
EME: Player, all the way. I tend to get a little bossy when I’m crafting a story. Aside from Farideh being vaguely inspired by a character I played with the same name, I don’t think I’ve ever used big things like events or villains—those are too integral to the story and the characters to borrow. But little things, all the time. In Fire in the Blood, for example I snatched the war wizard Devora’s name from an NPC in the game I play currently and Mot, the imp, shares his name with my player character-Farideh’s imp familiar. (Though much like Farideh’s transition from game to novel, Mot has lost most of his snarkiness.)
CT: Is there anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
EME: On October 25th, I’ll be playing in a 24 hour D&D game to help raise money for Extra Life, a charity that benefits Children’s Miracle Network. I’m raising money for Seattle Children’s Hospital to help cover the costs of treatment for sick and injured kids. Your donation will also shape the game—you can decide what character I’ll play or what monsters we’ll fight, for example—and you can watch it all play out on Twitch! (To donate, go to http://www.extra-life.org/participant/105054)