I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.
Looking to my own novels, my favorites are the Thorn of Breland series. This is partially due to the excellent work of my editor, ERIN EVANS. You may know Erin from her own Forgotten Realm fiction, including The God Catcher and Brimstone Angels. Her most recent release is Lesser Evils, the second Brimstone Angels book.
What have you done over the last decade?
Met this guy. Graduated college. Bought an RV. Named it the Chairman. Drove east. Wrote. Drove West. Wrote. Worried. Became an ezine columnist. Lived in National Parks. Lived in Vegas. Wrote a little better. Landed, finally, in Seattle. Sold the Chairman. Got an internship with a small press (Per Aspera Press). Got a crash course on publishing. Wrote a little better. Bought a townhouse. Got a “real job” as an editor for Wizards of the Coast. Got married to that guy. Become Eberron line editor. Edited you three times. Wrote The God Catcher. Wrote a lot better. Got laid off. Had crisis.Wrote Brimstone Angels. Became freelancer. Worked on TERA. Told people they should at the very least play through to the quests with Fraya, because I wrote all her dialogue and I’m really proud of it. Had a baby. Wrote Lesser Evils. Was chosen for the Sundering series, the relaunch of the Forgotten Realms for D&DNext. Got this email. Bought a house. Forgot this email. Found it again. Answered.
The protagonist of Brimstone Angels is a tiefling – a horned humanoid with fiendish characteristics. Why drove you to write about tieflings? What’s appealing or alien about them?
I have this thing about “ugly” characters. My therapist would probably have things to say about it (that I would probably turn around and use in a story!), but it boils down to the fact that I feel like if your character is going to be “weird” you should go all in–I don’t want to read about how hard your elf has it for having odd ears. I don’t buy it. I love 4E style tieflings, because you can’t pull your narrative punch and opt for a human with teeny sexy horns and a faintly unsettling air. They have to deal with their heritage and how it makes people react–whether that’s internalizing those preconceptions or raging against them or throwing themselves headlong into fulfilling them. There are a lot of very relatable character options created by those big horns and tail.
And it makes a lot of story options too. One thing I love about fantasy is that you can talk about real world issues in a way that feels “safe.” A lot of people who might feel uncomfortable confronting their own biases head-on can think about them more easily when you’re talking about people who aren’t real–and then you can make that leap to real-world. I know that helped me a lot. So things like having Brin, one of the main characters of Brimstone Angels and a human, react in a very expected, kind of bigoted way when he first meets the tiefling twins, and then reconsider his opinions when he hears other people taking those assumptions to places the girls didn’t earn, and reconsider further when he gets to know them–I love that.
What character from fantasy fiction would you like to punch in the face?
Isn’t everyone’s answer Joffrey Baratheon? I know he’s a kid, but come on.
My second answer is a shameless plug: One of the villains in my next book Lesser Evils is a Netherese wizard called Adolican Rhand. Normally, I like writing villains that you sort of sympathize with–complex people who are making choices you can understand, until you get to thepart where they want to wipe out all the elves or blow up the moon or just burn down an orphanage. I think those villains are more interesting and, on a certain level, scarier–if you’re agreeing with them or feeling sorry for them, it’s a reminder that you too could have made a similar path.
But for Lesser Evils, I ended up with one villain who is meant to embody what’s scary about Shade–they feel entitled to an empire, and what lies between them and that goal isn’t something they really consider. And as a result Rhand became the creepy embodiment of a very visceral fear. I hate writing about him, because all I want Farideh to do is run like the wind. I have said before that if someone came up to me at a con cosplaying as Adolican Rhand, I would punch them in the face and run away, and apologize later from a distance. He just ooks me out that much.
What’s your favorite scene from one of your stories?
I still really love the scene in The God Catcher where Nestrix is buying a cloak and starts having flashbacks to what she remembers during the Spellplague. That was one of those scenes that came out whole cloth, and said everything I wanted it to in a very immersive way. But I have a lot of runners up: the prologue from Brimstone Angels, the fight with the gravehounds from “The Resurrection Agent,” and there’s a flashback scene with Brin in Lesser Evils that I really love. I think what they all have in common is that these are scenes that I feel managed to be the kind of thing that sucks you in as a reader and put you in the POV character’s mindset exactly how I want.
If you were sent to a desert island and only allowed to take three books, which would be the last one you’d burn to stay warm?
I’ve said it over and over, but To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is just my favorite book bar none. To me, it hits a wonderful balance between concept and plot and character. And it’s hilarious. So I would hold onto that for as long as I could. Also, my copy is a mass market paperback, so it wouldn’t last long in a fire.
What are you looking forward to?
Finishing the first draft of my next book The Adversary. I’m really excited to be included in the lineup for The Sundering (along with R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, Richard Lee Byers, Troy Denning, and Ed Greenwood), but I also like getting through the first draft. Partly because I’m at the stage now where I’m noticing things that need to be changed and debating changing them now or later, but also, once it’s done, you can see the whole shape of the piece and find the rest of the places it can be made even better.