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 the Brimstone Angels Saga, including Fire in the Blood and Ashes of the Tyrant. She lives in Washington State with her husband and sons.
Shauna Kosoris: All of your published novels, including your first, The God Catcher, are set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms campaign setting which is owned by Wizards of the Coast. How did you get involved with Wizards of the Coast?
Erin M. Evans: I started out working at Wizards of the Coast as an editor in their novels department. The opportunity to write a book in the Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep series came about because the editor of that series, Susan J. Morris, was running a limited call (she’d requested manuscripts from a few specific authors) and was short a proposal. She’d read some of my work, so she asked if I’d fill in. Turns out I had a pretty good idea in The God Catcher!
I guess you did! After The God Catcher, you started writing your Brimstone Angels series, which is still ongoing. Twin sisters Farideh and Havilar from that series are tieflings. Why did you decide to write about half-human, half-demons?
Technically, tieflings are mostly human, with some devil blood (at most a quarter). Honestly, I’m drawn to the way they can’t hide what they are, but that what they are is hugely misunderstood. Tieflings look like they might be devils themselves–but really they’re as complicated and free as humans. So if you’re a tiefling, what do you do? Do you fight it? Do you spend your life trying to be perfect so that people don’t assume you’re a monster? Do you just become a monster, because that’s what everyone expects? Couple that with the fact that they aren’t members of a homogeneous culture–tieflings can pop up anywhere someone’s gotten frisky with a fiend–and there’s a whole lot of nuance to explore.
Your highly conspicuous twins were raised by someone just as conspicuous: Mehen the dragonborn. Why did you decide to add him into the mix?
Because I like dragonborn! That’s really it in a nutshell. But, too, Mehen is one of those characters who just came together very quickly and with much certainty. He felt right and I’ve loved writing about him.
I’ve heard that you wrote a whole lot more about the dragonborn in Ashes of the Tyrant, the fifth book in your Brimstone Angels series, which just came out in December. What was it like writing about their culture in the Forgotten Realms, a setting where not a lot has previously been written about them?
I enjoyed it quite a lot! The dragonborn are newer additions to D&D, and in the Forgotten Realms in particular they hadn’t been very deeply detailed. I had the opportunity to fill in the gaps between the handful of sources–this is one of the things I like best about writing tie-in fiction. The game needs things like racial ability bonuses and alignment notes, homelands and origins, but for a novel you need a sense of the day-to-day, what that race’s culture means to them. Finding ways to show how and why those rules are true in a way that feels like a living, breathing society is a blast.
It sounds like you make good use of your degree in Anthropology during your writing.
Oh yes (see above!). It comes most in handy when fleshing out cultures and thinking about how the intersection of different societies comes out. Thinking about people not just as individual characters, but as members of a group, influenced by that group’s values and shortcomings.
You’ve written extensively in Forgotten Realms, a fantasy setting that’s been around for almost thirty years. Are there any details that you were able to add to the setting?
Oh, lots! The dragonborn culture is a big one. I also came up with the explanation for the tiefling appearance change, the Toril Thirteen and their involvement in the Ascension of Asmodeus. I got to shake up the royal line of Cormyr, and create the pradixikai, the elite erinyes of Malbolge. I got to come up with some adaptations for the modern Harper groups. Generally, if the idea’s been good enough and I’ve been persuasive enough, they’ve let me.
What are you working on now?
I just turned in The Devil You Know, the sixth book of the Brimstone Angels Saga, available October 4th (and for pre-order right now!). I’m working on a new series as well, something of my own, a sort of epic fantasy family saga, starting with a short story for a forthcoming anthology.
Oh, how exciting! I’ve just got a few questions about what you read to finish up. What book or author inspired you to write?
You know, I don’t want to name it, because what finally pushed me was reading a book that I hated! I was fourteen, my mother had been telling me my whole life that I should be a writer and I wasn’t into it. Then I read this book I was expecting to love, and I just hated it. I decided I could do better and started writing my own version. It wasn’t better–I was fourteen and had no idea what I was doing–but it got me going.
That’s totally fair. Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
I think everyone should read out of their comfort zone. Pick up a mystery. Pick up a book of poetry. Pick up a romance, a Western, a true crime, a space opera. Especially if you want to write, you should try everything, see what each kind of book is best at.
That’s great advice! Finally, what are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading three books: Hallow Point, a noirish fantasy involving fairies in the 1930s by Ari Marmell; a hilariously raunchy short story collection called Cocktails at 7, Apocalypse at Midnight by Don Bassingthwaite; and a nonfiction book about Santa Muerte by R. Andrew Chesnut.