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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Interview with Erin Lindsey (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read The Bibliosanctum's review of The Bloodbound
Read The Bibliosanctum's review of The Bloodforged
Read The Bibliosanctum's review of The Bloodsworn
Read "Five Things I've Learned About War" by Erin Lindsey (guest post)
Read "Epic Fantasy: Dinosaur or dynamo? by Erin Lindsey (guest post)

Erin Lindsey is an intriguing persona with her background work in the UN as well as her interests in D&D, geo-politics and history. All of these passions combined came forth in her two series that she has written so far. In this interview she talks about the inception of both of her series, the burden of history & what readers can expect in the near future.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

EL: Well, let’s see… Native Canadian, longtime New Yorker. Passionate about writing, music, and international politics. Also chocolate. So far, I’ve penned five novels from Ace/Roc: the Nicolas Lenoir series (fantasy mystery) as E.L. Tettensor and the Bloodbound trilogy (epic fantasy) as Erin Lindsey. I spent about a decade working for the UN, which has provided some great fodder for my writing. Oh, and you can find me banging on about villains on a monthly basis over at I think that about covers it.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Ace-Roc?

EL: I guess I’ve always been a writer, basically since I could hold a pencil, but I didn’t really start taking it seriously until I went through a period of joblessness some years back. We’d just moved to Switzerland and I was having trouble settling in, so I basically used writing as a way to keep from going stir crazy. I needed to get out of bed in the morning, sit behind a desk, and produce something. I had no idea how to go about getting published, but I was a big Dragonlance fan in middle school, so I started poking around the Wizards of the Coast website and stumbled across an open call for new writers.

I ended up landing a short story in the Realms of the Dragons II anthology in the Forgotten Realms setting, and that’s what really got the ball rolling. I was asked to write a Ravenloft novel, and although that didn’t end up panning out, it got my foot in the door with an agent and gave me the bare bones of the story that would eventually become my debut novel, Darkwalker.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

EL: I wouldn’t say that I have a muse, specifically. I’ve always thought of myself as something of a crow, picking up shiny bits of inspiration wherever I find them and stashing them away until I find just the right place for them. Movies, history, songs, travel – it’s all fair game. Basically, I figure anything that’s evocative enough to hang around in my memory for a while must have struck a chord somewhere, so I try to understand why it struck a chord and use that insight in my writing.

Q] Before writing the BloodBound trilogy, you made your debut with the Nicolas Lenoir series. This was a very intriguing series with an odd mix of fantasy, mystery, Victorian elements & a tad touch of noir. Can you talk to us how the genesis of this series occurred and what does the future hold for this series?

EL: The deepest roots of that series go back to the Ravenloft D&D campaign setting, as I mentioned before, and I think that’s partly what accounts for the eclectic mix of influences in there. Ravenloft is primarily a gothic horror setting, so that was the starting point, but once I struck out on my own and had the freedom to do whatever I liked, I immediately found myself gravitating toward penning a mystery. And as much as a Victorian setting brings Sherlock Holmes to mind, my favourite detectives have always been the hardboiled types – Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe – the antiheroes. So that’s where Nicolas Lenoir came from. He’s basically a hardboiled Frenchman in a gothic fantasy setting.

As for the future – who knows? I’m really attached to the series and I’d love to continue with it, but I’ve got several projects in the pipeline at the moment, so there’s a bit of a queue. Hopefully I’ll return to Lenoir sooner or later – there’s a lot of story left to tell.

Q] Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write the Nicolas Lenoir books and what were things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

EL: Honestly, I didn’t do a lot of dedicated research for the Lenoir books, probably because I’ve enjoyed so many books and movies over the years that are set in similar periods. I’d find myself looking up specific things – listening to what a flintlock sounds like, for example, or reading about the Great Fire of London – but in general I focused more on (re)reading all the harboiled classics. I’d forgotten how much fun Dashiell Hammett was.

Q] With the Bloodbound trilogy, your main character lady Alix goes through a veritable upheaval with her personal and professional lives. Was this your plan from the beginning? Has it stayed true throughout the books?

EL: Was it my plan? Yes and no. I knew from the outset that I wanted the series to be character driven first and foremost, which necessarily means you’re going to have a lot of personal conflict. I was especially interested in what makes a hero, what makes a good leader, and the sorts of tough choices that entails – politically, strategically, and above all personally.

What I didn’t necessarily anticipate was how much Alix’s character arc would be bound up with those of the other main characters, and how much those relationships would affect her ability to grow and overcome her own weaknesses. So, for example, the challenges she faces learning to cope with her new station in life are only magnified by her husband’s struggle to accept his place in the world, and by the same token, Alix’s strong personality isn’t exactly helping Liam overcome his self-confidence issues. Liam coming into his own puts pressure on Erik personally and politically – and so on. The result was that character growth is not necessarily linear in the Bloodbound series; the characters all experience setbacks and falling back into old habits in one way or another. That feels more realistic to me, but it’s also more challenging to write.

Q] You also had a strong track of romance throughout the trilogy & it was finely balanced within the plot. How did you achieve this balance? Are there any examples which you focused upon to get an idea about it?

EL: I honestly didn’t strive for balance per se; I was really just trying to make it feel genuine, if that makes sense. So while I started out with an idea I thought was more romance than epic fantasy, it really didn’t turn out that way. Instead it became a blend, sort of an epic fantasy romance. That wasn’t planned; it was just that the characters were too sensible to let themselves get carried away with their personal dramas, what with a war going on and all. The end result is a series where the ‘volume’ on the romance element varies quite a bit between books, with the most in Book 1 and the least in Book 2.

Q] World-building is one of the key ingredients of epic fantasy; What is it about world-building that you love, and what are the keys to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical world like that of the Bloodbound trilogy?

EL: One of the things I like best about writing fantasy is the chance to dabble in what ifs. Starting off with a premise and then going through all the implications of that premise in order to build your cultures, history, etc. For example, what if winter lasted years instead of months, à la A Song of Ice and Fire? It seems like a pretty small twist at first, but when you start to think through the implications – how these different circumstances would affect familiar societies and institutions – the ramifications are actually huge. I really like to play around with questions like these, starting out with a world that’s very like our own, and then giving it a twist. Altered geography, say, or a fork in the road of history. It’s a creative exercise, but also an intellectual one. And it makes for some really rich, believable settings.

Q] With the release of Bloodsworn this year, you bring to a close to the Bloodbound trilogy. What do you hope to write next? Do you see yourself trying out different genres? Can you give us an inkling?

EL: I’m working on a new project that I’m really excited about. It’s a mystery set in Gilded Age New York, and it’s chock full of humour, paranormal shenanigans, and romance. It’s tons of fun. After that I have a completely different idea on deck, very much epic fantasy with an allegorical flavour. In other words, I’m still kind of all over the place style-wise, which I think is a reflection of my personality. (You should see my wardrobe.)

Q] In your guest post “Five Things I’ve learnt about war”, you made an interesting comment: “Where there is war, there will be war crimes…. And not just by the “bad guys”. Some of my greatest historical heroes are, by any modern definition, war criminals. I’ve struggled with that, but I’ve come to accept it, however uncomfortably.”
Can you expound on this statement and tell us which heroes of yours, you were alluding to?

EL: What I was getting at here is a dilemma that I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over, which not coincidentally features heavily in the Bloodbound series: the tension that can arise between being a good person and a good leader. Is a king’s first duty to his country? His family? Humanity as a whole? What happens when these priorities are in direct conflict – which duty ought to take precedence? I’m fascinated by the moral complexity of that. I’m also interested in the tension between justice and peace. One often comes at the expense of the other, so again – how do you choose? And finally, in matters of war and peace, any solution that brings about an end to conflict – at least one of any durability – is likely to involve one party doing something very nasty to the other. Can the ends justify the means? Harry Truman obviously thought so; he dropped an atomic bomb on a civilian population. Twice. That makes him a war criminal according to international humanitarian law. But a lot of people still believe he was a great president.

The historical figure who was most on my mind when I wrote that excerpt, though, was not Truman but a colleague of his: Winston Churchill. Again, by the standards of modern international humanitarian law, Churchill is a war criminal. He did a lot of things I wouldn’t personally condone. I also happen to admire him greatly, for a whole host of reasons. So much so that he served as the inspiration for one of the characters in the Bloodbound trilogy: Chancellor Albern Highmount. It’s Highmount who urges King Erik to the unthinkable near the climax of The Bloodsworn, not because he’s a bad person, but because he truly believes that his (and Erik’s) first duty is to protect the kingdom – by any means necessary. His pragmatism clashes with Erik’s principles again and again, and I couldn’t honestly tell you which of them I’d side with if somebody put a gun to my head.

Q] In that same post, you also mentioned that “History Matters Forever”, as a history student, I can’t heart that point enough. Can you perhaps explain a bit more in detail about that point and feel free to talk about any recent/current geo-political conflict?

EL: I think we don’t always appreciate the extent to which events in the past – even the very distant past – can influence the behaviour of states and peoples and the relationships between them. For example, I’m convinced that France, Russia, and especially the US remain profoundly influenced by their revolutionary pasts, politically and culturally. Relationships in Asia are still recovering from the events of World War II, as are relationships in Europe. Conflicts like those in Palestine and Northern Ireland are the direct descendants of conflicts going back centuries. And just as individuals can be traumatized by events in their past, so can nations, in ways that profoundly affect their decision making processes and responses to stress.

So, for example, by appealing to a collective trauma from the past, a politician might inspire the public to accept something they would never ordinarily stomach. Or an ethnic group can say, “Look, they caught us unawares last time, this time we need to strike first”. That kind of thinking is particularly prevalent in places where the trauma is relatively fresh – i.e. only a few decades old.

It’s something that was very much on my mind while writing the Bloodbound trilogy, so the fictional history of the Kingdom of Alden rears its head in lots of different ways in the series. For example, Chancellor Highmount cites the bitter lessons of a civil war as justification for urging the assassination of a certain political figure. King Erik cleverly evokes a glorious moment in the history of the mountain tribes in an effort to rally them to his cause. The Andithyrian Resistance adopts tactics first employed by the Onnani, learning from the rebellion that was the undoing of their own empire centuries ago. Liam’s efforts at diplomacy in Onnan are frustrated by the imperial legacy of his country. And so on. In that sense, history in the Bloodbound series isn’t just there for decoration; it actually influences the attitudes and actions of the characters.

Q] Lastly, how do you feel about your growth as a writer and what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

EL: It’s hard to think about legacy when I feel like I’m just starting out. I will say that I’ve learned So. Much. over the past couple of years, and I like to think that shows in the quality of the work. I certainly hope that continues. For now I’m content to keep exploring and stretching myself.


Ajax Minor said...

great interview. in particular, i enjoyed the comments about how good people can do bad things. in Western moral philosophy, the choice is often between Kant's Categorical Imperative 'do unto others' crudely put, and Utilitarianism, the greater good. but there is a third way.
in Hindu mythology and philosophy, no one is either all good or all bad. but 51/49 choices don't relieve the actor of the responsibility of making a decision. Mahabarata especially puts this in stark relief.
i recently published my first novel, Sun Valley Moon Mountains, a fantasy which deals primarily with questions of epistemology, how we come to 'know' things. but with Book 2 of the Ur Legend series, Girl from Ipanema, scheduled for early 2017 and Kutusov's Dream, slated for 2018, moral philosophy becomes the battlefied of ideas. i appreciate especially Erin's comments in light of her experience with the 'grey world' of international relations, as Books 2 & 3 are more topical.
i look forward to reading the Bloodbound series and learning a few things, not only about ethics, but also writing, as i am learning the craft. Ajax Minor

Erin said...

Thanks for your comment and good luck with the writing!

Ajax Minor said...

thank you!

Ajax Minor said...

thanks. and BTW i downloaded Bloodbound last night. psyched and will rate and review. trying to get people to write reviews has been a challenge.ender.
and visit if you can. you might enjoy some of the topics: grief, loss, courage, even gender.


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