Dragons, Zombies and Aliens:
E. S. Furlán is an Australian author and artist who grew up in northern Italy and now lives in Denmark. She took the scenic route growing up and often thinks author bios sound a lot like obituaries. Her first medieval fantasy novel, The Tainted Shrine: Fool's Fief Book I, is being proudly self-published in 2018.
What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
Aside from working on my novels and publishing some short stories on my website, I'm also excited about another project I'm working on. Some of the best fantasy novels I've read in recent years have been self-published or published by small, independent publishers, but so have some of the worst. In this age of instant publishing, the role of reviewers is more crucial than ever for readers to discover high-quality books. And so, although I'll be the first to admit I'm not much good on film, I've started a review channel on Youtube called The Indie Dragon that accepts only self-published and independently published fantasy novels. I'm quite busy with so many different but boring things, so the schedule is patchy so far, but I've uploaded a few reviews so far and the response has been quite good. I also post the reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and on my blog, as well as doing interviews once a month with authors who fit the afore-mentioned criteria. I'm a very harsh critic for fantasy novels – I love them and so I demand the best of them – and I have an award organised for the end of the year for the best novel I've received. The winner will receive a small trophy and a certificate, and the runners-up will receive certificates. It's still early stages, but I'm very excited about it.
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
Currently I'm working on The Tainted Shrine, my first full-length novel. TTS focuses on three underdogs in a conquered secondary world city called Argorien on a continent named Caerphy. The main plot follows Seer freedwoman named Kanika is in a not-entirely-consensual relationship with Atham, the Crown Prince of the people who invaded her country, and her plot explores power dynamics in relationships that are not overtly abusive but still are incredibly damaging and unbalanced. The two secondary plots follow the Crown Prince's younger sister Elsephere and his younger half-brother Meto as they both try to undercut Atham's right to rule and pursue their own passions amid political intrigue and the obstacles thrown in their path by both their own actions and the actions of those around them. The two final and most minor plots centre around some disturbing creatures on the fringes of civilization and the rapidly mobilizing discontent of the Seers.
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
TTS's full title is The Tainted Shrine: Fool's Fief Book I which is, as the title suggests, part of a series – a trilogy, I hope. I tried to condense it down into just one book but that went rather badly. Without giving too much away, we can expect the two most minor plots in the first book to become larger in the next two books, alongside empowerment, contemplation of the gods of Caerphy and their place in the lives of those who worship them.
Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?
I do write under a pen name, yes. Aside from some personal reasons, the sad fact of the matter is that women writing in fantasy genres are generally not taken as seriously as men writing in the genre. Significant strides are being made online to rectify this, from what I can tell, but the stigma remains in some people's minds just like the stigma against self-publishing.
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
None that I truly, utterly despise, no, but there have been a few close calls. I think it would be difficult to despise my own character unless I had written them badly and without fully understanding them as a character. And if the character is designed to illicit that response, then I still shouldn't truly despise them because I should understand them to the point where I can still see their humanity.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
The writing actually came rather late in life for me. I got sick of feeling like I had nothing to paint, and I'd see all these other artists painting their OCs and I thought it was a cool idea to always have an artistic subject. So I created a few characters, a world for them to live in, and realized I was having heaps of fun creating the evolutionary story of the planet and family trees and mythology. That was just after I'd had my daughter, so I guess at about 17 or 18. So not super late in the grand scheme of things, but I've only been writing for around 9-10 years.
Where did the idea of your story come from?
I was super into drugs as a teenager, and my dreams got very vivid once I quit. I didn't dream at all when I was partying a lot, but then I quit everything and calmed right down when I got pregnant and all of a sudden every night was like HD crazy stories playing out in my head from what felt like the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up each morning. I had the usual melting faces and things rushing at me from darkness stuff, but then occasionally I'd be just observing things play out in seemingly normal medieval scenarios, and TTS started from one of the more interesting of those. I grew up in an area that maintained a lot of its medieval architecture and was quite isolated and in touch with its folk roots, so my guess is the medieval stuff comes from there, and the events of the stories come from some sort of subconscious processing my brain is going through.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
I've come to despise tropes that reinforce the status quo in any way – especially in fantasy, there's a strong culture of conservativeness that I didn't expect. In the past few years the tide is definitely turning in favour of more progressive ideals, but there are still a lot of lazy stories relying on damsel in distress, boys' club and queer erasure tropes. I also don't especially like romantic subplots. I feel like those have been explored in a fair amount of depth, and I'd much prefer to see friendships and political intrigue explored, especially in scenarios and ways that are not so frequently delved into.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
The vast majority of authors get very little feedback from readers once their books are published. They've essentially shot their work out into the dark of the ether, on the word of a small handful of people (editor, proof reader, beta readers, etc) and they have no way of knowing if anyone enjoyed it or not, which parts they liked and which they didn't, anything like that. So first and foremost your review has value in that you're providing feedback to the creator, and unless you're a dick about it, they will appreciate it and it may even brighten a day that was otherwise grim and desperate for them. Your review will also help them gain visibility on sites that readers frequent and that increase how many people their book reaches. It also adds credibility so that well-known reviewers will review them. And every review counts, both good and bad. Basically the only reason you should not review a book is if you don't want the author to succeed, and honestly at that point you should probably email them, because very few books are truly irredeemable.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
I'm not particularly fussy when it comes to writing. I can write as soon as I get up and I can write until late at night. I don't usually wait for inspiration to strike, I just put words on the page and know I can delete them if they don't work later on. Since I quit smoking, I vape a lot. Turns out the cravings never really go away even years later, so I'd be way less productive without the e-cigarette and a lot of water each day.
Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?
I wouldn't say they have control over me, no. If ever I feel like they're controlling me when I'm writing them, it's often just another aspect of their personality revealing itself to me, but not as though they're entities of their own, more like there's a logical progression of characteristics based on what I've made them that my brain is connecting the dots on. If ever there's anything too out of character, or anything that would derail the plot without good cause or without being a better thread to follow in the book, I just write it out in a separate document and save it in a folder labelled “NOT TO BE PUBLISHED.” Then it just sits with all the character sheets and plot ideas in dot-point format. I just keep them as a reference for if they ever seem to be inclined that way again, so I know it's not coming out of nowhere.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I dropped out of high school at 16. I had a lot going on mentally, with very little support, and I never felt like I learned very much at school anyway so I just stopped going. I went back and did an equivalent certificate when I was about 20, but I never pursued formal education beyond that. Education is such a privilege, and I feel like a lot of people don't understand how challenging even just simple attendance can be for people in some situations. I always loved learning, but in between mental health issues, being a 17-year-old single mother and the immense pressure to get every aspect of my life in order so as not to screw up my kid, finishing it was probably the greatest achievement of my life until that point. And my situation was not even the most challenging out there, at least I only had to support myself and my daughter.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
Firstly, everyone should do their darnedest to buy and eat locally grown produce and meat. I know there's a push for everyone to be vegan in some circles, but let's be real, that only shifts the pressure we put on the planet, it doesn't actually diminish it. Farmer's markets are very wanky but they are also the best place to buy stuff if you want good quality food at (usually) cheaper prices than supermarkets. Secondly, stop judging others and assuming that they had all the same opportunities and education as you did. Some people have the deck stacked against them and it's not right to compare their results to the results of those who've been born into luckier circumstances without doing anything to level the playing field – it's the difference between beating up a child and having a proper boxing match with someone in your weight class, it's just pathetic. And thirdly... I don't know, I guess just use the damn cloth bags at the shops and start caring about how your choices affect the world and its future. I feel like my 90s upbringing is showing heaps in this answer.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Well, I have to say dragons, don't I, because I write medieval fantasy. But even aside from that, I would still choose dragons because they can be good or evil or anything in between, plus they can breathe fire. I think they have a more unique and complex relationship with destruction than the other two, and I think perhaps they would be able to see the beauty in chaos in a way that the zombies just flat out couldn't and that the aliens, depending on the strength of their intellectual and philosophical culture, wouldn't.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!