Today, I’d like to help shine the spotlight on a longtime friend and fellow writer, the indelible Eressë!
As enthralled by her writing style as by the gracious way she has always navigated both fandom and author-dom, I have been a fan hers since I read the first chapter of her classic fanfic, Greenleaf and Imladris. She was the first of my writer friends to parlay her fandom success into original novels, which are among the most inventive and engrossing that I have read.
Her series, The Chronicles of Ylandre, is set in a fantasy world where everyone is dual-gendered (albeit very masculine hermaphrodites. I would classify the books as fantasy M/M). You would think this would eliminate the need for a strict caste system, devious politicking, and prejudice. You would be wrong. Part coming-of-age tales, part dramadies of manners, part family saga, all heart-rending romances, The Chronicles of Ylandre books cast a spell that you are more than happy to be under. The characters are flawed but compelling. The world she has created is beyond unique. Best of all, the books have heart without skimping on drama and—my favorite—angst.
It is a thrill and an absolute privilege to help Eressë celebrate the release of the sixth book of the series, In Fine Form. I invited her to submit to an interview, so, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Eressë!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
I’m from Southeast Asia, married with three sons and one beloved pooch. I chose to use a pen name because I want to separate my writing identity from my personal one. Since I started writing publicly through Lord of the Rings fan fiction, I picked a name from the elvish language J.R.R. Tolkien created for his magnum opus. And the reason I was drawn to Eressë is because it happens to have the same meaning as my nickname and I like the way it rolls off my tongue.
I’ve always loved spinning tales. But it didn’t occur to me to set them down in writing until I got to high school. I started to experiment then, jotting down plot bunnies as they came to me or writing short stories. The latter was often in response to the lack of themes or plots I wanted to read but couldn’t find in the local bookstores. In those days, variety and diversity in fiction wasn’t the rule in this neck of the woods.
Anyway, once I got started, I just kept on writing. But these early pieces never saw the light of day. Then I discovered online fan fiction and decided to put my writing out there and see how it would be received. Everything took off from there.
2. Ah, the good old days! Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How long does it take you to write a book? What kind of schedule do you keep?
It takes me at least six to eight months to write a book depending on how involved the plot is and the amount of research required. I always start out with a detailed outline and, in the case of Chronicles of Ylandre, with its almost concurrent storylines, a very comprehensive timeline, which includes events from previous books. For me, it’s the best way to ensure continuity. Once I have all the basics in place, I start writing in earnest.
When I write fan fiction, I produce the chapters in linear fashion because of the serial nature of posting fanfic. But when I write original work, I don’t necessarily write chapters in order. I sometimes do the last chapters and epilogue first or start in the middle, then go back to the beginning. Or I might write different scenes and later figure out which ones belong to what chapter. I find it depends on my mood at the moment or whether I’m in the proper frame of mind to write about something I’m uncomfortable with, such as violence and infidelity or scenes I’m not that knowledgeable about, like warfare and military life.
I try to write something every day even if it’s just a page worth of stuff—keep the momentum going, so to speak. Of course, the occasional bout of writer’s block can disrupt that. When that happens, I reread every book to re-immerse myself in the Ylandre universe and hopefully get back in writing mode.
3. So you may actually have read your books more times than your devoted readers? Cool!
The world that you’ve created, Ylandre, is so unique and so vividly rendered in your books. How did you come up with it? Was there something specific that inspired you or that you wanted to get across?
Thank you. I honestly don’t know how I came up with it beyond my love for historical and fantasy romance. I suspect it was there all along and probably influenced my fan fiction stories. In a sense, LotR fanfic became the means by which I explored themes and storylines I was intrigued by. But I had to fit those ideas as plausibly as I could into the existing canon. Of course, that wasn’t always possible and the unexplored ideas could only find a home in an original work.
I did incorporate my own socio/political background into the series—the rigid class divisions, my Roman Catholicism, the colonial history of my country and the political upheavals I’ve lived through. And come to think of it, this is also my way of presenting a different sexual orientation as “normal.”
Heterosexuals far outnumber the LGBTQ population, but I don’t believe being in the majority gives anyone the right to marginalize those in the minority. I can’t abide the prejudice against gay people any more than I’ve understood bigotry based on gender, the color of one’s skin, or religious beliefs. It’s ridiculous to stand by something just because the majority believes in it or practices it. Majority isn’t synonymous with right—Christ’s crucifixion was demanded by a majority.
Okay, getting off the soapbox now.
4. Nah, stay up there! Nothing wrong with a good rant. Can you give us some examples of real-life events and how you transformed them to fit into your books?
Well, the social and economic divisions hereabouts are the basis for conflict in a number of books. People very rarely stray outside their respective circles in society. If there’s a crossing of class lines, it’s usually between people from not too divergent backgrounds. A slum dweller isn’t going to come into considerable contact with a rich family’s scion, much less marry one. So that’s one influence on my writing. The major difference is that the way my characters are written, it is possible to cross the social divide in Ylandre. Not so much in real life.
Coups d’état and government destabilizations have occurred frequently enough in my part of the world. So I worked this theme into several books albeit in different guises. It also plays a major role in the external conflict of In Fine Form.
The colonialist history of the world of Aisen is a nod to my region’s colonial past, while the monotheistic faith practiced by the Aiseni is loosely based on Judeo-Christianity and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church. On a personal note, Book Four’s medical setting is something of a tribute to my father.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve made having concubines or paramours an accepted practice among the upper crust. Again, that’s a reflection of the patriarchal society I grew up in. But the concept is also prevalent throughout European and Asian history from which I drew much inspiration with regard to world building.
In a nutshell, the stories in Chronicles of Ylandre may be the result of pure imagination, but most of the settings and cultures are founded on actual history and/or personal experience.
5. What’s especially smart about the hermaphroditic aspect to the people of Ylandre is that you have an endless supply of couples to write about and you don’t really ever have to explain why there are so many male-male couples in your books, unlike some contemporary series where it seems like the entire population of some small towns is gay. But were you worried in the beginning about that aspect, since it is atypical of most M/M fare and more in keeping with the sci-fi and fantasy genre?
It’s funny, but back in high school I related a long and elaborate multi-couple romance to my sister (she’s the only one who knows I was already dreaming up romance stories way back when) wherein one couple wasn’t heterosexual but gay. However, I took it a step further because I made one of the gay characters a hermaphrodite. To this day, I don’t know why I did it; I just remember having such fun with that storyline and being satisfied with it the most when I finished it. And my sister must have enjoyed it the most too because it’s the only pairing she could recall in detail years after. Anyway, it’s obvious I was fascinated by the concept even then.
I love romance fiction, both M/F and M/M. My first attempt at original fiction was a M/F historical romance, specifically the Regency era in England—I’m a bit of an anglophile, something I share with my eldest son. Well, that didn’t work out due to the abundance of Regency romances and historical M/F romances in general. Anyway, I now realize I didn’t write the heroine with quite the same enthusiasm as I did the hero, not to mention the hero had more chemistry with the other male characters in situations of mere camaraderie than he did with the heroine even in the middle of a torrid love scene.
LOL, I’ve been there.
The same thing happened when I wrote my seminal fan fiction piece Greenleaf and Imladris. There were two heterosexual romances featured alongside the main M/M storyline. While I enjoyed writing those, I didn’t imbue either with as much detail or passion as I did the M/M story. I don’t know why this happens and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out and just concentrate my efforts on writing.
I do agree it’s startling to read stories wherein whole communities seem to be composed of only gay people. That’s incredibly unrealistic. I wind up abandoning series because the sense of disbelief overcomes my enjoyment of the stories. So, yes, writing about a masculine, hermaphroditic race certainly solves the problem of having a host of M/M couples and trying to explain their improbable numbers. But it also introduces other problems because one has to come up with a plausible explanation for the existence of a race of androgynes. That means pretty extensive world building. It’s a good thing I enjoy that aspect of writing.
Was I worried? Well, I think every first time submission to a publisher induces some anxiety. And had I not got involved in fandom and fan fiction first, I would indeed have been very worried. But fanfic has introduced some of the most outlandish concepts and plotlines and continued to thrive. So I knew there was an audience out there for something like this. Maybe not a huge one—straight romance will always dominate the genre for obvious reasons and gay contemporaries will probably top (no pun intended) LGBTQ romance for the foreseeable future. But since I just wanted to see if I had what it takes to get published, the existing audience was big enough for me.
6. Even more interesting than the dual-gender aspect is the fact that the society you’ve created is actually a very medieval-Renaissance-ish one, with rank and social status of premium importance. Your books are almost romantic dramedies of manners, in a way. Was that deliberate?
It wasn’t deliberate if you mean did I consciously set out to write them that way. I never really do. I start out with a basic plot and characterizations but from thereon whatever currently intrigues me takes hold and informs my writing. Since I’ve always been fascinated by the way culture and society influence or dictate behavior and especially in history, that fascination wove itself into the fabric of my stories by way of, as you put it, “dramedies of manners.” However, the medieval-Renaissance setting was a conscious choice because I felt it best suited the stories I wanted to tell and, as mentioned earlier, because of my love of historical fiction.
7. Do you do a bit of research for each book, especially as regards particular aspects of the setting, or just rely on your prior reading/knowledge?
Oh, yes, I always do research whenever I’m writing about something I’m not very knowledgeable about. For instance, I don’t know how battles or treaty negotiations play out, so I read as much as I can about the pertinent facts. On the other hand, my father was a doctor and my family was very much involved in politics at one time, so I have a smattering of knowledge regarding both fields. Nevertheless, I still do research because the last thing I want is to receive feedback accusing me of ignorance or laziness or worse, misleading readers into believing what I wrote is true.
I know I won’t get everything right, but I try for plausibility at least if not authenticity. And I think that’s possible only if most of the basics are correct.
8. So the MCs in Book 6 are Jareth and Yandro. What made you want to tell their story, as opposed to that of some of the other secondary characters in your previous books? And also tell us a bit about In Fine Form.
My passion for any given pairing dictates whose book I’m going to write next. I have to sustain a certain level of enthusiasm for a story for several months. Otherwise, the lack of it will show in my writing. I don’t ever want to “phone in” a story that I’ll be embarrassed to acknowledge later on. I want to be satisfied with the effort I put into every book and proud that I did my best each time. It so happened Jareth and Yandro’s particular story called to me very strongly when I was figuring out which book to tackle next.
In Fine Form is my take on the world of diplomacy as it is practiced in Aisen, the world in which Ylandre exists. It’s also another look at the traditions and social prejudices that permeate Ylandrin society. This story is mostly seen through the eyes of Yandro, a Half Blood and a bastard of unknown parentage and indeterminate racial origins. Providence allows him entry into the company of the higher ranks of Ylandrin society, but he still must put up with the intolerance of those who think him beneath their notice.
To complicate matters, he is appointed the aide of Jareth, who isn’t just a True Blood of noble birth and a high-ranking Ambassador, but also a scion of the Royal House. So the extremes of their respective backgrounds come into play here and influence how they interact with each other. It doesn’t help (at least from Yandro’s standpoint) that Jareth is an incorrigible flirt and has no qualms about turning their professional relationship into a personal one as well.
There’s romance, humor, and diplomatic intrigue, barriers that need to be torn down, and secrets that have to be unraveled. And there are substantial glimpses of protagonists from previous books as well as appearances by characters who will take center stage in later stories.
You know, I enjoyed writing all the books in the series, but I have to say this is the one I really had a lot of fun doing.
And we look forward to hours of fun reading it! Thank you, Eressë, for giving us an in-depth glimpse into your process and for agreeing to be the first author interview on this blog!
Gentle readers, if you really want to escape to a faraway destination unlike anywhere you’ve been before this summer, consider a trip to Ylandre. A fantasy world of scheming, double-dealing, class struggles, and romance galore! I promise you, it will be worth the trip!
In Fine Form by Eressë will be released on June 23rd from Liquid Silver Books. Pre-order it here. If you want to start from the beginning of the series, her first book is Sacred Fate , which can be found here. On the web, Eressë can be found at Tales by Eressë: http://eresse21.livejournal.com/ and http://eresse21.weebly.com.
Thanks again, and continued luck with all your writing endeavors, my friend!