Monday, March 11, 2013

131 Preview Interview with Tof Eklund

The 131 Preview Review is psyched to have a chance to sit down with Tof Eklund, creator of Autumn Harvest: Maiden and Autumn Harvest: Tales.

Tof Eklund is a gender-queer writer, critic and scholar. After a bookish childhood obsessed with Tolkien and The Muppets, ze went on to complete zir Doctorate in English at the University of Florida with a dissertation on visual narrative in Comic Books and Video Games. Tof Now teaches Creative Writing at Full Sail University  while continuing to work on both scholarly and creative projects. Zir interests include feminist and gender theory, strategy games, and line art. Tof lives in Orlando with zir amazing wife, crazy-cute toddler, and aging cat. 

         Tof, I have to say that I really loved what you sent me. Your work is very good.
I can't wait to see what happens next!

Tof: Thank you! I have a lot sketched out, both near and long term, but I also try to be open to discovery and serendipity, so all of those sketches are in pencil.

       I noticed on the Facebook page that you share a lot of sketches, so you do them yourself then?

Tof: Yes. All of the images on my website are my own, and I FB and twitter a lot of art I like. I have no formal training, and my own stuff tends to be abstract and symbolic. I like work like that, and also skilled cartooning. I don't have much interest in photorealistic art. The surreal, the exaggerated, the strange - these are the things that I'm attracted to.

      Very cool, I do my own art as well, my covers are more photo-realistic, but have my own flair, I'm not formally trained but trained by my dad, who was, so I guess you could say I'm formally trained by proxy. LOL. In your case I don't think you could do much better if you were trained, it seems you have your style and voice without it! Which is awesome!

Tof: My art is spiritually significant to me: a meditative experience and I use it in rituals.

        So you are a pagan or similar? I wondered about that, as your understanding of magic and Yelena's spirituality is so easily explained.

Tof: I am... whatever it is that I am. Pagan is a good umbrella term. I'm spiritual and polytheistic, but also deeply skeptical. I believe in meaning, and that the best definition of magic is "the creation of meaning." Yelena's beliefs aren't the same as my own, but they draw deeply on what I do believe and care about.

       I understand what you mean, about the umbrella, I fall under it as well, but can not claim to adhere to any one aspect, or tradition, thought and form are my drives and inspirations.  You have a very fluid style to your work I suspect it comes from the heart.
At the risk of asking a generic interview question, I would love to know how your idea for Autumn Harvest: Maiden, developed.

Tof: Happy to oblige! It started out as a story I wrote for my wife and partner while she was pregnant. It then sat, in preliminary form, for a while, along with a couple of other short sexy stories I'd written, but the setting and characters wouldn't let me be.
       I wanted to write - and share - stories that addressed several of my strong feelings, and Autumn Harvest became the way to do that. Specifically, I wanted to write stories that addressed the sexism and racism that are so pervasive in fantasy - because I love fantasy and I want it to be more than it has often been.
       I also wanted to write stories with "real," credible and flawed characters with sex in them. I wanted to write about how sex can be a positive, healthy part of life. Too much fiction only shows sex when it's bad sex (rape, manipulating people with sex, etc.)

        So that is why you have likened it to feminist porn? Because you write strong female characters and often remark on the oppression of the woman in a world ruled by ignorant men. You have certainly showed that sex and the preliminary leads before it can be and is truly a sensual experience.

Tof: I wanted to write fantasy that dealt with everyday life, where the characters have to deal with real world issues, and where human sexuality is presented as a natural and positive thing. Yes. I want Autumn Harvest to be something that people of many orientations and from a variety of different contexts can appreciate as writing, relate to as social commentary, and find sexy. Too often, the stories with characters I like and relate to shy away from explicit sex, I assume for fear of offending someone or reducing their marketability, and yet every detective movie has strip club in it.

       Well I believe you may in fact be succeeding in that effort. While thus far your main forefront characters appear to be herto- your driving characters like Geoff are not, and their tragic and complex backgrounds eluded to in the "tales" make for a wonderful inclusion to the work.

Tof: I'm going to pick on a very popular work of fiction for a moment: Game of Thrones. When someone visits a whorehouse, there are topless young women all over the place. But when Lord and Lady Stark get in bed together, the camera cuts away as if that's indecent (why? because she's not in her teens? or is it the fact that they love each other that makes it indecent?) You're right: Yelena and Kaye's story is about as hetero-normative as you can get: it's a monogamous love story with a plot arc that deals with pregnancy and birth. Of course, it's non-normative in several other ways. Much of "Tales" is (broadly speaking) queer, and the forthcoming game is specifically lesbian in character.
        I do worry a little about losing or fragmenting my audience, but I want to tell a variety of stories, and I hope that many of my readers will want to come along for all of them.

         I steer clear of most shows like that, so feel free to rag all you like. I understand what you mean though, in any film if the sexual encounter is harsh, or not linked to actual love there are titties everywhere and sweat pouring, but if the couple is in love and there is, "real intimacy" they cut to flowers in bloom and something terrible always follows. As if they believe that real, intimacy can not be handled by an audience. And it's even more censored in book format, which is completely idiotic; you would think that literature would prevail where cinema has fallen off.
        I wouldn't worry so much about losing audience; I think that you can easily draw the Tolkien as well as the house wife, and the rest of the labeled communities.
       People are people, and I hope that they will respond to the intelligence and passion with which you have written.

Tof: Yeah. It seems to me that most of the best work is being done at the margins: outside of Hollywood, the major publishing houses, and largely under the radar of academic study or literature (though I personally know some Professors who are doing cool things)

        And I of course hope the same for myself.  Sexuality and it's fluidity is something I try to address in my own work, it's why I publish independently, so I don't have to be censored. I understand that you work with Big World Network, how did that come about?

Tof: I hope people can connect with Autumn Harvest, and in some cases maybe see some things from perspectives they hadn't before. The people behind Big World Network are amazing. As I said before, I wanted to do more with this story I'd written, and I thought it would serialize well. 
       Around the same time, I ran across Big World Network, and I really liked what they were trying to do. I also noticed that they had a wide range of genres, including, among other things, fantasy and smutty romance, and so I hoped they'd be open to my particular combination of fantasy, romance, and erotica.
       I pitched them Autumn Harvest and they said yes. I was a little worried about possibly being censored, but that's never happened. They've been very supportive.
       I have to give an especial shout-out to Tawn Krakowski, as her series Darkling Drake was part of what convinced me that it was worth pitching to BWN. She's also the voice of Autumn Harvest, recording the audio version of the episodes, and I have to say that hearing her performances is one of the biggest rewards of doing the series this way.

         She has an awesome voice; I did listen to the first episode, before you sent along the manuscript. So if you want to give her a real shout out, provide me with her links and I will be sure to attach them to her name. 
       It is relatively awesome that your work is simultaneously available in online, and audio and as I understand it soon to be book form. Does BWN do all of this for you or are you responsible for the content and they simply host it?

Tof: BWN is an ambitious experiment in which a lot of people are working together to try and create something special. Tawn will get a share of audio book sales, my editors will get a cut of e-book and audio book sales, and right now, everyone is working on passion and hope.

        That is too awesome.
       I understand that Autumn Harvest is in the process of spinning off into the RPG Rites of Spring, How did that happen?

Tof: There are actually two things there: a spin-off game, Autumn Harvest: Rites of Spring, and an entirely separate series of RPG books I'm editing.

         That would be The Unconventional ?

Tof: RIght.

        See I do my homework

Tof: You sure do. 
        So, Rites of Spring isn't a RPG in the Dungeons & Dragons sense. It's actually intended to be a game that anyone who can browse the web can play. The idea is one that's been with me for a while, and is another attempt to challenge myself and to take on clichés.
Like all dwarves, are fat irritable and war prone? Or all elves wear tights?

Tof: Exactly.
      Rites of Spring is set long before Autumn Harvest: Maiden, at a temple dedicated to Sapphic Love. The Hidden Temple is protected by six dryads, great lovers of women all, but the protection is sealed by a magical covenant that each new High Priestess must renew.
        For some reason, all of the most likely candidates for High Priestess have gone missing while trying to renew the covenant.
     So, it's a mystery, and it invokes the "harem" trope common in many "dating Sim" games (sleep with all the girls, then pick the one you like the best... and who cares about what they want?)

        Haha... But what If I want to keep them all! Is there a polyamourous option?

Tof: Indeed! I figured a story with many sexual encounters with different lovers was well-suited to be a game, and I wanted to explore promiscuity without slut-shaming, lies, cheating, or a completely unbelievable premise.
       As far as the endings (yes there are several) of the game go... you'll have to play it to find out.

        Well do let me know when it is live, so I can do a follow up! And play!

Tof: I hope that, when people play the game, they'll find that each of the characters has heart and her own story (rather than just being there for the protagonist to romance).
        Will do! The projected release date is May 1, but I can't guarantee the game will be out on time.

       Yeah it's rather disheartening that all the females in those games are like, ohh buy me things, remember my measurements, and hobbies and I will "open the gates to the temple"! No problem... Right...

Tof: Exactly.

Intricate back stories are key to engagement and it seems this game will not lack in that department!

Tof: I'm doing my best! And I have another amazing collaborator on this project, artist Molly Kiely. She's doing a great job of making sure that the Dryads will look like real women, beautiful in a diversity of ways, not Barbie dolls.

          Well we do come in all shapes and sizes, as well as colors, and mannerisms, from Frilly Phillies to Bucking Broncos!

Tof: I couldn't possibly have said it better. 

        I'm like minded in the unconventional thoughts.
      Speaking of which, I wondered if you could tell us as pertains to The Unconventional, aside from breaking down those tired and lame expectations of the PC's and NPC's what sets it apart from other modifications that old Wizards of the Coast likes to toss at us gamers?

Tof: The Unconventional came out of a desire to confront some of the same things that Autumn Harvest addresses: the idea of "Good" and "Evil" races, the nonexistence of gay characters, and also to address logical fallacies - like the idea that you can have a world where every 3rd person knows magic, but somehow it operates like the popular notion of medieval Europe.

         Haha, yeah it does tend to bend that way! So no chamber pots being thrown out of the windows then?

Tof: I was chewing on the idea years ago, and considered self-publishing with a friend, but neither I nor it were ready. Then, last year, I realized that I knew a lot of people who were into thoughtful fantasy. I approached them, put together a team, and then was able to take not just a concept but an entire production model (myself editing) to Spectacle Publishing Media Group, a small press that had just expanded into RPGs. Well, I wouldn't completely put the kibosh on chamber pots: it all depends on how that particular world works. 

        So each "world" will have it's own specifics and level of civilization or lack there of in range of technology? I am working in the same line of thinking through my own work In Dreams. I think splicing can be a great way to draw in a larger crowd.

Tof: More or less: each book in The Unconventional will offer several alternatives to the convention, some of which could be combined in the same world.

        And with The Unconventional being a playable I think you may have stumbled into something that will greatly interest the newer gamer or the one's who like to cross the D&D core book lines.

Tof: I hope to appeal to storytelling-focused gamers, to people who like Roleplaying but feel unrepresented in D&D (i.e. "why are all the dark-skinned races Evil?"), to people who want different historical influences (i.e., non-European settings) and to anyone looking for new ideas for a game. If we have some cross-over influence on videogames, I'll be especially happy.

         So it will be set up to allow for greater customization and more fluid story telling in a game play setting. Will it still use the D20 dice foundation? Or is is something completely different to be learned as to how the game is played? In other words DO I GET TO KEEP MY ACTION POINTS! LOL

Tof: Exactly. Part of the idea is that you could take the Mono (body-proud perfectionist dwarves) from The Unconventional Dwarf, and combine them with Luom'nayen, or "Dispossessed" Elves (whose culture has crumbled as they are hunted for the magical properties of their blood), peace-keeping "police" Orcs from their book, etc.
        The Unconventional is D20 compatible, but uses some simple but consistent guidelines so players can use it with any rule set they want, from AD&D to pure narrativist ("no dice" role-playing. I don't want to make things any more difficult than they have to be.

        YAY! I love it and I think that my Gamer Readers will as well! As we are winding down what else, would you like to tell my readers of the wee hours about up coming works? Or perhaps when the next episodes of Autumn Harvest will be coming? Cuz I need to know what happens next!

Tof: Season2 of Tales is just about to wrap up, and I'll say this for the final story: it puts the "tail" in "Tales.” Autumn Harvest: Maiden will return for a 3rd season in May, and I'll tantalize you with this: a character who has previously only been seen in Tales will appear in Maiden for the first time.

       Hmm... there are so many! And they all seem to connect, now I'm gonna be wondering all the way to May!!

Tof: He he he...

       Thank You so much for taking the time to do this. It has been awfully fun! And I can not wait to see just how it all pans out between the games and the series. Do keep me informed so that I may keep my readers on the look out for the work when it goes live!!

Tof: Will do! Thank you. It's been a pleasure!

Do be sure to check out Tof's sites below to start your journey lead by this talented Author! And Click here to be taken to  my Review of Autumn Harvest Maiden.
So until next wee meet, my dear readers of the Wee hours, pleasant dreams.

Autumn Harvest: Maiden      Autumn Harvest Tales    Blog: Starfish Cosmology

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The In Dreams... Series, The Roads Trilogy, is the accumulation of almost eight years of writing. Begun in 2006 after a D&D campaign

ended S.I.Hayes took the world and created the Unavoidable Road. It took five years as

Shannon spent many months at a time in an undiagnosed Bi-Polar fog.

In 2010, she finally found the help she needed and she has been writing feverishly ever since

The first book wast over 130,000 words, so she decided that it needed to be smaller if only tonot scare readers away form an unknown book that was so thick.

Thus the first trilogy was born.

In between she became the CoAuthor to Awakenings: The Wrath Saga, a Paranormal Drama likened to Big Brother Meets The Real World, of the Preternatural, Several blogs and her own website.