Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A #TuesdayTeaser An Unconventional chat with Dr. Tof Eklund

 The 131 Preview Review is pleased to Welcome Back Dr. Tof Eklund,
 Series Editor of 

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.

       Firstly I’d like to welcome you back to the 131 Preview Review!! It’s been almost a year since we discussed Autumn Harvest: Maiden, and now we are back to chat about The Unconventional Dwarf.

Tof: Good to be back! 2013 was a a busy year for me, and this year's shaping up to be just as intense, with the collected edition of the complete Autumn Harvest: Maiden and The Unconventional Elf both due out this spring.

      Awesome!! You know I want to know as soon as they hit the shelves!! I gotta see how it all pans out!!

Tof: Will do!

     And if The Unconventional Elf is anything like The Unconventional Dwarf, I know it's going to do very well!!

Tof: Thank you. We're all very excited about the ways in which it will expand the cosmos of Unconventional books. There's even a cross-over between the two.

     Very cool!! So time for my first question.... Dum dum dummmm...
Where did the desire to create The Unconventional Dwarf come from?
(we're diving really deep here... lol)

Tof: It came out of the love/hate relationship I have with Fantasy as a genre, and also out of a lifetime of gaming and thinking about storytelling in games.
     I love the possibilities Fantasy presents, but as I've grown, I've come to see the ways in which the genre has failed to address some of the potentials that were present and the flaws in early works of fantasy: from sword and sorcery tales like those of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, to the patron saint of Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings trilogy has influenced every work of Fantasy written in English since.
     So much Fantasy is narrowly focused on a fictionalization of Medieval Europe, one in which Knights are The Good Guys, Princesses exist to be rescued, the best government is by the True King, and some Absolute Evil is driving Lesser Races (non-European peoples) in a war to conquer the world.
      Games in particular have tended to stick close to the stereotypes.
I wanted to create books that would make it easier to break out of that mold, because I love original Fantasy worlds, and I want to see more of them.
(Ask a deep question, get a long-winded answer.)

     Haha Love it.. LOL.
I feel similarly about the fantasy genera, it's why I've begun writing it in the first place, to tell a tale I want to read! And The Unconventional Dwarf gives me a better appreciation for the Dwarf. They tend to be fairly useless if the game isn't battle specific. I like how The UCD sees past the setbacks and makes for a more usable character.

Tof: Dwarves have been pigeonholded to a greater degree than some of the other fantasy conventions. That's part of why you don't see them often in original fantasy: the mental image people have of fantasy dwarves is one-note.

      Pretty much smash and grab, their usually compact powerhouses. I avoid them all together due to their limited stereotypes.

Tof: Right. Add in heavy drinking, greed, a horned helmet and a big ax, and there's nothing left to know. We started the series because I really wanted to liberate "the dwarf" from that image.

     I say you did a right good job of it! I really liked the first one discussed, the Monos. Such an intriguing set.
The Mountain Monoliths or (Monos) were instantly intriguing to me, particularly the family dynamic. That all children are essentially orphans. What made you decide that communal rearing was viable?

Tof: Each chapter keeps at least one aspect of the "traditional" dwarf. Sean Boyce wrote the Mono, and he kept the idea that Dwarves are mountain-dwellers and Dwarven pride. There's a little bit of Ancient Sparta in the Mono, and the Spartans had a "village" model of child rearing.
     What really makes the Mono compelling, I think, is the way Sean combined extremes of individualism and communalism. They set their children out to fare for themselves at a fairly young age, out of a "survival of the fittest" mentality, but at the same time, all of society is really watching over the children, and they will eventually be sorted into families of choice based on their aptitude for that family's craft and business.
     I think it's the tension between rugged individualism and "same boat" socialism that makes the way the Mono raise their children plausible.

      Well when you put it like that! LOL. We could all be so forutnate.. LOL
With such thick back story, why was it that it was decided to inevitably kill their history??  Every culture has it’s “Heroes” but the UCD cuts them out, why?

Tof: Sean wanted them to have an oral culture, with an emphasis on the present, and I think having them abandon their past was an outgrowth of that: for the Mono, one's own life deserves the best expression you can give it, rather than spending it following someone else's accomplishments.
      Also, from a story perspective, it builds mystery into their backstory. There's a lot to discover about the Mono, and by not spelling it out, any Dungeon Master, game designer, or writer that uses the Mono is free to fill in the blanks.

     I love the concept!! It really did make me want to play around with them. 

Tof: And you can! Not to side-track the conversation, but there is a version of the Creative Commons license in back of The Unconventional Dwarf that allows people to use the concepts and stories in the book in their own creative work - royalty free! All that is required is a credit in the finished work.

     Well that is very very kind of you guys!! Not many would do something like that!
And there's nothing wrong with side tracks, my Interview Platform is your soap box!! LOL

Tof: It's our way of giving back to the community of players and designers.

      It's an awesome thing that you have done with this book. I loved the Variants and story hooks sections in the book. Each has something cool to offer, what was your favorite? Have you actually played all of them out?

Tof: I hope to eventually play in or with all of the variants. For now, I have plans to run a one-shot game demonstrating the strengths of the book based on the Lovecraftian "A Darkness out of Time" variant on the Pumili, the dwarves with a great empire like that of Ancient Rome, but who fear the return of gods imprisoned deep in the earth.
     That game will feature dwarves from three different chapters in the book: the Pumili, the Amazonian Nanogyn, and the ancient culture and complex faith of the Gamda.
But a favorite? ...no, I couldn't pick just one.

     You'll have to do a Pod cast of that!! It sounds Epic!

Tof: Thank you!

     You seem to have really found something that you're passionate about. And You mentioned that The Unconventional Elf is do out next. Would you like to give us a little bit as to the next awesome addition to my D&D shelf?

Tof: So, if the problem with dwarves is that they've been confined to a tiny niche, the problem with elves is that that they're the best at everything. It seems like everyone loves elves, so there are already a ton of variants on the Tolkienesque elf, many of which are far too perfect.
     So, part of what The Unconventional Elf does is give the "perfect" elves flaws. The kind of flaws that great stories can turn upon.
      The Ellonai, for example, are classically few in number and long-lived, but they joined human society, and with their long lifespans, have come to be it's rulers. Despite their privilege, they live in fear: fear of their own extinction due to an extremely low birth rate, and fear that their human host society will turn on them.

     I got a chill.... I agree that elves tend to be rather uppity.. and way too perfect for their own good. I look forward to seeing what you guys get on to with them.

Tof: There are also Elves who are hunted for the magical power in their blood, elves who reproduce by turning converts from other races with into Elves, and different tribes of aquatic elves whose worst enemies are each other.

      I can not wait to get my greedy little hands on it!

Tof: The thing to remember about Elves is that Tolkien drew on the Nordic races of gods, the Aesir and Vanir, who could live forever but also could be killed, in crafting his elves. That same mythology independently inspired the Nazis in their rhetoric of a perfect race.
      Tolkien was no Nazi, but the blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned elves of fantasy are a fantasy of racial perfection. Today, we all know that no such thing exists, and that anyone who claim perfection is more likely to be a monster...
      The contributors to The Unconventional Elf all love elves. We're not setting out to ruin elves, just want make them a little more flawed and interesting, lest they should become monsters due to their own "perfection."

     Before we finish up for tonight, is there anything else you would like my readers to catch a glimpse of, or catch up on? Especially with the Harvest Maiden coming out?
I don't want you to give out too much.. LOL

Tof: After the final episode of Autumn Harvest: Maiden comes out, there will be a print, ebook, and audiobook release of the collected series. For any of you who haven't been following the series, a great many mysteries are resolved in the final season, which starts with Yelen pregnant and in command of a castle under siege...
     Later in the year, Autumn Harvest: Mother will enter serialization with Big World Network, and the Autumn Harvest game is still a work in progress: that's taken much longer than originally (unrealistically) planned, but I hope to have big news on that front soon.
Things are also coming along with The Unconventional. The Unconventional Halfling is already underway, and if all goes well, The Unconventional Orc will see print by the end of the year.

     Oh my Goodness!! You have been incredibly busy!! Well Keep us in the loop and I'll  be sure to pimp the hell out of everything When Your ready!!
Thank you so much for joining me again!!

Tof: My pleasure! I always enjoy chatting with you, Shannon!

     And I you!!

Watch out for The Unconventional Elf, Spring 2014!!! In the mean time check out some other great venues from Dr. Tof Eklund!!!

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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. S.I.Hayes.com.