Some Thoughts with ... Erika McCorkle

5 Feb 2023

The Author/s

Erika McCorkle

Erika McCorkle

I am Erika McCorkle, she/her, living in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. I am a creator of fantasy worlds and a voyager to the worlds created by others. I spend much of my free time writing, reading, watching anime, and playing video games, all usually of the fantasy genre. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and currently work the night shift at a blood bank, meaning I am most definitely a vampire.

The Interview

Welcome to a new post in my favourite section of the site. Today's interview is with Erika McCorkle, published author with ShadowSpark Publishing, creator of the Pentagonal Dominion series.

Let's dive in!

1.- When did you start writing?
In 1999, when I was a child. I had gotten into Pokemon and I wanted to create a setting of that nature, but with my own creatures, towns, items, elements, etc. At first, it was just a creative worldbuilding project, but after a few months, I made characters to interact with these things I create, and the stories developed naturally from there. Those original “Pokemon fanfic” stories I wrote are nothing like what I write now, but the changes were so gradual over time that it’s impossible to pinpoint when it stopped being a Pokemon fanfic and started being the Pentagonal Dominion

2.- How was the process of finding a publishing house? How did you pitch such a special novel as MoKaM?
I made the choice to go indie pub (as opposed to seeking an agent) after a particularly nasty PitMad on Twitter where the hosts made some ableist comments. Essentially, they refused to list the desired genres/age ranges of the agents participating under the guise of ‘we need to learn how to do this kind of time-consuming research on our own.’ It’s the kind of time-consuming work that gatekeeps people who don’t have a lot of time to find information that could have been freely given. People with children, people with chronic illnesses, people with full-time jobs, etc. Although I am fortunate enough to have a lot of free time, the attitude shown by the hosts was off-putting, disgusting, and showed trad publishing for what it was, in my opinion.
I eventually got with Shadow Spark Publishing, a small indie press, because two people I’d met on Twitter were with them at the time. I have since made connections with other authors there that are truly deep and meaningful to me now, and I cannot imagine my life having gone in a different direction. I’ve found people who are dedicated to my world and helping me manifest my stories. There’s a love here that you cannot find in trad pub where the money takes precedence over the heart and soul.
Shadow Spark was founded by two people, Jess Moon, and Mandy Russell. Jess comes and goes on Twitter, but she was there when SSP was about to open submissions in 2021. We joke about it now, but we were both Twitter-stalking each other. I wanted to know more about her and her preferences so when I wrote my pitch to her, it would be personalized. I later found out that she’d had her eye on me and was intrigued by the snippets and artwork I posted. We were a publisher-author match made in Hell. 

3.- The Pentagonal Dominion is such an extensive world, what inspired you to create it?
I mentioned Pokemon above, but of course, it wasn’t the only inspiration. In those early days, there was also Digimon, Monster Rancher, Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Dragonball/DBZ, and various other “anime for kids” I was into. Video games also inspired the world and worldbuilding, particularly classic RPGs like Lunar, Grandia, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest.
The Pentagonal Dominion was ever-evolving as I grew up, though. As I played more recent games or watched newer anime, influences still poured in. I’m currently writing a story that was inspired by recent Atelier games with a dash of Disco Elysium which I played a mere four months ago.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention being inspired by real-life science and history. I went to university for a degree in biology, and many of the concepts I learned there made their way into the biology of my world’s people, animals, flora, etc., as well as taking a central position in the hard magic system which has components in chemistry, molecular biology, and genetics.

4.- Calinthe is an intersex character, what was the thought behind it?
When I first created her, she was a woman. I knew I wanted to write a story about a merchant of knowledge because they’d make for a good lens with which the reader can explore my world. They are knowledgeable (obviously) and observant, so they’d pay attention to worldbuilding details I wanted to include in their PoV. Statistically speaking, the merchants of knowledge are often women since they are Mind elementals, who are AFAB 90% of the time based on their genetics.
I knew my debut novel would have to include Ophidians in a position of antagonism. It would have been too off-putting to sensible readers if I introduced this society of man-hating fascist slaver ladies and they were only a background element. I decided that the most emotional way for the reader to see their villainy would be through the enslavement of the MC. It was an elegant solution, since I was also looking for ways to show how sex and gender in the Pentagonal Dominion aren’t restricted to a male/female binary (well, the Ophidians believe in a master/slave sex binary). Making her intersex gave the Ophidians a ‘reason’ to enslave her, since they categorize intersex people as members of the ‘slave sex.’
So basically, making Calinthe an intersex person served two goals: it showed the fluidity of sex and gender in this world and supported the necessary Ophidians-as-antagonists plot.

5.- From all the planes that you created for the Pentagonal Dominion, which one is your favourite and why?
For me, it always comes back to Aloutia. Writing MoKaM was actually a deviation from my norm since Calinthe spends so little time on Aloutia, but almost all my unpublished writing of the last 20 years took place there. It was the first plane I created, and for a long time, was the only one. Back when my stories were Pokemon fanfics, “Aloutians” was just my term for all my fantasy people, essentially what I called them in lieu of calling them “Pokemon.” I only created the other planes as I wrote stories and realized I needed a plane for the ‘bad guys’ (Ophidians), then later for demons (Makai), Gods (Spiritua), and places to go exploring (Cosmo). The Quarantined Plane was the last to be created, and was only created after I drew the connections of the planes and realized if I added one more, I could draw them in a pentagonal formation.
Aloutia was the first, and therefore is the most developed with its cultures and its history. I have tens of thousands of words in my worldbuilding documents just on events that happened in Aloutia before the year 561 (when the Merchants novels take place). Wars, leaders, natural disasters, rebellions, you name it, I have exhaustive notes on it.
Furthermore, Aloutia is the plane I intend to take from “Hellish dystopia” to “magic solarpunk utopia” over the course of my books, and I hope my readers enjoy the transformation as much as I enjoy writing it.

6.- MoKaM is a book that doesn’t have fear of portraying scenes with high sexual content. Were they planned or did they just appear while the writing process?
They were planned from the start. I knew I would eventually write adult novels with sexual content, so I figured it was best to get it out of the way with my debut. I considered the ramifications of writing a YA novel initially, then moving on to darker topics. I would surely have an audience who felt betrayed.
I also did not want to hold anything back regarding Ophidian depravity. In some circles, there’s a belief that if women ruled the world, everything would be better; there would be no wars or rape, or senseless cruelty. I wrote Ophidia to be my response to that, as a woman myself, to say that… no, women in a position of absolute power living in a fascist state would also start wars, commit rape, and inflict unimaginable cruelty on those they oppress.

7.- From all the writing processes, which part would you say you prefer?
Learning more about my characters, sometimes through experimental writing and sometimes through meditating. With some characters, I can reach a phase of understanding where they feel like real people. They have all the depth and complexity of real humans, and I can tap into that to explore myself as a person. It doesn’t always translate well into my writing, and I can’t say it happens with every character, but it is the most enjoyable part of the writing process for me.

8.- You are currently in the process of preparing your second and third book if I’m not wrong, How has the process changed from writing MoKaM?
Now that I am with a small indie press and I know what to expect from them, I don’t have to second guess myself in regards to certain themes, word count, character archetypes, etc. While I am still perfecting my craft, particularly my prose, I am able to finish stories much quicker now that I know they have a home and will be published.
With MoKaM, there was a point where I tried to get it under 120K because that was the general number I’d seen floating around for what agents would accept from a debut epic fantasy novel. My first draft of MoKaM came out to around 135K words, then I edited it down to 115K. I was not happy with it. While the main plot was intact, it lacked some of the character interactions and observations that helped the characters feel more alive. The interludes were also absent, meaning many things were left up to the reader to (hopefully) interpret on their own. Once I decided to go the path of indie publishing, I threw away any pretense of keeping it under 120K words. I went through it once more, adding richness and detail wherever I wished, and by the end, I had a 150K word-long book I was proud of. For my future books, I write all the details I want the first time through, and I never worry about how long it’s going to be. If there are things that need to be cut, I will decide on my first self-editing pass instead of stressing over it over and over again.

9.- What can we expect from Erika McCorkle in the future?
Many, many more Pentagonal Dominion books. I intend to stay within my setting, though the time and place will change. The Merchants novels all take place in the year 561(of my fantasy world’s calendar, unrelated to Earth’s 561 AD). After those, I will write stories taking place during the Greed Wars of the year 300-310.
Most of my upcoming books will feature dark material. I have a lot of intense, gruesome stories that need to be told. After that, though? I might write prettier stories. Stories with less blood and gore and cannibalism.
MERCHANTS OF LIGHT AND BONE is coming out on August 8th, 2023. It is a tropical epic fantasy about a polyamorous, bisexual man who is a sculptor of glowing crystals and father of seven children… until a fissure opens up beneath one of his daughters, causing her to fall to her death. The fissure, revealing a trove of the glowing crystals he carves, is considered a blessing, since it will provide him with income for the rest of his life… but he finds it hard to care about that when the cost was his daughter’s life.
The book I’m currently writing is MEMORIES OF THE GOOD THYME INN, taking place 261 years before the Merchants novels. This is the first book of a trilogy that follows the life of a family who runs an inn during the Greed Wars. It starts as a dystopic fantasy in a world where capitalism has reached a late-stage destructive state, proceeds into an anarchist revolution, and ends as a ‘cozy fantasy’ with a self-sufficient community managing their affairs without rulers.