Today, we speak to author Tempe O’Kun, author and writer for the youtube channel Culturally F’d. He has a long history of writing furry stories across multiple different mediums. He happily shared some of his insights to the writing process and the furry fandom as a whole.
Tell us a little bit about your most recent project (written or published). Was there a particular inspiration for it?
My new novel, Marian, is inspired by the Reynard the Fox and Robin Hood legends. I wanted to establish the idea in our society of a bureaucrat hero —a highly-moral politician— who uses her social-skill super-powers for good. Maid Marian was a natural choice because she’s established as part of the ruling class, but also paired with a more action-centric love interest. The Reynard stories add a fun layer of complexity and mischief to both her and Robin.
I also just finished a sci-fi audio series, which is getting posted on my YouTube channel, Culturally F’d. It’s called Puplift and in it I narrate as a dog explaining the future society he lives in. I started it as a reaction against the bleak futures I so often see in sci-fi. While it’s important to warn society away from dark paths, it’s equally vital to show them possible futures we can strive for.
What is your favourite thing about the furry fandom? Why write furry fiction?
I really like the equality and respect in the furry fandom. I know that sounds a bit strange when talking about an internet community, but look at it this way: when you pick up a furry book, you know it’s going to present LGBT people in an authentic and empathetic way. The fandom has an enlightened set of values about race, gender, sexuality, economic status, and so on. We don’t always stick to these values perfectly, as nobody can be perfect, but we at least agree what they are—that every person has worth.
As for furry as a genre, I write in it for several reasons. First, it encourages world-building and creativity—how do an elephant and a mouse sit at the same table, for example. Second, it allows us to bypass a lot of the built-in assumptions we make with human characters, so it puts our problems in a new context so we can get a fresh perspective. Star Trek does this with aliens. We do this with animals. Third, it is very global. No matter where you come from in the world, you expect a ferret to fidget, a lion to lounge, and a bunny to bounce. Thus, readers enter the narrative with a head-start on understanding your characters.
What is your writing process like? Do you outline and plot, or are you a “pantser”?
I am about halfway between an outliner and a seat-of-the-pants writer. I research a lot of background info and study up on the genre I’m going to be writing in. That said, I don’t know what exactly will happen in a given scene until I’m writing it. I know the hero escapes the dungeon, but I don’t always know how or what complications will arise in the process.
What do you consider your biggest strength as a writer?
Readers tell me I’m very good at shifting genre and tone. Whenever I start a new work, I think about what genre is will fit into and what kind of tone I’m going for. Authors often feel a temptation to say that their work transcends genres, but genre is just part of the dialog between you and your reader. If you are in the mood for a mystery and start reading something that claims to be a mystery, then you want it to be a mystery. I think if it like search tags on websites, rather than a box that constrains your story. So I read works from that genre and check out TVTropes for that genre. I also make a playlist of music that gets me in the correct mindset. To establish a tone, I make a document with “rules” for that story or series. These are things like how characters talk, what sort of sentence structure the narration takes, and even how modern of language to use.
What is your favourite kind of story to write? Does it align well with what you like to read?
I like to write stories with healthy relationships. I am all about friendships, romances, and empathy. That lines up with what I like to read. I quickly get tired of a story if it’s too violent or if the characters are cruel. If I am to spend hours with these characters, they should be people I enjoy. I can get quite enough fuss and misery in real life. I write by the motto of “You have to see it to be it;” meaning you have to know something is a possibility before you can opt to do it. If you have seen lots of good relationships in fiction (or real life), you can be more mindful in how you assemble the parts of your own relationships. In the end, happy fiction makes for happy people.
Which character of yours do you most identify with, and why?
All of my main characters embody some part of my personality. Six has my determination. Blake has my interest in social structures. Kylie has my impulsiveness. Max has my nerdy tendencies. Robin has my passion for justice. Marian has my social savvy.
Which authors or specific books have most influenced your work?
James Gurney’s Dinotopia taught me to create the sort of worlds I’d want to live in. Plus, it has talking dinosaurs, so that gets extra points from me.
What is the last book you read that you really love?
The entire Moomins series by Tove Jansson. That world is just so cozy and supportive. It stars adorable marshmallow hippos and most of the cast is anthro. Everybody is living in this cottagecore valley with magic and adventure. It’s a very reassuring place to recover from the horror of the last four years and ongoing the pandemic. For those looking to dive into the series, I really recommend the 1990 cartoon (The Moomins) or the 2019 animated series (Moominvalley). Even the original text has really cool bisexual and poly themes, which aren’t surprising given the author’s life. No doubt I will be writing an episode of Culturally F’d soon about Moomintroll as a bisexual icon.
Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I really enjoy cooking. I bake fresh bread every few days. I also really enjoy fixing things. I often don’t feel like I own an item until I’ve repaired or improved it. I like taking walks. I also like table-top RPGs quite a bit, so I write modules like Ironclaw: The Book of Monsters.
Do you have any advice to give other writers?
I find that my best works are made when I am writing the sort of story I’d want to read. If I want very badly to read a story, to the point of taking it upon myself to write it, then I know it’s something truly engaging. So don’t worry about chasing trends. If you’re crazy about it, that passion will translate through to the reader.
Is there anything you would like to see more of within furry fiction?
If we apply the above rule to my writing, I apparently want to see more female characters of all stripes (zebra and otherwise). I’m also trying to get more stories into the furry canon about stable poly relationships. For all the orgies we write about, we tend to really shy away from orgies with feelings involved! And I’d love to see furry stories from a broader range of backgrounds. So no matter who you are reading this, don’t feel like you have to write the same sorts of stories that anybody else writes. Nobody is more qualified than you to show off your little corner of the world.
Where can readers find your work?
Tomorrow we speak to another one of our wonderful authors, so be sure to check back then!