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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author Paul S. Kemp

A mild-mannered corporate lawyer by day, Paul S. Kemp goes out at night fighting for justice and the American way. At night, he dreams of swords, sorcery, seafaring adventurers and slaying dragons. He’s the author of three Star Wars tie-in books: Crosscurrent, Deceived and the forthcoming Riptide from Del Rey/Lucas Books. He’s written 9 books in the Erevis Cale series for Forgotten Realms. His stories have been published in anthologies like Sails & Sorcery and several Forgotten Realms anthologies as well as magazines like Dragon Magazine. Active on Twitter as @Paulskemp, he can be found online at his website as well. Married with twin boys, he keeps his own realm safe in the urban jungles of Michigan.

SFFWRTCHT:  So, Paul, how did a lawyer end up writing fantasy and science fiction? Did you always want to be a writer even while studying law? Which dream came first?


Paul S. Kemp: Well, I hated law school, and being a geek, naturally turned to writing speculative fiction.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get connected with Wizards of The Coast?

PSK: Wizards Of The Coast had an open submissions policy around 2000. I subbed via that and they’ve never forgiven me.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you start by submitting a preexisting novel or short stories or was it book proposals?

PSK: A chapter from an original fantasy novel. A later chapter. Early ones were…uh..not good.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you a long time D&D player with experience in the Forgotten Realms?

PSK: I was a big Dungeons & Dragons/Forgotten Realms player. Still am, actually. Same bunch of guys. We’re old and sad now, but still roll a mean d20. I’m a long time gamer and reader of Realms fiction.

SFFWRTCHT: Where did the character Erevis Cale come from?

PSK: Cale represents my fascination with the anti-hero, a character who constantly flirts with redemption.

SFFWRTCHT: He’s an interesting mix: ”priest and assassin. Does that dichotomy parallel the lawyer-writer dichotomy?

PSK: Ha! Are you likening the lawyer or the writer to an assassin? Don’t answer that. I lose either way.

SFFWRTCHT: How much writing did you do before that opportunity arose? Was it all genre work?

PSK: I wrote a fantasy novel (not a very good one) and some short stories, a few of which sold. It was all in genre. And I intend to stay in genre for good. Specfic reaches a reader in ways non-spec-fic cannot. Specfic fires the imagination, creates a sense of wonder. Non specfic doesn’t do that much.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the core elements of a good Forgotten Realms story?

PSK: My Forgotten Realms novels are sword and sorcery novels. They’re about characters, intensely personal stakes with a good dose of cinematic action. A good Realms story is a ripping adventure yarn that also gets at larger themes.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the core attributes of a good Forgotten Realms character?

PSK: A good Forgotten Realms character is same as in any good work of fiction: a compelling motivation, internal conflict and an interesting character arc. A cool sword also helps.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get involved with the Star Wars EU?

PSK: RA Salvatore introduced me to an editor at Del Rey and I pestered her incessantly. They were like: Just give him a book so he’ll stop bothering us.  I was enamored of Star Wars, but I’ll be candid and tell you I haven’t read a ton of Expanded Universe novels. I am ashamed.

sffwrtcht: How heavily is research of the Star Wars Expanded Universe required before writing?

PSK: Research is extensive, but there are a lot of resources at hand. And a reader doesn’t need to know all that to enjoy the Star Wars novels I’ve written. Or so I tell myself.

SFFWRTCHT: Which Star Wars movie was your favorite?

PSK: Empire Strikes Back was my favorite, but my favorite scene is Obi-Wan and Anakin at end of Revenge of the Sith. McGregor rocks that scene. “You were my brother, Anakin!” I love that.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve written three books in that universe. Crosscurrent, Deceived and Riptide, a sequel to Crosscurrent which comes out this Fall, right?

PSK: Yes. Riptide begins almost immediately after the end of Crosscurrent. Both are set in a time roughly equal to the present of the Star Wars universe (which is forty or so years post movies). The stories are self-contained and take place largely in an area of the galaxy called The Unknown Regions. Both feature the Jedi Jaden Korr and his salvager/spacer companions, Khedryn and Marr.

SFFWRTCHT: Deceived, on the other hand, is tied into the new Old Republic Multiplayer Online game world, correct?

PSK: Indeed. All original characters (though Jaden was the avatar in the old Jedi Academy game).

SFFWRTCHT: None of the characters in Deceived were familiar to me, yet I found the book captured me as much as any other Star Wars book.  And that amazed me because I’ve read several, all with the traditional cast. It was very well done.

PSK: I’m really glad to hear that. I think Deceived’s emotional punch has resonated with readers.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, Darth Malgus is a very complicated antagonist. In fact, at times he’s more sympathetic than the Jedi chasing him. You really built three dimensional characters which makes a big difference in resonance with readers and is essential when working with all new characters and an audience with a connection to the Expanded Universe.

PSK: The goal with Malgus was to make him clearly bad, but compelling and worthy of a reader’s respect even so. True of all fiction, I’d say. You can’t care if you don’t care, as they say. You know, they say that. . I wanted readers to be conflicted about him. Same with Zeerid.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, giving both of them supporting characters they really cared about made a big difference for reader connection. Did you base the characters at all on other characters you liked from the saga?

PSK: Not really. I try to stay away from them. But those archetypes are so ingrained, any character on the edge of the law is invariably like Han, and Jedi are always likened to Obi-Wan/Luke. No getting away from it. It’s a testament to the power of those characters that others are measured against them.

SFFWRTCHT:Yes, no getting away from it, which makes it all the more impressive that your characters still feel so unique. What’s the trick to capturing the right feel?

PSK: “Feel” is tough. Star Wars is mythmaking. It’s about the Hero’s Journey, a rise, fall, redemption. There’s lots of ways to explore the Hero’s Journey, and I think a SW novel must do so or lose that “feel.”

SFFWRTCHT: So you weren’t reading Zahn or Anderson while you wrote it to get the “feel” by osmosis then?

PSK: I wasn’t alas, though maybe I should. I don’t want to emulate anyone, exactly. I just want to write “Kemp doing Star Wars.”

SFFWRTCHT: How long does it take you to write a tie in book?

PSK: It takes me about the same time to write tie-in or non-tie in–approximately six months, give or take a few weeks.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you outline your books in advance? Let them unfold as they come? Do character sketches?

PSK: I do fairly detailed outlines and more or less psych profiles of the characters. I deviate as necessary. The outline helps a lot because I almost always write out of sequence. I’ll write according to my mood or as inspiration strikes. Some days I feel inspired to write action, or I imagine the end scene’s details on drive. I then write that.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have to reread a lot to keep the flow smooth and keep track of things?

PSK: I’ll check pertinent sections when I need this or that fact for continuity, but that’s it for a reread. Once I’ve edited it and it’s a book, I don’t go back to it.

SFFWRTCHT:Do you get any guff from your fellow lawyers about writing Science Fiction on off time? Or are they impressed?

PSK: I try to keep the two lives more or less separate. Those in my day job who do know think it’s very cool.

SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite writers/mentors?

PSK: My favorite writers include Moorcock, Leiber, Chabon, Delilo. My mentors: Salvatore and Ed Greenwood.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have interest in writing ties in with other franchises?

PSK: I’m careful about that (other franchises) these days. Only ones I love. Warhammer is something I’ll do one day.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you done any collaborating with other writers?

PSK: When I did War of the Spider Queen, I collaborated with RA Salvatore and the writers of the other novels in series.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you connect with Salvatore?

PSK: We both wrote in the Forgotten Realms. We worked together on Spider Queen, chatted at cons, and we’re of the same age, etc.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any plans to put out an original novel, such as the one you pitched Wizards Of The Coast with?

PSK: Indeed. My agent is shopping an original Sword &Sorcery novel and things look promising with a pub I’d love to work with. It’s heavily inspired by Leiber, with a dash of Lovecraft.

SFFWRTCHT: What exciting projects do you have coming up for us to look forward to?

PSK: Lots of things. The next Erevis Cale Saga trilogy opens in 2012 with Godborn. Lots of Vasen Cale. Some Riven. Brennus and Rivalen. And the long con starting to show through.  Also, a hardcover Star Wars duology starting in 2012.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novelThe Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.