INTERVIEW: Paul S. Kemp on Writing and the Similarities between “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Star Wars”
Paul S. Kemp is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Best known for his work in the Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons universe, in 2011, Paul came out with a novel in his own word, The Hammer and the Blade, the first in a series of novels featuring two thieves, Egil and Nix. Paul Weimer sat down to talk to Paul about him and his work.
PW: Who is Paul S. Kemp?
PK: Paul S. Kemp is a wannabe superhero with delusions of grandeur. He also tells stories, drinks whiskey, loves his family, can spill any liquid from any container by mere mental command, and speaks of himself in the third person.
PW: You got your start with tie-in fiction, Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars, two massive and major franchises. How does the experience of writing in each of these two worlds contrast with each other? What have you learned writing Erevis Cale that you have applied to Jaden, and vice versa?
PK: The differences are actually quite minor. Both have enormous fan bases and are extremely detailed settings. With Star Wars, I had to engage in a crash course to get up to speed on the history/lore of the galaxy, whereas with the Realms I was immersed in the setting before I ever wrote in it by way of Dungeons and Dragons. And because of that, I never felt overwhelmed by the Realms. Star Wars, on the other hand, was overwhelming, at least at first. No so much because of the volume of lore (the Realms is just as detailed and rich), but because Star Wars is a mainstream cultural phenomenon as opposed to a niche like the Realms (albeit a very popular niche). So at first I was nervous writing something in the galaxy far, far away. But the nervousness disappeared pretty quickly and now it feels pretty much like home, same as the Realms. From a practical standpoint, editorial involvement with the process is a bit heavier with Star Wars, owing to the fact that you’re working with at least two (one at Del Rey, one at Lucasfilm). Too, Star Wars as so many tendrils out there (comic books, television, video games, etc.) that you’ve got to navigate lore that evolves much faster than it does with the Realms. The editors are of enormous help with that, of course.
In terms of Cale and Jaden: *Learned* is probably too strong a word, but my experience writing each has influenced later novels of the other. I wrote the Cale stories before writing Jaden’s duology, so I brought some of the dark and gritty tone of the Cale stories into Jaden’s story in Crosscurrent and Riptide. On the flip side, writing the relationships with Jaden and Khedryn and Marr (the two spacers who accompany him) reminded me that leavening in some humor gives the reader a needed break from a book with an otherwise darker tone. That influenced me as I wrote The Godborn, the next novel in the Cale Chronicles.
PW: You mentioned a crash course on Star Wars (as opposed to Dungeons and Dragons) when you started writing for that universe. Since then, do you keep up with the fiction being written by other authors in those two universes? Is there anything or anyone particularly that you like?
PK: And here I must make an awful admission: In recent years I haven’t read other authors in either setting (unless I was asked to blurb something). There are two reasons for that: First, I don’t read a lot of genre fiction generally. Second, I feel like I can probably come at the setting in my own unique (hopefully) fresh way if I stay away from other works in the setting. I try to keep up with events in the settings by using reference materials and frequenting the appropriate message boards, etc.
PW: Have you played much, or any of the roleplaying games or used them as reference material?
PK: I’ve never played a Star Wars RPG, but I’ve always wanted to. I’ve played (and still play) D&D. I started when I was in sixth grade, I think, maybe seventh. These days scheduling sessions has become difficult, given the work schedules and family obligations of my group, but I’m hoping to fire up a new D&D campaign later this year (after I finish the mss of A Discourse In Steel).
PW: How do you think your D&D roleplaying has, if at all, influenced your writing?
PK: Well, my love of fantasy fiction grew in parallel with my love of tabletop roleplaying, so it affected my writing in that sense. I’d never have been a writer at all had I not fallen so head over heels for fantasy storytelling. In a more direct sense, tabletop roleplaying is really an exercise in collaborative storytelling, so playing it (and mostly DMing it) helped put in place in me some of the basic building blocks of the storyteller’s art (e.g., appropriate pacing, building tension, emotional catharsis, etc.). I didn’t think about it in those terms at the time, of course — I was just having fun with my buds — but that’s what it was doing nevertheless.
PW: The jump from playing D&D to writing novels set in the Forgotten Realms seems like an obvious leap to me. (And to another shared universe, Star Wars, too). What made you decide to strike out and create an original universe with Egil and Nix?
PK: Well, to be clear, playing D&D isn’t the reason I wrote Forgotten Realms novels in particular, or fantasy novels in general. I’ve loved the genre since I first read The Hobbit, and D&D came years later. The fact that my first published work was in the Realms is more happenstance than anything. At the time, Wizards of the Coast had an open submissions policy (unlike most publishers then), so I sent something in and things took off from there. For years thereafter, the Realms occupied most of my writing time and allowed me to tell the stories I wanted to tell. In between Realms novels, as my schedule allowed, I wrote and published some short stories in original settings, but no novels. Later, an opportunity came along to write Star Wars novels and I jumped at that (having loved Star Wars since 1977). Throughout all that time, the idea and desire to write what would later become the Egil and Nix was percolating. It finally boiled over and I realized that I really wanted to write a sword and sorcery novel that was unabashed in its embrace of rollicking adventure, but at the same time had a modern sensibility (in terms of theme and prose and such). I also wanted to pay an homage to the authors whom I regard as my strongest influences (Leiber, Howard, and Moorcock). Eventually my schedule (and inclination) allowed for me to focus on that desire, and The Hammer and the Blade (and sequels) was the result.
PW: For the moment, you do have The Hammer and the Blade as an original fantasy novel under your belt (and sequels en route, joyfully). Do you have any ideas or plans or thoughts about doing original science fiction? (Although whether Star Wars is really better labeled science fantasy is a whole ‘other can of worms).
PK: If I did, it would be straight-out space opera, and I’ve kicked around the idea from time to time. But in truth my first love is fantasy and that’s where I’m likely to stay for the foreseeable future. I have a four-color superhero novel I’ve outlined in detail and would like to write one day, though. That’d probably get done before the space opera (though I’m not sure how many publishers would have an appetite for a four color superhero story).
PW:Well, I’ve seen a couple of superhero novels pop up lately (Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher comes to mind), so perhaps you will have the opportunity. Speaking of opportunities, what’s the next opportunity for people to get a dose of your fiction?
PK: At the end of June, my next sword and sorcery novel starring Egil and Nix, A Discourse In Steel, will be released by Angry Robot. Then, in October, The Godborn drops. It’s a continuation of the story of Erevis Cale, Drasek Riven, the Shadovar, et al, and is part of Wizards of the Coast’s The Sundering series. Should be an exciting year.
PW: An exciting year indeed. Well, thank you for sitting down (sans a glass of whiskey, alas!) for this interview. Where can readers find out more about you, or possibly meet you if you are doing any Cons this year?
Due to family obligations and the demands of my day job, I don’t do a lot of cons, but it’s possible I’ll be at GenCon this August. I’ll know more as the time gets closer. Other than that, no cons, alas.
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