SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Bestselling Star Wars/Forgotten Realms Author Paul S. Kemp
Paul S. Kemp is a mild-mannered corporate lawyer by day, out at night fighting for justice and the American way and rolling twelve sided dice in the dungeons of Detroit. He’s the author of three Star Wars tie-in books and twice that many Forgotten Realms books. His latest book, Discourse In Steel, is an original adventure fantasy from Angry Robot Books, starring Nix and Egil. It’s a sequel to his well received The Hammer and The Blade which came out last summer. He also has his latest Forgotten Realms novel The Godborn featuring Erevis Cale coming out in October. He lives up near Detroit with his wife and an expanding group of spawn. And can be found online at Twitter as @PaulSKemp, Facebook and his website paulskemp.com.
SFFWRTCHT: So we’ve talked about Egil and Nix before, but give us a quick rundown please. Who are Egil and Nix?
PAUL S. KEMP: Well, they’re the protagonists in my sword and sorcery novels from Angry Robot. Egil is the hulking, somber, brooding priest, wont to deliver sermons with hammers rather than words. Nix is a sneak thief, fancies himself the brains, quick of word and blade.
PSK: The boys ran afould of a devil pacted sorcerer — nasty fucker, really — then were compelled to assist him in a plot involving his sisters. Tombs were robbed. Hijinks ensued. And, in the end, the boys lived and learned.
SFFWRTCHT: Indeed! Discourse and Steel picks up after Hammer with the two owning their tavern/brothel. And the two sisters, Rose and Merelda, are free of imprisonment by their brother and living in the city.
PSK: Aye. Making their own way.
SFFWRTCHT: How much time has elapsed between books here? How much of that time have you filled in mentally with what happens?
PSK: It’s fuzzy. For that, I blame whiskey. But not a lot. Months, maybe. And I haven’t kept track of what has gone down with Egil and Nix in the interim. They’re shifty bastards anyway. Hard to follow, as it were.
SFFWRTCHT: Fair enough. When Rose is injured in the assassination of a client to their fortune telling, they seek help from Egil & Nix, who must take on The Thieves Guild, the most powerful guild in the land. Who are the Thieves Guild?
PSK: A powerful force in the city of Dur Follin anyway. The guild in Dur Folling is more religious order than ordinary guild. Religion binds them. Cuttthroat, even by the standards of such orgs. Run by the Committee, eight Arch Thieves identifiable to those in the know by their magical tattoos. Klling another member of the Committee is ace, and one way to advance to Upright Man. But get caught, or even leave evidence, and you’re a dustman. Egil and NIx get caught up in that.
SFFWRTCHT: How much of the world around Dur Follin is now mapped out in your mind? Any worldbuilding surprises for you?
PSK: Quite a bit, but some of it is unfolding as I write/plan, and candidly, that’s half the fun of these stories.
SFFWRTCHT: The first Egil & Nix novel had a neat little shout-out to the Green Lantern mythos, any similar shout-outs in Discourse?
PSK: Nothing so blatant this time around. We changed the name in the book. No Abn Sur, alas.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the world in which they live. It’s a secondary world, right? Give us some highlights please.
PSK: You know, I like to keep the world, to some degree, an implied setting, in the vein of classic S&S. Oh sure, there’s The Heap, the Water Clock of Mad Ool, the Archbridge built by some forgotten progenitors, a history of some world shaking Wizard War that left ruins scattered over the landscape. But it’s the small stuff I love the most. The interior of the Slick Tunnel (the brothel/inn), the Low Bazaar, the Guild House.
PSK: Right. Though they don’t run it. They know their limits.
SFFWRTCHT: A somewhat admirable trait, indeed.
PSK: These are the easiest characters I’ve ever written, yet I think they’re the characters with the most distinct voices. Sounds stupid, but I feel like I was made to write these two.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did the book take to write?
PSK: Oh man, with young kids (I have four including the newborn) times passes weirdly for me. I think…six months maybe
SFFWRTCHT: How many books are planned in the series?
PSK: I’m booked for three, so one still under contract, but they seem to be doing well, so I’m hoping to stay with them a long time.
SFFWRTCHT: One of the more vivid settings I remember is the slum area where their “mother” lives, actually
PSK: Right. Mamabird is Nix’s moral compass, even though she appears only rarely. Nix’s whole psychology is tied up in his experience in the Warrens and growing up in the shadow of the Heap. Mamabird saved him.
PSK: I always work from outline and almost always write out of sequence. It just works for me.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
PSK: I love Nix’s wit and inherent optimism. But I’m drawn to Egil’s somberness and introspection. More like me. My favorite new character isn’t new, but more fleshed out — Gadd, the alekeep at the Tunnel. He’s got him some teeth and tats. His history is hinted at in Discourse, and I plan to explore it more in later books.
SFFWRTCHT: Does this book standalone like Hammer?
PSK: It does standalone, though there are callbacks to Hammer. My goal is to write stories that are connected, but not sequels in any meaningful sense. Like Howard’s Conan tales or Leiber’s Fahrrd & the Great Mauser stories.
SFFWRTCHT: All right, well, let me just say that these are fun, fast reads with good humor and action adventure in a classic feel. Since The Godborn is coming out, we have to talk about Erevis Cale. Who is Erevis Cale and how did he come to be? Short version.
PSK: Ah, Cale. Cale is my signature character in the Forgotten Realms. The most popular character I’ve written. He’s a thief, an assassin, and eventually, a priest who stabs his own god in the chest. Always trying to slip his past, but never succeeding. Dark dude. Brooding dude. Born killer. But honorable, still.
PSK: The Godborn follows on from The Twilight War Trilogy, picking up about 100 years later. The world has changed a lot. Cale’s son and former companions (those who are long-lived) are, as always, caught up in the machinations of gods and the powerful.
SFFWRTCHT: And this is part of a series called The Sundering initiated by RA Salvatore, correct? How do the books fit together?
PSK: The Sundering is a world spanning event that creates ripples all across the Realms. The books in the series are connected in that they take place against that backdrop, showing different aspects of it. The stories, however, are not sequels or intertwined, though there are some Easter Eggs across books.
SFFWRTCHT: For those who don’t know, tell us please a little about the Realms setting please.
PSK: The Forgotten Realms is arguable the most detailed, intricate fantasy setting ever created this side of Middle Earth. It’s a setting for many D&D game products and lots of fiction. It is vast, historically and geographically and so contains just about anything you might imagine, at one place or time or another. Created by Ed Greenwood. And, for the record, Ed Greenwood is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met.
PSK: Fantasy allows for less rigorous worldbuilding and more vigorous exploration of moral questions. Sci-fi is opp.
SFFWRTCHT: When you first got to write for WOTC, did you choose Realms as a setting or was it chosen for you? Was it familiar?
PSK: I sent a sample in response to an open solicitation set in the Realms. I knew the setting very well.
SFFWRTCHT: Erevis Cale was the butler or something as part of a multi-author series, correct?
PSK: Cale starts as the majordomo to a powerful merchant house. In reality, he’s a spy. This blows up and off we go.
SFFWRTCHT: Well, now that you’ve done original worldbuilding in fantasy, any plans to do the same with a science fiction world?
PSK: Hard to say. I’ve got some ideas on that front, but really, my first and deepest love is fantasy.
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve probably been asked, but with a full time job as a lawyer and four kids, how the hell do you find time to write?
PSK: I’m unstuck in time. Also, I juggle like mad and have made myself efficient.
PSK: Well, the Disney deal created some wrinkles. I’m under contract. But I’m on standby.
SFFWRTCHT: Are there shared worlds besides Star Wars and the Realms that interest you in writing for someday?
PSK: Only one: Warhammer. I try to pester Christian Dunn from time to time. As soon as my schedule allows, I plan to make a real pest of myself and get some hot, slippery Chaos action. I did a small piece for them a while back and enjoyed it enormously. Christian Dunn was great to work with and I love the setting.
SFFWRTCHT: Having done both, what are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a shared world versus a world of your own?
PSK: Shared world has done some world building and brings (in the case of FR and SW) a big audience. With your own work, you’re more creatively free. In a way, the shared world stuff has a high floor but a ceiling. Original work has no floor and no ceiling. You can reach essentially zero readers or millions.
SFFWRTCHT: Asked this last time but let’s see if it’s changed. What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
PSK: The best is “write fearlessly,” and, in the words of Chuck Wendig, “Finish your shit.” The worst…. There’s not much that strikes me as dead nuts terrible. “Write what you know” is so stupid nobody says it anymore.
SFFWRTCHT: Okay, for those curious, last time I interviewed him, Paul answered Ha! “Write what you love” is the best. “Write what you know” is the worst.
PSK: That’s some profound shit right there. Damn. I was a contender back then.
PSK: I loved The Weird (one of the stories in it inspired Blackalley in Discourse). I enjoyed The Mirage by M. Ruff. I think Wendig’s Blackbirds is a clinic on use of voice. I’m reading Edgar Rice Burrough’s Princess Of Mars right now and loving it.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
PSK: I’ve got the next Egil and Nix tale, A Conversation In Blood, my next Realms novel after The Godborn, and a fantasy-thriller-horror novel for which I’d love to find a home.
SFFWRTCHT: What are the top writing lessons you’ve learned from role playing games?
PSK: Hmm. Keep things moving. Focus on that which is important. Uh, roll for initiative!
SFFWRTCHT: So roll and write. That might be an interesting approach and dangerous for your outline
SFFWRTCHT: With that in mind, how many sets of dice is too many?
PSK: I dispute the premise of the question. There can never be too many.
SFFWRTCHT: Last question, what’s the best advice you offer writers who ask?
PSK: It’s harder than you think. You’ll be rejected often. If you do it for money, you’ll quit. Love it or don’t do it.
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