SFF Writer Chat Transcript

April 28, 2011 at 10:55 am | Posted in Interview | Leave a comment
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In case you missed the SFF Writer Chat last night with author Paul S. Kemp, we’ve composed an organized transcript for your viewing pleasure. SFF Writer Chat’s Bryan Thomas and a few fans asked Paul S. Kemp some questions that covered ground ranging from his start in the business to his current novels.

BryanThomasS: Welcome Paul S. Kemp! Thanks for joining us!

Paulskemp: Thanks, Bryan. Happy to be here.

BryanThomasS: So, Paul, how did a lawyer end up writing fantasy and science fiction?

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

BryanThomasS: How did you get connected with Wizards of the Coast?

Paulskemp: Wizards of the Coast had an open submission policy around 2000. I submitted via that and they’ve never forgiven me.

BryanThomasS: Did you submit a preexisting novel or short stories? Proposals?

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

Brandon_Whaley: I think I’ve asked before, but how did you get involved with the Star Wars Expanded Universe?

Paulskemp: R.A. Salvatore introduced me to an editor at Del Rey and I pestered her incessantly.

sffwrtcht: Were you a long time Dungeons & Dragons player with experience in the Forgotten Realms?

Paulskemp: I was a big D&D/Forgotten Realms player. Still am, actually. Same bunch of guys. We’re old and sad now, but still roll a mean d20.

BryanThomasS: Where did the character Erevis Cale come from?

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

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

Paulskemp: Ha! Are you likening the lawyer or the writer to an assassin? Wait, don’t answer that. I lose either way. :-)

BryanThomasS: I’ll hold my tongue then. ;) How much writing did you do before that opportunity arose? Was it all genre work?

Paulskemp: 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. Speculative fiction reaches a reader in ways non-speculative fiction does’t. Speculative fiction fires the imagination, creates a sense of wonder. Non-speculative fiction doesn’t do that much.

BryanThomasS: I agree. Totally.

sffwrtcht: How familiar were you with D&D/Forgotten Realms before you wrote for Wizards of the Coast?

Paulskemp: Very familiar with the Realms, being a long time gamer and reader of Realms fiction.

BryanThomasS: What are some of the core elements to a good Forgotten Realms story?

Paulskemp: 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 Forgotten Realms story is a rippin’ adventure yarn that also gets at larger themes.

BryanThomasS: Great answer! Thanks!

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

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

sffwrtcht: Gotta have a good sword!

AUChief: Are you now or have you been previously a fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe? If so, whose work is your favorite?

Paulskemp: You know, I’ll be candid and tell you I haven’t read a ton of EU novels. I am ashamed. :-)

AUChief: Nothing to be ashamed of…I somehow doubt Tim Zahn, father of the modern EU, has read many.

BryanThomasS: Boy, everyone wants to jump on Star Wars while I’m on Forgotten Realms. I promise I’ll get there shortly ;)

Paulskemp: Star Wars is huge, my brother. We must deal with it. :-)

BryanThomasS: Did you grow up enamored with Star Wars like me? Was it a dream to write a Star Wars story?

Paulskemp: Oh yea, I was enamored of SW. That sense of wonder I mentioned? That’s the Tantive IV coming onscreen at the beginning of A New Hope.

sffwrtcht: Did you pitch Del Rey the story or did they pitch you?

Paulskemp: I pitched Del Rey, after making a pest of myself. They were like: Just give him a book so he’ll stop bothering us.

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

Paulskemp: 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 SW novels I’ve written. Or so I tell myself.

BryanThomasS: You’ve written three books in that universe: Crosscurrent, Deceived, and Riptide, which comes out this summer, right?

Paulskemp: Correcto!

BryanThomasS: Riptide is a sequel to Crosscurrent?

Paulskemp: It is. Riptide begins almost immediately after the end of Crosscurrent.

BryanThomasS: Tell us about the setting of those two tales? You flash back and forth between two eras in the EU, right?

Paulskemp: Both are set in a time roughly equal to the present of the Star Wars universe (which is 40 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.

BryanThomasS: So, like Deceived, they work pretty much with original characters?

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

BryanThomasS: 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.

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

BryanThomasS: And that amazed me because I’ve read several, all with the traditional cast. It was very well done.

Paulskemp: Thank you kindly.

BryanThomasS: Darth Malgus is a very complicated antagonist. In fact, at times he’s more sympathetic than the Jedi chasing him.

Paulskemp: The goal with Malgus was to make him clearly bad, but compelling and worthy of a reader’s respect even so.

BryanThomasS: I think 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 EU.

Paulskemp: True of all fiction, I’d say. You can’t care if you don’t care, as they say. You know, THEY say that.

BryanThomasS: True, yes.

Brandon_Whaley: I agree. In the end, I was pulling for Malgus, which confused me ;)

BryanThomasS: Exactly. I was until his final act of self-control…

Paulskemp: That really pleases me to hear. I wanted readers to be conflicted about him. Same with Zeerid.

BryanThomasS: Well, giving both of them supporting characters they really cared about made a big difference for reader connection.

Brandon_Whaley: I really loved Z-man! Poor guy.

BryanThomasS: I can see all kinds of other adventures with all three of them, actually.

Paulskemp: I could see revisiting Aryn and Z-man sometime. I’m more interested in doing Malgus again, though.

sffwrtcht: Did you base the characters at all on other characters you liked from the saga?

Paulskemp: 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 and Luke. No getting away from it. It’s a testament to the power of those characters that others are measured against them.

BryanThomasS: Yes, no getting away from it, which makes it all the more impressive your characters still feel so unique.

sffwrtcht: What’s the trick to capturing the right feel?

Paulskemp: “Feel” is tough. Star Wars is mythmaking. It’s about the Hero’s Journey: rise, fall, redemption. There’s lots of ways to explore the Hero’s Journey, and I think a Star Wars 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?

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

BryanThomasS: Kemp doing Star Wars is some fine Star Wars! Congrats!

Paulskemp: Thanks, brother. I’m having a lot of fun and Star Wars readers are awesome.

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

Paulskemp: Takes me about the same time to write tie-in or non-tie in. Approximately six months, give or take a few weeks.

sffwrtcht: Any plans to put out an original novel, such as the one you pitched Wizards of the Coast with?

Paulskemp: Indeed. My agent is shopping an original sword and sorcery novel and things look promising with a publisher I’d love to work with.

BryanThomasS: Awesome! Good luck! Are you able to give us any hints to what it’s about yet beyond S&S?

Paulskemp: Not too much. It’s heavily inspired by Leiber, with a dash of Lovecraft.

BryanThomasS: Pretty mysterious and cryptic for a guy who tweets in the nude. (just kidding, earlier joke folks)

Paulskemp: I opted not to go nude. Went with the Gimp suit instead. Yeehaw.

BryanThomasS: I think I speak for all of us when I say: we’re grateful.

Paulskemp: I’d tell you if could, but then I’d have to Force choke you. Seriously, Del Rey/Lucasfilm is serious about non-disclosure agreements.

BryanThomasS: Oh, ok. Sorry. I forget about that.

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

Paulskemp: Lots of things. Next Cale Saga trilogy opens in 2012 with Godborn. Hardcover Star Wars duology starting in 2012, and the S&S novel I mentioned (here’s hoping, anyway).

sffwrtcht: Do you get any guff from your fellow lawyers about writing science fiction on off time? Or are they impressed? (depends if they’re fans?)

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

Jaleta_Clegg: When do you find time to write with your day job and the cute boys in your profile pic?

Paulskemp: I juggle like a mofo. :-) More seriously, I think we make time for things we love. For me: family, job, writing.

AUChief: Do you have a favorite book, author, or series of novels?

Paulskemp: Favorite writers: Moorcock, Leiber, Chabon, Delilo. Mentors: Salvatore and Ed.

Jaleta_Clegg: Your list of authors includes a lot of the ones I like. I’m going to have to check out your work. Any suggestions?

BryanThomasS: Paul also had a nice story in an anthology called “Sails & Sorcery” which I reviewed for Tangent Online a while back.

Paulskemp: The Erevis Cale Omnibus or Shadowbred (both are sword and sorcery).

Jaleta_Clegg: Thanks for the titles. Most of my kids read S&S, too.

john_zeleznik: How does tie-in work work with agents?

Paulskemp: Same as non-tie in, as far as I’ve seen. Do you have something particular in mind?

john_zeleznik: Don’t have an agent yet, a couple are looking at my manuscript…but I’ve always wanted to write a Wizards of the Coast or Star Wars novel.

Paulskemp: When you land the agent, talk to them about it. They may have a contact there or you can at least query.

BryanThomasS: You can compete with me on the Star Wars novel… it’s a goal/dream here too!

BryanThomasS: Do you have interest in writing tie-ins with other franchises?

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

kaolinfire: Geekcheck – have you read the TSR Forgotten Realms comics? :) Or the other TSR comics?

Paulskemp: I did read the old Forgotten Realms comic way, way back in the day. Keeping the geek card?

sffwrtcht: Do you still play D&D regularly? Is there time?

Paulskemp: It’s more off and on with the gaming. Lots of off lately. Lots of my buds travel. This homey does not fly.

BryanThomasS: Which Star Wars movie was your favorite?

Paulskemp: Empire was my favorite, but my favorite scene is Obi-Wan and Anakin at end of Revenge. McGregor rocks that scene. “You were my brother, Anakin!” Love that.

BryanThomasS: Me too!

john_zeleznik: Really? Come on..Empire guys!

BryanThomasS: I love Empire but nothing captures the feeling I had first seeing A New Hope. It’s when storytelling and the movies truly came to life for me in a new way.

john_zeleznik: Agreed. But Empire was just brutal and brilliant.

AwayInDreaming: Forgotten Realms specific, but any hints on what can we expect from The Cycle of the Night? From the snippets, Vasen seems really interesting.

Paulskemp: Lots of Vasen Cale. Some Riven. Brennus and Rivalen. And the long con starting to show through. :-)

BryanThomasS: Have you done any collaborating with other writers?

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

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

Paulskemp: 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.

BryanThomasS: Interesting. Out of sequence as things occur to you or to give you elements from key scenes to build off of in others?

Paulskemp: Out of sequence because 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.

BryanThomasS: Interesting. I haven’t met anyone who writes that way but I’m sure there are others. I’d get all mixed up. Do you read pages out loud at some point?

Paulskemp: I’ve never read anything out loud and I’ve never gone back and reread any of my novels, cover to cover. I’ll check pertinent sections when I need this or that fact/continuity issue, but that’s it for a reread.

AwayInDreaming: I find that really interesting. Is there any major reason why you never read your own work in full?

Paulskemp: Not entirely sure, to be honest. It’s just behind me and I leave it there. A bit weird, I know. I mean I don’t reread it once it’s published. I edit it like crazy. But when it’s a book, it’s dead to me. :-)

BryanThomasS: Probably healthy to move on and not keep wondering how you could have made them better like many do.

john_zeleznik: What’s the hardest part about fitting your sensibilities into someone else’s sandbox, so to speak?

Paulskemp: Varies with the property. I’ve been lucky and haven’t felt much in the way of constraint with Star Wars or Forgotten Realms. But there are some properties that have pretty stringent creative constraints. I would not want to write for those.

kaolinfire: You keep name-dropping R.A. Salvatore. [loved War of the Spider Queen]. How did you connect?

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

Jaleta_Clegg: What conventions are your favorites to attend?

Paulskemp: I’m not a big convention goer because of my young sons and day job. If I attend one in a year, it’s a busy year.

sffwrtcht: Where can we find you online besides www.paulskemp.com and @paulskemp here on Twitter?

Paulskemp: Other than those places, I’m also on Facebook under Paul S. Kemp. Find me! I’m occasionally amusing. And I juggle!

sffwrtcht: The transcript for tonight will be on the blog shortly or you can capture it here: http://erif.org/sffwrtcht-20110427.php

BryanThomasS: Thanks so much for taking time to be with us on SFF Writer Chat tonight! Please come back any time!

Posted By: Skuldren
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