September 14, 2007

Shadowscribe: An Interview with Paul S. Kemp

As promised, here is my interview with New York Times Bestselling author Paul S. Kemp. He was a really nice guy (funny too) and I hope that if you enjoy the interview, you will go out and buy Paul's well-wrought books, if you haven't done so already.

Grasping for the Wind: Let's start of with a personal question. What does that S. stand for in your name? And does it have any special significance? Why include it on the covers of your books?

Paul S. Kemp: It stands for shizzle, as in fo’ shizzle, which is my middle name. I understand my parents toyed with Paul F. Kemp, with the F standing for Flava Flav but they instead went with fo’ shizzle. Good thing for Flav and Public Enemy, really.

It is also possible that it actually stands for “Svante,” which was my grandfather’s middle name. It’s Finnish in origin, as am I and the whole Kemp line (Sisu, bitches! :-)). I use it because there are at least two other authors out there named Paul Kemp – one writes naval history; one writes horror – and I wanted to set myself apart from them in online searches, library database searches, etc.

GFTW: You've mentioned before on your blog that you are a lawyer as well as a writer, and the father of two young boys. How do you manage to juggle the demands of a full-time job, raising a family, and meeting writing deadlines?

PSK: You know, life is complicated for all of us. But we all make time for the things we love and the things we must do. I must work as a lawyer, and I love my family and writing. So I just make time for all three, the same way all of us juggle our various priorities.

As a practical matter, I tend to write on my lunch hour, weekends, evenings, vacations. I’m fortunate in that my work as a lawyer rarely bleeds into my weekends or evenings (that was not the case with some other legal jobs I’ve held). And my wife is both patient and supportive of my writing. All in all, things seems to be working out pretty well.

GFTW: Several months ago, the blogosphere was lit up by your defense of shared world fiction. You gave an impassioned defense of shared world fiction. Why did you choose to write your novels in the Forgotten Realms setting, rather than Dragonlance, Magic, Warhammer, or any of the other shared worlds out there?

PSK: That’s an easy one – I like the Realms. I enjoy its history, its personalities, its idiosyncrasies, its breadth. I’ve always found the Realms to be a setting in which I can tell exactly the story I want to tell. It’s a good fit for me.

There are a lot of good stories being written in the Realms and those who knock it because it’s tie-in have probably read few, if any, of them. In an effort to break through the conventional wisdom of “tie-in/shared world books suck,” I’ve been making a concerted effort to get my novels reviewed by sites that ordinarily do not do a lot of reviews of shared world/tie-in fiction (e.g., Fantasybookspot.com, Graeme’s Fantasy Review, Mania.com, etc.). Those sites have been ballsy enough to ignore the conventional wisdom and so far, so good.

GFTW: To what extent are you constrained by the pre-existing world of Faerûn in your writing and how and when are you able to forge new territory in the Forgotten Realms setting?

PSK: I have not bumped up against much in the way of constraints, by and large. I’ve always been free to tell the story I wanted to tell. There are some constraints imposed by shared world writing – the rules of magic are what they are, and I could not kill of this monarch or that, wipe out a city, or anything of that nature. But I’ve found them pretty loose boundaries.

As for charting new territory, that happens in literally every novel (and is true for all writers in FR). The Realms is detailed, but it’s not so detailed that a writer cannot develop his or her own take on this or that – from something as small as the religious practices of the holy knights of a particular god, to a scheme whereby servants of one god steal the entire temple of a rival god and transport it across the land (that was fun to write).

GFTW: Where you surprised when Erevis Cale became so popular after the publication of Shadow's Witness? Had you planned to continue writing about Erevis, or did Wizards of the Coast ask you to continue to write about this character?

PSK: I was and still am surprised. I really have the best fans. Whatever popularity Cale has is and was driven by readers recommending my work to others. I consider that the best compliment I could ever receive and am grateful for the enthusiasm. Word of mouth is priceless to a writer. Blogs and online communities are just an amplified form of the same thing and I really like the blogs/sites (like this one) that have a “reader to reader” feel to them. It’s a cool time to be a writer and reader of speculative fiction.

And yes, I had planned to write more of Cale, so I laid a lot of the seeds of future stories in Shadow’s Witness. When my editor asked me to do a Cale Trilogy, I was obviously delighted. Things have snowballed since then.

GFTW: Erevis Cale is a true anti-hero, using any and all methods to achieve his goal, while maintaining his own moral compass. Why did you choose to write an anti-hero, when much of the fantasy genre focuses on the true hero whose moral compass and methods always fall on the side of right or truth?

PSK: I’ve always been fascinated with the anti-hero archetype (Elric is my favorite literary embodiment). The anti-hero embodies the struggles we all face everyday but he does so in a heightened context. He also serves as the perfect vessel with which to toy around with the nature of good and evil. The anti-hero flirts constantly with redemption on the one hand, and transgression on the other. It creates a lot of drama and is a lot of fun to write.

GFTW: You have killed off major characters in your writing. Was it a difficult decision for you to do so?

PSK: Not really. I make all choices based on what I think will serve the story best. If that means a major character needs to die, he or she dies. I just try to make it memorable. :-)

GFTW: Why do you write? Is their some aim or big idea that you want your readers to draw from the adventures of Erevis Cale?

PSK: I write because I enjoy it. It’s fun. And I want readers who read my work to have fun. While I think my word does address some larger, more philosophical themes here and there, I am not interested in beating the readers over the head with it. I’m interested in the readers getting emotionally invested in the characters, the story, then enjoying the ride. I suppose a reader could consider the larger themes on a re-read, but I want that first experience to consist of rapid page turning and an accelerated heartbeat. :-)

GFTW: Your new novel, Shadowstorm, continues the story begun in Shadowbred, wherein Erevis Cale returns to a Sembia and Selgaunt teetering on the edge of civil war. It has been said that this series will be a Realms shattering event. What effect did this have on your story and how you approached writing it, as opposed to your previous books?

PSK: Good question. Prior to The Twilight War (of which Shadowbred and Shadowstorm are books one and two, respectively), I would have characterized my Erevis Cale stories as almost entirely character-driven, meaning the scope was small, not epic. But The Twilight War features events more akin to epic fantasy than pure sword and sorcery. The difficulty with those kinds of stories is that the events can sometimes outrun/overshadow the characters. I very much wanted to avoid that in The Twilight War, wanted readers talking about my characters, not merely the big things that happen. So I tried to marry small, personal, sharp motivations for my protagonists and antagonists to the larger elements of a sweeping plot. Readers will have to tell me if it succeeds.

GFTW: Was it difficult to take over and write about characters not of your own devising, as in Resurrection, or the character of Tamlin from the Sembia series, who plays a large role in The Twilight War Trilogy?

PSK: Resurrection was difficult, because I was inheriting characters who’d been developed previously by not one author, but five, each with their own slightly different take. With the exception of Halisstra, none of them ever really felt mine, so that made it that much more difficult to get into their heads. I was happy with the end result, though (and particularly with Halisstra, though she seems to engender quite a split of feeling among the fans). Tamlin and the other Uskevren are not quite as difficult because they aren’t the product of so many different hands. Plus, I was involved in the Sembia project right out of the gate. Not so with War of the Spider Queen and Resurrection.

GFTW: Any plans for a novel or series outside of the Forgotten Realms?

PSK: Yes. I poke away as time allows at a dark fantasy novel set in a world of my own creation. I’ve also published a few non-shared world short stories (most recently in the anthology Sails and Sorcery from Fantasist Enterprises) and I’ve been in discussions with an editor of a very, very big shared world line. I cannot say much more about it now but I hope it comes to pass. If it does, I’ll blare it across the internet. :-)

GFTW: Do you have any plans to write about characters other than Erevis Cale and his friends in the Forgotten Realms setting?

PSK: The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a bit more complicated. I’ve been torn about it for a while, now, to be candid. There’s a good deal of benefit for both fans and me in connecting new stories to old, in sticking with old friends. But developing new characters is fun and fresh and full of life (kinda like a Mentos :-)).

So I’ve decided recently that perhaps the best approach for me is not to revisit with the same characters again and again, but to connect the story of new characters to the story of the old characters. You’ll see some of that starting to blossom by the end of The Twilight War and I hope to carry it on in my next trilogy in the Realms.

GFTW: Any parting thoughts for your readers or those who might be considering delving into the Realms?

PSK: Sure. Consider giving the Realms a try. It’s a line fat with quality sword and sorcery fiction. If you want to try a sample for free, come over to my website. I’ve got the first five chapters of Twilight Falling, book one of The Erevis Cale Trilogy, available for free as pdf downloads (and I also hope to offer the first five chapters of Shadowbred, book one of The Twilight War, soon). Take them for a test drive. Here’s the link:

http://home.earthlink.net/~paulskemp/paulskempshomepage/id21.html

You can also drop by my blog, where a whole community of interesting people discuss a variety of matters, both personal and professional. Here’s the link for that:

http://paulskemp.livejournal.com/

Hope to see you all there. Thanks again, John.

Also by Paul S. Kemp:

The Erevis Cale Trilogy

Contains Short Stories by Paul S. Kemp

Posted by John on September 14, 2007 12:58 PM | Posted to Fantasy | Forgotten Realms | Interviews | Literature and Language
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