EUC Interview: Paul S. Kemp

Starting in 2008, the Star Wars universe has been adding many new faces to write the adventures in the galaxy far, far, away. One such author is Paul S. Kemp. His first Star Wars novel, Crosscurrent, was a New York Times Best-Seller that brought the first real “time-travel” into the Star Wars universe. He will also be penning a tie-in novel to the Old Republic game, entitled Deceived, as well as a sequel to Crossucurrent. Paul was kind enough to participate in an EUCantina interview.

EUCantina (EUC): As an author (and presumably a fan) you are noted for being a big advocate of shared universes. What are some of the advantages and pitfalls with shared universes (both as an author and a fan) and what are some of the contrasts between a shared universe and an author’s own individual works?

Paul S. Kemp (PSK): The obvious advantage for an author is the enthusiasm of a pre-existing fanbase. In general, writing in a shared world environment means that there’s a floor to the number of units a book in the line will sell. Almost none of them ever bomb (unless the line itself is bombing for some reason). In a non-shared world situation, there is no floor and the possibility of a bomb is very real.

On the other hand, a shared world is a collective creation, usually so detailed that learning all of its ins and outs can be difficult. Given that, maintaining continuity is a constant challenge. And the gods help you if you screw up something in a shared universe as beloved as Star Wars or the Forgotten Realms. :)

EUC: Your official website (paulskemp.com) states that you are an author of “speculative fiction.” I had always assumed you wrote fantasy and science fiction. So just what is speculative fiction and how does it tie in to science fiction and fantasy?

PSK: Speculative fiction is a broad term that I use to describe everything from urban fantasy, to epic fantasy, to hard and soft sci-fi, to space opera, to horror, etc. So sci-fi and fantasy are distinct subsets of speculative fiction. I use the term because I like the breadth it implies, and I think that my work reflects that breadth (Crosscurrent, for example, is largely space opera, but it also has elements of horror).

EUC: Why do so many male science fiction authors have beards? Why does this trend exist? What does it mean?

PSK: Beards are actually highly intelligent, hirsute alien symbiotes who affix themselves to a writer’s face in order to transfer ideas directly through the skin to the writer’s brain. As for what the beards want in the long term? Well, I’m only allowed to say so much. Let me put it to you this way…42.

EUC: As much as you are allowed, can you take us through the process by which Del Rey hired you to write forStar Wars, and just how much leeway and freedom you had to take on Jaden Korr andCrosscurrent. Given that bothStar WarsandForgotten Realmsare extremely popular shared universes (and franchises), is there much difference between the two?

PSK: I pestered Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey for a very long time. Finally, she tired of my stalking and asked me to send her something I’d written. I sent her Shadowbred, one of my Erevis Cale novels, and she enjoyed it enough to offer me a novel in the Star Wars line.

As far as the creative process goes, I had a lot of freedom. I asked Shelly at the outset if it would be acceptable for me to write about a previously unexplored character in a side-story, and she agreed. That made for a good deal of elbow room because there wasn’t a lot of historical baggage that came along with the character or the story idea. Obviously we tied some elements of Crosscurrent to the larger Fate of the Jedi series, but they were relatively small elements.

I haven’t noticed much difference (other than subject matter) between writing in Star Wars and writing in the Realms.  Both settings accommodate the darker tone I like to adopt in my stories, and both settings are incredibly detailed, wonderfully rich, and have lots of dedicated fans.

EUC: In regards toCrosscurrent, what made you want to develop the character of Jaden, who had until now, been mostly a video game character? What was it about him that appealed to you? And if he had not been available for you to write about, were there any other contenders that may have been the featured character inCrosscurrent?

PSK: Well, I wanted to write a story about a character who existed in the lore of the setting but who had never featured in a novel before. In that way, I figured the character would come at the readers fresh, but not entirely out of the blue.

Never was another contender, no. Me and Jaden all the way. :)

EUC: It was publicly announced weeks beforeCrosscurrents publication that you would be going on to write both a tie-in to the forthcoming The Old Republic MMORPG and a follow-up toCrosscurrent. While it may be sound business practice to plan ahead, does it inspire confidence in you that Del Rey has kept you for future titles without really knowing how the public will react toCrosscurrent? Or is this type of planning very typical in the world of an author?

PSK: It pleased me enormously (and was a great relief) that my editor and the team at Lucasfilm liked the novel enough to sign me to do another before Crosscurrent ever hit shelves. I thought I had written a solid novel, but it’s nice to have that view validated by other professionals (and ultimately, by the readers, the vast majority of whom really seemed to have enjoyed Crosscurrent; I’m thrilled by that, to be honest).

EUC: Outbound Flight survivors, clones of Imperial-era Dark Siders, Thrawn’s secret laboratories, the first Darth Wyyrlock, Sith characters from previous sources….Crosscurrentbrings together a lot of disparate elements and pieces of EU lore into a linear narrative. How hard was it to juggle all these fragments and to get them to form a story that made sense?

PSK: I think I’ve developed a knack over the years for sewing a story into the pre-existing lore of a setting. It’s very much a point of pride with me and it’s actually one of the fun aspects of writing/creating in a shared world. I think it’s incredibly important to tell the story I want to tell, but to do so in a way that nests the story deeply into the setting. That’s always a challenge, but a fun one.

EUC: Kell Douro is a fascinating character, and the first real Anzati character we’ve had (apart from Dannik Jerriko and Volfe Karkko). Can you briefly walk us through the process that led to his creation, and led to him being an Anzat?

PSK: Boy, that’s tough to recall. I wanted a sinister, lurking kind of character, preferably long-lived, who could have, in the course of that long lifetime, developed some odd fixations/pseudo religious views about the universe and his role in it. During the course of my research for Crosscurrent, I happened upon the Anzat entry in one of the Essential Guides and knew I had the species for Kell. All that remained was to work out the details of his odd beliefs and the manner in which he acted on them.

EUC: One of my favorite things about Crosscurrent (apart from the flowing and memorable prose) was the discussions on the philosophies of the Force, and the Light and Dark Sides. Will your future Star Wars works delve into these philosophies from other viewpoints, and how important toCrosscurrentwas the characters’ viewpoints on the Force?

PSK: It’s integral. In fact, the entire novel is really about Jaden’s view of the Force (as he learned it from Katarn) and what that means for him as he struggles with doubt.

And yes, my other novels will delve into other views of the Force. Deceived (my next Star Wars novel set in the Old Republic) does just that, through the eyes of Darth Malgus.

EUC: What comes first: the characters or the plot? How should they interact?

PSK: For me it’s always characters. Always. In fact, if readers don’t come away from my novels talking about the characters/characterization, then I have failed them.

In terms of how they interact: I develop the characters and their prospective character arcs in some detail. As I’m doing that, I develop conflict, both internal to the protagonist and antagonist, and external (between the protagonists and antagonist; that is, they each have goals and accomplishing those goals brings them into conflict). Right there you’ve got the rudiments of the plot. The rest is dressing it up, smacking its ass, and calling it Nancy.

EUC: What are some of your inspirations when it comes to writing? What books/authors do you enjoy/love?

PSK: I’m inspired by everything from music, to history, to movies and television, to things my wife says, to dreams, to things I ponder while smoking a CAO on my drive home. I think if you’re open to inspiration (which means being open to the wondrous and weird) you’ll get it from everywhere.

The authors I really love? Michael Chabon, Don Delilo, Cormac McCarthy (The Road is, for me, the best novel I’ve read). In genre, my taste runs to the classic writers of sword and sorcery fantasy: Moorcock, Leiber, Gemmell. They were just incredibly storytellers with characters so real they leaped off the page. I strive to emulate that as best I can.

EUC: Given that you are a corporate lawyer, and many other authors seem to have “day jobs,” can you tell us why this is so? I always thought that to write and be published professionally would indeedbea full-time job and I’m curious to know why this is perhaps not so.

PSK: Oh, sure. With rare exceptions, writing professionally doesn’t pay a lot of money. The numbers I’ve heard are that five percent of writers earn enough to live on, and of that five percent, only five percent of them make enough to live on well. So, blockbuster writers do very well. The rest of us work day jobs in addition to the writing. These days, I earn enough from writing that I could live off the income, but the income enough that I could support my family the way I want to. Maybe someday. :) Still an awesome, awesome gig, though.

About the Author

Austin Blankenship is the webmaster of EUCantina. He is a host of our official podcast, EUCast, and also founded our sister website, SoloSound.net. Austin helped turn EUCantina from a forum into a website in 2007, and continues to operate the site and the EUC social media accounts. Austin works as a librarian in a small town above Atlanta, Georgia.