Dec 21, 2009

Author Spotlight: Paul S. Kemp

One of my favorite video game franchises growing up was Star Wars: Dark Forces. From the early games pitting the mercenary Kyle Katarn against the Empire to the later games in which you play apprentice to Katarn (now a Jedi Master), the series has always been a underappreciated piece of the larger tapestry of the Galaxy Far Far Away. Not to mention the massacre of countless Storm Troopers. Bryar Pistol, Lightsaber, Force Lighting, Force Choke. Kill Counts in the quadruple digits. So when I heard that one of Katarn's apprentices, Jaden Korr was getting his own book my first thought was: It's about damn time. And the author giving us a prose window into this microcosm of the Skywalker-dominated shared universe? None other than Paul S. Kemp.

This is also Kemp's first foray into the GFFA, so I thought it would be beneficial to talk to Paul and shed a little light on the author behind the words. He was kind enough to participate, so read on to find out more about Crosscurrent, Kemp's other work, and his writing career in general.

SoY: So Paul, your first Star Wars novel, Crosscurrent, comes out January 26th, 2010. Can you tell us a little about that?

PK: Sure. Crosscurrent is a standalone novel featuring Jaden Korr and set right about at the end of the LotF series. The story also has a connection to the Fate of the Jedi series (though one need not read the Fate of the Jedi series to follow Crosscurrent's story).

SoY: What else are working on right now? What will Paul Kemp publish in 2010? (Novels, short stories, or whatnot...)
PK: In Star Wars, I'm working on two things: First, a sequel to Crosscurrent, though I'm not sure when the publication date is. Second, something I…er…cannot yet announce. And, of course, Crosscurrent itself will be published in January.

In the Forgotten Realms (the sword and sorcery setting where a lot of my previous work was set), my Erevis Cale Trilogy will be combined into a single volume omnibus edition that will include not only the three novels of the Erevis Cale Trilogy (Twilight Falling, Dawn of Night, and Midnight's Mask), but also two short stories that feature into the Erevis Cale story arc. Oh, and for those not playing at home, Erevis Cale is my signature character in the Forgotten Realms, a priest and assassin in service to the God of Shadows.

In non-tie-in work, I'm shopping a supernatural thriller/horror novel. Hopefully I'll have some good news to report on it sometime in 2010.

SoY: Some more recent Star Wars novels have seen stylistic departures from the standard Star Wars format. We've seen Star Wars Horror (Death Troopers, Star Wars Noir (Coruscant Nights), Star Wars Military Sci-Fi (Republic Commandos). How did you approach writing a Star Wars novel? Did you want to bring in a certain style or accomplish something specific in Crosscurrent?

PK: That's a tough question. First and foremost, I wanted to be true to the feel of Star Wars. "Feel" is a difficult concept to articulate, but Star Wars novels have a unique vibe that mixes high adventure and cinematic action with a fair amount of philosophy. So, I wanted all of that to be there. At the same time, my strength as a writer (or so I tell myself) is in characterization. I wanted to really dig deep into Jaden's character (not to mention the other characters in the novel) and hopefully sear him into the minds of Star Wars fans. I like to think I've done that, but time will tell. And while I did all that, I wanted to stay true to my own writing style, which I'd characterize as fairly dark and gritty.

SoY: Many of today's genre writers were heavily influenced by Star Wars growing up? Would you include yourself in that category? If so, what's it like writing in the Galaxy Far Far Away from a fan perspective? If not, what would you say were your biggest influences in the genre?

PK: Oh, I was certainly influenced by Star Wars growing up. For years, I got Kenner action figures and ships every Christmas and birthday (the Snowspeeder being a favorite). I had the comic books, adored the movies (still do), collected the trading cards (your remember those? They featured stills from the movies with a little caption, and came in red, yellow, green, and blue sets). So, yeah, I guess you could say I was influenced.

As for what it's like: in a word, awesome. I had a blast writing Crosscurrent and contributing even a small part to the Star War phenomenon is more than a little cool.

SoY: It's recently come to light that you've been asked to do another Star Wars book building off of Crosscurrent. Are you still limited in what you can say about the follow-up? Can you provide any hints at all about the new story idea, even if it’s a teaser or two?

PK: Unfortunately, I can't. The NDA-Force is strong with Lucasfilm.

SoY: What's been the highlight of your career so far? In the statement "If I could write a book that ________________ , I would consider my career a success." what would you put in the blank?

PK: It'd be easy to say hitting the Times bestseller list or writing a Star Wars novel, but it's nothing like that.

Instead, it's this: I once received a fan mail from a reader who'd lost his father. He explained to me that my handling of a particular plot point in Midnight's Mask (the third novel in the Erevis Cale Trilogy) really helped him get through it.

SoY: The majority of your published work has been done with the Forgotten Realms shared universe. How has that experience helped you make the transition to Star Wars? In what ways are writing in the universes different?

PK: Well, both settings are highly detailed secondary worlds/universes, so they're similar in that you've got to dive into the lore with both hands and get to know the world/universe pretty well. As for how they're different: well, setting aside the subject matter differences, Star Wars fandom is vastly larger and vastly more…er…zealous than Realms fandom. Make no mistake, I and millions of others love the Realms, but as I said above, Star Wars is a global cultural touchstone.

SoY: Star Wars has some of the most complex continuities of any cross-media franchise out there, not to mention a fan base that can be... let's say "less than kind" to authors who don't give continuity the proper attention. Was the transition from writing Forgotten Realms to writing in the Star Wars universe difficult? What did you do to prepare yourself?

PK: Del Rey sent me thousands of pages of material and I read and read. I also browsed some of the more popular Star Wars message boards, watched and rewatched the movies, and so on.

SoY: Do you have any ambitions to develop your own fictional universe? In an ideal situation, what would you like to be writing?

PK: I do and am in the process of doing so. As I mentioned above, I've already got a supernatural thriller/horror novel making the rounds, and I'm working (as time allows) on an epic fantasy. I'm hopeful both of those will see print eventually.

SoY: On the subject of rabid fanbases, some of the discussion surrounding Crosscurrent is regarding one of the main characters, Jaden Korr. In the Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy game, Korr was a customizable character that could be a male or female from various species. In your book he is locked down as yet another male human Jedi. While I don't believe you made that decision, would you have made the same decision if it was up to you? Should authors writing in these universes keep their characters human and more relatable to the reader or fully embrace the diversity available to them?

PK: I actually did make that decision. In the end, I think authors should write the character through whose eyes and voice they can best tell the story they want to tell. For me, that meant a human male Jedi. That said, many of the supporting characters in Crosscurrent are alien (an Anzat, a Cerean, a Kaleesh).

SoY: Did you play any of the games to prepare? Will we see any of the other Jedi Knight characters in Crosscurrent either in flashbacks/back-story or in live action? Kyle Katarn or Rosh Penin perhaps?

PK: Never played any of the games, but Katarn's teachings to Jaden are the lynchpin around which Jaden's internal journey takes place.

SoY: What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any weird writing habits that somehow work for you?

PK: Nothing weird. When the outline is done and I’m into a novel, I try to write 1,500 to 2,000 words in a weekday, and at least touch the manuscript (writing, say, a few hundred words) over the weekend, just to stay in tune with it.

SoY: An Askajian Jedi apprentice, really? That doesn't seem like the most graceful of candidate species. Do the males have any unique features to match the females?

PK: Other than ample adipose tissue, I don't get too much into it. I do get in a Moon Lady reference, though.

SoY: This will be many Star Wars fans first time reading Paul Kemp. Suppose someone loves Crosscurrent and immediately churns through your catalog of books. If they enjoyed what they read, what other authors would you recommend? What's the best thing you've read recently?

PK: I sure hope those who enjoy Crosscurrent will go out and read my Erevis Cale novels. I think those who enjoy my storytelling style will enjoy it in both settings.

Authors that inspire me and inform my writing are folks like Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and GRR Martin. So if you enjoy my writing, you'll certainly enjoy theirs, being, as they are, masters of the craft.
As for what I've read and enjoyed recently, let's call it a tie between Haldeman's The Forever War and Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union.

SoY: Going forward into the future, where can we keep an eye on you and your work?

PK: Well, I'll be hanging around the Star Wars EU for a while, I think, and all of my Erevis Cale novels remain in print. Meanwhile, I've reached verbal agreement with another tie-in publisher of fantasy fiction. That announcement will come sometime in 2010. So, I think my work should be easy to find.

[You can keep an eye on Paul at his livejournal:]

Crosscurrent comes out January 26th, 2010. Storm Troopers watch out.

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