Last week I talked with Jeff VanderMeer kicking off a new format of interview. In short it’s an interview limited to ten questions that focuses on one specific topic. It’s a feature meant to give me little more room to tackle and ask questions about news that pops up that doesn’t turn into full blown interviews. While being less comprehensive it’s also meant to be a bit looser, a little light-hearted. If the longer feature is an interrogation via IT-O then these smaller ones are a chat at the posh Manarai paid for via Black Sun coffers. As most may now know, it has been announced that Paul S. Kemp — the author of various Erevis Cale books set in the Forgotten Realms setting — is writing a Star Wars novel. Naturally, we had much to discuss.
Jay Tomio — When and under what circumstance were you first exposed to Star Wars?
Paul S. Kemp — My dad took me to see A New Hope on the day it opened.
Jay Tomio — How did your hat get in the ring? Were you approached or is this a gig or story that you have been pitching.
Paul S. Kemp — I had been corresponding with one of the Del Rey editors off and on for a couple years. Last year, she asked to see something I’d written so I fired off Shadowbred. She enjoyed it a great deal and said she’d keep me in mind if something opened up in the Star Wars line. I touched base with her quarterly after that until finally something opened up.
Jay Tomio — For somebody like me if I was ever writing anything official and I got to use terms like ‘darth’ even sneak in ‘Palpatine’ as an afterthought I think I’d have to take a day off and call everybody I know and tell them about my ascension and what I was about to do. Is there a new level of creative excitement here and is their a point in your writing now that it really came out on?
Paul S. Kemp — I just wrote in my blog the other day that it was a total rush to write light saber in my prose. So yeah, you could see there’s a new level of creative excitement.
Jay Tomio — You expressed a desire to have a principle vehicle as a relative unknown. I guess we can assume obvious reasons in terms of creative maneuvering, but was there something you wanted to specifically avoid?
Paul S. Kemp — Well, I wanted to maximize my ability to run with a character, and that meant minimal backstory and little exposure in the EU novels. After poring over the various Essential Guides to the Star Wars universe, I settled on Jaden Korr. Obviously I want to tell a Star Wars story, something that fits squarely into the lore and feel of the setting, but I also want to tell a Star Wars story that is mine, if you know what I mean.
Jay Tomio — You have friends who have written in the Star Wars Universe, did you get any advice from any of them — or perhaps somebody else reached out — that you can share?
Paul S. Kemp — Bob Salvatore provided the door through which I first contacted my editor at Del Rey. He’s gracious that way. Bob rarely provides advice, as such, though he might have told me not to screw it up. It was years ago so I may be misremembering.
At this last GenCon I met Mike Stackpole and asked him about his experiences writing Star Wars. He didn’t offer direct advice either, but he said if you write a good book, the fans will love you forever. Write a bad one, and there will be hell to pay.
Jay Tomio — Are you familiar with the Star Wars EU at all?
Paul S. Kemp — I hadn’t read any of the fiction until I was offered a contract, and I wouldn’t want to comment specifically one novels I’ve enjoyed since then. I’ve also dug into all the various Essential Guides. There’s obviously a ton of material about the EU. It’s been very cool diving into it.
Jay Tomio — You’re a storyteller, and obviously you are dealing with something that has unique staying power (much like WOTC). When you view Star Wars as a whole what is the element you see that you think it most succeeds in, in terms of story that you’d credit that lasting power to?
Paul S. Kemp — It is Campbell’s Hero’s Journey realized. But it’s the Hero’s Journey told in an entirely accessible manner. Lucas’s storytelling is so disarming — the tropes so familiar, the characters so memorable, the pacing so pitch perfect — that you don’t realize how strongly the deeper mythology of the movie has wormed its way into you. As a kid, it’s glowing swords and blasters. As an adult, it’s a commentary on the human condition and the nature of good and evil.
Jay Tomio — What your favorite film, and what’s your favorite segment in a film (could be different films)?
Paul S. Kemp — My favorite film is The Empire Strikes Back. My writing, and my personal taste in movies and books, tends toward works with a darker tone, and Empire fits that the best of all the movies.
Luke and Vader’s light saber duel in Return of the Jedi gives me chills every time. Even the still photo of the two of them in silhouette, sabers crossed, gives me a rush. It’s an action scene, true, but the battle isn’t really between Vader and Luke. It’s between Luke and Palpatine, the two of them on either side of Vader, doing battle for his soul.
Jay Tomio — Your a guy that I think has shown his ability to cut his own block out of existing properties. Who I think are the most successful SW writers — Traviss, Stover, a single book by Stewart, Zahn — all have this in common. What do you want to bring, via your writing skillset to a Star Wars book regardless of the details you might have received on specific project? In short are you aware of Kemp-stamp?
Paul S. Kemp — Tough question. I think my best quality as a writer is the ability to craft complicated, nuanced, interesting characters. If readers come away from this novel enthusiastically discussing Jaden Korr and the rest of the cast, I’ll consider that stamp enough.
Jay Tomio — Does your Han Solo shoot first?
Paul S. Kemp — My Han Solo didn’t need to shoot. Knowing of the Hutt contract, and anticipating Greedo’s arrival, Han waited in the alley outside the cantina, took Greedo unawares with a garrote made from Bantha leather, and left his body there as a message to any other would-be bounty hunters.
Jay Tomio — Darth Tomio.
Think about it!