Categorized | Authors, Interviews

Interview with Fantasy author Paul S. Kemp

Posted on March 25, 2008 by Matt-M-McElroy

Paul S. Kemp lives in Michigan with his wife and preschool-aged twin sons. He is a corporate lawyer, which makes him lawful evil. He salves the pangs of conscience that arise from his career choice by imbibing ample amounts of Diet Dew and enshrouding himself in the sense-dulling smoke of Te Amo and Dunhill cigars.

He is the creator of the assassin-priest Erevis Cale and writes primarily in the Forgotten Realms setting from Wizards of the Coast (this makes him a shared world hack, true; but that’s MISTER Shared World Hack to you, bub)…

How did you get involved with writing for the Forgotten Realms setting?

At some point in college, I decided I wanted to try and write. I’d always been a voracious reader, but I’d never really tried to write a coherent story before. So, I did. And it stunk. And I did it again. And it stunk less. And this went on for a time and the odor leaking from the page diminished as I learned. Eventually, I had an entire fantasy novel written. Some of it was even decent.

In 1999 I submitted a writing sample to WotC. This is before the era of “open calls,” when WotC simply had an open submissions policy that solicited either short stories or chapters from novels. The sample was not to be set in any of WotC’s established worlds.

I sent in a chapter of that novel, an emotional scene with a bit of action. WotC liked it and subsequently asked me to participate in a closed call for a new series — “Sembia,” which was to feature seven characters in or closely tied to the Uskevren merchant family of the city of Selgaunt. You can imagine how exciting this was for me.

The materials WotC sent to the closed call participants contained a list of the seven character slots to be filled, listed by their relationship to the family (e.g. daughter, maid, butler, etc.) with a sentence describing each. Some of the characters were already taken (Ed Greenwood had the Patriarch of the family, Thamalon the Elder, for example). If memory serves, I believe the daughter, the butler, the mother, and the maid were the slots available in the closed call. On the basis of that sentence, the authors participating in the call were to make a pitch for the slot, including a detailed background for the character and a story outline.

The sentence describing the butler said: “He is the Patriarch’s right hand and gets things done for his Lord.” I took that and developed Erevis Cale, the brooding, conflicted former assassin and current (somewhat unwilling) spy.

WotC liked my pitch and awarded me the “butler” spot in Halls of Stormweather. Erevis Cale was born. Things have taken off a bit since then for our ruthless butler, who just cannot quite outrun the ghosts of his past and the core of what he is – a killer.

What are some of the challenges you deal with when writing shared world fiction?

From a creative standpoint, very little. I have been able to write exactly the story I’ve wanted to tell from Cale’s first appearance in Halls of StormweatherThe Halls of Stormweather, to his most recent series, The Twilight War.

Frankly, the challenge that I face most often is that of reader perception. There’s an entire subset of fantasy readers out there who have convinced themselves that shared-world/tie-in fiction is not very good. I’ve tried to take on that “conventional wisdom” when possible, asking readers to evaluate each work on its own merits. Honestly, I think I’ve had some success in that regard. Many fantasy review sites have said favorable things about my books and I think that has helped break through the static.

What can you tell us about writing the final book of R.A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen?

It was a unique experience. Six authors and two editors worked together to create characters and a story arc that stretched across a six book series. I enjoyed the process, particularly working with Bob Salvatore. Man, I was just desperate to wrap up the series with a bang that did credit to the quality work done in the previous books (I wrote the finale, Resurrection).

The only downside of the process, for me, was that I inherited almost all of the characters, rather than creating them from scratch. Now, they were good characters, so it wasn’t all bad, but characters are what I think I’m best at as a writer, so I enjoy creating them from scratch.

Anyway, the series did phenomenally well and Resurrection hit the NY Times bestseller list.

How does WotC manage the overall continuity of the Forgotten Realms with authors working on the setting?

The primary managers of continuity are the book line editors, who interface with the development and brand management team, but all of the authors bear secondary responsibility. It’s our job to know the lore and stay consistent with it in our novels (or explain the inconsistency).

Are there elements of the Forgotten Realms you hope to explore in future stories?

Well, like almost all FR authors, I invent my own characters, so yes, I do have some ideas about characters I’d like to develop and run with in the future. I left some threads open from my last series, “The Twilight War,” and I intend to run with those in my next trilogy set in the Realms. I can’t yet say too much more.

Any hints on what we can look forward to in your next book?

Well, my very next book is Shadowrealm, which wraps up The Twilight War. I can’t give too much away, but I think the novel will surprise a lot of readers.

After that, I’ll be writing another trilogy in the Forgotten Realms. I’ve also got another novel coming out with a different publisher, but I cannot yet give any details.

Are you playing or running a Forgotten Realms game currently?

I play in a DnD game with the same group of guys I’ve gamed with for going on twenty years. We’re ostensibly set in the Forgotten Realms, but we play fast and loose with Realms continuity. All of us are married with families, have time-consuming day jobs, etc, so we keep the gaming pretty light.

You also have a story in Horrors Beyond II, how did that come about?

Well, I saw that Elder Signs Press (great small press publisher, by the way) was soliciting stories for Horrors Beyond II and I could not resist. I wrote a noirish, H.P. Lovecraft inspired tale called “The Signal.” William Jones enjoyed it, bought it, and here we are.

You know, I’m a big fan of HPL. While I write fantasy more than horror, my fantasy is definitely dark in tone, with strong horror elements. All of that derives from my love of HPL’s work.

Which of Lovecraft’s stories is your favorite? Why?

At the Mountains of Madness. It reads like a treatise on the Mythos, the culimination and realization of all of the lore previously hinted at in his other tales. It also strikes me as the most epic of the Mythos stories.

Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? Why?

Novels (as a rule, though there are exceptions) allow for a more nuanced characterization and a much more complex character arc. Because characterization is where I think I excel (everything else I must work at – hard), the novel appeals to me more. I enjoy writing short stories, though, and will have a few more in print over the coming year.

Visit Paul S. Kemp’s Website for more information on his books and to download a few free sample chapters of his Forgotten Realms fiction.

You can pre-order his next novel, Shadowrealm at

Other Forgotten Realms related interviews on Flames Rising include James Lowder and R.A. Salvatore.

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