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Friday, December 13, 2013

"A Discourse in Sundering" - An Interview with Paul S. Kemp, author of The Godborn - Book II of The Sundering

If Forgotten Realms readers have felt the ground of their favorite shared world shifting beneath their feet, that's because Wizards of the Coast has decided to shake things up with another world-spanning event: The Sundering. Spanning several books, the Sundering pulled in R.A. Salvatore, Paul S. Kemp, and other notable Realms writers to show readers how the event affected their favorite characters and the Realms' many famous landmarks.

I got a chance to shoot a few questions in Paul Kemp's direction. We talked about writing, The Godborn, which is the second installment in and Kemp's contribution to the Sundering event, and what would happen if Cale and Riven, his leads born and raised in the Realms, happened to rub elbows none too gently with Egil and Nix, heroes of Kemp's new A Tale of Egil and Nix series, which (so far) spans The Hammer and the Blade and A Discourse in Steel. 

Q] Before we delve into material specific to your book, what is the Sundering and Era of Upheaval, exactly?

PK: I’ll give you the Cliff’s Note version: So, one hundred years ago (in world), the Realms underwent something called the Spellplague. Magic ran amok, gods died, and (most importantly) two sister worlds that occupied the same “space” but in different dimensions became intermingled. People and places from one world were transposed to the other. Dogs and cats living together! It was chaos! All of this was part of the Age of Upheaval. 

But now the worm turns and the Age of Upheaval is coming to an end. The Sundering is the wind down of the age, and the two worlds are once more separating. There are enormous implications from this, of course, and those implications are part of what the Sundering Series of books explores. 

Q] If you would be so kind to take us behind the wizard's curtain, what events within Wizards led to the Sundering? These events are exciting because they affect the entire Realms, not just a handful of characters, and I wondered how involved authors are in helping shape the story arc and prep for what comes next. 

PK: I can’t speak directly to what led to the initial conception of something called the Sundering, but I think it was born of a desire to circle the Realms back to its essence (and that essence, for me, is a world of classic fantasy adventure, permeated with a sensawunda, and, in the end, optimistic). 

The authors were brought in early on in the process, before any of the story of the Sundering was developed. Over the course of several story summits (which included the Sundering authors, members of the R&D team, brand, all the players) we brainstormed ideas, talked often about the essence of the Realms, had drunken parties, fought in Wizard’s secretive cage fighting league, and emphasized the need to let storytellers tell the story.  

So, long and short: The authors were instrumental in helping shape the story arc. 

Q] Your book, THE GODBORN, is the second entry in the Sundering following R.A. Salvatore's THE COMPANIONS. How did you go about laying the bridgework from Bob Salvatore's book to yours? Or was that required? 

PK: Strictly speaking, a lot of bridgework wasn’t required. Each book in the Sundering Series is a standalone, connected to the others in that they all tell their stories against the backdrop the Sundering (the worldwide event). It’s a bit like having a series entitled “World War II,” and having six novels told from the standpoint of a GI landing on North Africa as part of Operation Torch, a novel told from the standpoint of Patton as he prepared to invade Italy, another from an RAF pilot during the battle of Britain, and you get the point. What connects of all the stories is the events unfolding across the Faerun. 

Now, that said, there are some Easter eggs and/or more obvious connections between and across some of the books. Erin Evans and I both use archdevils in our stories and some of the events of THE GODBORN set up some of the events in her novel, THE ADVERSARY. 

Q] How much freedom did you have in writing GODBORN? Were there restrictions or were you told to let loose and do what you do? 
PK: You know, my experience with WotC over the course of these last 13 years has always been the same: What do you want to write, Paul? And off we go. I’m not sure that it’s like that in all (or even most) shared settings, but it’s been that way for me in the Realms and I’m grateful for it. It’s made it a real pleasure to work with the WotC team. 

Q] When many Forgotten Realms readers hear the name "Paul Kemp," they doubtlessly think of Erevis Cale, your leading man. But many readers enjoy Riven just as much. I wonder if you could talk about writing Riven, and where THE GODBORN finds him since last readers crossed his path. 

PK: “Riven” is “Drasek Riven,” a once a small time assassin, Zhent operative, and bitter rival of Erevis Cale. Later, he, like Cale, fell into service with the God of Shadows and he and Cale reached a kind of d├ętente, if not quite a respectful friendship.  Still later he absorbed a shard of divinity and became a kind of demi-god, and that’s the Riven we see in the prologue to THE GODBORN. 

Riven has been a great character to write. He starts out as a villain, moves over the course of many books to something akin to an anti-hero, and then, in THE GODBORN, becomes…well, I guess readers will soon know. J I think Riven is darned near as popular with Cale with readers, and he utters my favorite line in THE GODBORN (which I can’t write here for fear of spoilers). 

Q] The opening to GODBORN takes readers on quite a wild ride. Could you talk about what's involved in writing a compelling prologue? How do you juggle setting the stage, hooking readers, and introducing your characters and story arc without bogging down the pace, especially in the quick-as-a-flash, sword-and-sorcery genre? 

PK: You know, writing a compelling prologue is no different than writing a compelling opening that starts with Chapter One (I use a prologue when the events of that scene are occurring at a different time, or involve characters who won’t appear much (if at all) again, but who play an important role in the narrative nevertheless). To make it compelling – especially in the S&S arena – you want to write a pacy scene (doesn’t need to be action necessarily) that demonstrates character and circles around a core of emotion. 

I love scenes like that as a reader, and hope those who read my writing enjoy them when I write them. The opening of The Godborn was a bit trickier than usual, in that it involved some jumping around in time (in the form of flashbacks), but I’m very happy with how it turned out. Since a lot of folks have written me to tell me that the prologue made them cry, I think I might have managed to write something decent with that opening. 

Q] What tools should writers use to hook readers and keep them turning pages? 
PK: I think the most important thing in any novel is the characters. Make them believable, make them complicated, and make them compelling. Readers fall in love with (or love to hate) characters and following the events in those characters’ lives are what keep readers turning pages and coming back book after book.

Q] You've spent your time away from the Realms building your own (super-fun) sword-and-sorcery world that begins over THE HAMMER AND THE BLADE, continues with A DISCOURSE IN STEEL, and features characters of your own creation, Egil and Nix. What was it like returning to the Realms after so long away? 
PK: This sounds cheesy, but it was like coming home. I know the Realms and I love the Realms. From the moment I started writing, it was as though I’d never been away at all. There. That was kind of slobbery, no? Sheesh. Get a room, Kemp. 

Q] You've long been a defender of writing in shared worlds such as the Forgotten Realms? Besides your obvious motivation to continue doing so, what makes you so passionate about shared worlds? 
PK: You know, it’s not so much that I’m passionate about shared worlds as a general matter. It’s more that I take issue with the sentiment that shared world writing (or tie-in writing) necessarily means low-quality writing. I think countless shared world writers (including me) put the lie to that. Fortunately, I think that sentiment has been diminishing over the years. That’s been nice to see. 
Now, with all that said: I am passionate about the shared settings in which I write, which is why I write in them (and here I mean Star Wars and the Forgotten Realms). Both of them are enormously rich, fun settings that hold a special place in my heart.

Q] What did you set out to accomplish in GODBORN? Do you feel you were successful? 
PK: First and foremost, I wanted to tell a great story. I think I did that, but who the Hell knows? J

And I wanted what I hope is a great story to do three things: First, I wanted it to serve as a good jumping in point for readers new to my Realms work; second, I wanted it to provide an suitable continuation of the adventures of Riven and crew for longtime readers of my Cale stories; and third, I wanted it to further the events of the Sundering.
I think I managed all of those things, though balancing the first and second got a bit tricky now and again. J 

Q] What tantalizing tidbits can you throw our way regarding your future exploits in the Realms? 
PK: Well, I’ll be doing at least two more novels in the Realms (and expect to do many more than that), with the next release coming late in 2014. It will continue the story of some of the characters introduced in THE GODBORN. 

Q] Erevis Cale and Drasek Riven bump into Egil and Nix in a tavern. And... go! 
PK: Oh man, I can’t set my children to fighting, so I’ll go straight to the punch line. 

Nix bounded forward and put the point of his blade under the chin of the one-eyed fakker with the bad attitude.

“Nix Fall,” he said. “Or Nix the Quick, if you prefer. Don’t feel bad about this. No one ever—”

A slight pressure on Nix’s stomach cut off the rest of his sentence.

The man’s mouth, surrounded by a dark goatee, twisted into a sneer.

Nix looked down in vague disbelief to see that the man held the point of a punch dagger pressed against Nix’s abdomen.

The man’s sneer deepened. “Not quick enough, eh?”

Nix frowned. “Huh. I’m going to admit to some surprise here.”

To their right, Egil grappled with a man a head taller than him but fully two stones lighter. Somehow the man seemed a match for Egil’s strength. Each held the other’s wrists, sweating and grunting as they shuffled across the floor of the Slick Tunnel, bumping into tables and chairs.

“Maybe you should consider your hammers, Egil,” Nix called.

“Shut up, Nix,” Egil said, as he bumped into a chair.

“You look like two bald giants,” Nix said. “Don’t they look like two bald giants?”

“Shut up,” the one eyed man said.

“Look, you both have equally shiny pates,” Nix said. “There’s no need to fight about it.”

The sneer didn’t make a run at a smile.

“Come on,” Nix said. “That was amusing.”

Still the sneer.

“Nothing? Really?”

“You talk too much,” the one-eyed man said.

“So I’ve been told,” Nix conceded.

The one-eyed man ignored him. “Cale?”

The tall bald man said, “I’ve got him.”

Egil grunted, shoved Cale against a table. “No, I’ve got you.”

Nix sighed. “A standoff, it seems.”

“Aye,” the one-eyed man said. “Like in a Tarantino film.”

“I love Tarantino films,” Cale said, righting himself and shoving Egil against the wall.

“Me, too!” answered Nix.

The one-eyed man lost his sneer and grew thoughtful. “It’s been downhill since Reservoir Dogs but I guess I like him well enough.”

“Inglorious Bastards was solid,” Egil said. “The Grindhouse stuff was fun.”

“So we’re in agreement, then?” Nix asked the one-eyed man.


Nix lowered his blade. “So that’s settled. A drink, then?”

“A drink,” Egil said, releasing Cale.

“Well enough,” Riven said, “But I ain’t leaving no fucking tip.”

“Just sit down, Mr. Pink,” Nix teased.


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