Tethtoril's Bookshelf


Interview with Paul S Kemp

Given below is an interview conducted between the Scribes of Candlekeep and Paul S Kemp. Paul is the author of the Forgotten Realms novel from the Sembia Series: Shadows Witness. This interview was carried out on 13th November 2002 following the success of this novel. The author also talks a little about his exciting upcoming FR trilogy, The Erevis Cale Trilogy, featuring the main character from 'Shadows Witness'. This material cannot be reproduced without permission.

Interview with Paul S Kemp – Author of 'Shadows Witness' (The Sembia Series, Book 2)


1. Where did you get your inspiration for the character “Erevis Cale”?

A drug and alcohol binge involving two female midgets, a supermodel, a near-sighted rhino and the theme song from “Shaft.”

No, wait...that was something else.

In truth, Cale comes from my love of dark fantasy – Moorcock, Leiber and the Thieves’ World series. I wanted to create a character who embodied a certain grittiness but with whom the reader could nevertheless identify. If I could remove Cale from the fantasy genre, I think he comes close to Clint Eastwood’s “Will Munney” in “Unforgiven.” One of my favorite movies of all time, by the way.


2. Did you work closely with the other authors of “The Sembia Series” in order to ensure continuity with other novels for the timeline and other characters of the series?

Ah! That’s where the alcohol and drug binge came in -

Just a joke, though Dave Gross, Voronica Whitney-Robinson, Richard Lee Byers and I did have beers together at GenCon a couple years back. I’m a Guiness and Tetley’s man myself, though I don’t recall the other Sembians’ tastes.

To answer your question, we did work closely. Innumerable emails flew, outlines, etc. We held a conference call or two, exchanged scenes involving each other’s characters, and so on. Our editor, Phil Athans, really kept it all together. All in all, I think we did a nice job maintaining continuity.


3. How familiar are you with the Forgotten Realms and its history and lore? In particular, that of Sembia?

Quite familiar. I play D&D every two weeks with a group of old friends. Often, our campaigns are set in FR, so I’ve gotten to know Toril in that way. I also research the area in which I’m writing, and, to the extent an area is not especially well fleshed-out (as was the case with Sembia), WoTC kindly provides an author guide full of crunchy goodness. Even given all that, I do look for “holes” in the lore where I might insert some theretofore unknown neato-kewl little detail. Example: the inscription over the doors of the Temple of Deneir in Selgaunt.


4. Did you have to do much research on Sembia before starting your novel or were you given specific details on which to use in the novel?

We were given an author’s guide that described the governance of the city, its architecture (to some degree) and some of the key personalities. Ed also provided some excellent local idiom to use. Other than that, we were creating the minutia of Selgaunt all on our own. Great fun.


5. The Zhentarim feature in “Shadows Witness”, would you like to write a novel with more heavy involvment of the Zhentarim?

You know, I really wouldn’t. While I think the Network makes for a great adversary, it also comes with a lot of baggage in the form of readers’ preconceived notions. I think I’d rather use something a little less well-known. Even as I write that, though, I remember that the Zhents do feature in the background of book one of the Erevis Cale trilogy.


6. “Shadows Witness” is quite a dark novel. The scenes involving the Zhentarim and also the undead (to name but two) are very descriptive and have quite a gruesome and disturbing feel, did you personally apply this feeling and is it your prefered style of writing?

It really is. I hope it doesn’t come across as graphic or disturbing for its own sake, but instead as fitting for the scene. Here’s the thing – most of the readers of FR novels play D&D. They see “demon” or “ghoul” in a passage and it means nothing more than stats, unless the writer can bring across that sense of malevolence, or ravaging, mindless hunger for flesh. That’s really what I try to do with the writing. Demons should be scary, awe-inspiring the embodiment of corruption. Ghouls should be vile creatures to read about. One of the best complements I ever received about Shadow’s Witness was from a friend of mine – You’ve made ghouls scary again, he said. Bingo. That’s what I want to do.


7. Have you any future plans to write more on Jak Fleet in a novel?

Jak features prominently in the forthcoming Erevis Cale trilogy, as does Drasek Riven, that one-eyed whoreson.


8. If you had to write a novel about anything and based anywhere in the Forgotten Realms, what would you chose to write about and where would it be based?

As for where, I think I’d like to write something in Skullport. That setting and my style seem to me a good fit. As for what to write about, I really don’t know. Characters are the most important thing to me, not so much the events in which the character participates. In other words, it’s always interesting to read about interesting characters. It is not always interesting to read about boring characters in “interesting” plots or storylines. I’ve told my editor that characters drive plots, not the other way around. I try to abide by that rule.


9. Was the upcoming “Erevis Cale Trilogy” planned whilst you were writing “Shadows Witness” or was it decided following the success of your novel and character?

The latter, I think. Cale seemed to resonate with the Sembia series readers. Nine Hells, he resonates with me! I think and hope that is because he’s a very believable hero (or anti-hero, if you prefer).


10. Other than the “Erevis Cale Trilogy” are you working on anything else for the FR novel line?

The Cale Trilogy has been keeping me very busy, but I have managed to put a short story entitled “Too Long in the Dark” in the recently released “Realms of Shadow,” and another two short stories, “And All the Sinners Saints”(a Cale story) and “Cause and Effect” in recent Dragon Magazine issues. I’ve got another FR short story in the works for Dragon.


11. How far through writing the “Erevis Cale Trilogy” are you? Have any titles and release dates been decided for the second two novels?

I’m nearly done with book one, entitled “Twilight Falling.” It will be released in July 2003. Books two and three will follow in each of 2004 and 2005, though I don’t yet know the months. Here are the titles, which I’ve not yet disclosed to anyone: Book Two is entitled, “The Dawn of Night,” and Book Three is “Midnight’s Mask”.


12. Can you give us any information or teasers about the “Erevis Cale Trilogy”? ;-)

Sure. :-) Ultimately, it takes Cale out of Selgaunt, under Faerun, under Faerun’s seas, and away from Toril at least once. The storyline is big, the events are big, and the arch villain is a bad mamma-jamma. It is, unsurprisingly, dark (see above) and all of the protagonists will be irrevocably changed by the events. Whether Faerun itself is changed...we’ll see.


13. How did you get into being a writer and how long have you been writing for “Wizards of the Coast”? Are you a freelance author?

Oh, I started writing in law school and just kept plugging away at it until I got the writing to a professional level. That meant receiving a lot of rejection letters. For me, the trick was to persevere and learn from the rejections. I’ve been writing for WoTC since early 2000. I am a freelance writer, if by that you mean, “not under and exclusive relationship with Wizards.”


14. Do you play D&D and the Forgotten Realms campaign? If so, do you play or DM, how often and for how long have you been playing?

See above. I’ve been playing since I was about 13. I’ve played and DM’d, but generally DM. Our current campaign, which I am DMing, is set in FR, along the Dragon Coast. One of the PC’s died just this last session. Good death, though.


15. What is your favorite D&D character class and race?

Bugbear ranger, which of course, is not generally a PC race. It isn’t in my campaign either, but I love the thought of those big suckers as NPCs, prowling through the woods, great bow over their shoulder, axes at their belt. Good stuff. As far as PC races go, that’s a toughie – in a recent Rokugan campaign I was in, I played a Nezumi Sorcerer. Neat character.

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