LHR: How did you start writing Star Wars novels?
DK: Working on the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game for BioWare allowed me to get my foot into the door. With that experience, plus the Dungeons & Dragons based novels I had written for Wizards of the Coast, I was able to approach Shelly Shapiro – the Star Wars editor over at Random House – when I went to GenCon in Milwaukee one year. She liked my work, and they were interested in publishing an Old Republic era novel, so I guess I seemed like the logical choice.
LHR: Are you a life-long fan? Do you have a favorite character from the movies?
DK: I actually saw the original Star Wars in the theater when I was six, and I went as a jawa for Halloween many times. (It’s a good costume for Canada, because you can wear warm clothes under it.) As for a favorite character, I’d have to say Darth Vader – not a shock given all my work with the Sith and the dark side.
LHR: Does your background in gaming affect your approach to writing? Is creating a storyline for a game significantly different than creating a plot for a novel?
DK: BioWare style games are much more about letting players control and direct the tone and flow of the story; for that reason we have to write numerous variations of each conversation and plot. As a result, we can’t dig as deeply into the characters and situations as you could in a movie or novel, since we need to create so much content to deal with all the various choices players might make. With a novel, however, I have complete control of everything, so I can be a little bit more intricate and detailed. I sort of see games as being broader, whereas novels are narrower but deeper.
LHR: Playing Dungeons & Dragons was, of course, one of the original games that many immersive video games are based on. Do you think it was good training for becoming a writer?
DK: It’s amazing how many writers and designers in the game industry played Dungeons & Dragons or similar games. It’s a great creative outlet, and it really teaches you how to put a story together – particularly if you’re running the game. I don’t know that if it’s great training for all kinds of writers, but for people interested in the gaming industry it’s almost a must-have experience.
LHR: One of my favorite characters of yours is Lord Scourge, from Revan and the Jedi Knight storyline in The Old Republic. He’s a character who has a visual from the game, a way of moving, mannerisms; even his voice is defined by a voice actor-his creation was collaborative. How is writing a character like him different than writing a character who doesn’t have any background except what you give him or her?
DK: It’s always easier for me to wrap my head around a character if I can see and hear them in my head. When I plan out a novel, I envision most of the chapters very much like scenes in a movie or film, so having a clear picture of the characters in the scene makes it easier for me to capture their essential qualities.
LHR: You are known for writing Sith Lords, like Darth Bane and Revan. Your next Star Wars novel, Annihilation, features Theron Shan, who despite his Jedi lineage, is not Force sensitive. Was it challenging to write a non-Force user? Or was it easier because he is more of an Everyman?
DK: I don’t think it was easier or harder – just different. I’ve written non-Force sensitive characters before, and many of the main characters in my Mass Effect series are more “ordinary” humans. But after writing so many ultra-powerful Sith and Jedi in the Star Wars universe, it was nice to focus on something different. As a writer, it’s important to stay fresh and do different things so you don’t burn out.
LHR: After all your Sith Lords, Theron Shan as a non-Force using hero fighting a Sith Lord seems subversive; but your Sith Lords themselves are pretty subversive: Darth Bane destroys the Brotherhood of the Sith to institute the Rule of Two; Lord Scourge teams up with a Jedi Knight to destroy an Emperor he considers too evil; Revan goes from Jedi to Sith to badass Jedi… Do you enjoy blurring the lines?
DK: I enjoy taking archetypes and expectations and twisting or playing with them – I think that’s what makes characters interesting and compelling. It’s also a good way to add depth and nuance to something that otherwise seems very black or white; hopefully it makes readers think about it even after they’ve finished the book.
LHR: You mentioned a notebook full of story ideas. Where do they come from? Are you inspired by anyone or anything in particular?
DK: I can never really explain where my ideas come from. They’re just there all the time, all around me. They might come from something I see or read, or a conversation I have, or a song, or a painting or just sitting around doing nothing. I’m never going to run out of ideas – the hard part is taking an idea and turning it into a finished project.
LHR: Your characters, Jedi or Sith, Republic or Imperial, are tough. How do you define strong?
DK: I think strong is definitely more of a mental state than a physical one. It’s about doing what needs to be done, and being willing to sacrifice and suffer to reach your goals. I prefer to write proactive characters who, even if they don’t win, will go down fighting – to me that’s more interesting than passive characters who wallow in their own misery or failure.
LHR: Does “strong” play out the same for the male characters and the female characters?
DK: For me it plays out a bit differently for each character, but the basic idea of being mentally strong works for either gender. Looking at my work I think readers will see lots of examples of strong female characters. Zannah, Cognus, and Serra from my Star Wars novels, and Kahlee Sanders from the Mass Effect series are a few examples from my novels, and in the video games you had characters like Bastila, Ashley Williams, or Aria T’Loak… And of course the main characters can be played as either male or female.
LHR: Your original trilogy, starting with the novel Children of Fire is going to be published by Del Rey- what can you tell us about it?
DK: Children of Fire is planned for a 2014 release, along with The Scorched Earth – the second novel in the series. Here’s the official summary from my website:
The Old Gods are dead, sacrificing themselves to create the Legacy: a magical barrier to protect the mortal world from the fires of Chaos and the legions of Slayer, the once mortal champion who dared to rebel against them. Now, after seven centuries, the Legacy is slowly crumbling. The Order, fanatically devoted servants of the Old Gods, seek to preserve the Legacy and thwart Slayer’s return by brutally stamping out the forces of magic and Chaos that seep into the mortal world. But Chaos cannot be controlled or contained. Across the scattered corners of the land four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Slayer himself – wizard, warrior, prophet, king. Unaware of their true nature, the Children of Fire are hunted by both the religious zealots of the Order and the minions of Slayer. Cursed by their bloody, violent births, each must each do whatever it takes to survive, unaware that one of them holds the key to restoring the Legacy… or to tearing it down.
Like most of my novels, it will feature multiple points of view, giving readers a feel for all the important characters. Also like my other novels, the emphasis is on action and pacing. I love fantasy, but some novels bog down in description or scenes with characters reciting poetry around a fire. That’s not my style – I believe in interesting characters taking action, and I prefer to have constant conflict driving the story.
LHR: On your blog, you actively support charities- two that you have mentioned are: Child’s Play, providing video games to hospitalized patients, and Lifelong Friends, a no kill shelter for homeless pets. Is there any particular charity you are currently supporting?
DK: My wife is a volunteer at Lifelong Friends, and they operate solely from private donations, so she’s always involved in things to help the shelter out – golf tournaments, or garage sales, or adoption events. Child’s Play has the support of the guys over at Penny Arcade, so they’ve really helped raise the profile of Child’s Play in the video game community. I also sponsor a number of children through World Vision – it’s simple to do, and a small amount each month can make a real difference in developing worlds. And I also like to try and raise awareness for the Daniel Lovegrove Memorial Education Fund Society. Daniel was my cousin and he tragically lost his life trying to save a friend; to honor his memory his mother has set up a fund to provide financial aid to post-secondary students in Canada.
LHR: 2012 has been a big year for you: The Old Republic, for which you were the lead writer and wrote the Jedi Knight storyline has been a huge hit; you retired from Bioware; your novel Revan made an appearance on The Big Bang Theory and came out in paperback; your new Star Wars novel, Annihilation, is coming out November 13th, and your original trilogy, Children of Fire, has been accepted for publication. Phew! What’s next?
DK: Well, the focus for the foreseeable future is going to be on Children of Fire and my fantasy trilogy. I’ve been working on it off and on for the past several years, but with so many other projects I just haven’t had the time to focus on it properly. Over the past six years I’ve had eight novels published and three AAA title video games released. Creative burnout is a real concern, so it’s nice to take a break from the games and other novels to work on something that is completely my own creation. After that, who knows? I’m always open to new projects… as long as I still have plenty of time to golf.