LHR: Malgus is a really important character in Star Wars: The Old Republic – the only one to appear in all three trailers, have his own book, pose as a poster boy, and have a statue. How did it affect your approach to his character?
PSK: At the time I started writing the novel, there was only the one trailer out, “Deceived.” I think the second trailer, “Hope,” came out while I was writing the novel. And the statue came out well after Deceived was published. That said, I knew that Malgus was going to be an important character, the focal point in the game and the era. So I wanted to give him some psychological depth. I do that for all of my characters, of course, but I thought the need particularly acute because of Malgus’s importance to the setting. I wanted to make him multi-dimensional, the kind of character who you may find abhorrent on one level, but who you respect on another. That’s primarily how it affected my approach.
LHR: Aryn Leneer is a strong female protagonist. Did you find it harder to write her than male protagonists?
PSK: That’s an interesting question, but I’m going to give a straightforward answer: no. :)
Any time you develop a character, the critical thing isn’t sex or gender, it’s internal drama. When you’re dealing with humans, there’s not such a gulf of difference between the way men and women think (and process intense emotions) such that it takes some great leap of imagination to write a female lead character as opposed to a male. There are differences, obviously, but I think any differences that you developed based solely on a character’s sex would likely end up being mostly stereotypical stuff, and stereotypes are useless. They’re just generalizations about populations (and are often wrong). When you’re writing any character, you’re writing about a particular person – so it doesn’t really matter how a generic woman or man might process a particular event. It only matters how that particular character processes the event. It may differ materially from how a reader expects a general or ideal man or woman to process it, but that doesn’t matter, so long as the reaction is consistent with the particular character you’ve created.
In Aryn’s case, the impetus behind her quest in the novel is the loss of her Master, who’s very much a father figure. But the response would have been the same has she been a male Jedi (i.e., the emotional response would be exactly the same). Long and short: There wasn’t anything particularly tied to her sex or gender when it came to writing her scenes.
LHR: In your Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, your characters wonder about the choice one has in being Sith and following the dark side. Is it a question of nature vs. nurture for you?
PSK: It is. It’s interesting to consider the kinds of cultural constraints in which characters are raised and what kind of effect that may have on their choices. Everyone’s choices are constrained to some degree or other given the circumstances in which they’re born and raised. For someone raised in Sith Empire, at the time in galactic history (and particularly if they were determined to be Force sensitive) their choices are going to be highly constrained.
So it’s a reasonable question to ask: What actually caused a particular character to become who they are and behave the way that they do? Is it a function of who they are (something internal to them)? Or is it a function of their culture or how they were raised?
So it is, indeed, a question of nature vs. nurture. It’s an interesting one to play around with in the context of Jedi and Sith, where you have a clear moral dichotomy. It’s an interesting question.
LHR: I agree it’s an interesting question and your characters, the clones from Riptide and Crosscurrent, really embody that.
PSK: One of the key themes of Riptide and Crosscurrent has to do with nature vs. nurture, whether evil, in the context of the Star Wars universe, is inborn or cultivated. And if it’s not inborn, then what does that mean? What are the consequences of that?
Identity is one of the other big themes of Riptide, but yes, the origin of one’s moral compass is intriguing. It’s a common theme explored in literature, but it’s one I do in almost all my novels, even in my Sword and Sorcery stuff.
LHR: It’s a pretty consistent theme in your novels and your short stories.
PSK: You’re right, it is. It’s one of the things Fantasy does really well, and even though Star Wars is Space Opera, it has many of the tropes and themes of High Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery (which is why I feel right at home writing in the GFFA). Fantasy is a wonderful literary venue for exploring moral questions. Of course, I’m not trying to turn a book into a philosophical treatise – I still want it to be a fun page turning read – but it’s nice to put some philosophical meat on the bones of the story and give people something to chew on when they’re done.
LHR: Judging by your blog, you have a pretty wicked sense of humor. It seems to come out the most in dialogue between Marr, Khedryn, and Jaden. What are your thoughts on infusing levity into emotionally intense storytelling?
PSK: It’s funny that you say that and I’m kind of glad to hear it. I tend to regard my writing as dark and intense and without much levity. On those occasions when I do introduce humor, the funny moments are there to create a story beat for the reader. Often in my books there’s this relentlessly oppressive dark shadowy oppressive horrific stuff going on and on – the reader’s just getting beat over the head, and they’re going “give me a break, man” – so you crack a joke and they’re refreshed. I think it’s useful in that regard.
Lately I’ve included more humor in my writing, and I expect that will continue going forward.
Of course, some characters are naturally lighter or are wisecrackers – they look at things kind of askew or they look at things in a way that tends to generate levity. Khedryn, for example, is one of those who will crack a joke about things from time to time. Marr will do it too, but he’s sort of wry in his observations, but they’re funny. At the start of Crosscurrent, humor wasn’t really Jaden’s style. But over the course of the books, as his relationship with Khedryn and Marr has developed, he’s started to loosen up a little bit too.
LHR: You’ve mentioned seeing A New Hope as a kid. Who was your favorite character then? Has it changed now?
PSK: As a kid it was Han, because he’s so self-confident and cocksure, but as I’ve gotten older, I look more to Luke. I think he has a more interesting character arc, one with much more development. Essentially he goes from this wide-eyed kid – he’s not a grizzled veteran at the end of A New Hope – to having this epiphany of faith and taking out the Death Star.
So, across the whole of the first trilogy, my favorite character would be Luke. Across the Prequel Trilogy, it would be Obi-Wan.
LHR: In a recent interview on the Star Wars Books Facebook page, you mentioned your mom asks you “how do you come up with all this dark stuff?” Did you ever give her an answer?
PSK: No. No I did not. (Laughs.) It freaks my mom out a little bit, especially my Sword and Sorcery books, which are darker than even my Star Wars material. She’s unaware that my tastes have diverged from the fourth grade Paul, so, no, I don’t really give her any answer!
LHR: All three of your Star Wars books involve children, and I’m also a parent. Does your sons’ perspective on Star Wars affect your writing?
PSK: Very much so. My twin sons are seven, and we now have a three-month-old daughter. I wrote several books before becoming a father and when my sons were born, I was in the midst of writing the second Erevis Cale trilogy, entitled The Twilight War.
Fatherhood factored in as such a huge thematic element in that book and I didn’t realize it all as I was writing. I think I rationally understood, “here’s a father, here’s a son, these kind of things are happening,” but it didn’t register with me until after I looked back and thought about the whole trilogy after its publication. Then, I realized how much fatherhood had factored into my thinking.
You know, when you have children, particularly when they’re young, one of the things that plagues you, keeps you up at night, especially when we have tragedies happening in the world, is the fear that won’t adequately take care of them or keep them from harm. A lot of that factored into my novel, Shadowbred, the first book of The Twilight War.
In fact, when I turned Shadowbred into my editor, he wrote me back and said, “Thanks for bringing parenthood back to the Forgotten Realms.” Children and parenthood are emotionally fraught subjects, and can, if handled poorly, feel manipulative to a reader. But it’s such a huge, emotionally ripe subject, that it deserves exploration in fantasy fiction.
LHR: Do you think having a daughter has, or may change your perspective about female characters in the science fiction/fantasy genre?
PSK: Probably. Much as with my sons, I’m not sure it will be conscious, or unconscious as before, and I’ll look back and say, “Oh yeah–”
I’m still trying to conceptualize how it will be to be the father of a daughter. The truth is: I get boys. I understood and vibed with my sons right out of the gate. But girls – sheesh. I know nothing! I was terrified when I found out we were having a girl!
So I don’t have a doubt it will affect the way I write, what I write about, and the way I think about female characters.
LHR: You have an active presence on your blog and Twitter. What’s your opinion of the internet and social media helping new and established authors?
PSK: I think it’s important to have an Internet presence. I get a real charge out of the readers, the fans, and the interaction. I don’t think of Twitter and Facebook as this kind of “Me, author, dispensing wisdom and wit and readers who sit there and receive it.” It’s more iterative and I like it when there’s some give and take with fans.
I think lots of authors overrate the value of an Internet presence from the standpoint of moving a career along. The Internet represents a relatively tiny fraction of the reading audience. Most of the people who read your books do not visit your website or come to your Facebook or hang out with you on Twitter. Those people who do, though, are generally your really big and/or dedicated fans. They’re awesome.
Anyway, I have a robust internet presence mostly because I find it creatively invigorating to interact with other writers and fans.
LHR: You’ve been asked and have answered many times which of your other books to start with, so should we just link to the very witty: Ten Reasons Star Wars fans should read the Cale stories?
PSK: Here’s what I think: Star Wars, notwithstanding the Sci-Fi trappings that it has, is Science Fantasy. People who like Star Wars will like Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery. The kinds of tropes that are explored in Star Wars are entirely congruent with the kinds of tropes that I explore in my other work (which I usually characterize as Sword and Sorcery).
I think that anyone who likes my Star Wars stuff, which I think is a little bit darker than the other people who write Star Wars, will also like my Sword and Sorcery work, which is also a little darker and grittier. If you like my style and my tone, I think you’ll like my other work.
LHR: Do you have any 2012 New Year’s resolutions?
PSK: I really don’t make resolutions for New Years, generally speaking. That said, this year I want to be a little more diligent about my writing schedule, in that I want to be more steadily productive, as opposed to doing it in fits and starts. That’ll be good creatively.
From a personal perspective, hmm, well, every day I wake up and think, “Jeez, am I lucky!”
So I guess I hope to keep it going! :)
LHR: What projects can we look forward to from you in 2012 and beyond?
PSK: A lot of stuff! I’ve got my first original novel – not tied to any underlying intellectual property – coming out in June. It’s called The Hammer and the Blade. It’s me doing Sword and Sorcery with no gloves on. I think it’s the finest stuff I’ve written. The story is fast paced, has some of the underlying philosophical stuff that I’m known for, and features two enormously compelling protagonists, in Egil and Nix. I think of it as my attempt to fuse Pulp Fiction and Fritz Leiber.
In addition to that, my next Erevis Cale novel, Godborn, is scheduled for the end of 2012. It will continue the story of Cale, Drasek Riven, and Cale’s son, Vasen – so there’s your father and son theme again. :)
On top of that, I’m under contract with Del Rey to do two more hardcover Star Wars books. I can’t talk about those at all yet, but I’m excited about them. I don’t think, though, that those will be out in 2012. Still, I’m very excited and I can’t wait to tell everybody about them as soon as I’m authorized to tell everybody about them.
Paul’s website: Paul S. Kemp, Fictioneer