Interview with Paul S. Kemp, Author, “Star Wars: Riptide”


Today sees the release of Star Wars: Riptide by Paul S. Kemp. It’s the sequel to Crosscurrent, also by Kemp, and it follows the continuing story of Jedi Knight Jaden Korr and his friends Khedryn and Marr. On the occasion of Riptide‘s release, I asked Kemp a few questions about how the book came together — in addition to some other topics.

Khedryn reminds me a lot of Han Solo, and I somehow doubt this was an accident. What were your sources of inspiration, whether real-world or GFFA, for the characters of Khedryn and Marr?

The Han comparison is fair, though I think any rakish character on the edge of the law who appears in the EU is inevitably going to remind folks of Han.  I think we’re all a bit too ready to see that comparison, though, and its prevalence probably speaks more to the power of Han-as-archetype than anything else.

It’s honestly hard for me to go back and figure out from where I particular character sprang.  Khedryn has some Captain Mal from Firefly in him certainly, and the dynamic between Khedryn and Marr has a bit of a parallel in various buddy films/books.

I regard Khedryn a scrappy, impulsive, hardscrabble underdog, and Marr as the reserved, gifted brains of the outfit, the Yin to Khedryn’s Yang.

Jaden Korr appears in few novels besides yours, and Khedryn and Marr are your own creations. Riptide involves the One Sith, a group that very few other authors have written. What makes writing lesser-known characters so appealing to you?

I like to think that my greatest strength as a writer is in characterization:  creating compelling characters and taking them through the paces of an interesting character arc.  I find it enormously rewarding when readers come away with affection or loathing for my characters, or just come away talking about the characters and their journey.  It’s fun, and it’s easiest to do that with characters who are new or unexplored, because then I’ve got the most elbow room for development of the character arcs.

A recurring theme in your depiction of Marr is his mathematical outlook on life. Where did this idea come from?

Well, on the one hand the math savant stands in for certainty.  In Crosscurrent, Jaden’s doubt is one of the thematic elements explored in the narrative, while in Riptide, purpose (particularly Soldier’s purpose, but also Jaden’s) is explored.  In both books, Marr, the “man with the math,” provides a point of certainty in the narrative framework.  Time and again his implacability and insight dispels doubt and sheds light on purpose.

All of that accords with my sometimes fanciful view of math as the secret language of the universe, a kind of cosmic cant that, once understood, allows for deeper insights into existence.  It’s a weird way of looking at math, I concede, since it marries an almost religious/magical quality to a subject not generally amenable to such things.  But, you know, I’ m a writer, so I get to take creative liberties. 🙂

To the best of my knowledge, Crosscurrent was the first — and it remains the only — Star Wars book to include traditional time travel. Given the novelty of what you were doing with the Harbinger, did you have special consultations with Leland Chee and the folks at Lucas Licensing?

Indeed.  Leland was invaluable on squaring away the time travel issue and on countless other things.  In my experience, if anything appears in the manuscript that raises continuity issues, it is always sent to Leland for review/commentary/approval.  And for the record, Leland is awesome, because he seems to always want to work with you to find an answer that fits with the story, rather than simply saying “no.”

In telling the story of the clones, Riptide features deeply philosophical subplots about the meaning of identity and the journey to find one’s purpose in life. Did these themes develop organically as you wrote about the clones, or did you set out to make certain statements like those reflected in Soldier’s inner monologues?

I don’t know if I set out to make statements, but I do want my books to raise and speak to some larger questions.  Obviously I want them to be fun, first and foremost, but I also want them to leave the reader with some moral/philosophical questions to chew on.

Mother, the “Big Bad” in Riptide, bears a striking similarity to Abeloth, the main villain in the Fate of the Jedi series. While preparing to write Mother, did you have any discussions with the authors of FOTJ or study their depiction of Abeloth?

Oddly, this was a case of convergent, simultaneous development.  When I first read on a message board about Abeloth, I had already finished the RIPTIDE manuscript.  I immediately raised with my editor the possibility of Mother and Abeloth being related somehow, or having some kind of similar origin, but we opted not to do that.

What Star Wars storytelling principles have been key to your work in the GFFA? What essential “ingredients” of Star Wars have stuck with you since your early research for Crosscurrent?

Well, I think a Star Wars novel should feature cinematic action, a reasonably clear moral framework (though I like to play with this), a philosophical foundation for the narrative, and a lot of fun.  But it must, absolutely must, have interesting, deep, and well-developed relationships between the characters.

If you could write a crossover novel that mixed Star Wars with another entertainment property, which property would you choose and what would the book be about?

How about a Firefly-Star Wars mashup, where Serenity is contracted to deliver goods to the Death Star.  She is about to make the delivery when the rebels assault on the station.  Damaged, Serenity is forced to land on the moon of Endor, where they encounter the Han and Leia-led rebel assault team.  Han and Mal get into it over Leia, Kaylee and Leia get into it over Han, but everyone is eventually separated by Wicket, who will brook no bullshit on his moon.   In the end, Jayne is elected tribal leader of the Ewoks, the Deathstar is destroyed, and Serenity makes her way back into space, with Mal scoffing about the Force.

Would you be interested in taking part in a multi-author novel series, or do you prefer to tell Star Wars stories on your own?

I’ve done that before in the Forgotten Realms, with R.A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen.  It was a great experience, but, frankly, much harder than writing an entire series yourself.  The characters aren’t “mine” in the way they are when I’m the sole writer, and that makes it somewhat more difficult for me to get into their heads.

Still, I’d do it again if the project was right.

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to read more of Jaden, Khedryn, and Marr’s story. Without revealing too much, do you have ideas in mind for a third book about them?

I do.  I think the big reveals in RIPTIDE lend themselves to tremendous storytelling avenues for future books and I hope I get to explore them.

Can you give me a one-word hint, no matter how vague, about the mysterious duology you’ll be writing?

Secret.  😉