New York Times best-selling novelist and attorney Paul S. Kemp, has written his 17th novel, “A Conversation in Blood.” Kemp also penned “Lords of Sith” for the “Star Wars” series.
Lawyer and best-selling novelist Paul Kemp discusses ‘Blood’ novel
By Kurt Anthony Krug
Most lawyers-turned-novelists usually write legal thrillers.
That’s not the case with New York Times best-selling novelist Paul S. Kemp, who writes in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. This includes his most recent – and 17th – novel “A Conversation in Blood” (Penguin Random House $27).
“One of the things I like most about fantasy and I think space opera mirrors this to a certain degree – ‘Star Wars’ certainly does – is it’s really a great venue for exploring moral questions in an exaggerated way because a fantasy world or a science-fiction world allows you to exaggerate certain moral characteristics that you couldn’t in real-world fiction. And then you can explore the consequences of that decision-making in that arena. I really like that,” explained Kemp, 47, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park with his wife and four children.
He can’t imagine moving away from these two genres, so it’s doubtful you’ll see his name on a legal thriller any time soon.
“I also really think that both fantasy and science-fiction – but fantasy, especially – really ignites the imagination of people and broadens our thinking. In that respect, it’s unique; it’s something that thrillers and even most literary fiction doesn’t do as well,” said Kemp, an alumnus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and U-M Law School in Ann Arbor.
“Conversation” is the third novel in Kemp’s sword and sorcery series featuring his creations Egil (pronounced “Egg-gill”) and Nix, who debuted in 2012’s “The Hammer and the Blade.” They’re two ex-warriors who gave up that life to open up a bar and brothel. Yet, circumstances force them to fight once again. “Conversation” opens with the both of them recovering from the events of 2013’s “A Discourse in Steel,” the previous book in the series.
“It turns out an item that they found in some ruins in the previous book and didn’t think much about turns out to something a lot of groups want. Egil and Nix have no idea why they want it. Part of the mystery of the book is what is the item and why do people want it so badly? That includes an otherworldly type of creature that can seemingly sense this item,” said Kemp. “It isn’t like Egil and Nix stand back and let events happen to them. Once they realize that this item is so sought after, they take it upon themselves and force their adversaries to tell them precisely what they have and they’re in for a bit of a shock when they find that out.”
For Kemp, the challenge of this book was making sure the payoff at the end was equal to the journey Egil and Nix undertake.
“I think I always knew the payoff at the end of the book was going to be something special and interesting. I wanted to make that the buildup to it, and the journey both justified and matched the payoff in terms of intensity and wow factor,” he said.
Egil and Nix were inspired by Kemp’s love of fantasy fiction, something he’s read since he was a boy. Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” series and Robert E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” series had a profound influence on him.
“Sword and sorcery stories are these ripping yarns, fast-paced adventures with quick wit, rapid-fire dialogue and impulsive action. In some ways, I always liken it to the (1981) film ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ The Egil and Nix books have a lot in common with it in terms of pacing and dialogue but still have a philosophical undertone,” explained Kemp. “Because I love those so much, I wanted to write stories like that. It so happens there’s not a lot of that (type of story) in the market at the moment, so there seems to be at least some appetite for it and that’s a good thing, too.”
One critic even compared Egil and Nix to “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin’s characters Dun and Egg from his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
“I say, ‘Thanks for that! I really appreciate it!’” said Kemp, laughing. “If I could have a fraction of (Martin’s) success, I’d be a happy man.”
Kemp stated that while his Egil and Nix novels are sequential, it is not essential to start with the first book.
“In tone, they’re all similar; they’re compulsive action stories… and they share a lot of tropes with the sword and sorcery genre. Each book I try to write as a standalone, so a reader can pick it up anywhere along the line,” he said. “I try with each one to address some kind of an interesting theme or trope and invert that trope in each book. Each one differs from the last in that respect. Of course, the characters develop over time and their world is increasingly revealed as we go from book to book and so forth.”
Currently, Kemp’s hard at work on “An Answer in Blades,” the fourth Egil and Nix adventure. He was tight-lipped about other projects, including whether he’ll write a new “Star Wars” novel. To date, he’s penned four, the most recent being 2015’s “Lords of the Sith.”
“I’m under contract to do another ‘Star Wars’ book, so I hope that’ll happen soon so I can talk about it,” he said. “Right now I can’t really say anything other than that.”
This year, “Star Wars” – the space opera created by George Lucas – turns 40. Kemp shared his insights what on gives “Star Wars” its staying power after all this time.
“For me, ‘Star Wars’ pulled at that mythical cadence in the same way a lot of fantasy fiction does – it pulled at our sense of imagination and sense of wonder… ‘Star Wars’ knows the kind of emotional strings that it touches in us – it’s aspirational. In that respect, I don’t see it going anywhere for a very long time,” he said.
In addition to being a novelist, Kemp practices corporate law. He is the in-house counsel for the Troy-based technology company Caretech Solutions. According to Kemp, being a lawyer has helped him become a better author.
“I have observed in other contexts that working in law and negotiating deals requires a sense of understanding people’s true motivations. That’s, likewise, critical when you’re thinking about and conceptualizing characters. We’re all driven by certain drives and desires that are paramount over others,” he explained. “It’s useful to understand what those are in your characters. If you do – you know what they want, the kinds of things that drive them – it makes it a lot easier to create compelling ones. I think being an attorney has helped hone that skill and people see that in the characters I create.”