The best compliment I can pay to Paul Kemp’s first Egil & Nix book is, for me, that it gave me the sudden urge to go out and play a shitload of D&D. It’s a deeply awesome, super-fun book and I’m comfortable assuming the next in the series in just as rad. Speakawhich — here’s Paul now to talk about that very book:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Well, I’m a proud geek, proud dad, whisky drinker, beer drinker, wine drinker (an alarming theme is beginning to emerge here), dude-who-quit-smoking-cigars-but-sometimes-still-longs-for-one (it’s only a cigar, people! Jeebus!). I’m a RPG player, ASL fan, FPS fan, and such other nerdy acronyms as may give me credibility with the reading audience.
On the writing front, I’m somehow a multiple New York Times bestseller. You believe that shit? I write Star Wars novels, Forgotten Realms novels featuring my signature character, Erevis Cale, and I write sword and sorcery novels in my own fictional world for Angry Robot Books.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH.
A pair of rogues take a run at the Thieves’ Guild. Wit and action comes at you in a blizzard. It’s sword and sorcery, but now with 25% more sorcery! 25% more! But you must call now!
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
This book, and the Egil and Nix books generally, comes from my sweet, sweet sticky love of classic sword and sorcery and adventure fiction. It comes from a desire to write something that might, for some reader somewhere, make them feel the same wonder and joy that I did the first time I read about Fafhrd and the Mouser, about Doc Savage, about Conan or Elric. It comes from a desire to write something that feels like a throwback, that reads in most respects like the throwback, but that nevertheless has ‘modern’ sensibilities. When I first read those books (and I re-read most of them once every year or so), I felt like the story was just grabbing me by the shirt, giving me a shake, and saying, “Come the fuck on, man! There’s adventure afoot!” Love that.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
Er, uh, because it’s the product my particular brand of whiskey-soaked, unholy manlove of Fritz Leiber’s work (give me a call from beyond, Fritzy!)? No? Then, uh, I guess I’m not sure it is, you know? Well, maybe this:
I’ve been writing a long time, sold a fair amount of books, and I’m basically at the point in my career that I truly do not care what anyone thinks of what I write. So I can tell what I think is a gloriously fun, unabashed adventure story, and tell it without a hint of hipster irony, without so much as a knowing nod. And I can do that because i don’t care if Locus likes it (maybe they won’t because adventure fiction, I think, is not their cup of tea), or if it gets Hugo or Nebula nominated (it probably won’t for the same reason!). I just care about telling a story that recalls for me the sensawunda I felt when reading Leiber/Burroughs/Howard/Brackett/Younameit for the first time. There’s something pure about the storytelling in those books, something unselfconscious. There’s a verve to it. It elicits the same kind of feeling I had when I first saw an Imperial Star Destroyer start to fill the screen from the bottom up, chasing a tiny Tantive IV, the same kind of feeling Spielberg recaptured in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s fun storytelling, really fun. And it’s not fun with a knowing wink, or an arched eyebrow. It’s just fucking fun. Still has something to say, sure, but it is, first and foremost and always, a ripping tale. I’m not the only one who could do it, but I can damn sure do it and do it pretty well.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING a discourse in steel?
Oddly, none of it was hard and I don’t say that lightly. Essentially every other book i’ve written has had that bit (or bits) where it felt like getting words on the page was less fun than getting my teeth drilled, where frustration caused me to bob for apples in a vat of scotch, but not the Egil and Nix stories. Writing about these two and their adventures is nothing but an unadulterated blast and it comes easy (and now, by saying that, i’m sure the writing gods have just looked down, realized that I’m writing the third Egil and Nix book, and have decreed, “AFFLICT THAT FUCKER WITH DIFFICULTIES!”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING a discourse in steel?
Man, that’s a good question. How about this: If you build darkness into a character, it will come out even if you didn’t intend for it to come out when conceptualizing the story.
Also, swearing begets more swearing, until pretty much the entire book is one big expletive (albeit made-up fantasy expletives, in this case).
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT a discourse in steel?
I love Nix’s voice, of course. I like to think he’s witty and insightful and a lot of fun to read, and he and Egil play off one another very, very well.
But I really love some of the small, evocative bits that aren’t hugely important to the plot but which suggest so much about the wonder of the world – the talking, sassy magical key, the sexless flesh automaton that wanders the Low Bazaar hawking magical gewgaws for Kerfallen the Grey Mage, the magical tattoos on members of the Thieves’ Guild.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
WHAT! THIS NOVEL IS PERFECT, SIR! DO YOU GAINSAY THIS?
Seriously, man, that’s a tough question, since we’re our own harshest critics. How about this: I would definitely make the sucky parts less sucky! Yeah, yeah, that’s it. And I’d make the mediocre parts great instead!
More seriously, I’d slow down. The Egil and Nix books come at me faster than any of my other novels. I’m sure I could make small improvements throughout if I slowed the pace some.
That’s all I got, bro. And that’s a shitty answer. But the book’s brand new and I can’t quite bring myself to crucify it just yet.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
This bit occurs while Egil and Nix are in the midst of an assault on the fortified guild house of Dur Follin’s Thieves’ Guild. They’re there to grab a man named Channis, the Upright Man (the guildmaster). I think this captures their dynamic pretty well.
Nix shrugged. “Of course if he’s not in there, we’re fakked. We may be fakked anyway. Bit off a big piece of meat here, my friend. Makes for a hard chew. But it’s now or not. We have minutes at best, before those slubbers from the rooms below get word up here. We move fast enough, we may yet take them by surprise.
“They feel safe here,” Egil said.
“They should,” Nix said, thinking of the reinforced doors and locks.
Egil nodded. “Take the two stupidest slubbers in Dur Follin to attack the guild house.”
“Ballsiest is what you mean,” Nix said. “I can barely walk I’m swinging so low.”
Egil grinned and they hustled through empty rooms and corridors, making their way to the grand room. Presently Egil put up a hand to stop them.
“Right around this corner,” he said softly.
Nix peeked around the corner and saw two guards. They looked more bored than alert. Word of the attack hadn’t yet reached them. Nix pulled back.
“Two men, as you said,” he said to Egil.
Egil pointed. “This hallway goes around to the other side, to the doors near Channis.”
“The Upright Man’s name. The boy said it.”
“Right. Aye,” Nix said, then, “I’ll take these two then get inside the room and draw eyes. You go around to the other doors, kill the guards there quick, and stand ready. When you hear the commotion inside, you get in and grab this Channis. I’ll meet you over there.”
“Good,” Egil said. “Then what?”
“What do you mean, ‘then what?’”
“We get him,” Egil said. “We tell him why he’s dying and do it. Then, how do we get clear?”
“Why’re you asking me?”
“I thought you’d have a plan.”
“Why would you think that? I’m making this up as we go. You’re the one with the map of the place in your head.”
Egil shrugged. “Hmm. I guess we’ll figure something out.”
Nix looked at him a long moment. “Shite, man. I guess we will. Here I go.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
Oh, I plan to stress over sales and my career while sitting on the couch in my underwear with a whiskey.
Oh, maybe you mean something less depressing? In October, my next Forgotten Realms novel, THE GODBORN, book II of the Sundering, will be released. Meanwhile, I’ll be working on A CONVERSATION IN BLOOD, which is the next Egil and Nix novel (scheduled for a June 2014 release, I believe). After that, I’ll be working on another two Forgotten Realms novels and a fourth Egil and Nix book, so – busy! And that’s a good thing.
Chuck, thanks for having me, man. I really appreciate it.
A Discourse In Steel: Purchase