How I got started as a writer, in brief

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GodbornI’m often asked how I got started as a writer.  The answer is not all that interesting, but here it is, in brief.

Like most writers, I was an imaginative kid who read a lot.  My favorite book back then was this illustrated children’s encyclopedia.  Most awesome.  Loved that book.  Of course, I also read A Wrinkle in Time and books of that kind, but fantasy fiction as fantasy fiction didn’t really hit me until I read Tolkien in fifth grade.  And it hit me hard.  From then on, it was pretty much all fantasy all the time.   I followed with the usual suspects — Leiber, Moorcock, Donaldson, Eddings, the Thieves’ World anthologies, etc.   Eventually I expanded into sci-fi (by way of Dune) but my first love was always fantasy.

In seventh or eighth grade (I forget which), I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (other RPGs, too, but mostly D&D).  Eventually I started DMing, which is just storytelling with dice.  Notwithstanding some really, really bad early dungeons, I realized that I had a pretty good knack for spinning a tale.

(Cue rising orchestral score and overnarration)

And lo, many years passed in the Age of Men, and during those years, our hero read and read, and played D&D and played D&D, growing mighty in the ways of the story, conquering the dreaded adverb, vanquishing certain prepositional constructions, and making allies of strong verbs and concrete nouns.

(Score reaches a peak, a clash of cymbals and drum notes fading into soft strings).

And those things, mostly unbeknownst to me, were sharpening both my technical writing skills and my storytelling abilities.  I started to actually grok things like point of view and the rhythm of prose, for example.  And throughout this entire period I, like many, dreamed fancifully of one day writing my own fantasy novel.

College followed, then law school.  And a funny thing happened while I was in law school.  I came to the realization that law school sucked (this is funny now because I enjoy practicing law; I just disliked law school).  Yea verily, brothers and sisters, it did indeed sucketh.  So I thought, “Holy Shit!  I better do something else!” And turned back to that fanciful dream of writing a fantasy novel.  And I did it, by God!   I wrote that puppy.  And it, like law school, sucked.

Or at least most of it sucked.  It took me a long while to write it and rewrite it, and while I was doing so, I joined a writer’s critique group (  So I was getting better as I wrote, a lot better, such that while the beginning of the novel was really bad, the end chapters turned out pretty darned good (in terms of the prose, at least).

During this period I was also writing fantasy short stories.  These I inflicted on my friends, alas (this is bad policy, as I’m sure all of you know; your friends are your friends; they will never, ever, no matter what they say and what you think, be able to give you a critique/review unbiased by the fact of your friendship; so spare them discomfort and you useless critiques by avoiding the practice).  As it was with the novel, those I wrote early on were terrible, but those I wrote later on were actually pretty good.  I ended up selling a couple of these to an online magazine (that paid pro rates at the time and is now long defunct).  From this, I learned that getting paid to write was a pretty cool gig.

Then, the big break.

Because of my history playing D&D and my then-encyclopedic knowledge of the Forgotten Realms setting, I aimed to write for Wizards of the Coast.  At the time, WotC had an open submissions policy and I submitted a chapter from the end of my fantasy novel.  It was a good chapter, I thought, and Phil Athans, now my friend but then a faceless editor at WotC, agreed, and he sent me a letter telling me so.

I was ecstatic, but didn’t actually have a writing gig with WotC just yet.  On the basis of the sample I sent to WotC, Phil asked me to submit a proposal for the Sembia series WotC was preparing to launch.  They had character “slots” they wanted filled.  These were open-ended, one  sentence descriptions of various persons who would feature in the series.  One of those descriptions caught my eye.  He was described only as “A Butler who gets things done for his master.”

From that, I developed Erevis Cale, a onetime thief and assassin on the run from his former guild, now in service as a spy to his new guild, but horribly conflicted over his role as a spy because he loves and respects those on whom he is spying.  Throw faith and the God of Shadows into the mix and you get what became the dark, bloody mash of the Erevis Cale stories.

And that’s it.  The rest you know, I think, since I’m constantly blathering about it on teh intertubes.  🙂  As always, questions/comments welcomed.

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22 thoughts on “How I got started as a writer, in brief

  1. Pingback: April 26, 2011 « Paul S. Kemp, Fictioneer

    • Loved the Old Republic book. Writing my own fantasy novel and thanks for the inspiration!

  2. In seventh or eighth grade (I forget which), I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (other RPGs, too, but mostly D&D). Eventually I started DMing, which is just storytelling with dice. Notwithstanding some really, really bad early dungeons, I realized that I had a pretty good knack for spinning a tale.

    Bless your heart, Paul, you are yet another datum to my assertion on my SF Signal column about modern F/SF writers having played RPGs. 🙂

    • Indeed, indeed. I imagine the correlation between spec fic writer and current or former RPG player is very high. 🙂

    • The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John, the Baptist. Since that time, the good news of the kigdonm of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. Luke 16:16/ Matthew 11:13Paul was an Anti-Racist, there is no jew or pagan anymore, in Jesus Christ we are ALL ONE. HalleluJAH!

  3. Pingback: How Paul S. Kemp Got His Start « Roqoo Depot

  4. Paul,

    And as I’ve mentioned to you before, I was reading slush for the book department in my spare time, and your original chapter submission stood out from the rest, so I passed it on to Phil with a note saying “follow up with this one.”

    Then, you were invited to submit to the Sembia anthology . . .and beat me out for a slot in that book! I had submitted my own take on the butler–far darker than I think they were looking for, and you won that contest hands down. I sowed the seeds of my own defeat! 🙂

  5. Pingback: SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 4/27/11

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  8. The Cale trilogy renewed my interest in fantasy. I actually quit reading fantasy for years until a friend of mine recommended it. I’d love to see a film adaptation of the books.

  9. Pingback: Geek Media Round-Up: May 3, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind

  10. You had an interesting life, that’s for sure, you’re an excellent writer, I’m actually doing an English Project on you actually.

  11. You forgot to mention the influence of Heinlein’s ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’; the tell-tale giveaway clue was the use of the word ‘grok’.

    • You have found me out, sir. Though “grok” has entered the geek vernacular at this point and is long divorced from its origin.

  12. Pingback: Erevis Cale turns eleven (and I wax rhapsodic) | Candlekeep Archives

  13. I saw in an interview that Elric by Michael Moorcock influenced you. I’ve never heard of the series until now. Could anyone here recommend one of the best books in the series to start with. I’m not too concerned with reading them in order. Ever since reading the Cale novels I’ve preferred the sort of anti hero type fantasies.

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