Ten questions for Drew Karpyshyn, sci-fi/fantasy author of numerous books including the Star Wars: Old Republic novels, Mass Effect novels, and the Chaos Born Trilogy, and game writer for BioWare.
You’ve written a number of sci-fi/fantasy titles, including both original fiction (The Chaos Born Trilogy, Temple Hill, A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales) and media tie-in books (the Star Wars: Darth Bane and Star Wars: Old Republic novels, Mass Effect books, and Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal). What drew you to the sci-fi/fantasy genre?
I've always been a fan of speculative fiction: sci-fi, fantasy, horror. I read mostly for entertainment and enjoyment, and I prefer to read stories that can't actually happen in real life. By adding fantastical elements, I think it actually frees up both the author and the audience to be more open minded and willing to accept things they might otherwise resist or reject.
In addition to writing novels, you’ve written for a number of games, including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire and the Baldur’s Gate series. How is writing for games different from writing novels?
Writing for games, at least with BioWare, is a very collaborative process. You work closely with other writers, and you need input from other departments - level designers, artists, cinematics. This collaboration can produce a lot of amazing content that wouldn't be possible working alone, but there is a trade-off - you have to give up some creative control. A novel, on the other hand, is a very solitary endeavor. You sink or swim completely alone; you have no support from a team, but you also have absolute creative control. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other; they're just very different.
What’s it been like balancing your original work with your media tie-in work?
For me it's mostly about managing time. I love telling stories in existing universes, like Star Wars, Mass Effect or the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. It's an honor and a privilege to be part of something beloved by so many fans, and to leave a mark on something with a massive audience. But I also like creating my own worlds, as I did with my Chaos Born trilogy. Fortunately I get to do both, and I hope that my fans enjoy both my tie-in work and my original novels.
I read your original novel, Children of Fire (Chaos Born, Book I), and I can see why it’s received so much praise! What was the inspiration behind the rich fantasy world you depicted in the book? What drew you to the theme of chaos?
The Chaos Born trilogy is my homage to the classic fantasy works I read growing up, like David Eddings' Belgariad and Terry Brooks' Shannara novels, with a dash of Stephen King-inspired horror thrown in. I wanted to take the basic archetypes in classic Sword and Sorcery fantasy and twist them in subtle ways to give them a fresher, modern feel. And I've always been a fan of "butterfly effect" type fiction, so incorporating Chaos as a powerful but unpredictable source of magic that has rippling, far-reaching consequences seemed like a logical next step.
Your books are full of unexpected twists and turns. Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that went in unexpected directions?
I tend to plot my stories out in detailed outlines before I start writing the actual book, so I usually have a pretty good idea of how things are going to go. But even with this planning, I often discover a character who takes on a life of his or her own - someone who grows beyond my initial expectations. And I think the key is to be willing to veer off of my outlines when something like this happens, as long as it makes sense for the story and themes I'm working with.
Can you take us behind-the-scenes on what it’s like writing for broader universes such as Star Wars and Mass Effect?
I've always enjoyed a great amount of creative freedom working with both Star Wars and Mass Effect. Obviously they need to approve your stories and ideas, but for the most part they've allowed me to tell the stories I want to tell. The key to working with an existing franchise is to be able to know what the fans want. You have to understand the themes and the tone of the books, films and games that came before. You need to understand the history and the stories that have already been told. In other words, you need to be a fan - and fortunately, I am.
Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it? Is it different for original versus media tie-in fiction?
I almost always start with a basic outline of the story and a brief description of the main characters. From there, I slowly flesh out the details - I go from a one page summary to a five page outline, which I then turn into detailed chapter by chapter descriptions of the entire story before I start the actual writing of the novel. That helps to keep me focused on the tale I want to tell, although if something good comes up that isn't the original outline I'm not afraid to work it in.
Some writers listen to music, some go to coffee shops, some drink beer… Do you have any habits or rituals you must do before you hunker down and write?
I often write at night, in my office with the windows shut and the lights low. With the world outside shrouded in darkness, it's easier to imagine myself inside the fictional world I'm working in. Beyond that, I don't have many rituals. For me it's about sitting my butt down in a chair in front of the computer and putting in the time at the keyboard. It's easy to procrastinate and get distracted, so I need to make sure I bear down and actually write.
The road to publication and a writing career is never easy. Can you share what the early days were like for you? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
There's no easy answer for this. On the FAQ page of my website - www.drewkarpyshyn.com - I list a few links writers can go to for advice and tips about the craft and about the available markets. Beyond that, the only real advice I can offer is to stay patient. I started trying to get my stories published when I was back in high school, and it took ten years before I finally started making money as a writer. I think that's pretty normal; you need to spend a lot of time and effort learning your craft before it's good enough for someone else to want to pay for it. There are no shortcuts or secrets - it just takes hard work.
Are you working on anything new? What does the path forward look like for you?
Chaos Unleashed, the third and final book of my Chaos Born trilogy, comes out October 13, but I actually finished writing it some time ago. Since then I've released a self-published short story anthology called A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales and I've started working on two unnamed novels - a historical thriller set in Elizabethan England, and a contemporary sci-fi story set in modern-day Vegas. I've also started working again with BioWare, the video game company where I got my start, as a writer for their online Star Wars MMO. I always keep my fans updated about what I'm working on in the NEWS blog on my website, and you can follow me on Twitter @drewkarpyshyn for all the latest Drew news!
Drew Karpyshyn is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Darth Bane: Rule of Two, Star Wars: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, and the Mass Effect novels Revelation and Ascension, as well as several other fantasy and science fiction novels. He is also an award-winning writer/designer for the computer game company BioWare, where he was lead writer on Mass Effect and the blockbuster Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game. He lives in Canada's hinterlands with his wife, Jen, and their cat.
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ABOUT DREW'S BOOKS
The Chaos Born Trilogy
Long ago the gods chose a great hero, Daemron the Slayer, to act as their agent in the mortal world to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power of the Talismans corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.
Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.
Bound by a connection deeper than blood, the Children of Fire will either restore the Legacy or bring it crashing down, freeing Daemron to wreak his vengeance upon the mortal world.
A Minor Malevolent Spirit
With stories ranging from classic sword and sorcery adventures to contemporary horror to twisted takes on myth, legend and folklore, A Minor Malevolent Spirit offers ten tales of magic, mystery and the supernatural… with a dash of humor thrown in for good measure! A man discovers a demon living in his basement, then hires it to advance his career. A young king in exile challenges a powerful wizard in a battle of wits to reclaim his throne. The Aztec pantheon gathers for an unusual contest to win the favor of the immortal Serpent King. A proud warrior queen plots bloody retribution to avenge her murdered family. Ten fantastical tales promise to deliver thrills, chills and even a few laughs. As an added bonus, author notes for each story will give fans a glimpse into the craft of writing and Drew's creative process.
Learn more about A Minor Malevolent Spirit and Other Tales on Drew's STORIES page.
Find more of Drew's titles on his Amazon page