The Godborn is the second novel in the Sundering series, which is reshaping the Forgotten Realms and bringing back a number of classic Realms characters. Author Paul S. Kemp revealed antihero Erevis Cale's true origin and favorite bourbon.
When we last saw Erevis Cale, he was trapped in a hell dimension. The Godborn, which will be released on Oct. 1, revolves around Cale's son Vasen, who was sent forward in time by the god Mask to save his life.
io9: Let's start by talking about Erevis Cale, who spends a lot of time off-stage in The Godborn, but it still very central to the story. How was that character created, and how has he evolved over the years? And who would play him in the Hollywood blockbuster?
Paul S. Kemp: Well, when a boy with an affinity for shadows loves a girl with an affinity for shadows very much, then….
Oh, you mean something else. Uh, okay.
Cale actually came out of a closed call put out by WotC in 1999-2000, for what would later become the “Sembia Series.” Now, the Sembia Series was a very cool idea from Wizards. Essentially seven authors were each going to write first a novella and then a novel featuring one of the characters in the household of a wealthy Sembian merchant family. Intrigue! Secrets! Swordplay!
At the time I was a complete newbie, and I was absolutely overwhelmed and excited at the idea that I’d soon have my first story in print.
So the Sembia packet contained a list of character descriptions they wanted see – placeholder descriptions for the most part – here you had the Patriarch of the family, here you had the prodigal eldest son, here you had the younger son, and here you had the butler/majordomo, who was described as a “man who gets things done for the Patriarch.”
The seven authors were to pitch character ideas based on those one sentence descriptions. We could pitch as many of the characters as we wanted. I pitched only one – the majordomo – and from that came Erevis Cale, one-time forger and assassin, current thief and spy, a man who took his position after secretly murdering the previous majordomo, a man who arrived to spy on the family but had, over the course of years, come to respect (maybe even love) them. There’s a lot of conflict and potential from drama in that, I thought.
I was so taken with the concept that I had a friend of mine, a talented artist, actually sketch Cale (and Jak Fleet and Drasek Riven) and sent those sketches along, too. Anyway, WotC liked the pitch and Erevis Cale was born. Off we went. Been a great ride so far.
Cale’s essentially conflict is trying to reconcile a couple things – his past with his present, and who he is, fundamentally, with who he wants to be. His evolution as a character has brought him through both spiritual and physical transformations. At this point, maybe he’s finally resolved some of his internal conflict and has a measure of peace. I’m sure it’s soon to be disrupted, though.
As for the actor who'd play him, I'd have Mark Strong, from Low Winter Sun, play Cale. Dude is perfect.
io9: Erevis Cale strikes me as almost a prototypical antihero. I suspect that antiheroes operate differently in the Forgotten Realms than in other settings. Ideals and principles are much less abstract in the Realms, since you have deities that often interact directly (or almost directly) with characters. Can you talk about how you define antiheroes, if you think Erevis is one, and how that kind of character fits into the Realms?
PK: Oh, I agree. Cale is very much the archetypical anti-hero. I suppose the textbook definition of an anti-hero is pretty straightforward – a protagonist who embodies not only heroic characteristics, but also some characteristics typically deemed non-heroic, even villainous. But the definition of an anti-hero I like to use is that of a protagonist who embodies the conflict between temptation and grace, between the “easy” way and the “right” way. It’s such a rich vein to mine for drama and internal conflict. The anti-hero walks the morally gray path and constantly flirts with redemption, and that flirtation is just a blast to write.
You know, I don’t think writing an anti-hero in the Realms is any different from writing an anti-hero in any other setting. I think fantasy fiction is very well-suited to exploring moral philosophy, and one of the reasons for that is because so much fantasy is set in worlds where (as you say) ideals and principles (and the line between good and evil) is not abstract. The Realms is no different in that respect.
io9: With Vasen, you have a character who, though still driven by internal conflict, has very different motivations from Erevis. What different kinds of stories are open to a character in service of Amaunator (the Forgotten Realms' god of the sun) rather than one who serves Mask (god of shadows and thievery)?
PK: In some ways Vasen has an internal dynamic that’s more or less at 180 degrees from that of his father. Where Erevis struggles with whether he should do the right thing or surrender to his darker impulses and do the easier thing while still hopefully arriving at the right result, Vasen has internalized doing the right thing. He was raised in an abbey, surrounded by holy men. But he holds himself to such a high standard that sometimes the right thing isn’t right enough, if you take my meaning. He’s hard on himself, and that lends itself to a different dynamic in the storytelling. Small mistakes torture Vasen, so he’ll worry at his own self-perceived moral failings. And unlike with his father, for him the ends will never justify the means for him, if the end is a good one. In that sense (and to circle back to your earlier question) Vasen holds himself to ideal, an abstraction that he’ll never be able to fully satisfy in the real world. Dealing with that is his story.
io9: How is The Godborn tied to The Companions (the first novel in the Sundering series, by R.A. Salvatore)? How do the overall events of the Sundering affect the characters in The Godborn?
PK: It’s tied to The Companions in that both have the early events of the Sundering going on in background and progressing from one book to the next (those events will develop further as the Sundering series of novels goes along). The characters are not the same, and the stories occur in different parts of the world, but the early stirrings of the Sundering are driving the thinking and actions of the world’s powerful movers and shakers (in particular, the Netherese). They don’t fully understand what has begun, but they understand that something of import has begun, so they are taking steps to hedge their bets against whatever’s coming.
Because the Sundering is in its early stages in The Godborn, the characters are only indirectly affected by events. The Netherese are at war with their neighbors and are monitoring and capturing the Chosen (powerful servants of Faerun’s deities). These things affect decisions made by the Netherese, have implications for how the heroes of The Godborn travel and the environment through which they travel, etc.
io9: The other Sundering writers I've talked to have mentioned the development meetings, brainstorm sessions where the story was created and fleshed out. Can you take us into the room for one of those meetings? Is there an example you can give of a story element that came together through that kind of collaboration?
PK: Now, because I have a day job and young children (and also because I have B.A. Barakas’ fear of flying; I ain’t gettin’ on no plane, WotC!), I had to attend the story summit sessions by phone. This allowed me to make faces at the other authors without them knowing, which was nice.
The early parts of the consisted of the authors and representatives from WotC (including James Wyatt and members of the brand team) kicking around ideas about what we saw as the essential core of the Realms, spit balling where we thought the Realms should go to move closer to that core. Once we had that, we started discussing the particulars of those changes and how we might capture them in story. From there, we went on to the details of some of the stories.
In terms of a story element that came together as part of that: The Godborn is part of the Sundering series due to these brainstorming sessions. As we discussed and debated and mocked and cajoled and, ultimately, engaged in knife fighting inside a steel cage, it became clear to me that the story I had long planned to write as part of the ongoing tale of Riven, the Shadovar, et al (the Godborn has been a long time in the making), would be a perfect fit for the Sundering. After that first summit, I drafted this very long, very rambling email to the group explaining why and how I thought it fit with the plans for the Sundering, etc. And everyone agreed! Alarums and huzzahs!
io9: How do you write evil? What do you do to get into the proper frame of mind when you want a scene to be especially heinous or creepy?
PK: The critical things to keep in mind when writing an evil character is that (obviously) no one walks around thinking, “I’m ‘bout to do some evil up in here!” Instead, they rationalize. Hell, the human mind has infinite capacity to rationalize, and evil characters just push that boundary a bit. Whatever they’re doing, they think it makes sense to do it and they think they have a good reason to do it. In short, they feel justified. So there’s that. The other thing you want to do is make sure their motivation makes sense (this ties to justification in obvious ways). And I always, always, always make sure that all my characters, but especially my evil ones, are fully rounded. They’re psychologically complicated and entirely capable of doing “good” things, or at least relatable things.
I don’t actually do anything special to get in the proper frame of mind for creepy/heinous scenes. That shit’s always floating around up in my headspace, so I just sit down and let it fly.
io9: As requested, how about a whiskey recommendation? What goes well with a few chapters of The Godborn? What whiskey would Erevis drink? (Prior to this interview I half-jokingly asked Paul on Twitter what I should ask him about — he suggested whiskey and jelly beans).
PK: A fine single malt will get you where you need to be, something ballsy though: An Ardbeg, I’d say, or, if that’s a bit too rough, then a Taliskers.
Cale would scoff at single malt scotch. That brother’s a bourbon guy all the way. Angel’s Envy maybe, or Pappy Van Winkle.