For many years now I have been quite the fan of author Drew Karpyshyn, the man behind the first three Mass Effect novels (Revelation, Ascension, and Retribution), the Darth Bane Trilogy (Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, and Dynasty of Evil), and Star Wars: Revan. He was also the lead writer on Mass Effect, which as many of you Constantly Calibrating fans man know, was instrumental in leading me on the road towards one my dream careers.
This past week I had the opportunity to sit down, via e-mail, with Drew Karpyshyn to briefly discuss his latest novel Children of Fire, which begins the Chaos Born trilogy.
Now that the ‘fanboying’ portion of this article is over with, I’ll move onto the questions:
[GNN]: For some time now you’ve worked on novels based around the properties of others, Mass Effect, Star Wars, etc., what was it like establishing your own universe; setting up your own rules, versus being ‘limited’ by ideas and ideologies created by others?
[Drew Karpyshyn]: Working in an established universe is a lot of fun, and it has a lot of benefits – a built-in audience for your work, and because people know the setting I can focus on my characters and plot. However, there is something great about having a universe or world that is entirely my own. It requires a lot of background to make it feel real, and much of that stuff never even makes it into the final product; as an author you just like to have it. But knowing that anything goes is a real thrill… although if you mess up you have nobody to blame but yourself.
[GNN]: What challenges did you encounter that may have surprised you in creating your own world compared to designing a narrative in one of these other universes?
[Karpyshyn]: I did have some experience in creating a universe from scratch because of my experience on Mass Effect; I was part of the team that created the first game and helped establish the setting. But working on my own I realized that I’m very, very bad at geography and maps. (No shock to anyone who’s driven anywhere with me; I almost always end up getting lost.) I actually tried to make a map at one point to help me keep it all straight, which was useful but also somewhat humbling. A friend of mine who saw it noted that it looked like something an 8-year-old would draw.
[GNN]: Your new novel, Children of Fire, comes across in description as a dark fantasy setting; a genre subset that for some time has been growing in popularity. What was it like transitioning from a predominantly science fiction writing background, into a world formed around swords & sorcery?
[Karpyshyn]: Science fiction is interesting because you’re trying to anticipate what things could really be like someday. You take existing technology and science and try to extrapolate in semi-realistic ways, which means you need to do a lot of research along the way. With a fantasy world, you’re sort of going in the opposite direction: what was society like before we developed a lot of the modern technologies we have now. Then you have to factor in magic, which – if you’re doing your job as an author – has to have rules and a system that fit in logically with the world and remain internally consistent. I don’t know that one is easier than the other, because they both have their own unique challenges.
[GNN]: As the novel has only made its debut recently, what are your goals for the series? I know it is part of a planned trilogy, but I’m curious if you have goals outside of that; perhaps an adaptation into either a graphic novel or film, maybe even a return to the start of your career with video games?
[Karpyshyn]: I’d love it if the series became so popular that it spawned games, movies or other spinoffs. But right now I’m focusing on the trilogy I set out to write. There’s a story I want to tell, and a style I want to do it in, and I want to stay true to that. I also feel like it might cheat readers if I was writing everything with an eye to making it a game or film. I prefer to create the best story I can in whatever medium I’m in, and let the adaptations take care of themselves later on.
[GNN]: Personally, when I’m writing a story I tend to map out moments that I feel would work both as text on the page, but also in any one of a number of visual mediums. Is that something you ever find yourself doing, or do you simply write for the page and keep your eye to the possible future?
[Karpyshyn]: As I said earlier, I try to focus exclusively on the story as it works in the medium I’m using. However, having said that, I do have a very visual writing style. I tend to imagine scenes in my head as I go, almost like a director shooting a scene. Of course, I have the advantage of unlimited budget and the ability to go inside a character’s head, so it’s not a perfect comparison.
[GNN]: With Children of Fire likely consuming most of your writing time, have you given any thoughts to possibly returning to some of the other universes you have helped shape? Perhaps ideas for a new Mass Effect novel or series, or a return to Darth Bane & Darth Zannah?
[Karpyshyn]: I’m just finishing The Scorched Earth, the second book in the Chaos Born trilogy, now. And I’ll probably be working on the third book for the next 6-9 months at least. So for the immediate future, that’s all I’m focused on – I don’t like to tackle multiple projects at once. However, once the third book is done I don’t know what I’ll do next. I could go back to Star Wars or Mass Effect, and both franchises look like they’ll be doing new and exciting stuff in the upcoming years. But I might also try something else. I like to keep my options open.
[GNN]: Would you ever consider a return to video game writing, or is your future now coded permanently into the realm of novels and the like?
[Karpyshyn]: I worked in video games for twelve years, and I really enjoyed it. But right now it feels good to be doing my own thing. Video games have a lot of limitations – budgets and timelines and technology – that books don’t have to worry about. I also like being able to do everything myself; most video games require a massive team effort. That does lead to some amazing stuff, but it also requires everyone to sacrifice some elements of creative control. Right now that isn’t something I’m interested in, but you never know what could happen down the road.
[GNN]: Finally, once Children of Fire is concluded, are there any other existing fictional universes you would like to delve into and explore, if given the opportunity?
[Karpyshyn]: I have my own ideas – a few sci-fi things, some alternate medieval history and even a comedic contemporary screenplay I want to tackle someday. But there isn’t any one thing I’m determined to do at all costs; I want to stay flexible, because sometimes the best opportunities are the ones that come up when you least expect them.
Joshua is the Director of Gaming for Geek News Network and host of Constantly Calibrating — and further podcasts that even he is unaware of. You can read more of his thoughts on gaming and everything else on Twitter @BearPunch.