The Song of Kwasin --
Interview with Christopher Paul Carey
November 30, 2011

Philip José Farmer wrote two Opar novels, Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar. Both were published by DAW Books in the mid-1970s. More titles were promised and announced at the time – up to a total of six or even twelve novels in the Opar series – but none of these were actually published.
Many readers liked the novels very much, but Farmer did not write any further adventures in the Opar series. He had started a third novel, Kwasin of Opar, but never finished it. Because of other obligations Farmer did not have the time to finish it, and the manuscript was shelved. It was long thought that we wouldn’t see any more Opar novels.


But then, in July 2008, at Farmercon 90 came a big and very surprising announcement. Christopher Paul Carey had finished Philip José Farmer’s third Opar novel!
The title had changed to The Song of Kwasin, and the name of the series was changed from Opar to Khokarsa. The novel was not yet scheduled for publication back in 2008.

It took some time before the publisher, Subterranean Press, finally announced that The Song of Kwasin would be published in an omnibus, together with the first two novels.

The omnibus, with the title Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa, is scheduled for publication in June 2012.
Big news indeed!

Christopher Paul Carey is known as one of the editors of the fanzine Farmerphile. The fanzine was published quarterly from 2005 till in 2009 and saw fifteen issues. He wrote many introductions and essays for Farmerphile.
He is also known as the editor of earlier Farmer books from Subterranean Press, Up From the Bottomless Pit and Other Stories (2007), Venus on the Half-Shell and Others (2008) and The Other in the Mirror (2009).
Next to being editor and co-author of Farmer’s work, Christopher Paul Carey writes his own stories and works as an editor for Paizo Publishing.

Q: Hi Chris, first my congratulations with the publication of The Song of Kwasin. You must be proud.
When did you learn that it would be published? How could you keep it a ‘secret’ all this time?

Chris: I guess I first knew for sure that the book would be published in the fall of 2009, when the agent called and said Subterranean wanted to bring it out in an omnibus of the whole series. As for keeping it a secret, that’s publishing. You get used to it.

Q: Will you tell us something more about yourself?

Chris: By day (and okay, sometimes on nights and weekends), I’m an editor for Paizo Publishing, the creators of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and publishers of the Planet Stories imprint. When I’m not editing, I’m usually writing or researching what I’m planning to write. Or reading old books.

QHow did you first encounter Farmer’s work? And when did you meet him in person?

Chris: I first read Farmer when I was twelve or thirteen, starting out with books like The Maker of Universes, Tarzan Alive, and, appropriately, Hadon of Ancient Opar. I think those were the first three books of his that I read.

The first time I met Phil was in 1998 when I drove out from eastern Pennsylvania to Peoria, Illinois to see him at the opening of the Philip José Farmer Odyssey. This was a month-long exhibit honoring his life and work showcased at the main branch of the Peoria Public Library. Phil already knew who I was because he’d read some articles I’d had published about his work and we’d corresponded. But he was surprised I’d come all that way. He said, “All the way from Pennsylvania? I don’t know if it was worth the trip.” But I knew it was and I told him so emphatically.

Q: What were your thoughts about the Opar novels when you first read them?

Chris: They were on fire for me. I was immersing myself in Burroughs’s works at the time, so it was a natural transition. And also, like a lot of folks, I was frustrated because the series ended abruptly with only a tentative conclusion at the end of Flight to Opar. It was obvious that Phil planned more, but it was nowhere to be found. And back then it was hard to know if an author was planning to write more books in a series, or even if they had already been written. You just had to keep going back to the bookstore and looking. Usually, you came back home empty handed. But then, on rare occasions, you brought back a treasure. The good old days!

Q: When did you first learn about the unfinished third novel in the series?
How did you get permission from Farmer to complete this novel? Did he ask you or did you make the suggestion to finish it?

Chris: I was editing Farmerphile at the time, back in 2005. Mike Croteau, Phil’s webmaster and the publisher of Farmerphile, had just returned from visiting Phil and Bette Farmer in Peoria and had gone through the files looking for never-before-published material to print in the magazine. Since I was the editor, he sent me the list of what he’d found. And for one of the items he calmly stated something like, here’s a partial manuscript and nine-page outline to Kwasin of Opar that I’m not sure what we should to do with. Of course, I told him to send it to me as quickly as he could photocopy it and get it in an envelope.

After I’d read it, I knew it couldn’t languish. I wrote to Phil about it, and he eagerly agreed. Phil rarely used email, but after reading my proposal, he fired me back an email right away. He closed his reply with the imperative “forward it is.” I almost couldn’t believe it.

Photocopies of some of Phil's Khokarsa notes. These particular pages are from an early draft outline for Hadon of Ancient Opar.

Q: What did you have at first from Farmer’s archives to start writing?
Could you start immediately or had you to do a lot of study before the writing?
I think you first had to reread the first two novels in the series, Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar.

Chris: At first, all I had were the published books in the series and Phil’s manuscript fragment and outline. At the time, I was working on my Master’s in writing, so, as I’d explained to Phil, I had to get my thesis written before I could work on Kwasin. But that delay also afforded me some research time. I went back and reread Hadon and Flight several times, underlining passages, taking notes, and creating a Khokarsan glossary and a timeline for the events in the series. Then, while visiting Phil, I came across his notes and outlines to the first two books, and Phil and Bette let me photocopy the material. This helped immensely. I was able to track down some of his original inspirations for the series, such as Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, and also learn something about how he’d constructed the Khokarsan language. Or rather, how Phil had reconstructed it from records he had of the Khokarsan grammarians, since the series is, as everyone knows, based on real events.

Later, on another visit to Peoria after I’d already completed the first draft of the manuscript, I found another folder of Phil’s notes, including several drafts of an article titled “The Khokarsan Language” as well as the complete Khokarsan syllabary. So I went back through the manuscript and was able to revise aspects of the novel to correspond with these.
A map drawn by Chris of Western Khokarsa, where the main action of The Song of Kwasin is set.

Q: What was it like to write in someone else’s world? Did you feel restricted? By Farmer or the pieces that were already written, like the outline?

Chris: I’m pretty much a purist about these things, and I love world-building, even if it’s someone else’s. So if there were restrictions, I more or less reveled in them, whether they were in the outline or in the established world of the series. Phil and I both shared a love of and an academic background in anthropology, which the series is steeped in, so I felt at home in Khokarsa, especially having read the first two books so many times over the years.

Q: Have Phil and Bette Farmer seen and read the finalized novel in 2008?
What were their thoughts about it?

Chris: Yes, they did. As Phil’s health began to decline, Bette read the novel aloud to him. She told me how Phil really lit up upon finally hearing Kwasin’s adventures unfold. Both of them said how much they enjoyed it, and they were eager to have it see print.

Q: Are you yourself satisfied with the results of the novel you have finished?
Was it hard work writing it, or just plain fun?

ChrisThat’s a devil of a question for a writer. I remember Phil himself once said that none of his stories ever turned out the way he’d envisioned them, none were ever quite as golden as he’d seen them in his mind’s eye. What author is ever satisfied with his work? The temptation always lingers to go back and change a phrase here or a detail there. For me, writing is both soul-wrenching and ecstatic, often at the same time. It’s a shamanic experience. Or something.

Q: I know that the publisher of DAW Books, Donald A. Wollheim, insisted that the name Opar was used with any title in the series. Farmer did not like that. Is that also the reason why the title of the novel changed from Kwasin of Opar to The Song of Kwasin, and the name of the series changed from Opar to Khokarsa?

Chris: Yes, that’s right. That, and the fact that Kwasin is a native of Dythbeth and his adventures in the novel aren’t set in Opar, but rather on the island of Khokarsa. And, other than briefly and at a distance in the opening paragraph, Opar doesn’t appear in the first novel of the series either.

Q: You wrote two other Khokarsa stories. “A Kick in the Side” is your own, and “Kwasin and the Bear God” is written by Farmer and you. How did these come to be? And do you plan to write more Khokarsa stories?

Chris: I wrote “A Kick in the Side” in one sitting in a kind of mad, fevered fit of inspiration while I was deep in the midst of working on The Song of Kwasin. While rereading the series, whenever I got to the part in the second book where Hinokly literally drops out of the storyline, some part of me couldn’t help but root for the poor guy. He was probably a lot smarter than Hadon—certainly more educated—but fate had dealt him a poor hand. So I figured he could have one more adventure that showed just how smart he was.

“Kwasin and the Bear God” came about after I’d found the folder containing Phil’s detailed notes and articles on the Khokarsan language. Also in the folder was an incomplete alternate outline to the third novel in the series. Although it recapped some of Phil’s more detailed outline, this alternate version was mostly unusable for the purposes of the novel due to various incongruities with the already published books. But about two pages fit in nicely with the continuity and detailed a lost adventure of Kwasin, so Meteor House asked me to write a story based on the outline for their Worlds of Philip José Farmer series. As for writing other stories set in the series, we’ll have to wait and see.

Q: What are you working at right now and what are your further plans in writing?

Chris: At present I’ve pushed everything aside to work on a dark historical fantasy set in 1888 England and America. After that, I might sit down and write a novel-length version of my story “Caesar’s Children,” inspired by the great nineteenth-century utopian writers. That’s something I’ve had on the back burner for too long now.

Thank you very much for the interview, Chris!

See his blog for more information on his writing.


From the publisher:
Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa
by Philip Jose Farmer and Christopher Paul Carey
Published in June 2012
Dust jacket by Bob Eggleton (see under).
Limited: $65 | Trade: $45
ISBN: 978-1-59606-471-3
Length: 576 pages

Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa collects for the first time anywhere Philip José Farmer’s epic Khokarsa cycle, including the never-before-published conclusion to the trilogy, The Song of Kwasin.


© Zacharias L.A. Nuninga -- Page last updated: 7 Nov 2013