Patrick has talked to Tad Williams about his books and inspirations.
Throughout all your series and novels, are there characters that you particularly enjoy/enjoyed writing? Why is that? By the same token, are there characters that you absolutely don’t/didn’t enjoy writing about? For what reason?
Tad Williams: I certainly have enjoyed some characters more than others –generally because they’re funny. I enjoy working with a character who is either intrinsically humorous, or who gets lots of good lines. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy writing any of my characters, although the particularly unpleasant ones can be a little weird to write. Still, doing a psychopath has its own rewards as a writer — you get to work with something quite different (you hope) from your own personality, which is a wonderful challenge.
What would you say was the hardest part of the entire process involved in the writing of both Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Otherland? Where did you get the initial idea that drove you to create both series in the first place?
TW: The hardest part of any long-story process is staying as excited as you were when you began. This often means new characters, plot-twists, all kinds of things that keep you interested and creative as a writer and (one hopes) have the same sort of effect on the readers.
OTHERLAND came from me actually working with VR, and getting interested not just in the thing itself, but where it might go in time. That coupled with my love of story-telling made for an immediate creative buzz, and the story evolved from there. MS&T had a more complicated derivation, but sprung up in part because I had read so much BAD post-Tolkienian epic fantasy, yet still had a fondness for the genre, and said, “Okay, so put your money where your mouth is. Write one yourself.”
What authors have had the biggest influence on you?
TW: Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Barbara Tuchman, Ursula LeGuin, Charles Dickens, Michael Moorcock, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip K. Dick, to name a few. Oh, T. H. White, of course. P. G. Wodehouse. Anthony Burgess and Harlan Ellisoni. Evelyn Waugh. Terry Southern. Hunter S. Thompson.
What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
TW: I think I’m good at creating realistic worlds, and characters that feel as complex as real people. Also, I have a pretty good sense of rhythm, so I think I’m better than some at writing long works that keep people involved by the judicious use of “stuff suddenly happening.”
What author makes you shake your head in admiration?
TW: Pynchon, and his wonderful Mandelbrot recursions, the sidebar stories that turn into other bits and those bits mutating into other little bits in perfect theatrical imitation of the seemingly endless — and, in fact, I guess actually endless — way that real life has no “center”.
What lesser known fantasy/science fiction authors would you like to recommend to our readers?
TW: Many of the older ones who are dangerously unread now, I think. All those mentioned above — especially Leiber, whose work seems to be falling out of common knowledge. I hope not. And Dunsany, and Mervyn Peake,
After writing a New York Times bestselling series, is there added pressure when it comes to writing a new project?
TW: Really, there’s less pressure. You’ve proved you can sell books, so the publishers and booksellers are more inclined to treat you seriously. Genre fiction is like a lot of insider’s-network careers you have to fail repeatedly before you actually get kicked out. Not that I’m planning to do that.
ou’ve spent your entire career with Daw Books. You have undoubtedly received offers from bigger publishers over the years. What made you remain with the publisher that gave you your first chance?
TW: Loyalty and, of course, satisfaction with the job they’ve done. Plus, I like to work with people that I know and care about, and being with a company like DAW has the added benefit that since my publishers ARE the company, the chances are that as long as we’re all alive, we’ll work together. I don’t have to worry about my favorite editor suddenly disappearing to another company.
Also, we’re good friends now, and I’d rather work with friends any old day.
You were awarded the German Corine Award. Can you tell us a bit more about this award?
TW: I don’t know that much about it except that the award itself a very attractive porcelain figure that’s sitting on my mantelpiece in the office, looking stylish. The prize seems to have a commercial component — in other words, selling well helps. The TV awards show was very interesting, and I enjoyed being part of it. Everyone was very nice to me. They’re welcome to give me another Corine any time.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the younger Tad Williams concerning his writing career?
TW: Nothing, really. I don’t think I could separate out the very few bits of bad luck without losing the overwhelming amount of good luck, so I’d just leave it alone. I make a good living doing something I love, and I’ve reached middle-age with me and my family healthy. What’s to change?
You have been acknowledge as one of the best writers in the genre? Where do you think you stand in the fantasy field?
TW: That’s tough to say. Based strictly on my own judgement and what I read in the field, I think I’m pretty good, and more than that, I’m pretty serious about what I do. Where do I stand? Who knows? But I think at least some of my work will be read after I’ve popped my clogs (as my British in-laws say, meaning “died”) and that’s about all you can ask for. Well, that and incredible riches to enjoy during your lifetime, but I don’t want to be greedy.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything?
TW: I’m afraid the answer here is pretty much the answer to the “younger Tad Williams” question. Of course there are regrets, but once you start unstitching reality, any SF and F author will tell you you’re asking for trouble. Better to take the rough with the smooth and move on.
Is a World Fantasy Award something you covet?
TW: I’d take one, yeah, with pleasure, but I don’t covet anything in this world except a monkey I could train to ride in a little saddle on the back of our over-excitable poodle. I’ve always been a little disappointed I haven’t been nominated for a WFA, but not shocked: I didn’t make my way into the field through the normal small-universe route, through the magazines and so on, and I write for an American publisher which doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Also, I am predominantly (although not entirely fairly) known for writing what’s considered to be the most commercial (and I suppose least artistic) part of the genre, epic fantasy. So, like I said, disappointed but not shocked.
Initially, Shadowmarch was to be an ongoing series available on the web. What made you change your mind and decide to actually write it as a hard copy? Were the difficulties inherent to an internet-based project responsible for your change of mind?
TW: I wrote and published what amounted to the first volume online, but realized that I couldn’t afford to keep doing that after the first year — we didn’t make enough money, and I had to write another book (WAR OF THE FLOWERS) at the same time. That said, I still wanted to finish the story, so moving it to regular book form made sense. I loved doing the online serial version, though, and would like to do something like that again someday.
There has always been a religious/spiritual aspect in both Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Otherland which is not present in Shadowmarch. Will we see more of that in future volumes?
TW: Ah, you mean it’s not present in SHADOWMARCh -so far-. I can promise you that the religious/mythological/spiritual element will be a very big part of the whole story.
What’s the progress report pertaining to the second volume? Tentative title, release date, etc?
TW: I don’t have anything like a release date — I would hope a year from now at the very latest. I’m well into the second volume, but I lost several working months this fall to travel and other things, so I’m not as far along as I’d like to be.
Are you working on A Chronicle in Stone (short stories set in Osten Ard) while writing Shadowmarch, or has this project been postponed?
TW: That project has been postponed for a while, but definitely not forgotten. I hadn’t intended to do SHADOWMARCH until the events above — the needing to finish the S’MARCH story — changed my plans for what I’d be doing the next couple of years.
Given the fact that all your novels are “Tad-size,” how daunting was the task of writing short stories for the Legends anthologies?
TW: I’ve actually written and published a dozen or so short stories over the years. I love the form, and some of my favorite writers, like Bradbury, Ellison, Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., and M. R. James, probably did their best work in shorter fiction, so it’s something I never intend to give up entirely. I liked writing both the LEGENDS pieces quite a bit.
What extensive research did the writing of Otherland entail?
TW: Oh my lord, it like to killed me. I not only had to research the actual science side of OTHERLAND, since it was set in the real-world of only a few decades from now, all the real-world stuff (like in Sydney, Cartagena, etc.) had to be researched as though they were current, and then there was all the historical and literary re-creations in the simworlds. I was researching for most of a year before I started, and then continuously throughout the process of writing the books. By FAR the most research I’ve ever done for any project.
This is probably the most asked question of all. Are there any definite plans to write a sequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn following Shadowmarch?
TW: Other than the Osten Ard short stories, no. But I have learned never to say “never.” (Or “spendiferous”, for that matter, because it doesn’t sound, y’know, manly.)
We would like to thank you for kindly taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you continued success in your career, and hopefully we can do this once again in the future.
Thanks very much, and thanks to everyone who buys my books and thus Saves me from ever having to go back to retail shoe sales. I don’t think I could handle all the bending now.
Interview by Patrick
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