Interview with Robert Williams

Robert Williams is the author of The Storms of Eternityan interesting and complex science fiction tale where four friends are thrown into future versions of the Earth by a malevolent force. Storms follows the group as they try to make sense of events and come to terms with a horrifying conclusion – they may not be able to go home. The review of Storms can be found here.

Robert was kind enough to give some of his time to answer the following questions:


1.) When and why did you start writing?

RW: I have always loved to read, especially science fiction, and I have an imagination that is sometimes more powerful than my sense of reality. But I had never felt comfortable enough with words to try to write until I got into college. At the time I wrote for a hobby, since I was working to get my degree in astrophysics. After I graduated I spent a year working at a radio telescope, and after being immersed in that environment I realized a scientific career was not for me. So I left and dove into writing for the next several years, teaching myself all the in and outs of the craft and the business. It was the best decision I ever made, since it gave me an outlet for my rampant imagination!


2.) What made you want to get published and how hard has it been to do so?

RW: I think getting published and getting recognition for what you write is the goal of almost all writers. There is always that drive to put your work out there for people to see. Getting published in the traditional sense has been almost impossible. I think if it weren’t for the internet I would still be trying to break into the business.


3.) How did you come up with the world into which the four friends were plunged?

RW: The previous book I had written, which I self-published, was about a cosmic disaster incinerating the surface of the Earth. I wrote it during the height of my astrophysics days and put everything I knew about physics and radio astronomy into it. Although the few readers it attracted loved it, the book never really took off. However, the world it was based in stuck with me, and I started to re-imagine it in a different context. What about the aftermath of the disaster? How did human civilization cope with it? So when I got the idea for Storms, I realized I could address those questions with new characters and a new situation, one that approached the disaster from a different perspective and involved the struggle for power that came afterwards. That way, The Storms of Eternity would take on the ideas I put forward in the first book in a more accessible way, and no one would have to read the first book to understandStorms.


4.) Are any of the characters based on family, friends or yourself?

RW: In a way, they all are! I never tried to base any of the characters on anyone, but when I go back and read over the book I recognize personality traits in the characters from myself and the people in my life. However, no one person is based on any given character.


5.) Why time-travel, normally a difficult sell, and a post-apocalyptic theme?

RW: There are a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to show human civilization recovering after a global disaster, something that would require long periods of time, and second, I wanted to show the emotional impact on someone from the present day if they were transported into the future, and discovered Armageddon had come and gone. A chance to portray a situation like that was too good to resist!


6.) Did you research the scientific principles that you use to explain time travel?

RW: Yes, some. But I have found that too much scientific detail can be overwhelming and, quite frankly, boring for the reader. The science should be there to provide plausibility and some degree of explanation, but it shouldn’t be the centerpiece. It belongs, as you said in the review, in the background. I approached this story focused squarely on the characters, and not the science.


7.) The book is a strange mix of themes and ideas, how did you come up with the overall storyline and did it all fit together right away?

RW: That was complex. I first came up with the idea for The Storms of Eternity while I was working at the Very Large Array, the radio telescope in New Mexico. I worked a rotating shift, meaning day shift one week, evening shift the next, graveyard after that, and then back to days. As a result, my sleeping patterns were all twisted around, and I was immersed in radio astronomy pretty much all the time. So when I did sleep, I had some pretty strange dreams.

All I can remember of them now are two very distinct images: one of a waterspout bearing down on a boat, backlit by the Sun low on the horizon, with all kinds of strange, indistinct shapes coming out of the funnel cloud and lashing out at the people on the boat. The other was of a group of gangly, lurching cyborgs with gold limbs and these red banners draped over their shoulders, the kinds of things you might see on a 1940s pulp science fiction magazine cover. The cyborgs were rising out of the ground in the middle of this barren desert. I can still see the dust falling off their limbs in curtains. I started trying to think of a way the two dreams might be connected, and to draw that out into a story. As you know, both of these scenes made it into the final draft ofThe Storms of Eternity.

Once the characters came to me, and I realized their rather extraordinary circumstances, everything from there followed naturally.


8.) Now you self-published a novel called The Remembrance a few years ago, tell us a little about that and what happened.

RW: The Remembrance was my first book, the novel I cut my teeth on. It is about the last two human beings alive, in the distant future, who seek out a race of omniscient alien beings to discover why humanity is almost extinct. I wrote it during a pretty tough time in my life, which I won’t go into here, but I will say I put a lot of grief and pain into it, and it shows. I was very ambitious then too. The book covers all of human history, from the dawn of life on Earth to more than a million years into the future. In it I actually invented a new kind of cosmic phenomena, in excruciating detail. Mainstream publishers weren’t interested, so I put it out there myself, and I got some very positive feedback from some several readers, but in the end it just didn’t sell. It is possible I simply didn’t have the resources back then to promote it, or maybe I just wasn’t experienced enough as a writer yet to connect with a large readership. In any case, I put it on my bookshelf and decided to move on to the next thing, but I couldn’t get my mind out of that world I had put so much of myself into. Sales or no, it’s still something that is a part of my life and I’m proud to have my name on it. So I decided to incorporate it into The Storms of Eternity, which seems to have been a good decision, judging from the response.


9.) Has finishing Storms made you even more determined to write more, or is there less enthusiasm now you’ve been published?

RW: I am more enthusiastic than ever! I am, in fact, almost three-quarters of the way through my next book, and I have ideas for several more.


10.) What advice do you have for writers trying to get published?

RW: In a word: persevere. Trying to break into publishing may seem like banging on a locked door, but just keep pounding and eventually someone will answer.


11.) What’s your take on POD (Publish-on-demand)?

RW: I think it is a great thing. Now both of my books are print-on-demand. Publishing used to be a club; if you didn’t know somebody in the business you may as well forget it. POD lets you get your work out there for people to see, where it can succeed or fail on its own merits. And if it performs well enough a mainstream publisher may pick you up. Just look at Laurie Notaro. She published her book, The Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club, with my publisher iUniverse. Idiot Girls soon got picked up by Villard and went to #13 on the New York Times bestseller list, making Notaro a legend in POD circles.


12.) Finally, you’ve just done a book signing, what was the response like?

RW: The response was wonderful! I was afraid I would spend the whole time sitting unnoticed in my corner, but several people approached me and struck up a conversation. Soon I had my own little crowd. My family and friends helped quite a bit just by showing up, since having a small line in front of my table helped make people curious. I kept the atmosphere light and casual, met a lot of really great people and picked up some new readers to boot. I had a fantastic time. thanks Robert Williams for his time and insightful answers.

Owen Jones © 2005

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