Interview with Tad Williams

SFFWorld: You are nearing the conclusion of your latest epic fantasy saga, what kind of feeling does that evoke in you as a writer?

Tad Williams: A combination of pride and panic.  A lot of the panic is because there are so many plotlines to be gathered up after all these years and given a proper ending.

SFFW: Contrarily, you and your wife launched a new series last year – Ordinary Farm – which was quite enjoyable.  What feelings were associated with that?

TW: I love writing for younger readers, because it’s a way of connecting with that part of myself, the reader who first fell in love with reading to myself (as opposed to stories my parents chose and read to me.)

SFFW: How is collaborating with your wife different than collaborating with another writer?

TW: Well, the sex is better, for one thing.  Seriously, it’s fun because we have much more freedom of access than most collaborators we can start talking about something any time, any place.  And we can have fights that most collaborators can’t afford, because we know we’re not going to permanently offend each other.  It’s great working with Deb.  I hope we can keep doing it forever.

SFFW: There was a great sense of fun and discovery about The Dragons of Ordinary Farm. Writers have said it is more difficult and/or challenging to write for a younger audience.  Would you agree?

TW: I don’t know.  I write any given story to the utmost of my ability, so once I’ve found a mode or style or level, I just work.  I tell the story that I would want to read if I were the reader, whether child or adult.  I always wanted to be challenged, so I don’t write down to young readers.

SFFW: Shadowmarch, to put it mildly, has evolved since the story’s initial conception and inception.  What has surprised you the most shifting from an online story to published book?

TW: I would say that the ways in which it’s followed certain obsessions of mine (areas in which it’s resonant of other TW books) have been almost as interesting as the ways in which it’s gone its own directions, ie things like the even deeper obsession with family.  One’s own tropes become more obvious when the oeuvre gets up near the five-million word mark…

SFFW: Over the past few years, you’ve penned some comic books for DC comics.  How was that experience and how different is it working with a character, like Aquaman, who has a history and fanbase compared to spinning your own tales?

TW: It was a bit frustrating, not because of Aquaman’s history or the fans, both of which I loved, but because I didn’t quite get in synch with DC management and always felt I was operating out of a bit of a backwater.  I couldn’t use some characters I’d originally been told I could use, couldn’t do some things with the book that I thought were crucial, and so on.  Unfortunate, but just part of life when you’re working in someone else’s yard.

SFFW: Your short fiction has been appearing consistently in anthologies as of late (The Dragon Book and Warriors to name just two) and it has been a treat.  In terms of novel/series v. short stories which is a more rewarding and a more difficult process?

TW: Novels obviously are bigger undertakings.  Short stories are fun because I get to try some of my other tricks – humor, style differences –  that I couldn’t do as easily with a novel.  I wish I had more time to write short I grew up reading short stories and have always loved the discipline.

SFFW: In the past, you’ve hinted at a return to Osten Ard.  Is that still on the back burner?  Does returning to a signature series like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn fill you with trepidation or excitement?

TW: At the moment the return to any kind of epic fantasy makes me want to eat broken glass, but that’s because I’m just finishing several years of one.  I’d still like to do the Osten Ard project, and probably will, but I need some time on other things before I can think about it.

SFFW: Your largest foray into the Science Fiction branch of Speculative Fiction was as epic as anything you’ve ever written.  In the last interview that appeared on SFFWorld you mentioned a science fiction superhero-terrorists-fighting-galactic-war book (with echoes of the Mahabharata) equally tentatively called “Arjuna Rising”. Will we ever see a return to Science Fiction for you? Maybe a space opera or something epic along those lines?

TW: Yes, that’s on my horizon as well.  That’s about all I can say, because my books choose themselves to be written by the simple process of being a bunch of ideas that refuse to get out of my head.  The next project will be the Angel Doloriel books, a kind of crazy fantasy-crime-espionage thing about the cold war between Heaven and Hell.  I’m really excited to start those.

SFFW: One of the recent ‘legends’ so to speak of the genre and on line is how George R.R. Martin was inspired by Memory, Sorrow and Thorn to start on his epic A Song of Ice and Fire saga.  Has that tidbit made its way back to you and if so, any thoughts?

TW: Yes, in fact not only has George kindly told me that himself, he named a couple of minor characters Elias and Josua or something like that (the royal brothers in my story) which I thought was mighty nice of him.  George is one of the best writers around these days (you notice I don’t say best SF and F writers, because that’s too limiting) as well as a good guy, so if I helped him decide to write something, that’s a pleasure and an honor.

SFFW: Looking at the wider perspective, how do you see the genre at the moment? Is it generally healthy at the moment?

TW: I don’t think it is really a single genre any more.  Fantasy is now so mainstream, at least many of its varieties, especially Horror, that it’s hard to classify.  It’s not OUR genre anymore.  TV and film have seen to that.  What’s funny is how little overlap there is now between things like the Whedonverse and the written end of the genre that originally spawned all this stuff.

How healthy the written part remains will really depend on how much younger readers embrace electronic books, and how much they hang onto paper books.

SFFW: You’ve been published for 25 years this year (first book, Tailchaser’s Song, 1985.) Congratulations! Is that something you think about much? Are you surprised?

TW: Surprised I’m still making a living?  Slightly.  Surprised I’m still alive?  Mightily.

SFFW: Of course, this now makes you a statesman of the genre. As a writer, does that frighten you or inspire you?

TW: If it’s your genre, and your audience’s genre, then YOU guys are the ones who should be frightened to have me as a statesman.  I definitely feel more like the drunken, intern-pinching congressman of the genre.

SFFW: What is it that keeps you writing? Can you see yourself writing commercially forever?

TW: Besides bills, you mean?  Yeah, I love making stories.  I love inventing characters.  I’ll be writing until the end, but I’m sure that’s a few decades away at least.  (It’ll take me that long just to pay off the house.)

Ron and Mark –

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