Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages. His latest fantasy/science fiction novel for DAW Books is Worldshaper; it’s the start of a new series, Worldshapers. Other recent novels include the stand-alone science fiction novel The Cityborn (DAW Books), the five-book Shards of Excalibur YA fantasy series for Coteau Books, the Masks of Aygrima fantasy trilogy (written as E.C. Blake for DAW), and the Peregrine Rising science fiction duology for Bundoran Press. Ed won the Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English for Marseguro (DAW) in 2009. His nonfiction runs the gamut from local history to science books for children and adults to biographies of people as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and the Ayatollah Khomeini. In addition to writing, he’s a professional actor and singer, who has performed in numerous plays, musicals, and operas, and hosts the new podcast The Worldshapers, featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, with his wife, Margaret Anne Hodges, P.Eng., their teenaged daughter, Alice, and their black Siberian cat, Shadowpaw.
Marina Raydun: You are a very prolific author and write mostly in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. What is your favorite genre to read?
Edward Willett: I read and enjoy science fiction and fantasy equally. Right now, my reading agenda is pretty much being set by my new podcast, The Worldshapers (www.theworldshapers.com), where I interview science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process. Since I’m doing this radical thing where I actually read the book (or books) we’re talking about before I talk to the authors (something I know from experience not all interviewers do!), and I’m doing an episode every two weeks, I’m pretty much only reading work by my guests. However, my guests have all been (and will continue to be) amazing authors, so I’m enjoying it.
When I’m not reading science fiction and fantasy, I read non-fiction on any topic that catches my interest. (Often, I read these books out loud to my wife—the kitchen is too small for us to work together on meals, so she cooks while I read.) Recent non-fiction books I’ve read have included biographies (most recently of Leonardo da Vinci), science books, history books, and a book about Icelandic volcanoes (because, why not?).
MR: What is your favorite underappreciated novel?
EW: I don’t know that it’s underappreciated—I think it was pretty successful—but one of the most fascinating fantasies I’ve ever read, and one I still think about even though it’s been almost ten years since it came out, is Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, and its sequel, Dreamquake. The story is set in a world much like ours except for the existence of The Place, inaccessible to anyone except Dreamhunters, who can enter it and capture larger-than-life dreams which are then relayed to audiences in the magnificent Rainbow Palace. But the Place hides a terrifying secret which 15-year-old Laura is about to discover...
MR: Is there one topic you would never write about as an author?
EW: I can imagine topics I would rather not write about, but no, not really: not as long as I thought I could write about it well and honestly.
MR: Your background is in journalism. How does this color your fiction writing? Also, what is Weird Al like?
EW: I think the main thing I brought from journalism to fiction was the ability to simply sit down and write. I’ve never suffered from what I would call writer’s block. I’ve suffered from writer’s laziness, which isn’t the same thing, and writer’s procrastination, which is endemic, but put me in front of a keyboard and I can write. The world of journalism is a world of deadlines: the newspaper comes out when it comes out, and you have to have your story ready in time to make it into print.
The other advantage, I think, is practice in organizing my thoughts before I start writing. That’s not to say I don’t revise my first drafts of stories and novels—but those first drafts are really pretty good. I think the years of writing for a newspaper helped with that.
Weird Al, whom I interviewed for the Regina Leader Post when he was coming to town for a concert, was great! I really enjoyed talking to him. (He’s not really that weird...but he is very funny.)
MR: As a fiction writer, what is the most difficult part about your artistic process?
EW: When I first have an idea for a story, it seems, in my mind, to be perfect and complete, a glistening globe of perfection like a Christmas ornament. The process of actually writing the story feels to me like taking that Christmas ornament, smashing it with a hammer, and then trying to glue it back together using words.
So, the difficult part is choosing the words and scenes and characters and dialogue that will convey to the reader the ideas I want to convey, to try to recreate in their mind that perfect image I had of the story before I began. Writing, though it feels solitary, is actually collaborative: you’re collaborating with your readers, and those readers are not you, so they bring to your work references and memories and connections that you don’t have. They reconstruct the story you think you’re telling in their mind, and it may not be at all the story you intended...and yet, their version of the story is every bit as “true” as your version.
The other challenging thing? To keep readers interested, for the hours it will take them to read a novel. My biggest fear is being boring!
MR: What does literary success look like to you?
EW: I alternate between feeling very successful and a complete failure. Sometimes I feel successful because I’ve written more than sixty books (counting all the non-fiction), which have been published by multiple publishers; I’ve won awards; I’ve gotten some excellent reviews. Then I’ll feel a failure because my sales aren’t what I’d like, I’m not fabulously wealthy, no movies or TV shows have been made of my books, and most readers of science fiction and fantasy have never heard of me, even though I’m published by a major science fiction and fantasy publisher, DAW Books. But that’s just life. We’re never satisfied. Objectively, after twenty-five years of full-time freelancing and millions of published words, I haven’t done too badly in a notoriously iffy occupation!
MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?
EW: Best? I’ve had two starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, one for Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane), and one for my newest novel, Worldshaper. Those always make me feel good. Worst would be the one by some hatchet-job reviewer on Goodreads (someone who has written dozens of one-star reviews, seemingly picking books to savage at random) for Masks, first book in my Masks of Aygrima trilogy, written as E.C. Blake, which begins, “This book is not so much fantasy as toilet paper...” But the same book had terrific reviews elsewhere. Go figure.
MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
EW: Hm. This depends on your definition of “friends.” I’m friendly with, as in able to say “Hi” to and chat a bit, with a LOT of writers, whom I’ve met at science fiction conventions: people like John Scalzi, Tad Williams, Seanan McGuire, Lee Modesitt Jr., Guy Gavriel Kay, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Haldeman...and many others.
I know a lot of Canadian writers a bit better, people like Tanya Huff and Julie Czerneda and Hayden Trenholm and Arthur Slade, and, again, many others.
But topping the list would have to be Robert J. Sawyer. I’ve known him for more than twenty years now, and I can definitely say he helped me become a better writer, because twice he’s been my writing teacher, through the Writing with Style program at the Banff Centre. I went twice, both because I loved it and because the first time I had a non-fiction deadline and spent most of my time there writing a biography of the Ayatollah Khomeini instead of completely focusing on science fiction.
The second time, in 2005, Rob came into the classroom one morning and told us to write the opening to a story, cold, no preparation: just...go!
Emily streaked through the phosphorescent sea, her wake a comet-tail of pale green light, her close-cropped turquoise hair surrounded by a glowing pink aurora. The water racing through her gill-slits smelled of blood.
My classmates thought it sounded interesting, so, as the week progressed, I turned that opening into a short story, “Sins of the Father.” However, I never submitted it anywhere. Before I got around to it, DAW picked up my novel Lost in Translation, originally published by Five Star, for a mass-market-paperback release, and Ethan Ellenberg agreed to be my agent. Needing something to propose to DAW for my next book, I took the seeds I had planted in “Sins of the Father” and let them sprout into the synopsis for what became Marseguro, my second novel published by DAW (and my first written for them), and winner of the 2009 Aurora Award (honoring Canadian science fiction and fantasy) for Best Long-Form Work in English. The sequel, Terra Insegura, followed. (The two were later published under one cover in an omnibus edition, The Helix War.)
So, that was 150,000 words of fiction and a major award, all of which began with one writing exercise set by my fellow writer and friend Robert J. Sawyer!
MR: If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
EW: I’d love to sit down and talk to Jesus one-on-one and ask Him how accurately His life has been portrayed down through the centuries. It’d be cheap, too: I’d bring water, He could make wine. Also, there are a few minor ailments I wouldn’t mind having healed...
MR: You have recently ventured into the world of podcasting. How does being a writer translate into broadcasting and interviewing? Asking for a friendJ
EW: My podcast, The Worldshapers, is very much focused on writing: in each episode, I chat with an author about the creative process. As of now, I’ve talked to Robert J. Sawyer, Tanya Huff, John Scalzi, Julie Czerneda, and Arthur Slade. Confirmed guests include Orson Scott Card, Joe Haldeman, Gareth L. Powell, Seanan McGuire, Kim Harrison, Tosca Lee, and David Brin...and several others.
I think the fact I am myself a multiply published author helps me with these interviews because all of us as authors are dealing with the same challenges as we move from idea to finished novel, shaping the setting, characters, plot, dialogue, and everything else, writing and revising and being edited.
Interviewing is of course something I’ve done my whole career, since I started as a newspaper reporter and continue to freelance for magazines and other publications. And on the broadcasting side, I’ve done radio my whole career, too, both as a guest and as a host.
Since my new book is about people who shape worlds (which is why it’s called, duh, Worldshaper), this seemed like an auspicious time to launch something I’ve thought about doing for years. It seems to be going well, and I can’t wait to talk to the many great authors I’m lining up...and read their books!
Again, its website is www.theworldshapers.com, and it’s also widely available through many other podcast sources, including iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher, and more. Please check it out!
To learn more about Edward Willett, please visit: www.edwardwillett.com
The Worldshapers podcast website: