Sunday, 24 February 2008

Author Interview - Edward Willett

Adult: Marseguro
Lost in Translation
Children’s: Andy Nebula: Double Trouble
Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock Star
Dark Unicorn
Spirit Singer
Stories: Je Me Souviens (Artemis Magazine)
Moon Baby (Artemis Magazine)
Strange Harvest (Western People, On Spec)
Landscape with Alien
Plays: Saved


Author Q & A

Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

>The “high-concept” for Marseguro (which is both my latest novel AND the first novel of at least a duology) is “Mermaids in outer space!”
For a more detailed pitch, I can’t do better than the excellent back cover copy (and how often do you hear an author say that):
Marseguro, a water world far distant to Earth, is home to a small colony of unmodified humans known as landlings and to the Selkies, a water-dwelling race created by geneticist Victor Hansen from modified human DNA. For seventy years the Selkies and the unmodified landlings have dwelled together in peace, safe from pursuit by the current theocratic rulers of Earth—a group intent on maintaining human genetic and religious purity.
Then landling Chris Keating, a misfit on any world, seeks personal revenge on Emily Wood and her fellow Selkies by activating a distress beacon taken from the remains of the original colony ship. When the Earth forces capture the signal and pinpoint its origin, a strike force, with Victor Hansen’s own grandson Richard aboard, is sent to eradicate this abomination.
Yet Marseguro will not prove as easy to conquer as the Earth force anticipates. And what Richard Hansen discovers here may alter not only his own destiny but that of Marseguro and Earth as well...

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

>Oh, that’s tough. Um...The Lord of the Rings. That’s three right there, isn’t it?
What, you want more? OK. Well, The Bible. That should count for 66 books.
Still not enough? Fine. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Because it’s all Heinlein’s fault.

In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why? OR What character is most like you?

>I think my favorite character is the title character of Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock Star. It’s the only book I’ve ever written in first person, so in a way it’s the book I experienced myself most directly. Plus, I’m told by my wife Andy is the character that sounds most like me, even though I am not, nor have I ever been, a 17-year-old orphan living on the streets of a run-down city on a backwater planet.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

>Not if I had to change places with them at the beginning of one of my stories. I wouldn’t want to go through what I put them through. Some of them—the ones that come out in pretty good shape at the end of the book—it wouldn’t be so bad changing places with after I’ve put them through their paces. Except, presumably, if I changed places with them, they’d change places with me, and then they’d be the writer and I’d be the character, and they could torment me the way I tormented them....
No, I think I’ll stay safely on this side of the page, thanks.

If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

>No, for much the same reason as I wouldn’t want to change places with my characters. Bad things happen in those worlds. (Bad things can happen in this world, too, of course, but at least they’re familiar bad things.) Plus, I like this world!
There are some worlds I wouldn’t mind living in temporarily, mind. Narnia would be fun. Hogwarts would be a great place to go to school. Parts of Middle Earth would be worth an excursion. But only if I knew I could come home afterward. Which, of course, is what we do when we read, so I guess I’ve already got things the way I like them.

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

>My first novel was called The Golden Sword and was written when I was 14. It took me approximately one school year, so eight or nine months, I guess. I wrote a novel each year I was in high school. All of them, not surprisingly, remain unpublished, although I did type them up, put them in red folders, and passed them around to my classmates to read.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

>In the current book, I think the hardest was a scene in which one of main characters discovers that her father is missing and probably dead. My own father died in 2002 and I still miss him every day.

What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan? OR Share an interesting fan story.

>I’ve never had an odd encounter with a fan. Probably because I’m a pretty new writer to most people and I don’t actually have many fans. Or possibly any!

What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

>I’ve had a lot of fun at all the cons I’ve been to, but I think I had the most fun at the Chicago WorldCon in 2000, because it was the first one my wife accompanied me to, because I love Chicago, and because it was just a well-run con with great guests and great panels.

If you still have one, what's your day job? If you don't, how long did it take before you could support yourself only on your writing?

>I don’t have a day job any more except for writing. I worked full-time for 14 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, and then communications officer for the Saskatchewan Science Centre, before taking the plunge into full-time freelancing 14 years ago. (Which, comes to think of it, means I’ve now been a freelancer longer than I had a “real” job. This amazes me!)
Now, to be fair, I do have a sideline: I’m a professional actor and singer, and occasionally I get work in those areas. And to be even fairer, I made a particularly good career move in 1997 when I married an engineer. I highly encourage other writers to follow my example.

What is your university degree in?

>I have a B.A. in journalism. I minored in art, but the only thing I ever did with my art training was draw editorial cartoons for the weekly Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Review, the paper in my home town, which I worked for right out of university.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

>Fantasy comes easier for me because I can make up more stuff. I feel slightly more constrained writing science fiction because it needs to be believable in terms of the way we know our world operates. On the other hand, maybe because I’m a science writer as well as a science fiction writer, I sometimes have a hard time “letting go” when I write fantasy and simply letting magic be magic without trying to explain it away in semi-scientific terms. So both forms of writing pose challenges.

When and where do you write?

>Marseguro was written primarily in coffee shops: in fact, in the acknowledgements I make mention in particular of the Second Cup in the Cornwall Centre in downtown Regina, where the bulk of the first draft took shape. The sequel, Terra Insegura, is being written a bit more at home. I find, however, that I have the most success writing fiction when I get away from my desktop computer and the invidious temptations of blogs, Scrabulous, Half Life, etc. So even when I work at home, I tend to work on my laptop downstairs in the living room rather than in my upstairs office. Rewriting, however, takes place entirely in my office.
I do most of my fiction writing in the afternoon or late evening. It seems to take me all morning just to get my mind in gear, so I tend to do blogging and answering email and some of my regular commitments, like my weekly newspaper science column, in the a.m. and fiction in the p.m. Sometimes I work late at night after my six-year-old daughter is in bed.

What's the best/worst thing about writing?

>I love hearing from someone that something I’ve written has amused or educated or enthralled or even enraged them. I love that feeling of having communicated with someone else.
I hate the fact that the pay is lousy and irregular, and that deadlines have a tendency to all clump together.

What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your fist book published?

>I didn’t really understand returns. I still don’t, really. In what other industry does the retailer get to send unsold stock back to the manufacturer for a refund?

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

>Read the kind of thing you want to write, then write the kind of thing you want to write, then submit it to someone who publishes the kind of thing you’ve written. Rinse and repeat.

Any tips against writers block?

>Go into journalism. You can’t have writer’s block when there’s a newspaper to get out: the story simply has to be done, and that’s that. I’ve never suffered from writer’s block: I can always bang something out. Whether it’s any good or not is another matter, but good writing, at least for me, is much more a matter of rewriting than getting it right the first time.

How many rejection letters did you get for your fist novel or story?

>Lots, but I can’t tell you how many, exactly: I lost count.
This might be a good place to tell you the strange tale of how I came to be published by DAW Books.
Lost in Translation, my first novel with DAW, began life as a short story, published in the initial issue of TransVersions, a Canadian SF magazine. Sometime in the mid-1990s I turned that story into a novel and began sending it around, quite fruitlessly. After a few rejections, I managed to get an agent, who sent it around again, got another round of rejections, and promptly dropped me as a client.
Then, in 2004 or so, I heard from John Helfers at Tekno Books, which packages science fiction novels for publication under the Five Star imprint. Five Star sells hardcovers strictly to libraries: you won’t generally find them in bookstores. Five Star published Lost in Translation, and I thought that was an end to it. Except...
Out of the blue one day I got a phone call from John Helfers, who passed me along to Martin H. Greenberg, the editor in chief at Tekno Books. Greenberg informed me that DAW Books had had a hole in its schedule, had asked Greenberg (who has edited several anthologies for DAW) to pass along some of the books he’d been publishing at Five Star. Mine was one of the ones he passed along, and mine was the one DAW decided to reprint in paperback.
With that offer in hand, I was able to get a new and better agent, Ethan Ellenberg. And with Ethan’s guidance, I was able to sell Marseguro to DAW. They’ve already committed to the sequel, Terra Insegura, which I’m writing now.
The best part of this story is that I’m quite sure DAW must have been one of the publishers that passed on Lost in Translation the first time around.
So Lost in Translation gathered, I would guess, at least a dozen rejections before being published—but it’s led to numerous good things since.
Which I guess means I should pass along one more bit of advice for hopeful authors: don’t give up. Persistence doesn’t guarantee success, but quitting absolutely guarantees failure.

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