Interview: Edward Willett

How do you not love an author who has a blog called Hasenpfeffer? I first met Ed Willett somewhere in cyberspace so long ago I can't remember where. Blogs? MySpace? Following links? Who knows? But he had a blog called Hasenpfeffer. And he grew up in Saskatchewan. (As did I. You get extra points if you know where that is.) And he wrote speculative fiction. It was clear I had to take a closer look...

You are such a prolific writer, it makes my head spin. Fiction, non-fiction, YA, adult, science fiction, fantasy, Edward Willett, E.C. Blake, Lee Arthur Chane... Am I missing anything? Plus you act and sing. How do you keep all these balls in the air?

I think you’ve covered the bases. Except for the volunteer work. (I’m on the board of The Golden Apple Theatre, a professional theatre company, and I also do a lot of desktop publishing for it and other theatre organizations.) And the driving-daughter-to-dance-and-theatre work...

I actually feel like I’m way too lazy and could accomplish much more if I didn’t waste so much time on the Internet. I don’t really have any words of wisdom regarding how I manage to do so many different types of things. To me it’s all one thing. Yes, writing a YA fantasy novel isn’t the same as writing, say, the annual report of Chief Electoral Officer (as I did last year) or a short 32-page book written at an early-reader level about the Milky Way…and yet, it is. It’s all about using words, about communicating—telling a story, whether one I’ve made up or one that’s true. Acting and singing, too, are really just forms of telling stories. So that’s what I really am: a storyteller. In ancient times I’d have been the old guy by the fire spinning tales. Good thing, too, since with my eyesight I’d either have had to be a shaman or I’d have been sabertooth bait…

May I be blessed with equally productive laziness.

Tell us about your most recent novel. (Yeah, I'm always more interested in the fiction. Sorry.) And how many novels does that make now, while we're at it?

Actually, I’ll tell you about my two most recent novels, since they’ve come out so close together. Both are the second books in series, as it happens!

Shadows, which came out August 4 from DAW Books, is Book 2 in The Masks of Aygrima, a trilogy that began with Masks last fall and will wrap up with Faces next summer. It’s a fantasy novel set in a land where everyone is forced to don a magical Mask at the age of 15, a Mask that tells the dreaded Watchers who might pose a threat to the rule of the Autarch, so no rebellion is possible or can even be contemplated. The main character is a 15-year-old girl, Mara Holdfast, who is the daughter of the Master Maskmaker and also has a rare and powerful form of the magical Gift that only a small number of citizens possess. When her Masking unexpectedly fails, she is sent into exile, rescued by the unMasked Army, and flung into the effort to overthrow the Autarch…all the while trying to learn to control her Gift, which is not only powerful but dangerous, and threatens to turn her into a monster worse than the Autarch she is working against.

Twist of the Blade, which I just got copies of yesterday, is Book 2 in The Shards of Excalibur, a five-book young adult fantasy series being published by Coteau Books here in Regina. It’s the sequel to Song of the Sword, which came out in the spring. Book 3, The Lake in the Clouds, will be out in the spring of 2015. In Book 1, Song of the Sword, the Lady of the Lake showed up in Regina’s Wascana Lake and informed Ariane Forsythe, a 15-year-old girl who’s been in and out of foster homes since her mother mysteriously disappeared, that she is the heir to the Lady’s power, and must stop Merlin, in his modern-day guise as Bill Gates-like computer magnate Rex Major, from finding the scattered shards of Excalibur and reuniting them. If he does, he will use the sword’s power to take over the world and attack his own world of Faerie. Ariane and her sidekick, 14-year-old Wally Knight, successfully gained the first shard in Book 1, but in Book 2 Wally begins having doubts after Ariane used her power to hurt his sister, Felicia (a rather nasty bully). The story takes Wally and Ariane to the south of France, and tests their new relationship to the limits.

How many novels? Um…(counting on fingers)…twelve traditionally published and three self-published. So far.


Arthurian legend in Regina. I like it.

Now I would like to know about your writing process. Outline? Improvise? Bit of both? Do you write better in silence? To music? In public places? (We'll pretend that's only one question. Ahem.)

I outline and then improvise. Most books start as a five- or six-page synopsis, which I only rarely refer to once I’m actually writing. Major plot points don’t usually change, but new ideas come out of nowhere as i write, or as characters, in the middle of a scene, say something or do something that takes things in a different direction than I originally envisioned. The outline is kind of like a roadmap on which the destinations of a planned trip have been highlighted, and perhaps the major highways that will be taken to get to them. The writing is the journey itself, full of side trips and detours and scenic routes. Occasionally even the destinations change. On more than one book I’ve had to pause and replot in order to get to the final destination because of choices made during the actual writing that invalidated my original synopsis.

I rarely write in my office. I prefer to write on my laptop either inside the house or, more often, in a public place like a coffee shop or bar. If I’m writing at home, I write in silence. If I’m writing in a public place, I listen to music—what music hardly matters: it’s just a way to shut out conversation. A general roar of background noise doesn’t bother me, but any actual conversation where I can make out what’s being said is incredibly distracting. Especially if it’s a conversation about something I have a strong opinion about and the idiots talking don’t share my opinion. :) As I write this I’m listening to some random mix of ‘70s hits on Radio…


I can really relate to the conversation problem. And now, finally, which authors have particularly influenced you? Do any of them attain the status of role model?

My biggest influences are undoubtedly the authors I read as a kid, the ones who turned me into a science fiction and fantasy reader and, very soon, writer. Robert A. Heinlein is, of course, the father of us all in science fiction. His “juvenile” novels in particular were a huge influence on me. Isaac Asimov, particularly the robot stories. Andre Norton was another big influence on me as a young reader. Zenna Henderson was another, and of course J.R.R. Tolkien.

But role models? Only in that it was their stories, which I loved so much, which convinced me that I wanted to tell stories that other people would enjoy as much as I had enjoyed theirs.

Because ultimately, that’s what I am: a storyteller. I make up stories, I tell them to other people, and hopefully they’re entertained. If I’m thought-provoking or inspirational or anything else, that’s great: but as long as I’m entertaining, I’m content.

Thanks so much, Ed.

I reviewed Ed's Lost in Translation here.

And his website is here.

And here for E.C. Blake

And here for Lee Arthur Chane

Review: A Song for Arbonne

I needed a break the other day. I really, really needed a break. And I had the perfect antidote waiting for me in my Kobo: Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne. For those of you who don't know, Guy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian fantasy author who almost invented and virtually owns the genre of historical fantasy. Kay, in most of his work, takes a historical period and its events and reworks it with fictional names and fantasy elements. In his most recent works he hews very closely indeed to the historical record.

Now Kay might seem a strange choice for escapist literature. He does not shy away from brutality, degradation, and sometimes rather explicit sex, so I would not recommend his works for young teens in particular. But his profound belief in the counter-balancing possibilities of beauty, nobility, and aspiring to higher ideals prevent the nastiness of his stories from taking over. And this is a writer who spends more time reading poetry than novels so his prose, while never pretentious, is also never clunky. It is clean and clear and beautifully simple. He also takes a humble (he would say diffident, that being one of his favorite words) approach to history, renaming countries and historical figures in deference to the fact that he is not recreating history but re-imagining it. The result of all these elements is that he seldom fails to delight me on many different levels, and leaves me feeling profoundly satisfied.

A Song for Arbonne is no exception. It takes place in the High Renaissance, inspired by the vicious war that raged between France and Languedoc. In this fictional universe Blaise, a mercenary soldier from Gorhaut, is working in Arbonne, a land of troubadours and courtly love, traditions for which he has little respect. As the story progresses, we discover the deep tensions that lie between the two countries and also within the two countries. Implacable hatreds threaten the unity of both countries and shift alliances, creating some of the strangest of bedfellows. Blaise discovers that his place in the world is much larger and much more dangerous than he ever could have thought, even as his opinions of Arbonne and its “womanly” culture undergo a radical change. Political intrigue, undying passions, religious fervor, family hatreds, shifting allegiances, the various threads form a tapestry of high drama with very human faces.

Kay loves his characters and it shows. Even minor characters sizzle and pop on the page, full of their own lives and stories. And so we can do little but love them also, even if sometimes it is more a question of loving to hate them. In the same way, we do not feel that we are looking at a remote, strange time from a distance, we are rather plunged into it, and experience the story with all the immediacy of today.

Perhaps the only false note in this song was a Big Reveal in the final chapters which felt abrupt. It was not entirely out of the blue, but I felt it had been inadequately set up, so that it felt awkward and worse, not even particularly necessary to the story. Had I been Kay's editor (now there's a pretentious thought), I would have sent it back to him with a request to either drop it altogether, or make it more integral to the story.

Although A Song for Arbonne, now over twenty years old, did nothing to change my opinion that Kay's latest works are his finest, it still left me in a state of near bliss, and with no regrets of taking an escape in medieval Europe. It fully deserves the label of approval "Gourmet Reading". If fantasy or historical fiction have never been your cup of tea, check it out anyway. I am willing to bet you won't regret it, if you have any respect for superb writing.


Guy Gavriel Kay's website

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