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

Flashback Review: Lost in Translation

No. Not the movie. The book, by Saskatchewan author Edward Willett. I actually wrote this review almost eight years ago (I can hardly believe it!) and decided to haul it out of mothballs. This blog has been woefully short of science fiction offerings. I hope you enjoy it.

*****

OK, you can come out of heck now, Edward Willett. You have redeemed yourself.

The cardboard-wrapped Lost in Translation turned up in my mailbox yesterday afternoon and I successfully refrained from cracking it open until after supper. Those who know me realize that bibliophile is too weak a word for me. Biblioholic would be closer to the mark. Which makes that much restraint, little as it was, rather remarkable. Proof that I can, on occasion, behave like a responsible adult.

Maybe the cover art helped. It was, quite frankly, dreadful. It fell into the trap the author didn't, that of cutesy sentimentality. The artist probably hadn't read the book at all, or if so, with remarkably little attention. Not that this is unusual, cover art often seems to have little regard for what actually lies between the covers. The paperback, due out in October, has a much more promising cover, conveying much more effectively the menacing appearance of Jarrikk, one of the two main characters, contrasted with the blond fragility of Kathryn, his human counterpart.

The contrast between the two main characters is one of the driving forces behind this science fiction novel. Jarrick and Kathryn, S'sinn and human, have every reason, both racial and personal, to hate and mistrust the other as the two translators are thrown into negotiations which each side fervently hopes will fail, thus allowing them to wage the war they ardently desire.

Translation, in this far off future, is accomplished by forming a profound empathetic relationship between two translators, by means of a genetically engineered link. Seldom had there been two more unwilling participants. But the privileged understanding of each other created by the translators' link creates a radical shift in their attitudes and births an unlikely alliance.

Willett very effectively makes us share this empathy. The S'sinn, predators rather like panthers with bat wings, are not natural candidates for our understanding, but understand them we do. The obvious analogies to understanding between human races can be drawn, but the author never falls into the trap of preaching it in any way, which would have weakened the book considerably.

The characterizations are, for the most part well handled, with most of the characters in book presented in a believable and usually sympathetic manner. One or two of the secondary characters would have benefitted from a more complete fleshing out. Jim, in particular, is hard to get a handle on. Willett would undoubtedly argue that this is deliberate, indeed, that his inscrutability is essential, but I think he pushed it a wee bit too far. This character never really comes alive for me.

Which in no way prevented me from turning pages. Until the very end. Seeing as I read fast and the book was not unduly long, that didn't keep me up too terribly late. Given a decent dead spot, I would have put it down for the night, but I didn't really get one. The plot twists and turns through personal intrigues, political intrigues, spatiopolitical intrigues...

All in all, a good entertaining read with substance to it. So Edward Willett can come out of heck, because I don't regret buying the hardcover edition. You've really got to hand it to an author who can make you rather like a creature with tentacles around his beaked face who engages in Realpolitik.