Behind the Book with Edward Willett
Liz - What can you tell us about your part of the world?
Edward - I live in Regina, the capital of the province of Saskatchewan, in Canada. Saskatchewan is flat prairie in the south—the northern end of the Great Plains—and boreal forest in the north. Regina was at one time the capital of the Northwest Territories, which encompassed all of western Canada and much of the Canadian Arctic. Before representative government in this part of the world, all of that vast territory was governed by the Lieutenant Governor, who lived in Government House here in Regina—now a museum, although the Lieutenant Governor’s offices are still there. So, this is a vast, treeless plain (although Regina has a lot of trees, every one of which was planted by someone), with a rather severe climate: it can go over 100 degrees F in the summer and drop to -40 in the winter, which usually kicks in around November and lasts until April. The province is the size of Texas (slightly smaller) but only has about a million people.
Liz - Where is your favorite place to write?
Edward - I find I’m more productive out of my home office, so I tend to write in coffee shops in the morning and maybe a pub in the afternoons when I’m doing nothing but writing fiction. Of course, that’s been more difficult recently, but as things have become more normal, I’ve resumed that approach. At home, there are too many other things that need doing.
Liz - Does your cat, Shadowpaw, keep you company while you write?
Edward - He will very occasionally decide he needs to be on my lap while I’m writing at home, but generally, he’ll just sleep in one of his favorite spots. It’s always an honour when he deigns to join me, but also more than a little bit of a nuisance. He’s very large and extremely hard to work around.
Liz - You have written over sixty books across several genres. Where do you get your inspiration?
Edward - Most of my non-fiction books were contracted works, so my inspiration was someone offering me money to write something specific, and I did. On the fiction side, ideas can come from anywhere. Often, it’s an image—for my stand-along science fiction novel The Cityborn (DAW Books), the image was of a vast tower crouched over a canyon, a tower that had been there so long the canyon had filled with rubbish, where people scavenged for a living. For my young adult fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, I was inspired by Regina’s Wascana Lake—not far from my house. On a foggy morning, when you can’t see across the lake, it’s easy to imagine what might be lurking in it. Why not the Lady of the Lake from King Arthur? And so, a series was born. Sometimes, it’s a news item. Ideas are everywhere.
Liz - Do you have a favorite that you’ve written?
Edward - No, not really. My favorite story is always the one that’s just come out. If I absolutely had to choose a favorite, thought, it might be the aforementioned Shards of Excalibur. I had a blast writing those modern-day fantasies with Arthurian elements because I’ve always been fond of the King Arthur legends.
Liz - You won the 2009 Aurora Award for Marseguro – what was that like?
Edward - It was very cool because the awards banquet was held in Montreal, host of the World Science Fiction Convention that year. Because the awards were handed out at WorldCon, my publishers from DAW Books, Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert (who’s also my editor), were in attendance. I’d been thrilled to be nominated and even more thrilled to win, and the fact that it was only my second book for DAW and Betsy and Sheila were on hand for my win was enormously exciting. And Robert J. Sawyer gave me a kiss after I won. How many authors can say that?
Liz - What did that mean for you personally, as a writer?
Edward - Writing is very much a solitary act. We don’t really know what impact our words will have on readers while we’re doing it, and often, we don’t even know what impact our words have had on readers after the fact. There might be a handful of reviews (if you’re brave enough to read them) and possibly a fan letter or two. Winning the Aurora Award was gratifying recognition that readers had not only read my work, but they’d also responded positively to it. Awards don’t necessarily mean you sell more books, but they are a wonderful boost to the ego and provide you with much-needed impetus to carry on.
Liz - Tell us about The Worldshapers Podcast.
Edward - I began my career as a newspaper reporter, and over the years, I’ve hosted radio and TV programs, so I’m no stranger to interviewing people. A podcast where I interviewed other science fiction and fantasy authors had long been something I’d thought of doing, but what finally made me pull the trigger on it was the pending release of Worldshaper, Book 1 of my Worldshapers series for DAW Books. The books are set in an extra-dimensional Labyrinth of Shaped worlds: worlds Shaped out of nothing by creators from our world. The parallels to authors creating the worlds of their stories seemed obvious. So, I did my research and launched The Worldshapers podcast in August 2018 with three interviews, with John Scalzi, Robert J. Sawyer, and Tanya Huff. Julie Czerneda followed next, and the podcast was off and running. I’d been in the science fiction and fantasy field long enough at that point to have many big-name authors I could ask to be on the program, and once I had a few episodes under my belt (with glowing reviews from the authors interviewed), it was easy to get other authors to take part.
Each episode is about an hour long and follows the same general outline: I talk to the author about their background and how they got interested in and began writing, then, using a specific book as an example (often, but not always, their latest release), we talk about the creative process from idea generation to planning/outlining, writing, revision, and editing. At the end, I ask the “big philosophical questions”: Why do you write? Why do you think anyone writes? Why write science fiction and fantasy in particular?
I’m now into my fourth year, and I’ve talked to an amazing selection of authors in something more than 100 episodes, many of them international bestsellers and award-winners, although I also talk to newer authors.
In April 2019, at the annual general meeting of SaskBooks, the association of Saskatchewan book publishers (of which I’m now a board member), a guest speaker talked about Kickstarting an anthology, and I thought, “Hey, I know some authors!” That gave rise to the anthology Shapers of Worlds, which I successfully Kickstarted in early 2020 and featured nine original stories and nine reprints from authors who were guests during my first year. The success of that led to Shapers of Worlds Volume II, which I Kickstarted earlier this year and which featured 18 original stories and six reprints from authors who were guests during my second year. There’s new fiction from Kelley Armstrong, Marie Brennan, Helen Dale, Candas Jane Dorsey, Lisa Foiles, Susan Forest, James Alan Gardner, Matthew Hughes, Heli Kennedy, Lisa Kessler, Adria Laycraft, Ira Nayman, Garth Nix, Tim Pratt, Edward Savio, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Jeremy Szal, and me, plus reprints from Jeffrey A. Carver, Barbara Hambly, Nancy Kress, David D. Levine, S.M. Stirling, and Carrie Vaughn. That comes out November 2 from my own Shadowpaw Press in print and ebook.
Liz - If you could host anyone on the podcast, who would you choose and why?
Edward - Honestly, I can’t choose. I’ve talked to so many wonderful authors already—some of the biggest names in the field. Every author is fun and enlightening to talk to.
Liz - You enjoy documenting your walking. What is it that you enjoy most about walking?
Edward - I find that you see your own city differently on foot than you do in a car. I started my “Walking in Regina” livestream on my YouTube channel primarily as a way to motivate me to walk every day, to keep active. Jogging doesn’t work for me—too hard on my knees—and my gym closed, so walking seemed a good alternative. Livestreaming is an incentive to get out and do it. Also, it’s a great way to show off Regina, which is really a very pretty city. Plus, I talk about my writing activities as I walk, so it’s a bit of a vlog, as well.
Liz - You released The Moonlit Word earlier this year – can you tell us about it?
Edward - The Moonlit World came out in September 2020. It’s my eleventh novel for DAW Books and Book 3 in my Worldshapers series. As I mentioned earlier, Worldshapers is set in a labyrinth of Shaped worlds, each of which was created by someone from our world. As a result, each world has a different “flavor.” Book 1, Worldshaper, introduced my main character, Shawna Keys, who was living in the world she’d Shaped but, unlike every other Shaper, somehow had forgotten she had Shaped. She thought it was the only world there is, until the Adversary came in from outside of her world, stole the knowledge of its Shaping from her (during a horrifying attack that killed her best friend), and began to take it away from her. The truth of the situation is explained to her by her mysterious guide, Karl Yatsar, who also believes she has the power to rescue all of the Shaped worlds from the Adversary if she’ll come with him, traveling from world to world and gathering the knowledge of their Shaping to take to Ygrair, the mysterious woman (really, a powerful alien) at the center of the Labyrinth of Shaped worlds, the one who opened it in the first place and has gathered and trained the individuals from our world who have become Shapers.
Book 1 is set in a world much like our own, but Book 2, Master of the World, takes place in a very steampunky world inspired by the works of Jules Verne. The Moonlit World, in turn, takes place in a world shaped by someone with a great fondness for werewolves and vampires, so it was my chance to play with every werewolf/vampire trope and indulge in a little Gothic adventure. It’s also a world where Shawna gains a great deal more knowledge and power that will be helpful to her in future installments—and begins to frighten Karl Yatsar, who wonders if he’s unleashed something he didn’t intend.
Liz - Who or what was the inspiration behind Star Song?
Edward - Star Song is a young adult science fiction novel that began as a short story, “The Minstrel,” published in the 1980s in a long-defunct Canadian teen magazine called JAM. In other words, the inspiration lies almost 40 years in the past, and I honestly don’t remember!
Except for one thing. The central image of the story is of a young man in a primitive city looking at a spaceport where towering, gleaming starships are pointing at the stars, longing to be aboard one and journeying into the universe. That is in many ways a metaphor for me as a young reader living in the Canadian prairies, longing to travel to the stars. The starships of that image were, for me, the science fiction novels I devoured. So, I suppose that was my inspiration!
Liz - I’m intrigued by the musical oddity that features in this book. Can you tell us about it and what inspired it?
Edward - The touchlyre, in the book, is an instrument crafted by Kriss Lemarc’s long-dead father. It’s the only thing he has from his parents, the only thing passed down to him from them by his guardian, Mella. He calls it a touchlyre because he plays it simply by touching two copper plates on its wooden body and thinking of what he wants to play. It seems to read his mind, in other words.
The mystery deepens when he discovers, after his guardian is murdered and he is left on his own, that it can do far more than project sound: it can also project emotions. All musicians are trying to do that, trying to make their listeners feel something. The touchlyre in Star Song makes that desire reality.
But it turns out that the touchlyre is far more than a musical instrument. In fact, it’s not really a musical instrument at all: it’s a disguise, the hiding place of a powerful alien artifact that certain powerful individuals will stop at nothing to get their hands on—which is what drives the plot.
I can’t say what the inspiration was (again, it was some four decades ago) except perhaps that, having learned to play several musical instruments to varying degrees of competence, the idea of an instrument that would play exactly what you were thinking without the need for fingering or any other complicated technique was a bit of wish-fulfillment on my part.
Liz - How much time would you say you spend a week writing?
Edward - It very much depends on where I am in a project, but when I’m really working well, maybe twenty hours? That’s a two-hour session in the morning and another in the afternoon. If I put that amount of time into a project, I can write very quickly. I’ve written a 100,000-word novel in a month and a 60,000-word one in two weeks. The fastest I’ve ever written was 50,000 words in a week for a novel called Magebane (DAW Books), written under one of my pseudonyms, Lee Arthur Chane. (The other pseudonym I’ve used for DAW is E.C. Blake, who wrote the Masks of Aygrima trilogy. It was the second book in that trilogy, Shadows, that was the 100,000-word novel I wrote in a month.)
Liz - What are you working on next?
Edward - My twelfth novel for DAW Books, The Tangled Stars, a comic space opera (which, among other things, features as one of its main characters a wise-cracking, AI-uplifted, genetically modified cat named Thibauld), has just been submitted to DAW Books, so that will be coming back soon for editorial revisions. It’s due out in Fall 2020. The next thing I’ll be writing will be the fourth book in the Worldshapers series, which will be coming out from Shadowpaw Press sometime next year. Its working title is Noir World because it will be set in a world Shaped by someone inspired by film noir.
Liz - Where can our readers follow you?
Edward - Many places. My main website is edwardwillett.com. I’m on Twitter @ewillett, on Instagram @edwardwillettauthor, on YouTube at tinyurl.com/EdwardWillettOnYouTube, and on Facebook @edward.willett. You can buy autographed copies of my books and many ebooks through my online bookstore, edwardwillettshop.com.
The Worldshapers podcast is at theworldshapers.com, on Twitter @TheWorldshapers, and on Facebook @TheWorldshapers.
Shadow paw Press is at shadowpawpress.com, on Twitter @ShadowpawPress, and on Facebook @ShadowpawPress.