An hour-long conversation with award-winning writer Roy M. Griffis, author of historical, alternate-history, and the humorous Cthulhu, Amalgmated fantasy cycle, as well as poetry, plays, and screenplays.
Roy “Griff” Griffis calls himself a “Storyteller” for a lot of reasons.
He decided to be a writer when he was ten and never looked back. Along the way, he’s done all the usual starving artist jobs (janitor, waiter, bookstore clerk) and a few unusual ones (he was the 62nd Aviation Rescue Swimmer in the US Coast Guard––he doesn’t just write action-adventure, he lived a little of it himself).
He’s written poetry, plays, and screenplays. He’s also the author of twelve novels, including the epic historical fiction saga By the Hands of Men and the alternative history series The Lonesome George Chronicles, as well as the comic fantasy Cthulhu, Amalgamated cycle. In 2018 he received the first The John Milius Screenwriting Award for his original film script Cold Day in Hell.
Sarah A. Hoyt was born in Portugal and raised her family in Colorado. In between, she has held some improbable jobs – she thought it was a requirement to write science fiction – ranging from dishwasher to multilingual scientific translator, and she’s published more than thirty novels in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction.
Her first published novel, Ill Met By Moonlight was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. Her first space opera, Darkship Thieves won the Prometheus. She also won a Dragon for Uncharted, an alternate Lewis and Clark expedition (Now with magic, and oh, yeah, Coyote) co-written with Kevin J. Anderson.
Arguably her best-selling book is Guardian, co-written with Larry Correia.
She’s currently writing the script for the latest comic book iteration of Barbarella.
Her plans for the next thirty years consist of writing a lot more.
Christian (MIles) Cameron was born in Pittsburgh in 1962 and graduated from the University of Rochester after an outstandingly long undergraduate career. He served in the US Navy onboard aircraft carriers and elsewhere, and then moved on to a writing career.
He’s written over forty novels, including The Red Knight from Gollancz and Killer of Men from Orion Books. His latest novel is Artifact Space, an epic space opera set in the not-too-distant future.
He lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and too many cats.
The Automated, Lightly Edited Transcript
(Check against recording before quoting)
So, Christian, welcome to The Worldshapers.
Well, thanks for having me. Should I call you Edward or Ed?
Ed is typical. Edward is my formal byline. Ed is what most people call me. And Eddie is what people called me until I left my hometown, so when somebody that calls me Eddie, I always know they knew me back in Weyburn when I was a kid or a newspaper reporter there.
So, what is a very useful, fabulous lesson I learned from my grandmother was to never refer to anyone by their diminutive unless they told me to.
Yeah, that’s good advice. So, I’m very happy to have you on. You have a very interesting background and an amazing collection of books. And we do share a connection through Mickey Mikkelsen at Creative Edge Publicity.
And I always look for connections. This is not much of a connection, but I know that you were in the Navy in the US and I have a nephew who was in the Navy. And I know that the new book that you’re going to talk about had some inspiration from aircraft carriers. And my nephew served on the Harry S. Truman for, I think, two tours. So, there you go. That’s not much of a connection but it’s something.
So, here’s our age difference. Your nephew would have been going on board an aircraft carrier that I’m pretty sure was commissioned the year I left the Navy.
Well, he’s quite . . . I think he’s quite young, actually. I guess he’s forty something now, but we won’t talk about age too much. I’m pretty sure I’m still older than you. So anyway, so let’s start, as I always like to do with my guests, taking you back into the mists of time, and find out a little bit about your background and, you know, where you were born and grew up and how you got interested in writing—it usually starts with reading for most of us—and especially in writing . . .I mean, I know you write historical fiction as well, but especially in writing fantasy and science fiction stories. How did that all come about for you?
So, I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the USA, and I’m going to drop a dime right off on my mum. My mother was an actress and a voice actress or actor, we say now, her whole career. And one of the things that she was just glorious at was reading books aloud. And she read me The Hobbit when I was, I think, five. And it was such a success. We were in Tobermory in Canada on summer vacation and she read The Hobbit. And some days my dad would read to and, you know, he was an actor and a director and also had a good voice. And it was such a success that we moved straight on to The Lord of the Rings. And I fully admit that I did not really understand very much of The Lord of the Rings at age six or seven, but I really loved it. And I still, when I reread The Hobbit and I still reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I can both hear my mom’s voice. But also remember just the sheer sense of wonder, like I could never go back.
And I’ll just add this story when I was in first grade, so, like seven. The year after being read The Hobbit during summer vacation, we were learning to read like good little first graders in Iowa. And I lived in Iowa at the time. And they handed us these terrible storybooks. And I was like, my mom just read me The Lord of the Rings. I don’t care about Mr. Penguin. And I don’t think I ever went back to Mr. Penguin. And that actually caused me some troubles in first grade. But anyway, that’s where my love of fantasy started. It was like the first book I can remember, and I started right from there.
And continued. Any other books growing up that had that kind of impact on you?
Yeah, so weirdly, I mean, this may be too much information, but I was kind of late to reading. I was a very outdoorsy kid. You know, I’d spend my summers on a farm in upstate New York and where my grandmother, in a very traditional and somewhat 1930s way, would sort of kick me out of the house at nine in the morning and say, don’t come back till four thirty and that sort of thing. That sounds terrible. It was actually quite loving and fun. And I learned to, you know, make a fire and make my own cup of tea and all those things. So, my dad was worried that I wasn’t reading enough. And so, I think at age 10 or 11, he offered to buy me a model I wanted to build if I would read this book. And he handed me a copy of The Three Musketeers, which he had paid a quarter for at our church sale. And man, what a revelation. It turned out that The Lord of the Rings wasn’t the only book in the world. And, you know, I read The Three Musketeers because I was made to and then I can’t remember ever not reading again.
And my dad was a writer. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but my dad was a writer his whole life. He just passed away a couple of months ago. And part of being a writer in those days, I kind of wish it still was, was that his various agents and publishers would just send him crates of books, not his own books, other people’s books from the same publisher. And so, we would always have these crates of books laying around the house with kind of utterly random books like romance novels, mystery novels, crime novels, thrillers, potboilers that no 14-year-old should have been reading at the time. And I would just read my way through the latest crate of books, and that caused me to kind of love genre fiction of all kinds, not just fantasy. And it also probably helped my vocabulary. And mostly it really caused me to fall in love with historical fiction and a particular writer, Dorothy Dunnett, whose work I still think is amongst the best ever, ever done.
So, when did you start writing?
Well, so, when I was 17, I wrote a novel, which I still have right here in this house, and you will never see it.
My first one’s right here on my on my desk.
Good. Well, it was my attempt to channel the American Revolution, which I was in love with because I had started re-enacting, as a fantasy novel with vampires. Need I say more now?
Abraham Lincoln with vampires. Wasn’t that a movie not that long ago? Wrong war, I know, but . . .
So. Yeah, well, this was more sort of George Washington with vampires. But even then, even that’s not really fair because it wasn’t really the American Revolution. It was a sort of fantasy. Eighteenth century. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, but she did it much better than I did anyway. It was really bad. But I keep it around from time to time and look at it and go like, “Wow, that’s really bad.” And that was my first attempt to write a full-length novel. And I hand wrote it on notebook paper and it was 217 pages long. So, I figured, OK, I could write a whole book.
And then, when I was in the Navy later, on night watches sorry, Navy Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, we copied in message traffic that had to do with terrorism from all over the world. And we basically built a file for senior politicians and military leaders to read in the morning. And so, it was a night watch that was important and involved a whole lot of, like, reading and analyzing. But some nights, thank goodness, there was no terrorism. And I finally sat down and wrote a novel which we will call Elves in Space. And it was also really, really bad. I was trying to be C.J. Cherryh and it turns out nobody can be C.J. Cherryh but C.J. Cherryh. So, you know, there you go.
And that was the end of my writing career until an afternoon camping with my dad. We were fishing in the Adirondack Mountains. And I said, “Dad, I have an idea for a novel.” Now, I would say that to my dad sort of every summer because he wrote novels and I always meant for him to write them. And when I said this, I was a full-time clandestine operations officer, which is like being a spy. And I had had an idea for a spy novel. And my dad said, he would always say, “You should write it.” And I feel like, “I’m not a writer. You’re the writer.” And then on this occasion, he said, “We should write it.” I’m like, “Whoa, that’s a great idea,” so we wrote that novel together and then we wrote seven more books together and we published all of them, and that’s how I became a writer.
Well, that long stretch in there when you weren’t writing, you were clearly doing some very interesting things. What else are you doing through there besides writing?
The truth is, I was writing a ton. So, being an intelligence analyst, which I was first, is really all writing. And, in fact, if you think of the Navy Anti-Terrorist Alert Center as a newspaper that just happens to be highly classified, you’d pretty much have it pegged. So, we were responsible—and this is like 30 analysts and some other officers—we were responsible for producing 50 to 100 pages of articles a day. And I was eventually the commanding officer of that, and that made me the editor of a newspaper, but before that I was just one of the analysts that, I would write articles all day, every day that the various, the sort of editorial staff, would decide if my articles were worth reading or not. So, that was like an incredible training school in writing quickly and accurately, in doing research and doing research that was accurate. And yeah, so that was writing. But yeah, I did other things before that. I flew off an aircraft carrier for three years. I don’t think that’s what my detailer thought I was going to do. Detailers in the Navy are the people who assign you your career. I was supposed to be an intelligence officer, but my squadron commander, thank heavens, decided that I would be better utilized learning how to run radars and sit in the back seat of an airplane and do things. And by sheer luck, and I have been a very lucky person, and by sheer luck, the skills that I sort of trained in were very valuable in the first Gulf War.
So, I got to fly a lot. And that was really exciting and interesting and way more what I joined the Navy for than the being an intel officer, being an analyst was. And so, I did that for a number of years and that was very interesting. And I got to go to see and, you know, I don’t know if you’ve read a lot of my books, but I love the ocean and I love being at sea and sort of living on an aircraft carrier is the best way to be a tourist. We went all over the Mediterranean and Middle East and stopped at dozens of liberty ports. And I really enjoyed that. I had never been outside the United States except to go to Canada when I joined the Navy. And suddenly, I was in France and Israel and Spain and Italy and Palmerton, America and Jerusalem. And it was just fabulous. I really enjoyed to travel and I still do. And I think travel is incredibly formative. So that was all good. And then, yes, I was after that at the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center. I sort of went to the darker side of intelligence operations, and it is a little bit dark, where you recruit assets and do all that spy stuff, which I then did for some number of years before falling in love with a Canadian, marrying her and moving to Canada. The End.
It was going to ask about your connection to Canada as well.
Yeah. So probably my greatest lifetime passion, in addition to writing, is re-enacting. And for thirty-five years I re-enacted the American Revolution and I have almost always done either British or Loyalists, not so-called Americans or Patriots or whatever you want to call it, the side that ended up winning the war and forming the United States. Continentals, we might call them. And because of that, I spent a lot of time with aCanadian group called the Kings Royal Regiment of New York, which is a name that always makes Americans smile, Kings Royal Regiment of New York. But it was a real loyalist regiment during the American Revolution that fought bravely to protect their homes from the insurgent rabble who were trying to burn them out of the Mohawk Valley. I mean, that’s one way of telling the story. And they were Canadian, and I spent a lot of time with them. And eventually, I married one.
I’m going to go back to the the analyst work, I was a newspaper reporter and a newspaper editor, you know, not classified, but what I found during those years when I was doing that was, you know, that writing every day . . . and it didn’t matter that you weren’t writing fiction, just the mere act of putting words down on paper . . . I always found very helpful. Has that been, looking back on it, do you think that really was a huge contributor to your ability to, obviously, tell stories prolifically?
Now I do. And what I’m about to say may go against the grain for some readers. And I apologize. I don’t I mean, no offense to anyone, but I believe that the fact that I almost never have anything even vaguely resembling writer’s block is because the Navy taught me to write every day whether I was happy or sad, hungover or feeling great, whether I’d had my workout or not, had my workout, whether it was four-thirty in the morning or four-thirty in the afternoon, because I had a daily production quota. And it’s the military. No one cares whether you feel good. That’s not really true. I always had pretty good commanding officers, but you have to produce whether you’re feeling good or not. And that turned out to be a very useful lesson.
Well, the newspaper business is similar because the newspaper comes out on a specific . . . it was a weekly, but it came out on a specific day at a specific time, and you had to have the stuff ready. There just wasn’t any other option. So, I’ve always said that that work helped me not have writer’s block either. So, it’s interesting to hear. Did you ever have any formal fiction writing, training of any kind?
None whatsoever. I when I was in university, I had a fabulous poetry-writing course at the time I wanted to be a poet. Just let’s blur past that. But let’s just put that in the same drawer with the not-very-good first two novels I wrote, some not-very-good poetry. I wrote a couple of pretty decent poems and convinced myself I was going to be a great poet. Many people do, I find. But that class taught me a great deal of what I know about writing, sorry, about what I know about writing imagery. And, you know, writing imagery is a definite tool of the trade. I will confess to you that my dad, who, like I say, was a professional writer and who taught university for most of my adult life, was contemptuous, would be a good word, of writing courses and believed things that I don’t necessarily believe myself, and yet I probably have been influenced by them about, you know, learning to write and the relative importance of, let’s say, a university degree or university training and writing as opposed to rich life experience or whatever. And so, no, I assumed all that. I did medieval history in university.
When you started writing with your dad, were those historical novels?
No, those were spy novels.
We wrote eight of them together, which was super funny because I was, in fact, an intelligence officer while I wrote the first three of them, like an actual functioning intelligence officer. So, every word I wrote had to be passed through a security program before it could be published. And that that was an additional wicket that no author needs to have ever.
And I also want to ask you about the other thing I found on your Web site, looking at what you have to say there, and that’s the martial arts and historical combat aspect of all this. It seems like you’ve tried a lot of different kinds of martial endeavors.
Yeah, I did that . . . again, at the risk of sounding like a maverick, I think at some level they’re all kind of the same. They’re all simulations. And the more of them I do, the more I think like, “Oh, this is kind of like that one, which probably just shows what a dilettante I am.” Yeah. I started fencing after I watched a movie of The Three Musketeers when I was twelve years old, with Michael York and Michael Walsh.
I love that one!
Yeah, well, it’s probably got some of the best fight sequences in terms of authenticity ever filmed, because William Hobbs was the fight director and he was incredible. However, what I was going to say is, my dad, who is always full of surprises, revealed after the movie was over that he, in fact, had done a fair amount of fencing and stage combat and would I like to learn? And I’m like, “Yes!” So, we made swords out of aluminum because that’s what dad knew from the stage-fighting world. And we broke each other’s fingers for a while. That wasn’t so good. And then, I mean, it was totally fun. And then I went into the world of what we now call classical fencing or Olympic fencing, which I enjoyed thoroughly. And I was not quite good enough to make the big time, but I was pretty good.
And then, I don’t know, I sort of dropped the whole thing for a few years. And when I was in the Navy, of all things, I found lots of fencers in Washington, D.C., and went back to fencing. And I’ve never stopped since then. And so. in the ’90s, what we now call Western martial arts, which is not a term I particularly love, suddenly got very popular and people started researching all of the old European techniques. So ,I think when we say martial arts to each other, we conjure up visions of samurai and, you know, sort of Asian martial arts, and goodness knows, I’ve done some Asian martial arts and found them very enjoyable, I can do Aikido and I’ve dabbled in a couple of others. And they are most excellent. Um, but the little historian in me, the little re-enactor in me. I always had questions., I’m going to use Kendo as an example, and I was like, “I don’t think this is the way you would train to fight with a katana, any more than the fencing foil is the way you would learn to fight with a small sword or a rapier. I think this is pretty fossilized,” I thought.
Now, it turns out that now there are fabulous researchers in Japan and Korea and other places who are doing all the research to indicate what the roots of Asian martial arts are. But that wasn’t sort of around in the 1970s and 80s. And so, I was sort of just swimming along in the in the cultural artifacts of the time. Yeah, I can probably go on for too long about martial arts. I did some of them. And then I mostly continue doing Western or European fencing until the historical martial arts movement caught me. And then I was really excited. And I’ve landed in the 14th century Italian art of fighting and armor, which I adore, and which to me is sort of the culmination of all the things I ever tried to learn. And it’s I won’t say it’s sad. It’s just real life. But I’m about to age out of it. You know, I’ll be 60 in a year. I’m a little more brittle. I don’t bounce as well. Wearing 80 pounds of chain and plate is a little harder than it is for the 35-year-olds.
I think I’m three years older than you, so . . .
Yeah, and the last couple of times I fought in a big competition . . . so, speed degrades. Everybody knows this, from runners to tennis players, but the skill will compensate for speed up to a point. And then, yeah, last couple of competitions, I sort of hit a point where it’s like, oh, I see, any 25-year-old who’s fast can now pretty much beat me unless I’m boringly super cautious, which is sadly not my normal characteristic. So, that’s fine. I don’t mind losing. I do mind always losing. I’d like someone to create a seniors’ league for old knights. But anyway, it is great fun. It is, of cours,e a huge part of my writing. And yet I want to say to your listeners that to me it is key to understand that every martial art ever. No matter how it bills itself, they’re all simulations, none of them are real, none of them are like real fighting. And that that’s super important to remember as a writer. Like, you can get structure and so on out of. Almost any martial art, and you can imagine how a fight would work, and that’s extremely useful, and I think the more fighting you do, the easier it is to imagine this happens than this happens. And this happens in logical terms that are easier to write. All that is true. But years ago, I received a damning piece of praise from an SS officer in Great Britain who wrote and said, “I love your Greek novels, but you got to know that all of us who have actually killed people hand to hand, we don’t remember how we did it and we don’t think about it when we’re doing it.” And I was like, “Yeah,” and I’ve now heard that from enough other people. So, all of this careful description, especially first person, like, “I did this and then I did this and I did this.” Yeah. That’s not what happens in their mind. And it’s all got a certain element of construct to it.
There’s a group in Vancouver that does sword fighting and all that sort of thing, and I was at a convention out there and I actually somehow ended up on a panel about writing, writing fight scenes with all these people who actually did all of that. And one of the comments that came up at some point was, well, you know, everything happened so fast that you don’t necessarily need to describe all of that detail, depending on your readers are, I guess, and what they’re expecting. But I think what my take-away was, if you can’t be accurate, be vague. That’s what I came away with.
Yes. It seems it’s it’s funny. Maybe it’s not funny, but I have started to write more and more . . . sorry. There’s an author whose work I love named Patrick O’Brien, he writes historical fiction, wrote historical fiction. And he had a tendency to elide over fight scenes. He had a tendency to say like, “And then it happened and then so and so was dead,” and that can be very effective and I’ve now found times when that’s how I want to write it, especially because, and this is, “I’m going to stand on a soapbox here and it might be boring, but there’s a cultural meme throughout the English speaking world, which I’m just not that fond of, and that is that whether it’s James Bond or Captain America, the hero has to have the crap beaten out of him before he can win the fight. Ah, you know what I’m talking about.
And sadly, my experience of both martial arts and actual war suggests to me that that’s nonsense. If you get the crap beaten out of you, you lose the fight. And I just can’t write those scenes. So instead, I’ve started wandering off in the direction of fight scenes where the more skilled person just wins, which is fast and often maybe a little dull. And as I said on a panel at Worldcon a couple of years ago, you know, “Sometimes writing a fight scene should be like writing about a master carpenter using a hammer, which is not that exciting, you know, and then he hit another perfectly placed nail perfectly and then another one.” And we’re titillated by the idea of violence. But like, when you watch somebody who’s really good . . . I once watched a Navy SEAL use a submachine gun on a target range. And I had never fired a submachine gun at the time. And I had a great deal of trouble hitting a man-sized target at about fifty feet. And they called in this guy whose name I never learned, and he in one magazine put two or three rounds into each of five man-sized targets just by sort of waving his gun over it. And I said, tried to say something witty, like, “That wasn’t luck, was it?” And everybody just looked at me and I thought, Like, I see. That’s what you guys spend your life learning to do. And that’s why people like me would just die entering a room there. And I know that doesn’t make a good story because the plucky hero is supposed to be able to overcome years of skill with bravery. But yeah, anyway, it’s my soapbox.
OK, well, let’s go out and talk about your writing process, and we are going to focus on the new science fiction novel that’s coming out in June, called Artifact Space. And maybe the first thing to do is to give a brief description of it so people will want to rush out and read it.
Well, so, we all love genre titles. And I’m going to say unashamedly it’s space opera and it’s space opera based on four things. Hopefully this will excite everyone. One is a conversation I had with Alistair Reynolds about aircraft carriers and about how aircraft carriers kind of resembled giant spaceships. And he and I were sitting next together. I was being a fan—boy, I adore Alistair Reynolds’s writing—at Gollancz Fest in London. And he said, “I hear you were on aircraft carriers.” And that was all we talked about for the rest of the time. So that conversation sort of put in my mind, like, “Aircraft carriers in space. I wonder if there’s something there.” And then, last January, just as Covid was sort of beginning to exist, I was reading about the Venetian great galleys, the huge galleys they sent around on trade missions in the 15th century, and Venice had them, too. And I was fascinated by these huge galleys and how, you know, they went all the way to London and all the way to Antwerp and all the way to Alexandria, and the crews would sort of know all these people. That is the Middle Ages, where you don’t think of people traveling. And yet, even the oarsmen—who were not slaves, they were pretty well paid—are sort of going all over the place, from Egypt to Spain to England to Antwerp. And that cooked away in my mind. And then, just before Covid closed the theaters, my family and I went to see Little Women and I was sitting in my seat . . . I enjoyed the movie thoroughly, in case you care. But sometimes, I’m sorry, it’s a phrase from a ballet instructor friend of mine, she says, “Art makes art.” And I was enjoying this movie thoroughly, but in some part of my mind something was cooking, and suddenly I had the whole book in my head, like late in the movie, it’s related to a particular speech one of the characters gives, and it’s sort of about feminism and sort of about roles. And anyway, the whole thing, all the characters popped into my mind. It was done.
And it’s a space opera about long-range trade in the not-very-far future when everything has gone wrong on Earth and a heroic generation, a sort of golden generation like we think of the World War Two generation, got people off Earth into our ships, found other worlds, settled them, and in the process, lost a lot of contact with each other and with culture. So, what’s holding them together is these giant trade ships for a while. And when my novel opens, we’re actually almost at the end of that period. New technologies are being discovered, science is reborn. And I tried to give the novel a very, if you’ll pardon me, 18th century feel, that feeling of the Age of Enlightenment and everything being a little bit new. Time to throw over the old time, to look carefully at assumptions and decide whether they’re real or not. So, it’s like old-new old-new science-fiction space opera.
Well, that pretty much covers the first question, which was, “Where did the particular seed of this novel come from?” But looking at all of your novels, is that very typical for you, or is there any typical way that you get ideas for novels?
So, I’m always inspired by something, and it’s usually by history. I will say that Artifact Space, like one of my historical novels, Killer of Men, literally, it’s as if it was inserted into my brain. I wrote Artifact Space in 46 days. I wrote Killer of Men in, I think, 51 days. And that it’s like divine inspiration. I assume this is what the Greeks meant when they spoke of divine inspiration. It’s like someone is dictating to me and I’m just getting it down, which is a very different feeling from other books.
My most recent historical books are a pair of novels called The Commander Series—I’m not sure I chose that name—about Philopoemen of Achea, who, in addition to being a general—and he was a great general—was a master politician and, you know, sort of saved the Greek world for another 50 years from the Romans and various other competitors and created our modern idea of federal democracy, which probably is why anybody remembers him today. And those novels did not come to me by divine inspiration. I mean, they did. I was standing in Delphi with a tour looking at at the stone dedicated to Philopoemen. And I always get this feeling in Greece. It’s the most amazing thing. You know, there’s Philopoemen’s name. I can read ancient Greek, but it’s very hard carved in stone in all caps. And yet his name jumped out at me from like 20 feet away. And I always get this feeling like, “Oh, so it’s all real.” It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if one was somewhere in the deep forest and when suddenly found proof that The Lord of the Rings had actually happened. And that makes no sense for someone who loves history as much as I do. But I looked at Philopoemen ‘s name and went, “Wow, that’s real.” And that was so deeply inspiring. Call me crazy, but I had to learn all about him and read everything that had ever been written about him. And then I had to write a novel about him that took tons of research and time and effort and was not divine inspiration. That was just work. I mean, it wasn’t unpleasant work, but it was work. And that is a very different feeling from the feeling that I had about Artifact Space.
So, once you had the general idea, you wrote it, and the muse was dictating it to you. But did you do any planning ahead of time? And do you normally do some sort of planning or outlining?
These are questions, by the way, and you know, I’ll do my best for you—as I grow older, I do more planning. Artifact Space defied that. Nothing needed to be planned because, like I say, it was in my head and I had the whole thing beginning to end. But since I wrote the Red Knight series, the Traitor Son series, I now write much more extensive outlines and much more detailed character summaries and arcs. And that’s actually an artifact in part of the industry, which, you know, agents and editors now require those things, which always struck me as slightly amusing because I’d always go like, “But I’ve produced twenty-six novels already. Can’t we just believe I can produce a twenty-seventh?” But that being said, as I get older, I just can’t necessarily keep it all in my head and that that is a fact of life. So, it’s much better to write it all down. And so, now I have pages of character. I can tell you that when I was writing the Traitor Son series, all I had was a list of character names so that I didn’t forget them. And in the middle of the series, I learned that I needed to put a plus sign next to people I’d killed off because Phillip Dubos (sp?), a jousting character in the Red Knight series, I killed three times, which was, you know, kind of an error. And yeah. So, I’ve been developing that way.
Outlines I always find very interesting. And I’m fascinated to talk to other authors about this because I have always written some form of outline and then I almost never stayed with them because things happen organically and I just roll with whatever comes to me. And I’ll give you an example from today. I’m writing a fantasy novel right now and today . . . so, I ended yesterday with a pretty big and characterful fight scene, magical fight scene, not a sword fight. And that was good. And what I was supposed to write today was the consequent political follow-on from this duel. And instead, for no reason that I could name, I discovered that I was writing my character, who was badly wounded in the fight, basically lying on a featureless gray plain and discovering that to some extent he was dead and considering his whole life and wondering if he had ever done anything worthy and if he was about to be judged. And it turned out that was all just an artifact of the healing, the magical healing process. And I did not sit down to write that scene, not even sure where exactly that scene came from. But when I looked it over just before you and I started this call, I thought, “Oh, this is really good and far better than the banal political crap I was going to write. So, we’ll just roll with it.”
Yeah, it’s certainly my experience. I mean, I’m typically, with my publisher, I’m writing maybe a seven or eight single spaced page kind of synopsis at the most. Yeah. And then I start writing, but the one I’m writing now, The Tangled Stars it’s called, it’s a space opera as well. Humorous Space Opera I. It’s just not going where the synopsis said it was going. Not exactly. I keep surprising myself with it.
So does that worry you?
It worries me a bit in that this is not one of those books that the muse is dictating to me. I seem to be struggling with that. And I think partly that’s just the change in circumstances and not . . .I tend to write out of my house in a coffee shop or something, and I haven’t been able to do that. And I find I don’t work as well at home, which is odd, but . . .
You and me both, Ed. I’ve just discovered that we are brothers separated at birth. I have a coffee shop I adore. I have written . . .I couldn’t count the books I’ve written there. Eleven? And, you know, because of Covid I’m writing at a dining room table with, until a week ago, my daughter doing her high school homework. My partner has my office on the third floor because she’s working at home. So, she’s going by in both directions. And I don’t mind people, you know, I write in a coffee shop, but somehow, it’s deeply different.
Yeah, that’s exactly been my experience. And so, I’m kind of struggling with it. But yeah, for me, it changes. From what I . . . you know, you have this . . . it all seems so clear in your head when you first think of the book, and you know what’s going to happen. But then as you write it, characters change and things develop and stuff you didn’t even know was going to happen happened. And it influences what’s going to happen further down the road. And so, one of the interesting things on the podcast is asking people that question, and everybody is so different in how it works for them. And I always go back to Peter V. Brett, who wrote The Demon Cycle.
Yeah, yeah. I know him.
I interviewed him, and he writes 150-page outlines before he writes anything of the book itself. And then he’s just basically filling in the outline. So, he’s put all that that work into the outline and then is able to just expand on it without wandering from it. And then there’s other people who just start writing and see what happens.
So, have you interviewed Evan Winter?
No, I haven’t.
I’m lucky in that I think I knew Evan a little before he was famous. And I believe he has said almost exactly the same thing, very detailed. And I mean . . . and that’s great. If that’s what works. I have always been friends with a bunch of other writers, and as you know, because you interview us, no two alike, you know.
But at the same time, I yeah, I wouldn’t write a 150-page outline because things change. Characters change. And I really do, I think I would say, I write by inspiration, it’s not seat of the pants. But my dad had . . . sorry, I’m very respectful of my dad’s writing ability, he wrote 42 books, he won prizes, he was a darn good writer. And my dad used to say there’s an idea and then there’s a book and they’re often very different and that you should never let the idea get in the way of the book. And I have often found that to be true, like I’ll have an idea and I am sometimes fooled and I think it’s a book, I have an idea and it’s usually a character, a situation, a moment, a fight scene, even an artifact, right? And I’m like, “Ah, there’s a saleable book.” No, that’s just a saleable idea. And even if I turn out an outline on it, it’s going to turn out that once I grapple with it really hard, that there was more or less. And sadly, occasionally, the answer is there’s less and I don’t really have a book at all, which is my horror, maybe everybody’s. But more usually, once I grapple with it, I go, “Oh!” So, I’ll give you a quick example. Then I’ll ask you for an example, since we seem to have some of this in common. I finished in March or, you know, earlier than that, the first fantasy novel in a series called Against All Gods. And it’s Bronze Age, and I’m very inspired by the Bronze Age. I’ll leave that alone. Somewhere about a third of the way through, I asked myself, like, “Why do we have so much violence in fantasy fiction?” And just out of nowhere created literally a race and family of pacifists and inserted them into the book, which they then began to take over. And they were not in the outline. They weren’t planned. I had to change the map to make room for them. I had to change the whole way mercantile behavior worked to justify how they survived as pacifists in a very nasty world. Yeah, good times.
I think the best example I have of things changing was a book called Terra Insegura, which is the second book in a two-book series collectively published as The Helix War when they put it out in an omnibus. The first one is Marseguro, because for some reason, I decided to use Portuguese titles, I don’t know why. But there was a character—and I’d only introduced him simply because I needed to have somebody, you know, multiple viewpoints, and there was something happening and I needed to have a character there who could be there for that scene. And then all of a sudden he had this backstory and he had different . . . he was supposed to be, like, the second in command on this spaceship, but he had a different agenda that came out of the backstory I kind of made up on the spot. And the next thing I knew, I was about two thirds of the way through the book, and I had to completely replot to the end of the book because my original plot just didn’t work anymore, because I’d introduced this character simply to solve a writing problem. So, yeah, it’s a fascinating process, which is why I have this podcast.
Yeah, well, it is a fascinating process. And like I say, I know a bunch of other writers and I really enjoy listening to them. And sometimes I, you know, I am capable of changing my modus operandi. And once in a while I hear something from somebody and I go, “That’s a good idea. Oh, yeah, that sounds very professional.” And I’ll just I’ll just take that on board. But what I can’t seem to fix is the difference between an idea and a book around page 250. I usually go, like, “And now it’s a book.”
I use a metaphor. To me, an idea is like this. When you think you have the book, it’s like there’s this shining Christmas-tree ornament, you know, it’s all silver and perfect and everything. And then you take it, and you smash it on the floor, and then you try to glue it back together using words.
That is brilliant!
And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Oh, that’s so good. I will steal that, but not claim it for my own. I’ll give you credit for that. That’s good. Yep. And very accurate. I see that—rarely, talking to other authors—you and I may have a similar creative process.
It sounds like there might be some similarities for sure. Yeah, the books that have really worked for me, you know, I wrote 50,000 words in a week once because it was that sort of being dictated, and a 60,000-word YA in two weeks flat. You know, when it’s really working, it works. Which takes us back to your writing process. Are you . . . obviously you are a fast writer sometimes. Do you think of yourself as a fast writer? And also, you said you like to write in a coffee shop. Sometimes . . . I presume you’re a, you know, you’re clearly not writing longhand anymore like you did when you were 17.
No, no, no writing on a laptop. So, yeah, I didn’t think of myself as a fast writer until I went to my first WorldCon, where I took enormous amounts of teasing for my writing speed and came to the conclusion that I was a fast writer and I will just say, not entirely as a brag, I wrote five books last year. All of them will be published. And I say to younger writers and people who are starting out and stuff like that, that I literally believe that writing is like a martial art. And that is, the more you do it, the better you are at it. And so, I don’t think of writing faster or more as being . . . let me restart that sentence. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald convinced a lot of people incorrectly that there was some magic to the first novel and that you were magically great when you were very young and then you could never really do that again. It was an interesting thing that F. Scott Fitzgerald did, but I’m not sure that that’s a valid way of approaching the art of writing. And I suspect that you get better and better the more of it you do.
I look at people like Jack Williamson, right? Started writing in covered-wagon days and was still going 70, 80 years later. So, yeah, that’s my hope, anyway.
Well, it’s my hope too and, you know, I’m not really just here to plug Artifact Space, but I think it might be the best novel I’ve written. And that makes me happy because who wants to be getting worse, right? Like, it would be nice to think one is getting better even at the advanced age of 58, anyway. Yeah, I think I’m a pretty fast writer, but part of that . . . I find again, because I talk to other writers, I’m not as fast as Sebastien de Castille, who is faster than I am. There are definitely a bunch of people out there who write faster than I do. I find that what I do well is to just sit down and write every day. And we were talking about that, you at the newspaper and me at the Anti-Terrorist Alert Center. But just learning that there really wasn’t any reason not to write. You know, if you only produce 500 words a day but you produce 500 words every day, you’re going to get done. You are going to get done. You just plow through it eventually. That’s not my acceptable output, but I’ve had 500-word days and one of the biggest breakthroughs in my writing life . . . and again, this is something that I tell younger authors . . .it was learning to write in what I call scraps of time for the longest time. And I mean right through the first Traitor Son novel. I believed that I needed four to six hours to make it a valid writing day. And I would not bother writing if I didn’t have four to six clear, uninterrupted hours. And then I suddenly was writing two historical novels and a Traitor Son novel at the same time, you know, all with contracts and due dates. And I went, “You know, what I need to do is, if I only have an hour, I need to produce the words I can produce in that hour so that I just accept whatever time I have.” And that has been a major breakthrough for me because now I could just sit . . . right, I’ll give you an example. In 2014, if I had an interview with you today, I wouldn’t have written this morning because I had a bunch of yard work and stuff to do this morning and I didn’t really get done with it till ten in the morning. And that would make for a two-and-a-half-hour writing day. And it’s not enough time, right? Except instead, I wrote 2,100 words because I’ve learned that whatever time you get is the time you have.
Good advice. I’ve been like that sometimes, and sometimes I’d still let it slip away from me because I know there’s not enough time.
Well, I’m full of useful aphorisms that I don’t always follow myself, too. Please don’t imagine that I am perfect at this. But learning that it was true was very helpful. And I had to admit to myself, even my Navy veteran self, that telling myself that two and a half hours wasn’t enough time to write was actually just one of those excuses. It’s enough time once you . . . I’m sorry. No, you go ahead.
I was going to say, once you have a first draft, presumably, what does your revision process look like to you, a rolling revision, or how does that work for you?
I only have one draft and I do a rolling revision and it works like this. I start each writing day by reading the twenty pages before it and editing and correcting. About every hundred pages, which technically should be every week and a half, but I don’t always write that fast, I go either all the way back to the beginning or at least back 100 pages and do another layer of revisions. And often, by then, I’ve thought of things I didn’t like, which could be as simple as I’ve changed a character’s name or I’ve discovered how I want the alien language to sound or something like that. But it could be quite big. It could be that I’ve decided that that character doesn’t work and she’s got to go. And so, I do that revision. But when I write the last word, the next day, I’ll revise the last 10 pages and then it’s done. And I send it in.
Well, they’re we’re different. I tend to do a full draft and then rewrite from the beginning, although sometimes I have to do one halfway through because just to sort of break through a barrier or something, I’ll go back and do a revision of the first half of the book or something so I can sort of power through some place where I’m stuck. Do you use beta readers or anything like that?
Yes, but first I want to give a plug to my high school. I went to a Jesuit high school, which is funny because I’m not Catholic, but I went to a Jesuit high school and the Jesuits taught writing. And, you know, I was unfair earlier in the interview when I said I hadn’t taken writing classes, because they taught very intense writing classes and we did a ton of writing, I should admit that. But one of the things that they said that stuck with me and, you know, believe it or don’t, Father Abluski (sp?) insisted that usually your first idea is your best idea and you should roll with that. And it’s not always true, but I hear that voice often when I attempted to make a big change and I go like, “Really? Is it really better or are you just doubting yourself?” Anyway, I felt that truth in advertising required me to give some credit to the Jesuits if credit is what’s involved. Sorry. Now ask that last question, please.
Do you use beta readers or does anybody see it before you send it off to your editor?
Yeah. So, given the time it takes editors at Orion and Gollancz to get to a manuscript, I send it out to everyone at the same time because it’s going to be three to five months before my editor looks at my manuscript when I send it, and I know that because I’m a veteran, and so I will send it to my beta readers. So, I have a . . . I won’t call them a legion, but I have a number of beta readers. And dare I say, each of them has kind of a different purpose. Some of them are truly critical. Some of them are more what I would call appreciative. Some of them are big-picture and some of them are nitpicking. And that’s great. They’re like a team and they criticize different things. And they, you know, one beta reader I can think of will tell me what she feels about a novel, which I find shockingly accurate for what future readers are going to feel, you know, over the course of 10 books. And another beta reader is really good at catching story-arc errors. And he has always been sort of my favorite beta reader because he’ll say, “You know, like, I really didn’t believe it when X happened because of this, this, and this you’d already said. And I go, “And you’re right again, Joe. Well done. Thank goodness for you.” And I trust my beta readers. If they say something is flawed, I fix it. I don’t go through long questions with myself or whatever. I just fix it. And pretty much the same thing with editing. I believe in editors. So, Gillian Redfern, my editor at Gollanz, is one of my favourite editors ever. And if she says something has to go, I think nine out of 10 times I kill it, and if she says something, it doesn’t work for her, I believe her. And that’s a decision I decided at some point to roll with. Editors are not idiots.
Yes, I do a lot of talking to young writers. I’ve been a writer in residence at the Regina and Saskatoon Public Libraries, and I’ve done classes, you know, all that sort of stuff. And I do occasionally run into somebody who’s quite terrified of editors and that they’re going to somehow ruin their prose or something and I say, no, not in my experience.
You know, this is literally . . . so, I keep praising my dad. Now I’m going to say something the opposite of my dad. My dad believed that writing was a solitary, bohemian art. A very 1950s sort of ideal of what writing was or is. I think the opposite. I think it’s a team sport and I’m on a team. I’m not even always the captain. I have an editor. I have a copy editor, a copy editor is super important for me because I use, you know, ancient Greek and Chinese and stuff in my books. Got a cover artist, got betareaders. It’s a team, it’s not just me. I am not creating on my own, and it’s silly of me to ignore my teammates if they say something is wrong.
Well, that’s we’re getting close to the end of our hour here, so let’s move on to the big philosophical questions. I’m going to put that in reverb. There’s three. The first one is,. Why do you write? The second one is, why do you think anybody writes, why do human beings, if you want to be that general, write? And then thirdly, why stories of the fantastic specifically. So, you know, three questions.
Do we have another hour? Because I’ve got an hour’s worth of answers. So, I can tell you quite easily why I write. And it’s pretty banal. I love stories and I literally have found that when I don’t have enough to read, I just have to write because I’m literally telling myself a story, and that may sound terrible, but I enjoy telling myself stories, apparently, and I just hope the rest of you enjoy them too. But I couldn’t stop myself if I tried. I have to write sometimes and stories will boil up inside of me because whatever. And then I can kill the urge to write. And this is really weird because, as you know, Ed, we live in a world where we writers get ARCs to read for other people. And in fact, you know, we owe it to other writers to support them and read their ARCs and comment and say nice things. The problem is, the happier I am reading, the less writing I get done, so that I have to cut myself off from reading to some extent to let the story bubble up inside me. So, I want to tell it, so I write it. Anyway, there it is. I write because I want to tell a story and I think that in some ways that is the human condition.
And I’m just going to say, like, I’ve been reading a lot of Anglo-Saxon stuff lately, maybe you’re going to write a historical novel in that era. But also, just, I enjoyed old English in school and I had sort of let it go and I just gone back to it. And it’s been very interesting to read sort of early Germanic prose and the Icelandic sagas, which I’d never read before and stuff like that, and go, “Oh, we really need stories.” But unfortunately, in the age of, you know, antibacterials and Trump supporters and so on, sometimes the stories are wildly inaccurate or even false. And that is a, you know, if there’s an original sin in the human condition, I think it’s the ability to tell an untrue story. And I don’t mean a fictional story. I mean a straight-out falsehood. But we need to collect information, all of us, I think, and we tend to put it into a narrative, even if there’s no narrative. And I appeal to you, Ed, in your life, is your life a narrative or is it a series of events?
I like to think of it as a narrative.
Well, I like to think of mine as a narrative, but I promise you, at times it seems pretty damn random anyway. I think we want it to fit into narrative structure. We want it to be logical. So, we tell stories to force the events into stories. And I think that is a sufficient cause, maybe not a dramatic one, but sufficient.
And then the last question. Um. Why fantastical stories? That is a fabulous question and one I ask myself often, and I’m going to say that the answer is, much as I love history as a source for adventure, plot, character, the truth is that the history of the human race is slavery, degradation, force and horror to some extent to a pretty wide extent, it is very hard to find heroism in history. It’s very difficult to find people who were good. And the more research you do, the more of your own heroes you kill off. That doesn’t mean there’s nobody heroic in history. And I’m not an utter revisionist, but sometimes you want to tell a story about how people succeeded in bettering themselves, for instance. And it’s probably going to be easier to tell that story in a fantasy or science fiction. Or sometimes the opposite. You want to tell how it all fell apart in a dystopian manner and it’s probably going to be easier.
One of the problems that really exists with writing historical novels is that people carry a lot of mythological baggage with their knowledge or their supposed knowledge of history. And that can make writing a historical novel very dangerous. Something as simple as whether Alexander the Great was Greek or Macedonian can lose you readers and also just cause them to turn off and not accept anything else you say. Whereas if you chose to write a fantasy novel about a conqueror who turned out to not be a very nice person, that’s a different kettle of fish and it’s good to go out to a different audience. And I’m a very Aristotelian writer. I believe it is my job to moralize and teach, which I admit is not a popular 21st century point of view, but it is my Aristotelian job to write, you know, The Iliad, with purpose.
Which segues very nicely into the last question, which is, what are you working on now?
Bless you. So I went through a dry spell. It’s funny. I went through a very long dry spell and wrote a bunch of novels in Covid. And then just about the time I started saying to some of my writing friends, “I don’t get it. What is this Covid depression you guys keep worrying about?”, my dad died and suddenly I couldn’t write. So recently I’ve come out of that, and all of a sudden I’m writing two books at the same time. Yes, I am. So, years ago I started a novel which in my mind I called Rangers. And it’s a pretty complicated fantasy novel. And it was meant to be the prequel to Cold Iron and my Masters and Mages series. And I started it because Gollancz said they were going to buy it and then they didn’t buy it. And then I dropped it because I don’t write for free. Suddenly, the other day I picked it up, read it and went, “This is really good. I think this will be my first self-published novel. I think I’m going to experiment with how self-publishing orks.” So, I did that. And at the same time, I am writing the sequel to Artifact Space, which is called Deep Black, and that’s super fun too. And so, it’s been very odd because I’m sort of writing 1800 to 2500 words of each, each day, and I’ve never done this exact thing before and it’s odd.
And Artifact Space comes out June 24 from Gollancz?
It does. Swords in space. That’s my shout line.
And where can people find you and follow you online?
Bless you. So I’m focused on one, on Twitter, and I have invested a lot of social media time on Twitter. I enjoy Twitter. I know not everyone does. I’m @Christian_Cameron_Author on Instagram. And you know, I’m on Instagram every day doing my doing my best to keep everybody interested. Twitter is where I sort of talk about being an author and Instagram is often about martial arts or my other passion, painting little men and women and playing tabletop games. And I don’t really talk as much about being an author, because endless self-advertising is boring as I suspect you have a feeling you may share.
I’m bored by myself all the time.
Yeah, me too. And I have a Facebook author page, but I’ve spent less and less time on Facebook since the U.S. election. I was in the military. I have many conservative friends. I don’t happen to be a conservative myself and sometimes I don’t want to read what they have to say.
Yeah, Facebook can be well . . . yeah. Facebook can be bad for finding out what people you like think about things and you want to keep liking them, so you don’t want to know what they think about something.
Yeah. I’ve had that reaction, too. All right. Well, thanks so much for being on The Worldshapers. That was a great conversation. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
I enjoyed it thoroughly. And I’d really like to meet you in person. And in fact, as one of the things I was going to say at some point is I have discovered since I started doing cons, which I came to very late in life, that I if I like the person, I like that person’s books, I am now going to go buy a bunch of your books.
That’s a wonderful thing to do if you ask me. Well, I’m sure I’m sure we’ll run into each other at some convention once they start up again. I hope. That would be great.
Someday again. Yeah, a great pleasure. Ed, thanks for having me.
An hour-long conversation with Walter Jon Williams, Nebula Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of more than forty books of historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as work in film, television, comics, and games.
Walter Jon Williams is the Nebula Award-winning, New York Times-bestelling author of more than forty volumes of fiction, in addition to works in film, television, comics, and the gaming field.
He began his career writing historical fiction, the sea-adventure series Privateers & Gentlemen, then, when the market for historical novels died, began a new career as a science fiction writer. Since then, he’s written cyberpunk, near-future thrillers, classic space opera, “new” space opera, post-cyberpunk epic fantasy new weird, and the world’s only gothic western science fiction police procedural (Days of Atonement). He’s also a reasonably prolific writer of short fiction, including contributions to George RR Martin’s Wild Cards project.
Williams has been nominated for numerous literary awards, and won Nebula Awards in 205 and 2011. In addition to fiction, he’s written a number of films for Hollywood, although none have yet been made. He’s also maintained a foot in the gaming industry, having written RPGs based on his Privateers & Gentlemen series and his novel Hardwired, contributed to the alternate-reality game Last Call Poker, and written the dialog for the Electronic Arts game Spore. In 2017, he was the Guest of Honor at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Helsinki.
In addition to writing, Williams is a world traveler, scuba diver, and a black belt in Kenpo Karate. He lives in New Mexico.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, Walter, welcome to The Worldshapers.
Happy to be here.
I always try to find connections, and I can think of two. You live in New Mexico, and I was born in New Mexico. So that’s something.
I was born in Silver City, New Mexico, but yeah, I didn’t live there very long. We moved to Texas, and then we moved from Texas to Canada, which is where I am now. But, yeah. So, there’s that connection.
Silver City is quite pretty and has quite a history.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it when I was old enough to remember it. I know we went back a couple of times when I was young, but I don’t have any memories of it, unfortunately.
Well, the thing I like about certain old towns is, you know, if they were, say, a mining town, silver-mining town, which Silver City was, and then the silver mining went bust, they never had enough money to tear down their old Victorian town and build up an ugly new modern one.
So, it’s still got all these beautiful Victorian buildings still, as does all the surrounding area.
It’s a bit like Moose Jaw here in Saskatchewan. They had a couple of fires in the early years that burned everything down. So, they passed a bylaw that everything had to be built out of brick.
And then there was kind of a boom and then a bust. And a lot of those old brick buildings are still there. So, Moose Jaw has some really nice character buildings still existing. Plus, it has that name, Moose Jaw, going for it. The other connection is, we did actually eat at the same restaurant at some convention, but I can’t remember which one. I was probably Denver or Reno, but . . .
I think I’ll have to take your word for it. I’ve eaten in many restaurants at many conventions.
Yeah, so have I at this point. You more than me, I’m sure. And they do tend to kind of run together over time. Well, anyway, so, that’s not actually what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about your writing process. But first, I want to take you back into the mists of time, which is getting further and further back for some of us, I guess. For all of us, really. Where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in reading and writing and all that good stuff? How did you get started in this strange way of making a living?
I was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, and I always wanted to be a writer. As soon as I knew what a writer was, I wanted to be that. I was probably four years old. I didn’t know how to read or write yet, so I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me. And then I would illustrate them with my crayons, and fortunately, none of those have survived. And so, I mean, it wasn’t a choice for me. I was compelled to be a writer, and I just work hard at it all my life until I managed to sell some fiction. And then I worked hard at writing more fiction to sell.
If you wanted to be a writer, that must have come from having encountered books. So, was there a reading component to your wanting to become a writer, I presume?
Well, once again, I didn’t know how to read, but I had books read to me and comic books, which I think were a big influence on my very early writing development, since I was better with crayons than I was with, you know, actually crafting prose. So, let’s see. And so, my family left Duluth and moved to New Mexico when I was thirteen. And with some exceptions, I’ve been here ever since.
Did you study writing formally at some point or . . . ?
I took some creative writing classes in college. I’m not sure that they helped. Well, I think, you know, I took a lot of literature courses, and that exposed me to a lot of different material, different writers, different ways of writing, different approaches to writing. And those turned out to be quite valuable. But the actual writing classes . . . well, probably they did no harm.
Well, I often ask writers about that, and more often than not . . . I have rarely gotten a ringing endorsement of creative writing courses at the university level from anybody I’ve talked to you on the podcast. So, that’s interesting. Were there specific books, once you were reading your own books, were there specific books along the way that influenced you, do you think?
Well, science fiction was an early passion. I think I was in second grade when I . . . my mom, who was not a science fiction person at all, sort of marched through the local public library one day, and she knew I would like science fiction, so she grabbed a couple of science fiction books off the shelf and brought them home for me. And the first one was Robert Heinlein’s Have Spaceship Will Travel, which is still my favorite Heinlein novel.
Mine too, actually.
You know, I don’t know why it hasn’t been made into a movie. It would be glorious. But so. I read science fiction from second grade on. I was really fond of books about natural history and animals, including, you know, fiction about animals, you know, The Jungle Book and so on. And then I just continued, and I read a ton of history because I just love history, and that’s a big influence on one of my current projects.
Just mentioning animal books, did you read the Black Stallion books by any chance?
No, I did not. They were not available.
The only reason I ask is, I often ask if anybody has encountered them because it’s perhaps little known that Walter Farley wrote a subsection of those, the Island Stallion books, that were actually science fiction. There’s, like, aliens involved, with horse racing as well.
If I’d known that, I would have sought them out, I’m sure.
His final book that he wrote, late in life, Alec and the Black are wandering around the southwestern desert, Arizona, I think, not New Mexico, while there’s been some sort of asteroid strike or something, it’s like a post-apocalyptic almost setting, with the horse and the boy. And it’s very odd, really. So, that’s why I asked.
Yeah, it’s . . . you sort of wonder if he was running out of ideas for ordinary horse stories, you know that., OK, well, let’s have a post-Holocaust horse story and see what that seems like.
It might have been something like that, or he was just feeling really depressed. I don’t know. It kind of reads that way, too. So, you mentioned the historical, and when you did start becoming published, I know that your first books were historical novels, were they not?
My first published books were. There were some unpublished ones that weren’t. There are a whole host of projects that I never completed for one reason or another, including science fiction and fantasy. I wrote a sort of literary novel that took place in the Civil War that attracted some attention but never got published. And I followed that up with a murder mystery and then had the idea for a series of sea-adventure novels. And those were the ones that sold. It was . . . they were in the realm of C.S. Forester or Jack Aubrey, you know, except that my heroes were Americans rather than Royal Navy.
Did you have any . . . I’ve always had a fondness for these stories, one of the books, one of the series I read growing up was a series of British children’s books called Swallows and Amazons, in which the kids sail. Now, they’re not. They’re just sailing, like, little sailing dinghies around the Lake District in England for many of the books. But in their mind, they’re having these sea adventures with pirates and broadsides and all that stuff going on. And I think that’s where my interest in and see stories came. Did you have any connection to the sea other than just wanting to write about it?
Well, I think growing up on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is, you know, it’s the largest body of fresh water on the planet. And it is, it’s, you know, it’s pretty much a sea of its own. And also, growing up in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, I spent a lot of time in the water when I was a kid and on boats. So, you know, I grew up, and I became a small-boat sailor and a scuba diver. So, you know, it’s been a consistent thing in my life.
And that series you’ve brought out as ebooks now, haven’t you? After they were not available for a while. It’s called Privateers and Gentleman, right?
That’s the series title. And I also restored my original titles that the publisher . . . the original publisher was Dell, and they had a formula for how they wanted series books to be titled. Which was The (Adjective). And the adjective would change, but it had to be a two-word title, the first word had to be “the.”
That gets repetitious after a while, I would think.
Yeah, yeah. And especially as I had much better titles. Those titles are now restored to the books that needed them.
Where could people get those if they wanted to read them?
Your favorite online bookstore.
Available everywhere I can find to put it, yeah.
So how did you make the switch from the historicals to science fiction?
Oh, that was easy. The market for historical fiction in the United States completely collapsed about May of 1982. And so, what I planned as a ten-book series became a five-book series. And so, I spent a desperate six months writing proposals for things that didn’t sell. And it was across the spectrum, I mean, I wrote proposals for mysteries, for historicals, for science–not for science fiction, actually—everything but category romance, I think. And none of them sold.
And then, a science fiction proposal that I had written some years before sold. And so, I became a science fiction writer. And the science fiction proposal had been bouncing around publisher to publisher without being read. It’s kind of a fascinating saga, it’s probably too long for this interview, but it sort of explains how publishers can screw up repeatedly. And it finally ended up at Tor books. And the editor at that point was Jim Baen. And there were only three people in the office. There was Tom Doherty, who was the publisher, Jim Baen, the editor, and then there was Mrs. Doherty, who ran the account—was the accounting department. And, you know, now Tor is the largest science fiction publisher, and it doesn’t run like that anymore. But Jim Baen read the proposal and bought it. And although it had been on the market for two or three years, it actually sold to the first editor who rented.
How did it not get read at the other places that it had been?
Well, there were a lot of mergers going on in publishing, as there are now. And so, you know, I don’t recall the exact sequence, but, you know, it was sent to Ace. And Susan Allison, who was the editor, left Ace to go to Berkeley, and until she was replaced, they put a buying hold. So, then it came back, and then it was sent to Berkeley and to Susan Allison at Berkeley, and then Berkeley acquired Ace and suddenly they had too many manuscripts sitting in the office. So, another buying hold went, and then it went to David Hartwell at Timescape, and it was lost in the mailroom for about six months. And by the time that was discovered, they had put a buying hold on. And so, it just kept bouncing off of these things until it actually went to an editor who still had a publishing schedule to fill up.
That must have been satisfying when it did finally sell.
I was greatly, greatly relieved because I was, you know, beginning to look in the help wanted section of the paper so that I could make my rent. And suddenly . . . although it has to be said that the science fiction sold for a lot less money than the historical fiction did. So, I was . . . it took me a few years before I could reach my former miserable standard of living from where I was merely poor instead of in wretched poverty.
Yeah. I can relate. So, there was also a venture into writing for games, and you’ve written for . . . I know, I’ve been a full-time freelancer for thirty years, and I know you do, you know, anything for a buck, basically, but how did you get involved on the gaming side, and have you kept your hand in there?
I’d always been doing games, I’d been playing games for a long time, Avalon Hill games and spy games, historical war games and stuff and Dungeons and Dragons. And so, you know, I was familiar with the genre. And what happened was Jim Bain formed his own publishing company. He left Tor, formed Baen Books, and he also decided to get into computer games, which was a new thing. And because he had a distribution deal with Simon and Schuster, he was going to market his computer games through Simon and Schuster, and they would appear in every bookstore in America and be a huge success. Except, he didn’t realize that the crack Simon and Schuster sales force weren’t interested in computer games, didn’t know how to sell them, and didn’t care to try. And so, it ended up being a terrible failure. And I did write four computer games for Baen Software, of which only one saw print, and the company collapsed before the others could appear.
I’m curious about it because it’s, you know, I’ve never done it, and I’ve always thought it might be interesting to do. Playing them, it seems to me like there’s an . . . there’s an awful lot of dialogue that has to be written for every conceivable iteration of how the game might play. Is that a fair description of it?
Well, especially with, say, a large-scale computer game. I did write the dialogue for a game called Spore, which was sort of galactic adventure with many different alien races that fit various categories of every warlike or mercenary or capitalistic or concerned about ecosystems or whatever. And so, you know, when you say hello to one of them, depending on what kind of alien they are, which category they fit into, they will respond in character. And you end up having these long dialogues with these people. And it was done very imaginatively. They found all these artists who could do gibberish. And so, you know, you would say, “hello,” and this gibberish would come back at you along with the translation. And that was quite epic, but fortunately, I was paid quite well for it. You know, it’s incredibly tedious, mind-numbing work. And I was the second writer they hired. The first one had, I think, OD’d on it and gone kind of nuts, and so they wanted someone who could rein it in a little more.
You didn’t have to write the gibberish; the voice actors made that up?
The voice actors. Yeah.
You’ve also done some screenwriting, haven’t you?
I have. I wrote several movies that never got made, which is a typical screenwriter experience. I should point out that ninety-nine percent of scripts never get made. But I got paid for writing. The only thing you can see of mine is a science fiction show called Andromeda. And I had one episode in the first season, and it was . . . there were just epic casting problems on that particular episode. And so, it was rewritten, I think, twenty-seven times in the ten days that it took to shoot, when they realized that their guest star couldn’t act and couldn’t remember lines.
The fellow I interviewed for the last episode of this podcast, Chris Humphreys, is both a writer and actor, and he actually played a starfleet commander on Andromeda at some point, but hopefully not in that episode.
No, there weren’t any starfleet commanders in that episode.
All right. Well, let’s talk about your novels then. That does kind of tie in because I’m curious, whenever I talk to somebody who’s done screenwriting or other forms of writing like that, do you learn something doing that that you then bring to your novels? Or was it the other way around? Was the fact that you a novelist, you know. . .?
I was an established writer by the time I did any of these screenplays. So, I already knew how to write fiction. But the main thing was a kind of mental switch because, in my fiction, my characters all have strong inner lives. And they’re always thinking and reacting and having emotional responses to what’s going on, but it’s not necessarily visible to any of the other characters. And so . . . but you can’t have that in a screenplay. You can’t have somebody think in a screenplay and not tell you what he’s thinking. All the audience sees is action and dialogue, and so, I had to make that adjustment. My characters couldn’t have interior lives. It was only outer life.
Well, I do some stage acting, and I’ve written plays, and it’s much the same thing. Everything is driven by the visible action and the dialogue and whatever the actor can do to emote. But, you know, everybody interprets that differently, depending on who the person is that’s viewing it.
Yeah. You know, I did have, you know, second readers on my screenplays and stuff. And they would ask, I don’t understand why your character is doing this. And I said, “Well, because he worked it out in his head that this is what he should do and then . . . No. That’s not a viable approach for screenwriting.
There’s the few where they have a voiceover narration, but that always seems a little forced after a while.
I really miss the artist’s soliloquy. I wish I was living in Shakespearean times so that I could just have the character turn to the audience and explain what he was going to do.
If you ever get a chance, there’s a show on Amazon Prime now, it’s from the BBC, called Upstart Crow, which is a situation comedy about Shakespeare writing his plays.
It is terrific. I’ve seen all seasons.
I thought of that because the actors will turn to the front and say, “By strict convention. I can now say what I want to say, and nobody around me can hear what I’m . . .”
Well, let’s talk about your writing of novels then. Now, Fleet Elements, that’s the most recent one—well, you have a new short story collection we’ll mention as well, later on. So, using that as an example, we’ll talk about how you write your novels. And I guess the first thing would be a bit of a synopsis without giving away anything you don’t want to go away.
OK. Well, my elevator pitch is war and revolution as seen through the eyes of a pair of star-crossed lovers. Or alternatively, star-crossed lovers experience war and revolution, but it is set in the far future in a somewhat decrepit space empire in which humanity and several other alien species were conquered by another race. And that other race is gone now. They all died. And now, we, the human race, and these other species have to figure out what comes next. Because they’re very good at taking instruction from these totalitarian aliens, but the totalitarian aliens aren’t giving them instructions anymore, and now, they have to work it out on their own, and they’re not used to that, and they’re not very good at.
I should point out this was inspired by–I was reading a lot of classical history, Polybius and Livy and people like that, and they told this wide-scale history with very vivid characters. And I thought, I should be able to do that. And so, when I planned this series, twenty years ago now, I planned it for nine to twelve volumes. And for various reasons . . . anyway, the fifth or seventh one has just come out, depending on how you point them there. This is the fifth one from Harper Collins, but there was one from Tor, that was a novella, and there was another novella that I published on my own. So, I think of this, Fleet Elements, as book seven, but the publisher thinks of it as Book Five.
Do you know exactly how many volumes it’s going to be now, or is it still in flux?
I think twelve.
So not even halfway yet, depending on how you count.
I’ve plotted them all out. I know what’s going to happen in all of them. That’s part of my process. In the first trilogy, I knew what the last line of the last book was going to be before I wrote the first line of the first book. I always have the end in view, and I always know where I’m going. Sometimes there’s a certain amount of difficulty in getting there. I always know the beginning of the book really well, and I know the end of the book really well, but the middle part is sometimes a bit of a mystery. And that’s where I tend to struggle.
Well, you mentioned what the inspiration was. Was that typical of the way ideas . . . I mean, ideas come from everywhere, I know, and it’s cliche to ask, where do you get your ideas? But is that fairly typical for you, something you’ve read or just something you’re thinking about, or how does it work for you?
Very often, I get an idea just from reading other people’s fiction. And I see something that was undeveloped or something that could be viewed in some other way, and usually, you know, even my short fiction, there’s more than one idea happening. So, I tend to like the collision of ideas, so I’ll wait till I get a certain number of ideas that are kind of undeveloped, and then I will sort of have them smash each other head-on like particles in a particle beam accelerator just to see what happens.
See what kind of strange quarks emerge.
You mentioned a little bit about knowing the beginning and the end, but are you much of an outliner? I mean, this is a big sprawling series.
How much work did you do ahead of time to plan it out? What does it look like for you? Is it very detailed or more sketchy or what?
When I’m working on one project, I’m always thinking about other projects. So, I was able to plot out twelve volumes while I was writing something else. Because that’s just usually how it works, you know. I’m not a very fast writer. I’m a plodder, but I’m persistent. I don’t . . . you know, I write every day. I just don’t write a huge amount of words every day. And so, you know, I have a lot of time to think about my next project. And I have probably outlined, at least in my head, more projects than I can write in a lifetime.
What does the actual outline that’s not in your head look like?
Well, there are a couple of kinds. I mean, I have to write a synopsis for the publisher, right? Because publishers require synopsis and sample chapters even for writers that they know well now. I mean, I recently, you know, sent a proposal to an editor I knew well, right, and he said, look, the company requires me to have sample chapters. I know you can write. I know you don’t need to write these sample chapters; you don’t have to prove anything to me. But the company has this checklist, and I have to put that check there. And so, I wrote him those damn sample chapters, you know, really annoying.
I don’t have to do that with DAW. Still just getting by with the synopsis.
Well, that’s because DAW is still family owned.
Yeah, I think that’s the difference.
They aren’t owned by an international corporation. Good for them.
So, your synopsis, will it be like ten single-spaced pages or . . . ?
Yeah, something like that? Well, you know, it worked out to ten double-spaced pages. But I write outlines for myself, and they are a lot more eccentric. I tend to write them on yellow legal pads in colored ink with different characters being represented by a different colored ink and arrows and timelines and stuff like that. It would be incomprehensible to anyone else. I know what all this stuff means, all these weird scribbles, but I can’t see anyone else getting a hold of one of those outlines and being able to write a book from it.
How closely do you follow your outlines once you actually start the writing process? Do you find that you wander off as you create things along the way, or are you fairly strict?
Well, outlines are just outlines, and I don’t so much wander away from the outlines as I find other aspects of the story that would contribute to the value of the fiction, right, so, you know, I find new sidelights on characters, new sidelights on the action. And so, for me, it’s a process of addition. I start with the outline, and then I add things as I go if I think they would contribute.
And what about your characters? Do you do a lot of detailed work on them beforehand, or do you discover them as you write?
Uh, I pretty much . . . the major characters I know pretty well by the time I start. I don’t always write down their personalities or the little details and stuff, but I have that worked out in my head.
You mentioned that you write every day. What does your actual writing process look like? You outline on yellow legal paper, but I bet you don’t write on yellow legal paper longhand.
No, no, I write on a computer. I use Scrivener, which is a software that is developed specifically for writing fiction.
Yeah, I have it, and I’ve never climbed the learning curve to use it. I’m still plugging away on Word.
Well, the thing is that, as with every modern word processing program, most of it is stuff you’ll never use.
It’s certainly true of Word.
Yeah. That’s true of Scrivener, too. There’s just a lot of stuff in there that you probably won’t ever use. But it does have a very useful outlining function where it actually gives you the index cards and the little pins. And you could put them in and rearrange them and stuff. It allows you to rearrange scenes very easily, which is extremely useful in at least some of my projects where I’m not too sure on the chronology until it’s all done.
Yeah, I should probably . . . the one I’m working on now is a space opera called The Tangled Stars, and it’s kind of tangled my brain, too, so I should probably be using Scrivener. That might help. So, you said you’re not a fast writer. Do you have a set word counts you try to get done every day or . . .?
I seem to average about 500 words a day. It’s not a lot, but I get to write one book a year plus some short fiction, and that’s what it amounts to.
And once you have your first draft, how does the revision process start for you? Or do you write in drafts? Do you do a rolling revision or what?
I don’t anymore because word processors make it so easy to revise. So, probably by that, by the time I’m done with my, quote, first draft, unquote, everything’s been gone over half a dozen times. I always start my day by revising the previous day’s work. And, you know, whenever I have to go back and look something up, I’ll probably revise it a bit. So, ideally, it’s very polished by the time I get to the end of the first draft. So, revision for the second draft is generally pretty quick and easy just because I’ve been over it so many times.
That’s interesting because the very first person I interviewed on here was John Scalzi, and he was talking about how he does rolling revisions. But then I’ve talked to other people who started on typewriters, as I’m sure you did, because I did, and you’re maybe a little bit older than me, I’m not sure, but somewhere along in there. And he thought that people who wrote on typewriters tended to still do single drafts and then go back to the beginning and revise it, as you had to do on a typewritten manuscript.
But it sounds like you’ve switched more to the word processing.
I’m very pleased that I never have to use a carbon ever again.
But yeah, and since I’ve adopted a word processor as opposed to a typewriter, my books have gotten a lot more complex simply because the word processor makes that easy to do. The stuff I wrote on typewriters was very straightforward.
I still remember the first decent printer I had, because of course, dot matrix printers, editors didn’t want that. I had a daisy wheel printer, but I had to feed the paper into it just like it was a typewriter. I wasn’t typing it, but I still had to sit there, and it would make a carpet. So, I was still using carbon paper and feeding it into my daisy wheel printer. I don’t miss that. Yeah, I’m old. So, do you use beta readers or anything like that? A lot of people do.
Well, I use my wife, who was a very good beta reader and who has worked as a copyeditor in the past. So, I get a free copyedit, which is pretty cool. But I used to belong to several workshops, and I would workshop everything. And then, I started a workshop of my own called Taos Toolbox, where I actually teach writing for two weeks up in a ski lodge in northern New Mexico every summer.
And I work with Nancy Kress, who is just brilliant at teaching.
But it kind of ruined me for workshopping because, during that two weeks, I have to read and critique maybe three hundred and fifty thousand words of fiction. And I am so burnt out by that process that it takes me a year to recover. And I just don’t want to workshop anymore. I don’t want to have to read anybody else’s drafts until it’s time to do Taos Toolbox again.
Do you . . . I’ve done a smidgen of teaching, and I’ve been a writer in residence and worked with a lot of writers at a couple of libraries where I’ve been a writer in residence. Do you find that teaching writing benefits you as a writer?
Not that much. I do occasionally get excited about one of the students and, you know, but it’s mainly—I’m mainly teaching in this, I’m not necessarily out to learn new tricks.
Do you ever find—
That’s it . . . I have I encountered a dilemma in one of my, my current project, and I went back and looked at my own lecture notes. Which I normally don’t do. I looked at my notes, my lecture notes, and I found the solution to the problem I was having. And that was kind of fun. I actually took my own advice.
I was actually going to ask because that’s something I found. You know, I will confidently tell somebody, you know, you should do it like this or something like this, and then, just don’t look in that book I wrote where I didn’t do that. Because it’s easy to give advice sometimes that you don’t take yourself.
Well, writers are very individual, and they each need, you know, critique and so on that is pitched to them. And this is why Nancy and I do so well, because Nancy has a completely different approach to writing than I do. I’m a plotter, she’s a pantser, and so if my approach won’t work for you, here’s her approach,
Well, that’s one of the reasons for this podcast, is why it’s, you know, it’s focused on this kind of stuff, so that people can go and find out that there is no one right way to do this thing. You’ll hear every possible approach from somebody that I’ve interviewed or will interview in the future, I’m sure. So, going back to the revision, are there specific things you find that you have to work on in revision? Like, is there a consistent tick that you have to clean up or anything like that?
Well, my first drafts tend to have very elaborate, long sentences with peculiar syntax and a lot of words derived from Latin roots, polysyllabic words from Latin roots. And so, I have to remind myself to make the syntax a lot more straightforward, replace the Latin words with Anglo-Saxon words, which are punchier. And that’s my typical . . . I mean, if you actually saw a very first draft of mine, you would think I was hopeless. I really do need to spend a lot of time polishing it to make it readable.
But clearly, you get there.
Yeah, I think a lot of it is, English is not my first language. And so, it’s a struggle to translate the language that’s going on in my head into English.
What is your first language?
I don’t know.
Perhaps it’s Latin!
It seems to be a symbolic language. It’s like . . . when I think, it’s like laying out an array of Tarot cards. And so, I have these different symbols that together all means something, but when I translate it, I have to literally do the translation and add the grammar and all of that. I’m the only person I know who has this problem. Most people apparently think in their native language, and I guess I do, too, except it’s not English.
That rings a bell from somebody who was talking about . . . hey were startled to realize that other people didn’t think the way they thought, and I don’t remember who it was, or if it was exactly along those lines. But somebody else had told me something similar to that, which I find . . . I find it fascinating because, you know, one of the things about writing is, we present the illusion that we know how other people think, right, but really, we don’t, we don’t have a clue what goes on inside anybody else’s head.
Well, I know what’s going on in my character’s heads, and that’s kind of all that matters as far as my books go.
I know how they think.
Your readers come to that and will actually take something different than what you’re picturing in your head.
Yeah, you’re right.
Because it is a collaborative effort.
I find that people read the book that they want to read, and it isn’t necessarily the one that I wrote.
So, once you have the book and it goes off to the publisher, what does the editorial process typically look like for you? Are there things that come back, or is it pretty clean . . .?
It’s mostly sitting around for months waiting for my notes. And, you know, I won’t name any names, but I turned in a book last September, and I’m just getting the notes from it today, supposedly.
Well, it will be . . . you know, you’ll be looking at it with a fresh eye, I guess.
So, I’m going to be doing, you know, spend the next week doing a bunch of rewriting, I expect, you know, unless he says, “Oh, it’s OK, we’ll just send it to the copyeditor.”
Are there things that you typically get editorial notes about? Like, in my case, from Sheila Gilbert at DAW, it’s usually, you know, I didn’t explain enough about some aspect or, you know, the characters need a little more development, that sort of thing.
Yeah, uh, generally, I think because I know too much about the way that my characters think, I don’t necessarily explain their motives and actions as clearly as I could. So, it’s always useful to have someone say, “I need to understand why this action is happening now,” and then I can handle that. Another thing I tend to do is I can overdo things. You know, it’s just the prose just becomes too much. And I need somebody to tell me when to back down, back off, and let the story happen instead of scenes of hallucinogenic intensity.
That sounds like you really enjoy the words themselves. Is that fair to say?
I do. I have a series out now called Quillifer, which is basically my love letter to the English language. I mean, aside from being a jolly good read, you know. But I am deliberately spending a lot of time playing with the language in that series.
I do love a good, convoluted sentence myself, as people have told me, so I can appreciate that. I also wanted to . . . you have written a lot of short stories, and in fact, you have a collection out now, you said. Novellas, mostly, but some short stories.
It’s just out this week. It’s The Best of Walter Jon Williams, oddly enough, out from Subterranean Press. It’s 200,000 words of fiction, which is, you know, a couple of novels worth. Mostly it’s a longer short fiction, novelettes and novellas, and including a lot of award nominees and a few award winners. So, you know, I’m very proud of it. I just wish I could have added another 100,000 words . . .
That’s the sequel!
. . . because there are always some I wish, you know, there was room for.
Of course, if you call the first one The Best of Walter Jon Williams, would you have to call the second one The Second-Best of Walter Jon Williams?
I think Even More Best.
Even More best.
Even More Bester of Walter Jon Williams.
So, these would go back right through your entire career?
Pretty much. Yeah, it’s from the mid-’80s through the fairly recent present. And it’s sort of every stage of my career represented.
So, you write novels and short stories. Do you think you have a preference for one that you’re better at than the others? I always think some people are better at short stories and some people are better at novels. Are you good at both, or . . .?
My best work is in the shorter form because, in something that is of a modest length, everything can be perfect. You can actually put everything in it that you think ought to be there and then make sure it’s available to the reader. For a novel, something the length of a novel, something’s going to go wrong somewhere. There’s going to be a mistake, there’s going to be, you know, some of my tangled syntax got through all the editing. So, you know, I view my novels as good but necessarily flawed, which is how I view everybody’s novels. But my short fiction, I’m very proud of.
I’ve often used the metaphor of where you have this . . . in your head, the story is this beautiful, shiny Christmas ornament, absolutely perfect. And then you smash it with a hammer and try to glue it back together with words. Yeah, that’s the way it feels to me, that initial moment of, “Oh, this is going to be perfect,” and then you can’t actually get to perfect, unfortunately. Well, I’m going to ask the big philosophical questions—I’m going to put reverb on that sometime—you’ve been writing for a long time. You say you always wanted to be a writer, but the first one is why? Why do you write?
Well, it remains a mystery. It was a compulsion. It was an irresistible compulsion to be a writer. And that irresistible compulsion lasted from when I was four years old to when I was around forty, when it began to fade. And so then, I realized I was no longer compelled to do this, but it was kind of the only thing I was good at. You know, it’s not like I have a work history. My last real job was, like, in 1978, and so, I have no job history. I’m not even qualified to be a greeter at Wal-Mart, in terms of the straight world. So, but what I realized I had to do was I had to find some reason to love what I was doing and to really love the craft and love everything I was working on and find joy and delight in it. That wasn’t necessary before. I didn’t have to love it. All I had to do was just write it because I was compelled to do that. So, I think my approach to writing now comes from love, and this is what I tell my students. “If you don’t love it, don’t do it.”
Don’t do it for the money.
Yeah, because there won’t be any. Sorry.
So, you say you found a love for it. Why do you love it now? What do you love about this?
Why do you ask these complicated questions? I . . . it’s just I enjoy doing stuff that I’m good at. And this is the thing that I’m best at, is writing fiction. And I do a lot of other stuff, you know, I’m a scuba diver, I’m a martial artist, and love all that to a certain degree. But that’s not where, you know, my homeworld is. My homeworld is fiction.
Do you find some love in the love that your readers give back to you when they read something of yours and they really enjoy it?
It’s always gratifying when I hear from the readers. But see, the thing is, between the time that I finish a project and the time that it appears in print, I’ve written a bunch more on other projects. So, you know, when a novel comes out, I may have written two novels in the period of time between finishing that one and it appearing in print, so my head is in another place. And once I deliver a book, it’s kind of not mine anymore. It kind of belongs to the reader. So, there is . . . there’s a part there’s a time in which I know I’m the only person that possesses this work. Right when I’m working at it, I can really love it, and I can feel like I possess it. I can own it, and then I give it away, hopefully for money, but I give it away, and then it belongs to other people.
Who may be discovering it twenty years from now, for all you know, once they’re out there, they’re out there.
OK, so that’s why you write. Why do you think, in the bigger picture, why do any of us write? Why do human beings do this strange thing?
Well, I think storytelling is a compulsion. I think I think we make stories out of anything. I mean, you know, look at a newscast, right? They don’t just tell you this happened, they make a story about it so that you’ll be involved in it and you’ll care, and so I . . . because we’re in a covid pandemic right now and one of the things that television can shoot safely is reality TV because they can get everyone in one place and isolate. And so, I’ve watched a lot of that. And one thing that I’ve noticed is that if you’re completing a project on some reality television show, you have to tell a story about . . . it’s not just, oh, I made this cool thing. This is this, this story connects to the deepest wellsprings of my childhood, and it’s all about my grandmother, who passed away just two months ago. And I’m still, you know . . . and the audience responds to that. It may not even be true. In fact, it probably isn’t. They probably learned that they have to tell that—that soap opera is where you’re going with these kind of shows. S I don’t know why anyone else writes. I’m glad that they do. For some people, it’s a bucket list. They actually have “write a novel” on their bucket list, and then they write it and either sell it or self-publish it, and then they go on to the next item on their bucket list. I don’t understand that at all. It’s just too much work to write a novel just to tick off something on the list.
Yeah, just beat your head against the wall. It’d be simpler.
Yeah. And some just write for mercenary motives, which I don’t get either. Because so far as I can tell, these people aren’t rich.
Yeah. And the third question is, why write stories of the fantastic, specifically science fiction and fantasy. Why do we write about things that aren’t real?
Well, in my case, it seems to be what I’m good at. I just seem to come at reality from a somewhat sideways perspective. And, you know, I have written other stuff, and I have a whole lot of unsold fiction sitting around n other various categories, literary fiction or mysteries or whatever. But what I kept being told is this is too strange. We can’t publish it. They hardly ever say that with science fiction. And when I write science fiction, I can write about anything, so long as it has certain science fiction elements. So, war and revolution from the point of view of star-crossed lovers. I wrote the world’s only Gothic Western police procedural, a science fiction novel called Days of Atonement, set in Silver City, by the way, really a fictional analog Silver City, but if you know New Mexico, you know where you are. You know, I’ve written cyberpunk, I’ve written anthropological science fiction, I’ve written, I don’t know how to describe it, gonzo science fiction, I guess, really high-concept stuff. I’ve written near-future science fiction that actually got overtaken by events. I wrote a novel about the Arab Spring, and it appeared the week that the Arab Spring started. So, that’s one of my more successful predictions, I’d like to think. And oddly enough, no one cared. My agent was out there contacting every news organization in the world, saying, “my writer predicted that this was going to happen, and the book is out, and you should talk to them.” And they said, “No, we have our own analysts. We pay them.”
What was the name of it?
Deep State, the middle book of a series about alternate reality gaming, oddly, and they are also now all available for me as ebooks. But it begins with This is Not a Game, is the first one. There are four, although the last one is a novella. But it was interesting going back because I just, you know, once I mounted my own editions, I went back, and I was reading the reviews, and one of them said, “These are really good books, but this is in no way science fiction.” And I said, “They were science fiction when I wrote them. And then it all happened.” So, once again, it’s kind of a matter of timing. I wrote a Black Lives Matter novel twenty-five years ago called The Rift. And it was such a colossal commercial failure that I didn’t sell another book for five years. So timing is everything. If I were to write a Black Lives Matter novel now, it might do better.
Or there’d be so many of them that it would get lost in the . . .
Yeah, that’s true.
So, what are you working on now? You’ve touched on it a little bit.
I’m working on the next book In the Praxis series, so Fleet Elements is to be followed by The Restoration. And I’m about halfway through that book.
When is it expected out?
Probably late 2022. Because I’m scheduled to deliver it later this year, and it will spend at least a year in production.
And anything else?
Yes, I have my Quillifer series, which is high fantasy and my love letter to the English language. The third book of that will appear around the New Year. I don’t know. The final schedule hasn’t been decided yet. It makes me happy to write these books. It’s just a delight to write Quillifer, because he’s just so, so much fun. And they are sort of a swashbuckler, Rafael Sabattini meets Michael Moorcook meets Tolkien, I guess. He’s a kind of impish character, and I like writing these characters.
So, lots for people to look forward to, it sounds like, in the not-too-distant future.
And of course, the short story . . .
And they can prepare for it by reading the two earlier books in the series, which are Quillifer and Quillifer The Knight
That sounds like my cup of tea, so I’m going to check those out.
And where can people find you online?
Uh, www.WalterJonWilliams.net. I’m the only person I know who has a .net instead of a .com, but somebody had already stolen my identity with the .com.
And just for those who don’t know—you should know—it’s Jon without an H.
All right. Well, thanks so much for being on! I enjoyed that. I hope you did, too.
It was great fun. Thank you.
And we say hi to Nancy the next time you see her because she was a guest on here not too long ago.
Chris (C.C.) Humphreys has played Hamlet in Calgary, a gladiator in Tunisia, and a dead immortal in Highlander; he’s waltzed in London’s West End, conned the landlord of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, commanded a star fleet in Andromeda, and voiced Salem the cat in the original Sabrina.
He has just published The Tapestry Trilogy, set around—and through—the fabulous medieval Unicorn Tapestries in New York’s Cloisters Museum.
He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
Chris, welcome to The Worldshapers!
Thank you very much for having me.
We were just talking—we know we’ve been at the same place at the same time, but we didn’t actually talk to each other at the time, because we were both at When Worlds Collide, the great literary conference that’s held in Calgary every year, a few years ago.
That’s right. Well, we might have, though we might have been drunk, and that’s why we don’t.
Entirely possible. So, we’re going to talk about specifically the Tapestry trilogy as an example of your creative process. But first, I will take you back into the mists of time, which is getting further and further back for some of us, and ask you about—well, your biography, you have an interesting upbringing—and how you got into both the acting side, which really interests me because I’ve done, nothing on your level, but I’ve done some professional stage work over the years, and then how the writing came along. So, just take me through your life and how you got interested in writing and especially on the fantastical side of things.
Right. Well, so I always really defined myself as a storyteller because I do I tell stories in all these different ways. You know, I began telling other people’s stories as an actor. I was blessed, or cursed, depending on how you look at it, because my dad was an actor and all four grandparents were actors. They also wrote, some of them. Both grandfathers wrote. My Norwegian grandfather particularly wrote. He was quite a well-known writer in Norway. And I was avoiding all the acting thing. My mother, who was not an actor but obviously grown up with one, married to one, daughter of one, did not want her dewy lamb to be an actor with all the hassles that a career in an industry like that can bring. So, I was being steered away from that. I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do. And then, you know, when I was about seventeen, I got cast in the lead in the school play, and suddenly all those genes kicked in. And I thought, That’s it. And I went to drama school in London, the Guildhall School, and then embarked on a pretty healthy acting career.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of very . . . well, you listed some of them. You know, I’ve done a huge amount of screen and stage work. But the writing side began because I’d always wanted to write. I mean, you know, like a lot of people, I had a way of thinking, Oh, that’s what I really, really want to do. And I’d always had such a wild imagination. I was the kid telling stories. I was the five-year-old organizing all his friends into knights and Vikings and pirates and, you know, playing out these elaborate games, which everyone does on screen now, of course, but we didn’t have screens in my day. And so, that was me. And I always wanted to tell stories. And I particularly loved historical fiction. That’s where I lived. You know, I loved swordplay, especially. And I indeed ended up as a fencer at school, it was my main sport, and a fight choreographer later on, and essentially became an actor so I could jump around with bladed weaponry, which I managed to do an awful lot of, which was great.
But the writing side, you know, I knew that . . . you know, acting, I love acting as a pure essence of a craft, I absolutely love it. I still need to do it periodically. But the business of acting is a pain, you know, always submitting yourself for approval, you know, things so out of your own control. You can give the best performance but be an inch too tall or have the wrong colour hair, and you just don’t get the role. So, even though I did well and, you know, ended up in Hollywood at one stage and on the West End stage and played, as you said, played Hamlet, I was frustrated by the gaps, particularly the gaps between creativity. And I wanted to write, and I got into it the normal way, tried a few short stories. I didn’t understand something which I now teach, because I do quite a lot of teaching of writing now, and what I really teach is process. I thought things had to be good straight away and didn’t realize that it was a process of . . . you know, good and bad actually aren’t in my vocabulary, really, in any of the drafts I write. It’s just about what works and what doesn’t. So, a bit of craft there. I didn’t understand, but I gradually got into it, and then, I started—I actually won a twenty-four-hour playwriting competition in Vancouver, and they produced my play and gave me 500 bucks. And it was like, “Oh, I’m a professional writer now.” And so, I carried on writing plays because they felt, you know, like a small enough chunk. A novel, which is truly what I wanted to write, seemed like a mountain, whereas a play seemed like a hill to climb.
But then I had this idea for my first novel, The French Executioner, about the man who killed Anne Boleyn. And even though it’s historical fiction, it’s really got huge, fantastical elements, not least the ghost of Anne Boleyn wandering around without her head tucked under her arm, actually, which is as the old song goes. But I didn’t have the courage really to jump in, knowing I most wanted to do that. I found ways to avoid doing it, researched the absolute backside off the thing for six years, only then discovering that research is a form of procrastination, and finally jumped in and started writing it.
When I did, it just took off, and I wrote it in ten months, showed it to an agent. She took me on, she had it sold within a month, and suddenly I had a two-book deal. And then I was being published professionally by Orion in the UK. The fantastical side came a bit, actually came fairly early on, in that another agent who had taken me on my first agent lunch . . . of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, as they say. And she came up, she said to me, “Have you ever thought of writing young adult fiction?”
And I went, “No,” because I’d written three adult historical novels by that time. And anyway, she said, “This type of stuff, you write action-driven, character-driven family stuff. You know, it would work really well, if you’ve got any ideas.”
And I went away and thought about it and I thought, I only write what I love anyway. And I was very interested in the sort of Norwegian side of my family, which is, to put it mildly, a little spooky. It has a sort of ghostly/psychic element to it that I always found interesting. And so, I delved into that and I came up with this idea for a book called The Fetch, which is a term for, like, the doppelganger or that that sort of thing. You know, the other you that we all have inside and that can go out. Certain cultures have it. Corsicans have it. Italians have it. Indonesians have it, surprisingly, because they bought the books in the end. And I came up with this idea, dashed off a chapter and a very skimpy treatment. My agent took it to New York. They went, “Yep,” and had it sold in ten days. And suddenly I’m writing a trilogy for Knopf in New York called The Runestone Saga. So that began my fantastical journey. It’s more earth magic, I would say, than fantasy. It’s all about Runic magic and the fetch and time travel and all the stuff I love.
Before we get too far into what you’re writing now, I just want to go back a little bit back into your bio, because I did want to establish that . . .you’re thought of as British, I think. But of course, you’re actually from Canada originally, aren’t you?
I was born in Toronto, yeah. Born in Toronto. Left when I was two. Grew up in Los Angeles till I was seven because my dad was an actor having his shot in Hollywood. And then I moved to England when I was about seven. And hence the accent you’re hearing, which was laboriously crafted from years of English private school, followed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, getting rid of my lazy Rs, my Canadian, my American, Rs that I still had. So, then I became quite the Brit actor. But I’m not—I mean, I am. And I played that. But I’m—but it’s funny. I’ve played so many different things and I play American and Canadian. I’m making quite a career at the moment, actually, my sort of pivot in these turbulent times is to be an audiobook narrator and I’m doing a lot of that and I’m doing that American, Canadian, whatever it’s called for, you know. So yeah. So, that’s the background on the accent.
And I wanted to talk a little bit more about the acting and how it ties into the writing. Now, you said you started writing, writing plays, and you actually—you know, I think people who are naturally novelists or short story writers would think a play is the daunting task as opposed to the novel. The novel would come easy; the play would be hard because you have to tell everything strictly through dialogue and action on the stage. But how did the two things tie together for you? I mean, I often try talking to people who are involved on the acting or directing or playwriting side, that one thing they bring to their fiction writing is a very solid sense of what’s happening in the scene in a physical sense, like where characters are in relationship to each other, and you don’t have the sort of amorphous space where people suddenly seem to teleport from one place to another, which I’ve run into in some people’s writing. How do you find that the two things tie together, the play side and the prose side, the novel side?
Well, yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, my books, people always say, “Oh, I can see the film,” you know, and I go, “Well, I wish you would because obviously, I’d be much wealthier if they did.” And a number of my books have been optioned for TV or movies, but none made so far. In answer to a question, the playwriting, it was a natural progression for me, having done so much theatre. I love dialogue. I love the use of dialogue. My books tend to have a lot of dialogue because I always find dialogue is very active, and I like to keep scenes active. Obviously, the opposite is passive, and who wants to read that? So, I like to move action. And I think dialogue is particularly useful for revealing character, concealing character in some ways, because people usually don’t say what they really mean or often don’t. And yes, that sense of dramatic action, I always say that what I write really is character in action. And obviously, that’s three words rather than two, because character inaction would be really boring, but character in action. So, you know, I don’t do a lot of interior monologue. I like my characters to reveal themselves by what they do and how they react to circumstances, which actually helps me in my writing because I, you know, I very rarely get stuck because something is able to happen. I can just take my character into some situation, and things will evolve.
And that’s kind of how I write things. I, I don’t know necessarily that much about the whole book. I don’t plot, really, I have an idea where I’m going. And then I let the characters take me there by doing stuff they need to do so. So, I think that’s the acting side. It’s almost, you know, Acting 101. You’ve done some of yourself, Ed, you know that when you as an actor, what you’re always taught and what you learn is that rather than dwell on, “Oh, do I remember my lines,” or whatever, you trust that they’re there and that you’re going to react spontaneously to what happens. “What do I want?” is the key question for me. “What does this character want?” And then take that character into a scene and run into an obstacle that prevents you getting what you want. So, how do you deal with that? So, I do that a lot. And that’s a definite, that’s the most direct correlation between my acting/playwriting side and my prose side.
Yeah. And that’s something else, when I’ve talked to other actors who are also writers, as an actor, you’re trying to inhabit a character and make that character come alive. And that’s exactly what you’re doing as a writer. The only difference is that as a writer, you have to make up the dialogue. It’s not given to you by somebody else.
This is true. This is true. And that can be both good and bad. You know, if you’re doing Shakespeare, you’re relishing the fact that you’ve been given this amazing dialogue. If you’re doing some terrible television show, you’re thinking, “How do I make this work? I can’t even begin—this makes no sense at all.” So, I’ve done both, obviously.
Well, now, let’s go back to the books you were going through, the ones that you have had written. You have this . . . I can’t remember where you left off when you were talking about that, but you have the fantasy novels from Gollancz that were coming along there somewhere, I think.
Yes. Well, I’m currently I’m in the midst of those right now. I’m doing something that’s quite interesting, and I think a lot of your listeners might relate to. I’ve become what they call the hybrid author because I’m both being published by the big houses still, but I’m also doing some self-publishing, getting my—
Yeah, of course, getting the backlist back, reissuing those because, as you know, often a writer will feel that they’ve laboured for a year over this, or a year or more over a book, and then it barely registers before the publisher has moved on to another book. You know, you’re hot for about three days, and then they’ve moved on, and you think, “Well, they didn’t really. . .” You know, they expect some magic to happen, you know, so you always get frustrated because, let’s face it, we write to be read. And if people aren’t aware of your books being out there, how the hell are they going to be read? So, I’m quite interested in the whole . . . I’m not the world’s greatest. I have to tell you, I’m not a great marketer or a publicist, but I’m doing OK. And my plan is just to get all the books out there again. And so, that with the . . . Gollancz, of course, you know, they’re doing whatever they do. I don’t think they’re making them as known as they could, but, you know, there’s very few writers that aren’t going to complain about their publishers pushing their books. However, it’s . . . to write epic fantasy like that is quite interesting to me, because my other fantasy, even though I don’t really believe in marking between YA and adult, I just write a good book. And a lot of adults have read my so-called YA fantasy and vice versa. But my epic fantasy is, you know, it was an agent who actually said, you know, “Epic fantasy is kind of big right now, have you got something?” And I just thought, No, but I did what I do, which is, I sat down with a notepad, I wrote a word in the middle of the first page, and the word was “immortality.” And then I just started riffing off that and within two hours had a five-page treatment
So, I’m sure that’s going to offend a lot of your listeners, I’m sorry. It sounds too pat, but it’s that feeling of which I was talking about before, about process, and that initial process of just letting your mind go and riff and relate and word association, and all that stuff helped me come up with the idea for the Immortals Blood series, which Gollancz then, after a few hoops I had to jump through, bought, and the two books, as you said, were already out. I think it’s very different. I mean, of course, I would say that. But it’s not . . . I mean, there are battles. There are swords. There are, you know, there’s all this. But there’s nary an elf maiden with a lost king in sight. You know, it’s about immortality, and it’s about the corruption of basically the one percent, what the elites can do to a world. And three very different worlds, one kind of Viking, one kind of Greco Roman, and one kind of Mesoamerican. And what has immortality done in those three respective cultures. So that’s . . . I’ve loved writing those. I’m just about to receive book three, which is called The Wars of Gods and Men, which is the concluding book of the trilogy, back from my editor. And then that’ll be out probably until early next year.
And then that brings us to the Tapestry trilogy, which, yes, we’re going to focus on a little bit more as an example of your process. We’ve talked quite a bit about your process already, but we’ll go through it anyway. So, tell me, first of all, before we start talking about it, tell me about it.
The Tapestry trilogy. So, this is a good example of how the hybrid world works. So, I wrote—when I’d written the Runestone saga, my editor asked me to write another book. I hadn’t thought of writing so-called YA fantasy fiction at all. So, I was a little bereft of ideas. And then, as you mentioned in the bio in the intro you gave, I suddenly looked at the ring on my finger, the rampant unicorn that I’ve worn since I was 18 years old. The family crest, no less, though, my horse-auctioneer great-grandfather was the one who came up with it. So, it’s . . . I’m not hidden nobility or anything like that. Anyway, and I thought, “What does a unicorn mean?” And I started delving, and various things happened. Unicorns could only be tamed by maidens. Unicorns are indomitable, unconquerable, apart from the maiden in the mirror, actually. And they could also cure illness and poisons and, dare I say, viruses, and heal and cure pollution as well. They calm a stream to make it drinkable, that sort of thing. I was fascinated by that.
And then I discovered the Unicorn Tapestries, these amazing medieval tapestries, which are in the Cloisters museum in New York. And the great thing about—-one of the great things about them, apart from their sheer stunning beauty and, you know, no one knows exactly who made them or when they were made, like, late fifteenth century is the best guest and Flanders is the best geographical get. But no one really knows anything about them, who they were made for, who made them—someone very rich because they’re very, very expensive to make, gold, red, and silver thread, but they are stunning, absolutely stunning, you know, this whole journey of a unicorn, the hunt of the unicorn in five tapestries.
And so, I immediately glommed onto that and came up with the idea that maybe a New York young lady called Elayne or, full name, Alice Elayne, is told by her father, who’s dying, actually, he’s got leukemia, that there’s a family history. And there’s this book he reads to her that tells of the original tapestry weaver, who was their ancestor, and who had woven a gateway for a unicorn to travel back to his world because unicorns, magical beasts, were in our world, but then basically it got too hot, man got too good at killing them, so they all went back to the place they were from, which is Goloth, the land of the fabulous beast.
And so, the tapestries became a portal, you know, kind of like the wardrobe in Narnia between our world and this medieval world, Goloth, where all our myths live. And she is summoned by a five-hundred-year-old unicorn called Moonspill through the tapestries because he needs her there, he needs her help. And it’s her adventures in Goloth and how they have a complete misunderstanding because she thinks, What do I know? Because he wants her to tame him because he needs to not go mad. He needs to rescue his mate, who’s held by the tyrant king. And she goes, you know, “I barely passed calculus. What do I know about unicorn-taming anyway?” I won’t tell you the story, but there’s a rapprochement and an adventure.
And then, I was asked to write this . . .I didn’t think of writing a sequel. I thought it was a pure one-off. But as you know, unless you actually kill the characters off, they’re there. And I started wondering, you know, after all the extraordinary and terrifying adventures, what would happen to someone like that? I mean, how do you go back to your normal life in New York? How do you go back to—two years later, she’s actually at Columbia—but how do you go back to a normal life when you’ve done all these incredible things? You know, there’s probably a touch of PTSD, you know. And so, I revisited. . . and then, of course, the other thing was, I really thought, Well, I’ve had a unicorn, I’ve got to do a dragon. So, I came up with this idea, The Hunt of the Dragon, and wrote that. And then, you know, that was only published in Canada. So, I thought, now I want to take this further. But then I thought, I know what I’ll do. I’ll write a third book, because, of course, there was more. And I discovered this thing about dragons. I decided not to stick to one sort of medieval European wyvern or something like that. I incorporated all various aspects of Eastern dragons as well. And Chinese dragons particularly are able to be shapeshifters. And I thought, Wow, that’s cool. A dragon that can actually turn into a human being for a couple of hours and then wreak unspeakable havoc when it does. Because my dragons are not cozy dragons, my dragons are killers. And so, I wrote The Hunt of the Shapeshifters, which is what happens when some dragons manage to get their way back to Earth and start killing. So, serial killer dragons, I thought, that’s going to be good. So, I wrote that as the conclusion of the trilogy, a completely new book for that whole saga, and then brought them out myself and called it all the Tapestry Trilogy.
Well, you talked a little bit about the Gollancz trilogy, starting with a single word and then building out around from that. In this case, it seems like you started with a ring, but did you use a similar process? And how much planning and outlining did you do? It sounds like you don’t do a lot.
I don’t do a lot. No, I. You know, with The Hunt of the Unicorn, I mean, I suppose . . . it’s a while ago since I wrote it, actually the first iteration of it, but it would be my normal process. I tend to . . . I mean, it depends how much research I needed.
There’s, you know, there’s a misconception that that fantasy doesn’t require research. You know, they say, “Oh, it must be so much easier for you now. You’re not writing historical fiction.” And I go, “You have no idea. I mean, you know, researching weaving for a start and tapestries and then and fabulous beasts, because, of course, it’s not just the unicorn and even the dragon. There’s griffins and manticores, and each has their own mythology around it and therefore their own way of behaving.
So, there was all that. But what I tend to do is, I take . . . you know, it’s, again, another misconception that I don’t plan anything. I just don’t write out a chart or a plan. I’ll have a rough idea where I’m going. What I do is . . . what I often say is I liken it to an alphabet. The book is an alphabet, A being the beginning and the Z being the end. And, you know, I’ll have an idea of both those things. You know, what will be the, “Well, what’s the start of this journey?” The summons basically, but the set up of her life and her ancestry, which she doesn’t believe in, and her father being ill and all that stuff in New York.
And then, I know she’s going to get summoned through, and I know the unicorn is going to be facing this. So, back to the alphabet. I’ll know A, and I’ll probably know D, the summons, and I’ll know G because that’s when she meets the unicorn, and I’ll know M and then T and then, you know, W or whatever. But I don’t know how I’m going to get between them necessarily and that’s what I then write you know how and then because, I really, I believe in the process of writing, that it actually happens while you’re writing and so that the ideas I come up with in my logical mind are probably not going to be as good as the ideas that I come up with when I’m actually writing the story, you know, physically sitting there writing it.
So, all sorts of things happen. You open yourself to serendipity. You open yourself to inspiration. You literally, I mean, without being too sort of, you know, you solicit the muse. You know, I don’t make it all sound super-mystical, but it’s you know, it’s that’s part of the process for me. And so, when I get to the end of the first draft, that’s when I do a plot. That’s when I become a little nerdy and get my pencil and ruler out and literally write out this chart on butcher’s paper, which I pin to a chalkboard, which has the chapters, the rough action, and then notes about, well, you know, if this happened in Chapter 24, I’ve got to plant that in Chapter 15, that sort of thing.
On the character side, because you described your fiction as characters in action . . .
Yes, yes. Well done.
. . . how do they develop for you? Like, do you have them clearly in your mind when you start? Do they also develop through the process of writing?
Oh, no. They very much develop through the process. Yes. You know, I always say that they’re, you know, I need them to tell me who they are. I will start out with an idea of who they are. But then by putting them through the action, I will then discover, you know, who they are, how they react to circumstance and what they say to people, and that way, when I go back into the second draft—because I’m very big on separating out the different needs of each draft, you know—by the time I got to the end of the first draft, I know them so much better. So then, I go back and start writing the second draft and some of the early stuff. I think, “Oh, no, because she’s proved to me that she is this. Therefore, she wouldn’t do this in the beginning.” And that’s when my rewriting comes in.
It’s a bit like the rehearsal process on stage. You start off with a rough idea of the character, but it develops as you as you play it and bounce off the other characters in the piece.
Yeah, that’s an interesting analogy, actually. Yes. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. But you’re right. That’s exactly right.
Because the character you end up with in performance is not the way you started when you were sitting around the table for the first time reading the script.
Yes. Well, I know. . . you hope. You hope. I mean, that’s the point of rehearsal. And often there are, you know, there are instinctive choices you make that are very good and will appear in the final performance. And there are others that you’ve gone, “Oh, that’s that,” and something one of the other actors gives you or director, you know, sometimes gives you, you know, gives you a different way of approaching and you rethink it. You rethink how you can do it, or you try something different, and you think, “Ah, that works.” So yes. So, it is similar. It’s a good analogy for the writing process as well.
What does your actual writing look like? Do you write, you know, longhand? Do you just tap on a laptop? Do you like to work in an office or out somewhere?
Yeah, no, quill and inkpot, you know, on old vellum . . . no. I’m not a very good typist, and I’ve often thought I should correct that and become a speed typist, but then I actually don’t mind because it sort of slows me down a bit, which I quite like. You know, I’m quick enough, but I do a lot of writing what I call off-piste. I have notebooks, I have these brown notebooks that I favor made by a French company called Clairefontaine. And I’m always writing stuff in there. Often, it’s research stuff. And then it’ll be, you know, I’ll say, oh, yeah, I’ll discover some interesting fact, and then I’ll put N.B. underneath it. The unicorn Moonspill could do this now because of that aspect of unicorn lore or whatever. And sometimes, though less often these days, sometimes I go off-piste entirely if it’s a particularly tricky passage and just write it longhand. I only ever wrote one book longhand, and that was Vlad – The Last Confession because the material was so dense and tough, and I tried to do what I do, which is essentially write thrillers, historical thrillers, fantastical thrillers, in a subject that was so layered and so complicated by politics and religion and myth. Actually, I thought now I need to connect the head in the heart and the hand here. So, I wrote longhand. Never do that again because it’s so bloody labour-intensive to then put it into the computer. And also, my writing is scribble. So, I go, “What’s that word? I can’t even read that anymore.”
I wrote longhand in high school, and I haven’t done it since. I still have . . . actually the first book I wrote is right here on my desk.
Yeah. I would never do that again. My writing is also really bad.
I love the feeling. I’ve got a great pen, but I keep that for sort of a bit of journaling or a bit of riffing, you know, but yeah, it’s not ideal. So, no, it goes in the computer, and then it gets revised.
OK, and that brings us to revision. What does that look like for you? Do you do start to finish? Do you do a rolling revision as you go along? It doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like you’re going start to finish
Absolutely. Yeah, I . . .one of the classes I teach is called “The Mountain.” I came up with this concept of the mountain, the novel as a series of accents. And so, you know, it’s three different climbs up the mountain. I mean, there’s more probably than that. You do some bits, you do more, you work hard and do more drafts on than others perhaps, which come more naturally. But so, the first ascent up the mountain for me is that free climb. It’s like climbing a mountain. You forget the summit. You need to reach that handhold there, that foothold there. And that . . .if you free climb up the first time, that’s the exploration for me. That’s finding the best way up the mountain. And so, you know, one of the rules of mountain climbing, apparently, I’m not really a climber, but is, “Don’t look down,” right, and so I don’t look back, very rarely will I go back. Sometimes I go back to check eye colour or something, but even then, I don’t because I know I’ll pick it up next time. And often, if I’m . . . especially with the historical fiction, if I hit a point where I go, yeah, well, you know, I’m writing World War Two at the moment, “How did the Heinkel bomber . . .” you know, I put a question mark in rather than actually go back and look it up at the time, because I don’t want to stop the flow of the inspiration.
So, yeah, no, I don’t revise as I go. I get to the end, and then I go back to the beginning, and then I read it and . . . well I do my chalk first, actually. And then I just start again. As I’ve done it more and more, I find that my first drafts have become cleaner and cleaner. There’s not a huge change now as there was before, probably. You know, when I started out, I overwrote, I think, and now I don’t do that nearly so much. I find that the first draft is pretty clean, some passages will need reworking, obviously, something I discovered will have to go in, but there’s not a huge amount of revision on the second climb up the mountain. And the second climb is much more, “Right. I’m going to fix a route that someone could follow me up.” And then the third draft is, you actually take the editor up with you, and they go, “Yeah, look at that. That really worked. But why did you go over there? Why didn’t . . .?” And that metaphorically and then literally becomes the third draft.
Do you use beta readers of any sort, or you just going straight to the editor once you’ve got it finished to your own satisfaction?
You know, I don’t normally use beta readers. I did for Shapeshifters because I was writing it entirely for myself. And so, I got five fantasy writers, no, three fantasy writers, to have a read of it and give me some notes, which was great. Sebastien de Castell, Kristi charish, another, more screenwriter, Beth Stewart, who’s a friend of mine. They all read it and gave me notes, and then I use their stuff. So, I didn’t, actually, apart from the copy edit, I didn’t run that by an editor. So, that’s the only time. But normally, no, I don’t. It goes straight to the editor because that’s the advantage, of course, of working with a big house.
Yeah., I’ve never used beta readers either, partly because when I started writing, there just wasn’t anybody else around who read the stuff that I was writing
And once I got to being published by DAW, well, I have one of the best editors in the business, so I’ll let her tell me what needs to be worked on.
Exactly. Exactly. You’ve got to trust your editor. Yeah.
So, what kind of notes do you typically get from your editors? Are there certain things that you always find yourself having to do?
No, not really. There’s nothing that springs to mind. You know, I mean, I always say . . . again, when I’m teaching this stuff about the different ascents up the mountain, you know, the editor’s job is not to write your novel for you—as they say in England, you don’t buy a dog and bark yourself, right? Their job is not to say to you, “Yeah, you should do this, you should do that.” Their job is, I think . . .it boils down to clarity. What is the writer’s vision? And is this passage of writing helping in making that vision clear? So, for me, it’s about clarity. You know, the best question an editor can ask really is—which applies to theatre as well, actually, you know, you can say to a director, if you’re assisting a director or whatever, “OK, so we’ve just watched that scene. This is what I see. Is that what you want?” And if an editor says that to me, I’ll go. “Ah, “because it might be clear to you as an author, but you might not have made it clear for a reader.
So, it’s getting you, know, those are the sort of notes I like from an editor, you know, and then being able to say, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That is unclear.” Or, “You know what, you’re not right because it’s ambiguous. “And I’m big on ambiguity. I like ambiguity in character. I don’t like lack of clarity. And there’s obviously a big difference between those two things.
But it’s interesting, and I often make the point, that writing and, for that matter acting, is actually a collaborative art form, but I mean between you and the audience, because what you . . . especially in writing, you’re putting something into their head. What they see in their head is not necessarily what you see in your head.
It doesn’t mean it’s not working. It just means they’re bringing themselves to it and getting something different out of it than perhaps you thought you were putting in there.
Totally. Totally. I mean, two people make a book. The writer and the reader. I mean, leaving aside the editors and all that. But, you know, you . . . and I was saying this just this morning to my girlfriend because a young lady in Russia has written to me. She loved the Runestone saga, which only the first two books of were translated into Russian. She now speaks very good English—and this is ten years ago—suddenly writing to me and saying, “My grandmother and I really want to know how that story ended. We can’t get that book.” And I said, “I’ll send you one.” So, I literally just sent off a copy of Possession, which is the third book of the Runestone saga, to her in Moscow today. And I said to my girlfriend, I said to her as well as in the inscription I wrote in the book, you know, this is, all books are a journey and a journey between, you know, we take it together. And that’s why I annoy people who are reading my books by saying, “Oh, where are you up to? Where are you up to?” You know, because I like to remember that journey then and I’m part of it and get their feelings of the journey, which, as you say, can be quite different from what you might have intended or whatever. But I think that’s an important thing to remember as an author. You know, you’ve got to leave space for the reader to be in your story. I think explaining everything is not necessarily the way to go.
You’ve talked about teaching writing, so I wanted to ask you about that. But first I wanted to ask you, because I often do with authors, did you have any formal training yourself on the writing side?
No. I mean, I know people will go, “Well, wait a second, you got an MFA. “But I got that after I’d already written nine novels, I decided I needed to get a . . . I’d never gone to university. I’d gone to drama school. And I kind of felt cheated of that experience. Plus, I thought, you know, anyone who’s trying to teach in Canada today needs a master’s degree. So, I thought maybe, you know, if I want to teach at university, which really, I did, but I thought maybe that’s an idea now. So that’s why I went and got my MFA, which would be another podcast to tell you what I actually think about creative writing training, and it’s not necessarily all good. But anyway.
I get that a lot from writers.
But I took, you know, I remember taking a short story class long before I was, you know, I was just a wannabe. And this is probably ten, twelve years before I even before I turn my hand to writing. But no, and I’m not a great manual reader either, though I’m actually considering writing one right now because of all the stuff I picked up along the way, the experiential stuff I like. But what got me writing was reading a book called Writing the Natural Way, and it was very much about left brain, right brain. And it was . . .I mean, it was maybe a little over-heavy on that side, but it really did emphasize the separation of the process. And I read that book, and that’s when I started. That’s when I wrote my first play.
Well, have you found now that you are teaching other people to write, do you find that that comes back to help you in your own writing? I certainly do. I’ve taught writing, and I’ve been a writer in residence at the public libraries in Regina in Saskatoon, working with a lot of writers, starting up writers. And I find that focusing on other people’s writing often makes me see my old work clearly. Is that your experience?
Yes, I would say that’s true. When I teach, I tend to teach in a fairly, you know, I’m not very rigid. I like to see, you know, I’ll have a series of bullet points that I’d like to work through. It’s kind of like my alphabet for writing the novel. I know I want to get from A to D, but I’m not sure where B and C are going to be or what. They’re good. So, you know, I’ll riff on stuff. Other things will come up, and I’ll come up with a phrase, something I’ll go, and I’ll stop, I’ll say, “Excuse me a second,” I’ll stop and write it down because it does apply to my writing, but, oh no, absolutely you do. You know, especially when you can clearly see someone who’s got talent but maybe doesn’t know, doesn’t have the craft and how to channel that talent. So yeah, that does definitely help.
Do you find it rewarding when people advance as a result of your teaching?
Yeah, absolutely, and I love it. I do love it. I mean, I’m you know, I never seek teaching work. I’m often asked. I’ve been doing quite a bit online this year, actually, of course. And I’m actually teaching—I don’t know if this podcast is going to go out by then, but you might want to share this.
Oh, right. OK, well, I’m teaching a fantasy writing workshop for a literary festival that’s starting on Salt Spring Island. And, of course, you know, terrible timing for the poor woman who’s tried to start this. So, it’s all online at the moment. But I’m going to be teaching a fantasy writing workshop a week on Saturday, March 6. And if people want to go to Paper Covers Rock, which is the website, they might even be able to join in if they want.
Well, unusually, we’re recording this like three days before it will go live. So that will work out. That’s a week in the future or thereabouts when this goes, so . . .
Fantastic. Well, Paper Covers Rock, which is clever because Salt Spring is known as the Rock. And so this and this woman deserves the support because she’s trying to do what had never been done before establisher a literary festival in Salt Spring, which is crazy, and then tried to do it during a pandemic. So, I’m going to be teaching that class and hopefully get a few people out. And I’ll talk very specifically about writing fantasy.
One of the things I found teaching and being a writer in residence, in particular, is telling somebody very strongly, you know, I think this is very important, and you should do this and thinking to myself, “Just don’t look in that book that I wrote where I didn’t actually do that.”
That’s what we’re getting into the last few minutes here. So, I want to . . .you thought it was a little early for big philosophical questions, but I’m going to ask you. OK, there are three, really. Why do you write? Why do you think anybody writes, in the big picture of human experience? And then, why write fantastical stories in particular? You don’t just write that, but you have recently written quite a bit of that. So, those are the three questions. But the first one is, why do you personally write? You’ve been doing it for a long time.
Why, why, why? Why, why this madness? You know, yeah, I . . . there’s a wonderful . . . I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a book called The Unstrung Harp. It’s an Edward Gorey book. Mr. Earbrass writes the novel, and there’s one . . .it’s a fantastic book for writers because it’s all about the process. And at one point, there’s this gorgeous Edward Gorey picture of this man, his hand across his eyes holding a manuscript. He’s rashly decided to revisit an early draft, and he goes and he sees it for what it is, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. Why does he go on writing when it all turns out rubbish? You know, why endure “the unexquisite agony?” Why didn’t he become a spy? “How does one become one?” he says, it’s just wonderful, you know, and sometimes you do feel that. Of course, I write because I need to tell stories. You know, I’ve done it since I was a child.
I’ve told stories, you know, just getting my mates playing games. I love stories. I think stories are important. I think that what makes us human. If you’ve read the book Sapiens by Uri Yuval Harari, he posits the theory that what allowed sapiens to become the dominant, in fact, the only hominid, was our ability to gossip, i.e., tell stories. And that’s what draws us together as humans. So, I suppose that that furthers into your other questions of why does anyone write. I think we’re trying to make sense of the world, we’re trying to share our little viewpoint. And I’ve often likened us to, we’re all little mushrooms, and we’re popping up and giving our little view of the world there. You know, there’s a wonderful Wim Wenders film called Wings of Desire. I don’t know if you have ever seen it, but it’s set in Berlin, and it’s about these two angels. And their job is to go down and listen to people. They literally just sort of fold into them. They can’t be seen. And they hear what the people are going through. Very mundane stuff often, but they kind of testify. And I like that image, the idea that one’s testifying to the world and to, you know.
Fantastical stories. Yeah, I don’t know why particularly. I know I always enjoyed fantasy without reading it exclusively. I think it can be in the right hands so imaginative. I think it can shed light on our current situation, I mean, you know, I don’t write message fiction per se, but I do, you know, I’m always aware, even with my historical novels, people say, “Oh, you are an historical novelist.” I go, “No, I’m a modern novelist. I just happened to write historical fiction. You know, the books are relevant to today, are being read today. My fantasy fiction, I mentioned before, particularly the Immortals Blood trilogy, does deal with the world as it is now. It does deal with climate change. It does deal with the elites, the one percent, without trying to spell out a big message. You know, I’m more a depicter than coming up with answers, but I love the fantasy fiction that really looks at the world in a very different way. I just recently read for the first time, shame on me, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Have you read that, Ed?
Yes, I did a long time ago now, when it first came out.
Oh, my goodness. Reread it. But just that worldview, that ability to take something so different and yet make it also accessible to humans, I think it allows us to explore, yeah. Explore ourselves even when we think we’re reading something that’s so different from ourselves. So it’s, you know, a human wrote it. So, therefore . . . I started my book, Vlad, which I realized . . . I was writing about Vlad the Impaler, right? And I was worrying about, was I going to whitewash this guy? Was I going to excuse him? And I didn’t want to do either. And then I realized, no, that’s not my job at all. My job is to depict him. And I literally wrote a prologue that said, “I’s not up to me to decide. You decide. You’re the reader. You decide what you think of this guy.” And I came . . . I found this quote by a Latin writer called Terence, who said, “I am a man. Nothing human is alien to me. “And I think that’s a good sort of motto for the for us in the world. And perhaps particularly as fantasy writers, you know, let’s explore, and everyone is probably, if you do it well and with integrity, going to be able to find something that they can relate to or something that’s going to make them think about their world slightly differently.
And what are you working on now?
Well, switching hats entirely, I’m back into historical fiction, though, not my more medieval stuff, which is where I’m probably better known. I’m writing a World War Two saga. Fascinated by World War Two. It is loosely based on my parents’ story because, I mean, you wonder why I grew up a storyteller, my dad was a Battle of Britain fighter pilot. My mum was a spy. So . . . she was a spy in the Norwegian resistance. So, I’m writing a story about, it’s loosely based on them, about a pilot and a spy meeting and various times they meet during the war and what their different wars look like. You know, I’m not . . . given my you know, that I don’t set out knowing the huge amount, I’m not quite sure what it is yet. I’m just writing and having a hell of a time, actually, I’m really enjoying it. It’s very close to my heart in lots of ways. I feel I’m shaped by the people who shaped me, who were shaped by World War Two.
Did your parents tell stories of those times or write them down?
My dad was a storyteller, you know, being an actor and a writer himself, and, to a certain extent. My mum . . . my dad was very gregarious and, you know, one of the lesser-told stories of the war is that for many people, it was their best time, no matter how terrible it was. You know, how do you beat being a glory boy? You know, a fighter pilot? How do you beat . . . does the world ever come close to that again? My mum not so much. You know, Norwegian, you know, saw the Germans marching down her high street on April the 9th, 1940, lost a lot of friends to it all, just escaped with her life when they bust her cell. She didn’t talk about it much at all. But I’m finding out a lot more now.
With my little publishing company I started for my own publishing purposes, Shadowpaw Press, one of the first things I put out was the First World War memoirs of my grandfather-in-law, my wife’s grandfather. And he set out to write his memoirs very late in life, and he wrote very complete memoirs of the First World War. And then it kind of petered out. It’s like he intended to go on through his life, but the rest of his life just obviously wasn’t as vivid to him as that time he spent as a truck driver at Vimy Ridge and then as a navigator on a Handley Page bomber and prisoner of war and all that stuff. It was quite a little set of war memoirs. And I was very happy to be able to bring it into the world.
Yeah. Fantastic. Well done you.
So that brings us, I think, pretty close to the end here. Just let people know where they can find you on mine.
Well, my website is AuthorChrisHumphreys.com. Chris Humphreys. People often misspell Humphreys. You can follow me on Twitter @HumphreysCC. I’m on Instagram @CCHumphreys. I have a Facebook, professional Facebook page, Chris Humphreys. But the best place to start is my website for sure.
OK, well, thanks so much for doing this and for being on The Worldshapers. And yeah, unusually, this one’s going to go out almost right away, so it’ll be very fresh.
Great! Well, fantastic. I mean, obviously, send me all the links, and I’ll publicize.
In times past, she has written Star Trek (TOS) and Star Wars tie-in novels (Ishamel, Crossroad, Children of the Jedi), and did scripts for Saturday morning cartoons. In addition – when she can – she writes short fiction about the further adventures of characters from her fantasy novels of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which can be purchased on Amazon (Gil and Ingold from the Darwath series, Antryg and Joanna from The Silent Tower, John and Jenny from Dragonsbane, plus a couple of Sherlock Holmes tales “for the hell of it”).
She teaches history at a local community college, and practices iaido, costuming, and painting. Now a widow, she shares a house in Los Angeles with several small carnivores.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, welcome to The Worldshapers, Barb.
Well, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for asking me to be on.
Well, it was…I ran into you, I guess, at World Fantasy, I was sort of, you know, keeping my eye out for people I wanted to talk to. And I thought, hey, there’s somebody. So I’m glad you said yes.
I think that’s the only time we’ve met, actually. And we didn’t really meet, just sort of chatted there at World Fantasy, but I’ve been familiar with your work for a long time and currently reading, I haven’t quite finished it, but Stranger at the Wedding is the one we’re gonna talk about today as an example of your creative process. So we’ll get to that in a little bit.
But I always start by taking my guests back into the mists of time and finding out how you got started, became interested in writing, how you got started writing, and also just a little bit of your biography, which is kind of an interesting one. So, where did you grow up and all that sort of stuff? And how did you get interested in writing? Was it through reading books like most of us?
I suppose it must have been. But I remember, even before I learned to read, I was storyboarding stories. I would, like, draw the characters in a storyboard form. And I remember doing that when I was about four. So actually, I think my desire to tell stories predated learning to read. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where my father was a great reader. He always had fiction. He loved the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars series, he was a great fan of Zane Grey. He liked adventure stories. He liked biographies. He liked history and when we were small children…my mother is not a great reader, but she was a very conscientious mom. And I think she looked up lists of books that had won the Newbery Award or had won children’s book awards, and she made sure that she read these to us. So we were always surrounded by an atmosphere of storytelling.
And in your, we mentioned Stranger at the Wedding, you have some pictures at the back of that of your family from when you were little, as well. So, I think I can picture your mom and dad because I have a picture of them right in front of me.
Oh, my gosh.
And a picture of you as a very little girl.
So you were growing up on a Marine base, it says.
Yes. Well, my dad was in the Marines when he met my mom. He met my mom immediately after World War Two ended, and they got married, and he was stationed in San Diego, which is where all three of us kids were born. And then he was transferred out to a Marine base in the middle of the desert in a place called China Lake. And my earliest memories are of being in…and of course, at that time, housing of any kind was very much at a premium because the war was just over, and you were in the first wave of the baby boom. And so, on the Marine base out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the married officers’ housing was a trailer park. And my poor mother got to keep house in a 30-foot single wide with three children under the age of six. And my earliest recollections are of living in the trailer, and you’d step out of the trailer, and because it was all brand new, there was nothing. There was a little concrete path around the outskirts of the trailers, and beyond that, it was desert. It was, you know, if you watch any of the 1950s science fiction films like Them or…all of those 1950s science fiction films, they’re all in, like black and white and they’re out in the middle of the desert, that’s where I grew up.
That was immediately what I thought of when you were describing it.
They were all filmed out in the Mojave Desert because it is within a couple of hours’ driving distance of Los Angeles.
And then, when did you actually start writing your own stories?
Well, as I said, I started storyboarding stories. I would storyboard stories about my toys. When I was four, I started writing stories as soon as I learned the alphabet. I would write…one of my favorite series was the Oz books, and, I’m sure everyone knows, in addition to The Wizard of Oz, there were about 25 or 30 other books about characters in Oz. And for me, it was like fan fiction. I would then write my own Oz stories. When I became enamored of Sherlock Holmes in the third grade, I would write my own Sherlock Holmes stories. And writing was just something I did. It was always completely natural to me. Storytelling was always the thing that I did. It was the thing that shaped my life.
Did you share your early writing, like with your friends or schoolmates or parents?
In seventh grade, I mentioned to some of the other students in my class that I…at that time, I was writing Edgar Rice Burroughs takeoffs…and I got teased so badly that that was the last time I told anybody that I wrote until I got published.
I always ask that because I get such different responses to it…the people who never shared, and people who were like me, and I was handing out copies of it to my classmates in high school. “Here read this. Read this!” So that’s why I always ask.
Actually I did write…starting in high school, I would write Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories. I would write…I wrote this unbelievably long—it was like a hundred-part—story about the Beatles. And those I did share with two of my classmates. And then when Star Trek came along…I was kind of a weird kid and I did not have many friends and I had been teased and bullied to the point where I was not…I didn’t tell most people what was going on with me. But in high school, I had a couple of very close friends and we were the only people in the high school who were tremendous Star Trek fans. It was the first season, the first time, the original series, it was 1966, Star Trek came on and it hit the three of us like a ton of bricks. And so, we all started writing Star Trek stories and I wrote simply for the audience of my two friends. One of them would write stories for me, for our little group, and these were the only people who knew that I wrote because I pretty much didn’t talk to anybody else in high school.
Were there any teachers who were, you know, helping out or supporting you along the way, or did you kind of keep it from them, too?
Oh, God, no. There were teachers that made a tremendous impression on me, but I certainly would not share with any of them or with anybody else the fact that I wrote.
Well, when you got to university, you didn’t study writing, you studied medieval history and went so far as to get a master’s in. What drew you into that?
Well, I,,,when I originally…because I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and when I got into UC Riverside, it was 1969 and I thought, If I want to be a writer, I should be an English major. And I went to my first creative writing class, I was like eighteen years old, sitting in the front row with the class. And there was this woman up in the front of the class, the instructor, with a size eleven mouth and an ego to match. And here am I, sitting in the front row, thinking, You tell me what you’ve published and then I’ll listen to you. As far as I could tell, the class was supposed to be in creative writing and it actually seemed to be a class in how to write bad Flannery O’Connor knockoffs. And that was the last creative writing class I ever took.
Now, when, many years later, for purposes of the plot, I needed to find a teaching job, I went to the local community college and applied for a teaching job in creative writing. And at this point in time, I had published about sixty novels. So I applied. I said, you know, I’m a professional writer. I’ve published about sixty novels. And they said, oh, we can’t hire you because you don’t have an MFA—because after that creative writing class that I took way back in 1969, I’d switched over to being a history major. So, when I’m applying for a job teaching creative writing, they said, “We can’t hire you to teach creative writing because you don’t have an MFA. And even if you did have an MFA, if the English department hired you, they would hire you to teach remedial English because all of the creative writing classes are taught by the tenured full-time English professors because it’s more fun for them.”
And I thought, Oh, good. You have people who want to learn to be a professional writer, and instead of hiring a professional writer to teach them, you have them taught by an academic who has never published any fiction in his or her life because it’s more fun for them. And then they said, “You want to teach history?” And I said, “Absolutely.”
When I…back in 1969, as I said, when I finished my first and last creative writing class, I switched over to getting a BA and then an MA in history, which served me very well, it got me a nice job teaching history, which I still have.
And has it fed into your writing, as well?
Oh, God, yes. I…well, I’ve always been interested in history. My dad was a history buff. I had some excellent history teachers in high school and in university. My best friend in high school was a history buff. She is still my best friend and she is still a history buff, and history always felt very natural to me. I always wanted to write in historical settings or fantasy settings, but it’s the same thing, you’re world building in both in both genres. And I think that’s one reason why I’ve written in both genres, is it’s about worldbuilding. It’s about going to another world, going to a world that is not my own.
You know, in creative writing classes, they would always say, “Well, write what you know.” And…for one thing, nobody would be interested in the adventures of a fat pimply virgin in Southern California in the 1960s. I wasn’t even interested in them. So I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to go somewhere else. J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings hit me like a ton of bricks. I read the first unauthorized copy of The Two Towers. And it’s like, “This is what I want. This is the world I want to be in. This is what I want to do.”
And you got there. But you did a few other things along the way before that first novel came out, didn’t you?
Yes, yes. Well, from the time I was…actually, junior high and in high school, I—going back to “write what you know”—always in the back of my head was, I knew I wanted to write adventure fiction. And I knew that if I was going to do this, I was going to…there were certain things I would need to know. When I was fifteen, I joined a fencing class. I was always interested in historical costuming and that got me among the historical costumers, for things like, you know, stuff your characters need to know. What is it like to wear a corset and a bustle? What is it like to be in a physical fight with someone? I started taking karate in 1974 partly so that I would know what it is like to be in a physical fight with someone, which is not something that girls generally do, unless they go to a high school and are bullied by the Mexican girls.
And of course, once I got into karate, that was a whole new world. The martial arts has been a constant in my life since 1974. But it blends in with this. I do it because I love it. I also do it because if I’m going to have a hero who is wielding a sword, I want to know how to wield a sword. We would go horseback riding, and partly in the back of my mind is, If I’m going to write stories about people who get from place to place on horses, I better learn how to ride a horse.
So, there’s always this moving back and forth between real life and the fictional world inside the books, and the fact that I am going to need this information if I am going to produce these stories effectively. That’s one of the reasons that I’m drawn to history, partly because I just love history, partly because I need to know how non-industrial societies work. I need to look at stuff that has happened in history and go, I can use that. There will be times I’ll be in conversations with my friends and someone will be talking about the behavioral enormities being practiced by their sister or their brother or whomever, and I’ll be sitting there thinking, I can use that!
So tell me about the first novel and how that came about, Time of the Dark, which kind of launched your career.
Well, when I started taking karate, I quit writing for about two years. And I had a dream. And the dream was…one sequence at the beginning of Time of the Dark where the young screw-up hero first sees the dark ones, sees this creature, and because they can change their size it’s slithering in through, like, a crack in the wall, and he is shocked and horrified. And he goes to the old wizard who’s in the next room. And the wizard said, “Oh, did you think they’d be human?” And from that dream, then I extrapolated how did this situation come about and extrapolated what came from that situation.
I originally wrote it up as a single volume. I sent it to…I went to the library and got a list of publishers who were taking fantasy. I sent it to Lester Del Rey, who was the editor at Del Rey Books at the time, and he sent me back this long letter, basically telling me that I had enough material there for a trilogy, extrapolating from this, extrapolating from that. “Can you pursue this? Can you pursue that?” And I sat down for the next almost a year. Again, I didn’t tell anybody I was working on this. And I sat down and expanded it into a trilogy, sent it back to Lester, and, you know, everybody has told me it’s really hard to break into the field. But I guess in that year, they were really looking for trilogies, because I sent this manuscript back to Lester and I got a reply in two weeks saying, “We’ll take it.” And then I went, “Oh, dang, I don’t have an agent. I’d better get an agent.” And immediately had to hunt around for an agent who is…she’s still my agent.
It’s always easy to get an agent when you’ve already sold the book.
Oh, absolutely. And she immediately got me a better deal on the contract. But I didn’t…my experience with writing the book and getting accepted was…I don’t think it’s typical.
As far as I can tell from talking to authors, nobody has a typical story. It’s different for everybody. Mine was very different as well.
Well, we’re gonna talk about Stranger at the Wedding as an example of your creative process. But before we get to that, I did just want to ask you about some of the other writing you’ve done, the Saturday-morning cartoons and the Star Wars and Star Trek books. How is that different from writing your own material?
And did you enjoy it?
Oh, tremendously. Tremendously. Of course, as a tremendous Star Trek fan, when they started coming out with the Star Trek novels, my agent got in touch with me and said, “They are looking for Star Trek novels, and they were looking for Trek novels, of course, because everybody was writing fan fiction for Trek. And at that time, my agent told me, “They’re looking for Star Trek novels written by authors who have already been published.” Because at that time they didn’t want to have to teach somebody how to write. They wanted a manuscript by somebody who knew how to write a manuscript. And so the editor at that time was looking for…”Hey, do you have something? Do you have a Star Trek novel in your drawer? We know you’ve got a Star Trek novel in your drawer.” And as it happened, I did. And that was Ishmael, which was infamous for other reasons. And then I wrote another two Star Trek novels.
And the thing about the Star Trek novels was, they kept changing the approvals loop. Part of the problems I had with Ishmael, the first of the of my Star Trek novels, was that book went through about five editors. And the editors at the beginning of the process were telling me things that later turned out were not true, were not correct. And the mess had to be cleared up by an editor, you know, five editors down the line. But this was a problem with the Star Trek novels: they kept changing the approvals loop. So, something would get approved, and then by the time I turned in the manuscript, they said, “Oh, no, we don’t want that.”
Ghost Walker, which was the second one, I’d turned in the outline saying, you know, the plot involved Captain Kirk being in a serious romantic relationship with the guest star. And by the time I turned the manuscript in, they said, “Oh, we don’t…we can’t have Captain Kirk being in a serious romantic relationship. “And I said, “That’s fine. You don’t have to publish the book, but you have to pay me for it, because that’s the first line on the outline, saying Captain Kirk is in a serious romantic relationship with X, Y, Z.”
And, you know, when I turned in the outline for Crossroad, which was the third of my Trek novels, they said, “Mr. Roddenberry doesn’t want Trek novels on that subject.” And I said, “OK.” And eighteen months later, when Mr. Roddenberry was no longer in the approvals loop, I got a phone call from the editor saying, “You still want to write Crossroad?” And I said, “Oh, yeah.” But of course, it was eighteen months later, so I had written this outline and I’d kind of forgotten how things happened. So at one point, the outline said, “And then these five aliens take over the entire Enterprise.” And as I’m typing along and I reach that point of the outline, I went, “God, how they do that?”
Well, it’s just like a writing exercise you set for yourself.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. The Star Wars…I was friends with Kevin Anderson, Kevin J. Anderson, who was doing the first two of the Star Wars anthologies of short stories, Tales from the Star Wars Cantina and Tales from Jabba’s Palace. And he introduced me to Betsy Mitchell, who was in charge of that first bunch of Star Wars novels that were being done by Bantam. And then she asked me, you know, would you do a Star Wars novel? And I was so delighted. I loved Star Wars. I loved the original Star Wars. I love the original Star Wars.
In the early days of my writing, I was…you don’t make a lot when you’re starting out. In fact, you make almost as little as you make now. So at the time, I had a part-time job at the library. And friends of mine in Los Angeles…one of my friends in Los Angeles was a fellow named Michael Reeves, who was the…he was sort of the center of a group of people who were writing Saturday-morning cartoons. And this was in the late ’80s, when you had just gotten…Transformers had just come on and you had all of these, what the writers called “poster shows,” which means that the toy company would put out a line of vehicles, and then they would hire an animation company, to…at that time, seasons were very long. A season would be, like, forty-eight episodes. And they would say, “We’re going to do a season of, essentially, yes, it’s the adventures involving these vehicles that you can buy down in the store as a toy.” And the vehicles would always transform into something else.
The first of these, the animation company that was doing them was called DIC.
And so they decided—because, of course, there was no Writers Guild that dealt with animation. This was all cheap non-union—they called us together for a…called all of the sort of bush-league science fiction writers in the Los Angeles area, called us together, and they explained that they needed scripts and they were paying…I think it was a thousand bucks a script, which to me was phenomenal. It would mean I could quit my job in the library.
And the fellow explained to us that the show was called Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. And it was about…it involved giant metal vines growing between planets. And these metal creatures would grow out of metal flowers on the vines, and the vines would go between planets, they would go between galaxies, they would go between solar systems. And these evil vehicles would trundle along these metal vines through outer space and strip mine every world in the cosmos for resources. And our brave little band of adventurers were fighting against these guys, in the vehicles that are being sold in your local toy store.
And somebody in the group of science fiction writers said, “Planets turn on their axis, and planets orbit different stars, and all the stars in the galaxy are moving away from one another, and you cannot have giant vines growing between planets.” And the story editor said, “I have explained this to the producers of the show. I have explained this to the toy company. I have explained this to the administration of DIC. Now write the scripts.” One fellow got up and walked out. But I thought, It’s basically the cast of Star Wars meets the Daleks. I can write Star Wars dialogue. I can write Dalek dialogue. No problem. So I worked on a number of shows for DIC. And it meant basically that I had more time to do my actual writing.
Well, and turning to the actual writing, let’s talk about Stranger at the Wedding, which is the one you’d suggested. I guess, quickly give a synopsis of it that doesn’t spoil anything for people like me who haven’t gotten to the end of it yet, although I’ve read quite a bit of it.
Oh, and, of course, I haven’t been able to reread as much of it as I would have liked to, due to circumstances beyond my control. But the way the story came about in my mind, is that…in the story, the young heroine, she is at Wizards’ College and she’s the daughter of a wealthy merchant family back in the big city. And her younger sister is going to have an arranged marriage with the business partner, a business associate, of their father’s. And Kyra, the heroine, has been essentially disowned by her family because she is in training to be a wizard. And Kyra starts getting omens and prophetic dreams, saying that her younger sister is going to die on her wedding night. And Kyra returns to her family, who are horrified that she’s shown up, and she has to stop the wedding until she can find out what’s happening. And so she’s basically in a position of throwing all kinds of Murphy hexes, everything that could possibly go wrong with the ceremony goes wrong. Mice infest the church and, you know, the bishop breaks his ankle and all this horrible stuff takes place. And then she falls in love with the groom. Her younger sister, it turns out, is in love with one of the kitchen help. And Kyra falls in love with the groom while still trying to ascertain who has put a curse on the wedding, who is attempting to kill her lovely eighteen-year-old sister, and why? What’s going on?
I’m enjoying it very much, as far as I’ve gotten into it. I think the main character’s very appealing. What was the, kind of the seed for this story? And is that typical of the way the story ideas come to you?
There are basically two seeds. The first of the seeds is the fact that…I’m trying to think of a tactful way of saying this. My mother tended, tends, to drag me over to total strangers and say, “This is my daughter, the author.” Or say to people at church, you know, the people at church say, “Oh, you know, my daughter wants to write books.” And Mom will say, “Oh, she can come and talk to Barbara.” And it’s like, Barbara is…Barbara has other things to do. And I’ve always found this being touted very…it makes me very uncomfortable. I know it makes my mother very happy, but it makes me very uncomfortable. So part of the seed for that, is, you know, all of those times when I would go home for Christmas and Mom would say, “Why don’t you talk to the next-door neighbor’s daughter who wants to write books?”
And the other seed was, I was invited many years ago to a workshop on neurolinguistics, and they asked me, the fellow who was facilitating the workshop, said, “What is your process of putting together a story?” And I said, “I’ll usually start with the characters.” And he said, “Well, why don’t you explain how you put together a story?” And he said, “Characters…let’s take Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.” And I closed my eyes for a second and tried to think of a fantasy that ,if you made it into a movie, it would with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. And then, I produced the entire plot in, like, one paragraph, just sitting there. I had never had this idea before, and I came up with, oh, “The older sister is in Wizard College and the younger sister and she finds out that she has a curse and she’s gonna die on her wedding night and she comes home and falls in love with the groom.” And everybody in the workshop, including the facilitator, just sat there, because there was no process. It’s like, “You give me the characters and I’ll give you a fully formed plot.” That’s…you know, that’s a trick like swatting a fly out of the air. You can do it once by chance. And everyone goes, “How’d you do that? I have no idea.”
So what’s more typical?
What’s more typical? Generally, it does start with characters. The vampire series…I wanted to put together a story of…no, I was waiting for my sweetheart to arrive because he and I were gonna go someplace and I was lying on the couch in his house and just started thinking about a vampire and a living person having to go into partnership because someone is killing the vampires of London. And the vampires, they can’t go out in the daytime to be detectives, so they have to hire a detective. And I thought, that’s really good. And this was the start of Those Who Hunt the Night, which turned into the vampire series, because I really liked the characters. But it started out with, “What do vampires do when somebody is…when there’s a vampire hunter on their trail?” And so, they have to hire a living guy, and he knows they’re gonna kill him when he solves the case. And then from there, just going, “OK, how do you get into this situation, how do you get out of this situation?” It was exactly the same with Time of the Dark. I had this single scene in my mind. “How did we get into this scene? Where do we go from this scene?”
So it is very much like a seed that grows.
What’s your actual planning process look like as you get started to write. Do you do a detailed outline? Do you just start? How does that work for you?
Oh, no, I’m an outline girl. My outlines are usually…four or five pages, single spaced? And they’re very…they’re sort of loose. It’s…details get changed, scenes get changed, but I always have to know, if we’re starting from here, we’re going to end up here. I don’t write very well not having a goal. I have to know where we’re going. I can’t just set sail because I’ve read too many books that quite clearly did not have an outline, and that type of structure does not appeal to me.
Do you find yourself diverting from the outline as the story takes on its own pathway sometimes?
Somewhat, yes, but never, never galloping off into another direction. Mostly because I know the character well enough to know where we’re going, where his or her personal development is going. The only exception to that was Dragonsbane, where up until I was close to the end of the book, I did not know whether…at one point the wizard, the heroine, transforms herself into a dragon. Basically, she falls…she is…the man that she loves is a dragonslayer. And when they go to slay this dragon, she ends up falling in love with the dragon. And at the end of the story, she transforms herself into a dragon. And then she realizes, “I need to go back to the man that I love.” And up until the end of the story, I didn’t know whether she was going to just continue to live on as a dragon or whether she was going to step down from that and return to the man she loves. Basically, she’s choosing between becoming and being a dragon or remaining human and experiencing the depths of human love. And once I had done that, I realized the story is not a story about dragon slaying. The story is a story about love. And then, of course, I…actually through the whole process of writing the book, I needed to come up with a hero who would be emotional competition for a dragon. And I have continued to write the further adventures of this couple, John and Jenny. Occasionally the dragon reappears, but it’s…I’ve continued to write novelettes about them for sale on Amazon as downloads.
What does your actual writing process look like? Do you write longhand? On a typewriter? On a computer at home? In a coffee shop? How do you like to work?
I must…there cannot be anyone else under the same roof. And I have set up my entire life to be solitary. I’ve always liked solitude. I cannot write if there was someone else in the house,
Definitely not a coffee-shop writer.
I am not a coffee-shop writer. I write at a desk. I have a desktop computer. I…when I’m writing first draft, I can usually only work a couple of hours a day because it is just so exhausting. At the moment, it’s difficult to forge out the time to write because I teach at a community college. I only teach one class a semester, but we were informed at the beginning of this month that we had two weeks to switch all of our classes over to online classes, and that takes a tremendous amount of time and I have been waking up very, very early in the morning to buy myself enough time. I’m working on first draft of a project and I’m tired most of the time.
Under normal circumstances, would you consider yourself a fast writer or slow writer or just-right writer?
I…sometimes I think I’m fast, sometimes I think I’m slow, I have no idea.
That sounds familiar. And do you…you’ve talked about a first draft. So, do you do a complete draft and then go back and revise from the beginning? What’s the revision process?
Yes. I do a complete draft and then go back and revise from the beginning.
What sorts of things do you find yourself working on in revision?
Sometimes, as I’m getting close to the end of the story, I realize, “Oh, that is a more efficient way to solve the problem, so we’re gonna have to go back and rewrite whole chapters.” Other times it’s just word choices or sentence structure. Other times I will look at it and go, “This person’s motivation is not clearly conveyed, this person…I need a scene between these people to clarify, either a plot point or some motivation.” The first revision is always the hardest and the most challenging and the most tiring because that’s where the heavy work gets done. Then there will be a second, not quite so heavy revision. And from there, it’s usually just progressive polishing.
There was one of the Benjamín Januarys, the historical murder mysteries, which, of course, take place in the American south in the 1830s, 1840s. And one of these involved…it’s like, my hero is black, of course he’s involved with the Underground Railroad. And I wanted to do a murder mystery that took place against the background of the Underground Railroad. And about halfway through, I reread what I had written and…the plot, the themes in the book, were very, very dark. Basically, the book was heavily based on slavery and rape. And I went, “Nobody’s gonna be able to read this. How do I lighten it? How do I make it readable?” And I thought, OK, we’ve got this going on one side. But my hero is dealing with… and I had to put in a lighter element simply to to balance out that darkness. And I thought, OK, my hero is working out of a circus. So we’re going to deal with circuses in the 19th century. And we’re also going to deal, because the circus is in town, there’s also a revival meeting in town. So that lets me cut away from this horrible stuff that is happening connected with the murder. And, yeah, we’re going hunting for clues, but we’re doing it against the background of the circus, we’re doing it against the background of this fake preacher who is basically trying to bilk the congregation out of their money. And that lightened the weight of the book. In my opinion, it made it readable.
I’m going to guess that you’re not somebody who uses beta readers, but then it goes on to your editor directly from you. Is that correct?
What kind of editorial feedback you usually get?
I have published close to seventy novels. So I’m…I don’t get much editorial feedback because I’m good at my craft. The times when I do get more editorial feedback is if ,for whatever reason, I did not have time to smooth the differences between two drafts and they’re catching things that I would have caught if I had had the time to do one more draft. And this is something that I have developed as time goes along.
remember there was one book where they got someone as a copyeditor and she came back saying things that were completely against, that ran completely contrary to the point that the book was making. “Well, she shouldn’t say this. She should say that.” And I. emailed the acquisitions editor and said, “Do I have to change things according to what this person said?”, and they made sure I never got that copyeditor again. Beta reading has to be by somebody that you really trust.
Yeah, it’s not something I’ve ever had because I’ve just never lived…I was always off kind of away for many other writers and…I had a couple of people by mail that I used to share manuscripts with way back before email. But I’ve never used beta readers. And I’ve talked to many people who do, and sometimes I think maybe I should, but I think I’m too set in my ways to change to that now.
And I don’t really know who it would be anyway. Well, I want to move on to our closing question, because we’re getting up here on the time, and that’s the big philosophical question, which is why do you do this? And why do any of us do it, why do any of us write, but why do you write and why do you write the stuff you write?
And the reply is, because I can’t not do it.
A good friend of mine once said there’s two basically two kinds of writers. And he said type A, the first kind of writer, is the writer for whom writing is the safe place—you go down into the dark of your mind and you see all of these things, and that’s where your safe. And he said this type of writer usually starts as a child.
He said the other type of writer is the one for whom writing is the dangerous place. And you go down into the dark of your mind and you see all of these things and it scares the bejesus out of you. He said this type of writer usually starts later in life, and it was his personal opinion that this is why you sometimes find writers who have substance abuse problems.
Because if you are a writer, you have to write. There really is no question about why do you do this. You do this because you do this. Because you can’t not. It is indeed a calling. And nobody in their right mind would be trying to do this, trying to make a living in this fashion, if there was any other way to be.
Fortunately, I was the first kind of writer. I started as a child. It is the safe place. It is the wonderful place. It is the place where I am happiest. I was married to a man who was the other kind of writer, where it was the dangerous place, it was the terrifying place. But he couldn’t not do it. Because he just…we are what we are and we can’t change what we are, and if we try, it hurts us.
And on that note…I’m the childhood, it’s a safe place writer myself…
…what are you working on now? Aside from putting your courses online.
My publishers in Britain asked me to conclude the vampire series, to finish off the vampire series, and asked me to start another historical murder mystery series. I am working on that, but I would rather not talk about that until I’m a little bit further on with it. I realize this is not a good thing to say, but I, I just, I would rather…I’m working on another historical murder mystery series, and I would rather not talk about that until I get a little bit of a better feeling of what I’m doing.
Still, lots to look forward to.
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
And where can people find you or find out about you online?
I have a Facebook site, Barbara Hambly, writer. I have not posted on my Livejournal site in a long time, simply from lack of time. Those are the two best places.
If you want to…if you were a fan of the fantasy series that I wrote back in the ’80s and ‘90s, the Darwathseries, the Dragonsbane series, the Sun Wolf and Starhawk series, if you’re a fan of those series, I continue those series in the form of novelettes. I’ll write novelettes about those characters. They’re available on Amazon for five bucks a throw. And a lot of people, they…you know, with a with a series, you like to know what the people are doing. You’d like to know where those characters are now. And I will be continuing the vampire series as novelettes on Amazon. So in addition to transferring all of my history class on to online and working on this new historical novel series, I’m also trying to fit in enough time to work on these, what I call the further adventures. So it’s busy times.
Well, thanks so much for taking time to talk to me in the midst of all that. I enjoyed that. I hope you do, too.
Thank you so much. And I’m sorry if I talked too much.