Interview with Edward Willett

13 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Edward Willett

When did you first know you wanted to be a science fiction writer and why? How long after than did you have your first fiction sale?

I have two older brothers, both of whom read science fiction, so that was what was in the house when I reached book-reading age (which for me was pretty early: I taught myself to read in kindergarten after our teacher introduced us to phonics). The first science fiction novel I remember reading was Robert Silverberg’s young-adult book Revolt on Alpha C (his first published novel, written when he was nineteen), but it wasn’t long before I was devouring SF. Robert A. Heinlein was unquestionably my favorite, with Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Arthur C. Clarke, and many others close behind. I read fantasy, too, and loved it as well.

The first complete short story I remember writing came about because a friend and I, when I was about eleven, needed something to do on a rainy day (this being pre-Internet), so we decided to write stories. I don’t know if he finished his, but I finished mine: “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot.” (One thing my reading had apparently convinced me of was that science fiction characters had to have weird names.) My mother, who was a secretary, typed it for me, and then I showed it to my Grade 8 English teacher at the Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Junior High School, Tony Tunbridge. He did me the honor of taking it seriously, critiquing it, not just patting me on the head for having written it, but asking why my character did what he did, what the aliens wanted, etc.

I kept writing stories after that, and I tried to make each one better. They got longer and longer, so that by high school, I was writing novels—three of them, one each in Grades 10, 11, and 12: The Golden Sword, Ship from the Unknown, and Slavers of Thok. I shared them with my classmates and discovered I could tell stories people really enjoyed reading, and it was somewhere along in there I decided what I really wanted to be was a science fiction/fantasy writer.

However, I also knew you couldn’t make a living as a writer, at least not right off the bat, so I went into journalism, figuring at least I’d be writing. I wrote newspaper stories during the day and fiction at night and sold my first short story when I was 23 years old—but it wasn’t science fiction: it has a little historical adventure piece about two kids caught in a blizzard in Saskatchewan around 1905, published by Western People, the magazine supplement of The Western Producer, an agricultural newspaper. (Side note: years later, I sold a short story called “Strange Harvest” to Western People, probably the only science-fiction story it ever published.)

My first science fiction sale came not too long after that. “The Minstrel” was published by the now defunct Canadian children’s magazine JAM. It’s a story about a boy on a backward planet who has mysteriously inherited a strange musical instrument that is able to make its listeners feel the player’s emotions. It turns out the instrument is an ancient alien artifact an unscrupulous man will stop at nothing to possess…

The story has a scene where the boy stands outside the fence surrounding the spaceport, staring at the glittering ships standing within, fiercely longing to leave his world and journey to the stars. It’s a longing I knew and know well: the longing that has always driven me to write science fiction and continues to drive me to write science fiction—the desire to explore unknown worlds, and to take my readers along for the ride.

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

As I look back over some twenty novels, one theme stands out above all others: the importance of the individual—of individual rights, and of individual responsibility.

An individual may belong to several different groups, but he or she is not defined by those groups. Each person is a world unto him or herself, full of contradictions and surprises. Each person is living out his or her own story, of which he or she is the protagonist. Each must make his or her own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions.

My protagonists are individuals who find themselves thrust into strange circumstances. They struggle to understand what is happening, to do the right thing, to make things better, to save themselves and others. They often make terrible mistakes along the way, and they may even fail in the end—but they don’t give up.

That, ultimately, is the best any of us can do in our lives.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

 I’m a combination plotter/pantser. I write fairly detailed synopses—say, five or six single-spaced pages—but I also discover much of the story along the way. In my novel Terra Insegura (published by DAW Books, the sequel to the Aurora Award-winning Marseguro), I introduced a minor viewpoing character primarily because I needed someone in orbit while my other viewpoint characters were down on Earth. But that character soon became central to the plot, to the point where I had to stop about three-quarters of the way through and replot everything to the end, my synopsis no longer being applicable. In my recent novel The Cityborn (also DAW Books), I was about two-thirds of the way through the writing before I finally realized what the book was really about—the theme, not the plot. The actual writing, the interaction of the characters, and the details of the world I’d created, much of it on the fly, came together to reveal something I hadn’t fully grasped when I began drafting the novel.

As host of the podcast The Worldshapers (www.theworldshapers.com), in which I interview other science fiction and fantasy authors about their creative processes, I ask this same question, more or less. Every author’s approach is different, with some doing little outlining and some doing such a detailed outline literally nothing is left to chance during the actual writing. I think the former would be too chaotic and the latter too confining for me, so I’m definitely somewhere in the middle.

I enjoy writing the first draft of books, but I also enjoy rewriting. As per my answer above, I discover things about the story during the drafting that I can then go back and insert or strengthen during the rewriting. Seeing where the characters end up often means changing their dialogue or reactions in the earlier parts of the book. Settings may be modified for the same reason. Sometimes I’ll need to insert new scenes.

All of this is fun, because, basically, I just enjoy writing. I even enjoy copy-editing. In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle sings, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words,” but I’m never sick of words. I love them.

And, yes, I do write every day (if you also count rewriting/editing), but I’m not necessarily writing fiction every day. As a full-time freelance writer, I write a lot of non-fiction as well, so what I’m writing from day to day depends on the current projects I’ve taken on and when their deadlines are.

I learned long ago not to depend on a muse: one thing being a newspaper reporter teaches you is that when you sit down at the keyboard, you have to produce, because the newspaper is going to come out no matter what, and you’d better have your story ready to go into it. It’s one reason I think print journalism isn’t a bad place for any wannabe writer to start: better, I honestly think, than a creative writing degree.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

First, read. You cannot write in this genre without reading in this genre (the same is true of any genre, of course). Read the classics, read the newest and hottest bestsellers, read the obscure and forgotten. Find what resonates with you and try to figure out why. Writing a story is a process of encountering and solving problems: establishing character, providing backstory, creating believable dialogue, crafting immersive settings, etc. Seeing how other writers have overcome (or failed to overcome) those problems will help you tackle them yourself.

At the same time, write, write, write. Writing skill is like any other skill—piano playing, figure skating, painting. Practice doesn’t make perfect (because no piece of writing is ever perfect, or at least, there is no piece of writing that is universally accepted to be perfect), but it does make better.

And finally, don’t give up. As many others have pointed out, quite often the biggest difference between those who failed at becoming a writer and those who succeeded is simply that those who succeeded never gave up, no matter how difficult the road.

I guess that’s actually three pieces of advice, but (to paraphrase Dr. McCoy), dammit, I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Ed and his writing, visit: https://edwardwillett.com/

 

One Response to “Interview with Edward Willett”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Advice to Writers (from the Bundle) | bundoransf - January 21, 2019

    […] And finally, don’t give up. As many others have pointed out, quite often the biggest difference between those who failed at becoming a writer and those who succeeded is simply that those who succeeded never gave up, no matter how difficult the road. (Edward Willett) […]

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