Tad Williams Writes About Editing Process of New Osten Ard Novels, Hints of More to Come…

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his week, acclaimed Science Fiction and Fantasy author Tad Williams, author of the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn; Otherland; and Shadowmarch series, announced via his official newsletter that he is in rewrite mode on two of his new novels, The Heart of What Was Lost and The Witchwood Crown, both due for publication by DAW Books in 2017. Both novels are set in Osten Ard, in the same universe as his classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books. Williams wrote:

I am deep, deep, DEEP in Osten Ard history at the moment.  Having finished the first drafts of both THE WITCHWOOD CROWN and THE HEART OF WHAT WAS LOST — in the first case, most of a year ago — I’m in rewrite mode on both to finalize the stuff I left vague in the first drafts.

Williams began writing The Witchwood Crown in 2014, and had finished the rough draft  back in May 2015. The first draft of The Heart of What Was Lost was completed in November 2015.

Williams has communicated that the writing process for the new Osten Ard novels has been unusual in that although he normally writes very detailed drafts, in this case, he has spent much more time on the worldbuilding, because returning readers already know this world:

I know so much more about my own imaginary environment than I did a year ago, despite the fact that I think it was already one of the more catalogued invented worlds.  I know the name of all the original Scrollbearers (the learned folks who make up the League of the Scroll) when King Ealhstan began it, two hundred years or so before Simon and company.  I know the history of the two great families of immortals, the Hamakha and Sa’onserei, all the way back to the garden, in far more detail than anyone else needs to know.  I know the order in which the Eight Ships came to Osten Ard, and I know what happened to Seni Ohjisá, mentioned only in a song in the first set of books.  I know the names of people’s horses when even the names of the people who ride those horses will remain essentially meaningless trivium in the final story, if they even show up.

Stone of Farewell, book 2 of Memory Sorrow and Thorn

Stone of Farewell (1990) discusses the Hamakha-Sa’onserei feud and the eight ships of the Garden

Williams’ mention of the families Sa’onserei and Hamakha refers to the ruling dynasties of the Sithi and the Norns, two of the immortal (and ever-feuding) races in the classic Osten Ard novels, with Queen Amerasu no’e-Sa’onserei presiding over the mortal-hating Sithi, and Queen Utuk’ku seyt-Hamakha ruling over the even-more-mortal-hating Norns.The two families’ bitter, centuries-long feud is a central plotline in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and lies at the heart of the conflict in the series.

Williams’ reference to the “Eight Ships [that] came to Osten Ard” harkens back to the legendarium of the Gardenborn, the immortal clans exiled from the Lost Garden, which the author only briefly hinted at in passages of the classic Osten Ard novels, written in the 1980s and 1990s. Stone of Farewell (1990) mentions the eight ships, as the protagonists Simon and Aditu enter the Gardenborn city of Jao e-Tinukai’i, and pass by the woven cord art at the edge of the city:

They crossed a bridge over one of the river-forks, then turned and followed the watercourse down a long corridor of willows. A ribbon of white cloth wound in and out among the trees on their left, wrapped about trunks and looped over branches. As they passed farther down the row of willow sentries, the initial ribbon was joined by another. These two snaked in and out, crossing behind and before each other as though engaged in a kind of static dance.

Soon more white ribbons of different widths began to appear, woven into the growing pattern in knots of fantastic intricacy. These weavings at first made up only simple forms, but soon Simon and Aditu began to pass increasingly complex pictures that hung in the spaces framed by the willow trunks: blazing suns, cloudy skies overhanging oceans covered with jagged waves, leaping animals, figures in flowing robes or filigreed armor, all formed by interlaced knots. As the first plain pictures became entire tapestries of tangled light and shadow, Simon understood that he watched an unfolding story. The ever-growing tapestry of knotted fabric portrayed people who loved and fought in a gardenlike land of incredible strangeness, a place where plants and creatures thrived whose forms seemed obscure even though precisely rendered by the unknown weaver’s masterful, magical hands.

Then, as the tapestry eloquently showed, something began to go wrong. Only ribbons of white were used, but still Simon could almost see the dark stain that began to spread through the people’s lives and hearts, the way it sickened them. Brother fought brother, and what had been a place of unmatched beauty was blighted beyond hope. Some of the people began building ships…

“Here,” Aditu said, startling him. The tapestry had led them to a whirlpool swirl of pale fabric, an inward-leading spiral that appeared to lead up a gentle hill. On the right, beside this odd door, the tapestry leaped away across the river, trembling in the bright air like a bridge of silk. Where the taut ribbons of the tapestry vaulted the splashing stream, the knots portrayed eight magnificent ships at sea, cresting woven waves. The tapestry touched the willows on the far side and turned, winding back up the watercourse in the direction from which Simon and Aditu had come, stretching away from tree to tree until it could no longer be seen.

Williams then writes about the editing happening on both of the new novels, writing that he has received (hopefully useful) feedback from early readers of the manuscripts:

And I’ve also been getting the first feedback from readers of the new manuscripts in the last half-year, so I’m trying to let that wash over me as well, influencing the rewrites in a good way without overwhelming my own natural trust in what I’m doing.

That last part is particularly important, because I chose to let my first readers see a much rougher first draft (at least of TWC) than usual, so of course everyone pointed out the stuff that I would most liked to have fixed first before releasing, like “So-and-so has no personality”.  I mean, it’s true — So-and-so is definitely a stiff at this point, but part of that is because when I was writing it I wasn’t exactly sure how old So-and-so was, or what he or she had experienced in life, or what was going to happen to him or her later on, and which of the character’s traits and what part of his or her life history would be useful and necessary to deepen the character, and so on.

He then reveals that he is considering, down the line, writing an Osten Ard compendium, perhaps something like the Tolkien Companion or George R.R. Martin’s The World of Ice and Fire:

The balance point here, as in any worldbuilding, is knowing how much material you need to know to feel comfortable writing in that world — which will always be less than you’ll actually use.  Even though my worlds are generally long on history and convoluted recitations thereof, I obviously won’t cram everything I’ve figured out into the books themselves (although I am getting more resigned to having to do an Osten Ard Companion someday, with Silmarillion-like tellings of all this background material.  A good project for my old age, shortly before all the dog hair I breathe and cat scratches I suffer from every day finally kill me).

If such a project takes place, the Osten Ard Companion would become the tenth or eleventh Osten Ard book, after The Burning Man, The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower (parts one and two), The Heart of What Was Lost, The Witchwood Crown, Empire of Grass, The Navigator’s Children, and The Shadow of Things to Come, the last three of which are expected sometime after the publication of The Witchwood Crown.

Williams’ original newsletter posting can be found here. You can subscribe to the newsletter at this link. Readers can speculate on who “so-and-so” is, and of what import the eight Gardenborn ships might play in the new series, and what role long-dead King Eahlstan has to play, on the Tad Williams Message Board, where there are already speculation threads for The Heart of What Was Lost and The Witchwood Crown.