An Interview with Tad Williams, part 2

Below is Part Two of OstenArd.com’s interview with Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Tad Williams, author of the “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, “Otherland”, “Shadowmarch” and “Bobby Dollar” books, and who recently announced the completion of the first draft of The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of a series of sequel novels to his classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” trilogy.

(Part One of the interview can be found here).

In this interview, we asked Williams what it’s like to return to the world of Osten Ard, how he’s reacted to the announcement that Michael Whelan will be illustrating the covers, and what he’s been researching while working on The Witchwood Crown.

Michael Whelan painted the covers for the US and UK editions of "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn".

Michael Whelan painted the covers for the US and UK editions of “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.

OstenArd.com: It’s been recently announced that Michael Whelan will be doing the covers for the new Osten Ard books, just as he did for the classic MS&T series. When I spoke to him in person in November, he was excited and proud to be asked to create the new cover art for your books. How excited are you to know that his amazing work will be on the new books?

Tad Williams: I think it’s wonderful. It’s hard to imagine what anyone else could do with them, since Michael put his stamp on them so authoritatively. And I’ve always loved Michael’s work, since long before he intersected my career, or I even had a career to intersect. So, yes, thrilled to see what he’ll come up with, proud that he wants another go.

OA.com: On the TadWilliams.com message board, you revealed a partial character list. Any plans to reveal a more detailed or more extensive character list? Or would that be too spoilery?

Tad: I intend at some point — probably closing of rewrite of first draft — to update and correct that list. Also, I may very well release the chapter titles, which won’t necessarily give anything away conclusively, but will certainly inspire some guesswork.

OA.com: When MS&T was first published the initial critical reaction was disappointing since critics only read it as a generic fantasy trilogy and failed to see more than that. Only a few critics (like Roz Kaveney) saw beneath the surface and recognized it as a revisionist fantasy. But 30 years on, a new generation of writers is acknowledging their debt to MS&T (Brandon Sanderson, Christopher Paolini, even GRRM), and MS&T is widely regarded as “classic”. Are you still disappointed over the lack of critical appreciation? Do you think that the new trilogy will change that?

Tad: I’m kind of resigned to the fact that for whatever reason, I will remain one of those weird tastes, like some odd ice cream flavor, that some people will be passionate about, and others won’t quite get the fuss. And, in all fairness, I’m just writing fantasy and science fiction books that I’d like to read. It’s not like I think I’m all that important myself in the first place. But, yes, it’s heartening when people DO understand that I put a lot of thought and care into this, that I’m not just writing extra-long role playing adventures, that I bring a few other skills and interests to the table. My wife says, “Don’t worry, they (critics and trendsetters) will kiss your ass after you’re dead”, to which I usually reply, “That doesn’t sound like it will be all that much fun for either of us.”

OA.com: Has Osten Ard society changed in the last 30 years? Does Simon’s upbringing have lasting influence on his kingship and if so was he able to change things? Did he want to?

Tad: That’s one of the things that will definitely be a part of the story, so It’s hard to discuss without giving things away. But, yes, Simon and Miri and the lessons their lives have brought them will have a lot to do with the future of Osten Ard, and they both want to be “good” rulers, so they’ve spent a lot of time since the end of TGAT trying to figure out what that means and how to accomplish it, with mixed success (as is true with all of us with just about anything).

OA.com: How difficult is it to “collaborate with yourself”, as it were, in writing a sequel to a story you wrapped up over twenty years ago? Are you trying to match the style and mood of the original, or are you just trusting yourself that it will come out right? Do you find yourself remembering any of the feelings or thoughts you had when writing MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN, even things you’d forgotten until now?

Tad: I won’t really know until I’ve finished, because when I’m writing things they are always composed of dangly bits and rough edges that have to be fixed, and that’s where I am right now — all dangly bits.

Some of the process is easier than a first-time novel, because for instance I already feel I know who Simon and Miriamele are in a deep sense, and can guess which things would be appropriate to their adult selves, and which wouldn’t be. But of course I’m not just trying to match a style, or match older characters to their younger selves, I’m also trying to match an -impact- as well, because I’m messing with material that in some ways means more to readers than it does to me. While I know I will never be able to write new stories which have the same impact for the older fans, I want them to feel appropriate, and that I took the best possible care of old favorites while justifying a sequel by adding new material. And of course, I can’t forget about all the people who may read this without having read the first books. I don’t want to freeze them out and make it some kind of nostalgia fest. So it’s a very interesting, occasionally terrifying thing to do.

OA.com: For the Shadowmarch series, you mentioned doing research on geology, iirc. What sort of research did you do (are doing) for TLKOOA?

Tad: Ohmigod, what amn’t I researching? I’ll pick some bookmarks at random:

The Morrigan
Battle of Walcourt
List of Anglo-Saxon place names
Ice Cave Picture
3D plans for Skipton Castle
Tetraplegia
Traditional Gaelic Names
Monasticism in Western Europe
The Male and Female Names of Animals
History of the Wool Trade
Crows roosting
Proto-Indo-European
Akasha (name)
Entheogens of Antiquity
Parthenocarpy
Central Asian Steppes
Mythical Thule
Sami People

and so on and so on, to the tune of about five hundred bookmarks. Not to mention the fact that I’ve got about forty or so research books that I have out and in use just for this story alone, as well as copious notes from the first book and various other bits and bobs. (Message Board conversations, Maps, etc.) So, yeah, there’s research in all my stuff, but I think this one is second only to OTHERLAND in terms of how much material I’m using.

(To be continued…)

Part Three

Michael Whelan agrees to illustrate “The Witchwood Crown”

Michael Whelan painted the covers for the US and UK editions of "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn".

Michael Whelan painted the covers for the US and UK editions of “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”.

Legendary sci-fi/fantasy illustrator Michael Whelan has agreed to illustrate the cover of Tad Williams’ latest Osten Ard novel, The Witchwood Crown. This is exciting news for fans of both Tad Williams and Michael Whelan. Whelan created the original beautiful covers for The Dragonbone Chair (in 1988), Stone of Farewell (1990), and New York Times bestseller To Green Angel Tower (1993).

Whelan’s paintings have appeared on more than 350 books, including those of Stephen King, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, and Piers Anthony. His work on Tad Williams books included all four volumes of “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”, all four volumes of “Otherland”, and the first three volumes of “Shadowmarch”, including several alternate covers.

The announcement and further details of the new commission can be found on Michael Whelan’s official site.

Michael Whelan, Guy Gavriel Kay, L.E. Modesitt, Stephen R Donaldson, Rajan Khanna, others appear at World Fantasy Convention 2014

(L-R) Irene Gallo, Chris Roberts, Les Edwards, Michael Whelan, and moderator at World Fantasy Convention 2014.

(L-R) Irene Gallo, Chris Roberts, Les Edwards, Michael Whelan, and moderator at World Fantasy Convention 2014.

World Fantasy Convention 2014 begins this weekend in Arlington, Virginia. Guests of Honor include Guy Gavriel Kay (Under Heaven, River of Stars) and Toastmaster Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamour in Glass, Valour and Vanity).

Michael Whelan, illustrator of more than 350 science fiction and fantasy books, is also appearing, and will do signings, discussions, and an art tour. Stephen R Donaldson, perhaps most famous for The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, will also do a reading.

Rajan Khanna does a reading of his new zombie book, Falling Skies, at World Fantasy Convention 2014 on Thursday October 6th.

Rajan Khanna does a reading of his new zombie book, Falling Skies, at World Fantasy Convention 2014 on Thursday October 6th.

Rajan Khanna, author of Falling Sky, appeared at a reading on Thursday afternoon. This was followed later that day by an art review featuring SciFi/Fantasy illustrators Les Edwards, and Michael Whelan. Whelan, of course, did the US artwork for Tad Williams’ books The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower, among many others. Whelan pointed out that one of his influences is Frank Frazetta, illustrating his influence with the below pieces:

Whelan also stated that Donald A Wollheim refused to buy artwork that was green, stating that green wouldn’t sell well. Whelan got around the prohibition by turning in the final colored proofs as late as possible.

Guy Gavriel Kay reading from "The Summer Tree" at WFC 2014.

Guy Gavriel Kay reading from “The Summer Tree” at WFC 2014.

Guy Gavriel Kay made an appearance on “The Reading That Never Was”, a discussion about his first appearance at WFC in Ottawa in 1984. Kay had been asked to do a reading of his first book, The Summer Tree. Unfortunately, he was scheduled against Stephen King, and due to a non-existent attendance, the 1984 reading was aborted. Kay read an excerpt from The Summer Tree, reading a part of the story that he had meant to write thirty years earlier. The following day, he granted interviews with fans and made an appearance at “Dynastic China and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Kitai”, a scholarly presentation by professor Anna M Shields of the University of Maryland.


Stephen R Donaldson reads from his unpublished manuscript.

Stephen R Donaldson reads from his unpublished manuscript.

On Friday, Stephen R. Donaldson, author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, did a reading from his new, as-yet-unpublished novella. Donaldson says that, although he thought he was through with The Chronicles, a voice told him to write more stories. The novella is the result of that voice. Donaldson has yet to find a publisher.