An Interview With Tad Williams

Legendary Fantasy and Science Fiction author Tad Williams talks about Empire of Grass and several additional Osten Ard novels

osten ard w
e at Treacherous Paths are proud to bring readers another exclusive interview with storyteller Tad Williams, bestselling author of the “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” and “The Last King of Osten Ard” series of books. Tad’s publisher, DAW Books, has recently released Empire of Grass, volume two of “The Last King” series.empire of grass by tad williams

In this interview, we asked Williams about details of Empire of Grass, how his work on The Navigator’s Children is going, and asked for details about The Lady of the Woods, The Shadow of Things to Come, Brothers of the Sky, and The Veils of Heaven. The answers we received were often quite surprising!

Questions that have no spoilers for EoG:

Treacherous Paths: Tad, you’ve cited several authors (Tolkien, Zelazny, Peake, Moorcock, Baum, and many others) as well as world mythology and history as being influences on your writing. What other sources, such as film, television, or radio, have influenced the writing of your Osten Ard books?

Tad Williams: Hard to say, because so many of my written influences began early, and I only remember them all because I still have the books.

The Addams Family, New Yorker cartoons and then the television show, definitely had an effect on my lifestyle if not my writing. Get Smart as a reflection of the spy genre probably activated some of my absurdist tendencies, as did Monty Python and other English comedy later. I admired the early Universal monster movies, and I was scared to death by Godzilla when I was super-young.

IMG_3021 (1)Treacherous Paths: In 2017, The Witchwood Crown was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in the category Best Fantasy Novel, and in 2018 it was nominated for a Gemmell Award. This year, you’ll be the Writer Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles. Were you surprised to receive so much recognition in the States for The Witchwood Crown and your return to Osten Ard?

Tad Williams: Always surprised by ANY recognition, but it’s true that I was a bit startled to see all the kind words people showered on the original trilogy when I announced the new books. As I’ve said elsewhere, it also made me nervous about the project for the first time, because I realized if I screwed up I wouldn’t just be writing a bad book, I’d be souring people’s memory of a series they had enjoyed. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case and I finally stopped worrying about it after the second volume, Empire of Grass.

Treacherous Paths: You drop by the Tad Williams Message Board, which you founded in 2001 as part of your “Shadowmarch” project, from time to time to discuss your work with avid readers. What do you like (or dislike) about that interaction with your readers?

Tad Williams: I love any interaction with readers, but it’s sometimes difficult to discuss ongoing work because 1) the readers are usually a year or two behind what I’m actually doing, which makes me want to spill all the beans, and 2) whenever someone says anything even mildly critical, I begin weeping and cursing the heavens. So it’s best for me only to discuss things I’ve already written, because it’s too late (because they’re already published) for me to quit writing them in a huff because someone says a series I’m working on is “not as riveting” as the previous books, or that they “like his fantasy more than his science fiction” or whatever.

Treacherous Paths: You’re now writing The Navigator’s Children, the conclusion to “The Last King of Osten Ard”. How is the writing going? Do you still believe this series will be a trilogy? Long-time Tad readers are skeptical because it has never actually happened.

Tad Williams: Long-time readers better not get too snippy, because I’ve actually managed to hit my mark on all my books except Shadowmarch. Yes, the original Osten And volume three is…well, long. And Shadowmarch needed an extra book. But on the others, I’ve actually done what I said. Otherland was always a tetralogy, and the Bobby Dollar books were cites as three and finished in three. So there. Nyah, nyah, and I repeat, nyah.

Anyway, The Navigator’s Children will certainly be shorter than To Green Angel Tower, and I frankly don’t expect it to be too much longer than The Witchwood Crown. But talk is cheap, so we’ll have to check in again when it gets published.

Treacherous Paths: You’ve mentioned in several interviews a number of additional Osten Ard book projects, including The Shadow of Things to Come, and, in a Reddit interview, The Lady of the Wood. Can you tell us a little more about these two projects?

Tad Williams: I wrote The Lady of the Wood for an anthology that was to be edited by the late and very much missed Gardner Dozois, but his death meant that the story had no home. I haven’t published it yet because between the (already sold) other short novel to go with the current trilogy, I intend to write at least one other Osten-Ard-related short novel, and so I’m going to wait and discuss with my American publishers how they’d like to handle such a bundle of Osten-Ardia.

Treacherous Paths: Recently, your wife, fellow author Deborah Beale, shared with us a recording where you talk about another previously-unmentioned Osten Ard novel, called The Veils of Heaven. Can you tell us more about this project? (And will we finally discover why Initri has a beard?)

Tad Williams: The Veils of Heaven? I must have been half-asleep and dreaming when I told her, because I have no memory. The short story (Lady of the Wood) is a Camaris story. The original short-novel-that-goes-with-the-new-trilogy was going to be about the fall of Asu’a and Ineluki becoming the Storm King, but I think now I’m going to write that as a separate and slightly longer standalone book, leaving Brothers of the Sky —the tale of how Hakatri and Ineluki slew the dragon Hidohebhi and what happened because of it — as the other connected short novel.

Treacherous Paths: Any other Osten Ard books you’re considering writing? Why the change from not writing in the world for so many years, to suddenly writing, like, 20 new books? Not talking specifically about your conversation with Deborah about there not being any more story to tell, but how this evolved into you writing what seems to be three or four additional novels that aren’t part of the new series.

Tad Williams: The main thing that’s changed is that I found out I enjoy fleshing out Osten Ard. Before I was more worried about being seen to deliberately write long series, sequel after sequel. Also, I always had more ideas than time. But I realized while working on The Witchwood Crown that it felt just as exciting and engaging and genuine as writing a new story, so I thought, well, if more story ideas come, why not? And since I’ve been working in Osten Ard for like five years now, the ideas keep popping up for other tales.

Treacherous Paths: A number of fantasy authors have cited you as an influence on their works. Did you ever think, when you were writing “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” that you would influence the next generation of writers?

Tad Williams: I wanted to, yes. That was why there was a metafictional layer of criticism in it about the current state of epic fantasy, and a reflection on some differences between me (Tolkien lover but not, I hoped, Tolkien imitator) and a lot of other work going on at that time. But then nobody seemed to notice that part, treating it as just another (if better than some) “Tolkienesque big fantasy”. Apparently some did notice, they just didn’t write about it in reviews. So I’m pleased that in some ways it WAS influential, because I was a bit despairing at the time. To be frank, I wanted to write what Game of Thrones became — the next milestone in epic fantasy. Apparently it was closer to that than I knew, if still nowhere near as well-known as George’s epic.The-Dragonbone-Chair

Treacherous Paths: You’ve previously mentioned that when you were first writing The Dragonbone Chair, Sir Camaris was called Casimir, Simon was called Martin, Cadrach was a one-off character who you didn’t plan to continue, and the series was to be called “The Sons of Presbyter John”. What other changes or alterations did you make which avid readers might be interested to know?

Tad Williams: The problem with questions about the origins of Osten Ard is that it feels like it was another lifetime ago. I never take that many notes — you and another friend/reader have seen the only notebook I retain from back then — and so I have to rely on my memory. I remember Hernystir was originally called “Hernegyn”, that Binabik was “Bilabil”. “Elias” as a name goes back to the caption on a drawing I made when I was about fifteen — some dramatic fantasy-looking villain character called “Black Elias” — and the reason Prester John was Prester John was because the story was going to take place in “the real world” — our own world, but in some imaginary version of the past where magic worked.

Questions that have spoilers, or potential spoilers, for Empire of Grass:

Treacherous Paths: In Empire of Grass, some characters visit the ancient Sithi city of Da’ai Chikiza, allowing you as a writer to return to one of the most beloved lost cities in fiction. What surprised you the writer, if anything, about returning to this site specifically?

Tad Williams: The surprising thing is how little I actually described in the first books, and having to kind of start from scratch imagining its layout and its history. This means a great deal of freedom but also a great deal more work than if I had actually made it a bit more concrete. (In the adjectival rather than the nominative sense.)

Treacherous Paths: What was the most difficult element of writing Empire of Grass?

Tad Williams: The difficulty in any middle book of a trilogy or tetralogy is keeping it all relevant and exciting when the reader knows it’s not going to have a real beginning or a real ending. You sort of admit at the start that nothing’s going to change so much that the story will end soon, so you have to give the reader other things instead. The characters must begin changing, the mysteries deepen, and new but interesting factors must come into play. As far as EoG in particular, just having to make certain the new characters and situations are truly engaging and not merely new is probably the most difficult bit. Also giving the readers a sense of some of what will happen at the end of the whole story without spoiling it, since you want to build momentum.

Treacherous Paths: Which characters have been your favorites to write in these new books? Or does an author not allow himself favorites? Would it be like choosing a favorite child?

Tad Williams: Sometimes, yes. But in these books, my favorites really change depending on their situation. Sometimes it’s great fun writing Snenneq. Other times I’ve enjoyed the interactions between Jarnulf and Nezeru, or the backgrounding of the Norn civilization. But it’s also been fun to see my young characters from MS&T grown — middle-aged, in fact, like me — and still being the same people, only more so. Watching Miri kick ass, for instance, or Simon baffled by politics because common sense never seems to come into it. And it’s always fun to write villains, and I have a few good ones (I think) in these books.

Treacherous Paths: During the writing of The Witchwood Crown, you mentioned all the research you were doing for the novel. What topics of research have you been doing for The Navigator’s Children?

Tad Williams: These books, dating back to Dragonbone Chair, have always been research-intensive. I like to write pseudo-medieval worlds that actually feel like they existed before the story and will exist after it as well, places where most people are NOT part of the story but going about their lives, where the economies actually work and the things that are different from the “real world” fit in and make sense. So as usual I’m up to my bra-straps (okay, not really — I’m a go-natural dude) in medieval life and history, in the folklore of dozens of other cultures, in books about geology and botany and ecology, and a dozen other things. Actually, that’s the fun part. Making it into a story is work, but learning things is fun.

Treacherous Paths: In Empire of Grass, you have a Sitha character, Tanahaya, try to warn other Sithi of imminent danger, using a Witness. The communication breaks down, and the masked face of the gloating, evil Norn Akhenabi appears, mocking Tanahaya. The city is then attacked by Norns. This scene is quite reminiscent of a similar scene in Stone of Farewell, where the Sitha woman Amerasu uses the Mist Lamp, a Master Witness, to warn other Sithi of the danger of the Norns. The communication is intercepted by the evil Norn Queen Utuk’ku, who mocks Amerasu and then has her assassinated. I guess this was an intentional shout-out to the scene written 30 years earlier?

Tad Williams: Never assume with me that something is just a shout-out. Sometimes it’s a trick. Of course, in order to trick people effectively, I have to sometimes do things that are exactly what they look like. I guess you have to make your own suppositions on this. Or wait until the last volume.

Treacherous Paths: Book Three of the new series is called The Navigator’s Children. Based on that title, we’ll learn more about Ruyan Ve’s people, the Tinukeda’ya or Vao. In the previous four volumes, the Tinukeda’ya were quite literally tertiary figures: the third group of non-mortals that nobody ever talked about. What made you decide the story of the Vao was central to the story of “The Last King of Osten Ard”?

Tad Williams: A number of things, but primarily that I had hinted at the painful history between them and the Sithi and Norns in the first books, and so it was a fertile area to explore. I knew, for instance, that many of the “monsters” and other strange creatures of Osten Ard had Tinukeda’ya blood — to use the ancient word: we’d probably call it DNA — since way back in MS&T, but never discussed it. (I may have hinted in a few places, but I’d have to go back and look for specific instances.) Also, the debt owed to exploited peoples is kind of a current topic, so it seemed like useful subject matter. And it all fitted in with various things about the history of Osten Ard and the Garden that I wanted to expand.

ReeRee a Chikri of Osten Ard

Ree Ree, a Chikri; one of the new creatures seen in Osten Ard. Drawing by Tad Williams.

Treacherous Paths: In this volume, we see a faction of Sithi called The Pure, and a group of Vao, or part-Vao creatures, called The Hidden. We also see creatures called Pengi, Qallipuk, Chikri, etc. When you were writing “MS&T”, did you have an inkling that these groups existed, or was this something that took many years to develop in your writerly brain?

Tad Williams: As mentioned above, I knew from early on in the MS&T days that many of these creatures were related by connection to the Vao and the Garden, and that there were probably others not mentioned in the first series. The Qallipuk are new to this series, but I’ve been thinking of a river-equivalent of kilpa for a while, and when I saw some programs about Welsh catfish and the Indian goonch, I knew what I wanted to use as the basis for the new critter. But, yes, I always knew that there were creatures in Osten Ard that were more human — or at least humanoid — than they first appeared, and that the reason was a crossover of the Garden into various Osten Ard biomes (to use a science-word as a shortcut). Almost all my monsters and non-human creatures in my fiction, from the Sithi to the dragons and unicorns in Ordinary Farm, start out as me trying to figure out how such a monster or unusual animal would survive and how it would actually function in a “real” world.

The trick, of course, is to make it fit into a fantasy setting and feel like a fantasy trope, not science-fiction.

If the trick fails, then the next trick is to leave town before the readers can get online to denounce you.

[End of interview. We’d like to thank Tad and Deborah, as always, for their time.]

Title of Fifth New Osten Ard Novel Announced

osten ard t

he title of Tad Williams’ fifth new Osten Ard novel was made public this week on Facebook. The novel, which will be an interquel rather than a strict sequel, will be named The Shadow of Things to Come.

Williams, an international bestselling author, has hinted about this fifth novel in the past, but the title of the new book has remained under wraps until recently. In a previous Facebook posting, Williams wrote:

I would guess that the second short novel [The Shadow of Things to Come] will come out between The Witchwood Crown and Empire of Grass, but that’s a guess until we work out the schedule with publishers. The story at this stage is one of a number of possibilities, so I think I’ll talk about it next newsletter, or perhaps when actually I’m writing it and it’s jumping like the tree frogs around here whenever we get some rain. All the possibilities are pretty interesting, I have to say.

Tad Williams states that Simon Snowlock is less of a cynic than his wife, Miriamele. Possible plot point?

To Green Angel Tower (1993)

In all, five new books set in Williams’ eldritch world of Osten Ard will see worldwide publication over the next few years. Publishers in the US, UK, Germany, and the Netherlands have already been announced. The first new novel, The Heart of What Was Lost, was originally envisioned as a short story, but like many of Williams’ stories, expanded greatly in the telling. The original working title of this novel was The Heart of Regret, but that title has since been changed. The Heart of What Was Lost is set immediately after the events of To Green Angel Tower (published in 1993), and could be seen as a sequel novel to Williams’ original classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” books:

The story [of The Heart of What Was Lost] follows [Duke] Isgrimnur [of Elvritshalla] as he leads an army against the Storm King’s defeated warriors, who are looting and killing as they fall back to Nakkiga, their mountain home in the far north.

The Heart of What Was Lost is expected to be published in January 2017, followed by The Witchwood Crown in late Winter 2017. This second new Osten Ard novel will continue the story some thirty years later. After The Witchwood Crown will come The Shadow of Things to Come, Empire of Grass, and The Navigator’s Children, though not necessarily in that order.

Williams has given several interviews over the last year regarding several of the new Osten Ard books. We will provide more details on OstenArd.com regarding these highly-anticipated new novels when possible; alternately, you can subscribe to Williams’ official newsletter.

 

Tad Williams updates readers with the chapter titles for “The Witchwood Crown”

Tad Williams, author of the “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” books, today posted an update on his progress with The Witchwood Crown, volume one of “The Last King of Osten Ard”, sequel series to “MS&T”

The current manuscript is over 1,000 pages, comprised of 54 chapters. (Williams is no stranger to very long manuscripts, many of his novels clocking in at around the same size. The third “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” book, To Green Angel Tower, is one of the longest novels in the English language.)

Williams wrote:

Here are my much-delayed revised chapter titles.  These are still subject to change, but they all have something to do with their chapters now.  (Often I will start a chapter with a title, but decide to deal with something different instead of my original plan for that chapter, then forget to change the title.)

Anyway, make of them what you will.  It will be a while until I have a good cast list to share.

THE WITCHWOOD CROWN
Volume One of THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD

Foreword

PART ONE: WIDOWS

Ch. 1 – The Glorious
Ch. 2 – Conversation with a Corpse-Giant
Ch. 3 – Brother Monarchs
Ch. 4 – Island of Bones
Ch. 5 – An Aversion to Widows
Ch. 6 – The Finest Tent on the Frostmarch
Ch. 7 – Audience with the Ever-Living
Ch. 8 – A Meeting On Lantern Bridge
Ch. 9 – Heart of the Kynswood
Ch. 10 – The Third Duke
Ch. 11 – Ghosts of the Garden
Ch. 12 – Baroness Alva’s Tale

Ch. 13 – Hymns of the Lightless
Ch. 14 – At the Top of the Holy Tree
Ch. 15 –  A Passage of Arms
Ch. 16 – A Hand In The Snow
Ch. 17 – No Shadow
Ch. 18 – A Bad Book
Ch. 19 – Unnatural Birth
Ch. 20 – His Bright Gem
Ch. 21 – Crossroad
Ch. 22 – Death Songs
Ch. 23 – Testament of the White Hand

PART TWO: ORPHANS

Ch. 24 – Terrible Flame
Ch. 25 – Example of a Dead Hedgehog
Ch. 26 – The Small Council
Ch. 27 – Noontide At The Quarely Maid
Ch. 28 – Cradle Songs of Red Pig Lagoon
Ch. 29 – Bones and Black Statues
Ch. 30 – The Slow Game
Ch. 31 – A High, Dark Place
Ch. 32 – Rosewater and Balsam
Ch. 33 – Secrets and Promises
Ch. 34 – Feeding The Familiar
Ch. 35 – The Man with the Odd Smile
Ch. 36 – A Foolish Dream
Ch. 37 – Two Bedroom Conversations
Ch. 38 – The Factor’s Ship
Ch. 39 – A Grassland Wedding
Ch. 40 – Watching Like God

PART THREE: EXILES

Ch. 41 – Hern’s Horde
Ch. 42 – Forest Music
Ch. 43 – Into Deeper Shadows
Ch. 44 – Charms and Tokens
Ch. 45 – A Nighttime Sun
Ch. 46 – River Man
Ch. 47 – Hidden Chambers
Ch. 48 – The Little Boats
Ch. 49 – Blood As Black As Night
Ch. 50 – Stolen Scales
Ch. 51 – Several Matters of State
Ch. 52 – Homecoming
Ch. 53 – The Queen’s Pleasure
Ch. 54 – Voices Unheard, Faces Unseen

There are some inconsistencies with the chapter titles; for example, Chapter 27’s title, referring to the Quarely Maid, is not the name of the inn chosen by readers on the official message board last year. But of course, these chapter titles are subject to change or revision. The Witchwood Crown is expected to be released in Spring 2016, followed sometime thereafter by Empire of Grass and The Navigator’s Children.

Tad Williams announces completion of first draft of “The Witchwood Crown”!

Tad Williams (and Frankie Williams).

Tad Williams (and Frankie Beale-Williams).

On Facebook this weekend, Tad Williams, bestselling author of more than a dozen speculative fiction novels, including the classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” series, announced the completion of the first draft of The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the upcoming sequel series, “The Last King of Osten Ard”.

On the social media platform, Williams wrote:

I’ve finished the (tidied and revised) version of the first draft of The Witchwood Crown. Currently it’s 1071 pages, about 311K words. Yes, I’ve written another not-small book. Surprise!

The writing process has been very fast, with the announcement of the highly-anticipated new series only being made in April of last year. The Witchwood Crown is expected to be published in Spring 2016, with subsequent volumes, tentatively titled Empire of Grass and The Navigator’s Children, published sometime thereafter. Negotiations for foreign-language translations have already been inked.

News of Williams’ return to Osten Ard has readers and critics alike excited, with Daniel Kaszor of The National Post writing that “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” “redefined what traditional fantasy could be”, while Google calls the series “the trilogy that launched one of the most important fantasy writers of our time.”

Publishers Line Up for “The Last King of Osten Ard”

Stone of Farewell, book 2 of Memory Sorrow and ThornGood news for readers of Tad Williams’ books in Europe!

Following last year’s press releases that DAW Books in the US and Hodder and Stoughton in the UK will publish “The Last King of Osten Ard” is news this month that the as-yet unpublished book will be translated into German and Dutch for overseas readers.

Dutch publisher Luitingh has acquired the publishing rights to the new series in the Netherlands. Luitingh has previous translated Williams’ four-volume “Shadowmarch” series as well as the single-volume entry, The War of the Flowers.

In Germany, a major market for Williams’ books, Klett-Cotta has acquired the rights to publication in Germany, according to PublishersMarketplace.com (registration required). Klett-Cotta has previously published translations of most of Williams’ books, including “Shadowmarch”, a four-volume edition of “Das Geheimnis der Großen Schwerter” (“Memory, Sorrow and Thorn”), Traumjäger und Goldpfote (Tailchaser’s Song), the “Tinkerfarm” books (“Ordinary Farm”), Der Blumenkrieg (The War of the Flowers), “Otherland” and Der brennende Mann (The Burning Man).

The Witchwood Crown, the first volume of Williams’s upcoming “The Last King of Osten Ard” trilogy, is expected in the US and the UK in Spring 2016. Foreign-language editions will be published sometime afterwards. The Witchwood Crown will be followed by Empire of Grass and The Navigator’s Children.

 

Williams completes 700 pages of “The Witchwood Crown”

Bestselling speculative fiction author Tad Williams announced on his message board today that he has completed 700 manuscript pages of The Witchwood Crown, the first volume in his new “The Last King of Osten Ard” trilogy sequel to the classic “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” series. Williams wrote:

Politics will definitely show up in these books.

Nabban is a major focus.

I’ve just crested 700 pages after a REALLY difficult last few weeks. Remodel, everything in the house stashed in various rooms and therefore unfindable, HUGE flea attack (because of new cat) leading to sick cat in the hospital on life support (now apparently going to survive and be okay). Third major pet breakdown in a month or two leading to hospitalization and fear of pet-extinction. And about ninety other things, including birthdays, Smarchmoots (not everything bad, see?) and various other attention-distracters.

But the book continues! Y’all let me know if the fleas creep thematically into the finished product. I’m too close. And too itchy.

The Witchwood Crown is tentatively set to be published around Spring 2016. The first volume will be followed by Empire of Grass and finally The Navigator’s Children, all published by DAW Books.

Breaking News: Tad Williams Returns to Osten Ard With New Series

 

Cover of The Dragonbone Chair, book 1 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Cover of The Dragonbone Chair, book 1 of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

The blogosphere is already rumbling about the news: DAW Books has announced they will be publishing The Last King of Osten Ard, a sequel trilogy to Tad Williams’ New York Times bestselling Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. The series will begin with The Witchwood Crown, followed by Empire of Grass, and then volume three, The Navigator’s Children.

From the DAW press release:

In this new trilogy, Williams journeys back to the magical land of Osten Ard and continues the story of beloved characters King Simon and Queen Miriamele, married now for thirty years, and introduces newcomer Prince Morgan, their heir apparent. Also expanded is the story of the twin babies born to Prince Josua and Lady Vorzheva—a birth heralded by prophecy, which has been the subject of feverish fan speculation since the release of To Green Angel Tower in 1993.

In The Last King of Osten Ard, Williams returns with the ingenious worldbuilding, jaw dropping twists and turns, and unparalleled storytelling that have made him one of fantasy’s brightest stars for more thirty years.

More information can be found here and here.