Saturday, February 09, 2008

Edward Willett Interview, Part 4

Photo by Sharon Eisbrenner

Robert: So the next obvious question is how do you ensure "characters who are as much like real people as you can?" Are they based on people you know? (and do they know they are those characters?) or are they composites of people you know? Or do you just draw them from your head but try hard to work out the details in a consistent way?

Edward: I've never knowingly based a character on a real person (although I do borrow people's last names without shame). In a sense, though, I'd say all characters are composites of people we know, because what else do we have to draw on when it comes to portraying how real people think and talk and react?

I usually worry about whether my characters are acting consistently or not. I'm glad you think they turned out okay!

Robert: They're not only consistent, but the product of their histories....

So who do you read? Which writers inspire you? Influence your writing?

Edward: I suspect the most influential books on my writing aren't recent ones, but the ones I read as a youngster. The first SF book I can remember reading was Robert Silverberg's Revolt on Alpha C. After that can Robert A. Heinlein's "juveniles," most of which I read multiple times. (My three favorites there: Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Tunnel in the Sky, and Podkayne of Mars.) Andre Norton figures in there, too. Since I started writing novels in high school, I suspect their influence has seeped through everything I've ever written.

On the fantasy side, besides the aforementioned Norton (although I actually liked her SF as much or more than her fantasy), there were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, of course.

These days--I recently devoured the Dresden Files books after my brother introduced me to them. Naomi Novik's dragons-in-the-Napoleonic-era books are recent favorites as well. Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies have both blown me away. I never miss a Terry Pratchett.

I still read quite a few YA books, too, because I suspect I'll find myself writing in that field again--at least, I hope I do! On that side of things, Justine Larbelestier's Magic or Madness series is undoubtedly the best of my recent reads.

Robert: Oh Oh! I remember Revolt on Alpha C! I've never heard anyone else mention that book, but it was after reading that book that I started writing. (okay, haven't actually finished anything yet, but that's when I started writing). And now you mention it, I totally see the influence on Marseguro! Though I'd have to say the ethical dilemmas (and the killer robots for that matter) are better in Marseguro than Revolt. And yeah, I can see some influence of Hienlein in your writing.

So with the mentions of Pratchett and Tolkien et al, can we look for some mass market fantasy novels in the near future?

Edward: Gee, I hope so. I have a fantasy proposal in hand and will probably be putting it forward to DAW again very soon along with a possible third book in the Marseguro sequence. (I thought I'd be done after two, and maybe I will, but I can see the outline of a third, though I think that would definitely be the last.)

I enjoy writing fantasy as much as I enjoy writing science fiction, and there's the strictly commercial fact that fantasy outsells SF to consider, as well. Sheila Gilbert (my editor at DAW) has indicated she'd be happy to consider a fantasy from me, so...we'll see!

Robert: You also mentioned YA've done quite a few of these over the years. Are you involved in school visits? I'd think your obvious performance abilities would make you a big hit on the school tour circuit.

Edward: I do a few school visits every year. I'm not sure how big a hit I am, but I enjoy them. The biggest advantage being a performer gives me is that, if they get bored with my reading or answering questions, I can always burst into song. A rousing rendition of "Me" from Beauty and the Beast usually captures their attention (and mightily embarrasses those of them who can't imagine anyone doing that).

I enjoy answering questions more than I enjoy reading, actually. I try to answer everything honestly, even the ones that obviously aren't meant seriously. My favorite: "Is it true that all writers are alcoholics?"

Robert: Oh, nice!

Changing topics slightly, you've made the first two chapters of Marseguro available online. And you have an excellent blog - my favorite part of your blog is "the first sentence I wrote today" feature, which I find captivating -- it gives this odd peek at both the creative process and your next book. So my question is, how important do you think it is for an author to have a strong online presence these days?

Edward: I THINK it's very important, but I don't think you can prove it.

My blog, for example, is doing good to get a couple of dozen visitors a day, and most of those are just random Google encounters. Is that doing anything to sell my books? Maybe once in a blue moon.

My main website does better, with around 500 visitors a day, but that's almost entirely because all of my science columns are archived on there, so Google finds me a lot. I have an ad for Marseguro on every page, but does it sell any books? Who knows?

If you can develop a major web presence, like, say, John Scalzi (to name the obvious example) then I'm sure it helps a lot. For the average writer...I'm sure it helps to be online, but maybe not as much as we'd like to think.

When I studied public relations in university (part of my journalism major) one axiom stuck with me: 90 percent of advertising is wasted, but nobody knows which 90 percent it is. I suspect that's very true of online marketing efforts, too.

Plus, maintaining an online presence is work that takes away from other work, like, say, writing. It's much easier and more immediately gratifying to post to a blog than it is to actually write another chapter.

Which is one reason I like to do the "first sentence I wrote today" feature (although I'm a bit behind on that at the moment because of all the stuff I've been doing around Marseguro's release, among other things). It keeps the blog going while at the same time giving me just a little added incentive to actually write that first sentence, and subsequent sentences. If I know I'm going to tell the world how many words I wrote today, maybe I'll write a few more than I otherwise would!

Robert: Was "the first sentence I wrote today" original to you, or did you see someone else using? It seems to be absolutely brilliant for the reasons you mentioned -- not a distraction from the real work of writing and maybe even an additional motivation, while still engaging one's (potential) readers.

Edward: I don't think I"ve seen anyone else do it. I was inspired to do it by other writers who would occasionally post snippets of something they were working on, and still others who keep a progress chart showing how many words they'd written in a particular day. I just kind of combined the two.

Robert: Well, I think it is more effective even than posting first chapters online -- the 'first line I wrote today' gives a real sense of the book unfolding and the style, tone etc., while still working well as a 'tease' since there is not enough to really fill in the blanks without buying the book. I think some day you will receive some kind of award for coming up with the innovation that made blog-based promotion actually work for authors. Remarkably entertaining!

So how much time do you devote to your blog/web page typically in a day?

Edward: Half an hour to an hour, I'd guess. Sometimes more, sometimes none at all, although I like to get at least one entry on the blog every day.

I used to post more science links on the blog than I do now. Partly that's just because I'm so busy right now: when/if things ease off I'll do more of that. The other reason is that I now do some of that as one of the bloggers for Futurismic (, which is a science- and science-fiction group blog (and also has been, and hopefully will be again, a market for fiction) based in the U.K. I usually manage three or four posts there a week. Each one of those takes half an hour or more to pull together.

Then there's my main website, I want to completely redesign it, but that's a bit intimidating since it has something like 900 pages. I suspect I'll end up essentially creating a brand-new site from scratch and archiving the old one. I don't want to pull it down because there are science columns on it that people have linked to, so I don't want their URLs to change. It looks very late-90s now; very dated.

I should mention I also maintain, with some regularity, the news blog for SF Canada, the professional association of speculative fiction writers in Canada, at, and the website at, as well. Both of which I'm currently behind on, I admit, but hope to bring up to snuff soon.

Robert: Thanks so much for doing this interview! And good luck with sales of Marseguro-- and I can't wait for the sequel!

Edward: Thanks! It's been fun!

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