Edward Willett is an award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for children and adults. As a freelance writer for over 25 years, Edward is the author of more than 60 books, a professional actor and singer, and the host of a new podcast, The Worldshapers.
Edward, thank you for agreeing to this interview. After working in a field of journalism, you became a fulltime freelance writer in 1993. Did you expect your writing career to move in the direction it has gone? If you could, tell us what that experience has been like for you.
Well, I rather hoped I’d be writing nothing but fiction by now, but instead, I’ve continued to be a mixed (possibly mixed-up) author of both fiction and nonfiction (and one or two plays, and even some poetry). I also do a lot of editing, some audiobook narration, and occasionally perform professionally as a stage actor (more often, I do that just for fun). Having to write fiction in and around everything else is a bit of a nuisance, but hey, it beats digging ditches. (Also, as I like to say, though my wife is rather tired of the joke, my best career move was marrying a professional engineer.)
I know you have had a few releases this year, but your YA Fantasy Series, Shards of Excalibur, is what first caught my eye! With some great reviews to back up this series, is this where you would have fantasy lovers start to be introduced to your writing? With such a wide variety of books written, what led you to write this series?
The Shards of Excalibur series (published by Coteau Books) is a great place to discover the young-adult side of my writing, for sure. I wrote it for the same reason I write anything: I had a great idea, I thought. The Shards of Excalibur begins when the Lady of the Lake from the Arthurian legend shows up in Wascana Lake, which is a sizeable manmade lake in the heart of Regina, Saskatchewan (as it happens, I live a stone’s throw—well, a longish stone’s throw, more of a catapult throw) from the lake, and often walk around it. It was on such a perambulation one morning when the lake was shrouded in mist, that it occurred to me that anything could be hiding in that pewter-colored water. I’ve always been fascinated by the Arthurian tales, and so those two things came together.
In the first book, Song of the Sword, Ariane Forsythe, a Regina teen who is living with her aunt after having been bounced around foster homes for a while in the wake of her mother’s mysterious apparent breakdown and then disappearance, hears singing from the lake, and is drawn down a magical, watery staircase into its depths, where she meets the Lady of the Lake. The Lady tells Ariane that she is heir to the Lady’s power and must use that power to find the scattered pieces of Excalibur before the evil Merlin can do so—Merlin having taken, in the modern world, the guise of a Steve Jobs/Bill Gates-like computer magnate named Rex Major. Ariane gets an unexpected companion on this quest in the form of Wally Knight, a slightly younger and much geekier boy who just “happens” to see the staircase and stumble down into the Lady’s presence as well.
Over the course of the five books (the remaining four are Twist of the Blade, Lake in the Clouds, Cave Beneath the Sea, and Door into Faerie), the two teens try to find the shards while staying one step ahead of Rex Major. Their quest takes them all over the world, but they always come back to Saskatchewan—and that’s the other reason I wrote the series: why shouldn’t Saskatchewan be the setting for a young adult fantasy? After all, as my wife likes to say when you live in Saskatchewan, a place like Tuscany might seem exotic…but when you live in Tuscany, Moose Jaw is exotic.
The books are available in both print and electronic format, and the audiobooks, narrated by Elizabeth Klett, have just been released. They really are a great way to discover my young adult writing.
Your newest release, Worldshaper, had its gorgeous cover completed by the talented Juliana Kolesova. Can you give us the overview of the world, the story, and the characters? What was the most difficult part about writing this novel?
Worldshaper begins in a world that seems very much like ours, except for some…oddities. For example, the main professional sport is lacrosse (kite-fighting is big, too), peace has broken out in various trouble spots, and there are lunar colonies. The main character (most, though not all, of the book is told in first person from her viewpoint), Shawna Keys, has just opened her new pottery studio in a small Montana city. She has good friends, a great boyfriend…everything seems to be going her way. Except…a strange man has been standing outside her apartment at night, staring up at her window. And there’s a terrible storm brewing over the mountains that no one else seems to see.
And then, as she and her friend Aesha walk to the local coffee shop for lunch, a vanload of armed men pulls up and starts firing. They turn the coffee shop into a blood-drenched abbatoir. Aesha is killed right in front of Shawna. Then the leader of the terrorists walks up to Shawna, calls her by name, and points his pistol at her head…
Shawna can’t believe it’s happening. She screams out loud, “This isn’t happening!”—and, just like that, it isn’t. It hasn’t. Except everyone who died has vanished, including Aesha. Nobody else even remembers Shawna’s friend or any of the others, ever existed.
That’s when the mysterious man who’s been staring at her window shows up in her shop and tells her his name is Karl Yatsar, he serves a woman called Ygrair, and the world Shawna has always thought is the one and only is one of many within a vast extra-dimensional Labyrinth of worlds. Ygrair, Karl says, gave the world to Shawna to Shape as she saw fit, as she has given all the other worlds within the Labyrinth to others with the ability to Shape as they saw fit. All these Shaped worlds are now under attack from an ancient Adversary of Ygrair’s, who seeks to bring them all under his authoritarian control and then to destroy Ygrair—and all the Shaped worlds along with her.
Karl tells Shawna her rewriting of events in the coffee shop was proof to him that she is a particularly powerful Shaper who might be able to save all the Shaped worlds…if she’ll come with him from world to world, finding the Shapers who live within them, and gathering their secret knowledge of those worlds to herself, to protect them from the Adversary and so she can deliver that knowledge to Ygrair, who can then drive the Adversary from the Labyrinth completely.
That’s what he says. Shawna isn’t sure how much of that she believes, but she has little choice but to follow him as the Adversary once more closes in on her. She and Karl must flee across her world, which is beginning to change as the Adversary, having stolen her knowledge of her world, Shapes it to his advantage, and escape into the next world before the Adversary can find her and kill her.
And then…an endless series of other worlds awaits, each unique, each different…each dangerous: steampunk worlds, fantasy worlds, worldsof Gothic horror, film noir worlds…the possibilities are endless.
Lest that all sound horribly heavy and depressing, Shawna Keys is a smart-aleck with (not too surprisingly) a sense of humor very much like my own and a solid pop-culture background that includes fantasy novels, musical theatre, and more, all of which are referenced.
The most difficult part of writing this first book was getting the underpinnings of the setting right. I spent a lot of time talking to my editor, Sheila E. Gilbert at DAW Books, about exactly how Shaping works, how people travel from world to world, and so forth, as well as developing a detailed backstory for Ygrair which spells out exactly what the Labyrinth is and how she came to Earth…because that’s not her homeworld at all.
I have read in past interviews that you are aiming to entertain readers without preaching a message. However, we know that books cannot be written without themes either. What are Worldshaper’s interwoven messages in this novel?
Worldshaper, in a lot of ways, is a thought experiment about what it would be like if authors could take up physical residence in their worlds. What if the characters we create in our heads became actual, flesh-and-blood people? We would be their creators, but they would suddenly be individuals in their own right. What ethical questions would that raise? Would we still create the kind of conflict-riven worlds and dystopian societies that make great settings for stories if real people had to live in them? If we had to live in them? If we had the power to change the world around us on a whim, rewriting people’s lives and memories, would we do it…and why? For fun? For our own security? For revenge? For the sheer sadistic pleasure of it? The worlds and the Shapers Shawna will encounter in the series will let me play with a lot of these ideas…as well as give me the opportunity to create any kind of world I can imagine.
And, as noted above, indulge my sense of humor.
Let us talk about The Worldshapers podcast a bit. You have had writers from Orson Scott Card to Robert J. Sawyer to Gareth L. Powell as guests. Can you tell us a bit about the vision of the podcast as you delve into the creative process of so many prolific writers?
My degree is in journalism and I began my career as a newspaper reporter. I continue to write magazine articles from time to time. Over the years, I’ve interviewed a plethora of people, from politicians to (to pick one example) Weird Al Yankovic. I’ve thought for a long time I should be interviewing other people in my field, and this year I finally got around to it.
The Worldshapers, the podcast, also ties into Worldshapers, the book series, because, as I mentioned, the Shaped worlds of the Labyrinth are rather like novels with the authors (the Shapers) living inside them. So, in a way, the podcast is a real-life version of Shawna Keys’s journey from world to world, seeking the Shaper of each and trying to understand the world he or she has Shaped.
I’ve always enjoyed talking to other authors about our mutual craft. Many of those I’ve talked to so far I’ve previously met in person at various science fiction conventions (though not all), but I’ve rarely had the chance to talk to them in depth. I’m enjoying the opportunity immensely and I hope listeners enjoy our conversations, too.
And then, of course, it’s not a bad marketing tool: as fans of these other authors tune in, they hear a bit about me and my books, too. I hope that, as a result, some will pick up a copy or twelve.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m currently writing Master of the World, Book 2 in the Worldshapers series. In addition, I’ve sold a young adult dark fantasy novel about shapeshifters, called Changers, to ChiZine Publications—that will come out in 2020, so I’ll be writing it in 2019. My agent is currently circulating a middle-grade fantasy novel called The Fire Boy I have high hopes will find a publisher soon.
I’ll also be bringing out a few things through my new publishing venture, Shadowpaw Press. Earlier this year I published a collection of my science fiction and fantasy short stories, Paths to the Stars, through Shadowpaw. The second book, just released, wasn’t science fiction at all: I edited the First World War memoirs of my grandfather-in-law, Sampson J. Goodfellow, and published that, under the title One Lucky Devil, to coincide with the centennial of the Armistice. In 2019 I’ll return to my own well of material, but I haven’t quite decided which of several possibilities will be the next released.
I’ve also got a short story I have to write for an anthology, and I’m directing a play-with-music I’ve written for Regina Lyric Musical Theatre, and I have some non-fiction projects coming up, and I’m mentoring, and editing and The Worldshapers podcast will continue, and…
Whew. I think I need a nap just thinking about it.
It has been a pleasure, Edward! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
I’m at www.edwardwillett.com. You can also find me on Twitter @ewillett and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/edward.willett/. Shadowpaw Press is at www.shadowpawpress.com, and The Worldshapers podcast is at www.theworldshapers.com.