I am so excited to introduce you to a multi-genre author who seems to hit all my reading sweet spots. Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than 60 books of fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction for all ages and for a variety of publishers. His latest novel, The Cityborn, is his eighth
published by DAW Books in New York; previous DAW releases include Marseguro, which won the Aurora Award for best Canadian science fiction or fantasy novel in 2009, and the Masks of Aygrima fantasy trilogy, written as E.C. Blake. Ed has also written several YA novels for smaller publishers, including the five-book modern-day Arthurian fantasy Shards of Excalibur. Born in New Mexico, Ed moved to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, from Texas as a child, but returned to the States for a degree in journalism from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He began his career as a newspaper reporter and editor in Weyburn before moving to Regina, Saskatchewan, as communications officer for the Saskatchewan Science Centre. He’s now been a full-time freelance writer for 24 years. He and his wife, Margaret Anne Hodges, P.Eng., live in Regina with their teenaged daughter, Alice, and black Siberian cat, Shadowpaw.
Hello, Edward! Welcome to An Angell's Life of Bookish Goodness. What is the current book you are promoting?
The Cityborn is my eighth novel for DAW Books in New York. It’s a stand-alone science fiction novel set in The Heartland, a mountain-ringed plain dominated by a strange towering City, where the bulk of the populations lives. The City has 13 tiers, and the tier you live on reflects your place in society, from the ruling Officers in the top three tiers to the crime- and poverty-ridden slums of the bottom Tiers. The City straddles a great Canyon, which over the centuries has been filled by the garbage the City discards, and the lowest of the low lived in that garbage heap, known as the Middens, scavenging to survive and always trying to avoid the murderous gangs who rule it.
The Cityborn is the tale of two young characters, Alania, who grew up the pampered ward of an officer on Twelfty Tier, and Danyl, who was raised by an old man in the Middens. When Alania, fleeing an unprecedented ambush on Twelfth Tier, is dumped into the Middens, the two of them find themselves pursued by City forces for reasons they can’t understand, but must discover if they are to survive. What they find out over the course of the story, and their actions, determine not only their fates but the fates of everyone who lives in the City and The Heartland.
Wow. Sounds exciting! What inspired this book?
For me, stories can start from any number of seeds: an idea for a character, something I’ve read, a place I’ve visited, or just an image. The Cityborn came from two sources. Once, I’ve always loved books set in exotic cities. (Think Ankh-Morpork in the Terry Pratchett books, which is practically a character itself.) Two, I read something about people scavenging to survive in the massive rubbish heaps outside overpopulated cities in developing countries. Take those two notions, toss them around in my SF-and-fantasy-steeped brain, and voila! The City of my story.
After that, my process for developing a story is always to ask myself questions. Who would live in the City? What would life be like in the Middens? Characters developed, and then all I had to do was put them together and figure out who they were and why everyone wants to capture or kill them. Hopefully readers will enjoy my answers to those questions!
It definitely sounds like an entertaining adventure. What is your next project?
I’ve sold the first two books in a new fantasy series called Wordshapers to DAW, so that’s my main fiction focus at the moment. The first book is called Worldshaper, and it’s currently with my editor at DAW (the wonderful, Hugo Award-winning Sheila Gilbert). No release date yet, but I would expect it will be next summer. It’s a modern-day fantasy that begins when an ordinary woman in an ordinary city suddenly discovers she has the power to shape the world around her…and a mysterious individual arrives to tell her why, and why she has to flee with him if she hopes to survive.
Ooh, fun! What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer?
The only way you get better is by writing more. There are no shortcuts. Both the storytelling imagination and the ability to turn imagination into words are like muscles that are developed by exercise. Coming up with ideas for stories helps you come up with more ideas for stories. Writing stories helps you write more stories. When you’re just starting out, you’ll write lots of bad stories using clumsy words. But over time, as your storytelling muscles develop, you’ll get better.
Also, read, especially in the genre in which you want to write. You can’t write science fiction without reading science fiction, you can’t write mysteries without reading mysteries, you can’t write romance without reading romance. Genre readers are steeped in the genres they love, and your stories have to be at least as good as the other books they’ve read if you’re going to find readers yourselves. If, for some readers, your books are better than the other books they’ve read…you’re on your way.
Great advice. If you could never write again, what would you do?
Act. I’ve been in a lot of plays, musicals, and operas over the years here in Saskatchewan. Most have been community theatre productions, but I have done some professional work (I’’m a member of Canadian Actors’ Equity.) If I hadn’t gone into writing, I might have found myself trying to make a living as an actor.
Of course, there’s an old joke about acting: “What’s the difference between an actor and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four.”
Going further back, I made the decision in high school to focus on writing—but at the time, I also loved science and math. I could very well have chosen to go into something like engineering or chemistry instead. I didn’t, but I did the next best thing: I married an engineer.
Which, I might add, is a great career move for a freelance writer.
Well played, sir. Well played. I love that you would stick to story telling one way or another. Want to learn more about Edward Willet and all the adventures he is on? You can follow him on Facebook and twitter @Ewillett, or visit his website www.edwardwillett.com