Sean Williams is author of seventy published short stories and twenty-nine novels. His most recent publications include ‘Astropolis’, a gothic-noir gender-bending space opera trilogy, and ‘The Broken Land’, a dark fantasy series for children. The concluding volumes in each series, ‘The Grand Conjunction’ and ‘The Scarecrow’, were published in 2009. His novelisation of the computer game ‘Star Wars: The Force Unleashed’ debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2008. His website is here: http://www.seanwilliams.com/
1. ‘The Scarecrow’, the final volume in the Broken Land trilogy, was one of my favourite YA reads last year and I was particularly struck by the depth of characterisation and the richness in what is a deceptively thin volume. Did you have to use specific techniques to ‘concentrate’ the story, as compared to longer works that you’ve written?
Thanks very much for your kind words. I wrote the first book, The Changeling, as part of a Masters in Creative Writing degree, having also sold it as a series of four small books, each around ten thousand words, so I was very aware, mainly, that I had considerable constraints when it came to word count. But I didn’t want to skimp on story or characterisation at all, so the story underwent an immense process of concentration (at least it seemed immense to me!), whereby all the narrative tricks I usually employed were either refined or ditched, hopefully leaving diamond where had once been lowly graphite.
Actually, that sounds a bit wanky–but I did put a lot of effort in the first one, and it seemed to trip a switch in my brain. All my previous fantasy novels, and a lot of my space opera too, tended to be on the long side. Now I have the opposite problem. I’ve discovered that I love writing short books, something that might have been helped by writing the odd short story and poem lately as well. I still have as much to say as before, but I’m using less words to say it.
As far as specific techniques go, I can’t really point to any, except for being willing to cut anything at all that doesn’t seem to be working. That’s a very hard thing to do, but I hope I’m getting it down to something like an art. As Iris Murdoch once said (iirc): “It’s not what a writer writes that makes them great. It’s what they cut.”
2. Back in the 2007 Snapshot, you said (and I quote :-): ‘After over 25 SF and F novels for adults, young adults and kids, maybe it’s time for me to step away from the genre and try something a little more in line with my other reading habits. Crime and thrillers are my other love, so that could be fun. I’ve also been thinking about doing a PhD. Maybe it’s time to start slowing down a tad and see where life takes me, rather than the other way around’. With 2010 marking publication of your 30th novel, do you think you’ve slowed down since then? Has you direction changed?
Far from slowing down, this month I’ve actually sped up. Right this second I’m writing 3500 words a day in order to meet a deadline, and I have six titles out this year. I have some TV stuff lurking in the wings, plus a new series sold and underway, and a couple of more at the drafting stage. But I’m hopeful that, after March, the pace should slip a bit. (I’ve just picked up a bit of RSI, so it’ll have to.)
As far as genre goes, I was indeed thinking of jumping across to crime novels and thrillers. That dream might have to stay in the drawer for another year or two, but I am doing the PhD. I started that in 2008, and I hate not finishing things.
You’ll probably see less space opera from me in the coming years, but that’s all I’d better say at the moment. In three more years, I’ll probably be proven wrong again!
3. Aside from writing, you also have a long (long!) history of service to writing through representation on committees and boards, through mentoring, and a significant engagement in the Australian SpecFic Community. Most recently, you are now standing for Overseas Regional Director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). What prompted to nominate for this position and what benefits do you see in membership of SFWA for Australian writers?
I’m a big believer in community. But it only works if we engage with it. The SFWA has the potential to help every Australian writer plug into a vibrant, healthy international network of people who want the same things as us, work in the same fields as us, and share the same concerns as us. Admittedly, it may not seem much like that at the moment; the SFWA has certainly had its rocky patches in recent years; but I know that things won’t fix themselves, and I am certain that the more people become involved, the more it will become what we want it to be. So as well as the Bulletin, the chance to nominate for the Nebulas, access to legal advice and various funds, membership in SFWA plugs you in to a revitalized organisation that is already doing a wide range of things on your behalf. Making a stand against Google’s assault, for instance, or exposing fraudulent publishers and agents. The list goes on.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
There are too many to name! And I’d hate to offend someone by leaving them out. I will say that I particularly enjoyed Keith Stevenson’s X6 “novellanthology”. The novella is just the right length for SF&F, I reckon, and it certainly fits the amount of time to read I have at the moment.
Naturally I’d love to see my own books or stories on the Hugo list, but I’m pretty sure nothing I’ve ever written is good enough for that award. Yet.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
I will definitely be at Aussiecon 4. If I’m elected to the SFWA, I guess there’ll be some kind of party. Maybe I’ll DJ. Maybe I’ll launch one of those six books. I don’t know yet. What I do know is that I’ll be there for the same things I’m at every Worldcon: people, people, people. For me, that’s what it all amounts to. Without my friends, this would be a very dull and desperate job. With them, I’ll probably write forever.