This was an interview months in the making, because prolific sf/fantasy author Edward Willett and I have been like ships in the night since midway through last year.
But at last, here we are, talking about the many, many things Edward Willett has been up to – and how he stays sane (or doesn’t) with so much on the go at once.
Edward Willett: Who says I did? Actually, it’s not really a problem. Although it’s a bit unusual for me to have three novels coming out in the same year (and 2014 will see four—Shadows (sequel to Masks), an as-yet-untitled-and-(ahem)-unwritten sequel to Right to Know, and the first two books (Song of the Sword and Twist of the Blade) in my new YA fantasy series for Coteau Books, The Shards of Excalibur—most years I have more than one book of some sort coming out. Plus lots of other nonfiction projects, theatrical projects, etc., etc. I just… do it, one thing after another, until it’s done. Every morning I wake up and think, “What’s at the top of the list to be done today?” Then I plan my day. And half the time I ignore that plan, because I’m a terrible procrastinator, but still, eventually, things get done, from answering interview questions like this to writing the next book to editing the last-but-not-yet-published one. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t working on so many things at once, but on the other hand, I’m not shoveling rotting grain out of the bottom of a grain elevator like I did one summer in university, so I figure I can’t complain.
9DW: E.C. Blake, Lee Arthur Chane, Edward Willett…You’ve gone by multiple pen names, which is not uncommon for writers are prolific as you are. What’s the advantage in building multiple “brands”?
EW: I didn’t use pseudonyms by choice: it was a marketing decision on the part of DAW Books, my New York SF/fantasy publisher. My first three books with them (Lost in Translation, Marseguro and Terra Insegura) were all far-future science fiction. They didn’t exactly set the world on fire (although Marseguro did win the Aurora Award for best Canadian science fiction novel in 2009), and fantasy sells better than SF, so DAW asked me to switch to fantasy. With that switch in genres came not only a new name, Lee Arthur Chane, but a new shot at the marketplace as a new author. Lee Arthur Chane (the middle names of my two older brothers and myself) wrote the steampunk-flavored standalone fantasy novel Magebane. But then my next proposal for DAW was Masks, which is quite different from Magebane: it’s essentially a young adult novel, told entirely from the viewpoint of a 15-year-old girl. That prompted the new new name, E.C. Blake (E.C. being my initials and Blake being the middle name of my nephew—my late mother suggested it, and I wasn’t about to argue). Again, the advantage is that E.C. Blake comes to the marketplace without any expectations of what sort of book he might have written, and has a chance to build up his own fans.
None of these pseudonyms are intended to deceive anyone: it’s obviously an open secret that Edward Willett, Lee Arthur Chane and E.C. Blake are all the same person, if anyone cares to look. But for readers who just come on the books in the bookstore, each not only seems to come from a different author, each has a different flavor. Of course, I hope that everyone who loves Masks will also look for Magebane and the books published under my own name, so I make a point on the E.C. Blake website (one of the downsides of multiple pseudonyms is the need for a website for each!) of listing the other novels I’ve written under my other names.
9Dw: On top of multiple novels, your short stories are also featured in anthologies – not the least of which is Tesseracts 17. On a typical day, how many words do you get on paper?
EW: There are no typical days, but if I’m in one of those weeks when I actually can work on nothing but fiction, I can do 4,000 to 5,000 words in a day, usually in two two-hour sessions—I seem to write about 1,000 words an hour when I’m really cooking. The most prolific I’ve ever been was a week I spent at the Banff Centre on a self-directed writing residency. I was working on Magebane at the time and cranked out 50,000 words in, if I remember right, six days of writing.
9DW: Related question! How much time do you spend editing so much material? (And bonus question: how do you do it without losing interest in the story – or your sanity?)
EW: I suspect it’s about two-to-one—two hours of editing/rewriting for every hour of writing. Maybe even three hours for some projects. As for losing interest…I never do. The interest isn’t in what will happen in the story (which I obviously know) but in improving the way I told the story. I quite enjoy rewriting, actually.
9DW: You’ve been nominated for several awards, you’ve won a few, and you’ve got reviews all over the internet. Awards are given to those who have demonstrated a real artistic talent and drive. But how important to you, do you think, are reviews in terms of your future projects?
EW: I really can’t tell. I think a good review in Publishers Weekly or School Library Journal or other major publications helps drive sales to libraries, which in turn can help you build a readership. Reviews on Amazon or Goodreads probably don’t effect the total number of book purchases much at all, especially on the YA side. My daughter is 12 and she’d never dream of picking a book because she’d read a good written review of it—she chooses her books because of word-of-mouth, which is a kind of review, but not the formal kind.
Some authors don’t even read their reviews. I do, and while a negative one may sting a little bit (or a lot, in the case of a really nasty review laced with profanity—one of which I’ve had for Masks, a rather unpleasant first for me), at least you know someone actually read the book. A positive one, of course, is a nice affirmation that, at least as far as one reader was concerned, you did something right. The hazard of reading reviews, especially when you’re writing a series is that you might begin to write to try to please the reviewers, instead of being true to your own vision of the book. I suspect if one went down that road the end result would be pleasing to no one—neither the reviewer or the author.
As far as sales, though, I suspect the cumulative effect of most Internet reviews is negligible.
9Dw: Masks is the first in a new fantasy series, and the premise is really intriguing! How many of the forthcoming titles do you anticipate, and of them, how many have you already written? Any release dates yet?
EW: DAW has committed to the first three books in the series, which form a complete trilogy, but one open-ended enough for the series to continue. Book 2, Shadows, is written and in the final rewrite stage; it’s coming out in August 2014. I’m currently writing the first draft of Book 3, Faces, which will be out in April 2015.
9DW: Spirit Singer seems quite different from Masks, not only in terms of plot, but in terms of audience. Who do you have in mind when you write?
EW: I think that honestly the only person I have in mind when I write is myself. I write the kinds of books I like to read. When I write books for younger readers (and although Masks isn’t published as YA as Spirit Singer was, it was conceived as YA and can certainly be read as YA), I guess I’m writing for myself as a young reader, back in the pre-Harry Potter Dark Ages when SF and fantasy titles featuring teen protagonists were few and far between.
And actually, Amarynth, the main character in Spirit Singer, is very similar in some ways to Mara, the main character in Masks. Both are young women thrown onto their own devices and trying to deal with the hazardous world into which they’ve been unwillingly thrust. Both are magically gifted. And both, I hope, are endearing characters readers will enjoy spending time with.
9DW: Which is more challenging, writing for adults or writing for younger readers?
EW: I don’t find either more or less challenging. I just write!
9DW: After a quick glance at your bibliography, I’ve seen fantasy, science fiction, paranormal…you seem to write a little bit of everything. But which genre really appeals to you when you get a chance to sit down and read?
EW: All of the above. Fantasy, science fiction, paranormal…YA or adult…if it has a speculative or fantastical element, it’s for me. Interspersed with the occasional nonfiction title that catches my eye (I’m currently reading Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, for example, but the book before that was one of Jim Butcher’s fantasy novels, and the book before that was Allegiant, the third book in Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA trilogy).
Check out Edward Willett’s webpage: http://edwardwillett.com/
Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ewillett
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