Author interview with Tad Williams

 Author interview with Tad Williams

Author bio:
Tad Williams has held more jobs than any sane person should admit to—singing in a band, selling shoes, managing a financial institution, throwing newspapers, and designing military manuals, to name just a few. He also hosted a syndicated radio show for ten years, worked in theater and television production, taught both grade-school and college classes, and worked in multimedia for a major computer firm. He is cofounder of an interactive television company, and is currently writing comic books and film and television scripts as well as novels.

Tad and his wife, Deborah Beale, live in the San Francisco Bay Area with their children and far more cats, dogs, turtles, pet ants and banana slugs than they can count.


Hi Tad, welcome to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.

BP: First off could you give a short introduction about who Tad Williams is? What do you like to do when your not writing, your hobbies, any odd habits, your favorite dish?
TW: I like being surrounded by family, animals, and trees.  I don't actually remember what I like to do when I'm not writing, because it feels like that's all I do -- work and be a parent.  But I do play in a band, and write some music (we're going to put out a record this autumn, I think) and I love sports, although I haven't been playing them lately.  And I always love to learn things.

BP: You have inspired quite a few authors to pick up a pen and start writing. What first inspired you to start writing?
TW: First, it was the fact that books were such a huge influence in my young life.  I was an early and avid reader.  Later, as I got older, I began to feel that some of the people who were so obviously imitating Tolkien really didn't understand what made his work and other important writers' work so satisfying, so I felt I wanted to try my hand and see if I could do better.  Also, writing was something I could do in my own time, as opposed to playing in a band or doing theater, two of my other loves.

BP: You have written quite a few books already with the first one being published back in 1985, have you experienced any changes in getting your books published if you compare then with now?
TW: Well, in one sense it's much easier to get my work published than when I first started, of course, but in general the entire publishing industry is in the middle of real, permanent change, so it's almost as if the experience from the beginning of my career is no longer valid.  We're all of us, established writers and new, trying to figure out how to make it work in the current changed publishing environment.

BP: Your earlier works were Epic/High Fantasy, Science Fiction and Young-Adult. How did you come across the idea to write Urban Fantasy with you Bobby Dollar series? Has it always been a genre that you wanted to explore?
TW: I never think of myself as being one kind of writer.  Most of my favorites when I was really falling in love with the genre were very versatile, and I think of myself that way, too.  But I'm writing long novels, whereas Bradbury and Sturgeon and others were writing primarily short stories, so it didn't take them anywhere near as long to hop from genre to genre.

As far as Bobby Dollar, I first had the basic idea (a Cold War between Hell and Heaven) well over ten years ago -- probably closer to twenty, now -- and it's been kind of hanging around in the back of my mind ever since.  I just hadn't had an opportunity to follow up on it until now.

BP: You have a very established name in writing SF/F, did you feel any pressure when you started writing the Bobby Dollar series?
TW: I always feel pressure, because it's how I make my living.  You write a couple of bad books and you dig a hole that's hard to climb out of.  Also, I put a lot of myself into what I write, so obviously I want readers to like it.  Other than that, no, not too much pressure.  I always feel I can find a way to do something and do it fairly well.  It's a confidence I think you have to have when you're trying to make a full-time living in a very competitive field.

BP: Sleeping Late on Judgment Day, the third book in the Bobby Dollar series will be published on the 11th of September later this year. If you would have to sell the book with a single sentence how would it go?
TW: 'Angel Bobby finally gets to face off against the "people" who have been making his life hell, both metaphorically and literally.'

BP: If you would be given the chance to rewrite any scene from the Bobby Dollar books, would you do so? And If yes, which one?
TW: I don't look at things that way, especially books I've written so recently.  I might go back and look at a book from twenty years ago and say, "Too many commas!" or "That scene could have gone more quickly," but I don't really agonize over things I've already done.  There's so much more to do.

BP: The Dirty Streets of Heaven garnered a lot of positive reviews, would you have guessed that it would become such a success?
TW: It depends on what you mean by success.  It wasn't a huge best-seller, but a lot of people really like the books.  (I really like writing them, and intend to go back and write more.)  I think the humor in these novels appeals to people, too.  It's very close to how I see the world, myself -- in fact Bobby is a good deal like me.

BP: In writing the Bobby Dollar series, did you encounter any specific problems
TW: Oh, of course.  Just trying to figure out how an entire fictional cosmos works -- God, the Devil, angels, demons, human souls, etc. -- in a way that seems real, like you're finding out the truth behind the scenes, was a tremendous amount of work.  I'm taking perhaps the most commonly shared myth in Western civilization and trying to turn it into something like science fiction, nuts and bolts.  That has always been a challenge, but a fun one.  Other than that, I had the initial problem of wanting to write -noir-, but feeling that noir should be set in an urban location.  I didn't want to write about any of the nearby cities to where I live, for various reasons, but I didn't want to try to write something ground-level about a city I didn't know.  So I invented a city that exists where the actual suburbs I grew up in are.  That was a tough decision, but it turned out to be one of my favorite parts about writing these books -- inventing a fictional city with its own fictional history, right in the middle of my part of California.

BP: What has been the hardest part in writing the Bobby Dollar series?
TW: Nothing, really.  They've been very fast books to write, because they only have one plotline -- everything that happens to Bobby.  Compared to the zillions of plotlines and hundreds of characters in most of my other books, this has been a real pleasure.  As I said, the only hard thing is trying to make a consistent cosmic view of how it all works that also makes for good fiction.

BP: Besides the hardest part in writing the series, which parts did you enjoy writing about the most?
TW: Definitely Bobby's voice.  I've always been someone who takes a sardonic, humorous (well, -I- think it's humorous) approach to life, so getting to express that through my main character was really fun.  As I said elsewhere, Bobby talks a lot like I do.

BP: There was a lot of publicity for the Bobby Dollar series and even a commercial(!), is the way publicity is done nowadays different for you with social media than it was when your first book got published?
TW: Oh, it's very different.  The whole field of publishing is different.  More and more, the established publishers are expecting the writers to do a lot of their own marketing.  Fortunately, I like people, I like readers most of all people, and I enjoy interacting with them.  But it still adds a lot of other work onto the business of being a writer.

BP: How did it make you feel when you played in the commercial for you own book, would you have guessed it would go this far to promote your new series?
TW: I thought of it as a bit of fun.  I was in theater for years, and in fact that theatricality probably has a lot to do with how I tell stories -- I'm very conscious of what audiences like, and how audiences react.  So I had no problem helping out.

BP: Bobby Dollar, the main protagonist of the series, is a piece of work, how did you come up with his character personality? Did you base certain vices or virtues of him on people that you know?
TW: Bobby is basically me, but less patient.  I'm much more likely to think things over and try to do the most sensible thing (which is one reason I'm still alive).  Bobby can only wait so long, then he has to make things happen.  Otherwise, except for his love of cars (I don't really care much) he's a lot like me.  Braver, certainly.  Crazier, many would say, in terms of taking risks.  But basically the same sort of cynic/wounded romantic that I am.

BP: You create a lively vision of Heaven and Hell, with the Angels and Demons having a sort of “trial” about a person’s soul whether it should go to Heaven or Hell. How did you come across this idea?
TW: It seemed like a great job to give Bobby when I was still figuring out how everything worked, when starting the first book.  If he was kind of a lawyer/investigator, it would be easy to put him in the middle of some big, dramatic problem between the two sides, which hearkens back to my original ideas about the series, which was that it would be more of a modern espionage story (You can't trust anyone!) than what it became, which is more of a Chandler-esque noir with angels and demons.

BP: The Bobby Dollar series has a lot of humor in the story, but Urban Fantasy also features much darker, horror and gritty stories. There are some moments in the book but not a lot. Was it a conscious decision to keep the story more on the humorous side?
TW: No, and there are some pretty horrifying moments I think, especially in the second book.  My other books also have quite horrific elements.  But I believe strongly in balance, that if you go too far one way or another you're undercutting your story.  If you just go from flinch to flinch (or sex scene to sex scene, or deductive miracle to deductive miracle) you're falling into formula.  I don't want to write formula books.

BP: Everyone enjoys Science Fiction and Fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?
TW:  As a reader at an early age, I loved the idea that anything was possible just out of the corner of our eye, that we could have the world we knew and countless others as well.  As a writer, I love the fact that I can write anything, any idea, any situation, and if I do it well, my readers will be willing to accompany me.

BP: Now that all the three planned books in the Bobby Dollar series have been published, do you have plans for the near future? What can we expect from you?
TW: As far as Bobby, I'll have a novelette (long short story) about him out for Christmas this year, and would like to write a 4th book (current title, "Forever O'Clock") sometime in the near future.  Before that, though, I'm working on "The Last King of Osten Ard", a multi-volume sequel to the Dragonbone Chair books.  THAT'S really exciting, too.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 book all time which would they be?
TW: Very hard.  Off the top of my head, based on personal inspiration and numbers of re-reads:


BP: Can you tell us (for those who shamefully haven’t picked up the series yet) a bit about what the Bobby Dollar series is about. And a possible sneak peek as to what will be in store for Sleeping Late on Judgment Day?
TW: The series follows Doloriel, an Earthbound angel who is known as "Bobby Dollar".  He's an advocate for the newly dead, arguing to get their souls into Heaven.  But Bobby gets pulled into a new and unprecedented disaster that threatens to upset the careful balance between Heaven and Hell, and after a while he begins to wonder whether he can trust his own side any better than he can the minions of Hell.  And then it gets even weirder.

BP: Thank you for your time Tad and good luck with your future writing!


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