The OF Blog: August 2003

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Tad Williams Q&A


What is the single writing achievement that you're most proud of? Also, if you could go back and re-write any part of your published work, would you? What would it be?

I don't think I would go back and rewrite anything -- I put in enough work on the darn things the first time through. Seriously, you learn to move on. Yes, we could all find things in our work (or lives) we'd do differently, but that way lies madness, or at least not sleeping very well.

I think I am, at this point, proudest of my OTHERLAND books, because they are my most ambitious undertaking and something that (I flatter myself) are most peculiarly mine of anything I've done. Nothing else quite like them. (Certainly nothing with the exception of Jordan's multi-volume opus that you would as much want to avoid dropping on your foot.)

Do you like writing action-y, fast paced and exciting scenes, or do you prefer dealing with human emotions and character interaction?

Hate to be wishy-washy, but both make a very nice refuge from each other. It's nice to work with the nuances of character, to show the minutiae of human (and sort-of-human) interaction. Then, when one has had enough of that, it's great fun to kill something. Or a bunch of somethings.

I don't necessarily recommend this as a real-life approach, however.

Have you ever had a go at writing comedy?

Only my tax returns.

Do you believe that the Internet has already started to change the way people 'view' books?

What made you decide to publish Shadowmarch exclusively online?

I think the internet has changed a lot of things, but the effect on books is still minimal -- for now. I mainly wanted to do Shadowmarch as an experiment, not so much an internet experiment as a Tad experiment: I wanted to find out what it was like writing a novel in serial form, with frequent deadlines. I liked it, although I still have a few twitches I haven't got rid of...

I'd be happy to do it again one day, maybe with something that was designed just to be fun and silly, the written equivalent of a cool cartoon.

I notice that in your author's description that you have had much experience in many areas. How does this influence your writing, both in choice of what to use, and in how you view the world?

The most important thing, for a writer, about doing lots of different kinds of things in the real world is that you learn about a lot of stuff you wouldn't otherwise know (or at least enough to fake it) and you meet many different kinds of people. Even if you're not the kind of writer who bases characters directly on real people (I'm not) you deepen your pool of experience with live, breathing folk, which can only help you create more realistic characters and situations.

Hi Tad. Thanks for answering our questions.

Now this may be an impossible question for you to answer but, well - here goes...

I've been pondering the bad guys in your books and the similarities and differances of their various motivations. While Ineluki, Uttuku, Jongleur,Dread and Pryrates have fairly clear (however complex ) motivations for their actions, Lord Hellebore seems to be purely and simply power hungry.

His snatching of power from the king and queen and ruthless killing of rivals paints him in a light which is, to my reading, far more self-serving than the others.

So my question is was there any intent on your part when creating Hellebore to strip away the complexities of pain, sorrow, fear and madness which help define your other villains and create a simpler arch-villain purely motivated by greed?

Alternatively do I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about?

Finally, the terrible child, Dread and Pryrates are all side kicks who get too big for their boots and wind up much the worse for wear. All 3 are disturbing yet so intriguing they are constantly draw my thoughts and attention. Is this coincidental or a tactic you employ to create particularly nasty characters we love to hate and then kill them off to resounding cheers from your readers?

Thanks again!

The "sidekick" notion is an interesting one, and probably true in that they are often the ones in each cases who are the interface between the more unknowable evils and the rest of us. We can understand Pryrates better than Ineluki, if only in that Pryrates is more human.

I think Hellebore in the new book was the most practical (with the possible exception of Felix Jongleur) of all my bad guys: he's simply doing what's best for him and the hell with anyone else.

I guess what I find most truly frightening are not ultimate evils -- the standard cardboard Satan-figure -- but the Lucifer types who had their reasons and valued them more than they value folk like you and me.

Unfortunately, the world is all too full of that kind of evil, which is what makes it even more frightening, at least for me.

Yanks or Red Sox?

I'm a West Coast boy, so for me it's the Giants or nothin'. However, my agent is a Yankees fan (he used to be a Met fan, but he's not stupid or he wouldn't be my agent) so I can't hate the Bombers, much as I'd like to. But I always liked the Sox, back to the Yastrzemski days, and I have a certain sentimental thing for them, as so many others do...

I don't know. If I had to pick who I wanted to go to the Series, between the two: Sox, I guess.

Darn. I always stuck up for Memory and the Rest of that stuff, but if you're a BoSox fan -- sorry, bud! I'd read that Ann McCaffery or whatnot chick first.

It's not so much being a BoSox fan, it's that, well, if you're going to make it Sox versus Yanks, New York has won, what seven thousand World Series? C'mon, you gotta unbend a little. There are grown men and women in New England still walking around weeping decades later, saying "Bucky Dent! Bucky Dent!" over and over.

Be nice. (We won't even talk about the men who have to live in cardboard boxes because they were crippled for life by the Buckner thing, the poor bastids.)

It often seems that the right name can make a character more or less memorable, so I was just wondering how you decide what your characters will be called.

I'm always facinated by how authors come up with names for their characters. Is it something you have think about to find the right fit, or does it just come to you?

That's a hard one to answer because there is no one way. I can say that I probably may as much attention to names as anyone, because I am driven crazy by bad ones.

I also hate overlapping cultural sources -- that is, stories where characters who grew up in the same village have names that are clearly derived from disparate real-world sources, Celtic, Norse, whatever. This usually indicates sloppy research or thinking to me. Yes, I know it's a fantasy world and thus anything's possible, but the writer has to take into account how the reader sees things. If you're going to have a bold troop of male berserkers whose names are Mary, Felicity, and Trixie, it better be a joke. Otherwise, the disconnect is too great.

Now, it may not be quite as painful for everyone to see "Owain" and "Ralf" and "Mercurio" or whatever growing up together, but it sure makes ME flinch.

I also tend to drop small jokes or descriptions into names, but that usually requires the readers to be either very well-read or to dig a little, because I don't want to interfere with the pure reading experience for everyone else.

Fantasy is frequently viewed as a children's genre, with many people (the majority of whom never having read a fantasy novel) ignoring it, or insulting the genre. As a grown adult, and a writer of fantasy that is nothing close to children's books, what are your thoughts on this view?

It's not so much that fantasy is a children's genre that's the problem, it's that it's a GENRE. In other words, because it's a -type- of story, and there's a large commercial market for it, there is a lot of material in the genre that is probably published even though it doesn't deserve to be, and that drags down the reputation of everything else.

Also, we as proponents of the genre are often guilty of reading things just because they approximate an old thrill instead of looking for new pleasures, which means the writers get away with recycling tropes and slightly embellishing old ideas.

Like every other kind of writing, there is a decent amount of good fantasy, a very small amount of truly fine work, and a huge amount of mediocre work. But because it's a successful and popular genre, the numbers of the latter category are huge and make an easy target, just as the millions of pages of space opera written in the last hundred years make it easy to overlook the works of real science fiction geniuses.

I've never read any of your books. Sorry.

OH WAIT, I lied, I read that thing in legends, I liked that.

But anyway, on to the question.

I was wondering which series or individual book (if you write those) would you recommend me to read/start off reading?

(If it's a terribly good book, I may end up having to make some crazy fanwebsite about you and framing a picture of you somewhere.)


First TW. I guess I'd now suggest the newest book, WAR OF THE FLOWERS, because it's complete in one volume. My other two best known works, OTHERLAND and MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN are only a bit less long than WHEEL OF TIME, so you might want to test the water before strapping on the scuba gear.

However, since it's only available in hardcover at the moment, you might also consider going to a library for a copy of THE DRAGONBONE CHAIR, first in the MS&T series, and closest in genre to Mr. Jordan's material, (which I'm assuming everyone here likes.)

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Will there be any more tales from Osten Ard? I seem to recall something about you writing a short story for the upcoming Legends 2, but...uh...I guess you would know more about that than I would. Heh.

Actually, that's not necessarily a good bet, about me knowing more about my writing than you. I'm not only middle-aged now, but I'm the parent of young children. My brain is FRIED.

I've actually written an OTHERLAND story for the new Legends, called "The Happiest Dead Boy In The World." I'm currenly at work on updating and revising (and, yes, lengthening slightly) the online Shadowmarch material for publication as the first volume of what should be a three-volume story.

I plan to get back to Osten Ard one day soon for a collection of linked stories tentatively titled "A Chronicle In Stone".

With the large success of the LOTR-movies...what if someone would like to make a movie out of the M, S + T series (which I loved)? How would you think about that? Would you like to work on the script? Are you a fan of making a movie from a book at all?

If someone decided they wanted to fling a great deal of money at me personally, and spend many millions of dollars getting a visualized version of the MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN books -just right-, a la LORD OF THE RINGS, I guess I would have to allow my arm to be twisted.

In other words, heck yeah, sure.

I love movies. I would, as I did with the LOTR movie, simply have to remind myself that a film is not a book, and that even a film made from MY book wouldn't be MY film. If such a thing ever happened, I'd be happy to chip in my opinions, but I'd also just as soon let someone else take on the hellish task of boiling down a million words into something suitable for the modern attention span.


In Otherland, the use of Virtual Reality seems very believable: did you do a lot of research to achieve this? If so, how *did* you research?

VR was one of the few scientific subjects I felt qualified to write about, even in a science-fictional sort of way: I actually worked in interactive multimedia for Apple Computer back in the late 'eighties and was around at a lot of the conferences of the era on what the future of computer interaction might look like. So -- unlike, say, terraforming or intergalactic propulsion -- I felt I had a fighting chance of writing something entertaining without looking too stupid.

That said, I also spent a lot of time reading books and magazines and papers on the internet, and also just trying to -think- about the problems and how some of them might be solved in the big shiny future.

"This scans majorly", muttered Orlando.

Does this expression derive from the modern day scanning of images into machines?

Slightly, mostly from the actual action of scanning, whether on a tv screen or whatever -- the zipping back and forth, reading what each little bit is doing. The idea of endless zipping back and forth hoovering up little bits of information that made no sense by themselves seemed like a good metaphor for crazy/stupid/boring. But I also thought of "scanning the horizon" with the idea of looking for something that probably wasn't there -- another aspect of nuttiness or waste-of-time. I also just liked the word "scanny" and its various possibilities for compound use, "scanmaster", "scantagious", etc.

Mostly, the Otherland slang isn't meant to have one specific meaning, though. If it's too obvious where it comes from, it's probably nothing like real slang.

Do you actually feel that the Internet will ever reach the level described in the books?

Not all at the same time. I purposefully underestimated the day-to-day stuff -- ease of usage, power and memory, etc. -- that we'd probably have in the middle of this century to keep it close and familiar to present-day readers, while equally OVERestimating how good VR could be (at least in the Otherland network.)

I wanted a disparity so that the readers would feel the characters' astonishment at how powerful and realistic the Grail network was once they finally entered it.

How much about !Xabbu's legends and myths did you make up or what did you find out through research?

I loved this series! Thank you for letting Paul survive in last second!!!! He was my favorite character!

Pretty much all the bushman legends, with the exception of !Xabbu's family story about baboons on the rock, were based on real folklore from the peoples of that culture. I made them my own in a number of small ways, of course, and was also influenced in part by the (sympathetic and highly spiritual) interpretations of bushmen myths by the South African writer Laurens van der Post.

In reality, the people of those cultures can have varying folk traditions within a matter of a few miles, although many of the stories are recognizably related.

As the books go on, many of the characters recount stories from his/her childhood; stories that in essence define who they are.

How much about the characters did you know before even starting to write the CITY OF GOLDEN SHADOW?

Did you ever let compassion for a character influence plot development?

Thanks for giving such pleasure by writing a truly fantastic series.

I learned much about the characters as I went along, although some of them -- Renie, !Xabbu, and Paul, just to name a few -- I knew a lot about before I ever started.

However some of them definitely developed as I went, or at the very least deepened, such as my understanding of what made John Dread who he was. That kind of discovery is part of the fun of writing these long-winded, multi-volumed stories.

I don't think I ever let compassion get in the way of killing off a character or having something terrible happen to them. I never do it lightly and I never "resurrect" someone just to make readers happy. I always have a reason that, to me, feels integral to the story.

I enjoyed the series, quite a bit so, which is quite the accomplishment (in my own opinion)for a sci-fi fantasy writer. However, if there was any one thing, that I really did not understand in the series, it was the final wrap up. So, I would like to know whether or not the ending was just a wrap-up of loose ends, a thematic conclusion, or something that is totally eluding me?

I would love to know your explanation of your thoughts for the finale.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure I can answer that one here, and simply, and especially not when I'm on about my fifteenth or twentieth question-and-answer. The ending of OTHERLAND is very, very complicated, but it's all meant to make sense, albeit in some cases with a little thinking and considering.

Since I'm not sure exactly what aspect you're asking about -- there are literally dozens of different plotlines wrapping up at the end of that story -- perhaps you could either email me separately ( or post another more specific question (with appropriate spoiler warnings) which I could try to answer here.

I understand that the ! in !Xabbu's name is supposed to be a clicking noise, correct? Is that something that is commonly practiced in parts of the world, or is that something you made up?

Oh, it's very common -- there is a whole family of "click languages", mostly found in Africa, as far as I know. In fact, the people I'm rather sloppily referring to under the ethnic umbrella of "Bushmen" have at least four different vocal clicks, and anthropologists and linguists have had to come up with a whole set of marks to indicate them when transcribing speech. I was being lazy (and kind to my readers) and only used the most obvious click and its mark (!).

The War of the Flowers

Applecore seems to be a tougher, more mouthy version of Tinkerbell, and so the kid in me has to know: was the little Disney sprite the original inspiration for Applecore?

Oh, and do I even want to think about the "cosmetic surgery" Cumber Sedge will be going through?

Well, it will be magical surgery, so although it may be painful and debilitating, it will probably be in entirely different ways than we mere mortals can imagine. Still not something you probably want to do with a vacation day, I'm sure.

I suppose it's hard to write a handheld fairy gal these days without evoking Tink, so I can't say she wasn't in the mix. But to my mind 'Core is just as much one of those wise-cracking, gum-chewing female characters in the noir films and screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, the ones who spend most of their time getting all the good comebacks and referring to the male protagonists as "you dumb lug" or "you big galoot".

I really liked the setting in War of the Flowers. Are you planning any direct sequels or stories set in this same world?

Honestly (no one ever believes this, for some reason), I never, never plan any sequels while I'm working on something. It's usually the last thing on my mind, I'm just so happy to be done when it's finally over. In my MS&T books, a pair of notable twins are born to two of the protagonists, and everyone said to me, "That's going to be the sequel, huh?" Really, I'd just put them (and the prophecy about their birth) in to show that the world of Osten Ard would continue to be interesting after the current story ended.

I enjoyed Theo's adventures in Faerie a lot, so there may be something else set there someday, but I haven't planned anything or even thought about it.

Other Books

I'm just wondering if you still plan to write the collection of Osten Ard stories. If so, is the title still "A Chronicle in Stone"? When will it be published? Is there any other information you can tell us about the book? Thanks.

Yes, I still plan to do it, but it's on hold at the moment while I deal with Shadowmarch, which has kind of taken over my life at the moment.

I'm itching to do this project, though, so it won't disappear.

I haven't read Shadowmarch yet (though I've heard it's coming out in actual novel form, which is good news for people like me), but I do have experience with serial novels - I'm writing one myself. Do you set deadlines for yourself, a time that each chapter has to be finished by (and if so, do you always follow them? )? Or do you let the writing set its own pace?

Also, how much of Shadowmarch was planned out when you started, and how much did you develop as you went along? I ask this because in my own internet serial novel, I have a few major plot points and character events mapped out, but the spaces between these are almost empty, with only a vague sense of direction until I actually write it.

Oh, and thanks for doing this. It's writers like you who make writers like me want to be writers like you.

Good luck with your project.

SHADOWMARCH was a chapter-ever-two-weeks kind of thing. I set it up that way and then labored mightily to get it done on time each episode (while writing WAR OF THE FLOWERS at the same time.) It was great fun but rather...strenuous.

I couldn't let it shape its own writing speed, because of the deadline, but that's not the only way to do it, by any means. It was one of the things that interested me (the deadlines, I mean) so I made it a feature of the project.

I also didn't think the story through much beforehand, because I wanted it to be spontaneous. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, however. It was difficult, even with twenty years' experience, to make it feel like a real book without much time to plan things out and no preparatory planning before I started, either.

I just picked up the DAW 30th Anniversary Science Fiction anthology (blatant sycophancy imminent), mostly because of your name on the cover - the rest looks like it could be good too, but come on, we all know why we're really here. This short story is very interesting. I love the idea of an internet chatter trying to explain emoticons to "God".

But since this is supposed to be about questions:

1. The smallish internet community you depicted seemed, from my experience with this community, to be fairly accurate. Did you base any of the characters on chatters you've known, or are they all just from various conglomerated internet experiences?

2. Is it merely convenient that the community in this story is literate and grammatically correct, or could you just not bring yourself to include the myriad typos, abbreviations, and other internet-speak-things?

3. The best part of the story for me - when the Moderator asks if Wiseguy believes that anything based on the hopes and dreams and writings of humanity would wish to enslave and destroy them, and Wiseguy responds first with an emphatic "No!" ... and then with "I hope not." You skate a nice line between optimism and pessimism - but do you personally, outside of your author persona, lean one way or the other on the issue?

4. Fair warning: this one isn't actually a question. It's just me saying that the thoughts, themes, and/or ideas of this short story are the type that can't really be expressed outside of the story. In my mind, those are the best kind. Thanks.

It's nice to have a question on this story.

The community was based on many I've either been part of or have witnessed from outside. Yes, perhaps a bit more literal than usual, in part to make it easier for non-BBS people to read the story without freaking out.

As far as whether our own human creations would be nice to us or not, I don't think I have an answer: too general, too many different possibilities. If we made something that was just like a human, there would be a fairly small statistical chance it would be brilliant and kind, and a probably similar statistical chance it would be a sociopathic engine of destruction, but the shortest odds are that it would eat a lot of junk food and watch Seinfeld reruns and hardly ever call home except when it needed money.

Dear Sir,

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?


Kucumber Joe.

PS: I enjoyed Otherland a lot, thought it was excellent. Cheers.

As far as I know, you can't own midgets, since they're human and there are laws about that (not to mention that Civil War we fought.) As for monkeys, I would have five, and they would be named:

See No Evil
Hear No Evil
Speak No Evil
Do Pretty Much Whatever The Hell You Want
Expensive Attorney


Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the intelligent queries and the many kind words. I had so many questions to answer that I didn't take the time to respond individually to most of the nice things people said, but I am indeed appreciative.

Also wanted to extend the invitation for any interested WOTMania folks to come visit us on the Shadowmarch bulletin board and the Shadowmarch site ( Although the whole Shadowmarch story is no longer available (since I'm turning it into a book) the prologue and first five chapters are still available for free reading, and there are lots of nice, fantasy-friendly folks on the BB who'd love to meet you and discuss stuff.

Thanks again!
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