|Who Said Size Matters?!|
An Interview with Tad Williams
|conducted by Sandy Auden|
'What really honks me off,'
says Otherland author Tad Williams, with a smile and a laugh in his voice,
'is when the critical establishment -- who are really just guys'n'gals in a different shade of anorak -- say that big books
are down market. If they say that they don't like the content of my books then fine, but to dislike it purely because
it's big, that's something else. I think big books are just a different form of Fantasy.'
Williams' Otherland books weigh in at a hefty 1,000 plus pages per volume, there's four volumes in the series, and each one has a straining girth as Williams' ample imagination fills them to bursting point. But does size really matter?
'I think,' Williams starts, 'rather than "does size matter?" this one is closer to "how long is a piece of string?" A good book is a good book, whether it's a tendon-busting megatome, or a slim volume. Obviously, the reverse is true as well, and more often, since, as (Theodore) Sturgeon's Law so aptly puts it, "90% of everything is crap."'
'Because of this Law,' he continues, 'when critics and reviewers take a shortcut and assume a big fantasy book is badly written hackwork, they're usually right. But they'd be almost as likely to be correct if they made that guess about, say, every technophilic hard-SF novel or every trendy splatterpunk novel or just about anything else in the genre you could name. The fact is, you have to read the damn things or you have no right to comment on them. I've had people talk absolute rubbish about books of mine and only reveal afterward that they hadn't even read them because they already "knew" what kind of books they were.'
And the kind of books Tad Williams writes require a special approach from their author, due to their mighty dimensions.
'Books like mine are different from standard novels, but not because of size so much as because they are several consecutive volumes that comprise one story. That means that I'm forced to commit to things very early in the story that will actually be published (and thus darn hard to edit) long before I'm actually writing the ending.'
'Also, with really long books, you have to work very consciously to keep the reader involved in the short term. It's kind of like the Alcoholics Anonymous thing where you don't quit drinking for the rest of your life, you just say you're not going to drink today -- and then you have to keep stringing the todays together.'
'From my own personal point of view, the only thing unusual about writing such long stories is that you know you're going to be doing them for a long time, and sometimes that can be a little daunting. You don't get the free and frolicsome stage of planning a book -- which is a bit like a new romance -- for very long, compared to the length of the overall process. So it takes a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness. It definitely feels like a marathon sometimes.'
During this writing process, Williams spends a huge amount of time with the characters who populate his volumes. Does he miss them when their story has been told?
'Not all that much,' he admits. 'Although it can be a bit odd to suddenly have the upstairs apartment full of new people and the old tenants gone. But I get pretty enthused about the new folk pretty quickly, and (so far, knock wood) the apartment has never been vacant for very long. In fact, there have been times when I've wished no one else would move in for half a year or so, just to give me a rest from the all-night character parties.'
With Otherland complete, it has been a big experience for him but he's prepared to do it again. 'I'm planning another fairly large fantasy -- and some stand-alone books as well. The term "masochist" probably springs to mind, but I also think I'm good at working in this size and so why not? Jackson Pollock didn't do his paintings on matchbook covers, did he? And I'm not first and foremost a miniaturist either.'
So has this generous approach spilled over into other aspects of his life? Does he have a passion for big houses or big cars? 'At the risk of sounding immensely sappy, I have a very, very big love for my family, but other than that -- although some might suggest I'm a bit talkative and therefore "mouth" should go on that list -- I'm afraid nothing else really fits the bill. Well, at least not that modesty allows me to discuss, of course...'
(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.
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