Sean Williams is an Australian – who writes science fiction and only a couple of years older than me. For these reasons, I delved into one of his early books and have never looked back. The other great thing about Sean is that he is prolific. When he isn’t writing by himself, he is writing series with other people.
He has written so many things – 35 novels now. Star Wars novels, heavy science fiction and fantasy just to name a few. Let me tell you, he is well worth checking out.
Oh, by the way. He also did an interview with me.
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
Crime. I did, in fact, intend to write a crime novel called Protection for the PhD I’m doing at the moment, but that changed, as many things do during the course of a PhD. One day I’ll get back to it.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
Ideas come from everywhere. My best ones, I often say, come from dreams. (Sometimes other people’s dreams, if they’ll let me steal them.) Stories never come to me complete. Individual parts tend to trickle in, slowly and not always surely, until I have something that feels like a story that deserves to be written. Sometimes the plot might employ recognisable elements, or I might have applied standard conventions at various points to move things along, but I would never sit down and say, “Okay, this is A, after which B, and C” etc. That strikes me as a pretty dull way to write.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
There are lots of triggers for stories. Sometimes it’s the title. (I wrote a story once called “The Jackie Onassis Swamp-Buggy Concerto” because a friend dared me to.) Sometimes it’s a character, or a setting, or a feeling, or a single line. In an ideal world, I’d know the title and the last line before starting, but it doesn’t often work that way.
Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?
Very bright indeed! Just look at the wonderful stories and novels in all the awards lists. I’d hate to single out anyone in particular. Too many great people to choose from!
What themes are being overused?
I don’t think it’s possible to overuse themes, but personally I’m a bit tired of the Frankenstein formula: mad scientist invents something, shit goes down, science is bad. You don’t see many SF writers doing that, but it’s everywhere in the mainstream, despite all the good stuff science has done down the years.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
Nope. The worst adaptation in the world won’t harm the book at all. It’s still on the shelf, exactly as it was. (To paraphrase Chandler, I think.)
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
E-books threaten traditional publishing models, yes, but I think in the long-run that will be a good thing. Hard for some companies, very hard for some booksellers and librarians, but stories are more accessible, there are more options for both readers and writers . . . I can’t see how overall it could be considered a bad thing.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I prefer to read good books, and they can be written by anyone. I tend to rely on word of mouth and certain sites like Boing Boing and io9 to point to books that might appeal. I don’t like reading blurbs on the back of books, because I like going in with as few expectations as possible, but I do always (where possible) read the opening paragraph of a book before deciding. If the opening doesn’t work for me, I won’t go any further.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?
The sense that anything, in a given context, could happen. The feeling that, just around the next corner, could be the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.
Can I get an autographed book? (lol)
Sure! Give me your address and I’ll send you one.
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
My wife is my first reader. Then my agent and editor. I used to rely on other readers, but I’ve stopped doing that, on the whole, because I can’t often reciprocate. It’s important, though, and I’m taking steps to make it possible in future.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
Not really. Every story is as long as it needs to be. But you go into novels with a rough idea of what the market will accept. Were I writing a book for eight year-olds and it was ballooning out to a hundred thousand words, I’d start to become a little concerned.
Do you have a target each day?
1000-1500 words. That’s when I’m allowed to stop. If I didn’t have that limit, I’d feel compelled to write every waking hour, and that would be bad for physical and mental health.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
I have breaks between books, where possible. Partly that’s by choice, because it’s important to have a life. Partly it’s out of necessary, because being a professional writer demands a fair chunk of time spent doing my accounts, talking to other people in the industry, and answering questions. 🙂
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
I’m not a writer who believes in the literal reality of my characters. Not that anyone does, really, but some writers talk as though they appear to genuinely believe in such things. Characters do seem to have a life of their own sometimes, but so does every other aspect of a story. Take a big pot, put lots of things in it, stir–you’ll always be surprised what comes out. That’s what makes writing so much fun!
After so many books, how do you keep them unique?
I make a point with each series to try something I’ve never tried before–stylistically, conceptually, thematically . . . whatever. There are always areas I feel I need strengthening in, and rather than shying away from them I prefer to tackle them head-on, if possible. Sometimes I do crazy things for fun, like having a character speak only in the lyrics of Gary Numan, as I did in the Astropolis series. In that same series I was also mucking around with Gothic tropes and consciously trying to explore the sexual natures of my characters more explicitly. All that made it a highly unique experience for me.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
I get a lot done, so I feel I’ve got a pretty good life/work balance at the moment. If you don’t waste some time on something unproductive, you’re going to burn out. So I don’t kick myself too hard for browsing the web every now and again, posting occasionally to Facebook or Twitter, reading books, or spending the evenings with my family. In between all that fun stuff, I’m getting a lot of good words down, and that’s what matters.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
No! Isn’t that terrible? I have a photo of me seeing my books on a US bookshelf for the first time, so that memory has been preserved. But the very first time, in 1994, with my first collection Doorway to Eternity, is completely gone. That makes me sad.
Do you read other people’s writing?
Well, I’m always reading, so yes. Absolutely. Or do you mean, do I read other people’s drafts? Rarely, I’m afraid. There just isn’t time. Occasionally I’ll blurb something but the book’s pretty much finished at that point, so it doesn’t really count.
Would you read mine?
I would if I had time, but alas! Perhaps if I could clone myself . . . .
Sean can be found in the following universes: