Edward Willett

Flames of Nevyana has been printed!

13668979_10153664721396720_7324080363563809876_nIt’s not formally on sale yet, but as you can see, Flames of Nevyana, my new YA fantasy novel from Rebelight Publishing, has taken on corporeal form and exists in three-dimensional space, complete with length, width, volume, and mass. Also a really cool cover.

Here’s the description:




 Blue Fire is both blessing and curse.

A gift from the gods, its mystical light and energy powers and protects the land of Nevyana, but it also divides her people into three distinct groups. In the wrong hands, it becomes a formidable weapon. When sacred objects for channelling Blue Fire are stolen, sworn enemies Petra, Amlinn, and Jin set out to find them, and their paths converge on a collision course with the truth. Can they bridge the centuries old division between their communities? Or will their search for the truth and the explosive power of Blue Fire signal the end of Nevyana?

Remember, you can read the first two chapters online now!


First description of The Cityborn

DAWI was asked today to write a brief description of The Cityborn for DAW Books. Here’s what I came up with: it’s your first peek at my next science fiction novel, my eighth (!) novel for DAW, coming out in about a year’s time.
The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, squatting like a four-legged beast above the deep chasm of the Canyon. Within it dwells a stratified society ruled with an iron fist by the Officers and Crew. In the City, social standing is everything, signalled by the Tier on which one lives, from the hellish First and Second Tiers at the bottom of the City to the elevated Twelfth near the top, home of the highest-ranking Officers. Lording over all others is the Captain, who has dwelt in the inaccessible Thirteenth Tier for hundreds of years.
The young woman Alania, ward of First Officer Beruthi, lives on the Twelfth Tier, one of the City’s elite. The young man Danlyk, ward of the mysterious scavenger named Erl, lives in the vast garbage heap beneath the City, where the dregs of society scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the City’s rubbish, which has filled the Canyon to the brim over the centuries. Their two very different worlds collide when Alania is plunged from the Twelfth Tier into the rubbish heaps beneath the City, and both of them find themselves pursued by the City Crew, for reasons they cannot fathom—but which they must discover if they are to survive. The secrets they uncover, as they flee the trash-filled Canyon and crisscross the Heartland from the City’s farmlands to the mountains of the north and back again, will determine not only their fate, but the fate of the City…and everyone who lives there.

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Read the first two chapters of Flames of Nevyana…also, it has a map!

2016-05-30 FLAMES OF NEVYANA COVERAlthough I don’t have a release date yet for Flames of Nevyana, it’s getting close. Its page is now active on the Rebelight Publishing website, and to mark the impending release, I’ve posted the first two chapters of the novel here: read and enjoy!

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Blue Fire is both blessing and curse.

A gift from the gods, its mystical light and energy powers and protects the land of Nevyana, but it also divides her people into three distinct groups. In the wrong hands, it becomes a formidable weapon. When sacred objects for channelling Blue Fire are stolen, sworn enemies Petra, Amlinn, and Jin set out to find them, and their paths converge on a collision course with the truth. Can they bridge the centuries old division between their communities? Or will their search for the truth and the explosive power of Blue Fire signal the end of Nevyana?

And another cool thing…

As a teenager, I was confused about what made a fantasy novel an “epic fantasy,” as opposed to just an ordinary fantasy. After exhaustive research and deep, deep thought, I concluded that what makes a fantasy “epic” has nothing to do with the writing style, quality, length, or creativity of the book. Nope: what makes a fantasy “epic” is the presence of a map. I put a map in my Grade 12 novel Slavers of Thok for that very reason. It’s taken 40 years…but now I have another novel with a map. Behold the map of Nevyana:


I can’t wait to see the book in print and to hear readers’ reactions.

And again…

Read the first two chapters online!

The Space-Time Continuum: Women of Futures Past

freelance-junjul-2016 1My latest column for the Saskatchewan Writers Guild’s newsletter, Freelance.

Whenever I lead a workshop about writing science fiction, I say it’s important to read widely and deeply in the field: that science fiction is like a long ongoing argumentative conversation, and jumping into it without being aware of what has already been said will irritate people at best and derail the conversation at worst.

Admittedly, it’s far harder to be keep up with the field now than when I was a kid. Back then, a dedicated fan could reasonably hope to read everything of note published every year. Today, there is far more science fiction and fantasy around, and the audience for it has fragmented. People are fans less of the field in general and more fans of specific books (or, more likely, movies or TV shows). They discover they like this kind of stuff stuff without knowing much about its history.

This may have contributed to the bizarre notion, expressed by the kind of people who Twitter and Tumblr about this kind of thing, that until they and their like-minded friends came along and began writing and talking about science fiction, science fiction was a bastion of maleness from which women were excluded from contributing.

A valuable corrective to this ahistorical perspective is coming out this September from well-known editor and writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Women of Futures Past, published by Baen Books, will showcase some of the amazing science fiction stories women have written throughout the multi-decade history of the genre.

Rusch set up a website, “Women in Science Fiction: An Exploration” (www.womeninsciencefiction.com), to chronicle the project, and in her first post wrote, “I’ve been told repeatedly by young female writers in the SF genre that women never did anything in SF until the year 2000 or so. Our history is being lost and, as someone with a B.A. in History, I find that offensive in the extreme.”

Women of Futures Past is a first step to reaffirming the historical role of women in science fiction. Rusch writes, “I want to compile a volume of excellent science fiction stories by women, including some classics, that could have been published today. I don’t want this volume to look like something you have to read in a college literature class. I want it to be something you’ll grab off the shelf immediately, thinking you’re in for some marvelous reading—and I want that impression to be right. I want stories impossible to put down, stories with heart. They don’t have to be ‘by women about women’…I want these stories to be by women, yes, but about anything. And I want them to be riproaring good reads.’

The list of writers mentioned on the website includes many names I remember from my own early reading. Andre Norton, for example, whose first science fiction novel, Star Man’s Son, was published in 1952, was a huge influence on me. I read everything I could find by her, and yes, I always knew she was a woman (Alice Mary Norton): “Andre” was a sop to publishers who felt boys wouldn’t read stories written by a woman. (Let me just say, as one of those boys publishers thought wouldn’t read stories by women, that in fact it never crossed my to care whether a writer was male or female, or for that matter what their race or ethnic or religious background might be: all I cared about was whether or not they wrote a good story.)

Others: Leigh Brackett, “The Queen of Space Opera”…Zenna Henderson, whose stories of the gentle aliens known as The People I read and re-read…Alice Sheldon (who wrote as James Tiptree, Jr.)…Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time)…Ursula K. Le Guin, of course…Octavia Butler…Anne McCaffrey (The Dragonriders of Pern)…the list goes on and on.

And those are just the women writers: of editors and publishers there were (and are) many more. Toni Weisskopf, editor of Baen Books, makes note of this in an essay on the “Women in Science Fiction’ website entitled, “Women and Science Fiction—So What Am I, Chopped Liver?”

When she came into the field in the 1980s, she notes, there were many women “in positions of power,” and she lists a few: Judy-Lynn Del Rey, Betsy Mitchell, Shawna McCarthy, Beth Meacham, Susan Allison, Ellen Datlow, Betty Ballantine, Ellen Asher. (She doesn’t mention, but could have, Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, who have owned DAW Books, my publishers, for more than 30 years.) She adds, “So I never experienced this mythical time of science fiction being an old boys club, with the Man oppressing women, keeping us down. What do these people imagine all the women in field before them did?”

I look forward to reading Women of Futures Past when it comes out, as a reminder to myself, and I hope to a good many other people, that science fiction is not now, and never has been, “an old boys club”…

…although, as an old boy myself, I’m glad there’s still room in it for us, too.

How to write YA fantasy: more story, less pretentiousness

canscaip logoOn May 30 I gave a talk at the offices of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild for the Saskatchewan chapter of CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (that’s their logo at left). The talk was live streamed and will eventually be on YouTube (I’ll post a link once it was) but here is what I wrote in preparation for it, edited a bit. If you didn’t see the talk and don’t want to wait for the YouTube video, this will give you the gist. (Not that I read it very closely, so the actual talk varies considerably.) 

How to Write Young Adult Fantasy

by Edward Willett

t didn’t start out as a writer. Like most writers, I started out as a reader.

My parents loved to read, and I had two older brothers who also read a lot, so our house was always full of books. I remember practicing my reading with my mother by reading out loud to her. Since it was the King James Version of the Bible, I didn’t always have a clue what I was reading, but at least I was figuring out how to sound out words.

What really captured my interest, though, was science fiction and fantasy. Again, I blame my brothers. That was what they read, and of course I wanted to be like them, so that was what I read. One of the earliest novels I can remember reading was Revolt on Alpha C, by Robert Silverberg. It had starships and ray guns and all kinds of other science fictional goodness. I was a nine-year-old boy. How could I not be hooked? (It wasn’t until years later I discovered that was Silverberg’s first novel, written when he was only 19.)

But I didn’t just read science fiction and fantasy. I read everything, voraciously. History books and adventure books, horse books and dog books, classics and not-so-classics.  In school I was the kid who was always raising his hand in class and then saying, “I read somewhere …”

Because I read, I occasionally knew more about a subject than my teachers. (Sorry, teachers, but that is a hazard of teaching kids to read.) For example, I loved a series of English children books called Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, which are all about kids sailing. I knew from those books that the “sheet” on a sailing boat is actually a rope that controls the angle of the sail. I had a teacher who told the class that the “sheet” was the sail. Naturally, I couldn’t let that stand, and the discussion grew…a little heated. But I’m sure that once, upon reflection, she realized she was wrong and I was right, she appreciated my ten-year-old self for setting her straight. Although I admit she didn’t say so at the time.

Books transported me to places I could never have gone: real places, imaginary places, might-have-been places and might-yet-be places. They taught me about airplanes, aardvarks, auto racing, astronauts and apples–and that was just the A’s.

I was always drawn to science fiction and fantasy, because my older brothers read that stuff and so it was in the house. The books of Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton were too of my biggest influences; later, of course, I read Tolkien and Lewis, but I hadn’t even gotten to them yet when I decided I wanted to write my own stories.

One reason was that I sometimes couldn’t find the kinds of stories I really enjoyed reading. (Today’s fortunate children live in the Golden Age of YA fantasy and science fiction; in my day such books were few and far between.) I thought, well, maybe I should just create my own. But I didn’t want to write just for myself. I wanted to write for readers: I wanted to tell stories that readers would enjoy as much as I enjoyed the books I loved.

And so, when I was 11 years old, I wrote my first short story, “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot.” And my Grade 7 English teacher in Weyburn, Tony Tunbridge, did me the great courtesy of taking it seriously: he critiqued it, and didn’t just tell me that it was wonderful (which, in retrospect, it really wasn’t), he told me how I could make it better. That lit a fire in me: my next story would be better.

I’ve been writing stories ever since. I wrote three novels in high school (and passed them around for my classmates to read: rather brave of me, I think now, but extremely valuable—I learned that I could, in fact, write stories that people enjoyed, even if the girls made fun of my love scenes), and kept on writing novels, year after year, until, finally, I started getting them published.

And although that first short story and first longer piece (The Pirate Dilemma! Starring Roy B. Savexxy and Samuel Domms! Double consonants proves it’s science fiction!) were SF, my first novel, written in my Grade 10 English “writing book” (we were required to write one page a day of something—anything) at age 14, was a fantasy entitled The Golden Sword (rewritten as The Silver Sword in Grade 12 when I realized you could barely lift a sword made out of solid gold, much less fight with it.) I wrote an adventure story next, Ship from the Unknown (about an entire nation powerful enough to take on the U.S. and the USSR combined, which somehow had escaped detection deep in the Amazon rainforest…hey, I was 15) then went back to fantasy with Slavers of Thok, my high school magnum opus, which you could tell was epic because it had a map and everything.

Viva la difference

A quick side note to answer the common question, “What’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy?”

According to Orson Scott Card, “science fiction has rivets, fantasy has trees.” According to the most persnickety hard science fiction writers, fantasy is “writing with the net down,” because you don’t have to make your fictional world obey natural law as we understand it. I usually say the difference is that the fantastical things that happen in the SF novel are at least given a scientific explanation, even if it ultimately ends up being so much hand-waving, while you don’t need much more explanation than “magic” for a fantasy novel. Although it’s always worth remembering Clarke’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and there are certainly science fiction novels that read exactly like high fantasy novels: Gene Wolfe’s series The Book of the Long Sun or Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle to name just a couple.

I always thought of myself more as a science fiction writer than a fantasy writer, but my first two published novels, Soulworm and The Dark Unicorn, were fantasy—one modern-day fantasy, one high fantasy. Both were young adult, and there’s no doubt that on the YA side I’ve definitely written more fantasy than science fiction: Spirit Singer, The Shards of Excalibur series, The Haunted Horn, The Masks of Aygrima trilogy (though not published as YA, it has a 15-year-old protagonist and is essentially YA), and the upcoming Flames of Nevyana.

Writing for me is all about telling stories. I find a lot of writers are way too pretentious about what it is they do. Very few books change society and become lasting literature that is taught for generations, and while that’s a fine thing to aspire to, I suppose, the truth is there’s no way for anyone to know what will last and what won’t. This year’s “important new novel” is next year’s stack of ignored books on the bargain shelves at Chapters. All that stuff in reviews about “shines a light on” and “shatters our illusions” and “carries an important message” I find silly, like a lot of the descriptors used in wine writing or the overwrought artspeak used in those descriptive panels hung next to works in galleries. As far as I’m concerned, a book succeeds or fails based on a single criteria: does it tell a good story?

The other stuff—the “shining a light on” and “shattering illusions” and most of all, that “important message” stuff, well, it’s nice if it happens, but none of it will happen unless, first and foremost, there’s a good story.

But why do I write fantasy?

I don’t have a particularly good answer except that that’s the way my mind bends, and has since childhood. I do not want to limit myself to the here-and-now, the world as we know it, to modern-day concerns and conceits.

Tolkien’s concept of “sub-creation” has always spoken to me: “Though all the crannies of the world we filled with elves and dragons, ‘twas our right, used or misused; that right has not decayed: we make still by the law in which we’re made.”

Whether you’re religious or atheistic, there’s no doubt God or evolution has made us creative, given us brains that we can use to imagine…anything. Imagination is the thing that has taken human beings from the plains of Africa to the moon and will someday take us beyond. The ability to make stuff up, and make it sound real, is useful not just for storytellers, of course, but also for politicians and liars—if that’s not redundant—but “used or misused,” as Tolkien put it, it is a central part of our human nature, and the purest expression of it is the creation of fantastical stories, stories that seem real but in fact take place in a world that is not our own, where magic is real, where anything can happen.

And as I like to point out, even people who claim they are not writing fantasy, who claim to be setting their stories in the “real world,” are incorrect. No book contains the real world. Every story, no matter how down-to-earth and realistic it seems, is really a fantasy, a made-up world that may mimic the real world but is not the real world: it is that author’s simulacrum of the world, as fantastical in its own way as Narnia or Middle Earth or Prydain. Looked at that way, all fiction is fantasy.

Why YA?

Which may explain my choice of subject matter, but doesn’t say anything about my choice to write YA: and although I’ve written several adult SF novels (and one adult fantasy) at this point, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a YA writer. To be honest, even my adult novels can be read as YA—they almost always have, among their cast of characters, someone who is either a teen or a new adult.

I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that I started writing as a teen. I grew up, my characters didn’t. I’m still writing for the teen I was, who couldn’t find the kinds of stories he wanted in the abundance which he required.

Another reason? Because my focus is telling a good story with interesting characters, and just like me, young readers are interested, first and foremost, in story and characters. My daughter is about to turn 15 and she is passionate about the books she loves, the stories they tell, and especially the characters. She goes on amazing rants about characters and plots and stories. That’s what she’s focused on, and that’s what I want to focus on in my stories, too, because I want readers who are as passionate about my work as shevis about her favorite books (and as I was at her age about mine).

What if?

So, how do I go about beginning a new fantasy project?

The basic question that gives rise to all fantasy (all fiction, really, but as I’ve already demonstrated, there’s really no difference) is “What if?”

The best way I can illustrate this is with my own books.

Soulworm, my first published novel, began with me looking up at Signal Hill in Weyburn and thinking, “You know what would really look cool up there? A castle!” Then I began asking questions. “What if there were a parallel fantasy world with the same topography in which there is a castle on that hill? What if there were a connection between that world and this? What if something or someone came through it?” There were a million ways to go from that beginning, but that was the kernel.

Spirit Singer, which won a Saskatchewan Book Award, began with, “What if, when people died, someone who was still alive had to guide their souls through a kind of ‘between world’ to the gates of the afterlife? What if something went wrong with the process?”

Song of the Sword, and the whole Shards of Excalibur series, began when I was walking around Wascana Lake on a foggy day and thought, “Anything could be out in that water. It could go on forever, since you can’t see the other side.” And then, “What if the Lady of the Lake from King Arthur were out there?”

The Masks of Aygrima began with a masquerade mask we had kicking around the house. I looked at it and thought, “What if there were a society in which people didn’t wear masks just for fancy balls, but were required to wear them every day?”

Flames of Nevyana, my upcoming YA fantasy for Rebelight Publishing, began with the question, “What if you could control electricity using magic?”

All fiction, as I noted, begins with a “What if,” even contemporary fiction; but in fantasy, the “What if?” is far less constrained. After many, many years of reading and writing, the “What ifs?” come to me fast and furious. Writers are always asked “Where do you get your ideas?” and of course the big “secret” is that there is no secret: ideas are everywhere, all the time. It’s not a challenge to get ideas, it’s a challenge to decide which ones to turn into full-fledged stories or novels.

So how do I decide?

Well, to be perfectly accurate, sometimes I don’t. I proceeded to write a trilogy based on my “What if?” about a masked society because my agent looked at that and another half-dozen ideas and thought the masks idea was the one with the most commercial possibility. I could write a novel or series of novels on every other one of the ideas I presented to him, and if only I had unlimited time and an unlimited lifespan, I darn well would.

But if it’s entirely up to me, then I write the ones that lend themselves to the most interesting characters and situations: in other words, once again, it comes back to story. Which of these ideas holds the promise of a gripping story that will entertain readers, and entertain me while I write it? To go back to my complaint about pretentiousness among writers, I see myself, unpretentiously (I hope), primarily as an entertainer, competing with a thousand other types of entertainment. The better the story I tell, the more likely it is to be read.

“Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a social worker!”

This is probably as good a place as any, since I’m mentioning pretentiousness, to talk about something the YA field that rubs me the wrong way: a tendency to talk about YA fiction as if it were primarily a kind of cod liver oil, good for what ails these darn kids today.

A few years ago at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, I attended a panel entitled “The Changing Face of YA Fantasy,” described this way: “Fantasy works for young adult readers have changed over the years, perhaps even more than their counterparts for adults. The themes tackled are more cutting-edge; a wider variety of cultures is explored; locations are often more realistic, more gritty and urban, than in the past; a more diverse cast of characters is brought into play; and the heroines and heroes are perhaps more realistic than their predecessors. Our panel will discuss the popularity of YA fantasy, its changing face, and its future.”

The panelists were well-known authors and one editor. They began with a discussion of whether YA fantasy is getting “too dark.” The counter to that concern seemed to be that a) the “darkness” in young adult fiction is simply a reflection of the darkness of the real world and b) anyway, the darkness is good for YA readers.

“Any genre has to look at what’s happening outside us,” said one of the writers. “It’s been a scary time, and the literature is going to reflect that…these books are teaching kids it’s okay to be afraid.”

The editor said, “The fear always seems to they’re not ready to handle this, they don’t have the tools. My argument is always that the book is the tool…most fantasy is proactive even in the worst-case scenario; it helps them deal with the reality outside. Even if they’re not succeeding they’re doing something.”

The panel continued in that mode: the ways in which swearing, sex, race and other hot-button topics are dealt with in YA fiction were all discussed in terms of being good for the readers.

It’s not that I disagree with that. It’s true, I’m sure, that books help young readers deal with problems and I know it’s true more for some readers than others, and I’m really glad it’s true, and it’s an important function of YA books, and blah, blah, blah…but what I kept hearing, underneath all that, was “Swallow your medicine like a good little boy.”

Why did I feel like pushing back against this oh-so-worthwhile discussion of how oh-so-worthwhile YA books are? I think it goes back to a lecture one of my junior high teachers gave me when I couldn’t remember the author of a book I’d enjoyed: it was important to remember the author’s name, he (or possibly she; I don’t remember the teacher, just the lecture!) said, because otherwise I was “just reading for escape.”

As if that were a bad thing! C.S. Lewis once said that he never understood why “escapism” was flung at fantasy readers as an insult until his friend Tolkien asked him a simple question, “‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers.”

Even the panelists in Toronto would probably say “escape” is a good thing, a doorway into a better world than the oh-so-terrible real world. But you know what? Escape is a good thing even if you don’t really have anything you need to escape from. Entertainment is a worthwhile goal in its own right.

I’m as good as any author at talking about the oh-so-important issues in my books. But that’s mostly just because that’s the sort of thing you’re expected to say. The truth is,  I’m not writing novels to help readers deal with their problems, I’m writing to entertain them, and out of the sheer joy I get from creating worlds, characters, and stories.

It’s very nice if readers put down one of my books and think, “I feel so much better about my own problems now that I’ve seen that character deal with theirs,” but all I really want them to think is, “What a terrific story.”

I am not a pharmacist, a counselor, a psychologist or a social worker. I am a storyteller. I tell stories set in the past, present and future, in worlds that exist, could exist, and can and do exist only in my mind. I welcome readers along for the ride.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s a high enough calling right there.

Engaging the reader

So, how do you as a writer go about crafting a fantasy story young readers will latch on to?

Here are some things to think about, drawn not only from my own experience but from research into what other YA authors have to say about thesethings (although honestly, ask any three YA authors what makes a good YA story and you’ll probably get four different answers).

I will number them, because then it looks more official.

  1. Lack of narrative distance

The most popular viewpoint in YA right now (although I haven’t used it myself yet) is first-person present-tense (as in The Hunger Games). You’re right inside the head of the main character, and you’re along for the ride. Even if you’re using third person—as I do in The Shards of Excalibur and in The Masks of Aygrima—it’s typically a very close-in viewpoint. I’ve got three point-of-view characters in Shards. One is an adult, two are teens, and when it’s their POV I’m right inside their heads, showing you what they’re thinking and feeling moment by moment. This is even more true of Masks and its sequels: the entire 300,000-word trilogy is told, except for a prologue in the first book, from the very close-in third-person POV of a 15-year-old girl. That immediacy is a hallmark of YA fiction.

  1. Think like a teen

This is a corollary to that close-in narrative viewpoint. If you’re going to be inside the head of teenagers, you’d better be able to think like a teenager. “I think everyone’s got a little teenager inside of them still, and you just have to work to help yourself access that teenager,” says Veronica Roth, the author of the Divergent trilogy. “Every now and then I find myself having a character make a decision that feels very adult without having them earn it, and I have to go back and make sure I’m letting the characters make mistakes they would in real life at that age, like a parent.”

Now, Veronica Roth is only in her 20s, so her inner teenager is perhaps a little closer to the surface than mine, and yet…we all remember what it was like to be a teenager, even me. I’ve been told by people who should know that my 15-year-old female protagonist seems like a very realistic 15-year-old girl, so I guess I didn’t do too bad a job of thinking like a teen (not just a teen, but a teen girl. Go figure.)

If you start to sound like an adult observing the events rather than a teenager experiencing them, you’ll turn off readers—not to mention editors.

Part of thinking like a teenager is to find the “emotional truth” of the teenage experience. Katniss rings true in The Hunger Games because her decisions make emotional sense, even if they’re clearly bad decisions. My own Mara, one reviewer (who liked the books) called “the queen of bad decisions.” But those decisions make emotional sense: maybe not for a grown-up, but for a teen girl.

And to return specifically to writing young adult fantasy, what makes the fantastical experiences and situations work is the fact that the teen characters involved in them still seem like real, flawed, emotional, inexperienced, passionate, sometimes silly, and still immature human beings, not stiff teenage-shaped puppets manipulated by an obviously adult writer. Fantasy is about the willing suspension of disbelief, and it’s a lot easier to suspend disbelief from a solid structure of emotional truth.

As YA editor Kristen Petti puts it, “When you’re in that time in your life, the trials and tribulations of friendships, romantic relationships, it’s all very crucial and vital. That is one way the author presents themselves as authentic to the YA community, by nailing that keenness of feeling and emotion and high-stakes nature of the interactions they have with people every day.”

Some of this may be easier with contemporary fantasy, where your YA characters, while possibly involved in saving the world or battling supernatural monsters, are still part of the same world as your readers. This gives you some new tools, such as pop-culture references. My character Wally is basically a modern-day version of me: he knows Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and all these other fantastical pop culture touchstones, and I think that gives an extra layer of fun to the story as he compares his own experiences as a character in a fantasy novel to what characters in other fantasies have gone through.

Although a word of warning: pop culture references can date your story very fast. I suspect that’s already true of several of the references I’ve made. But I made them anyway. Because they’re fun. So sue me.

  1. Keep it moving

A lot of YA books are read by adults, and one reason is that as a rule YA novels are not as weighed down by the aforementioned literary pretentiousness as some modern adult fiction is. As Pettit puts it, “So much of adult literature has become so precious that sometimes what you just want is the ride. I think YA authors are freer to take you on a ride instead of constructing overwrought sentences and impressing you with their skill.”

  1. Offer hope

None of this means that YA is dumbed down, or that it can’t get dark. It can get very dark: as my daughter notes whenever she reads something about adults worrying that something might be scary for teens, “Have they read any YA books recently?” There’s literally nothing off-limits in YA these days.

But…and it’s an important but…something you will almost always find in YA is a kernel of hope.

Sure things are dark, things are terrible, there’s risk of death or worse, but at the end…there’s always the sense that tomorrow is another day, that the characters have come through these terrible things and there is at least a hope that things will get better in the future.

And that, too, is true to the adolescent experience. Most people do make it through their teenage years, overcome the challenges and the mistakes and the terrors, and move into the new world of being an adult.

Thinking of it that way, every teen is on a quest to find the truth about him or her self, no matter how many mountains have to be scaled, depths that have to be plumbed, or demons that have to be fought along the way…just like the characters they love in the fantasies you and I write.

Cover art reveal: Flames of Nevyana

2016-05-30 FLAMES OF NEVYANA COVERMy next published novel will be Flames of Nevyana, a young adult fantasy published by Rebelight Publishing in Winnipeg, and here’s the cover art.

Flames of Nevyana began life as Blue Fire, and was the last novel (for the moment) I’ve written “on spec”: that is, I wrote the whole thing and then tried to sell it. It’s been rewritten a lot since that first draft and is much stronger for it. I’m excited for readers to have a chance to discover it.

Release date will be sometime this summer: I’m hoping it will work out to do a book launch of some sort in Winnipeg in mid-July, when I’ll be there anyway on a family trip. I’ll keep you posted.

Great cover, huh?


CanLit for Little Canadians likes Cave Beneath the Sea

CaveBeneath_theSeaHelen Kubiw at the excellent CanLit for Little Canadians site has been a fan of The Shards of Excalibur from the beginning, and she likes Cave Beneath the Sea quite a lot:

In Cave Beneath the Sea, Edward Willett has created as exciting a read as the earlier books in the series, continuing to develop his characters and their relationships while the action-filled plot carries the reader to intriguing national and international locales.  Both Ariane and Wally feel the power of the sword, drawing them to its shards but also compelling their anger in those who have hurt them: parents, siblings, bullies, enemies. And while they struggle with those yearnings, they are finding their way to a hitherto-unknown girlfriend-boyfriend relationship that provides them the family they both crave.  It’s hard for me to decide which is the stronger foundation for the story, the characters or the plot, as both are substantial and intricate.  Regardless, Cave Beneath the Sea takes The Shards of Excalibur a fast-moving step closer to the Door to Faerie, the magical entity and Book 5 in the series.

Read the whole thing!


Me as Lurch

lurchI’m portraying Lurch in the Regina Lyric Musical Theatre production of The Addams Family musical, which opens tonight…I’m thinking maybe this should be my new author photo.


Poetry month poetry: The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship “Cactus Hills”

The final poem of Poetry Month based on first lines provided by Poet Laureate Gerald Hill to members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild every April weekday, with the challenge to respond to them in some way in new work. I chose to incorporate them into new science fiction/fantasy/horror poems. I’ve really enjoyed the process, and am already thinking about turning them into an illustrated collection.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than BloodThe Maharajah of MossbankThe Gathering of StonesThe Only Child; The Labyrinth of Regret.

Today: you’ve heard of Cowboy Poetry? This is Space Cowboy Poetry!

The lines are really long and so there are a number of odd line breaks due to the restrictions on length within the blog post, just so you know.

The provided first lines:

Bill wrangled in the early years, bustin broncos every fall,
a legend from the Cactus Hills, the wrangler Gomersall.
– Ken Mitchell, “Spook” from Rhyming Wranglers: Cowboy Poets of the Canadian West

isHisSince he stood at the edge
of dark valleys before
– Doris Bircham, “Valley of Shadows” from Where the Blue Grama Grows


The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills

By Edward Willett

This is a tale from back in the day when the startrails were wild and free,
when the men and the women who sailed the skies were braver than you, or than me.
Now, life in the colonies out ’mongst the stars ain’t no doubt could be pretty rough,
And those who could scrape out a living out there were more than just averagely tough.

Like most anybody who lives a rough life, time came when they wanted some fun,
And so ’fore you knew it the show-business ships started making a regular run.
“Planetfall,” that’s what starship folk call it when they come a-howlin’ right down to the ground,
Though they mostly just dock the word clear down to “’fall,” I think ’cause they just like the sound.

There were theatre ships, there were musical ships, there were burley-cue ships by the score,
But the ships that the colonists longed for the most were the rodeo ships, and what’s more,
Them colonists found that the old cowboy code served them better than aught else they knew,
So before very many more years had passed by, all of them started cowboying, too.

Bill was born in a starship they’d dubbed Cactus Hills, out in deep space where there ain’t no law.
He grew up real fast and he grew up real strong, and as tough as a diamond-edged saw.
Bill wrangled in the early years, bustin “broncos” every ’fall,
a legend from the Cactus Hills, the wrangler Gomersall.

He’d never been near an Earthly horse or seen an Earthly steer,
but he’d ride a six-legged horror or wrestle a gray slimy snake without fear.
Still, as years followed years Bill just had to face facts: he wasn’t a kid anymore,
and wrangling “broncos” or wrestling “steers” left him limping a bit, and quite sore.

He spent a few years as a rodeo clown, ’til a thing with a poisonous sting
Got him good in the leg. They replaced it, of course, but he weren’t no more good in the ring.
Still by then he had been on the circuit so long he was able to buy out the ship,
And as new Captain Bill of the old Cactus Hills started out on his very first trip.

They hit Formalhaut Four and old Alpha C Prime and a new place that ain’t got no name,
And the new eager wranglers in their fancy duds started making their own claims to fame.
But then they got lost in the back of beyond when a cosmic string cut through their shield,
And the captain set down on the first world at hand, in a shiny green rock-covered field.

The engineer thought he could get the ship fixed, but it might be a month or a week.
“Do your best,” Captain Bill said. “I’ll get saddled up and go out on in the field for a peek.”
He got on his “horse,” an old robot named Pete, and rode it out into the field,
Where the things he’d thought rocks heaped up into a wall and a voice in his head told him, “Yield!”

Well, what could he do? He surrendered, of course, and they hustled him off to their queen,
A rather small boulder as blue as the sky, but her voice in his head sounded mean.
Seemed he’d squashed half her council beneath the ship’s weight: hadn’t killed them, but that was just luck.
She demanded he take off and he had to say that he couldn’t, the ship was pure stuck.

Then a new kind of wrangling Bill had to do, as he wrestled with all of his might
To save Cactus Hills and the brave souls aboard from the wrath of the queen—what a fight!
It went on all day and it went on all night, and on that planet that’s really long,
But when it was over old Bill had a deal. She’d let Cactus Hills move along.

But not Bill. He’d stay back, and would serve the blue queen, as a punishment fit for his crime,
And the weirdest thing was that he didn’t much mind, and looked forward to serving his time.
Now, if you think that’s strange, then you aren’t like old Bill, or maybe a cowboy at all,
’Cause it really ain’t strange that a cowboy like Bill heard the wide-open spaces’ clear call.

He’d discovered he hadn’t quite took to the way being Captain had kept him pent up.
This planet had wide-open spaces galore, and as he and the blue queen went up
To the top of a hill to watch his ship take off, he looked far and wide and felt fine:
He liked the tall mountains, and the way that the sun gave their snowcaps a sparkling shine.

So now Bill don’t wrangle the alien broncs, or wrestle the tentacled steers,
You won’t find him in some Martian rodeo town, in a cowboy bar downing some beers.
He don’t have a ship, and he don’t have a herd, but a whole wild planet is his,
Since he stood at the edge of dark valleys before the blue Rock Queen and heard her say this:

“Well, Wild Bill Gomersall, you’ve served me well for twenty long turns round the star.
“You’ve honored your word and you polished my sides and you’ve rolled me around near and far.
“Now most of this world doesn’t suit us at all, but it seems to suit you a-okay,
“And I’ve talked to my council and we took a vote, and here’s what they told me to say:

“Except for the parts of the world that are mine—just this hill-top, and that valley there,
“The rest of the planet is yours to explore: you can go where you like. Just beware:
“No more of your kind will be welcome down here: we’ll crush any humans who try it.
“So if you want to leave, you must summon a robot ship down, and then you’ll have to fly it.”

But Old Bill looked around at that beautiful world, and he grinned, and he took off his hat,
And he swiped the sweat out of his eyes with his arm, then he turned and said, “Sure,” just like that.
“Old cowboys don’t like to be cooped up at all,” he told the blue Queen with a grin.
“Just me all alone on a planet like this? In my book I’d count that a win.”

Then he turned to the drone that he’d kept by his side when the Cactus Hills left him behind,
Told it the story that I’ve just told you, sent it up for the next ship to find.
That world is off-limits to everyone now, but by every space cowboy it’s known:
That’s the range of Old Bill ftom the ship Cactus Hills, and he happily rides it alone.


Poetry month poetry: The Labyrinth of Regret

I wasn’t able to post this yesterday, but this is actually yesterday’s poem from first lines provided the day before that by Gerald Hill, Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan, to all members of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Just one more poem to go! It’s been a blast incorporating these random lines of Saskatchewan poetry into new science fiction/fantasy/horror poems. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

All the other poems: I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust; Virtuality; This is the Way the World Ends; The Last Thing Your Lips Touched; Facing the Silence; The Telling; Saint Billy; I Remember His Eyes; His Body Knows; Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God; I Will Ride Off the Horizon; There’s Nothing Artificial About Love; He Really Should Have Written; Saving My Brother’s Life; Dammit, I’m a Doctor, Not an Entree; Slime is Thicker Than BloodThe Maharajah of MossbankThe Gathering of Stones; The Only Child; The Tale of Old Bill from the Ship Cactus Hills.

The first lines:

have you met the poet
who tried to stop writing
– Veryl Coghill, “The Space Too Small” from Make Me

I leave my shoes
to mark my place
– Anne Campbell, “I Leave My Shoes to Mark My Place” from Angel Wings All Over

My poem:

The Labyrinth of Regret

By Edward Willett

The labyrinth is endless, a maze
no Theseus could conquer,
no Minotaur could rule.

Souls from a thousand millennia
flit through the halls, frustrated,
frightened, frozen in the moment
when their lives went wrong
and their deaths began.

My guide is enthralled by the
suffering souls, a fan of their
tragic backstories.

“Have you met the poet
who tried to stop writing?”
he says, with a nudge
to point my gaze
toward a gaunt-eyed figure
trudging down
an endless winding stair.

He points at another,
sitting alone,
his head in his hands.
“That one,” he says,
with a delighted chuckle,
“devoted his life to a
theory that foundered
on the hard rocks of facts,
while that one, the one
who’s just sitting and rocking,
found the man that she loved
loved himself even more.”

No matter the tale,
no matter their pasts,
the ghosts look the same:
longing and lost,
sallow and silent,
grieving and gray.

I do not remember
how I came to be here,
I do not remember
how I lived before.

I know I was going
to be a somebody,
make a big difference,
make myself a name.

But now I am nobody.
I made no difference.
I have no name.

My guide has left me,
or never was here.
I leave my shoes
to mark my place,
and barefoot began
my search for the exit
I already know
I will never find.