Edward Willett

Great review for The Cityborn from RT Book Reviews

There’s a great new review of the The Cityborn in RT Book Reviews (not currently publicly accessible online; once/if it becomes so, I’ll link to it). Reviewer Bridget Keown gives it 4/5 stars and writes:
 
“Willett brings J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise into the distant space age in this dystopian tale of class, power and freedom that will entertain devotees and non-genre fans alike. The worldbuilding in this book is impressive, creating an atmosphere that is both fascinating and oppressive, and characters who are magnificently complex. Though the final revelation feels somewhat rushed after so much energy has been invested in building the conspiracy surrounding the protagonists and their environment, the ending provides a fascinating study about loyalty and power that grounds this book in our own time as much as the titular city of Willett’s imagination.”
 
I reminded someone of J.G. Ballard? I can live with that. :) Also, I like the notion this will appear to non-genre fans, too. That’d be swell.

The Space-Time Continuum: Aliens in Science Fiction

Having just posted my column from the February/March 2017 issue of Freelance, the magazine of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild (see previous post), it behooves me to be more timely and post the most recent column, from the April/May issue. And here it is!

I remember being confused, as a kid, the first time I encountered the term “illegal aliens.” “Alien,” to me, had only one meaning: intelligent creatures from other planets. How could they be illegal? I wondered. Not being from this planet, were they really subject to its laws?

Yes, I was a weird kid.

Aliens are one of the great tropes of science fiction, as the length of the article in the Science Fiction Encylopedia makes clear—it’s some 17,000 words long. The first complete short story I wrote, “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot,” at age 11, featured aliens—the title character landed on a planet inhabited by intelligent but not-very-friendly extraterrestrials from whose tentacles he had to escape.

You might think (as I once did) that the idea of intelligent lifeforms on other worlds was an invention of H.G. Wells, author of the seminal alien-invasion novel The War of the Worlds (1898), but as the aforementioned encylopedia article makes clear, the concept goes all the way back to antiquity.

The Pythagoreans, for example, said there must be intelligent life on the Moon. Epicurus taught that there must be an infinity of life-supporting worlds. Plutarch was down with the whole Moon-dwellers idea, and in the second century A.D. Lucian wrote the first journey-to-the-moon story.

On the other hand, Plato and Aristotle would have none of it, and their view that no other worlds could exist, and therefore no intelligent inhabitants of such worlds, held sway right up until Copernicus put the sun at the center of things and Galileo aimed his telescope at the moon. The philosophers of their time began debating the question of what it would mean if there were intelligent aliens, recognizing that their existence would dethrone humanity as the center of creation just as astronomy had dethroned the Earth as the center of the universe.

Concurrently, authors begin telling tales of encountering such aliens, frequently living on the moon. Those early “aliens” tended to be the literary equivalent of the aliens of pre-CGI television—nothing more than humans in rubber suits, wearing prosthetic head bumps, or forced into funny ears.

By the 19th century, though, science—in particular, Darwin’s theory of evolution—had given writers the wherewithal to imagine aliens that, having evolved in a completely different environment, were deeply different from us. The Science Fiction Encylopedia credits Camille Flammarion with imagining the first truly alien aliens: he conceived of intelligent, gentle trees; seal-like creatures with tentacles who, like sharks in the ocean, had to be in constant motion through their atmosphere to breathe; even animals and plants made of silicon (hello, Star Trek’s Horta) and magnesium.

Then came The War of the Worlds. Wells’s invading Martians, whose rapacious nature was clearly heavily influenced by the Darwinian notion of “survival of the fittest,” observed us for a long time, laying their plans, and then set out to conquer us, using their superior technology. They are completely inhuman (gray, leathery, many-tentacled) and ill-adapted to the Earth (which makes one wonder exactly why they wanted it), having trouble with the higher gravity and the thicker atmosphere. Eventually, of course (spoiler alert!) they fall prey to common bacteria, their super science having apparently overlooked the germ theory of disease.

Alien invasion became something of a cliché after Wells, with most aliens, especially in movies, relegated to the role of BEMs (Bug-Eyed Monsters). But in modern science fiction, aliens are far more complex. They may, as the Science Fiction Encylopedia puts it, “have minds somewhat less capable than ours, of comparable capacity, of greater (even vastly greater) power, or minds so different that comparison becomes impossible. They may appear as invaders…or teachers, as allies or enemies, as victims of human exploitation or judges of human civilization, as Secret Masters guiding human history…or as utterly indifferent forces paying no attention to humanity at all. Aliens may look like us, resemble (more or less) any number of Earthly species, or take on shapes we have never seen or imagined, forms so strange we sometimes fail to recognize them (and they us) as fellow beings at all.”

Their appeal shows no sign of fading: witness the Oscar-nominated film Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s Nebula Award-winning 1998 novella “Story of Your Life.”

Aliens challenge our place in the universe, offer authors the intellectual challenge of trying to imagine a form of intelligence completely different from our own, and hold up a mirror in which to reflect humanity’s foibles. They are one more example of what has always drawn me to science fiction: it is the ultimate intellectual playground, the one literary form (with its cousin, fantasy) in which whatever you can imagine can be made real, even little green men—or tall winged tri-sexed hive minds with tentacles—from outer space.

How cool is that?

The Space-Time Continuum: Creating Magic Systems

This is a belated posting of my column from the February-March 2017 issue of Freelance, the magazine of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. Don’t know how I missed posting it, but better late than never!

Most fantasy stories include magic: that’s kind of what makes them fantasy. (In fact, if I had to distinguish between fantasy and science fiction, I’d say, “The fantastical stuff in fantasy is ascribed to magic. The fantastical stuff in science fiction is ascribed to advanced technology.”)

However, different authors take different approaches to the use of magic in stories. In older books of the fantastic (think The Lord of the Rings), magic is (in the words of Brian Niemeier, winner of the inaugural Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel in 2016 for Souldancer) “mysterious, ineffable, and unpredictable,” whereas in most modern fantasy, magic is more likely to work “like a technology that we can systematize.” It’s the latter form of magic that has given rise to the term “magic system”: the rules established by a writer of fantasy to which the magic in his books adhere.

The designing of such systems seem to be a topic of endless fascination for those interested in writing fantasy, which is presumably why Niemeier wrote his essay, “How to Design Magic Systems,“, from which I just quoted. It’s also why I was on a panel entitled “How to Build a Consistent and Original Magic System” at the 2014 edition of the annual—and highly recommended—Calgary writing conference When Words Collide .

The star attraction of that panel was not, alas, me, but rather Guest of Honour Brandon Sanderson, widely acknowledged as among the best at crafting interesting magic systems for his bestselling novels.

Over the years, Sanderson has formulated his approach into laws, three of which (so far) he has explicated on his website, starting with his First Law: “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.”

Sanderson recounts how, while on a convention panel on magic early in his career, he stated as a given that, “Obviously, magic has to have rules,” and was shocked to be challenged by the other writers. They claimed systematizing magic robbed fantasy of its sense of wonder: that sense of the “mysterious, ineffable, and unpredictable.”

Sanderson calls that kind of magic “soft magic,” and he and Niemeier point out the problem it sets for writers: because it has no rules, it cannot be used to regularly solve story problems without becoming a deus ex machina. Since we don’t know what magic can and can’t do, every time magic is used to solve a problem faced by the characters the reader is left wondering why magic doesn’t solve all the characters’ problems—which of course would destroy the narrative.

Systematized magic, on the other hand, which Sanderson terms “hard magic,” operates in accordance with strict rules. Looking at my own books, in Magebane, magic requires energy in the form of heat, so the palace has giant coal furnaces; in my Masks of Aygrima series, magic is literally mined, and most magic-users must have a store of it handy in order to perform magic; and in my Shards of Excalibur series, my young protagonist can dissolve into water and travel anywhere it goes—but only fresh water, and she can only reappear in water deep enough to submerge her (giving swimming pools and ponds an unusually prominent role in the narrative).

These limitations heighten narrative tension, because magic is not always available to solve problems, and shape the plot, as the characters struggle to find ways to use their magic.

Or, as Sanderson puts it in his Second Law: “Limitations > Powers”; it’s by putting limits on magic that you make it interesting. Superpowers are a form of magic, and as Sanderson points out, how dull a character would Superman be if not for his Achilles’ Heel, Kryptonite? (For that matter, how dull a character would Achilles himself have been if not for his famous heel?)

Sanderson’s Third Law is, “Expand what you have before you add something new.” Or, as he sums it up, “A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities—and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.” This ties in with the previous laws quite nicely. The more magical powers that are available, the easier it is for someone to solve their problems with magic, which may result in a flabby narrative.

Note, despite Sanderson calling them “laws,” they are of course nothing of the sort—more “suggestions from experience.” After all, wizards in the Harry Potter books certainly have “a thousand different powers and abilities,” and limitations seem few, but the J.K. Rowling did all right.

In truth, there is only one absolute law of creating magic systems: it has to result in a better story.

Or, as Niemeier sums it up: “In magic as in everything else, make it fun for the reader.”

Paul Alexander Nolan: From small-town Saskatchewan to Broadway’s bright lights

 

This article just appeared in Refined Lifestyles Regina. I’ve known Paul since he was a kid–I performed with him several times back then, and have even had the chance to be in a professional show with him once, when he played the Beast in Persephone Theatre‘s production of Beauty and the Beast in Saskatoon in 2007 (I was Monsieur D’arque and several other things). It was great to chat with him for this article, the second time I’ve interviewed him.

For Rouleau native Paul Nolan, the moment it really struck home he was performing on Broadway came in March, 2012, in the first performance in Broadway’s Paul Simon Theatre of the Stratford production of Jesus Christ Superstar, in which Nolan played Jesus.

In Act I, Simon the Zealot sings “Simon Zealotes,” urging Jesus to lead his mob in a war against Rome. As Lee Siegel finished the song, the crowd erupted. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” Nolan says. “It was like getting punched in the face with sound, they screamed so hard.

“We all spontaneously got tears in our eyes. It wasn’t a sentimental moment, it was just a purely overwhelming sensation to have people react like that. It was amazing to all of us be there together, all of us having Broadway dreams as Canadians, all of us getting to fulfil our dreams at the same time.”

Many more Broadway roles have followed: Guy in Once, Pasha Antipov in Doctor Zhivago (for which he was nominated for the 2015 Outer Critic Award for Best Feature Actor in a Musical), Jimmy Ray Dobbs in the Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical Bright Star (Nolan was a Drama Desk Award Nominee for Best Feature Actor), and, most recently, a six-week stint as Billy Flynn in Chicago.

He’s also performed at the Stratford Festival (The Who’s Tommy, West Side Story, and As You Like It, among others), in off-Broadway shows such as Daddy Longlegs, and in regional productions like the world premiere of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots in La Jolla. On February 18, he returned to Regina to perform James Bond movie theme songs with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. “I’d never sung with a big orchestra, so that was thrilling, but the real thrill was coming home to perform.”

It all began when a band gave a lunch-hour concert at Rouleau School. Inspired, Nolan asked his parents if he could take trumpet lessons. Instead (because they had an organ in the basement), they signed him up for organ lessons, which he hated—so much so, he turned down the idea of voice lessons a couple of years later. “Also,” he admits, “I played a lot of hockey and didn’t want to commit social suicide.”

But (fortunately) he reconsidered, and found he enjoyed his voice lessons with Betty Hayes. As a result, when Regina Summer Stage announced auditions for The King and I, Nolan’s father suggested he give it a go. “I didn’t want to, because I knew it would take my whole summer. But I ended up saying yes. It changed my life. I felt like I’d found a community of people that I belonged to.” Then a touring production of Les Miserables came to Regina and he had another epiphany: you could make a living doing musicals.

Through high school, he performed in some 16 productions with Regina Lyric Light Opera, Regina Summer Stage, Regina Little Theatre, and Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre. He credits voice lessons with Rob Ursan, then musical director (and now artistic director) of DIWC as “the major reason for my vocal ability.” Among the other directors he worked with was Kelly Handerek, who helped set him up with an agent when he moved to Toronto after graduation.

Nolan studied at the Randolph Academy, working on the side (among other roles, he appeared in a Nora Ephron-produced film, Strike!, and had the lead in a movie, Shapeshifter, shot in Bucharest). After finishing his schooling, he worked for the Disney cruise line, “sailing through the Caribbean, playing Hercules and Peter Pan, meeting friends I’ve still got.”

Then came Mamma Mia! at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto, such a gigantic hit he stayed in the ensemble for a year. “Now I know how lucky a person is to have a job like that!”

He took most of 2004 off, traveling, working on the farm in Rouleau, even applying (unsuccessfully) to be a forest firefighter. “I honestly didn’t feel like I was my best self, so I decided, ‘I’m going to try something else, see what sticks.’”

He came back into the business playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time, in Orillia. A year or so later he played Jesus again, in a production directed by Max Reimer, who then cast him as Curly in Oklahoma! in Calgary—which led to the Stratford Festival auditioning and hiring him for its Oklahoma!, understudying the same role.

Five years at Stratford led to his third time as Jesus, in the production (directed by then-Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff) that transferred to Broadway. Though he’s worked elsewhere, he’s remained in New York ever since. “This city has granted me some opportunities, directors have granted me opportunities. I’ve run with those opportunities, and worked hard and done well with them.”

In 2014 he married actress Keely Hutton, a native of Newfoundland, whom he’d met at Stratford. “She’s one of a kind. Most of us take a job at the mention of the word. Keely’s a lot more selective, to my benefit. Keely has mostly dedicated her time to us.”

Up next: the starring role of Tully, a part-time bartender and singer, in Escape to Margaritaville, which features the music of Jimmy Buffet. The musical premieres May 9 at La Jolla Playhouse and will play other cities in route to a Broadway opening next spring.

Nolan is always hoping for a show that will be the perfect combination of art and relevance, like the smash hit Hamilton, which he’s seen several times, emerging “re-inspired” every time. But he says the real game changer for his career may be when he and his wife decide to have children. He fantasizes about moving to Newfoundland and having a more stable life…but New York keeps drawing him back.

“Artistically, theatre, for me, is a little bit like going to church,” he concludes. “I find out a lot about who I am through the stories I do, the things I’ve put myself through to tell those stories.

“It is kind of a sacred event both to see theatre, and to be part of bringing that to people.”

 

 

Read a sample of my new science-fiction novel, THE CITYBORN

Just two months until the July 4 release of The Cityborn, my eighth novel for DAW Books. Review copies have been sent out, and I’m on pins and needles wondering what the reaction will be. On the plus side, both the copy editors and my publicist told me the book was a lot of fun to read, so…from their mouths to readers’ ears!

And speaking of readers (nice segue, eh?), if you would like to one of them, you can get a head start: I’ve just posted the prologue and first two chapters online. It’s a good solid 10,000-word sample, and hopefully will whet your appetite for the additional 120,000 words that follow!

It’s never too soon to pre-order, of course. Some handy links to enable you to do so, plus the overall description, follows.

I hope you enjoy the sample! I hope you buy the book! I hope you’re a major Hollywood producer who will pay me lots and lots of money to turn it into an action-packed movie!

 

Purchase links:

Amazon U.S. | Amazon Canada | Indigo | Barnes & Noble | Penguin Random House

Description:

Two young individuals must uncover the dark secrets of their stratified city in this suspenseful sci-fi standalone.

The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, standing astride the deep chasm of the Canyon like a malevolent giant, ruled with an iron fist by the First Officer and his Provosts in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Within its corroding walls lies a stratified society, where the Officers dwell in luxury on the Twelfth Tier while the poor struggle to survive on the First and Second, and outcasts scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the Middens, the City’s rubbish heap, filling the Canyon beneath its dripping underbelly.

Alania, ward of an Officer, lives on Twelfth. Raised among the privileged class, Alania feels as though she is some sort of pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the many levels of the City. And certainly not allowed to leave the confines of the City for any reason. She has everything a young woman could want except a loving family and personal freedom.

Danyl, raised by a scavenger, knows no home but the Middens. His day-to-day responsibility is to stay alive. His sole ambition is to escape from this subsistence existence and gain entrance to the City—so near and yet so far out of reach—in hopes of a better life.

Their two very different worlds collide when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected ambush, plunges from the heights of the City down to the Middens, and into Danyl’s life.

Almost immediately, both of them find themselves pursued by the First Officer’s Provosts, for reasons they cannot fathom—but which they must uncover if they are to survive. The secrets they unlock, as they flee the 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.

 

Choral music and me, with links to actual music!

I’ve sung choral music all my life. Growing up in the Church of Christ, every Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night, I was singing hymns and gospel songs, a cappella. I started as a boy soprano, sang alto for a while, switched to tenor for about a year, and then settled into the bass-baritone I am today.

In high school, I sang in the choruses conducted by my father, James Lee Willett, at Western Christian College. At Harding University in Arkansas, I sang in the Harding A Cappella Chorus, directed by Dr. Kenneth Davis Jr., and also in the rather boringly named Men’s Ensemble. Since then, I’ve sung with the Regina Philharmonic Chorus, the University of Regina Chamber Singers, the Canadian Chamber Choir and, most recently, the Prairie Chamber Choir.

I have a few cassette tapes from choirs gone by, which some time ago I copied to CDs. Now I’ve finally put them online in their entirety. Follow this link for the Harding University A Cappella Chorus’s 1982 concert in Augsburg, West Germany, and this one for the Harding University Men’s Ensemble, ca. 1979, and this one for a real blast from the past, the four 78 rpm sides recorded by the Harding College A Cappella Chorus in 1947 in Chicago, under the direction of Andy T. Rithie–when my father was singing in the chorus.

Also, if you live in Regina, come to the Prairie Chamber Choir concert May 14! You can buy tickets online.

Cover art reveal! My eighth DAW novel, The Cityborn

A drumroll, please: I’m pleased to reveal the cover art, by Stephan Martiniere, for The Cityborn, my eighth novel for DAW Books, releasing July 4. It’s a stand-alone science fiction novel, and I’m very pleased that it’s under my real name. Here’s the cover blurb to go with the art:
 
The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, standing astride the deep chasm of the Canyon like a malevolent giant, ruled with an iron fist by the First Officer and his Provosts in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Within its corroding walls lies a stratified society, where the Officers dwell in luxury on the Twelfth Tier while the poor struggle to survive on the First and Second, and outcasts scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the Middens, the City’s rubbish heap, filling the Canyon beneath its dripping underbelly.
 
Alania, ward of an Officer, lives on Twelfth. Raised among the privileged class, Alania feels as though she is some sort of pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the many levels of the City. And certainly not allowed to leave the confines of the City for any reason. She has everything a young woman could want except a loving family and personal freedom.
 
Danyl, raised by a scavenger, knows no home but the Middens. His day-to-day responsibility is to stay alive. His sole ambition is to escape from this subsistence existence and gain entrance to the City—so near and yet so far out of reach—in hopes of a better life.
 
Their two very different worlds collide when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected ambush, plunges from the heights of the City down to the Middens, and into Danyl’s life.
 
Almost immediately, both of them find themselves pursued by the First Officer’s Provosts, for reasons they cannot fathom—but which they must uncover if they are to survive. The secrets they unlock, as they flee the 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.

Excited to have a story in upcoming anthology The Sum of Us!

I’m pleased to announce I’ll have a story, “The Mother’s Keepers,” in this upcoming anthology, The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law.

Here’s how it’s described:

The world of caregivers and unsung heroes, the province of ghosts . . .

If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers— our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .

Fade.

These are their stories.

Children giving care. Dogs and cats giving care. Sidekicks, military, monks, ghosts, robots. Even aliens. Care given by lovers, family, professionals. Caregivers who can no longer give. Caregivers who make the decision not to give, and the costs and the consequences that follow. Bound to us by invisible bonds, but with lives, dreams, and passions of their own.

Twenty-three science ction and fantasy authors explore the depth and breadth of caring and of giving. They nd insight, joy, devastation, and heroism in grand sweeps and in tiny niches. And, like wasps made of stinging words, there is pain in giving, and in working one’s way through to the light.

Our lives and relationships are complex. But in the end, there is hope, and there is love.

In addition to me, authors included in the anthology are: Colleen Anderson, Charlotte Ashley, Brenda Cooper, Ian Creasey, A.M. Dellamonica, Bev Geddes, Claire Humphrey, Sandra Kasturi, Tyler Keevil, Juliet Marillier, Matt Moore, Heather Osborne, Nisi Shawl, Alex Shvartsman, Kate Story, Karina Sumner-Smith, Amanda Sun, Hayden Trenholm, James Van Pelt, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm, Christie Yant, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Dominik Parisien (Introduction).

This is the second of Laksa’s “social causes” anthologies; I also had a story in last year’s Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts.

Laksa will donate $1,000 CAD to the Canadian Mental Health Association upon publication. In addition, a portion of the anthology’s net revenue goes to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

I’ll be present at the pre-launch event at When Words Collide in Calgary in August, and also at a launch event at Can-Con in Ottawa in October.

My interview with internationally known artist Andrew Salgado

Twenty-five years ago, at the age of 10, Andrew Salgado was just another kid who’d decided to take art classes at Regina’s Neil Balkwill Centre. Today he’s a celebrated and critically acclaimed artist whose last 11 solo exhibitions (in cities as diverse as London, New York, Miami and Cape Town) have sold out, and who has been interviewed by major magazines and newspapers around the world.

In January and February, Salgado’s paintings were featured in a survey exhibition entitled TEN at The Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square, London, which coincided with the release of the first artist monograph (work published in book form) featuring his paintings. He’s even been the subject of a film documentary, Storytelling (www.storytelling.com).

I interviewed Salgado by email last month for an upcoming article in Refined Lifestyles Regina magazine. Be sure to check it out when it’s published, but there was a lot of information I couldn’t fit into its few hundred words, so I wanted to post the full interview here.

Enjoy!

You were born and raised in Regina, and your parents still live here. You began taking art classes at age nine at the Neil Balkwill Centre with Ward Schell. Clearly you already had an interest in art. How did that manifest as a small boy?

I lived across the street from Beth Gaffney, the celebrated watercolorist. I learned the basics from her, which is kind of ironic since watercolor is such an illogical process of painting, you paint light to dark, which is pretty much the opposite way I paint now, with oils. Anyway, after that I learned from Ward throughout my childhood years, and then in high school at Leboldus I had an amazing teacher, Donna Columpsi. I started at UofR and had wonderful tutelage there, such as John Noestheden. I was lucky, I guess.

Why did you (or your parents) decide you should take those lessons?

Oh, I wanted to take the courses at Neil Balkwill. I hated sports. All the other kids were playing hockey and soccer and I just wanted to take stained glass and pottery classes. I was a weird kid. But I made it work for me. ha. 

What impact did those lessons have on you?

Well, I learned at a very young age how to handle a lot of technical processes. I went into high school and university with a pretty wide arsenal of artistic skills.

When did you decide you wanted to make art your career?

I think this had largely to do with Donna Columpsi at Leboldus. I arranged my spare classes in high school so that my final year I was able to have a full afternoon off, and I would go from 12 to 5pm and work in the art-room under Donna. I think she saw that and was like, “this kid has got to pursue this.” I originally thought I wanted to be an architect, but in retrospect, that has too much restriction. I’m quite a free-thinker; I’m very stubborn; very driven…these are all good qualities to have in the art world, which is vicious and cutthroat.

What, if anything, do you think your Regina/Saskatchewan upbringing has brought to your career as an artist?

I’m not an asshole, like so many others are in this industry. Haha. I stay grounded and gracious and kind. Small town mentality. 

What drew you to drawing the human face (see, I avoided the term “portrait artist”)?

If we are gonna be really finicky, I prefer “figurative artist,” haha. But no, I don’t like portrait artist. That refers to something entirely different from what I’m painting. I am not sure if its my forte or my crutch, that this face has to be there…? Its like a landing strip from where I can take off of…the most recent work has the face almost falling into obscurity. The newest pieces treat it almost secondary. Its like a roadmap that I’m tracing all my journeys on. 

You took two years at the University of Regina, then moved to Vancouver to continue your degree. Why Vancouver? And after that, why Chelsea?

I just had this desire for change. Wanderlust. A desire to consume and experience. I think London has really provided that for me…I’ve been able to digest and learn about so much art, then, now, constantly. 

You live in London, you’ve lived in Berlin, you’ve traveled all over the world. How has all of that influenced your art?

I mean, clearly my art is completely different than it would be had I remained in Regina. It’s something that defies classification, I think. Recently, my friend and gallerist Kurt Beers of Beers London (www.beerslondon.com), who have represented me for over seven years, said, at one of the art fairs we travel to internationally, that no one is really doing what I’m doing in figurative painting. I mean, I guess on one hand I agree with him, because I’m constantly pushing myself to learn and achieve more. I am never satisfied with my output, so I’m always pushing myself to evolve and do and say more with my art. For my last show, I painted the entire gallery green (floors, walls, ceiling). The forthcoming exhibition, A Room With A View of the Ocean in Zagreb, Croatia, I’m installing three separate rooms; there’s furniture, video, sculpture, installation, all for the purpose of exhibiting these paintings. So…the work is about so much more than just painting a face. You ask me why I avoid the term portrait artist… That’s why. No, I won’t paint your kids. I guess that sounds arrogant but I’ve worked tirelessly for, what, 15, naerly 20 years to get to the point where – if I can think it – we can execute it. Its a great feeling. But the artworld is so cutthroat that I always, I mean always, have to deliver my A-Game. I see the trends happening internationally, and I’m constantly visually digesting and learning…the flames are licking at my heels. So I run, full speed.


Tell me about
TEN, the exhibit, and the book. How did they come about, and how did you select the pieces featured?

TEN is the first monograph (or art book) of my work. It was something we had been planning for over a year, but I wanted to include the pieces from my last show in there. Something felt full circle about that. It was a hugely ambitious project, over 280 pages with multiple texts and over 100 full-colour plates. Thank God the staff at Beers London worked alongside the designers (London’s Modern Activity
) to handle it all while I finished working on a body of work. Its just such a massive undertaking. Then we were quite fortunate that we were able to time a 10-year survey exhibition at the Canadian High Commission in London at the same time. That show (January 11 – February 28) was curated by David Liss of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Basically, I went to him with 35 works that I felt would be appropriate for inclusion, and he selected the final 12. The conclusion of 2016 was a hugely ambitious period of time. We sort of…strolled into 2017 with all this stuff ready to go and I thought, “Wow, what an honour.” It really raises the bar for me, its a huge honour.

How did you feel about being featured in such a high-profile fashion as a prime example of Canadian art?

Realistically, there are so many artists more established and more deserving than me. But it’s a massive recognition. As David said, “you’re going to have a big career.” Now I just want to make sure that I fulfil such a tall order.

You’ve talked about disliking the term “activist,” but you also feel that it’s important to engage with issues you are passionate about with your art. What issues influence your painting?

Well, I’m very vocal about LGBT and human rights. I’m very vocally anti-Trump. There are big political messages in my art and I don’t believe you can be partway. I always say, you’re either with us, or you’re against us. That might sound quite harsh, but let’s face it, if you love my work, and are anti-LGBT, then you’ve not been paying attention. All the best art historically has been political, and I don’t see why today’s artists should be any different. My last show, The Snake, featured my first transgender subject, my first Muslim subject, and also a featured a tribute to the 49 persons who were murdered in Orlando. Like I said, I’m not interested in painting a portrait of your spouse…I’m interested in having your child question “WHY.”

Installation of “The Snake”

What impact do you think art—and your art in particular—can have on society? What impact would you like it to have?

I’ve seen changes. I’ve seen people begin discussions. Art has a social responsibility. Make your art political or don’t make it at all. Full stop. 

As a novelist, I think in terms of story, and what strikes me about your paintings is that they tell stories—a different story for each viewer, no doubt, but there’s more going on there than just the surface image. Do you think in terms of telling stories with your paintings? What kind of stories do they tell?

Absolutely. Each painting has a narrative, but also, each body of work has a narrative. They often focus on convalescence. Stories that operate dramatically and fictitiously, but also that operate on a real world level. I’m not here to tell people what to think or feel about each piece…I stopped doing that a while back. But people come and they will take what they want to take. The information is there, if they’re interested in finding it, but I think my political and my narrative stance is quite clear. However, my forthcoming show has lightened the reigns a bit…I had some experiences at the conclusion of 2016 that just made me want to focus on lightness, freedom, the idea of possibility. The world is so ugly, and focusing on that too much as I did for the previous show became quite dark.

Artists evolve or they stagnate. You’re clearly not stagnating. How have you seen your art change over the years? How is it changing right now?

Yeah, its funny…I think the TEN book is a real testament to that change. Right now its becoming more conceptual. The forthcoming show has me doing things I’ve never done, but perhaps not had the nerve to execute before. We’re toying with sound, stitching, collage, salon-hangs…I mean, you name it. Its a process of having to edit ideas down to a cohesive statement. Given enough time and an ample budget, I mean…anything is possible. 

Tell me about any upcoming exhibitions of note.

A Room with A View of the Ocean opens June 24 at Lauba Institute of Art in Zagreb Croatia. The other stuff I’m not allowed to say yet.

You’ve had one show in Regina, at the Art Gallery of Regina. Any hope of seeing another show in Saskatchewan sometime soon?

I’ll come back to Regina when the MacKenzie offers me a solo. haha. But really. 

Any advice for young artists?

Well, I won’t say follow your dreams without cognisance. Because I have to be realistic. I think it’s important that young people are knowledgeable about the difficulties in pursuing an art career. Do your research. Learn as much as you can. Its an ugly world, but I’ve always said if you have enough conviction or stupidity you’ll make it work. I think I have both. haha. 

And, finally, anything else you’ve always wanted to say in an interview but have never had the opportunity to do so?

Yeah, I’ve always wanted to call a show Contemporary Pleasure Island Time Wasters. 

Thanks for your time!

My Government House history book lauded as “a masterful work of art”

government-house-coverA very nice review of Government House, Regina, Saskatchewan: An Illustrated History (Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing) has appeared on the Saskatchewan Publishers’ Group’s SPG Book Reviews website. Keith Foster writes, in part:

Government House, Regina, Saskatchewan: An Illustrated History by Regina author Edward Willett is a masterful work of art in both narrative and illustration, solid in structure, and powerful in its rendition…

“Overflowing with photos of Government House and its inhabitants over the decades, this highly visual coffee table book is stunning in its beauty…

“This is a book that not only belongs on every bookshelf in Canada, it’s a book Saskatchewan residents, and in particular Regina residents, would be proud to have gracing their coffee table.”

 

Read the whole thing!

And buy the book! It’s available through the Government House Historical Society, from the publisher, or at Chapters/Indigo in Regina or online.