Edward Willett

The Space-Time Continuum: Where do you get your ideas?

Feb March 2016 coverThis is my latest column on writing science fiction and fantasy for the Saskatchewan Writers Guild newsletter Freelance…

One of the challenges of writing a regular column (as I know from long experience, since I wrote a weekly newspaper column for many years) is coming up with ideas. Oddly enough, that’s also one of the perceived challenges of writing fiction: coming up with ideas.

What better idea for a column on writing, then, then writing a column on where ideas come from?

Also, “Where do you get your ideas” is a question writers get asked all the time.

I can’t answer for other authors, but I can look at the stories I’ve written over the years and see some broad outlines of how I come up with ideas…which might be of use to you, too.

In general, my initial ideas line up (as you might expect) with one of the three basic elements of a story: setting, character, and plot.

Many of my stories were inspired by settings. My first published novel, Soulworm, was inspired by South Hill in Weyburn. I was driving through town, looking up at the hill (marked by the iconic old water-tower-that-looks-like-a-lighthouse), and thought, “Wouldn’t that be a great place for a castle?”

Song of the Sword, first novel in my YA fantasy series The Shards of Excaibur (Coteau Books) was inspired by mist on Wascana Lake. I was walking around the lake, thinking how when mist hid the far side, you could imagine anything at all in the lake… and I imagined The Lady of the Lake from the legends of King Arthur.

The Cityborn, the science fiction novel I just submitted to my New York publisher, DAW Books, began with an image of a setting: a huge futuristic city squatting like a giant beast above a canyon, a city which has been there so long the canyon is full to the brim with the rubbish of centuries.

Sometimes, it’s a character that steps into the spotlight first. In Spirit Singer, it was the image of a teenage girl leading a lonely life in a castle that started the ball rolling. My short story “Je Me Souviens” was inspired by the image of an elderly priest maintaining a long-forgotten shrine. My Aurora Award-winning novel Marseguro began with a single sentence (in a workshop conducted by Robert J. Sawyer at the Banff Centre) that introduced a gilled girl with violet hair, swimming through bloody water.

Sometimes, it all starts with plot: my YA science fiction novel Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock Star began with the collision of two things: an exhibit on memory at the Saskatchewan Science Centre (where I was then communications officer) and a news item about teen girls who became one-hit pop stars in Japan and were then washed up at the age of 16.  Sequels, of course, are all about plot: they simply continue the story begun in the previous book.

Of course, it’s one thing to have an idea, whether it comes in the form of a character, a setting, or a plot point, but another to develop a story from that idea. So what’s the next step?

For me, it’s a matter of asking questions. For Marseguro: why is there blood in the water? Why does this girl have gills? For “Je Me Souviens”: Where is this long-forgotten shrine? Why has it been forgotten? And why does this priest stay there when everyone else has forgotten about it?

For The Cityborn, the initial idea—the setting—led me to wonder who would live in such a place. That gave rise to characters: a rich girl from the City, a boy who lives in the trash. The rich girl from the City gets literally thrown onto the trash heap, and how and why that happens…and the unexpected connection between the two characters, gave rise to the plot.

Every question leads to more questions. Why is the Lady of the Lake in Wascana Lake? What does she want? Clearly she’s there to talk to someone. Who? (Here come Ariane and Wally, my teen protagonists.) A protagonist needs an antagonist. Who would be hurt it the protagonists succeed?

Question after question. Some I answer before I start writing; others are answered ruing the course of writing, because the question only arises during the writing.

Ultimately, asking a writer “where do you get your ideas” is the same thing as asking “how do you write?” Writing is nothing but coming up with ideas. Sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter.

You might think of the ability to generate ideas as a kind of writerly muscle. Just as you can build a physical muscle through exercise, so you can build the storytelling muscle—the idea generation muscle—by exercise. Read, read, read, write, write, write.

You learn to do by doing. You learn to create by creating.

Get the idea?

My first published book of 2016…

…does not involve magic, aliens, spaceships, or grand adventure, although its topic does date back to the dawn of time. But the important thing is, I got paid!

It’s Becoming a Mason, for Rosen Publishing.

A Career as a Mason coverMasons have been responsible for, quite literally, the foundations of society, erecting everything from the pyramids of Giza to the schools and offices of the modern age. This valuable guide provides a breakdown of the field of masonry for teens thinking of entering this stable and always-in-demand career. Readers will become familiar with the tools and materials used by masons today and learn about the various education and certification pathways that can give them a leg up in the field. This volume also offers practical tips for landing an entry-level job and discusses the projected growth of this essential industry.

It’s part of a series called Essential Careers, and you can buy it here, if you wish.

Great reviews for Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds from CanLit for Little Canadians

Starting off 2016 right, Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds both picked up excellent reviews, one after the other, at the excellent CanLit for Little Canadians site.

Twist of the Blade for WebOf Twist of the Blade, Helen Kubiw writes:

“While Edward Willett continues to weave the Arthurian legend into a Saskatchewan setting, he builds on the Merlin, Arthur and Lady of the Lake story by creating a magical sword that craves to be reconstructed and wielded as a weapon…Edward Willett capably brandishes the trust issues of teens, especially those related to their families, as the means to progress the story.  But it’s these same issues with which Merlin and Arthur had to deal…without their anger and self-doubt, Ariane and Wally could not learn to believe in others and themselves as worthy of the challenge to bring together the shards of the legendary sword of King Arthur…”

The Lake in the Clouds CoverAnd then, of Lake in the Clouds:

“Excalibur is getting closer to being reconstructed, and the characters’ roles are being redefined.

“By continuing to develop his characters so that they never remain good or evil or secondary, Edward Willett has ensured that the plot doesn’t stagnate…With Ariane and Wally both being affected by the shards and learning of new abilities, as well as other characters being drawn into the story in different ways, The Lake in the Clouds becomes a fuller story.  The plot itself continues to evolve and the adventure is grand, as travel by plane, bus, boat, limo, cloud (yep, that’s Ariane) and water (her again) takes the characters from across Canada (Toronto, Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Emma Lake and Vancouver) and to Hawaii and New Zealand.  The journeys are part of the quest but hold on because your travelling companions are switching places and your next seat mates may be a surprise in Cave Beneath the Sea…”

A great way to start the year, especially with the release of Door Into Faerie just a few months away…

Merry Christmas: me singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”

Here’s a holiday treat (at least, I hope it’s a treat): me singing “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” at Christmas Crackers 2015, the annual holiday revue of The Golden Apple Theatre here in Regina. It was a great evening all the way around, and this was my small contribution to it.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


Christmas special: save $15 when you buy all four Shards of Excalibur books at once!

Song of the Sword Cover CoteauTwist of the Blade for WebLake_intheClouds_smallerCaveBeneath_theSea
























Coteau Books is offering a special Christmas promotion in its online shop: buy all four Shards of Excalibur books, Song of the SwordTwist of the BladeLake in the Clouds, and Cave Beneath the Sea, for just $45. That’s a saving of $15 off what you would pay buying them individually in a bookstore. Or to put it another way, you’re getting one of the four books absolutely free!

They make great Christmas presents. No, honest, they do. I’m not just saying that because they’re mine…

Go forth and shop!

The Space-Time Continuum: The Aurora Awards

freelance-decjan-2015-w2 1Here’s my Space-Time Continuum column from the December-January issue of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild‘s newsletter Freelance

Literary awards are nice to get. They may or may not help book sales, and they may or may not come with a cash prize, but at the very least, they’re a form of validation for authors. (As Sally Fields put it when she won an Academy Award, “They like me, they really like me!”)

Canada’s most prestigious literary science fiction awards are the Auroras, presented annually by the non-profit Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA), which also sponsors the French-language Prix Aurora Boréal. They were first given out in 1980 (when there was only one award; today there are 10) and first called the Aurora Awards in 1990. Any Canadian citizen or permanent resident can both nominate and vote for the Auroras—all you have to do is join the CSFFA.

The Auroras are presented at Canvention, held in conjunction with a different established science fiction convention each year, alternating between east and west.

I was thrilled to win an Aurora Award in Montreal (when Convention coincided with a rare Canadian-hosted World Science Fiction Convention) in 2009 for my science fiction novel Marseguro (DAW Books), and honoured to have been short-listed two other times, including this year, when Twist of the Blade, Book 2 in The Shards of Excalibur series (Coteau Books), was nominated for Best Young Adult Novel.

It didn’t win (alas!) on November 22 at SFContario 6in Toronto, but here’s what did win, in the professional categories, by way of an illustration of the “state of the art” in SF/fantasy writing in Canada.

Best English Novel went to A Play of Shadow by my fellow DAW author Julie E. Czernada (a recent guest at Word on the Street in Saskatoon). It’s a fantasy novel, whose synopsis gives you a taste of what to expect: “What would you risk for family?…Bannan Larmensu, the truthseer who won Jenn Nalynn’s heart, learns his brother-in-law was sent as a peace envoy to Channen, capitol of the mysterious domain of Mellynne, and has disappeared. When Bannan’s young nephews arrive in Marrowdell, he fears the worst, that his sister, the fiery Lila, has gone in search of her husband, leaving her sons in his care. The law forbids Bannan from leaving Marrowdell and travelling to Mellynne to help his sister…”

But of course he finds a way.

There was a tie for Best English Young Adult Novel between Lockstep by Karl Schroeder (Tor) and Out of This World by Charles de Lint (Razorbill Canada).

Lockstep is a science fiction novel: “When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still―that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years…”

Out of This World is Book 3 of The Wildlings: “At the end of Over My Head, Josh has propelled himself into the Otherworld where he believes his former girlfriend Elzie is in imminent danger…In this unpredictable world a side-step from our own, Josh discovers more about the awesome power he holds within, as he deals with hostility from certain animal clans and elders…”

Eric Choi won the Best Short Fiction award for “Crimson Sky,” published in the July/August issue of Analog magazine. The website SciFiGuy.ca, which reviewed all the short fiction nominees, describes it thus: “‘Crimson Sky’…set on a partially developed and colonized Mars in some not-too-distant future…lets us view the experience of Maggie, an EMT search and rescue helicopter pilot responding to an emergency from an adventurer in a downed lighter-than-air craft.”

The Best Poem/Song award went to Tony Pi for “A Hex, With Bees,” published in Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen (EDGE). Pi says that within the poem he “incorporated the meanings and structure of I Ching trigrams and hexagrams,” adding that, “The poem was inspired by two early memories of Taiwan, one of smoking out a beehive in my grand-uncle’s farm in the mountains, and one of my grandmother going for a reading in a temple.”

The Best Graphic Novel award went to It Never Rainsby Kari Maaren (“a comic about weird things happening to weird people”). The Best English Related Work award went to the venerable Canadian science fiction magazine On Spec, published by Calgary’s Copper Pig Writers’ Society, and the Best Artist Award, I am happy to report, went to Dan O’Driscoll, whose covers graced my novels published by Ottawa’s Bundoran Press, Right to Know and its just-released sequel Falcon’s Egg.

If nothing else, the Aurora Awards are proof positive that speculative fiction of all sorts is alive and well in Canada. And remember, you can both nominate and vote for the awards!

Visit the Aurora Awards website for details.

Cave Beneath the Sea, Book 4 in The Shards of Excalibur, now available!

CaveBeneath_theSeaCave Beneath the Sea, Book 4 of my Shards of Excalibur young adult fantasy series from Coteau Books, officially released on November 15. I’ve been thrilled with all the covers of the Shards of Excalibur series, and I think you can see why, looking at Cave Beneath the Sea. All the books have looked fantastic, and I can’t wait to finish off the series in the spring with Door into Faerie, the climactic conclusion.

Here’s the description of Cave Beneath the Sea:

“Seeking to recover the shards of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur before Rex Major (the ancient sorcerer Merlin in a modern-day guise), Ariane and Wally have traveled around the world, but their quest is not over. Thanks to Wally, Ariane knows her mother is alive-and that Rex Major is trying to find her. In Cave Beneath in the Sea, Ariane and Wally race to the Caribbean as they try to find Ariane’s mother and the fourth shard of Excalibur before Major does. As they struggle to stop him, Ariane and Wally must make the most difficult decisions of their lives.”

I had a great time writing Cave Beneath the Sea and I can’t wait for readers to experience it. It’s available directly from Coteau Books, or through Amazon.ca or Indigo, in both paperback and ebook formats.

Of course, if you haven’t read any of the series, the previous three books, Song of the Sword, Twist of the Blade, and Lake in the Clouds, are all still available and awaiting your reading pleasure. You can read more about the series at the website I’ve dedicated to it, www.shardsofexcalibur.com.

Here are some recent reviews:

“The strengths of Willett’s series really shine in these two recent books (Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds). Throughout both, the plot moves with enthralling velocity as Willett heightens the tension for Ariane and Wally. Not only does the race for the shards of Excalibur build momentum, but the challenges Ariane and Wally encounter from family, friends and enemies consistently deepen their characters and force them to grow in significant ways.

“Moreover, Willett provides a wonderfully evocative sense of place. From Regina, Saskatchewan, to Lyon, France, to Queenstown, New Zealand, and the rivers and lakes and clouds through which Ariane and Wally travel, Willett crafts immersive locations that lend genuine vigour to the story…

“At the heart of these two novels, however, is the evolving relationship between Ariane and Wally. In a world of absent parents…they must rely upon themselves and upon each other. They must learn to trust each other, for they are being changed by their contact with and use of old magic steeped in old conflicts, desires and mysteries — all of which become particularly vital in Lake in the Clouds. How Ariane and Wally deal with such changes, and with the increasing responsibilities of their quest, makes them truly admirable characters.

“Willett’s The Shards of Excalibur series…gives fresh life to the Arthurian legends, and there is, indeed, much to look forward to in the next two instalments.” – Matthew Johnstone, Canadian Children’s Book News

“Well written, and fast moving, with touches of humour, The Lake in the Clouds will appeal to young readers who enjoy adventure as well as adults who might like a modern visit to the timeless story of King Arthur and his knights. Recommended.” – Ronald Hore, Resource Links Magazine


Speculating Canada reviews Falcon’s Egg

Falcons-Egg-Cover-194x300Just in time for the Bundoran Press launch party tonight at Can-Con 2015, Derek Newman-Stilles of Speculating Canada reviews Falcon’s Egg:

“In “Falcon’s Egg” Edward Willett takes on the notion of heroism itself, exploring the casualties of war and the results of battle on the psychology of the protagonist who has endured the traumas of war….Willett creates a coming of age narrative that is not limited to a youth. He portrays Lorn as a man, like most others, who is perpetually going through coming of ages, understanding himself in new ways as his viewpoints change with experience. Lorn experiences an awakening to his own ignorance and self denial that lets him finally come to find himself and find meaning in his life beyond the fairy tale narratives of the hero that are portrayed by his society. Willett creates a character who is learning how not to be a hero, but, rather, learning to be a human being.”

Read the whole thing.


Another nice review of Lake in the Clouds

Lake_intheClouds_smallerThis one is from Resource Links, and is posted to Coteau Books‘ website:

“The overlay of the Arthurian legend on a modern Canadian context works surprisingly well. Merlin’s magical powers are invested in Rex Major’s spyware embedded in the internet. Wally’s loyalty and courage accurately reflect both Arthur’s strength and his fatal flaw. Ariane’s coolly calculated actions echo the dispassionate deeds of the Lady of the Lake . . . Readers who are invested in the series will eagerly anticipate the final two books.”

Read the whole thing.

Glowing review in Canadian Children’s Book News

544661-summer-2015-vo 1Twist of the Blade and Lake in the Clouds were among the recommended books reviewed in the Summer 2015 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News.

Reviewer Matthew Johnstone writes, in part:

“The strengths of Willett’s series really shine in these two recent books. Throughout both, the plot moves with enthralling velocity as Willett heightens the tension for Ariane and Wally. Not only does the race for the shards of Excalibur build momentum, but the challenges Ariane and Wally encounter from family, friends and enemies consistently deepen their characters and force them to grow in significant ways.

“Moreover, Willett provides a wonderfully evocative sense of place. From Regina, Saskatchewan, to Lyon, France, to Queenstown, New Zealand, and the rivers and lakes and clouds through which Ariane and Wally travel, Willett crafts immersive locations that lend genuine vigour to the story…

“At the heart of these two novels, however, is the evolving relationship between Ariane and Wally. In a world of absent parents…they must rely upon themselves and upon each other. They must learn to trust each other, for they are being changed by their contact with and use of old magic steeped in old conflicts, desires and mysteries — all of which become particularly vital in Lake in the Clouds. How Ariane and Wally deal with such changes, and with the increasing responsibilities of their quest, makes them truly admirable characters.

“Willett’s The Shards of Excalibur series…gives fresh life to the Arthurian legends, and there is, indeed, much to look forward to in the next two instalments.”