Edward Willett

The Space-Time Continuum: Why do we write?

This is my latest “Space-Time Continuum” column for the Saskatchewan Writers Guild‘s news magazine Freelance.

Have you ever asked yourself why you write? Or asked your writer friends why they write?

I have. In fact, I literallyasked myself that question in one episode of my ongoing podcast, The Worldshapers (www.theworldshapers.com), featuring conversations with science fiction and fantasy authors about the creative process. Back in September, I had my pseudonym E.C. Blake step in as guest host (he has a southern accent, otherwise we sound remarkably similar), and ask me the same questions I ask of my other guests.

We write, I said, because creativity is an innate human trait. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s view, God created humanity in His image, and since God creates things, so do we. Tolkien called this “sub-creation.” As he put it in his famous poem “Mythopoeia” (go read it right now, if you never have), “We make still by the law in which we’re made.”

If, on the other hand, you prefer an evolutionary explanation, we are creative because there is a survival benefit to it: thinking up new ways to do things may make the difference between living long enough to reproduce or dying young. Our ancestors survived because they were creative, and that creativity has been handed down.

On a personal level, though, I said (and still say) that I write mainly because it’s fun. After all, most writers start as kids, and what do kids do? They play. Writers go from building sandcastles in sandboxes to building castles in fantasy realms. Yes, writing professionally is work…but at heart, it’s play.

That’s certainly part of it for author David B. Coe, who also writes as D.B. Jackson (Time’s Children). “For all the struggles, for the bad pay and the poor reviews and all the other struggles, I love, love, lovewhat I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else, I can’t even imagine wantingto do anything else. Every day I get to sit down at a computer and say let’s pretend. What job could be better than that?”

Several authors I’ve talked to say they write because they can’t notwrite, that it’s a compulsion. Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War, one of the most honoured books in science fiction, says, “To continue writing book after book, you have to have something wrong with you.” He notes some psychopaths become professional killers, so they can make a living from their psychopathology. “Atleast my psychopathology is pretty harmless. I just fill up books with words.”

Bestselling fantasy author Seanan McGuire (the October Dayeand InCryptidsseries), says, if she doesn’t write, she goes slowly out of her mind. “I write because I don’t have a choice. I write stories of the fantastic because those are the stories I fell in love with and I decided that was the genre I was too stubborn to give up on. I write because if I didn’t, I’d probably be dead.”

Coe says something similar: “If I don’t, those voices in those heads are going to keep talking to me, and I’m going to go from being a professional to being an out-patient.”

But that’s at a very personal level. On a grander level, the point I made, about storytelling be an innate human activity, is echoed by others. As Seanan McGuire notes, “Terry Pratchett referred to humanity as the storytelling ape. We shape and reshape our world by telling stories both to ourselves and each other. We point to an open plain and say, ‘What if there was a city there? Let me tell you the story of the city there.’…We chase those stories and we bring them into being because that is what it means to be human.”

“What it means to be human” is also something many writers say they are trying to communicate.

Gareth L. Powell, U.K. author of the Embers of War space opera series, likens it to “building bridges to other worlds.”

He points out that what we think of as the real world is really our own individual, internal world, and as a writer, that’s what you’re reporting on. “Humans are narrative creatures. We all have the narrative of our own lives and we’re all constantly adjusting that narrative…We have a story, it has a beginning and it has an end.”

One of the recurring themes in his own fiction, he says, is “what it means to be intelligent and self-aware and vulnerable.” For him, science fiction “is a lens we use to look at our world and interpret our world and comment on our world.”

Orson Scott Card, bestselling author of Ender’s Game, sums it up best. John Donne to the contrary, he says, “everyman is an island.”

We don’t really know anybody, Card says: even our parents are capable of shocking us by doing something we couldn’t imagine them doing until the moment they do it.

“Every single human we know exists in our mind as a work of fiction,” Card says. “We don’t know people. We know characters. They may be walking around and wearing a skin suit, but they’re just characters in our imagination…What fiction writers promise is, we will tell you a story, andwe will tell you why the people do what they do.”

That, he says, “is the majesty of fiction.”

Right to Know part of the Bundoran Buddies Sci-Fi StoryBundle

My space opera Right to Know is part of a new science fiction StoryBundle featuring authors and friends of Ottawa’s Bundoran Press (which published Right to Know and the sequel, Falcon’s Egg).

If you’re unfamiliar with StoryBundle, here’s how it works: you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you’re feeling generous), you’ll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format:

  • Valor’s Choice by Tanya Huff
  • Template by Matthew Hughes
  • The Cyanide Process by Jennifer Rahn
  • Right to Know by Edward Willett (that’s me!)

If you pay at least the bonus price of just $15, you get all four of the regular books, plus EIGHT more!

  • Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Nexus by Ramez Naam
  • vN – The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby
  • Breakpoint Nereis by Alison Sinclair
  • Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols
  • Fall From Earth by Matthew Johnson
  • Organisms – Selected Stories by James Alan Gardner
  • Transient City by Al Onia

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Here’s the way the bundle is described by Bundoran Press publisher/editor, and the StoryBundle’s curator, Hayden Trenholm:

Science fiction is our conversation with the future. That’s the philosophy of Bundoran Press Publishing House. But how can you have a conversation without friends?

That’s why I’m curating this twelve-book science fiction bundle for StoryBundle, made up of eleven novels and one short story collection from established greats and rising stars. 

Half of the books were published by the Press and the other six come from some fabulous authors who have been our friends and supporters for years. 

From near future thrillers to far flung space empires, this bundle of twelve books encompasses the whole range of the science fiction you love.

In this bundle, we have some of the best writers in the field ready to entrance you with brilliant tales and engaging characters. Don’t forget to click  here to read much more about!

So, what are you waiting for? Great science fiction at an amazing price. Check it out now!

Right to Know part of new SciFi StoryBundle

Cover of Right to Know, published by Bundoran Press. Cover art by Dan O’Driscoll.

Pleased and proud that my novel Right to Know is part of the Bundoran Buddies Sci-Fi Bundle from StoryBundle.

Pay what you want for the first four books (by Tanya Huff, Matthew Hughes, me, and Jennifer Rahn); pay at least $15, and receive another eight fabulous books, by Ramez Naam, Madeline Ashby, Robert J. Sawyer, James Alan Gardner, Alison Sinclair, Matthew Johnson, Al Onio, and Brent Nichols!

Check it out here!

Great review of Paths to the Stars in Resource Links

This great review by Leslie Vermeer of Paths to the Stars just appeared in Resource Links (“Connecting Classrooms, Libraries, and Canadian Learning Resources”):

“Many students get their start as serious readers of science fiction and fantasy (SFF) in junior high or early senior high. Often they read the classics in the genre without ever realizing that SFF authors are alive and pro-ducing right here in Canada. Paths to the Stars offers readers a sly and good-humoured introduction to the work of Saskatchewan-based, award-winning writer Edward Willett, best known for his novels Marseguro and Terra Insegura. The twenty-two short stories in this collection, compiled from two decades of writing and publishing, feature prairie characters and landscapes, comical scenarios, thought-provoking moral conundrums, and more – situating imaginative writing with a clear sense of place.

“With their compression and light literary touches, these stories may nudge readers into reading more short fiction in SFF – and what a bounty is available today! They may also be a sneaky way to encourage less avid readers to explore the structure and features of literary short stories in a more palatable and accessible form. Paths to the Stars should have broad appeal and would make an excellent addition to a classroom library and a fine recommendation from a trusted reader. I really enjoyed this book.”

First description of Master of the World: Worldshapers Book 2

Cover of Worldshaper, Book 1 in the Worldshapers series from DAW Books.

Sheila E. Gilbert, my Hugo-award winning editor at DAW Books, asked me to draft some sell copy for Master of the World, Book 2 in the Worldshapers series (Book 1 is, of course, Worldshaper, whose cover graces this post). Here’s what I came up with:

Shawna Keys has fled the world she only recently discovered she Shaped, narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Adversary who seized control of it…and losing her only guide, Karl Yatsar, in the process.

Now she finds herself all alone in some other Shaper’s world, where, in her first two hours, she’s rescued from a disintegrating island by an improbable flying machine she recognizes from Jules Verne’s
Robur the Conqueror, then seized from it by raiders flying tiny personal helicopters, and finally taken to a submarine that bears a strong resemblance to Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. Oh, and accused of being both a spy and a witch.

Shawna expects…hopes!…Karl Yatsar will eventually follow her into this new steampunky realm, but exactly where and when he’ll show up, she hasn’t a clue.

In the meantime, she has to navigate and survive a world where two factions fanatically devoted to their respective leaders are locked in perpetual combat, figure out who the Shaper of the world is, find him or her, and obtain the secret knowledge of this world’s Shaping. Then she has to somehow reconnect with Karl Yatsar, and finally escape to the next Shaped world in the Labyrinth…through a Portal she has no idea how to open.

And in this world, Shawna has no power to Shape things to her own ends. This time, she’s only got her wits to rely on…and there’s no guarantee that will be enough.

Complete Shards of Excalibur series now available as audiobooks!

Cover art for the audiobook version of Door Into Faerie, Book 5 of The Shards of Excalibur series.

With the release of Door into Faerie this week, my complete five-book Shards of Excalibur young adult fantasy series, published in print by Coteau Books, is now available in audiobook format:

Song of the Sword
Twist of the Blade
Lake in the Clouds
Cave Beneath the Sea
Door into Faerie

The Shards of Excalibur series tells the story of Ariane Forsythe and Wally Knight, two Regina teens who are sent on a quest for the scattered shards of King Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur by none other than the Lady of the Lake. The Lady shows up in Regina’s Wascana Lake and informs Ariane that she is heir to the Lady’s power to travel through and manipulate fresh water, and tells her that she and Wally, who “happens” (though it turns out there was less chance about it than it seems) to be with her when she encounters the Lady, must find the sword’s scattered pieces before Merlin can. Merlin, in his modern guise as computer magnate Rex Major, wants to reassemble the sword and use its power to take over our world and then launch an invasion into his own world of Faerie, from which he has long been exiled, using Earth’s modern weaponry to conquer it.

The quest takes Ariane and Wally all over the world, but they always end up back in Saskatchewan. It’s full of real Saskatchewan (and other Canadian) places, and I had blast writing it. Two of the books, Twist of the Blade (Book 2) and Door Into Faerie, where shortlisted for Best Young Adult Novel at the Aurora Awards.

Claire McAdams Photography

The audiobooks are narrated by the talented Elizabeth Klett (that’s her at left), whose voices and accents are spot-on (I especially love her Wally). I was incredibly lucky to find someone who could such an amazing job. Check out all the many other books she’s narrated, as well!

For anyone interested in reviewing the books, I have a limited number of download codes available from Audible.com. Email me!

You can, of course, still buy the books in print. Autographed copies are available from my online store!

My latest book: the First World War memoirs of my grandfather-in-law

The cover of One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow (Shadowpaw Press).

My latest book isn’t one I wrote, it’s one I edited. It’s One Lucky Devil, the First World War memoirs of my grandfather-in-law, Sampson J. Goodfellow, published by my new publishing company, Shadowpaw Press.

I always knew that this would be the second book from Shadowpaw Press, after my collection of short stories, Paths to the Stars, and also knew I wanted to time it to come out just before this November 11, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the Great War.

It’s had great publicity: here’s an interview from the popular John Gormley Show on CKRM Radio, and here’s a front-page feature from the Regina LeaderPost.

You can buy it, in both print and ebook formats, through all the usual bookstore channels, including Chapters/Indigo, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble, as well as directly from me through Shadowpaw Press or my own online store (in the latter two cases, you can, of course, get it autographed, although not, alas, by Sam, who died in 1979, and also not, alas, in the case of ebooks, because I haven’t figured out a good way to do that yet).

Here’s the back cover copy:

Born in Scotland, Sampson J. Goodfellow emigrated to Toronto as a child. Like many young Canadian men, he returned to Europe to serve his new country in the First World War, first as a truck driver, then as a navigator on  Handley Page bombers.

Over a span of just six years, Sam witnessed Canada’s deadliest-ever tornado, sparred with world-champion lightweight boxers, survived seasickness and submarines, came under artillery fire at Vimy Ridge, was bombed by German aircraft while unloading shells at an ammunition dump at Passchendaele, joined the Royal Flying Corps, was top of his class in observer school, became a navigator, faced a court-martial for allegedly shooting up the King’s horse-breeding stables, survived being shot down by anti-aircraft fire, was captured at bayonet point and interrogated, became a prisoner of war in Germany…and, in the midst of all that, got engaged.

When Sam was listed as missing, the family of his fiancée went to a fortuneteller for news of his fate. “You couldn’t kill that devil,” she told them. “He is alive and trying to escape.” She was right.

With a sharp eye, a keen mind, a strong body, and an acerbic tongue, Sam survived, as one RAF officer put it when he returned to England after the Armistice, “enough to be dead several times.”

“You have been through hell,” a military doctor told him, “and you have been very lucky as a soldier and airman.”

Sampson J. Goodfellow really was “one lucky devil.” This is his story, in his own words.

And a bit more about Sam:

Sampson J. Goodfellow was an engineer, inventor and First World War veteran. Born in Scotland in 1892, he immigrated to Canada in 1902. He grew up in Toronto, where he apprenticed as a machinist. He worked briefly in Regina, Saskatchewan (where he was a member of the Regina Rugby Club, forerunners to today’s Saskatchewan Roughriders Football Club of the Canadian Football League), before returning to Toronto to attend Toronto Technical School. He enlisted in the Canadian Army and served as truck driver in France before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a navigator on a Handley Page bomber. Shot down over German territory, he finished the war in a POW camp. During the war he became engaged to Anne Owen (Nancy) Ridgway; they were married on January 2, 1919, and returned to Regina, where Sam worked in machine engineering, eventually becoming president of Western Machine and Engineering. He and his wife were great patrons of the arts in their adopted city. Late in life, in honour of his work as an inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, Sam received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Regina. Nancy died in 1974; Sam died in 1979.

I’m thrilled to have these memoirs in print. I hope you’ll check them out.

Coming in 2020: Changers, a young-adult dark-fantasy shapeshifter story for ChiZine Publications

I’m thrilled to announce that ChiZine Publications is buying my young-adult dark-fantasy novel Changers (intended to start a new series!) for publication in 2020. It will presumably appear under their ChiTeen imprint.

Sandra Kasturi, editor of ChiZine Publications, announced the sale at Can-Con in Ottawa over the weekend. I’ve known for a while, but didn’t want to say anything publicly until she did.

I’m very much looking forward to working with the great folks at ChiZine, and excited about this story. 

This may change, but here’s the “big picture” as I presented it in my submission:

A race of shapechangers, originally created to fight evil, has largely become evil. Down through the centuries they have been hunted by sanctified knights. Now there are few Changers left, and few Hunters…but a girl of the former and boy of the latter, who have grown up as friends, completely unaware of their true natures, are about to be plunged into this ancient conflict. Can they find a way to thwart the bloody destiny to which their ancestry would condemn them?

Sound intriguing?

The Space-Time Continuum: Pros talk about rewriting prose

Cover of the July-September 2018 issue of Freelance.

Here’s my latest “Space-Time Continuum” column from the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild‘s newsletter Freelance

When I talk about writing (which I do, rather a lot), I’ll often say something like, “the most important part of writing is rewriting.” And I believe that’s true…but what rewriting means to an individual author varies.

I’ve recently started a podcast, The Worldshapers, in which I chat with science fiction and fantasy authors about their creative process. One of my questions is always about revision: what do they do when they get to the end of the first draft?

My first three guests on the podcast were Robert J. Sawyer, Canada’s best-known (and bestselling) science fiction author; Tanya Huff, a Canadian fantasy author with more than 1.2 million copies of her novels in print; and John Scalzi, a New York Timesbestselling science-fiction author who three years ago signed a $3.4 million deal for thirteen books, and whose first novel, Old Man’s War, and most recent, The Collapsing Empire, are also in development as television series.

Sawyer says he’s a huge believer in rewriting, which isn’t surprising, considering he calls his first draft (in a phrase he believes came from Canadian horror writer Edo van Belkom), “the vomit pass,” because, “it’s an unpleasant process getting it out, but you actually do feel better.” For him, the important thing is to get ideas on paper, because they’re evanescent, liable to vanish if not pinned down.

Once he has that first draft, he does more—many more, maybe four or five. What he doesn’t do is a lot of rewriting after the book goes to his editor. In fact, he says, his goal is to receive only one word of response from the editor: “Great.” And, he adds, most of his books have indeed been published with no editorial changes whatsoever.

Tanya Huff, on the other hand, says her first draft is probably about eighty to eighty-five percent of what is actually published, then she “layers it up from there.” She likes to say that there are two kinds of writers, those who build houses, and those who build walls. Contractors, when building houses, build a foundation, then a frame, and then add layers of complexity until the house is complete. Someone building a wall, however, has to build it right the first time: if she misses a brick at the bottom, the whole thing collapses.

Sheila Gilbert, Huff’s editor (and mine) at DAW Books typically gets Huff to add more detail. She thinks this may relate to the fact her only formal writing training was in television, where details are put in “by the other seventy-five people who work on the property” after the initial scriptwriter. Huff has now written thirty-two books for DAW, all of them edited by Sheila, and says at this point she can hear Sheila’s voice in her head as she writes.

My personal rewriting style is very close to Huff’s. Like her, my first draft is usually within eighty to eight-five percent what’s published, and then I complexify–and, like her, I’m usually asked by Sheila to add more detail yet. 

Asked if he rewrites, John Scalzi’s first response was a flat, “No.” But that’s not quite true. He does what he calls “rolling” or “fractal” rewrites-—in other words, he rewrites as he goes, so that when he gets to the end, there’s no need to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning.

Scalzi thinks there are two reasons he works this way. One, he’s a former journalist, and in journalism, “you have write a couple of thousand words every few days and it’s all due at 3 p.m. and you have to write clean copy,” experience he thinks helps him organize his thoughts as he writes.

But, two, he thinks the revision process is dictated by the instruments people use. As it happens, Sawyer, Huff, and I are all pretty much the same age. We wrote longhand as kids, moved to typewriters, and then finally to computers. Writing longhand or on a typewriter, you pretty much have to work in drafts: you finish it, mark it up, then write or type it again.

John, though, is ten years younger. He wrote his first complete short story in Grade 9 on a first-generation Macintosh computer. He’s never written on anything else—and a computer, of course, makes it easier to revise as you go. “By the time I get to the end, so much of what would have been first drafts or second drafts has already been subsumed in the writing process.”

So, yes, rewriting is an important part of writing—but how you do it, or even at what point you do it in the process, is very much an individual choice.

As is all of writing—something to remember whenever anyone (even me!) gives you what sounds like a hard and fast rule about how to go about crafting your stories.

Coming soon from Shadowpaw Press: One Lucky Devil

The next book from my new publishing company, Shadowpaw Press, through which I previously published my short-story collection Paths to the Stars, will be something quite different.

One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow is the edited memoir of my grandfather-in-law, in whose former house I now live (having married his granddaughter, Margaret Anne Hodge, P.Eng. Sam wrote his memoirs late in life, probably in the early 1970s (he died in 1979). I posted them online here, unedited, about ten years ago, but with this being the centennial of the signing of the Armistice that ended the First World War, it seemed an opportune time to put them into book form, properly edited, with some accompanying photos (there aren’t a lot from Sam himself, but there are quite a few that illustrate places and events).

Release date is November 1! You can already pre-order the Kindle version here, and the print version is in the final stages. I hope you’ll check it out when it’s available!

Here’s the back cover copy:

Born in Scotland, Sampson J. Goodfellow emigrated to Toronto as a child. Like many young Canadian men, he returned to Europe to serve his new country in the First World War, first as a truck driver, then as a navigator on  Handley Page bombers.

Over a span of just six years, Sam witnessed Canada’s deadliest-ever tornado, sparred with world-champion lightweight boxers, survived seasickness and submarines, came under artillery fire at Vimy Ridge, was bombed by German aircraft while unloading shells at an ammunition dump at Passchendaele, joined the Royal Flying Corps, was top of his class in observer school, became a navigator, faced a court-martial for allegedly shooting up the King’s horse-breeding stables, survived being shot down by anti-aircraft fire, was captured at bayonet point and interrogated, became a prisoner of war in Germany…and, in the midst of all that, got engaged.

When Sam was listed as missing, the family of his fiancée went to a fortuneteller for news of his fate. “You couldn’t kill that devil,” she told them. “He is alive and trying to escape.” She was right.

With a sharp eye, a keen mind, a strong body, and an acerbic tongue, Sam survived, as one RAF officer put it when he returned to England after the Armistice, “enough to be dead several times.”

“You have been through hell,” a military doctor told him, “and you have been very lucky as a soldier and airman.”

Sampson J. Goodfellow really was “one lucky devil.” This is his story, in his own words.