„Little tiny people are more interesting and heroic“

American Fantasy author Tad Williams is not bored at all. He told Phantastik-Couch.de what he is writing these days and that he would like to be an orc – in a movie.

Phantastik-Couch: Tad, what are you currently working on?

Tad Williams: I’m working on SHADOWRISE, which will end the story begun in SHADOWMARCH and continued in SHADOWPLAY. My wife Deborah Beale and I have just agreed to do at least five volumes of an all-ages series called ORDINARY FARM. We’re just finishing the first volume, THE DRAGONS OF ORDINARY FARM. I’m working on a short novel based on the Nibelungenlied, which should have illustrations from the noted painter Paul Storey, and I’m planning the next couple of novels. And, of course, I’m up to my eyeballs in comics at the moment. I’m writing AQUAMAN and a mini-series of my own called THE FACTORY for DC Comics. (The Superman/Batman folks for those not up to date with the comics world.)

Oh, and I’m consulting on the creation of an MMO based on OTHERLAND.

Tad Williams

And my wife and I are working on another all-ages book, URCHIN’S LUCK. I’ve probably forgotten a few other things. Reasonably busy, in other words.

Phantastik-Couch: What do you see when you look out of the window in your office, mountains, meadows or the ocean? This is the only home story question.

Tad Williams: We live in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, so I look out my office window and see our hill rising up in our back garden, covered in redwood trees. It’s very pretty and by far the nicest view I've ever had while working.

Phantastik-Couch: With epics like „Osten Ard“, „Otherland“ in the middle and now „Shadowmarch“ in your bibliography, it looks as if you’re a Fantasy author who took a Sci-Fi excursion and now comes back to his origins. How would you describe your genre history?

Tad Williams: Most of my favorite authors growing up, certainly in the Fantasy-SF world, were happy to wander back and forth across genre boundaries without worrying too much about the category of what they were writing. Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Ursula Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, P K Dick -- none of these people worried too much about genre, outside of the general genre of the Fantastic.

That’s me, I think. Except my books tend to be longer, so it’s harder to see the back-and-forth pattern, and there’s a certain pressure these days for publishers to define what you do and sell it to a pre-selected subgenre audience.

Phantastik-Couch: What do you think is special about the Shadowmarch-Trilogy? What is the most important distinguishing feature compared to „;Osten Ard“ and „;Otherland“?

Tad Williams: The Shadowmarch books are about two things, really: the inescapability of family identity and the relentless influence of the historical past. Beyond that, I try not to define any of my work too strenuously. There are many levels and many themes, but either it works as a pure story or it doesn’t, so I try to make that the first and most approachable feature of any work of mine.

Phantastik-Couch: Originally, „Shadowmarch“ was planned as a tv production, but then you started an internet presentation of the epic. What was the idea behind that and why did you end up publishing a book?

Tad Williams: I had to give up on the TV end because none of the TV people „got“ Fantasy. One guy even said, „But there’s already “XENA„ – why would anyone want another fantasy television show?“ I published it as a book because I wanted to finish the story -- I’m interested to see how these things come out, too – but I couldn’t afford to keep losing money posting it as an online serial.

Phantastik-Couch: Did you especially intend to get young readers into the story by creating Briony and Barrick as the main characters?

Tad Williams: Young characters are always interesting in Fantasy because it gives the writer the chance to inform the reader while the young characters themselves are learning. Also, they are more forgivable for mistakes, and thus our support for them is more resilient and allows a greater degree of mistake-making – which tends to make for interesting story twists.

Phantastik-Couch: The rooftoppers in some distant way resemble fairy-tale figures such as the classic „Tom Thumb“ or „Nils Holgersson“ by Selma Lagerlöf. Are there any role models that have inspired the rooftoppers’ creation?

Tad Williams: Oh, they’re definitely part of the great tradition of „Wee Folk“ in western folklore. I used Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, of course, but also „The Borrowers“ – very well known in the English speaking world, at least – and many others. I just like the idea of little tiny people, and find them more interesting and heroic if they are not otherwise inherently „magical“.

Phantastik-Couch: Will the Funderlings’ slavery fate change in the long run?

Tad Williams: I don’t think the Funderlings are slaves so much as members of a guild and thus holders of valuable knowledge, but they are of course somewhat ghetto-ized because they are different. In this way they are like a number of minority groups in equivalent situations.

Phantastik-Couch: How close is your cooperation with the translators of „Shadowmarch“, Cornelia Holfelder-von der Tann, and Hans-Ulrich Möhring („Otherland“)?

Tad Williams: My German translators have always been the most careful and curious of all my translators -- they ask lots of questions. Herr Möhring in particular I’ve known for years now and consider a good friend.

Phantastik-Couch: Alright, now for some meta discussion: What response would you give to someone who states that Fantasy is low grade literature?

Tad Williams: It’s important to distinguish between Fantasy (literary genre) and Fantasy (commercial genre.) Any genre that sells as well as Fantasy does will draw in a lot of mediocre writing to fill the market’s needs. Therefore it’s perfectly fair to say that there's a lot of not-very-good writing in the genre -- for a commerical genre, that’s almost the definition. If enough people, especially young readers with unformed tastes, bought „literary“ fiction to make a seller’s market for the writers, there’d be a lot of really dumb literary fiction as well. (Dumb literary fiction does exist even now, there’s just not enough demand to support much of it.) However, if you look at Fantasy as a literary genre, which includes the best of the commercial marketplace and all the „magic realists“ and others who use the tropes of the field but don’t want to be allied with the commercial side (no matter how similar the material) then you see that it’s just as potent and artistic as the best of any kind of genre fiction.

Phantastik-Couch: Could you imagine writing something completely different, for example „Whodunnit“ crime stories? What would you like to write apart from Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

Tad Williams: I can imagine myself writing almost anything, from crime fiction to history. In fact, I intend to bring even more bits of other genres into my work in the future. I love telling stories, and the more tools for doing so, the better.

Phantastik-Couch: Would you give internet publishing another try, maybe with interactive features or a role playing game? In „Second Life“, maybe?

Tad Williams: As mentioned before, I’m involved with some people who are doing an MMO of Otherland, and I have lots of ideas for how to take that beyond the level of just being a game. As for publishing stories, sure, I’d love to do it again, and will when I figure out another interesting way to do so. (And find some time...!)

Phantastik-Couch: Talking about other media than books: how did you like the „Otherland“ radio play from German radio station „Hessischer Rundfunk“? Does it sound as you would have imagined it for „Otherland“?

Tad Williams: I LOVED the radio play, and thought Walter Adler and everyone else involved did a wonderful job. No, it doesn’t sound exactly as I'd imagined it, but that’s the great thing about collaborative art -- it becomes more than the sum of its parts. I WANTED it to sound different than I expected. That way, I got to enjoy it, too. And I did.

Phantastik-Couch: Could you still imagine one of your books to be made into a movie? Would you like to have a guest appearance, as a jester or messenger maybe? When reading from „War of the Flowers“ in Cologne three years ago, you did display some theatrical talent there …

Tad Williams: Oh, I’m a hack actor from way back. And I’m sure something of mine will be made into a movie someday -- but if I’m wrong, that’s okay, too. Yeah, I’d make a guest appearance. I think I’d prefer to be a monster or something, though. Yeah, if I had orcs in my stories, I’d be an orc.

Phantastik-Couch: On the publication date of the final „Harry-Potter“ novel there will be an emergency telephone hotline to emotionally support possibly shocked readers. Can to relate to this hype? Will you camp outside a bookstore to get your HP7 copy at midnight on July 20?

Tad Williams: My son may very well, but while I enjoy the Harry Potter story very much, I’m not quite that much of a fan. I’m not quite that much of a fan of ANYTHING these days: if the Beatles re-formed, including John and George returned from the dead, I still don’t think I'd sit up all night for three days on a cold street corner to get tickets. I’d try to find a scalper. (If you don’t know that English word, it’s someone who buys up and re-sells tickets for big events.)

Phantastik-Couch: Last question: What can your fans expect from you „Shadowrise“?

Tad Williams: Besides the projects mentioned above, I still want to do my Osten Ard story collection, and I have two other future projects I’m planning, tentatively titled „AND MINISTERS OF GRACE“ and „ARJUNA RISING“. The first would be a Heaven-and-Hell Cold War thriller (and angel sent back to earth to solve a crime, with the reluctant aid of various demons) and a science fiction epic about the galaxy-wide battle between reason and belief -- with bioengineered superheroes.

And a few other things I can’t remember right now …

Phantastik-Couch: Tad, thank you for this interview!

This interview was conducted by members of the editorial staff Eva Bergschneider and Frank Dudley, March 2007.