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 An exclusive interview with
Tad Williams

Tad Williams, bestselling author, talks to Dowse's Bonnie Mercure about his new project Shadowmarch, an epic fantasy available only on-line.
Tad Williams writes epic fantasy and science fiction. His April 2001 novel, "Otherland 4: Sea of Silver Light," reached number 17 on the New York Times and London Sunday Times lists. In its starred review, Publisher's Weekly called the novel "stunning... a brilliant fusion of quest fantasy and technological SF, sure to please Williams's many fans." "Otherland 3: Mountain of Black Glass" debuted at number 2 on Amazon's list in Germany, where the "Otherland" radio series -- the biggest radio drama ever in Germany -- is currently in development. Tad Williams is now working on "Shadowmarch" plus his eleventh print novel, "The War Of The Flowers". He enjoys a following of particularly loyal fans, and is published in 20 languages around the world.

Bonnie Mercure: What made you decide to publish Shadowmarch, your new fantasy epic, exclusively online? What do you hope to accomplish with the Shadowmarch website?

Tad Williams: I had thought originally that it might be fun to do quality epic fantasy for television, but for various reasons that didn't work out. But I still liked the setting I'd created, which was SHADOWMARCH, and still wanted to try it as an episodic story instead of just turning it into another novel. The next obvious place to start an episodic story was on the net. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it, especially when I realized I could have much more involvement in how the final version would look and feel than I could ever hope to have with an expensive medium like television.

Bonnie Mercure: How does Shadowmarch differ from other authors' ventures into online publishing, such as Stephen King's 'The Plant'?

Tad Williams: The main difference is that we're not just selling text. We're creating what we hope will be a community based in part around the SHADOWMARCH story, but also held together by a commonality of interest in SF and Fantasy, in writing and reading, in online creativity in general, and also in good conversation. We will also be giving people things that enlarge the story -- artwork, background information in the form of history and related short fiction, and eventually creative efforts from the readers as well.

Bonnie Mercure: If you had to make a prediction, where do you think electronic publishing will be in the next five years? Do you think more well-known authors will offer their work exclusively online?

Tad Williams: Without wanting to sound self-aggrandizing, until reading electronic text is a very common form of reading (that is, the province of more people than just the small number who now have things like PDAs) I think what we do with SHADOWMARCH can have an effect on where e-publishing goes. Because unless we (or someone else like us) can show that e-publishing can be substantially different than regular publishing, e-books will remain an adjunct business for some years to come, a place to sell rights that are otherwise useless.

Bonnie Mercure: Do you believe the Internet has already started to change the way people 'view' books?

Tad Williams: Not really. I hear a lot of anxious questions about the "death" of old-fashioned publishing, but you also heard a lot of stuff recently about how MP3 and Napster were going to cause the demise of record sales. Meanwhile the industry was putting up record profits. Publishing is not quite as robust an industry as music, but it never has been. I think that until an e-book can offer something substantially different and more useful than a paper book format, and overcome the negatives of the medium (a tragedy if you lose it; harder to find good titles) it will stay essentially a novelty industry.

Bonnie Mercure: The Shadowmarch website offers a forum for fans to post their opinions about current episodes, or even make speculations on what plot twists the new episode will bring. How often do you check in to see what your fans have to say?

Tad Williams: I'm on every day. Sometimes for hours. That's part of the fun for me, and I hope the feeling is reciprocated by the readers. I wanted to have a more intimate relationship with the readers than I can when they're reading books I've finished writing months or even years earlier. And, to go back to the earlier line of thought, that's one of the things that electronic publishing, especially of serial fiction, can do -- bring immediacy into the relationship between writers and readers.

Bonnie Mercure: Do you feel more connected with your fans by using this method?

Tad Williams: I certainly do so far, but it's early days yet and exciting because it's just started, and I'm also talking to a lot of pretty hardcore readers of mine. Check back with me in half a year when we have more casual Tad-readers on the site and I'll have a better idea of how well I'm connecting with the reading public.

Bonnie Mercure: In episode one of Shadowmarch "Wyvern Hunt" we meet a set of twins, Barrick and Briony, as they hunt for a dragon-like creature. The episode moves at a fairly brisk pace with an ending that leaves readers wanting more. How different is your approach in writing an episode for Shadowmarch than, say, a chapter for a novel?

Tad Williams: Again, we may have to bring this up again in half a year, since I'm still evolving the model. So far -- and that's a very important "so far" -- the approach hasn't been that different than writing a novel, where I try to have exciting and interesting (and usually puzzling) things happen in each chapter. But I wrote the first five episodes before anything went online, so they were written no differently in terms of feedback than anything else of mine. We'll see how that changes when I start seeing people saying the next day, "Oh, I hated that!" or "I need to see more of that character right now!"

Bonnie Mercure: The artwork and design at Shadowmarch is stunning, and the site even offers download versions of Shadowmarch castles. Did you help with creating the design at the Shadowmarch website?

Tad Williams: I helped, yes, but the producers and designers had a great deal to say as well, and many if not most of the individual elements had little to do with me. But I certainly have an overall idea of what I want, and Deborah Beale, my wife and co-producer, and our other two full-time producers, Josh Milligan and Matt Dusek, have some very strong and creative ideas about look and feel as well. SHADOWMARCH will be much the better for the combination of (not always identical) viewpoints.

Our one guiding principle, though, will always be "Keep it simple and fun for the readers." We have very little interest in trying to impress people with how up we are on the latest killer web gear.

Bonnie Mercure: What can fans expect in the future at Shadowmarch, besides new episodes?

Tad Williams: The sky is almost literally the limit, if we have the time and money. We will certainly keep adding art and textual background material no matter what. We plan to make some animations and music available as well. And if things really work well and we have some site-upgrade money to spare, we'd love eventually to add a role-playing component, and maybe more ambitious graphics -- 3D environments and the like. Ultimately, given lots of time and lots of income, I'd like to turn it into an entire online world. I've alway wanted one of the Bond-villain, evil-genius lairs.

Bonnie Mercure: Tell us a little about the new book you are working on, "The War of the Flowers." It's a very intriguing title. Will it be another fantasy trilogy like the very popular "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn"?

Tad Williams: It will be a fantasy, but it's going to be only one (probably long) volume. I'm really enjoying it so far, since it's kind of a combination of my two best-known works, MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN (my epic fantasy) and OTHERLAND (which was more modern and more surreal.) It starts in the real world of today, but then crosses over into a very strange and modern fairyland.

Bonnie Mercure: You offer the prologue to "The War of the Flowers" online free for fans to read. In the future, do you plan to always give a free preview of your new novels?

Tad Williams: One of the other purposes of the site is to give me a central place online to post information to my readers, since heretofore everything has been strung out over several publishers' and readers' websites. It will be nice to have one place to mention upcoming public appearances, premiere new pieces or excerpts, talk about new projects, and answer questions about my work.

Bonnie Mercure: As well as writing science fiction and fantasy novels, you have worked in theater and TV productions, hosted radio shows, taught college classes, designed military manuals, sung in a band, worked in multimedia for Apple, and sold shoes. With all that going on in your life, how in the world did you find the time to become such a prolific writer?

Tad Williams: The answer is twofold: 1) I did a lot of that stuff before I became a full-time writer, and 2) I always have a few projects going on the side, even now. Keeps life interesting, if not exactly restful.

Bonnie Mercure: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Tad Williams: Read broadly and write frequently.

Bonnie Mercure: Tad Williams, thank you.

Visit Tad Williams' new project Shadowmarch, an epic fantasy available only on-line.

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An Interview with Tad Williams about Shadowmarch