Before the Lady called her, Ariane’s life was a mess. Two years ago, her mother disappeared. She bounced around different foster homes until her aunt finally took her in. The meanest clique at her new high school has decided to make Ariane their prime target. And to top it all off, she is having frightening premonitions, and they are becoming more intense. The moment water touches her skin, she sees visions of a lake, a lady, and a sword. When a staircase opens up in the middle of Wascana Lake and the water begins singing to her, she has no choice but to answer the call.Saskatchewan author Edward Willett is my guest today. Edward is a Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s top award for science fiction or fantasy) winning author for Marseguro (Best Long-Form Work in English), free-lance writer and actor. I'll be reviewing Song of the Sword next week, but you can read my review of Marseguro here.
Ariane learns that she descends from the Lady of the Lake, and soon the stories she thought were legend become a real-life nightmare. She and her unexpected companion, Wally Knight, are charged with finding the scattered shards of Excalibur before Merlin can get his hands on them. The infamous magician, known in this world as software tycoon Rex Major, is trying to recover the pieces of Arthur’s sword so he can reforge it and restore his limitless power. Suddenly, Ariane’s life seems to have a purpose and a clear direction – but how can a troubled teen and her brainy sidekick outwit the ancient, ruthless sorcerer?
Edward is about to launch his newest young adult novel, Song of the Sword in the next week or so (release date isn’t finalized but is approximately the end of this month). Song of the Sword is a lively contemporary fantasy and the first book in a planned series and Edward provides some welcome insight onto the story and its’ modern twist on some Arthurian legends.
The Shards of Excalibur: Song of the Sword is available for preorder now through your local bookstore, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, BarnesandNoble.com, and Chapters.ca or you can enter the giveaway here to win a copy of the book. Check the entry guidelines at the end of the post.
Find out more about Edward WIllett at his website and blog.
Please welcome Edward, leave a comment, ask a question and enter the giveaway.
SFG: Song of the Sword releases at the end of the month and is the beginning of a new young adult fantasy series. Can you fill us in on the story and characters and where the series will be taking us?
The Shards of Excalibur series starts off in modern-day Regina, Saskatchewan (my home town), where a 15-year-old girl named Ariane Forsythe is troubled with premonitions and strange dreams about a lady in white holding a sword in the middle of a lake. Ariane has been in and out of foster homes for a couple of years, since her mother mysteriously disappeared, and currently lives with her Aunt Phyllis. After she gets in a fight with a gang of girls at her school, she’s suspended, and rather than tell her aunt, she sneaks out early in the morning and goes down to Wascana Lake...where she hears strange singing and sees a mysterious staircase of water open up, leading down. She follows it (who wouldn’t?) and at the bottom meets a woman made of water who claims to be the Lady of the Lake... and who tells Ariane she’s the Lady’s modern-day heir, and must claim the Lady’s powers as her own and use them to gather the scattered shards of Arthur’s sword Excalibur and reforge it before the evil Merlin, in his modern-day guise as computer magnate Rex Major, can do so.
Rather unexpectedly, Ariane is joined on her quest by Wally Knight, a slightly younger, much geekier kid whose sister is part of the gang Ariane had the fight with, and who happens to see her descend the watery staircase in the lake and follows her down.
In Song of the Sword, Ariane and Wally must defend themselves from Rex Major’s henchmen, learn to use Ariane’s new powers (she can use water as a weapon and as a means of magical transportation), and beat Major to the first shard of Excalibur, its tip, hidden in a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories.
Each book focuses on a different shard of Excalibur, and will take readers all over the world: the second book, Twist of the Blade, which I’ve just submitted, takes place largely in southern France. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say Ariane’s quest isn’t an easy one and there’ll be a lot of unexpected setbacks and dangers along the way.
SFG: In the use of Arthurian legends, what research did you do and what influences where there that prompted you to use this theme?
I fell in love with the Arthurian tales when I read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King as a kid, and for a while I’d read every version of the tale that came along: Mary Stewart’s series, The Merlin Chronicles, also made an impression.
Song of the Sword, however, was really inspired not by a longing to use the Arthurian legends, but by a very specific place: Wascana Lake in the heart of Regina. Wascana Centre is one of the largest urban park complexes in the world, and Wascana Lake, an artificial lake surrounded by greenery, and on whose southern shore the Saskatchewan Legislative Building is located, is its centrepiece. I live close to the lake and walk around it regularly, and despite being in the middle of the city, it can seem quite mystical when the light is right, or when it’s shrouded in fog. I thought it would be cool to set a fantasy story in Regina, and make use of Wascana Lake. Thinking about using a lake in a fantasy naturally led, with my interest in the Arthurian tales, to thinking of the Lady of the Lake...and the story grew from there.
I didn’t really feel the need to do a lot of additional research into matters Arthurian (though I poked through a book or two and several websites), since I’m twisting the tale to my own ends, anyway: I’ve created my own fantastical explanation for who the Lady of the Lake and Merlin are (hint: they’re not from around here), why they were hanging around England a millennium ago, and how they came to have a falling out which has put them, in our day, on opposite sides of this quest. But one of the great things about the stories of King Arthur is that they can be used as a springboard to brand-new tales, like many other ancient tales.
SFG: This is not your first young adult novel. Can you tell us about some of your other YA work?
When I first began writing, I was a teenager (I wrote three novels in high school), and my characters were teenagers, and I used to say that although I grew up, my characters never did. In any event, I always assumed I’d be primarily a young adult writer, and so all of my early fiction was YA.
My first published novel, Soulworm, was also a YA fantasy set in Saskatchewan: in that case, Weyburn, where I grew up (although I was born in New Mexico and lived in Texas, we moved to Saskatchewan when I was eight years old), and where I was working for the Weyburn Review newspaper at the time. Just like Song of the Sword was inspired by a specific Saskatchewan locale, Wascana Lake, Soulworm was inspired by Weyburn’s South Hill (believe me, in southern Saskatchewan, a hill is a rare and wonderful thing), which it occurred to me would look great with a castle on it. So I created a parallel world where that hill did, indeed have a castle (or at least a castle-like temple/fortress) on it, and threw in a forest for good measure (trees also being in short supply in southern Saskatchewan). In that book, a young acolyte of the priestesses who battle the evil soul-possessing soulworms in her world accidentally finds herself in our world, inside the body of a Weyburn teenager, and must defeat a soulworm that has slipped through as well.
My second novel was also YA: The Dark Unicorn. It’s a pretty traditional medieval fantasy involving a young musician who becomes the accidental possessor of a magical artefact that some nasty types would really like to get their hands on.
My third novel, Andy Nebula: Interstellar Rock Star, was my first science fiction novel. It’s about a young street musician pulled out of a backwater city on a backwater planet and turned into a huge interstellar musical sensation...and then what happens to him when his brief time in the limelight ends, and he gets caught up in a nasty alien drug-running operation.
My last YA novel before this one, Spirit Singer, tells the tale of a young apprentice spirit singer in a world where the souls of the departed must be “sung,” or led, through a “Between World” after death to the gates of the “Upper World,” or afterlife...or else they’ll become ghosts that haunt the living. When something nasty shows up in the Between World and starts preventing souls from making that journey, and kills her grandfather and teacher in the process, she has to set off on a quest to find out what’s going on and somehow put a stop to it, to save her village and herself.
SFG: Young adult literature seems to be booming especially in the area of speculative fiction. What are your thoughts on the current popularity and do you have personal favourites?
Young readers are open-minded: they’re willing to accept any strange ideas in a tale, as long as that tale is well-told. They’re looking for adventure, escape, entertainment, understanding...and all of that can be found in young adult literature in general, and in speculative fiction in particular. There’s no doubt that the Harry Potter phenomenon has done wonders to kick-start YA SF and fantasy. A whole generation got turned on to the possibilities of fantastic fiction, and began looking for other books they might enjoy. And of course, the YA readership is constantly renewing as kids grow up, so the fact that there are so many more YA fantasy and science fiction books available makes it that much more likely that young readers will pick one up and give it a chance...and with any luck, will be hooked.
Some of my favourites? Scott Westerfield--I just finished his latest, Behemoth, and before that I loved his Uglies books. Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness trilogy was fabulous. Of course I loved Harry Potter. I’ve very much enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments books. Anything by Garth Nix is worth reading, but the Abhorsen Trilogy in particular. Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books are wonderful. I’d also like to plug Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamhunter duet, set in one of the most fascinating worlds I’ve ever seen created.
Going back a ways, of course I’d have to mention The Hobbit (which I’m just now reading to my nine-year-old), The Chronicles of Narnia (which I’ve already read to her), and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles. On the science fiction side, my own favourites as a kid were Robert A. Heinlein’s “juveniles” and pretty much anything by Andre Norton: Moon of Three Rings in particular sticks in my mind, though it wasn’t particularly a YA book.
SFG: My introduction to your writing was through the excellent Terra Insegura science fiction series. Tell us something about it and your other SF. Do you have a preference for writing SF versus fantasy?
The reason Song of the Sword is my first YA book in a while was that, rather unexpectedly, I found myself writing adult science fiction for a while, with three adult SF books coming out from DAW.
I’ve always written (and read) both science fiction and fantasy, and I can’t actually say I have a preference for one over the other. Different stories just seem to lend themselves to different genres. My published books are pretty much split between the two at the moment, though I think fantasy will have the edge going forward thanks to this series.
The Marseguro/Terra Insegura duo from DAW came about in an interesting manner. I had written an adult science fiction novel called Lost in Translation that, after being rejected all over the place, I finally placed with Five Star Books, a library-focused hardcover publisher whose SF line is packaged by Tekno Books, headed up by Martin H. Greenberg, with John Helfers as editor. Lost in Translation came out in its Five Star edition, and I figured that was that.
But then one morning John Helfers called me and said “Mr. Greenberg wants to talk to you,” and Mr. Greenberg then informed me that DAW wanted to bring out Lost in Translation in paperback. As it was explained to me, DAW had a “hole” in its publishing schedule, and contacted Greenberg because he had edited several anthologies for them. They asked him to send along some of the books he’d packaged for Five Star. Mine was one of them... and mine was the one they picked.
With that contract in hand, I got my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, and immediately cast about for a follow-up project to pitch to DAW. Marseguro was that project. The book, about genetically modified water-breathing humans facing extermination on their supposed sanctuary planet from a religious dictatorship on Earth, was born from a single sentence in a writing exercise at the Banff Centre, where I was taking a week-long course in SF writing from Robert J. Sawyer. A quarter of a million words later, it wrapped up with Terra Insegura. Marseguro won the Aurora Award, Canada’s top fan-voted speculative fiction award, for best long-form work in English at WorldCon in Montreal in 2009, and Terra Insegura was shortlisted for the award last year, so I think you could say that was a very successful exercise!
Interestingly, Lost in Translation itself began as a short story. Turning something short into something long doesn’t seem to be something I have a problem with, which works great for adult fantasy and science fiction, where readers like big, meaty books. When I turn to YA, I have to switch gears and try not to overwrite to the point the pace of the story flags. There’s definitely some mental gear-switching required.
SFG: You are active as actor in theatre. What led you to that part of your career? Are you able to use that experience in your writing?
I played Petruchio in a one-act adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew when I was 11 years old (the girl playing Kate was probably a year and a half older than me and a great deal bigger, so when the script called for me to pick her up and carry her off stage, I basically just tugged at her wrist and hoped she’d come along). I loved the experience, and I was hooked. I did a few more school plays, including a couple of musicals, and when I returned to Weyburn after university and began working for the Weyburn Review, I was one of the founding members of the local amateur theatre group, Crocus 80 Theatre. When I moved to Regina as communications officer of the Saskatchewan Science Centre in 1988, I became heavily involved with Regina Lyric Light Opera Society (now Regina Lyric Musical Theatre), and other Regina amateur groups, including Regina Little Theatre and Regina Summer Stage. When I quit the Science Centre in 1993 to become a fulltime freelancer, one reason I did it was because I had begun to do some work with Prairie Opera out of Saskatoon, and knew if I wanted it I could have two months’ paying work touring schools that winter.
In 1998 I was hired by Regina’s Globe Theatre for a production of On Golden Pond, and joined Canadian Actors’ Equity. Since then I’ve done a handful of professional productions (most recently I was in Beauty and the Beast, the first show in the brand-new theatre built by Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre), and acted in and directed many more amateur productions. I absolutely love performing. I quite often finish off school readings by singing something and will often sing at parties at SF conventions if asked.
Acting and writing are similar in that, in both instances, you’re trying to create a believable character out of thin air. Actors often have to create back story for their characters that isn’t specified in the script; writers do the same. And I really think acting and directing is beneficial in writing action scenes, because you’re used to visualizing how people occupy a distinct space, move through it, and interact with the objects and people within it.
And also, of course, acting and writing are both ultimately about entertaining an audience. Nothing gives you a better feel for what does and doesn’t work in a story than performing or reading it in front of a living, breathing audience.
SFG: What other projects are you working on that you can reveal?
The next big for-sure thing will be a new adult fantasy novel, Magebane, which will come out from DAW late next year, if all goes well. That’ll actually be appearing under a pseudonym, Lee Arthur Chane (the middle names of my brothers, Jimmy Lee and Dwight Arthur, and myself, Edward Chane Willett). It’s got magic, but some steampunkish elements, too, as an outer world of roughly Victorian-era technology rediscovers a hidden kingdom where magic-using nobility lords it over non-magic-using commoners. There’s a princess, and a prince, and a kiss plays an important role...and that’s all I’ll say for now.
On the YA side, of course there are four more books to go in the Shards of Excalibur series. I’m also finishing up, on spec, a YA fantasy called Blue Fire that I hope we can find a home for, and I’ve got several other ideas I hope to pursue.
SFG: Do you read Urban Fantasy and if so, what are your favourites. Any opinion on this also booming genre, or plans to write it?
I don’t seek out urban fantasy per se, but I have read it: Justine Larbalestier and Cassandra Clare, whom I mentioned earlier, both read it. I’ve been devouring the Harry Dresden novels by Jim Butcher as soon as each one appears, thanks to my brother Dwight, who introduced them to me a couple of years ago. As for plans to write it...well, Song of the Sword is fantasy in a modern, urban setting, so I guess I already am!
SFG: If you had the opportunity, which science fiction or fantasy writer would you most like to meet and why?
I have met many of them at conventions, but alas, the ones I’d really like to meet are dead. I’d love to have met Robert A. Heinlein: not only were his books immensely influential on me, he was born in Butler, Missouri, which is also my mother’s home town.
On the fantasy side...I would have liked to have met J.R.R. Tolkien. Among the many non-fiction books I’ve written is a children’s biography of Tolkien, for Enslow Publishers, so I sort of feel like I have met him... but I’m sure in the flesh he would have been even more interesting.
SFG: Anything else you would like to add?
Only that I hope readers enjoy Song of the Sword and its sequels as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I’m thrilled to be back writing young adult fantasy again. The books I read as a child and teen were enormously important to me when I was growing up. I hope my books can be even half as memorable to modern readers as the ones I read were to me.
Thanks Edward. It sounds like you are fully “booked” (pun intended) for quite some time. We share many of the same youthful reading experiences. Now for the giveaway.
- One copy of Song of the Sword to be awarded to one commenter drawn art random.
- To enter tell us about your favourite legend or historical event that has been re-imagined in a novel or if you don’t have one tell us what event you would like to see someone re-imagine.
- Open internationally.
- Entries must be received by midnight (EST) on November 1.
- Ensure you leave a way for me to contact you.
- If you can (not a requirement), share the link of the interview/giveaway on your favourite social media website or blog.