Walter Jon Williams Interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Walter Jon Williams

By Carl Slaughter: Walter Jon Williams is a subgenre buster.  “I tend to view science fiction as a vast candy store, filled with all sorts of exotic goodies, and I want to try them all.”  After a long hiatus from the Praxis universe, Williams’ came out in October 2016 with Impersonations” the latest installment in his Empire’s Dread Fall series.  He just signed with HarperCollins for 3 more Praxis books and Simon & Schuster for three books in his new series, Quillifer. Williams is the founder of the Taos Toolbox writing workshop, where novelists can sit under the incomparable Nancy Kress.

Carl Slaughter:  Your genres are all over the map.  Which ones are you especially good at and especially enjoy and why?  Which ones do you shy away from and why?

Walter Jon Williams:  I’ll stay away from horror, because I seem to be horror-deaf.  Whatever it is that horror fiction is supposed to do for its readers, it doesn’t do for me.  I always end up judging horror on plot, which usually makes no sense, and worldbuilding, which always seems illogical.  Clearly none of that matters to actual horror fans, so just as clearly I’m reading it wrong.

But however badly I read horror fiction, I know that I’m capable of being horrified.  All it takes to scare me is a glance at a newspaper.  As I’ve said before, I’m not scared of vampires or werewolves or spooky old houses, I’m frightened by what actual human beings do to other actual human beings.

And yes, I seem to have specialized in what John M Ford called “subgenre busting.”  I tend to view science fiction as a vast candy store, filled with all sorts of exotic goodies, and I want to try them all.

CS:  Impersonations came out eight years after the last Praxis story and 11 years after the last Praxis novel.  Why return to the Praxis universe and why the long wait?

WJW:  I was told something like fourteen years ago that sales didn’t justify a continuation of the series, but then the books just kept selling.  They’ve all been through multiple printings, and they’ve never been out of print.  So now someone’s actually looked at the sales figures, and made a commitment for more books.

CS:  How long will the Empire’s Dread Fall series continue and when is the next installment?  Will we hear from the Shaa or the Naxid again?  What about Admiral Martinez?  Will “Lady” Sula every be completely outed?

WJW:  I think a word like “outed” brings us into a context that you probably didn’t intend, so let’s just say that Sula has secrets, and that exposure will be fatal.  The Naxids will definitely figure in the new series, as will the Yormaks, who were mentioned in the last series but weren’t brought onstage.

As for the Shaa, for now they’re all dead, but I reserve the right to alter reality at any point.

Originally I planned 9-12 Praxis books, depending on how soon I got bored.  After the last book, whichever one that would be, I intended to continue the story with the Next Generation.  (There’s a reason why so much attention has been paid to matrimonial politics.)

So far, I’m still content with that plan.  We’ll see how readers respond.

CS:  Does Lady Caroline Sula go through any type of transformation during the series or is she the same person when we meet her again in Impersonations?  Does she have relationships, a philosophy of life, personal and professional ambitions?

WJW:  Her character and situation will continue to evolve, and all these possibilities will be explored.  I don’t want to get into details, because that will bring us into spoiler territory.

CS:  I’ve heard that you’ve sold two different series.  Is that true?

WJW:  Indeed.  I’ve sold three more Praxis books to HarperCollins, and three books in a new series, Quillifer, to Simon & Schuster.  Fortunately the publishers are cooperating as to deadlines.

CS:  What’s Quillifer about?

WJW:  It’s a big secondary-world fantasy that should run to six volumes if I’m allowed to finish it.  It’s the first time I’ve ever written a big fantasy, but I fell in love with the character and couldn’t stop myself.  I hope readers fall in love with Quillifer as well. The first book should be out in October of this year.

CS:  I thought Metropolitan and City on Fire were big fantasies?

WJW:  I certainly thought so when I wrote them, but most readers seem to have decided those books were some kind of weird science fiction.  I’d thought having characters called “mages” who practiced something called “magic” would be a clue, but readers apparently decided that none of that mattered.

CS:  Any news about the Dagmar Shaw series?

WJW:  For now, I view it as complete and perfect.  I have an idea, though, for another novella about Dagmar’s protegé and nemesis, Sean Makin— and of course if HBO wants to pony up the money for a series, I may well be inspired to give the world more of Dagmar’s adventures.

CS:  Any news about the Wild Card series?

WJW:  Tor has bought four new Wild Cards books, and licensed five books from the backlist, so that’s great!  Unfortunately I won’t be in any of the new volumes, because I’m wrangling my novel deadlines.

CS:  Why the need for the Taos Toolbox and what’s your workshop strategy?

WJW:  Taos Toolbox is a writer’s workshop I started ten years ago, aimed at taking new writers of science fiction and fantasy to the next level.  The workshop is held every summer at a ski lodge in northern New Mexico, and it lasts a very intensive two weeks.

I started the workshop because I kept finding new, published SF that had problems that were very easy to identify and fix, at least if you’ve spent as much time in the business as I have.  So because I am basically a selfish person, and because I wanted to read lots and lots of great new SF, I decided to start a workshop that (among other things) teaches writers to avoid those sorts of mistakes, and produce works of the sort that I like to read.

We take novels, which most workshops won’t, and we teach plotting and structure (which most workshops won’t teach either, because it’s very, very hard).  We also spend time teaching writers the business of writing and publishing, which is more important than ever because the publishing field is changing so very fast right now.

CS:  Who are your instructors and who are some of your students who have gone on to successful careers?

WJW:  Nancy Kress will be teaching with me this year, as she has for the past eight years or so.  She’s an absolutely fabulous instructor, and we work very well together, because our approaches to writing are so absolutely different.  If you can’t write the way I do, it’s very likely that you can approaching writing the way Nancy does.  Win/win!

This year our special guest speakers include George RR Martin, Steven Gould, and indiepub guru EM Tippetts.

Our Hugo nominees alone include Fran Wilde, Lawrence M Schoen, Will McIntosh, David D. Levine, and Saladin Ahmed.

Other Toolbox veterans who’ve made recent sales include Alan Smale, whose trilogy has appeared from Tor, Larry Hodges, who has sold over 100 stories since his time in the ‘Box, Nebula nominee Kelly Robson, as well as Scott Hawkins, Rosemary Claire Smith, Jessica May Lin, Dorothy Windsor, and many more.

For a more complete list, see

Not bad for a ten-year-old workshop, no?

8 thoughts on “Walter Jon Williams Interviewed by Carl Slaughter

  1. …the Taos Toolbox writing workshop, where novelists can sit under the incomparable Nancy Kress.
    Improve your writing by osmosis!

  2. …the Taos Toolbox writing workshop, where novelists can sit under the incomparable Nancy Kress.

    Improve your writing by osmosis!

    They used to say, “Sit at the feet of.” Since it involves writing, you could say, “Sat across the desk from.” Of course, it’s all idiomatic.

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