Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Interview with Drew Williams, author of The Stars Now Unclaimed

Please welcome Drew Williams to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Stars Now Unclaimed is published on August 21st by Tor Books.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Drew a very Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Drew:  Hmmm. The key to that question really is 'remember', isn't it? I've been writing fiction since well before I could clearly tell you what I was writing: I remember making up stories as a little kid - usually with my cousins or my brother, sometimes alone - and thinking we'd written the next great American novel (usually involving cyborgs or zombies, and topping out at all of five pages). I finished my first full-length novel at twelve or so, so we'll go ahead and count that as the first real 'piece', I suppose. (Don't get me wrong, it was terrible: a mishmash of stolen ideas and, just, horrid writing, but you didn't ask 'what was the first good piece of fiction you remember!').

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Drew:  Oh, absolutely a pantser, no question. (Though I have to admit, that phrasing makes me feel like a British boarding school villain : 'watch out for Geordie Wilkins; he's a pantser, he is!’) I sometimes get scattered lines of dialog, impressions of an upcoming character, or brief images of scenes yet to come - and I'll dutifully jot them down, and sometimes use them, and sometimes forget them entirely once I've gone haring off in another direction - but ninety-seven percent of my writing is done in chronological order, start to finish, with nothing but the preceding sentence to go off of. My absolute favorite thing about writing (and make no mistake - my first audience is always myself; I write for me, I just happen to be lucky enough to get paid to do so!) is to be surprised by something - a line of dialog I wouldn’t have thought a character would have said, a realization that comes to me at the same time it comes to the characters, even just a grace note in a description - and that’s much harder to achieve if I already know what’s going to happen!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Drew:  Endings. Definitely endings. Part of that’s building off of the last question - once I’m past the climax and into the denouement, I pretty much know how things need to wrap up, and that’s just… not as interesting for me to write - but I also mean it much more literally, as in I find it insanely difficult to find the last sentence, or even scene: that place where a story should end, to look back and yet forward into everything all at once. (Honestly, I think part of the reason I write books in series is so that I can put off that final moment, where it’s all done, for as long as possible!)

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Drew:  Outside of treacly-but-necessary responses like ‘my friends and family’ - in terms of style, it’s hard to get past Stephen King, honestly. The man can sketch a character in just a few lines, and yet you know them inside out; he can also nail a character’s interior voice in a way that very few can match.

TQYou are a bookseller. What is it like for you to see your own novel on bookstore shelves?

Drew:  Insanely surreal - I say that, and I’ve (redacted by Drew’s assistant, because he’s an idiot who probably shouldn’t be allowed to do any more interviews)! I mentioned Stephen King above - we’re a small bookstore, which means we’ve only got one section for speculative fiction, with sci-fi and horror and fantasy all mixed in together, which means MY book is in the same section as Stephen King! My book! Same section! I honestly still don’t quite believe it!

TQDescribe The Stars Now Unclaimed using only 5 words.

Drew:  ‘Grief Can Be Used Bravely’. If you want something a little more descriptive and less thematic: ‘Space Opera, Quips, More Quips’.

TQTell us something about The Stars Now Unclaimed that is not found in the book description.

Drew:  The entire last two acts are climax! Seriously, it’s all one big, chaotic, sound-barrier-breaking rush, because I have no impulse control, and nobody told me not to!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Stars Now Unclaimed? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction and in particular a Space Opera?

Drew:  Those questions are linked, actually (well done!). Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is fun for me partially because I’m not beholden to history or social mores or little things like ‘physics’ or ‘reality’ if I don’t want to be. I can sort of pick and choose what I want to carry over, and what I want to leave behind. Plus, my writing process - on the creative side, in terms of ‘where do I begin, what is this story’, rather than the procedural ‘the actual writing’ side - usually starts with world-building: ‘how is this world different from our own?’ Which, of course, inherently means I’m not going to be writing contemporary fiction.

So with that question in mind: I started Stars because I wanted to write a sort of post-apocalyptic space opera, to mash up those two genres, mainly to give myself as broad a canvas as possible - it meant I could have dogfights in space in one scene, and desperate one-on-one scrabbles in blasted-out cityscapes the next. So I asked the question ‘how could that sort of universe come about’, came up with a very specific type of apocalypse, which led me back to the creation of the nuclear bomb (where my thoughts always tend when the apocalypse comes up) and the idea that men did this thing: men set it loose. Whether they meant to or not. And then I had myself a narrative.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Stars Now Unclaimed?

Drew:  Very little! That’s part of the fun of writing science fiction! You look up very specific things online when you need it - physics or biology or astronomy - and the rest of it, you can just make up, because it’s your universe, and you don’t have to be beholden to the same rules as this one!

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Stars Now Unclaimed.

Drew:  I was privileged enough to work very closely with my editor, Devi Pillai, and Tor’s in-house art director, Peter Lutjen, who did the cover (or at least, they were kind enough to at least entertain my constant stream of suggestions: ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’). We wanted to get across that very bifurcated idea of this universe, that it was this divided place where you could have spaceships and high technology one moment, and then abandoned, pre-industrial societies on the very next page, and I think Peter nailed it! (Devi was the one who was insistent on the big, floating type, though. Which is fair: the big, floating type is awesome!)

TQIn The Stars Now Unclaimed who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Drew:  Jane (the protagonist), just because we’re in her mind, seeing things from her view - if I hadn’t been able to find her voice, and quickly, there wouldn’t have been a novel. She snapped into place pretty much from the first page, thankfully; was just there, waiting for me, tapping her foot impatiently like I was overdue (and Jane’s not someone you want pissed at you - even a little!). The hardest was probably the Preacher, just because - again, coming at that character from Jane’s perspective, she’s the hardest for Jane to read, which made her harder for me to pin down, and also because, as an advanced machine intelligence, her way of thinking needed to feel a little alien to the reader.

TQDoes The Stars Now Unclaimed touch on any social issues?

Drew:  I would say ‘themes’ rather than specific issues: since I was writing sci-fi, I allowed myself to be a little utopian (even in a sometimes post-apocalyptic setting) with the notion that certain ugly current social impulses like racism, misogyny, and homophobia were mostly-forgotten relics of the distant past. Thematically, though, I was say the thrust of not just Stars but the entire Universe After series is the idea that we cannot pass our own sins on to our children - which is exactly how we need to wipe out those ugly impulses I just mentioned. So long as each generation is just a little better than the next, we will get there eventually.

TQWhich question about The Stars Now Unclaimed do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Drew:  Honestly, this is only like my third interview, so I haven’t had time to get used to the idea that there are questions I’ve already heard too much! I’d say my thinking is more ‘I’m horrified someone’s going to ask me a question I absolutely cannot answer’ - sort of like this one! Hooray, milestone!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Stars Now Unclaimed.


‘It hovered above the burning town, almost drawn even against the bulk of the orbital gun, as if it were a mirror image of the flaming settlement below—broken towers and shattered structures on both craft and township, fires flickering in the interior of buildings and bulkheads both, the dreadnaught still shedding metal like a snake molting its skin.’ (I just like the description here, and I’m usually not wild about my own descriptive writing.)

“Well I don’t know, but it’s the thought that counts! They’re art students, you know how hard it is to find a virgin in an art school?” (That one just makes me crack up; apologies to my friends - and your various readers - who are art students... but I bet very few of them are virgins.)

“But you could have been.” (I realize that one means literally nothing without context, but you did ask me for my favorite lines, and that one absolutely slays me, every time I re-read Stars on an editing pass - it’s a knife to the heart, another one of those lines that surprised me, came out of nowhere.)

TQWhat's next?

Drew:  The rest of the series, of course! I don’t think I’m allowed to give out pertinent information yet, not even titles (though I’ve got them in my back pocket!), so I’ll just say this: exploring the relationship between Jane and Esa - in ways that I think, or at least I hope, will surprise the reader - is definitely the focus of the next novel.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Stars Now Unclaimed
The Universe After 1
Tor Books, August 21, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 448 pages

Drew Williams's The Stars Now Unclaimed is a fun, adventure-filled space opera set in a far-future galaxy.

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax--a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that's just the beginning . . .

About Drew

Photo by Daniel Barnacastle
Drew Williams has been a bookseller in Birmingham, Alabama since he was sixteen years old, when he got the job because he came in looking for work on a day when someone else had just quit. Outside of arguing with his coworkers about whether Moby Dick is brilliant (nope) or terrible (that one), his favorite part of the job is discovering new authors and sharing them with his customers.Drew is the author of The Universe After series, including The Stars Now Unclaimed.

Twitter @DrewWilliamsIRL


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