An interview with Tad Williams

"I was trying to explain to my wife why I could not just write another Osten Ard book.”

Beitrag von Stefan Cernohuby | 19. Oktober 2017

Thanks to the publishing house Klett-Cotta, we had the rare opportunity of an Interview with Tad Williams. The American writer from California who had his first success beginning of the 1990th with his series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and sold in total over 17 million books is now returning to Osten Ard, the continent of his first adventures as a professional writer. Naturally we had to ask him some question about it and as well about his past, present and future.

(ANMERKUNG: Dies ist die englischsprachige Originalversion des Interviews. Eine Übersetzung auf Deutsch findet man HIER)

Before you arrived here at the Frankfurt Book Fair, you were touring through Germany with your new book The Witchwood Crown. How important is it for you to get in touch with your German fans as well?

Oh, Germany and the German speaking world have become one of my biggest markets. So it is as important to me as the American market or the British colonial market, you know. So Germany is very important to me. And also so many nice things have happened to me because of my German publications, that I also have a very strong feeling for it. It makes me happy to be here, that my German publishers and so many people that I meet here are so kind to me. You know, I really enjoy coming here. It’s a treat!

Besides traveling from one public reading to the other, do you also get the chance to see some parts of Germany?

Not as much as I’d like. Because, you know, almost a different city every day. So you tend to get up in the morning, and you rush to the Bahnhof, or for the Flughafen and then you come in and you throw your things in the hotel. Then you are usually off to so some interviews and things, and then you’re reading in the evening, and we get out afterwards to have some food with the bookstore-people, and you get back. And then, the next morning, you get up and do it again. But, the one good thing is, that since I have been here several times before, you know, I always keep my eyes up for when I come back for holiday or something that would I like to see. It’s hard to do much. Except around the centre, I can get out and walk and see.

So you are not as famous yet, that everybody approaches you for autographs?

No, although people sometimes do recognize me here, which is always amusing to me. It’s nice.

Except the novelette The Burning Man in 1998 it has been quite 24 years since the last novel of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. How did it feel to return to the continent of Osten Ard?

It’s interesting. I was very pleased to do it. It has always been something very special to me. But I never wanted to do it unless I felt I had the story first. As I told people, once I started, and all these people said: “Oh, Tad is going back to Osten Ard, he’s going to write – those were my favourite books when I was young, when I was a teenager.”
And then suddenly I was terrified. Because I suddenly realized, oh my god, not only that I am writing a new book, that I want people to like. But if they don’t like it, it will spoil all the early books too. But as for me personally, the experience has been very good. I never did a sequel before. I never went back to something before. So I was a little “Will this still be exiting?” It has been very, very exciting. I really enjoyed thinking about how these characters would change and things like that. So I am enjoying it a lot.

Fans were constantly asking about something new. Was it like the constant dropping of water by the fans or did you just feel it was time?

Actually, what happened was: I was trying to explain to my wife, who is the business head of the family, why I could not just write another Osten Ard book. Because she was saying: “But they are so popular. Your fans would love to see another one.” And I said “But I have to have a story!” So as I was thinking about it, I was thinking of reasons to tell her that I couldn’t do it, one of the things I was thinking about was, it has been to me almost 30 years since I started these books. You know, I am such a different person now. I mean I have been divorced and married again and lived in another country, became a father.
Then I started thinking, That’s a long time, that’s half a lifetime maybe. What would happen to the characters in Osten Ard? What would happen to Simon? What would have happened to Miriamele? What about the characters who would now be very old and might have died? What about the new ones who have come along? How would the countries had changed? And before I knew it all this things were starting to make PING PING PING PING, like that. And by the time I got up the next day, I said to my wife: “Dammit, now I have to write a new Osten Ard book. And it will be three books at least! So it’s a big job.” So that’s really how it went. I was explaining how it couldn’t happen and I talked to myself into how it could.

The original series is connected via The Heart of what was Lost to the new one which starts with The Witchwood Crown. After it, there will be at least two more books?

Yes, I already finished the second, I have a little more polishing up to do with that second one, which will be called Empire of Grass.

How is the plan now for the publishing? Will it be one book per year?

It’s hard to say. Because there is not only the time that it takes me to write this very long books. There is also the German market. There are translations. And one about the things about Klett(-Cotta), they are very, very serious about translations – which is good. Because of that they only have a few people they use. So sometimes you have to wait for your translator. You know, I only ever had two translators since I have been with Klett. There is Cornelia Holfelder (von der Tann) who does this books and Hans-Ulrich Möhring, who did the Otherland-books. So sometimes you have to wait a little while, because the translator is finishing some other work. I don’t know exactly. I wrote the second one in pretty much a year. And it’s longer than this one (The Witchwood Crown). I don’t know how long the last one will be and how much time it will take. I will put it this way. I will probably have them done before George (R. R.) Martin.

If somebody only knows your first Osten Ard series. Who would you describe the new series in a few words?

Well, a lot is about what it has been for Simon and Miriamele, ‘cause they are still at the centre of the story. Now they have been king and queen, and the rulers, and things have been peaceful but are beginning to be less so. But because they are a different set of book, we are learning more about the enemies. Like the nornes. People like that and there is a new generation coming up, there is their grandson who is a main character in this book. So there is a mixure of both, familiar characters and new characters, but it will, I think, very much feel like the first books. The style is very similar, the way I use many, many characters to tell the stories. And many, many of the characters from the first books are also in this books.

As fans now get confronted with: There will be a new Osten Ard series, several books coming up. Switching to Otherland, where 2001 the last novel was published and then just two short stories, would there be the possibility, let’s say, after you finished the second Osten Ard series, that you also come back to the world of Otherland?

I think it’s very possible. Because one about the things about this book and this experience has been: I never wanted to write a story just to mark it up. Something I had already done. Go back to open a franchise like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Oh, now another one of this, now another Osten Ard. But now that I’ve actually written it and found that I actually can really, really get the same pleasure as from writing an entirely new story, then I start to think about things like Otherland and about the Otherland-Universe. Thing I want to explore, things that I enjoyed and like to go back to. And I don’t know if you read the short stories…


Obviously Orlando is a very interesting character cause what’s happened to him and that he has this new role. I don’t know anything for certain because a specific idea has to come. But I feel a few ideas bubbeling a bit with Otherland, so it’s possible.

In Germany the biggest audio-production ever done for any audio-drama, was done for the Otherland series. I read it was 250 actors and over 20 hours to listen.
Is this something you are proud of?

Oh, very much. I think Walter Adler, who was the director, he did a wonderful job. And I’ve listened to the whole thing. With that little practise of German I have, I got from that. The thing is too, when you are a writer, people always come to you and say: “Oh, I like to do something with this. I would like to make a film, I would like to make a stageplay.” and all that. Most of those things never come to anything. But Walter came to me, he was introduced to me by my publisher from Klett, my editor. And he said to me: “I’m gonna make something. I’m gonna make this, it’s going to be a radio play. But I have to go and get money. So you won’t hear from me for a while.”
So that was our meeting, I thought he was a smart and very nice man, but that was all we had in the meeting. And then he went away. And it was like two years went by and I completely forgot him, I thought this was just another of these things where somebody says “I want to do this” and nothing ever happens. So two years later Walter calls me up and goes “I got the money, we are going to do it. It will be this incredibly huge thing and we’re getting the actors.” And he was naming actors that even I knew, as an American. You know, Sophie Rois and all those people. And I was kind like: “Who are you again? Have we met?”
And he said “I am Walter. We met in Stuttgart and we talked about this.” And I went. “Oh yes, right, right, okay.” And then he did it. And I thought it was a really wonderful peace of work.

We also listened to it, when it came out. It was really taking you away, especially the beginning. So much action and noise and so many people together. We were really surprised.

Yes, me too. You know, some people who got it or someone gave it to them to listen to, they thought it was an audiobook. So just someone reading a story. And they put it on and then it goes PSSST, BANG, EXPLODE! And all this voices and all the music and the sound effects and I think it’s great, I love it.

If somebody would ask you, personally, which one of your series you like most, like Shadowmarch, Ordinary Farm, Bobby Dollar or the two we already talked about, what would you say?

That is very hard. Because that is like asking a parent which child they like the most. It’s very hard to say. I think, in some ways I am most proud of the Otherland books, because I think they show the most of the different things I can do. From the adventure to more comedy, to strange, lots of ideas. But I am really proud of all the books, the Osten Ard books too. Because that was my first attempt to really make a big world, which you can sink into. And those characters are very dear to me. So one of those two. Maybe Otherland, because it is the most unusual work I have done. It’s one thing nobody could ever say “That’s like such and such.”. It is what it is.

As you talked about series or films. Is there something that could get reality soon?

Well, there is a Tailchaser’s song animated film. “Traumjäger und Goldpfote”. That is been made into an animated film. But that’s still a couple of years away, cause the project has changed several times, it has gotten bigger. Originally it has been kind of a small video animation in a small studio, and now it has gotten bigger than that. All the other things we’ve had, interest we’ve had, offers, there are things that happened. There is nothing going on right at the moment, that is far enough for long, that I can say, yes, this will get done. I would love to see either the Osten Ard books or the Otherland books get done kind of. I think it has to be series television. Warner Brothers, the company, they took an option on Otherland. So they took a year to work on it and then when they came back to me they wanted to make the whole thing into one film. And I said “I don’t think you can do it, I don’t think it will work, but you payed me the money, it’s your chance to look at it.” They started working on these ideas but they had to not just throw out things, they had to invent characters to take the place, cause the characters were doing so many different things in the story. I think they just realized, this cannot be a movie. That was a problem for a long time. I think now as we have proved with Game of Thrones and other things, that series television about fantasy and science-fiction can be popular, that’s the best form for this very big, long stories… obviously.
I think It would take around three or four years to tell one of my stories as a series.

NAME VOM BILD Do you maybe plan at some point to go into another direction? You could say now you have written for young readers, for all-age, maybe you want to try out some other genres?

Always! I always have. And I think what we will probably do, my guess is, in the future, as we will keep writing the big books for my ordinary publishers. But maybe sometimes now, my wife and I will publish some other things that are a little different. And the publishers, for them it is hard to change gears. If I suddenly wrote a time travel romance novel or a crime novel or something. It’s hard for them to change gears and marked it to a new audience. So if I can publish that by myself, you don’t have to make so many copies. We just get them out to people who really interested and want to read anything I write. So I think we will try to take advantage in the future of the newpublishing scene. But I will still keep writing this big books. Cause I also like the work and my publishers.

And I think your readers like them as well.

So far yes, fingers crossed. Cause that’s all we do, for a living. You know, my wife and I, as we make books. So I hope you keep buying them cause otherwise we will have to go to sleep in the street. In a box. It would be very sad, especially because we have children and dogs and cats and a snake. We would need to have a real big box.

Thanks a lot. It was an honor to meet you.

My pleasure! Thank you and very nice to meet you.

(ANMERKUNG: Dies ist die englischsprachige Originalversion des Interviews. Eine Übersetzung auf Deutsch findet man HIER)

An interview with Tad Williams