SciFy Shenanigans: Matthew Williams

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Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today?  I’m doing amazing, just drinking coffee and working on my updates to book 4.  Since not much else is going on – let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting!  Yes, I still love doing author interviews!  I’m continually looking for more subjects for the Warrior Weekend Series, and the ‘SciFy Shenanigans’ series.  In this interview series, I specifically to talk with other authors of science fiction!  Here goes nothing!

As you know if you have followed me, the plan here was to create a template to talk to authors about JR in Weedstheir latest books and their process.  They’ll be able to pitch the other stuff too, of course, but when authors have deep back catalogs, it’s hard not to get into the weeds with them.  They’re very high, so I took a weed whacker to the mess.  Here are the final results!  The questions are in no particular order, so grab on to your seat while your minions make your popcorn.  Enjoy the ride!

 

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages……

 

Welcome to today’s author, Matthew Williams

 

First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

 

Well, my name is Matt Williams. I was born in Ottawa thirty-something years ago, moved to the West Coast in 2006, and have lived on Vancouver Island with my wife and family ever since. I studied history and the social sciences and was a high school and elementary teacher for about ten years. I quit teaching in 2015 to pursue writing full-time and am now a regular contributor to Universe Today and the Curator of their Guide to Space section. In my spare time, I write science fiction that’s focused on hard science and the human condition.

 

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

 

Since I was 10 years old, I studied the art of Taekwon-Do. I still practice this art and have attained the rank of 5th degree Black Belt. At present, I am the second highest-ranking individual on Vancouver Island – don’t let the name fool you, it’s a big place! I’m also an avid fan of craft brewing and ran a beer blog for many years.

 

I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books, you also enjoy reading them.  What other genres do you enjoy reading, and how have they affected your writing?

 

In addition to science fiction, I enjoy reading the classics of Western literature and historical novels. Some of my favorites include James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Pat Barker, people who wove fantastic tales around actual people, places, and major historical events. I also like the Fantasy literature of JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin, as it draws on real-world inspirations to create incredibly rich and detailed universes.

 

Who are your biggest writing influences?

 

That’s a tough question since there have been no shortages of influences over the years. But I would have to say that William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, Arthur C. Clarke and George Orwell have been my greatest influences. In addition to teaching me the fine art of genre-writing (be it cyberpunk, space opera, dystopian or hard science fiction) these men also taught me a great deal about cyberspace, nanotechnology, cybernetics, hard science, and how to find my inspiration and my voice.

 

Who are your favorite authors and books?

 

1984, by George Orwell

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

A Short History of Progress, by Ronald Wright

The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

The Sprawl Trilogy, by Williams Gibson

Accelerando, by Charles Stross

Rainbow’s End, by Vernor Vinge

The Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov

The Dune series, by Frank Herbert

The Revelation Space Universe, by Alastair Reynolds

 

How did that love of reading lead you deep into the trenches of the writer’s life?

 

When I was about 18, I was bitten by the inspiration bug. Reading the great science fiction and social writers of 20th-century literature, with all of their commentaries on the human condition, made me want to do the same. I began setting about the task of creating something that would also convey meaningful things that (hopefully) stood the test of time.

 

What is your preferred writing style?  Do you have a favorite point of view; first person, third person, etc.?  Feel free to answer as both a reader and as an author!

 

I tend to gravitate towards writing in the present tense and third person point-of-view style of writing. I feel this is best for establishing atmosphere, building tension, and letting the reader feel like they are slowly being brought into another world. I also like to create stories that have multiple points of view, which presents events from different perspectives.

 

When did you get serious about your writing as a career, as opposed to it has been just a hobby?

 

In 2010, I made the fateful decision to start bringing my work to the general public. I had been writing for about seven years at that point but had never taken the leap to promoting myself. I still had much to learn and the past 7 seven years have been very educational. But I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like I have something that I am truly happy to share with the world.

 

What is your current novel?  Can you tell us a little bit about the premise?

 

My current novel is titled The Cronian Incident. It takes place in the late 23rd century, where humanity has colonized the Solar System. On every planet, moon, asteroid, and in rotating cylinders located at the Sun’s Lagrange Points, human settlements have been established. Whereas people in the Inner Solar System (known as Extros) live lives characterized by post-scarcity, clinical immortality, and endless augmentation, people in the Outer Solar System (Retros) live a simpler life. For generations, this situation has been the norm. But as the story begins, we find that some people have plans which could threaten to upset this delicate balance.

 

The Cronian Incident is obviously a series, where can we expect it to go?

 

The first book will be followed by its planned sequel – The Jovian Manifesto. This story picks up where the first book ends and addresses a number of unresolved questions and a few cliffhangers. It also delves deeper into the Formist universe, revealing just how far the plots and intrigues that characterized the first story go.

 

Where did you find the inspiration for The Cronian Incident?

 

The inspiration came largely from my professional writing. For years, I have been writing about the planets of the Solar System for Universe Today. After finishing an article about the planet Mercury, I began talking to a friend about how humans could live there someday. Before long, I felt the seed of an idea being planted in my mind! I then went about planning a story that would address how humans would go about living on all the planets of the Solar System.

 

For years, I had also been contemplating the idea of a Solar System that was divided between people who had embraced the Technological Singularity – i.e. the development of AI, nanotechnology and biotechnology, and all the revolutionary changes that will come with them – and those who chose to stick to a more traditional way of life.

 

I decided to marry these two sources of inspiration together. And from that, The Cronian Incident was born!

 

Your characters from The Cronian Incident are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins? 

 

I would say the character of Amaru does. While she’s not a cold-blooded killer (like some people in my story), she is smart, a survivor, and willing to fight dirty!

 

Changing course for a moment, what do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence? 

 

I prefer background noise when I write. So I will often turn on Netflix and cue up something I’ve seen hundreds of times (usually an episode of a favorite TV show). Or I will turn on my music playlist and let songs fill the background. For the sake of inspiration, I listened to a lot of Gustav Holst’s The Planets while I was writing The Cronian Incident. This is a series of symphonies Holst wrote about the Solar planets, so it seemed very appropriate. I also got to hear many of these songs performed live by the Victoria Symphony while still writing it, which featured Canadian astronaut and science communicator Chris Hadfield as a special guest!

 

Okay, and here is another random question.  What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

 

I shudder to think. I once looked into the subject of animal organs that are smuggled from China to North America on a regular basis, as part of the black market side of traditional Chinese medicine. It was for a story that would have featured this as part of the plot. At another time, I was looking into conspiracy theories involving the F-117 that was shot down during the Kosovo War in 1999 (also for a story). I fear that looking into these things might have convinced some federal employees that I’m a smuggler/conspiracy nut!

 

What was your favorite part of writing The Cronian Incident?

 

My favorite part was doing the research. This involved researching the most likely ways in which human beings would settle on planets like Mars, Venus, Mercury, and other bodies. At the same time, I had to do my homework to come up with ideas of what life in the late 23rd century would look like. If there’s one thing science fiction is famous for, it’s making hit-and-miss predictions, and I wanted mine to seem as accurate as possible. But the process was very fun and really let me engage my imagination!

 

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from The Cronian Incident?

 

I would love to see the role of Jeremiah Ward played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead, Watchmen, Losers). He, I think, could capture Ward’s sardonic, but ultimately noble character. For the role of Janis Amaru, I think Canadian actress Aliyah O’Brien (Ascension, Rookie Blue) has the natural range and beauty to handle the stalwart and committed researcher. And Franklin Houte would be played by none other than the extremely charismatic and cool Idris Elba (Prometheus, Luther, The Dark Tower).

 

I think Alexander Skarsgard (Generation Kill, True Blood) would be perfect as the deadly and sociopathic Adler. I could see the role of Emile Chandrasekhar, a man who seems nice at first, but has some dark secrets, going to Arjun Gupta (The Magicians, How to Get Away with Murdera man who seems nice at first but has some dark secrets. And Pinter Chandrasekhar, the friendly and wizened visionary, would be deftly played by Cliff Curtis (Fear the Walking Dead, Sunshine).

 

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? 

 

I tend to write my stories in the evening, mainly because my days are spent writing articles for my day job. I find that my creative juices tend to come out when the sun goes down, and I will often write well into the night. Sometimes, when the iron is hot, I’ll write into the wee hours of the morning. While I tend do things in accordance with a schedule, I’m pretty flexible on when and how I dedicate my time. I have never been much for the structured approach. I like to do things when the spirit moves me, and it’s almost always moving me!

 

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

 

Not really. I tend to write until I feel I’ve done enough, or until my creative energy feels exhausted. Trying to write a set amount has never really worked for me, though I do enjoy having a little pressure from time to time. That’s always been known to make things interesting!

 

When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

 

I like to let my characters grow in my mind before I commit to writing them on paper. They do develop as the story continues, but mostly, I prefer to have a solid idea of who they are and what their backstory is beforehand. Are they inherently good, selfish, noble, or duplicitous? What is it that drives them and humanizes them? All of these questions I need to know before I start describing them to anyone else.

 

How did writing The Cronian Incident differ from your writing your previous novels? 

 

I honestly found the whole process more involved and more painstaking that with previous books I’ve written. However, this was because with other things I wrote, I tended to be writing it for myself and a small audience. There really didn’t seem to be anything at stake with those. But when writing The Cronian Incident, I felt the need to get everything right. This was going to be my first real contribution to the world of science fiction literature, and I wanted it to be something that people would both enjoy and respect. And of course, there was the matter of making the “hard science” aspect of it as hard as possible!

 

If The Cronian Incident had a theme song what would it be?

 

I would definitely say Mars by Gustav Holst. That song has the ominous and militant quality that I would be looking for if this story needed a theme. And I made sure to have this song playing in the background when I was writing the story because it really helped set the mood.

 

The Cronian Incident is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?

 

Tough question! But I think I would have to go with Jeremiah Ward. Not only is he the main character, but crafting him meant delving into a lot of personal experiences for me. It also meant making a few rewarding leaps in order to capture the darkness and torture that is at the center of his soul. I would say of all the characters I have ever created, he is probably the most genuine.

 

What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

 

When I have a chance to talk to new writers, I like to share with them the five main lessons I have learned over the years. Many of these were passed on to me by people I respect a great deal, whereas others are things I figured out for myself along the way.

  1. Do what you love, the money will follow – this was J. Michael Straczynski’s advice to me, the creator of Babylon 5 (one of my all-time favorite science fiction series). It sounds cliché, sure, but that’s only because it is true. Commit to a labor of love, and sooner or later, you will find that it will pay off.
  2. In the meantime, keep your day-job – Fellow author Chris A. Jackson gave this bit of advice, and he was absolutely right! When first starting out, you have to understand that you won’t be able commit to writing full-time. So whatever you’ve been doing to pay the bills, keep doing it until you know for a fact that you can commit to your writing full-time.
  3. Don’t wait to be discovered – my mentor in all things pertaining to the digital-age, Fraser Cain, once told me that in today’s world, artists have the opportunity to promote themselves like never before. You don’t need to limit yourself to shopping out manuscripts to publishers and waiting six months just to hear back. Utilize new media – blog, tweet, post, share, link, reblog, etc – to let the world know you are a writer and what you have to offer. Even if you don’t get “discovered”, you will be able to share your work directly with the people who would like to read it.
  4. Do Your Homework – When committing to writing, make sure you know who you are writing your book for, what genre it falls into, and who (if anyone) has written something similar. This will help you refine your writing style and to make sure your ideas are as original as you can possibly make them.
  5. Be patient – as my father would tell me, “It takes 20 years to become an overnight success”. No matter what you are doing, it will take time for it to get off the ground. Don’t expect instant results or even to succeed on the first try.

 

Finally, where can readers and future stalkers find you?

 

I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about Matthew Williams, then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the internet!  If he doesn’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!

 

 

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission.  If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions!  You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.

Sleeping Legion

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