Trash Talking Angels and Tad Williams - Sword & Laser ep 22

Uploaded by geekandsundry on 11.01.2013


TOM MERRITT: Coming up, we find out why the streets of
heaven are so damn dirty.
VERONICA BELMONT: And how Tad Williams wrote a book that
just won't die now.

Hey everyone, welcome to The Sword and Laser.
I'm Veronica Belmont.
TOM MERRITT: I'm Tom Merritt.
VERONICA BELMONT: And you are about to be introduced to a
fantastic author.
And, even if you think you already know all there is to
know about them, you will walk away from this episode feeling
like you were inside his brain.
TOM MERRITT: Hopefully we didn't just
scare off Tad Williams.
Let's have a nice, non-cranially invasive
introduction to start with.

VERONICA BELMONT: Born and raised in Palo Alto,
California, Tad Williams's road to publication was paved
with shoe sales, insurance policies, and a rock band
called Idiot.
But, in 1985, Williams's debut novel, Tailchaser's Song, was
released by Daw Books, launching a reigning career
that currently spans 18 novels, three collections, and
four comic book series.
TOM MERRITT: He followed up with the Memory, Sorrow, and
Thorn series, an epic fantasy trilogy starring Simon
Snowlock, a lowly kitchen boy.
VERONICA BELMONT: Up next was the Otherlands series, a
cyberpunk tetralogy where full-immersion virtual reality
is part of everyday life, but is also a cover for a massive
global conspiracy that threatens all of humanity.
Warner Brothers recently optioned the series for
development into a film franchise.
TOM MERRITT: Williams returned to fantasy with 2003's The War
of the Flowers, a standalone about a broken-hearted rock
star who is transported to the fairy realm
by an ancient book.
2004 saw the publication of the first of the Shadowmarch
series, which began as a pitch for a TV series described as
Hill Street Blues meets Babylon 5
meets Lord of the Rings.
VERONICA BELMONT: None of the studios picked up the release,
and Shadowmarch was reborn as an online serial in the brave,
pre-Kindle days of 2001, and then we reborn again in 2004
in good old-fashioned dead tree editions.
TOM MERRITT: In 2009, between writing about castle sieges
and virtual conspiracies, Williams began a series of
young adult novels with his wife.
The Ordinary Farm Adventures follow a brother and sister
forced to spend the summer on their uncle's remote
California farm, but who soon discover a magical house,
flying monkeys, and, most importantly, dragons.
VERONICA BELMONT: Just last month, we read Williams's
latest release, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, as our
November book pick.
The first of the Bobby Dollar noir fantasy thriller series,
The Dirty Streets of Heaven follows earthbound [INAUDIBLE]
angel, Bobby Dollar, who finds himself in the middle of a
plot involving the missing souls of
the recently departed.
TOM MERRITT: I hear Tad Williams docking right now, so
while Lem puts him through the normal boarding protocols,
please enjoy this look at today in alternate history.

VERONICA BELMONT: All right, Lem, let's bring
Mr. Williams up.
TOM MERRITT: Welcome aboard.
VERONICA BELMONT: Thank you for joining us.
Have a seat.
TOM MERRITT: Thanks for coming all this way.
In space, no one can tell you where you left your car.
VERONICA BELMONT: We trust your trip was good?
TOM MERRITT: It's in orbit.
TAD WILLIAMS: That was a big parking lot.
VERONICA BELMONT: So, thank you so much for
joining us, of course.
And I have to say, to the best of my knowledge, I think I've
read pretty much everything you've written so far.
So, do you have any particular favorites, or
anything that kind of--
you feel represents you the most as an author?
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it sounds like a cliche, but
as most authors always say, it's kind of like books are
children, and you might secretly favor one over the
other, but you're never going to get caught
actually saying it.
What I tend to have is I tend to have favorite characters or
But the other factor that's involved in it is, I think
like a lot of writers, I'm never satisfied.
So what I tend to say is, OK, out of that 900-page book, I
think I got that little bit right, and that
character was OK.
And so, I have very different standards, so I don't really
go, oh, that was my favorite book.
I'll tend to go, yeah, I actually managed to do
something in that one that I wanted to do.
And that's pretty satisfying.
TOM MERRITT: Dirty Streets of Heaven, which we had as our
book pick earlier this year, was a different sort of
approach for you.
How did you get to that genre, that approach, that story?
Because as I said before we started the
interview, I loved it.
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, thank you very much.
What happens with me, actually, is that, I grew up
on writers, especially in my field, who didn't particularly
have a genre.
People like Bradbury, and Fritz Leiber, and Michael
Moorcock, and people--
Ursula Le Guin--
people who are just all over the shop--
Theodore Sturgeon--
I should stop, because this could go on all day.
But people who are not particularly aiming for a
certain genre or a certain market.
They were writing stories that they wanted to write, and
wherever they fell was where they fell.
Whereas these days, everything is kind of so much more
pipelined, that there's a pressure to
put a label on things.
But the other thing is, unlike those people who were, at
least early in their career, primarily writing short
stories and short novels, I'm writing these big old,
wide-load Peterbilt things that take me years, and are
sometimes a million words or something by
the time I'm finished.
So it seems to the people who've literally grown up and
become old and retired during the time I was writing on that
book, oh, that's what he does.
And I finally come to the end of it.
And then I start something new, and they're like, oh my
god, he turned the ocean liner around and he's going in
another direction now.
TOM MERRITT: Where is he taking us?
I'd always planned to kind of jump around from things, but I
never understood I was going to be writing such long
things, so.
As far as where Bobby Dollar and The Dirty Streets of
Heaven comes from, it comes from a number
of different places.
And if I'm talking from my deep heart of geekery, there's
a lot of elements of people like Rogers Zelazny in it.
But there's also all the great crime writers
that I grew up on--
Chandler and Hammett, and all those people.
But it was also I wanted to write something where the main
character actually talked to the readership, and that's why
it kind of veered into a noir sort of setting.
Because so many of my books are our third person, you're
standing away in some sense, or you're very, very close up,
but you're not getting that voice.
And so, for me, it was a chance to use the authorial
voice in a more direct way.
VERONICA BELMONT: Oh, that's really interesting.
Yeah, I wouldn't have ever thought of that, but you
wanted to write in a certain narrative style, and that kind
of lent to that genre more than others.
TAD WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely.
And also, for me, a vacation is not having to write in some
sort of cod medieval or Elizabethan.
When I don't have to be thinking, oh, can I use this
analogy, or is that far enough preindustrial to make sense as
an analogy?
It's really nice on the occasions when I get to do a
modern voice, because I actually do live in the modern
era, and I actually have computers,
and I'm on the internet.
That's when I'm alive--
I don't want to just only sound like somebody writing 60
or 70 years ago.
So that's also fun for me, too.
TOM MERRITT: I thought it was pretty brilliant, too, how you
sort of folded the Bay Area.
When we talked about this, we were like, a lot of people are
not even going to notice this.
But that sort of reflection point at the South Bay into
the North Bay was fascinating.
VERONICA BELMONT: We have a question about that, too, so I
want to make sure that we touch on that for sure.
But let's jump into our first viewer question.
This one comes from Ruth.
VERONICA BELMONT: She says, "I know a lot of writers change
their name in some way to indicate a
different style of writing.
Did you consider this before writing The
Dirty Streets of Heaven?
And how do you think the very different style of book has
been received by fans of your previous works?"
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, those are two very good questions.
I can answer the first one.
The second one, a little harder to answer.
But no, I never thought about changing my name, mostly for
the reasons we talked about before, which is I consider
these all to be parts of my writing self.
And I don't feel like I want to tell people, OK, this is a
different me.
They're all me.
They're all what I'm writing.
And also, quite frankly, when you change a lot like I do,
the only thing you have to sell is your name.
And so, I don't want to have people be going, oh, no, I'm
not interested in that.
That's one of his such and such books.
I'm hoping that people will try something new.
Now, as to whether people are enjoying it, all I can say is
the feedback's been very good.
I've had a lot of really nice reviews, and a lot of really
nice comments.
And I'd like to keep at it for a while-- not to the exclusion
of everything else, but I'm already writing--
I finished pretty much the second book.
TOM MERRITT: I can't wait.
TAD WILLIAMS: Which is called Happy Hour in Hell.
And the third book, I'm just starting now.
And then after that, we'll see.
But I'd love to be able to keep going back to him,
because there's characters developing and plots
developing that I would like to dip back into.
I've never really written series fiction.
I've always written single stories that had
to be divided up.
So, it will be interesting to get a character established,
and then go back and visit that character continuously,
and when I come up with new ideas.
TOM MERRITT: You haven't had too many people write in
saying, needs more cats?
VERONICA BELMONT: Everything needs more cats.
Come on.
Well, I certainly don't need more cats.
I have somewhat of a super-fluidity
of cats at my house.
And no, actually, add it's-- although it's funny you should
mention that, and as people will see later, the white
board, which is great.
For the first few years of my career, I was the cat book
guy, and that was not really what I had
envisioned for myself.
VERONICA BELMONT: And that was my
introduction to you, as well.
It stuck, though, so that's good.
I evolved with you.
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, and I appreciate that.
But when I set sail into the great world of literature, I
had not planned to become the cat book guy.
But part of that is what we talked about earlier, which is
that people now sort of assume if you find something
and Tailchaser's Song was successful--
that then you keep doing that, and develop that audience.
So then when I did The Dragonbone Chair, everybody
was like, well, there's one cat in it, but it's hardly
about cats at all, and so on.
And then I did Otherland, and people went, wait a minute,
this isn't an epic fantasy of the normal sort.
So in a way, I consider that a mark of success if you keep
shocking people, that you're not doing what
they expected of you.
Well, it's interesting because when we talked to James SA
Corey, the two writers who do that, they chose that name
because they wanted to brand that collaboration.
What you're saying is you're branding Tad Williams as a guy
who can play to lots of different fields.
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, I'm trying.
I mean, the whole concept of branding, I think, still makes
a lot of us flinch and twitch slightly.
Not because there's anything wrong with it, but because
there is so much pressure nowadays to write into some
kind of a pipe, or into some kind of thing that can be
aimed at people, and will flow to them and they'll never have
to make choices.
Or God forbid, read a book that they might not like to
discover whether they'll like it or not.
And I'm an old school reader.
I mean, I go to bookstores and libraries, and I just pluck
stuff off the shelves because it looked interesting at that
moment, and I've never seen it before.
And why not?
I hope we're not going to make readers too uniform, too farm
TOM MERRITT: Now, you mentioned Otherland just a
minute ago.
Andrew P was wondering if you've ever logged on to any
virtual worlds like Second Life to see how the technology
is progressing.
TAD WILLIAMS: I do from time to time.
And I also get lots of reports that what I think of as my
Otherland updates that people have-- because those books are
almost 20 years old now.
And people keep--
don't you dare do that.
TOM MERRITT: Yeah, seriously.
VERONICA BELMONT: I'm just saying, I read them--
TAD WILLIAMS: Because if you feel that way about it, just
think how I feel about it.
I have people coming up to me now with their kids, saying, I
read your book when I was in third grade.
And I'm going, and you're reproducing?
That's just so very wrong.
But anyway, the whole thing is I still get people write me
and say, Tad, this is clearly right out of Otherland.
And it is kind of disturbing.
I thought I was pushing the front out a little further
than I actually did.
Some of these things have already happened.
VERONICA BELMONT: We have a next question from Alex, who
says, "If you could tell your 20-year-old self one thing,
what would it be, writing or otherwise?"
TAD WILLIAMS: Oh, I could actually give you a quick
story that goes with that, although it's more my
13-year-old self.
Which was my 20-year-old self, but no drugs.
So what happened was I was living in London at the time.
This is maybe 15, 18 years ago, I guess.
And we were going--
Mike Moorcock was moving out of London, and I had gotten
know him and become friends with him, in part because my
wife, Deborah Beale, was his publisher for a while.
So, Mike called us up and said, we're moving to America
in a short time.
We'd like to have you guys over for dinner so we can see
before you go.
Fine, OK.
So we agreed.
And that night, we're going to across London in a cab, and
it's just by bucketing down rain.
And I was in a bad mood about something-- some editor or
somebody had done something that irritated me.
And I'm a bad mood, and my wife sensibly is kind of
going, all right, to hell with him.
And she's sitting there quietly.
And somewhere in the middle of town, just past King's Cross,
I just had this-- literally an epiphany.
It's the only religious epiphany I've ever had-- well,
it's not religious, but it's an epiphany.
Which was like the skies opened up, and a voice spoke
to me and said, you stupid son of a bitch, look at you.
You are going across London in a taxi cab with your beautiful
publisher wife because Mike Moorcock
called you on the phone--
he knows your name, he knows your phone number.
He called you on the phone and said, come on over to my house
and have dinner.
Now imagine if your 13- or 14-year-old self could see
that, and see you sitting there like a sulky bastard
while you were having this dream experience.
And it really did.
It just hit me that much and that strongly.
And ever since that time, any time I catch myself starting
to feel like, oh, poor me, about anything, I think back
on that moment and say, look what I'm doing.
Look what a wonderful, lucky, charmed life I've had as a
writer, and gotten to meet all these wonderful people, and do
all these amazing things.
So that's not my 20-year-old self, but that definitely
would've meant the same thing to my 20-year-old self as it
would have meant to my 13-year-old self.
TOM MERRITT: I think that's a great example to anybody in a
tough situation is to think about the good things that
you've got going on.
TAD WILLIAMS: Absolutely.
TOM MERRITT: And then where you've been.
So I almost asked this question earlier about the--
VERONICA BELMONT: I put the kibosh on that.
TOM MERRITT: Setting of The Dirty Streets of Heaven.
But Louise has--
VERONICA BELMONT: Louise would never forgive you.
TOM MERRITT: Asked it, as well.
She says, "I'd be interested to know what made you decide
to set The Dirty Streets of Heaven in a totally fictional
city based on somewhere real, rather than somewhere
definitely in the real world?" Or, and I would add, or just
somewhere totally fictional?
TAD WILLIAMS: Sure, sure.
That was actually very conscious decision.
And when I was deciding to do something that would smack of
noir, although there's more to it than that.
But when I was going to use the basic foundations of noir,
I said, pretty much all good noir is urban.
It doesn't mean everything happens in the city, but it is
urban by nature, and has to do with a lot of
people bumping together.
Places for people to hide, disappear, all of that stuff
that goes urbanity.
And so, I begin to think, well, could I
write it in San Francisco?
San Francisco has a real tradition of this, obviously
with Hammett, and another things.
But also, to be honest with you, San
Francisco is not my city.
I love San Francisco, and I've spent a lot of time there, but
I didn't grow up there.
I've only been there as an outsider, and I've never
really lived there full time.
So I said, I want to write about a place that I know, but
I didn't grow up in a city.
I grew up in the college town suburbs of places like Palo
Alto, and then later, Redwood City, and all kind of around
Stanford and all of that--
Silicon Valley, as it later became.
So I said, well, I could use a real city, but I don't have
one that I'd feel that comfortable writing
about in that way.
I could make something up from scratch, but why not use some
of the localism of a real place, but then make it a city
and pretend this happened so that me-- poor, useless,
suburban kid that I was-- all of a sudden, I was a city boy,
growing up in the mean streets of San Judas, or whatever.
So it was kind of personal, but it was also very much a
decision of what I thought would work
best for the stories.
VERONICA BELMONT: It was so interesting, too, with the
timing of that, because we had also just read Cloud Atlas,
which does almost the exact same thing.
They invent a city that's somewhere.
It's kind of Oakland.
It's kind of San Francisco.
But it's somewhere just south of here.
And so I was like, wow, that's really interesting how there
are these cities are becoming
amalgamations of Bay Area places.
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, but I think that it's interesting,
because if these books-- if the Bobby Dollar books get put
in any one slot, they tend to get put in the
urban fantasy spot.
And one of things about urban fantasy is it's not just
fantastical things happening in urban areas.
But if I were going to make a definition, I would say, in a
sense, it's also about how the fantastical expands these
urban places into bigger and more complicated
places than they were.
And if you go back and look at any of the people--
I'm thinking far back to like Emma Bull and Will Shetterly
stuff, but a lot of Gaiman stuff-- a lot of people who
worked in this area.
What they're doing is they're showing you all the
interstities, all the cracks in reality, and opening them
up for you.
VERONICA BELMONT: Well, that kind of reminds me of War of
the Flowers in a way, too.
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, that was a similar idea, also, in the
sense of trying to make a place, and then
reveal it to you.
But I think urban fantasy really is not just about the
fantastical things, but I think it's also the bringing
the magic back into a setting that we're all pretty familiar
with and saying, yeah, but you don't know what's under that
bridge, or behind that building, or upstairs in that
ordinary looking walk-up.
TOM MERRITT: You were successful
with that, in my opinion.
But there's also an added layer for anyone familiar with
the South Bay and the peninsula of like, oh, that
would be what Palo Alto would be like if it was a
That would--
there's a lot of little extra fun in there for us, too.
VERONICA BELMONT: Landmarks, yeah.
TAD WILLIAMS: I'm very glad to hear that, because that's very
much one of the fun things about writing the books for
me, is putting stuff in there that you don't have to notice.
It won't spoil the plot if you don't
know the area or whatever.
But that hopefully people who do know the area will
occasionally go, oh that's bizarre, or he must have a
grudge against Stanford, or you know.
All right, I think we have time for one more question.
This one comes from Rochelle.
"I recently read Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
after reading Dirty Streets of Heaven, and was struck by the
similarities and differences between the noir
style of both books.
Did you have any struggle adapting the noir style for
modern readers and the urban fantasy world you created?
Do you think adding a noir bent to the story helped you
tell it more successfully than sticking to straight fantasy?"
TAD WILLIAMS: Well, I think certainly this kind of story,
because, for one thing, in a way that a lot of my other
books are about very overtly, which is about growing up to
become a human being, and living in the world and the
universe in whatever way you can manage, and including all
the moral and ethical struggles that go with this.
These books or more--
how would I want to phrase this?
They're a little more focused in terms of the changes that
the character is going to go through.
They're more adult in that sense.
And I don't mean in terms of sex and drugs
and all that stuff.
I'm talking about in the sense that what Bobby, the
character, the angel, is wrestling with, and what the
books are wrestling with are that the next step after,
well, you grow up to become a decent human being, and you
come to terms with your past and your childhood and your
home and all that.
Then what's the step after that?
Well, that's figuring out how the world works, how the
universe works, and how, in the increasingly gray areas
that you're navigating, how do you, as a human being, find
your way forward?
So, in that sense, I thought that the noir voice, and the
primacy of Bobby as a character in this, was very
important, because I wanted people to like him right away,
to feel very much that they knew him pretty quickly.
But then, I want them to start asking questions about him.
Not just like his past or something, but
like who are you?
You're talking glibly about this stuff, but what--
TOM MERRITT: You're supposedly an angel.
What's up with that?
TAD WILLIAMS: Yeah, what are your ethics about this stuff?
And so, the books, as they go on, will also be about him
coming to terms with a lot of stuff that
we all wonder about.
TOM MERRITT: Thank you so much for coming up to the space
castle today, Tad.
TAD WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me.
It was wonderful.
TOM MERRITT: Really good chatting with you.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven is Tad's latest book, and you
could find that and all his fine works
wherever books are sold.
Go pick one up right now.
VERONICA BELMONT: Yes, and we are extraordinarily pleased to
have Aaron onboard with yet another white board video
explaining what truly makes Tad Williams great.
AARON: What is the measure of a writer?
Is it the fullness of one's imagination?
The breadth of one's vision?
If so, Tad Williams is a great writer.
His longer fantasy work have been compared to Tolkien's
extravaganzas in richness of their history and the sweep
their stories.
Then again, does literary greatness lie in the ability
to understand and adapt to a varied audience?
Williams, who rose to prominence with classic heroic
fantasy, has also indulged in urban fantasy and dystopian
cyberpunk, to both critical and popular acclaim.
A lot of that appeal comes from the modest, humane
qualities of his writing.
Readers who sometimes feel dwarfed-- ha ha--
by Tolkien's epic scale can view a similarly vast
landscape through more approachable protagonists in
works like The Dragonbone Chair and the
Bobby Dollar series.
But no, I say it is none of these, for I tell you, the
true measure of a writer, is that this dude wrote a fantasy
novel about cats.
And, it was totally awesome.
Cats on a cat quest, complete with cat villains, cat heroes,
and cat tragedies.
Also, poetry--
poetry by and for cats.
Anybody who can keep me reading that-- for
400 pages, no less--
is the greatest writer on planet Earth.
No, seriously.
I think that's going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
He basically said as much.
But hey, if you want to help put together our guides to
authors, send us your thoughts on our next guest, and we will
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TOM MERRITT: Fabulous prizes.
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TOM MERRITT: I hope you've enjoyed our authors guide.
If you're looking for more great things to read, be sure
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And don't forget, subscribe to our YouTube channel at, and join in the forum talk at
We'll see next.