Tad Williams fans, you’re in luck! Lytherus was able to snag this exclusive interview with the author. Tad talks about the world of Bobby Dollar, what it was like going to the dark places in Happy Hour in Hell, his writing routines, and more! Enjoy!
For fans who are unfamiliar with the Bobby Dollar series, can you give us a general description of this fun series?
Bobby is an earthbound angel (aka Doloriel) who argues on behalf of the recently deceased, to help them get into Heaven. But politics quite often get in the way, especially when the conflict is as complicated and serious as the eons-old cold war between Heaven and Hell. Bobby has always gone his own way, but with the first volume he finds himself in deeper than ever before, in a situation where he can’t even trust his own side, let alone the forces of Hell. Oh, and it’s funny, too, and scary as well. Lots of monsters, lots of jokes, lots of action. What’s not to like?
You are best known for your epic fantasy with the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series and futuristic cyber-world in Otherland. What made you want to get into the gritty world of urban fantasy set in today’s world?
I’ve never thought of myself a particular type of writer, I’ve just written long stories, so it takes a while to see me change direction (kind of like an ocean liner). Every form and every genre has things that make it especially fun. This time, I wanted to write something that was a) a bit faster-moving, and b) utilized a main character narration, like some noir fiction. It gives me a chance to really get into the character’s head, and also to carry the reader along in a different way.
Why angels, heaven and hell? What drew you to these being the boundaries of fantasy in this series? And was it a challenge to decide where to put the boundaries of the ‘magic’?
I’m a world builder by inclination, so I can’t invent anything without trying to make it feel “real”. Heaven vs Hell is interesting because it’s like the Cold War of the best espionage fiction, but bigger and wilder. Also, these are the myths (if you see them that way) of our Western civilization, so I thought they’d be fun to play with. As for how everything works, you have to keep reading to keep learning, but I aim for consistency and sense even when I’m inventing crazy stuff.
In book one you showed the readers some creepy and sometimes graphic things (we’re talking about hell, after all!), and in book two you take it to a whole new level of scary. How was it writing this for you? Fun? Did it keep you up at nights? Weird you out at all? Take us into the freaky inner workings of your mind as you created the darker sides of this series.
Actually, for me writing awful, horrible stuff is more of a writing discipline than a soul-searching exercise. I’m just trying to keep my foot on the brake and the accelerator at the same time, pushing forward hard when the reader doesn’t want me to (without, I hope, completely alienating them) and slowing down just when they think they’re prepared for the next shock, to force them to wait in (a small amount of) discomfort. I need to give them what they came for, but never just the way they expect, and with scary stuff that’s even more important, because surprise is one of the most important elements of any extreme effect.
As we delve further into Bobby Dollar’s world we see more and more that heaven and hell, good and evil, isn’t black and white. We see it in the relationship with Caz and Bobby, we see it with beings he meets and deals with on both sides. Why did you make the bending of these expected absolutes such a strong presence in the story (for example, I’d argue that one of the bigger questions you ask in book two is does the common sinner who has been sent to hell really deserve to be punished for all of eternity)?
Because when I build a world, I build it real. I have always had these questions about the tenets of the modern Judeo-Christian religions, so how could I build a world where that seems to be the dominant paradigm without dealing with the weird inequalities and inconsistencies? I’m writing a scary, funny sort-of-detective story, so I have to approach it with a little more scope than if I was writing for a Sunday School audience (or an atheist website, for that matter). These questions are nearly automatic. The answers, however, THAT’S the part nobody ever gets. I’m trying to give them a few possibilities.
Tell us about your writing process. Writing big series, I think it’s safe to assume you outline. Is that a huge process with tons of detail, or do you just hash out the broad strokes and leave the finer details to the actual writing?
Most of my outlining takes place in small increments, and is mostly to keep timelines straight. When I’m first beginning, I usually have to write some kind of broad outline for my publishers. Other than that, I keep most of it in my head because it’s easier to make global changes that way: as soon as I write things down, they become more real, and then they’re harder for me to change, at least in my imagination. And, really, that’s all I have. So I like to keep stuff fluid and figure it out as I go along.
What’s your writing day like? Do you have a strict schedule you follow? Any funny author quirks or habits that help you in the process?
A general writing day will start with correspondence, social media, etc. Then I have a good long stretch of thinking time, then (usually after lunch) I write. With the Bobby Dollar books, which move fast, I shoot for a chapter a day. With the bigger, more complicated stories I aim for anywhere from 1500 to 2000 words or so. I have no funny quirks, except for my deep, deep hatred of work. That’s kind of funny, since I wind up doing so much of it.
What books have you read recently that you’ve loved? We have tons of big readers on the site who are always looking for new books to read.
I’m involved in a bunch of non-fiction, as usual, so I’m reading a great book on the history of the Central Asian steppes — Attila, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, sweeties like that — plus other history, science, and several biographies. (Most recent one finished was Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin.) I found a cool book on forensic science for writers, which I’m enjoying. I’m also re-reading some Cordwainer Smith (brilliant) and just finished a Lindsey Davis Falco novel (crime fiction set in Flavian Rome). Oh, and re-reading Daniel Clowes’ comics, as I tend to do frequently because I love his work. There are about five or six other books half-read around the house, but I’d have to find them to list them, since that’s pretty much always true with me so they sort of blur together in my mind.
What can you tell us about the next Bobby Dollar book? Any details you want to share? And what are you working on next – any new projects in the works?
The second book, Happy Hour in Hell, is just what it sounds like — Bobby goes to Hell — except it’s not happy and he’s there a lot longer than an hour. Then the third, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, wraps up most of the plot-threads from the first books, while leaving a few interesting puzzles unsolved, hopefully grist for further adventures in San Judas with Mr. Dollar. Surprises will be had. Mysteries will be solved. Secrets will be revealed. There’s a lot more Bobby D. coming if I have my way. (Although I intend to do other projects, too!)
Thanks Tad! And what about you, readers? Did you enjoy the way book two went to a dark place? Or was it too much? Let us know in the comments!
Curious about Tad? Check him out on twitter, facebook, and at his website. And don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a one of three copies of Happy Hour in Hell and a set of both Bobby Dollar books all week long!