10 Questions with award-winning, bestselling science fiction author Walter Jon Williams

This Author Spotlight

Walter Jon Williams

author of

Days of Atonement

Walter Jon Williams is an award-winning author who has been listed on the best-seller lists of the New York Times and the Times of London.  He is the author of twenty-seven novels and three collections of short fiction. 

His first novel to attract serious public attention was Hardwired (1986), described by Roger Zelazny as "a tough, sleek juggernaut of a story, punctuated by strobe-light movements, coursing to the wail of jets and the twang of steel guitars."  In 2001 he won a Nebula Award for his novelette, “Daddy’s World,” and won again in 2005 for “The Green Leopard Plague.”

Walter's subject matter has an unusually wide range, and include the glittering surfaces of Hardwired, the opulent tapestries of Aristoi, the bleak future police novel Days of Atonement, and the pensive young Mary Shelley of the novella "Wall, Stone, Craft," which was nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and a World Fantasy Award.

He has also written for George RR Martin's Wild Cards project.

His latest work is The Fourth Wall, a near-future thriller set in the world of alternate reality gaming.

Walter has also written for comics, the screen, and for television, and has worked in the gaming field. He was a writer for the alternate reality game Last Call Poker, and has scripted the mega-hit Spore.

1.How did you get into writing and why do you write?

I decided to be a writer when I was a very small child. Before I learned to read and write actually: I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me.

Writing was a compulsion.  I wasn’t in charge, the compulsion was.  Being compulsive made me what I am today.

Oddly enough, the compulsion faded around the time I turned forty.  Now I have to find reasons for writing every day.  Previously I just let the compulsion handle all that.

2.What do you like best (or least) about writing?

The bit I like least is the actual writing.  I really love coming up with ideas, dreaming up characters, and creating ingenious plots.  For me, that’s the creative part.

The actual writing is more of a drudgery, because the creative part is already done.  There are days when it’s a delight, but more often not.
3.What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I always outline the larger projects.  I always know the last scene.  Sometimes the middle bit is a little vague, but I always know where the story’s going.

I write every day when I’m at home.  There’s usually at least one day each week when it’s crap, and I have to do it over.  I wish I could know ahead of time which day that would be, so I could spare myself the agony.

4.Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

Kelly Link, Vladimir Nabokov, Howard Waldrop, Thomas Pynchon, Roger Zelazny, Ann Leckie, Catherynne Valente, James S.A. Corey, and Many, Many more. 

5.Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?

Whichever way I decide, the copy editor will change it.
6.What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?

I feel the Oxford comma is sensible, useful, and lends itself to clarity.

7.What is your book “Days of Atonement” about and how did it come to fruition?

My original concept involved a cop trying to solve a murder on a decaying industrial planet.  Then it occurred to me that we have plenty of decaying industry right here in the United States, and then it further occurred to me that this was a chance to write about my native state of New Mexico.

I jokingly tell people that “Days of Atonement” is the World’s Only Gothic Western Science Fiction Police Procedural, but that’s actually what it is.

My protagonist, Loren Hawn, is basically a 19th Century lawman stuck in a 21st Century he doesn’t understand, a situation which reflects the apparent time travel that’s at the center of the plot.  In addition to the mystery and the science fiction, Loren has to deal with typical New Mexico issues, such as UFO true believers, corrupt government, religious extremism, environmental extremism, big intrusive extractive industries, ethnic conflicts, secretive national laboratories, and privatized paramilitaries.  All in a day’s work for the 21st Century lawman!

In order to help the reader cope with the New Mexico weirdness, I decided to treat New Mexico as if it were an alien planet.  Which, in almost every sense but the most literal, it truly is.

I’ve written an essay about “Days of Atonement” which may be found here.

8.What’s your current writing project?

I was lucky enough to sell six books this year, and now I’ve got to write them!

Three of the books continue my Praxis series, which should please many of my readers.  But I’ve also sold a new series, completely different from anything I’ve done before, and right now I’m working on the first book.

9.What book(s) are you currently reading?

William Gibson’s the Peripheral, and E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros.  Both by masters of style, but very different style.

10.Who or what inspires your writing?

Really good writing.  Plus a glance at my bank account.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.

A few years ago, I found myself with over twenty out-of-print books, and I began a project to digitize them and make them available as ebooks.  Mostly I stole scans from pirates, then cleaned them up.  (I’m inclined to feel that was morally justified.)

Now all my longer works are available online, and I’m about halfway through the short fiction.  You can binge-read me now!  (And I encourage you to do so.)

My home page and blog:  www.walterjonwilliams.net

And lastly, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you get a free ebook!   Can’t be more fair than that, now can I?

Certainly not!

Thank you, Walter, for visiting with us today and sharing your insights into the writing life. Please visit with us again when each of your six forthcoming books is ready.

So there you have it, gang. Writing wisdom from a working, professional writer. Be sure to visit Walter's website and blog and join his newsletter to get that free ebook.

And stay tuned for more interviews with top writers, which are forthcoming.


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