Liz Williams Interview

August 20, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

Liz Williams is a science fiction author of several well received books. She writes books that mixes science with some fantasy elements, but takes interesting looks at different societies. Ghostsister takes place on a colonized world where the humans have a psychic link to the life on the planet. One woman doesn’t have this ability, so is treated as an outcast and protected by her brother. Empire of Bones takes place on Earth in a future India. A dying woman is offered to be saved by a visiting alien, but at what price? The Poison Master is the story of a woman who is a master of poison making and alchemy trying to get her sister back from strange aliens. This author’s books are very different to the science fiction genre, but very interesting.

Debbie Ledesma: How did you get started as a writer?

Liz Williams: I wrote on and off for years in a kind of desultory way – my mother was a writer, so in our family it always seemed to be a perfectly acceptable thing to do. However, most of my twenties were taken up with academic work and I did not really begin writing in any kind of committed way until I was in my thirties. I began by sending short fiction off to magazines and was lucky in that I broke into the professional market fairly swiftly, with a sale to InterZone. After completing my first novel, The Ghost Sister, I secured an agent and the book was sold about a year later.

DL: What authors, SF or otherwise, influence your writing?

LW: Le Guin, Vance, Tanith Lee, Bradbury – hey, steal from the best! I also have a great affection (combined with no small degree of irritation) for the Beat writers and people like Lawrence Durrell.

DL: Why did you choose the Science Fiction genre to write in?

LW: I think it chose me. Whatever I try and write has weird elements in it – it’s just the things that have influenced me and the way that my imagination
works.

DL: Your book Poison Master mixes some fantasy elements with your story. Was it difficult to mix these elements in the science fiction story?

LW: No, because I always describe myself as a science fantasy writer. I don’t use many hard SF tropes – I tend to concentrate on sociological and cultural elements – and there is more leeway in crossing genres. I think that this is somethi ång we are seeing more and more of these days – Alaistair Reynolds, for instance, employs a number of Gothic elements in his SF; China Mieville uses technological aspects in his fantasy writing. Authors like Chris Priest and Graham Joyce have always had a very cross-genre appeal and I have a lot of regard for that. Besides, I don’t like being put in a box.

DL: Do you do a lot of research in science for your books?

LW: I try to keep up with developments in science, but because they’re science fantasy rather than hard SF I make a lot of stuff up. I think I get away with it!

DL: Do you have a favorite character in your books? Which one?

LW: Eleres in The Ghost Sister, because he’s basically a younger, male version of me, and Ari in The Poison Master. I love creating devious men.

DL: Are you planning to branch out into other genres?

Not at the moment but these things often t çend to happen organically, rather
than being planned.

DL: How do you view SF as a vehicle for social commentary?

DL: It can be an immensely powerful vehicle for social comment (Orwell is an obvious case in point), but I don’t think it should hit people over the head with it. Fiction with a Message (TM) is always annoying.

DL: I agree fiction with a message is annoying. How do you incorporate social commentary into your works?

LW: I try to slide it in under the radar. But my own view of politics and
society is constantly changing – I’m definitely left of center politically,
but there’s so much that is problematic with fixed positions that I prefer
to remain ambivalent. I’d rather ask questions than try to answer them.

DL: Do you attempt to influence the way people view society through your writing, and if so do you believe SF can have an impact?

LW: Not really – obviously I have values Ë and views, but I’d rather present these as an emergent property of my fiction rather than using what I write as a means of preaching to people. I’m more interested in exploring ideas through my work and perhaps not coming to any very solid conclusions. I am still figuring out where I stand in a lot of areas and that’s a lifelong process.

DL: Some recent criticism of SF states the genre is dying or has become stagnant, thus losing readers. What do you think about the current state of the genre?

LW: I think it’s actually pretty vibrant at the moment. There are a lot of new
and interesting people coming onto the scene, a lot of mixing and matching with genres. I find media SF pretty stagnant (as opposed to media fantasy), but that’ Ês been the case for a long time.

DL: Do you think SF movies and tv series helps the genre or gives the public the wrong idea about what the literature can be?

LW: The tropes of SF are now familiar to the mainstream, but the mainstream remains very sniffy about SF – it does the classic double-bind of marginalizing it and at the same time acknowledging it as populist. There is an awful lot of really bad media SF, but then there’s a fair amount of poor media detective genre, for instance. If people take the trouble to look for the good stuff, they’ll find it, but I’d say that a lot of the things you see are off-putting.

DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

LW: Work, work, work. Read lots. Don’t give up (never surre nder!). Keep sending work out even when you think it’s going to kill you. Research markets and above all, be as professional as you can.

DL: What books are you writing for the future?

LW: I have another novel coming out with Bantam in the US in the fall, titled Nine Layers of Sky, which is a contemporary SF novel (again with fantasy elements) set in Central Asia. It’s due to come out in the UK with Tor Macmillan. At the moment, I am writing a novel that is provisionally entitled Banner of Souls, which is about a far future solar system and a girl who can travel through time. Lots of Oriental elements and much of the book is set on Mars.

I have a sixth novel on the backburner, which will be set in the same world
as The Ghost Sister, and this will be – cheerily – all about death and loss. I have recently lost my partner and this will inevitably emerge in my fiction. After that, I am hoping to do a sequel to Nine Layers of Sky. )

DL: Thank you very much Ms. Williams.

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