Today I am interviewing Edward Willett, author of the new science-fiction novel, The Cityborn.
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DJ: Hey Edward! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Edward Willet: Sure! I’m the author of more than fifty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages. I was born in New Mexico, started school in Texas, and then moved to Saskatchewan when I was a kid. I grew up in the small city of Weyburn, where I returned after studying journalism at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and began my writing career as a reporter/photographer and eventually news editor of the weekly Weyburn Review. I moved to Regina, the provincial capital (where I’ve lived ever since), in 1988 as communications officer for the then-fledgling Saskatchewan Science Centre, then in 1993 I quit my job to become a fulltime freelance writer. My first book was the riveting Using Microsoft Publisher for Windows 95. (My second book was the equally riveting sequel, Using Microsoft Publisher for Windows 97.) My first novel, a young adult fantasy entitled Soulworm, came out in 1997, and my fiction ever since has been a mixture of young adult and adult science fiction and fantasy, while my non-fiction has run the gamut from children’s biographies (of people as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol, Johnny Cash and the Ayatollah Khomeini), to science books and books about Saskatchewan history. I won a Saskatchewan Book Award in 2002 for my YA fantasy Spirit Singer (Tyche Books), and in 2009 I won the Aurora Award for best Canadian science fiction novel in English for Marseguro, which was my second science fiction novel for DAW Books, after 2005’s Lost in Translation. The Cityborn is my eighth novel published by DAW, but only the fourth under my own name: I wrote the steampunkish adult fantasy novel Magebane as Lee Arthur Chane, and the YA/adult crossover fantasy trilogy The Masks of Aygrima as E.C. Blake. I’m married to an engineer (a good career move for a freelance writer) and have a brilliant and talented teenaged daughter. Oh, and in addition to being a writer, I’m an actor and singer who has performed in numerous plays, musicals, and operas, both professionally and just for fun.
DJ: What is The Cityborn about?
Edward: The Cityborn takes place in the mountain-ringed Heartland, which is split down the middle by the great Canyon. At the center of the Heartland, straddling the Canyon, stands the towering, dripping, corroding and crumbling metal City, divided into thirteen Tiers. The City is ruled by the First Officer in the name of the semi-mythical Captain, who supposedly lives on the top Tier but nobody has ever seen. The First Officer’s rule is enforced by the ruthless armed Provosts and enabled by the other Officers, who live luxuriously in the Twelfth and Eleventh Tiers. Meanwhile, at the base of the City, the poor struggle just to get by in the First and Second Tiers. (The middle class lives, appropriately enough, in the middle Tiers.)
The City has stood above the Canyon so long that it has filled the chasm with rubbish, a dangerous, gang-ruled wasteland called the Middens, where criminals and outcasts are trapped, scavenging to survive. When Alania, raised by cold, distant Officer on the Twelfth Tier, is unexpectedly attacked, she flees into a nearby trash elevator, and to her horror finds herself dumped into the Middens. There she is rescued by Danyl, a young man who has lived his whole life in the the Middens and dreams only of finding valuable salvage he can barter for entry into the City. He thinks Alania might be just what he’s looking for—except almost at once they find themselves pursued by Provosts, for reasons they can’t imagine. As they flee deep into the Canyon, then into the Heartland, to the mountains of the north and back to the City again, the secrets they discover about who and what they really are, and the decisions they make because of those secrets, will determine not only their fates, but the fate of everyone in the Heartland.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Cityborn?
Edward: I’ve always enjoyed stories where the setting is in a way as much of a character as a character. Hogwarts comes to mind (not that the City is anything like that), or Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. The City is my version of that kind of fascinating place. Other than that, the influences are too diffuse to pin down. This is just the kind of story I’ve always enjoyed reading, which also makes it the kind of story I enjoy writing. I hope other readers will enjoy it, too.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them? (aka What makes them compelling?)
Edward: There are two main characters, Alania and Danyl. Alania has been raised in luxury, but has also been a virtual prisoner. She has no clue as to who her parents were; her guardian, a senior Officer, is cold and distant; the closest thing she has to a mother is her servant, Sala. She longs to escape the gilded cage of the Twelfth Tier of the City, but there seems little hope of it. But for all that, she’s smart, resilient, and determined. She also has a slightly wicked sense of humor.
Danyl grew up in the Middens, raised by an old man named Erl, and all he ever dreams about is getting out of the rubbish heap and into the City. He’s determined and tough. He has a bit of a temper, and when he first encounters Alania, he thinks she’s pretty useless, both because she’s the soft ward of an Officer and because she’s a girl. But he doesn’t hold onto that prejudice as Alania shows there’s far more to her than he thought. He, too, is smart and resilient, and ultimately is willing to make a tremendous sacrifice to do what he thinks is right—not for himself, but for the good of the City.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Cityborn like?
Edward: It all takes place in The Heartland, a plateau surrounded by impassible mountains: not just unclimbable, but un-fly-overable. The only city is the City. The rest of the plateau is given over to farmland (with small villages for the farm workers, ruled in essentially feudal style by Officers), country estates belonging to Officers, and fancy resorts open only to Officers. The City has a high level of technology (including a lot of robots), but a lot of the infrastructure is failing. In the lower Tiers, pipes leak, acrid fogs form, things are corroding.
The people of the Heartland have no history that predates the Awakening, when the first generation of citizens simply found themselves in the City with no memories except those required for them to do their jobs and recognize and care for their families. What they do know is that things were better for everyone in the past than they have become as the City has deteriorated. The future looks bleak.
One great mystery of the City is the presence of the Cubes, impenetrable giant boxes of some mysterious white substance that are scattered around the base of the City like building blocks. Nobody has ever managed to break into one.
As noted before, the City is putatively ruled by The Captain, but supposedly The Captain has been alive since the Awakening, some five centuries before, which seems impossible. In truth, the City is ruled by First Officer Staydmore Kranz, with the help of the other Officers and the police-like Provosts. It’s authoritarian, with those deemed threats to the regime summarily arrested and incarcerated in the dreaded prison on Tenth Tier, from which very few people ever emerge alive.
In the Middens below the City, anarchy reigns. Gangs fight over the best scavenging spots, making life even more dangerous and miserable for those like Erl and Danyl who want nothing to do with the gangs.
The climate is temperate and the scenery spectacular: the mountains ringing the Heartland are awe-inspiring peaks topped by glaciers. But nobody knows what lies on the other side of them: they’re so high that none of the City’s aircraft can fly over them, and nobody has ever survived the attempt to go through them.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Cityborn?
Edward: I love writing action scenes, and there are a lot of those! (I particularly enjoyed one where someone takes out a helicopter with a crossbow.) And trying to capture my mental image of the City and the Middens and conveying that to readers was fun as well.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Edward: I hope it’s Danyl and Alania and their relationship. It’s not what I expected it to be when I first jotted down ideas about the story, but I’m glad it turned out the way it did.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing The Cityborn? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Edward: I write to entertain readers, never to preach a message, but that said, there’s certainly a theme that runs through The Cityborn. I was two-thirds of the way through the writing process when it came to me rather suddenly what the story is really about: it’s about breaking free from the circumstances into which we are born, and the expectations laid upon us by those who raise us and our society and culture as a whole, and making our own decisions as free individuals—and accepting the consequences of our own actions. It’s about the importance of individual liberty, the freedom to think and act for ourselves, in accordance with our own consciences and reasoning. It’s about how individuals can change the world for the better, even if sometimes that requires them to break free of what is expected or planned for them.
Which, I also realized, it was most of my stories are ultimately about: individuals making difficult choices as they struggle to do the right thing. They may make horrible mistakes along the way, they may fail completely, but what’s important is that they try—that they seize control of their own destinies.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Cityborn that you can share with us?
Edward: Well, I enjoy something Alania jokingly says, channeling my inner copyeditor:
“I have been known to fly into a rage when confronted by an errant apostrophe, and I once killed a servant who dared to misplace a comma.”
DJ: Now that The Cityborn is released, what is next for you?
Edward: I’ve sold the first two books in a new fantasy series called Worldshapers for DAW, so I’m working on the first of those right now. It’s set in a magical domain called the Labyrinth, in which are embedded many worlds, rather like raisins ion a cookie. Each world was designed by a Shaper (think of them as the authors of books). Once their worlds were Shaped, the Shapers disappeared into them, living within them with no knowledge of the original reality from which they came, or the fact that they Shaped the one in which they live. But one powerful Shaper, The Adversary, learned the truth, and found a way out of his own world. Ever since, he’s been taking over other worlds, one at a time, turning them into copies of the tightly controlled authoritarian world he Shaped for himself.
In a world almost-but-not-quite identical to ours, the Shaper, Shawna Keys, barely survives an attack by the Adversary, discovering her own Shaping ability as she does so. A mysterious traveler then recruits her to journey with him to worlds so far untouched by The Adversary, in an attempt to protect them. And therein hangs the series: every world is different. Some are magical, some are mundane, some nightmarish, some seeming paradises. The forces of the Adversary are always in pursuit…
I’m very excited about the series and hope it becomes a long-running one.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Edward-Willett/e/B001IR1LL6/
Author Newsletter: Sign up on my home page, edwardwillett.com
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Cityborn that we haven’t talked about yet?
Edward: It’s a fast-paced, fun, exciting read. (Even the DAW copyeditors commented on how much fun it was to read, and copyeditors read a lot of books.) In fact, once the main action kicks in, it all takes place over the equivalent of a weekend, something which left me (never mind my characters) feeling a little breathless at times.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
Edward: I hope readers will check out, not on The Cityborn, but all of my other books. There are a lot to choose from, both fantasy and science fiction, both young adult and adult. I started writing as a kid because I wanted to tell stories that would entertain readers as much as the stories I was reading entertained me. So, please…let me entertain you. I’ll do my best not to let you down.
I’d particularly like to point readers to my Shards of Excalibur YA fantasy series (http://www.shardsofexcalibur.com), published by Coteau Books: five novels, Song of the Sword, Twist of the Blade, Lake in the Clouds, Cave Beneath the Sea, and Door into Faerie. It all begins when the Lady of the Lake shows up in Wascana Lake (in downtown Regina) and tells a teenaged girl, Ariane, that she is her to the Lady’s power, and she and friend Wally must find the five shards of Arthur’s legendary sword Excalibur before the evil Merlin, who in my modern-day story is disguised as a Steve Jobs/Bill Gates-like computer magnate called Rex Major. The quest takes them all over the world (the Lady’s power allows Ariane to travel through water and clouds, and take Wally along for the ride), from the Northwest Territories to the south of France to the mountains of New Zealand to the islands of the Caribbean, but always comes back to Saskatchewan. I had great fun writing the series and I’d love for more readers to discover it.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Edward: My pleasure! Thanks for the interview!
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Buy the Book:
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Two young individuals must uncover the dark secrets of their stratified city in this suspenseful sci-fi standalone
The metal City towers at the center of the mountain-ringed Heartland, standing astride the deep chasm of the Canyon like a malevolent giant, ruled with an iron fist by the First Officer and his Provosts in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. Within its corroding walls lies a stratified society, where the Officers dwell in luxury on the Twelfth Tier while the poor struggle to survive on the First and Second, and outcasts scrabble and fight for whatever they can find in the Middens, the City’s rubbish heap, filling the Canyon beneath its dripping underbelly.
Alania, ward of an Officer, lives on Twelfth. Raised among the privileged class, Alania feels as though she is some sort of pampered prisoner, never permitted to explore the many levels of the City. And certainly not allowed to leave the confines of the City for any reason. She has everything a young woman could want except a loving family and personal freedom.
Danyl, raised by a scavenger, knows no home but the Middens. His day-to-day responsibility is to stay alive. His sole ambition is to escape from this subsistence existence and gain entrance to the City–so near and yet so far out of reach–in hopes of a better life.
Their two very different worlds collide when Alania, fleeing from an unexpected ambush, plunges from the heights of the City down to the Middens, and into Danyl’s life.
Almost immediately, both of them find themselves pursued by the First Officer’s Provosts, for reasons they cannot fathom–but which they must uncover if they are to survive. The secrets they unlock, as they flee the Canyon and crisscross the Heartland from the City’s farmlands to the mountains of the north and back again, will determine not only their fate, but the fate of the City…and everyone who lives there.
Edward Willett is an award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction for both children and adults.
Born in Silver City, New Mexico, Willett lived in Bayard, New Mexico, and Lubbock and Tulia, Texas, before moving to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, with his family when he was eight years old.
He studied journalism at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, then returned to Weyburn as a reporter/photographer for the weekly Weyburn Review, eventually becoming news editor. In 1988 he moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, as communications officer for the Saskatchewan Science Centre, and in 1993 he became a fulltime freelance writer. He still resides in Regina.
Willett is now the author or co-author of more than 50 books, ranging from computer books and children’s non-fiction books to science fiction and fantasy for both adults and young adults.
Among his novels: Marseguro (DAW Books), which won the 2009 Aurora Award for best English-language science fiction or fantasy book by a Canadian author, and its sequel Terra Insegura (a finalist for the 2010 Aurora Award); Magebane (written as Lee Arthur Chane, also for DAW Books), which Publisher’s Weekly called “Spectacular” in a starred review; the Masks of Aygrima fantasy trilogy for DAW Books, written as E.C. Blake; and The Shards of Excalibur modern-day YA fantasy series for Coteau Books.
Willett is represented by literary agent Ethan Ellenberg.
Besides being a writer, Willett is a professional actor and singer who has performed in dozens of plays, musicals and operas in and around Saskatchewan, hosted local television programs, and emceed numerous public events.
He’s married to a telecommunications engineer and has one daughter.