PW:The War of the Flowers is indisputably fantasy, but this is an unusual fairyland, pseudo-technological, with taxis, trains, even unions.
Tad Williams: That's the fun of it. You set yourself up with a set of problems and then you have to make the thing work. You can say this modern fairyland works on magic, but you still have to have some kind of a system.
PW: Your books tend to be lengthy, 700 to 800 pages. How long did it take you to write The War of the Flowers?
TW: Probably less than a year. I was writing an online book at the same time, Shadowmarch, in the classic epic fantasy vein. I didn't want to cheat people of the ending, so I am going to do that on paper and it will take a couple more volumes to finish.
PW: You were a part-time teacher and actor in theater, radio and TV.
TW: Yes, for 10, 11 years. Fiction writing was kind of surprising to me in that I ended up doing it for a living.
PW: Is your background reflected in War of the Flowers?
TW: Theo, the protagonist, has some semi-autobiographical aspects, and one is that I was a singer in a rock-and-roll band. I wasn't even the guy who played the guitar. I was just the guy with the tambourine.
PW: You're usually pegged as a fantasy writer. Yet in the Otherland series, you use science fiction elements like virtual reality very powerfully.
TW: I live in Silicon Valley, so that this is all very real to me. When I wrote an epic fantasy, I used these real elements. I never wanted to be somebody who only did one kind of thing, but there's a very strong market pressure to categorize things, so that the bookseller doesn't have to go through a lot of agony to know where to stack the books, and the reader won't have to work too hard to know whether they are going to like it or not.
PW: Which writers influenced you?
TW: When I was about 10 or 11, they were Ray Bradbury and J.R.R. Tolkien. Later, when I was writing, I realized it is a very interesting challenge, because you can be as literary as you want to be, but you have this bargain with the readership of genre fiction, which is that you have to deliver a story, to make them turn the pages. You're walking this really weird tightrope, between maintaining some sort of a sense of reality, with real characters, and at the same time preposterous things have to keep happening and the characters have to survive. It's great fun in a way, you have your protagonist on a string and you keep dipping him into these situations.
PW: Do you write series to hook the readers?
TW: No. I planned for a single volume, but the outline was 120 pages. My publisher said you're not going to get this in one book so the story takes whatever shape it seems to want to take. If I wanted to make money I wouldn't write 800-page books that sell for the same amount as a 200-page book. I would write four 200-page books. The flip side is that some readers get annoyed. With The War of the Flowers, they complain that one volume ends too quickly for them.
PW: At the end, the door between the worlds appears to be closed. Will there be a sequel?
TW: I never plan things like that, to franchise something and go back again and again. By the time I finish a book I am already excited about what I am doing next.
PW: The most unique character in The War of the Flowers is Applecore, that outspoken Irish sprite.
TW: She was great fun to write. I had some Irish friends when I was living in London, and their Irish irreverent way of talking was inspiration for her.