I’m please to welcome writer and publisher Lynda Williams to the blog! Lynda has pioneered new fronts in science-fiction for many years and, as a publisher, continues to bring the world new and original voices in the genre.
RLM: Tell me about Reality Skimming. Why did you found it?
LW: To get back in touch with the spirit that moved me to write – and to love SF – in the first place. The swelling feeling in my chest as Babylon 5 heroes said “no” to both options offered by the old races; the excitement of finding workable solutions to wicked problems in Star Trek; and the joy of creating and sharing. You could say SF (fantasy and scifi) is my church. And I wasn’t feeling the joy in a world more and more focused on sales figures.
RLM: Optimistic science-fiction, the sub-genre to which Reality Skimming is dedicated, is a term I’m not entirely familiar with. What are its common attributes?
LW: I coined the phrase, or else borrowed it from somewhere I can’t remember, as the opposite of the “dark side” that’s become so popular. Despair. Drug addiction analogies. The literature of betrayal and stupid, greedy self-destructive horror and emotional isolation. 1950s SF was too simplistic and biased by the times, but it held out hope for a better tomorrow. We could do with a reboot of the concept in modern clothes. I saw Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland recently, and could sum up my mission in the movie’s language by saying optimistic SF “feeds the right wolf.”
RLM: What was the impetus behind the Opus anthologies?
LW: Okal Rel evolved out of my childhood play and later co-authorship and thought experiments with friends and family. You might say its roots lie more in an oral tradition of evolving tales recognizable to my Welsh ancestors than in the iconic vision of a writer alone in a room cut off from the world. It would never have become what it is without me, but it was fermented in a collaborative process. When readers who also wrote, or friends in the writing community, suggested new story ideas it was natural to encourage them to go for it, and collect the results in the Opus books. There are other, similar manifestations of legacy canon online, as well. Like my daughter Angela’s Diff the Dragon illustrated by Richard Bartrop, which is the story of Alivda growing up as Amel’s ward during his envoy period.
RLM: You wrote the fourth book of the original Okal Rel series with Alison Sinclair. How did working with a coauthor change your writing process?
LW: It was writing alone, afterwards, that changed my writing process. I met Alison Sinclair in first year university in a calculus class. We hit it off when we discovered we were both secret scribblers. Her characters and mine merged in tales where we each wrote part of the story and handed the piece of paper back and forth. Throne Price, the fourth book of the saga but the first one published, was the culmination of decades of this sort of behavior. I’ve called myself the Canadian Tolkien, half in jest, but in terms of the writing process I’m a Tolkien. Except I worked with friends along the way and indulged in family readings of works in progress. There’s 10 times more written in the Okal Rel universe than ever made it into books.
RLM: I read that you work in the field of applied technology for education. What exactly does this entail? How have you applied it to the Okal Rel universe?
LW: I manage a team of five learning technology support professionals who assist instructors at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the use of the Canvas Learning Management System and a host of other things. I’ve always taught and dabbled with computer-based methods for creating. There’s a lot of interplay with my fiction. I learned HTML to build an Okal Rel website. I’ve recently learned InDesign to produce books for Reality Skimming Press. I founded a Free-Net in Prince George, B.C., in order to keep in touch with Alison so we wouldn’t lose the ability to write back and forth using email and web servers now I wasn’t at university anymore.
RLM: Given that your stories include quite a bit of advanced technology, how much research do you conduct? How closely do you try and stay to already workable technology?
LW: I invented reality skimming as a faster-than-light method of travel while studying special relativity in an enrichment program for high school students at Western Washington University in Bellingham. There’s a hand-wavy aspect of course since I wanted it to be emotionally meaningful as an analogy for the emotional and physical stresses in life. Arbiters are what I did instead of a PhD in computing on artificial intelligence. The masters degree was enough and I thought arbiters made far more sense than anything I could get away with positing as a thesis. I owe a nod to Alison for a lot of the bioscience. She was studying biochemistry through much of our creative period together and later doing an MD. I’d say things like, “Sevolites don’t pass out at high g’s because they’ve got high blood pressure” and she’d say, “so they may pass out in low gravity when excited.” For example, she pointed out nobleborns might suffer end organ damage if they had some highborn traits but lacked regenerative capabilities.
RLM: Edge published the first nine books in the Okal Rel universe. What caused you to move to Absolute X-press Publishing?
LW: Edge published all ten of the books in the Okal Rel Saga. The releases of the last few were pretty quiet, however. Both Edge and myself were going through changes and before the last one, Part 10: Unholy Science, came out, I had already signed the deal to buy back my IP. I’m still in process with the buy out and Brian Hades is very kindly making it a gentle transition so my titles don’t disappear while I’m organizing the reboot. Absolute X-Press is Brian Hades print-on-demand imprint. So the books from Absolute X-Press are all under Hades Publications. I’ll be rebooting these, as well, as Reality Skimming Press. Prior to signing up with Brian, I’d published one Okal Rel short story with Circlet Press and some novellas with Windstorm Creative. The Okal Rel Universe has never fitted the mold of the publishing industry. It’s been decades in development and touches all aspects of my life. Again, that’s why when pressed to find a way to say it all in less than a sentence I went with “Canadian Tolkien” or “obscure Canadian Tolkien” to avoid sounding vain glorious. I didn’t write to the market. I wrote what I needed to and have been lucky to have the support I’ve found in traditional publishing. Ultimately, the only way to continue in the same vein is to run my own press.
RLM: The Courtesan Prince was published about ten years ago. How do you think your writing has evolved/changed since then?
LW: It’s changed hugely. There’s a consistent feel to the whole saga, or so I hope. But while I love the early books I think the later ones are better. The early ones covered my variations on universal themes like “the prince raised as a pauper”, kickass women, surviving sexual abuse (using a gender role reversal to make a point) and the fun of creating a species of super-humans. Not to mention inventing utopia (Rire was my teenage idea of the ideal society developed by my later, more educated self). By book 5 and beyond, I had established a fabric and framework in which to tell the more subtle and complex narratives of imperfect people, of the non-kickass women, and of weaving the personal through the political in a time of change. It’s a complex story but anyone who makes it through book 5 is treated to a real romp with drama and humor and psychological conundrums that I believe anyone can relate to, even if not in the process of redesigning an empire. At least a dozen people have told me they marathoned the last half of the series. Of course, only the addicted get far enough to enjoy the final ride. I admit it takes a bit of work to get into the series in the first place.
RLM: The characters in the Okal Rel universe represent extremes of human nature. You also touch on controversial subjects (such as homophobia) in some of the stories. What message, if any, do you hope to impart through the Okal Rel stories?
LW: Di Mon tells Ev’rel “Be better than you need to be.” Maybe that’s the gist. Or, like my focal character Amel, become what you find most tragically missing in the world. See through the surface dissimilarities between cultures to latch onto a better solution to problems than blowing up the damn world. Find a way without needing people to all become saints. Enjoy life. But if nine out of ten grandmothers from as many different cultures say something is evil, then it’s evil. Cut it out! Or face the righteous anger of upwardly mobile Nersallians to whom you have exposed yourself because they’ve dropped the shield of honor. It’s the discrimination of what is and isn’t unforgivable that’s hardest in any world.
RLM: Your last Okal Rel book appeared in 2013. What can we hope for next from you?
LW: The Okal Rel Saga was always a story with a beginning, middle and an end. I planned the trajectory for many years. So for the time being, I’m in publisher mode. I’ll be re-booting the saga in two new editions. The first, with cover art by Yukari Yamamoto, will be done by 2016. Lynn Perkins, who did some of the covers for the original Edge edition, will be doing the Perkins edition starting in 2017. Reality Skimming Press is re-vamping for the fall of 2015. We’ll release two streams of digital singles that will later be collected into print anthologies as collectables. One, the Megan Survival Anthology, with art by Jeff Doten and edited by Randy McCharles, will be set in the Okal Rel Universe a thousand years before the saga. The other will be non-ORU works by a large cast of writers who had engaged with the Collidor project of Ray Taylor while I was on that team as editor. Jennifer Lott is editor on this project and Ray will write an intro to the anthology. We will also be bringing out Opus 7 as Reality Skimming Press. Opus 7 is the companion to saga title Part 7: Healer’s Sword. The theme is “impossible love” and Paula Johanson is the editor. We’ll have stories by Sarah Trick, Elizabeth Woods and Damien Storm. And maybe one or two more.