Soulworm, the debut novel of Edward Willett, now the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and twice that many nonfiction books, has just been made available once more in a new edition from Shadowpaw Press Reprise.
A young adult fantasy novel, Soulworm was originally published by Royal Fireworks Press in 1997, and was shortlisted for the Best First Book award at that year’s Saskatchewan Book Awards. It was written in the 1980s while Willett was news editor of the Weyburn Review newspaper, and is set in Weyburn in 1984—which nowadays gives it a Stranger Things vibe, although at the time it was a present-day tale.
Edward Willett is the award-winning author of more than sixty books of science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction for readers of all ages, including the Worldshapers series and the Masks of Agyrima trilogy (as E.C. Blake) for DAW Books and the YA fantasy series The Shards of Excalibur, originally published by Coteau Books. His most recent novel is the humorous space opera The Tangled Stars (DAW Books).
Willett won Canada’s top science fiction/fantasy award, the Aurora Award, for Best Long-Form Work in English in 2009 for Marseguro (DAW) and for Best Fan Related Work in 2019 for The Worldshapers podcast, and a Saskatchewan Book Award for Spirit Singer in 2002. He has been short-listed for Aurora and Saskatchewan Book Awards multiple times (most recently for his YA science fiction novel Star Song), and long-listed multiple times for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
Stephen: Today I want to welcome Edward back to the podcast. How are you doing, Edward?
Edward: It’s good to see you again.
Stephen: Now that we’re in winter, last time I talked to you, it was like negative 20 or something, and you were talking about walking around outside in the snow. Do you have a nice weather now?
Edward: Is it actually over the weekend? It was more like 30, 31 Celsius. Put up around 90 Fahrenheit. So we’ve had some really helpful.
Unfortunately, our air conditioning is broken. And so getting back fixed, but today it’s quite cool. It’s 18, I think for a high today. So
Stephen: yeah. It’s been awful humid here. We’ve had rain off and on for a couple of days, so it gets really humid and that’s worse. I’d
Edward: rather have heat. I went to university in Arkansas, so I know heat and humidity.
And I was in marching band.
Stephen: Oh, nice wool uniforms and stuff. Black ones at that. Oh, man, we had dark maroon and gold. You put that on and I played drums when you carry that big heavy equipment.
Edward: Our drummers were lucky. They got to wear a kind of a peasant shirt with an open collar and something lighter.
But all the rest of us were stuck in these winter weight woolen uniforms.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. All right. It’s good to have you back again. We’ve talked with you before about some of the books you’ve had, the anthologies, short stories, some of your other books. So today we’re going to talk about a new book for you
Edward: called soul.
Yes. Although it’s not really a new book. It’s a, it’s an old book and a new edition. It’s my debut novel now out in a new edition.
Stephen: Oh, that’s awesome. In that, and that’s probably why you suggested we talk a little bit later for the author stuff about revisiting and revising. Perfect. All right.
So give us a little bit of the background history here of Soul Worm, how it fits into your overall list of books
Edward: And when I came out of university, I had decided in high school that I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew you couldn’t make a living as one. So I was actually working as a newspaper.
I went into journalism. I was working as a newspaper reporter and then editor of my hometown newspaper. I was editor at the age of 24 of my newspaper back at Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and it was sometime during there that I wrote Soul Worm. I can’t remember exactly, but I was living in Weyburn. And so the book is actually set in Weyburn.
And at the time it was a contemporary fantasy novel, now it’s a historical fantasy, because I kept it in 1984, I think, is the year that I set it in. So yeah, it wasn’t the first novel I wrote or the first one I tried to get published. It was, however, the first one that got published in 1997.
So even by that point, I, it had been about, At least 10 years that I’ve been sending it around and but that was back in the good old days when everything was typed up and you sent it out in a box and you waited forever. And then you got a either you got it back. If you’d sent enough postage or you if you were lucky, you got at least a letter back.
Sometimes they just lost the manuscript. So I don’t really miss that way of doing things. I bet. So that’s yeah. Though I was frozen there for a moment on my screen so that was the background. And because it was written while I was in Waburn, that’s why it’s set in Waburn. And it was inspired by Waburn.
Waburn is a prairie town of about 10, 000 people, but it has a hill, which is a little unusual in southern Saskatchewan. The river kind of curves around the bottom of this hill and there’s A water tower, an old water tower on top of the hill. It looks a bit like a lighthouse. It’s a distinguishing feature of Weyburn.
But I was driving through town and I looked at that hill and I thought, what would be more interesting on that hill would be a castle of some sort. And that was the inspiration. So I started thinking about parallel worlds and how there could be a world just like ours, only there’s a castle on that hill instead of a water tower.
And then I decided they could also have a forest because, there weren’t a lot of trees and and that was it. And then I thought what would be happening there? That might. Connect the two worlds and I came up with this idea of the the soul worm, which is a creature that feeds on negative emotions and hate and violence and stuff like that.
And somehow one of these gets into our world and these race of priestesses who fight it in that world have to send somebody after it and they accidentally, literally accidentally, the wrong person gets sent. And it’s a teenage acolyte of these priestesses who actually doesn’t. No, what she’s doing or have the power to fight soul worms as far as she knows.
And and she’s also stuck in the body of a teenager in Weyburn. Who’s been in a coma. She only came in her spirit and she had to have a body and that’s where she ends up and she’s can’t even influence what this girl is doing to begin with. And the soul worm itself possessed this girl’s best friend.
So that’s the setup.
Stephen: Nice, nice. And I love this because you said it was your first book but you didn’t Get it for a while and then you’ve done so much since then, and now you’ve gone back to it. So let’s jump around just a little bit. Why did you decide to go back to this book and re release it?
And what was that like going back to something you wrote
Edward: 30 years ago? I can show you one reason. I, this is the original, this is the original soul worm. And I absolutely hate that cover. It looks like a graphic novel. I’ve actually met the artist. And it is a moment in the book, although, as I always say, when I’m doing school readings, and I did quite a few because this is my first book.
So I did quite a few school readings. I always said in my defense, first of all, that girl’s supposed to be 16 or even younger. And she looks. In her twenties minimum, and she was not wearing a mini skirt in my story that was put on there by the artist. Anyway, she yeah, so that was, that is a scene.
That’s the very moment at which this, she falls inside this magical circle and her spirit gets sent into our world, but I didn’t like the cover. That was one reason. And so I did a new cover. So now this is the new cover. It’s also very shiny.
There you are. It reflected in the cover of the book. So that was one reason. And the other was just that it’s been a long time. And the other book is long out of print. And I had to write. I also have my own publishing company now, so one of the things I have done through that company, I’m publishing a lot of different people and a lot of different books, but among other things, I’ve been publishing new editions of the books that have come back to me because they’re no longer available.
So this was an opportunity to put my first book back out there into the marketplace a little bit. I’m not expecting it to sell millions, but if it sells a few copies, that’s good. And it’s also interesting to me because it is my debut novel and. So it was, it’s interesting if anybody cares to compare what I write now to what I wrote back then, it’s interesting for me to compare what I wrote back then to what I write now.
Stephen: So what was that like looking at it, reading it? What did you go, Oh man, I can’t believe I wrote that. And did you change a lot of it? I
Edward: didn’t change a lot. I tweaked it here and there, the language here and there, my, and my, my the way I feel about The uses of commas and things like that has changed over the years, so there’s just that kind of copy editing stuff going on, but I was actually, it sounds a bit egotistical, but I was actually quite pleased with reading what I wrote back then, and I was writing at, at a professional level all those years ago, and it just took a while to, and even then, the publisher that I had was A terrible publisher, so I was happy to have an opportunity to bring it out myself for that reason as well.
And it was sometime after that before I really had my first novel picked up by Daw Books in New York, and then that’s been my main publisher. I have 12 novels with them now. But even going back at this one, it is a simpler story than I would probably make it now. But I certainly Recognized my writing what I was reading.
It wasn’t like reading something from a stranger, even though I didn’t really remember some of the details until I read it again this time around. Yeah, it actually stood up pretty well. And I was pleased.
Stephen: Nice. And that’s a good thing. Nowadays is You know, to get your rights back and you have that option to publish.
Edward: it was a completely different era. I don’t know what, if I were coming along now, I don’t know what approach I would have taken. I might have immediately started self publishing and maybe that would have been good in some ways, but I think the process of, but I went through all those years ago of writing, sending stuff out and then writing something else without even thinking about it until it came back from the publisher.
I probably had, by the time this one sold in 1997, there wasn’t any money involved, but anyway. I had probably, oh, I must’ve had at least 10 unpublished novels either in circulation or just sitting around and I had decided not to sit in the mouth, but I’d written at least 10, maybe a dozen novels by the time this one came published.
And as I said, this wasn’t the first one I wrote. The first one I wrote, I brought out from shadow pop press completely rewritten. That one took a, I really rewrote called star song. I just brought that out last year. So that was the first. book I wrote seriously and although I modified it quite a bit, large chunks of the original book are in there and it was nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award and for an Aurora Award.
So I clearly was doing something right all those years ago, even though it took me forever to find a publisher.
Stephen: So you have written multiple books since that a bit, but it’s still the same. Type of style. It’s a sci fi, a little fantasy element in there. Did you always want to know for sure that’s the genre, that’s the style
Edward: you wanted to write in?
The very first complete short story I wrote, which if I ever find it, I’m going to put it online, but it’s in a box somewhere and I haven’t come across it for years. It was called Castor Glass Hypership Test Pilot, and I was 11 years old, so I would say I was pretty, pretty firmly set on on what kind of stuff I wanted to write very early.
I had two older brothers who read science fiction fantasies, especially the next oldest brother, and so those books were around my around the house. It’s somewhere here. Is it still here? I don’t know. I have a book that belonged to my brother, still has his name in it written by Robert Silverberg called Revolt on Alpha C which was actually Robert Silverberg’s first novel.
It’s still here. Published when he was 19, I think, because he was an overachiever, but that was the kind of thing that was around. And of course, that’s what I latched onto. And I started reading that very early. And I was a voracious reader. I read all sorts of stuff. I remember loving little women, which is very different and things like that.
But I was reading a lot of science fiction, so I latched onto it very early. And once I started writing, everything was in that genre. I wrote it. I wrote three novels in high school. One was called the golden sword, which was a fantasy novel. Although I later changed it to the silver sword. When I realized that you couldn’t even lift a golden sword.
Probably couldn’t fight with it.
Stephen: No, you just have to change the
Edward: magic sword. It could have been a gold colored sword, but anyway, at some point I changed it to the silver sword. And then the next one was called Ship from the unknown, which was, what? I never paid any attention to that.
This was about a mysterious ship that shows up in a coastal town. Of course, I lived in the prairies as far from the ocean as you can get, and these kids end up on it. And the next thing they’re battling a technological miracle! Hidden society. It’s like Wakanda. This was tucked away in the jungles of Amazon and was planning to take over the world.
And somehow they managed to stop it. I don’t even remember that book. I have it here somewhere, but I haven’t read that one in a long time. And then my third one was also fantasy. It was called Slavers of Falk. And it was serious fantasy because it had a map and all the best fantasies have maps,
I was thinking, huh? That book you wrote when you were 11, that should be your next anthology. You compile is established writers and like their early school day stories, compile them all.
Edward: That might be fun, but I suspect most writers would be very unwilling to do that. I did years ago in a world science fiction convention was in Denver.
So it must be at least 14 years ago. I think my daughter was eight at the time. I actually suggested a panel and we held it of writers reading from their juvenilia, and I read from Slavers of Falk. Connie Willis was on that one but she didn’t really read juvenilia, but she wrote, she started as a true confessions type romance writer, so she read some of that.
Joshua Palmatier was on there, he’s doing all kinds of anthologies, and he’s also an author now One of my fellow authors was then too, and he read something, I don’t remember what he read, and then we had Sarah Hoyt on there, and she read, she started writing in Portuguese, and English is her second language, so we all had different stories, but it was fun, and and people enjoyed that panel, they like to see how people have progressed, especially people that they now know as established writers.
Stephen: So what, how many other books do you have that you theoretically could revise and get back out that aren’t out there?
Edward: The next one would be the dark unicorn, which was my second novel, also published by the people who published soul worm. And it was shortlisted actually. So I’m a shortlisted for a Saskatchewan book award for best first novel when it came out and the dark unicorn, which was my second novel was shortlisted for best.
Children’s book at the time. They didn’t have a way category. So I’m going to do it next, I think. And then let me see. Is there anything left? I put out Andy Nebula Interstellar Rockstar as from the streets to the stars. Yeah, no, I think that’ll be it. I think after that I will have put out everything that I have that was in a previous edition that is now Come back to me.
So I think that’s the last one left.
Stephen: Cool. And what would you tell other authors that may want to go back and revise and re put out old books or stories they may have never
Edward: published? I did that too, because with my first thing I published through shadow pop press was a collection of short fiction.
So it was a mixture of stuff that had been previously published, but also some short stories that never found a home. And now at last they had a home. Yeah. You can do it. That’s all I can say. You I would not expect unless I suppose if you were, Brandon Sanderson or somebody and you decided to do that, you probably make a lot of money.
I suspect it has to be a labor of love and you just want to make sure that those stories if you still believe in them, that they’re out there and that readers can find them. And that’s the reason I’m doing it. It’s not like I’ve sold a huge number of copies of any of these, but they’re there and they do sell occasional copies.
And so there’s still people discovering these stories that I wrote. A long time ago. It’s not a financial thing at all. It’s very much. I just want to have those stories out there. And I think there’s a lot of authors that are doing that, that are putting out new versions of or not new versions necessarily, but at least bringing out books that rights have reverted to them and that are out of print.
And it’s one of the things that the What you can do in publishing now has made available to authors and I think a lot of authors would like To see some of the stories that might otherwise have vanished to be back out there. And in fact Shadowpaw press is also publishing books like that I have an imprint called shadowpaw press reprise and I’m getting a lot of books Where the publisher died.
In fact, one of them was my publishers, the Cotto books here in Saskatchewan. And I’ve republished two or three from there. There’s another one I just did. Again, the publisher closed down and the rights reverted. And they’re authors who don’t want to climb the rather steep Learning curve of publishing your own stuff.
They come to me and I put it out and I’ve done several of those so far.
Stephen: Oh, that’s nice. Do what’s the feedback been on, somebody getting this book or any of those other revised books that, this was written 30 years ago, but the author. Or your book. I wrote this 30 years ago.
It was my first one. I have people said, yeah, you should have left it away. Or are people glad to get these? I
Edward: haven’t had any feedback on soul worm. I’m glad it’s out there. That’s all that really matters. And I don’t know. I think I know some of the authors One, for example that I republished, Anne Lazurko has a book out now that’s getting all sorts of critical acclaim, and her first book, Dolly Bird, was one of these books that I’ve reprinted, and so she’s very happy to have it, because now she promotes her current Book she can also now know that her first book is available for readers who like her new book.
They can go back and find that one. But I don’t know exactly what readers are saying when they read these old books. Nobody has told me, no, you should have left that one in the drawer. Nobody has said that to me anyway, but they may just be being nice. I don’t know.
Stephen: If people don’t like something, they’re more apt to give you that negative feedback and tell you that, it’s when they do like it, that you don’t always hear that as much.
So take it as a
Edward: good thing. That or just nobody’s reading it.
Stephen: There could be that too. That’s true. So is this available as ebook and print
Edward: or just ebook? It’s available in both ebook and print. I held up the print copy, but yeah, and everywhere. It’s wide. It’s not just stuck on Amazon or anything.
It’s available. Everywhere books are sold and any bookstore can even order it. And if you ask them to, which would be, I really wish you would tell them to bring in a hundred copies or two, just to be sure they have enough. Oh, and no return, but don’t send them back again after they don’t sell. I
Stephen: need a hundred of these for gifts for the year.
Every author would love that. Just need one person to do that at every store and we’re good. That’s all we need. So do you write under any other pen names or anything like that, that you have things out because you have your publishing company and use other people publishing through you? Do you do multiple genres
Edward: and keep things separate?
Not particularly, although I do have pen names, but they were both. given to, or not given to me, but I was asked to use them at DAW. So I’m E. C. Blake, who wrote a trilogy called The Masks of Agrima. And I have used that pen name outside of DAW. A company called Rebelite published a book of mine, which they titled Flames of Neviana.
And They went under pretty quickly. They weren’t in operation very long, so I brought that out through Shadowpaw Press under its original title of Blue Fire, which I like that title better. Although when I do look around, I see there’s actually quite a number of novel books called Blue Fire, but I still like it also is really nice because it’s makes a nice little square block of blue and fire about the same length of word.
So I’ve done that one. And then my other pen name was Lee Arthur Chain, and he’s only written one book called Magebane for DAW. I think what happened with DAW was I started off Edward Willett wrote science fiction. My first three novels for them were science fiction. And they said, you should switch to fantasy.
It’s selling better. We’ll give you a fresh start. So I became E. C. Blake. No, I became Lee Arthur Chain first. And this was like a fantasy standalone called Magebane. And then I became E. C. Blake because the Masks of Agreement trilogy Functionally, it was YA. The main character is a 15 year old girl and she only ages up to, I don’t know, she gets to 16 over the course of the book.
Although it’s, but they said we don’t do YA. But because it was a young female character, they thought maybe initials in case somebody cares and they might think that you’re a woman that way if you do that. Okay. So I became E. C. Blake for those three books and then used it again. But I went back to being Edward Willett with that and everything I have written since then has been.
Stephen: Back in the Star Trek original series, DC Fontana was a woman and they made her use the initials because they were afraid people wouldn’t read or watch sci fi.
Edward: It’s almost the other way around. I’ve got sorry, my phone just went off. Oh, and it’s spam too. It wasn’t even real. Now it’s buzzing over there out of the way.
Yeah, and it was interesting because it was actually the other way around because I was writing a young female character. They thought. Maybe it’d be better to be initial so that people might think that I was a woman, right?
Stephen: So you mentioned a couple of times about YA and young children’s, not all of your stuff is in that realm.
So that’s something that I’ve said is newer that the YA category, I’ve had a few people argue saying, Oh yeah, we had YA back in the eighties. No, not. Really? So how do you decide if something’s YA or children’s or adults? That’s a good
Edward: question. If I’m trying to sell to a publisher who specializes in YA is really a marketing term.
Back when Heinlein was writing what you would now think of as YA, they were just called juveniles, which, I’m glad we got away from that terminology. The explosion in YA probably goes back to Harry Potter specifically. But Yeah, I, for me it’s basically is, goes down to the age of the character and what they’re, I think that’s really it.
And then there are certain ways that, like the Masks of Agreement was published in the adult science fiction market, fantasy market. Although it was functionally a ya because the characters were so young, the main characters were so young. But all that meant was that I didn’t even think about, the level of violence or anything I, that I felt was appropriate.
I just wrote it as I would Now, given the way ya books are now, I don’t think there’s anything in there that’s, that wouldn’t fly as a ya book because they are far more wide open than they were once upon a time. So that’s the only definition I can give is that you have a young character and it’s a young character whose concerns are those of young characters.
I guess it can be a young character who’s operating in the adult world and everything is seen through an adult. Lens and I think that pushes it into the adult but even my stuff that’s been published as adult I don’t know what it is about how I write but this last three books I get did for none last three But a three book series I did for dog called world shapers The main character is established early on as 27 years old and yet when it got short Longlisted for the Sunburst Award up here for Best Canadian Science Fiction Fantasy.
They put it in the YA category and I don’t know why. There’s not a single teen character. There is in the third book, but there’s no main character that’s a teen and they’re grown ups. So I don’t know. I don’t know why it got tagged as YA. So I guess I don’t really know the answer to that question.
Stephen: That’s good. I think sometimes I don’t like. Like I write middle grade and I hate when people say, Oh, you write middle grade because middle grade is a demographic. Whereas you can have fantasy middle grade, which is totally different than the dork diaries or totally different than even Harry Potter, it’s fantasy like an element, but it focuses on magic and wizard, so I hate saying, Oh, it’s middle grade. I like fantasy for middle grade, I think it’s more like you said they go for certain the tropes, the feel as opposed to something like Jack Reacher or some other Patterson book or something.
Edward: I’ve never managed to sell a YA book to a.
Why a publisher? So I’m not sure I actually match that demographic or at least that marketing slot very well at all.
Stephen: So for anyone listening before we go if they like your books, if they like fantasy, science fiction type stories what would you tell them why they should get soul worm
Edward: and soul worm is fun because first of all, it’s got a stranger saying stranger things vibe now, because it said in 1984, which actually, if you go back, you’ll notice.
I picked a font that might remind you of another, yeah, so there’s that, but it’s, I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy mixing into the real world and I think that’s the appeal of Soul Worm and a lot of those. Kinds of stories contemporary fantasy. I don’t think the term urban fantasy even existed when I wrote that book either.
But that mixture of fantasy with the real world. And in this case it has the, it’s a little different setting because it’s set in a small Saskatchewan town. Which to me is not exotic, but it might be to somebody reading it somewhere. My wife likes to say that we think Tuscany is exotic, but the people in Tuscany, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan is exotic.
It’s all a matter of perspective. So I guess it’s got that going for it. And if you’re interested in and seeing something that. Somebody who’s now getting old wrote when he was young. You can compare it. You can get that and then you can get all my other books and you can read through them and you take notes and figure out my progression of writing as you go along.
Stephen: Published order. That’s a big thing, especially like in comic books, what’s the published order as opposed to the timeline order and yours are all separate. So timeline doesn’t pertain to this. All right. Edward, it was cool catching up with you. I love talking to you again. I’m glad we got to meet up on it.
I hope you get your AC fixed for the weather. So it turned
Edward: out there’s also asbestos. We have to have taken out of the basement before they can put in the new furnace. So that’s what I’m juggling this week. Oh man, it’s a very old house, almost a hundred years old.
Stephen: So yeah. Wow. All right. Hey, I wish you a great day and I appreciate you getting back on and catching us up to.