Michael  Z. Williamson
Writer

General FAQ Writing FAQ

General FAQ

I've noticed a lot of critics complain about the sex in Freehold. Do you have any idea why that is?

People always fear the unknown.

Is there a sequel to Freehold?

Yes, "The Weapon" is in the same universe, with different characters. It will escape from Baen in August 2005, leaving a trail of wanton destruction in its wake.

How is the name of the planet "Grainne" in Freehold pronounced?

I'm not sure what the official Celtic is, but I've been pronouncing it "grenna."

Are you related to SF writers Chet Williamson or Jack Williamson?

Only remotely if at all. I'm an immigrant. My name comes from a sept of Clan Gunn in Northeast Scotland.

What does your middle initial "Z" stand for?

My father has no middle name. This distinguishes me from him. I used the name while growing up in Britain and hated it. I started using "Mike" in Canada. I like the "Z" because it is distinctive, but I can do without the name. So I'm not telling. Only one person ever guessed, and I offered to marry her. (She graciously declined the invitation, and we're still friends 16 years later.)

Do you ever participate in the usenet SF forums?

No. I can watch imbeciles taunt scat-flinging monkeys at my local zoo.

What's the most you've ever written in one day?

I wrote the rough draft of the pivotal battle sequence in "Freehold" in one day, from 7 am to 11 pm. It was about 18,000 words.

How much do you write a day?

It varies. I try for 2-3000 words. If I'm not interrupted, I can manage 5000 without realizing how much I'm into it.

Can you come to our convention?

I may be already! See my schedule. Otherwise, go here to see my requirements.

If I give you an idea, is it worth money?

No. And please don't give me ideas with that expectation. There are thousands of novels written about teenagers leaving home, becoming adults and returning, for example. The idea itself isn't worth much. Doing the work to make a story out of it is what makes it sellable. I love talking about concepts, but I will make use of what I find around me for stories. Conversely, you're welcome to write your own from anything I say.

Do you really expect the future to be as you describe?

No, not at all. SF is literature that explores possible futures, repercussions, etc. Predicting the automobile, for example, wasn't very hard. Predicting its effect on society and specifically on dating was never done. Whatever future we do have will be nothing like I describe. However, it will be strange, I promise you.

Is it true you used to write very perverse erotica before you got into SciFi?

No, I never wrote any smut, and I'm just amazed at some of the rumors I hear. Anyway, it's all out of print now.

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Where did you learn so much about Special Warfare? Are you a former SEAL or Air Commando?

Yeah, right. No, I was a grunt with a tool box and I saw the threatening cornfields of Illinois for eight years, with a few TDYs to exotic Florida, one short trip to Kuwait and a single deployment for OIF. It's all rather boring. Though I have a great Annual Training story from my reserve days, involving ROTC cadets, a 75mm howitzer and a smoke grenade. Catch me at a convention.

As to my "knowledge," any good writer has to be able to do research. I AM a veteran, I do have sources, and I know who to call to get answers. I also read a lot of books.

By the way, if anyone ever starts bragging about their time as a SEAL, Green Beret or Air Force Combat Controller or Pararescue Jumper, you can verify their bonafides through the people at www.veriSEAL.org. And don't let anyone BS you that they're a "double secret probationary SEAL" or whatever. Everyone who served has a file. There may be blank spots in the file, but their existence is a matter of record.

I just wish I had $5 for every "Former Navy SEAL" I meet at conventions. I'd be a millionaire. And don't BS me at a convention, either. I WILL check and I WILL expose you.

In "The Weapon," you have a "Q36 Explosive, Special Munition." Does the Freehold have an alliance with Mars?

No, it doesn't. What you think you're seeing is purely coincidental.

I would love to know how the process works for cover art. Did you have to offer suggestions, or discuss ideas with the artist?

They're done whenever schedule permits, and so they can be in the promo catalog in time.

HarperCollins has a staff art department for most works. My editor asks if I have any input, shows me the art we WILL use (often based on his synopsis of the work. They don't read it) and asks me if I have any key objections or input, and he does listen. For example, I nixed the text, "An Army of One" on the cover of tSoJ for several reasons, and insisted they rewrite the back text to get rid of the "death! destruction! A rogue killer SNIPING his enemies, out of control of anyone!" etc, that Being EXACTLY the image we're trying to get away from. (Separate marketing dept did that.)

For the second one, he did ask for input, and the classic architecture was my idea. I don't know if they'd already had a similar one, though. They are simple but striking, though they're not getting the sell through Baen is getting, but they do have larger distribution. (I'm not sure of figures, but Freehold's first printing was sold out in 21 _DAYS_. That's Mattingly's art and Jim's marketing.)

With Baen, Jim selects an artist, the artist emails me to link up, READS THE MANUSCRIPT, asks for any suggestions I may have, roughs out 3 ideas. I get input, Jim makes final decision (We all agreed on Freehold, I chose #1 this time, but after seeing the finished work, I agree #3 is MUCH more vivid and representational. But Jim's been doing this for a little while and has some experience. some.;-)), then the art is refined to a final version, with minor input from me on tech details (Kendra's hair was black on the original art. Modern weapons such as M16s are often used in rough to be quick and give the impression of what should be there. So the final Freehold cover with the Vektor rifle is very close to what I intended), and certain things have to be "dumbed down," so to speak, so a reader glancing at the cover can tell in a second what it is. Scopes and rifles are fairly "contemporary" for that reason. There's guns out there NOW most of you wouldn't recognize as weapons if you saw them (H&K G11, for example).

Then I get all excited and post it here and my site and order a print for myself to frame and set it up as my wallpaper.

And that's how covers are done.

Mattingly just might be the best, and Kurt Miller is coming up fast. His stuff is a little busy occasionally, but I was highly impressed with Hero, as it's HARD to get monochrome to give good detail and expression. And of course, I think The Weapon ROCKS.

Critics aside, good commercial art is a field all its own, and as tough as any other.

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Writing FAQ

Hey, I've been writing fantasy since 1991, and am on my third manuscript (finishing up a trilogy). The first two books averaged aroudn 140,000 words, and this third will probably be in that range. I noticed you are published. Can you tell me a little more about the company you are going through? I had an agent, but let him go after two years of nothing. I write for the fun of it, but still would like to become published.

Thanks for any insight.

Well first, never pay an agent. They get a commission after the sale only. Keep them hungry and aggressive.

Second, I'd try to make each book stand alone, even if they're able to read as a trilogy. It's much easier to market one book than three.

Baen handles plot driven books with strong characters, SF or fantasy, and prefer self-reliant themes. It can take a year or more to get a response, which is standard in the industry. If you have three completed and they do stand alone, I'd send one each to Daw, Tor and Baen and then rotate if rejected. Meantime, write another one, unrelated, and send that out somewhere else. If you learn as you go and keep writing, eventually something will sell.

Good luck.

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