Welcome to the blog tour for The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams, hosted by Simon & Schuster! I have the absolute pleasure of kicking off this tour with a Q&A with Drew. The Stars Now Unclaimed is a blast and it is a must-read for all SF lovers. Drew did a great job of enlightening us on his work in this Q&A so please enjoy the post and make sure to follow the tour for plenty more news and insights into this epic debut novel.
This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.
04.04.19 / Simon & Schuster / Science-Fiction / Paperback / 464pp / 978-1471171147
Target Audience: Readers who love high stakes, full-on science fiction narratives with plenty of action and enough detail to satisfy a multitude of SF fans. Familiar yet interesting themes and a predominately female cast of humans, machines and everything in between who kick ass and attempt to save the universe.
About Drew Williams
Drew Williams is a debut author from Birmingham, Alabama. By day he works as a bookseller and by night he pens epic novels for everyone who loves Star Wars, gigantic explosions and utterly breathless books. THE STARS NOW UNCLAIMED is his first novel.
About The Stars Now Unclaimed
In an effort to save the universe, she just might destroy it. THE STARS NOW UNCLAIMED is the incredible debut by a brilliant new voice in science fiction, perfect for everyone who loves READY PLAYER ONE, STAR WARS, MASS EFFECT or just a really huge battle…
AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
A century ago, a mysterious pulse of energy spread across the universe. Meant to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, it instead destroyed technology indiscriminately, leaving some worlds untouched and throwing others into total chaos.
AN UNSTOPPABLE ENEMY
The Justified, a mysterious group of super-soldiers, have spent a hundred years trying to find a way to restore order to the universe. Their greatest asset is the feared mercenary Kamali, who travels from planet to planet searching for gifted young people and bringing them to the secret world she calls home. Kamali hopes that those she rescues will be able to find a way to reverse the damage the pulse wreaked, and ensure that it never returns.
THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
But Kamali isn’t the only person looking for answers to unimaginable questions. And when her mission to rescue a grumpy teenaged girl named Esa goes off the rails, Kamali suddenly finds herself smack in the centre of an intergalactic war… that she started.
AND THAT’S JUST THE BEGINNING
Q&A with Drew Williams
Thank you Drew for taking some time to answer a few questions about your debut novel, The Stars Now Unclaimed. I am loving the explosive and bold SF action and fantastic characters. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect in within the book?
Sure thing – I love answering questions about my work; I’m a writer (god, I never get tired of saying that), and we’re all egotistical maniacs at heart, so there’s nothing I enjoy more than going on endlessly about Stars!
Honestly, what I would tell readers to expect would be excitement, action, thrill-a-minute sci-fi madness; what I would hope they could expect would also to be involved, to be moved, to find that the struggles of these characters touch a chord of empathy within them even in such a strange, distant setting. Hopefully!
What was your inspiration for The Justified, Kamali, Preacher, Esa, Schaz and the narrative surrounding the Pulse?
The Pulse very much grew out of my mild obsession with both the construction of the atomic bomb and the (very broken) promise of WWI – that it would be ‘the war to end all wars’. I feel like the bomb was also made in the hope that it would somehow end conflict – a tool of massive destruction on a scale hitherto unimagined, one could be used to prevent the continued destruction of war, a dichotomy I find endlessly fascinating – and I wanted to channel those impulses into a science-fiction narrative, because I feel like that flawed desire is intrinsically ‘human’ (even if plenty of the characters in Stars are not). So the Pulse became the ‘atomic bomb’ of an interstellar age, a weapon meant to end war that only managed to exacerbate it instead.
As for the characters, they very much grew out of that central question – ‘can a tool of war be used to stop war?’ – as different perspectives on the answer the narrative posed. I didn’t want any one of them to be ‘right’, so I wanted to make sure to cast as wide a net as possible, and to show the many different ways such a calamity would have impacted the lives of the trillions of people living in their galaxy.
I loved the fact that you were able to constantly drive the narrative forward whilst still delving into detail. Was it tough to get it balanced?
Honestly, I think the ‘balance’ (though I would never claim to have gotten it perfect) comes from rooting everything, whether action, description, or narrative, in the characters: every detail should tell the reader something about the characters or the society they come from, every action beat should expose a facet of the characters’ personality in the sense of revealing how they adapt – or fail to adapt – to conflict or desperation; every narrative necessity should be rooted in what the characters are trying to achieve, or what they need to face in order to overcome their own personal struggles, no matter how broad the ‘canvas’ of the story stretches beyond them.
What was the most challenging part of writing about space battles and exploring a universe filled with new civilisations?
Honestly, the ‘space battles’ bit is the easier part for me – my heady answers above aside, I often fall back onto ‘hey, what would be really, really cool?’, and then I write that – but the new civilisations is definitely the tougher nut to crack; when creating a new species or a new society, I had to kind of figure out what they had in common with humanity, what kind of social or physical characteristics would be ‘necessary’ for life or civilisation to have reached the stars, and then also figured out where they might have differed, and expand their culture out from there. On the one hand, I wanted the other alien races and their corresponding societies to be, well, ‘alien’, to be different enough from us that the reader gets to experience something new and exciting (even if, to the characters themselves, those differences are commonly understood), but also ‘human’ enough that the reader could still empathize and connect with the non-human characters.
I thought Kamali and co kicked ass. What made you decide to have a predominantly female cast of both human and technological central characters?
Thank you! Here’s where I’d love to claim I was making some sort of grand social or political or cultural point – something about countering the perceived vulnerability of the feminine by showing female characters answering masculine aggression by taking up the tools of that same aggression themselves – but the truth is, that would be ninety-nine percent made up on the spot; I didn’t really think about the fact that most of the cast was female at all, they just ‘came out’ that way. Writing’s an interesting thing; for me, at least, if I think about it too much – the cultural or metaphorical applications of the world I’m building and the characters I’m creating, I mean – it tends to get in the way of the story I want to tell, so I usually just try to get out of the way as much as possible, and let the story be what it needs to be. (Which, in the case of Stars, features a cast, as you say, of predominantly female leads kicking ass and taking names, which is fun!)
How does it feel to have released your debut novel and have a follow-up coming out very soon?
In terms of just getting Stars released at all… words simply fail me (which doesn’t happen often!). All I’ve ever wanted to do was be ‘a writer’, all I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories, and so the fact that I get to do that is just a feeling beyond compare; the validation – and, to a certain, more petty extent, vindication – that comes from having an agent and an editor and a publisher like Simon & Schuster, all telling me that my stories have value, that they have worth, is beyond belief.
As far as the speed of the follow-up is concerned: I know that it’s fast, in terms of how quickly authors usually put out sequels, but for me, it hasn’t happened nearly fast enough! I started work on A Chain Across the Dawn almost the instant Chris Kepner, my wonderful agent, signed me, and given the rate the wheels of publishing turn at, that means the rough draft of Chain was completed before Stars even released! (Obviously, there was still work to do after that – editors are absolutely wonderful creatures that will make you work harder than any demanding physical labor you might have done in your life – but as far as the narrative was concerned, it’s stayed the same since that first draft, and so I’m more than excited to see it actually go out into the world!)
How long did it take you to write The Stars Now Unclaimed and did you have to do much research to shape the book?
I write fairly quickly; after an initial ‘testing out’ short story around the concept, the rough draft took shape probably in around three to four months, and then of course I was editing, an re-editing, and re-re-re-editing right up until the point where Chris signed me (and then would begin actual editing!). As far as research goes, when writing science fiction, it tends to be all over the map in kind of interesting ways: everything from cutting edge military technologies to astronomical phenomena to sociological or anthropological bedrock concepts to current-events analysis. (Though the trick with research tends to be to make sure that you, the author, understand it, and then to put as little as possible on the actual page: in my opinion, the reader will trust you right up until you give them reason not to, so making sure you’re not ‘incorrect’ tends to be much more important than proving that you are correct by flooding the novel with research that doesn’t really say anything about the narrative or the characters.)
Is there a part of the book that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
My favourite portions of the book tend to be the ones where something that happened – whether it’s an action beat or a piece of dialog or a narrative turn – is something the completely took me by surprise, even as I was writing it; there’s a narrative reveal late in the third act I won’t spoil here, but I think it’s funny a handful of earlier readers told me ‘yeah, I kinda saw that coming’, to which my only response was ‘well I didn’t!’ I write for myself, first and foremost – if I’m not having fun writing it, chances are a reader won’t enjoy reading it – so to surprise myself with something that comes kind of out of the blue, whilst still remaining germane to the characters and the universe and driving the narrative forward, is absolutely my favorite thing that happens when writing.
As far as quotes go, there is absolutely one I love above all others (when I got an early copy of the audiobook, the first thing I did was fast-forward to the chapter that contains the quote just to hear how the eminently talented Brittany Pressley delivered it, and she did not disappoint). Plus, I love sharing this quote, because it makes absolutely no sense out of context, which is just fun for me:
‘But you could have been.’
It’s a nothing line out of context, but in the scene where it’s spoken – and it is a line of dialog – it brings me to tears every time, which is not something that happens often with my own writing.
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Absolutely; I was writing my own stories as far back as I can remember, though I’m fairly sure the earliest were just straight-up copies of whatever program my family had just watched on television or seen at the theater. Reading was the same way – my parents always encouraged my brother and I to read, and there are novels I literally don’t remember not having experienced for the first time (To Kill A Mockingbird, The Secret Garden, Call of the Wild) because they were read to us at such a young age.
Though it’s interesting you ask this question after my complete non-answer on the ‘female characters’ one above: I think a lot of the reason I never occurred to me not to have a primarily female cast was that my parents never made any distinction between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ stories, so I never really developed the notion that there was a distinction between ‘male books’ and ‘female books’. I read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Astrid Lindgren and Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas and Jane Austen, and they were all just ‘stories’.
I’ve always been a big fan of genre writing, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, horror, or mystery, so as a teenager especially, any writers that sort of blended those various genres – Stephen King chief among them – was absolutely a blast for me.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I tend to be mildly obsessed with all forms of ‘narrative art’ – honestly, I think I have to be; maybe other writers can work from a vacuum of pure creation, but I very much take little pieces of details from all the stories I’m exposed to, both consciously and subconsciously, and then re-assemble them into the chimerical alloys that form the underlying structures of my own work – so I absolutely love film, television, video games, and of course, reading other writers’ work; basically anything with a narrative structure to it, I’m interested in. (I don’t mean to denigrate music with that answer, by the way – it’s just that music by and large lacks the kind of narrative momentum I tend to obsess over, so it tends to be the hobby that falls by the wayside a little bit, I’m somewhat ashamed to say.)
I also tend to try and exercise immediately after writing (which I do first thing in the morning): engaging in physical activity that I don’t have to ‘think about’ sort of helps me work over whatever it was I just finished writing, so I can start to lay the foundation – in my head – for whatever I’m going to work on the next time I sit down to write.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
Oh, god, so many! Just to pick one, though: I was a bookseller for many, many years, and my absolute favorite author that I ‘discovered’ in that period was Tana French. The fact that, over ten years later, her newest release, ‘The Wych Elm’, is just as good as her debut is something that just doesn’t happen in fiction: no author manages to write seven perfect books in a row, and yet she has. She can cultivate both a sense of dread and an empathetic bond between reader and character at once, which is an incredibly difficult task, and one she – like all the best – makes seem easy; I tend to come back to her books again and again, always intending to try and ‘study’ them to improve my own writing… and then utterly failing at that pursuit, because I just immediately get absorbed in the stories she’s telling. Even if you’re not a mystery fan – which I imagine is true for many people reading an interview with an SFF author – give her a shot; you’ll be very, very glad you did.
Thanks so much; those were great questions!
Thank you Drew Williams for taking the time to elaborate on your epic SF novel The Stars Now Unclaimed. This was a hearty, fast-paced and immensely satisfying science-fiction read that looks at relevant cultural biasses and our dependance on technology. It is a really bold and exciting read populated with memorable characters and kickass moments so doesn’t hesistate when you see this book! Pick it up and enjoy!