Interview with Michael Z. Williamson
Interview by Kevin Schumacher
Michael Z. Williamson: the one and only. He is a writer with an eclectic body of work, ranging from politics and humor to firearms and science fiction. He has been in the United States Air Force and has traveled the world ever since, while still finding time to read, write, re-enact historical events, forge blades, throw himself out of aircraft, climb, hike, practice Karate and Kung Fu, shoot (both guns and arrows), drink fine liquors, eat fine food, and rant at the political, social and moral state of the world. He is the co-author of The Hero, and author of Freehold, Confirmed Kill, and other novels.
Kevin Schumacher: Who were your favorite writers as a youth?
Michael Z. Williamson: I read a lot of kids' science texts, and the Hardy Boys, then a friend of mine asked for help with the math in Have Space Suit, Will Travel. The equations were offered from the character's POV, to show how he was solving his problems. They weren't relevant directly, but I got interested and that's where I started with SF. I also read a lot of John Christopher and Frank Herbert. If you want to call 19 "Youth," I started reading Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and David Drake then.
Kevin: Are there any genres you'd love to try that might be a surprise to your regular readers?
Michael Z. Williamson: I've written SF, fantasy, satire, contempory military and spy-type thrillers, erotica and political fiction. What would surprise them? I have one historical fantasy plotted out that could be a romance if I take it one direction.
Kevin: Much of your writing has a military feel to it... What are your feelings on the current situation in Iraq?
Michael Z. Williamson: This is supposed to be short, right? Strategically, I don't think most people will grasp what we're doing there for 20 years. As far as protest, I respect people's right to do so, but where the hell were they during Somalia and Bosnia (Which is still going on)? There are even LESS US interests there than the Middle East. And let's not start on Liberia or the very questionable snatch of a foreign head of state in Panama. The fact is, we DO have interests in the Middle East, the whole world needs oil (I'd rather we were developing fusion, but we're not), and with Hussein out of the picture, Hamas, Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal and several other groups are homeless and scrambling for financing. Add in distracting attention from Afghanistan, and letting us fight nutcases on foreign soil instead of ours, and it's valid. Which of course, does not make it cheap or desirable. Welcome to the world.
Kevin: What was your "break" into writing? Were you "found" by someone, or did you persist until you were signed to a deal?
Michael Z. Williamson: I had some articles published. I sort of picked the lock on SF. I was involved in an ongoing debate on Baen's forum when Jim Baen asked me to send him something. This has only worked for two writers--John Ringo and myself, so I don't suggest deluging Jim with email will accomplish anything except getting him torqued off.
Kevin: In a match pitting Sci-Fi humor against Sci-Fi wit, would you bet on Douglas Adams or Philip K. Dick?
Michael Z. Williamson: I never really cared for Dick. Too obscure. Just say what you mean and get on with it. Adams is hysterical, and I look forward to when he stops spending time dead for tax purposes and rejoins us. He really knows where his towel is.
Kevin: Back to genres you've tackled-- Tell us about the erotica. Was that a challenge?
Michael Z. Williamson: The classic joke is that it takes longer to write because you only have the use of one hand. But in all seriousness, to do it properly, you have to have plot, character development, and avoid cliché overuse of terminology. It's not enough to sling filthy words. You have to create tension and atmosphere. Add in it being considered illegitimate instead of art, and the legions of amateurs who turn out something on the adequate side or better online, and the pay rate is low. I can't see doing more unless its part of something else I'm writing.
Kevin: You are quite the weapons expert, and I understand you actually make knives and such. What attracts you to these weapons, and what is your favorite?
Michael Z. Williamson: I appreciate any technology that does what it is supposed to in an efficient manner. I like Hemis and Quad 4s, Allis-Chalmers loaders and IH dump trucks, M113s, AR15s and AK47s, Remington 870s, Colt 1911s, kukris, katanas, Viking broadswords, Al Mar and Henckels chef knives and Camillus and Benchmade folders. For my own knives, I like Viking seaxes, drop point knives and old European style knives. They're simple, effective and they work.
Kevin: Tell us about the Freehold Universe.
Michael Z. Williamson: I have Libertarian and Classical Liberal leanings, but I've never liked the utopic presentations of such societies. All cultures have warts, it's a case of finding the one you can live with. Apparently, though, I wasn't obvious enough in Freehold, and a lot of readers still thought it was utopic. I've been working on that in other Freehold stories (The Weapon, and stuff I'm working on now for future publication). I combined elements of feudal Japan, the Icelandic Republic, Swiss Federation, the US and Canada to get the society, then threw in some twists. It's not a place for anyone who doesn't want to work. Ultimate freedom puts ultimate responsibility on the individual, and a lot of people can't handle that. I discovered a great many things that "Free" people who dislike government interference usually take for granted--road repair, air traffic control, snowplowing, and power, for example. In Freehold, it's seen through the eyes of an immigrant from a repressive fascistic future Earth. Lots of people want to call it socialism, but it's a fascism. Corporate interests are lock-stepped with the government. It's not as bad as company towns, but not much better. Besides the allegations of utopia, a lot of people didn't like the sex content. Of course, a lot also did. I'm amazed at the number of straight women who've written to say they liked the lesbian scene. I probably won't have as much in future works generally, but it was an interesting experiment. The Weapon goes the other way, with a soldier infiltrating Earth for intel, before attacking it from within as the main force fights outside. It's much grittier.
Kevin: What about the Target Terror Series? Can we expect more of Kyle and Wade?
Michael Z. Williamson: I'd like to. The problems are that it was contracted as a trilogy and has done well--it earned out the advance and is paying royalties. But it's not a blockbuster and HarperCollins is a huge publisher. It's conceivable but not likely, unless several thousand people run out to buy copies. In addition, within the constraints of anything approaching realistic military operations and regulations, I've about played it out. To avoid repetition and gain room I'd have to "sheepdip" them as the CIA slang goes, and use them as "civilians" rather than soldiers. I'm certainly not opposed to that. My current SF project has a lot of that going on, including why Plan B should not automatically be twice as much explosive as Plan A. (It should be eight times as much, of course. Inverse cube law.
Interview conducted by Kevin Schumacher, February of 2006
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