Today’s Author Spotlight is on Lynda Williams. Lynda is the author of the Okal Rel series, a 10 book series set in a future where humankind has splintered into races based on the way in which their members utilize technology. Her newest book in the series is entitled Avim’s Oath.
The Queen is dead, and two princes, Amel and Erien, are pushed centre-stage and made to vie for power that neither brother wanted. Driven by vengeful princesses, most notably the beautiful and dangerous Alivda, the brothers must prove themselves, choosing between the lives they wanted and the roles that people demanded of them.
The Okal Rel Universe is a future inhabited by races of bioengineered super-pilots called Sevolites, and regular humans called Reetions who have super science. Piloting underpins communication, warfare and economics so it’s critical but also dangerous because rel-ships can destroy planets. Sevolites and Reetions have found mutually incompatible methods of social control to preserve civilization: Neo-feudal Sevolites through the Okal Rel system of personal combat, and Reetions through psychological monitoring of pilots in the context of a transparent society in which very little is private.
Drama and hilarity results when these long separated branches of mankind rediscover each other. I’ve been collecting the ideas all my life: an early love of heroes, thought experiments about gender roles, my disgust at the absurdity of nuclear war and fascination with personal combat: particularly with swords. I got some of the ideas from reading Greek myths and by trying my hand at a techno-enabled utopia; Gelack grammar was informed by my two years of Latin as an undergraduate; ideas about the potential for bio-engineering humans at the gene level arose in high school, and rel-skimming was invented the summer I studied special relativity. I came up with the Reetion form of non-sentient AIs while doing my masters in computer science.
How did your series evolve over time?
As I got older, the setting became less important than the characters and their problems. But since I had the setting so well developed, I used it as the stage on which to play out problems of interest to me. The older I get, the more personal the dramas and situations tend to be, in the sense that characters live through fictionalized versions of my own life-traumas whereas the situations in the first two books I wrote (parts 1 and 4 of the saga) are based on “what if” scenarios. Both are real to the characters, naturally.
Did you know from the start that you would be writing a saga, or did the story just evolve that way?
The saga grew up with me and bloomed into a novel series when I was in my 30s. Before that, it was a personal playground I shared with special friends and always hoped to turn into a novel one day. The main story arc was established before the publication of the first book, which was Part 4: Throne Price, for reasons that made sense at the time. Details have changed, and some characters have demanded more page-time than originally anticipated. I’ve even changed the destined fate of a character or two based on lobbying by special readers. But the main plot elements have been in place for many years. I thought I could put it all into one book, originally. I actually tried doing exactly that, many times, with a manuscript with the working title “Aimed at the Heart” or something equally goofy. It became a ten-novel plan around 1998 and has been stable at that length ever since.
How have your experiences with the various jobs and educational fields that you have pursued shaped the book series?
In a big way! People say write what you know. And the point came when I realized what I knew best was the Okal Rel Universe. But I project plenty of real life issues into it. For example, my experiences as a volunteer crisis counselor led to subjecting poor Amel to his terrible early childhood of sexual exploitation. I wanted him to be a boy not a girl because I wanted to make a point about the problem being what was done, not the gender of the victim or the perpetrators.
That thought experiment continues through to Throne Price, culminating in his terrible but powerful relationship with Ev’rel. I made up Vrellish Sevolites to see what it would be like to reverse “the rape threat” and to create a culture in which males and females really are equally strong and oversexed. I wrote a whole paper to explain how this was possible, and built the reasons into the backstory for the Okal Rel Universe. My love affair with computers, and particularly artificial intelligence, led to the creation of arbiters. I believe we’d be foolish to build AIs that share our motivations. My fondness for period romances by authors like Jane Austen explain the Demish Sevolites, while their love of epic poetry comes from my father reading me classics of from a young age.
When you aren’t writing, what do you do for fun?
I read. I walk. I like visiting with close friends and family. I produce anthologies of stories set in the Okal Rel Universe, written by other people game to help me fill in the blanks. In the right circumstances, I can thoroughly enjoy a long binge of science fiction or fantasy movies or TV series. Dr. Who was my most recent addiction. I enjoy technology and pioneered in the early days of the internet, founding a FreeNet and doing lots of hands-on work in e-learning. I still like technology, but so much of what’s new is about marketing or monitoring breakthroughs, not the open-ended creativity of the early web. I find myself reading and listening to books more, these days. Tweets are powerful, but I like the sustained thread of thought in books better, for fun and relaxation.
Where can people find you on the web?
My main website is http://www.okalrel.org which needs a major overhaul. It is so 1990s. A friend and Okal Rel fan who teaches web development is going to challenge his class to come up with a new plan for it. My publisher lists my titles at http://www.edgewebsite.com and they can also be found on http://www.amazon.com or ordered from your favourite book store. Sometimes the chains have in a copy of the most recent title, which is currently Avim’s Oath, part 6 of the series. I believe each book can be read alone, but the experience is enriched considerably by reading the whole thing, naturally. Some readers have called it a total immersion experience, reading the series from one end to the other. For a peek behind the scenes, historically, and an example of the ORU in the “story dramatizing philosophy” mode, check out “Making History” at http://futurefire.net/2006.05/fiction/makinghistory.html ; and for a touch of Okal Rel romance, mingled with the message “fly for your own reasons” intended for myself and fellow writers who can feel thoroughly “dunked” by the writing Sevolites out there, see “Going Back Out” at http://okalrel.org/saga/stories/backout.html There is also an Okal Rel Universe Group on facebook, and some videos on youtube.
What are you working on now?
Opus 5 is my current project. This is the fifth anthology of stories set in the Okal Rel Universe, published by Absolute Xpress, a print-on-demand imprint of my main publisher. Part 7 of the main saga, called Healer’s Sword, is due out in September 2011. I’m half way through the first draft of Part 10: Unholy Science. Books 8 and 9 are complete in first draft.
Anything else you would like to add?
I’m pleased to announce the recent release of the second novella in an Okal Rel Legacies series by Krysia Anderson. Krysia’s first novella was called “Misfit Leaves Home” and her second one is “Misfit on Gelion”. Gelion is the home world of the Sevolite empire. Krysia is a friend of my daughter, Angela Lott, and has been listening to tales of the Okal Rel Universe for years. She likes the irreverent, bad boy character of Eler Nersal, the “Nersallian Shakespeare” (which is a problem for Eler because Nersallians are not supposed to be into literature). So she has her character, Victoria, meet the young Eler in her second novella. The cover art is up at http://absolute-x-press.com/misfit-on-gelion/ and the title should be available from Amazon.com soon. You can browse all the Okal Rel Legacies titles at http://absolute-x-press.com/our-books/ and the list of saga titles at http://www.okalrel.org/books.html