Science fiction author reflects on career, pandemic’s impact on fiction

For about a year, Drew Williams was doing what many authors do following a book launch: going on tour, doing book signings, living in hotel rooms and meeting fans of his work.

Then, as he put it, someone flipped the light switch.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The third and final book in his science fiction space opera “The Universe After” trilogy, titled, “The Firmament of Flame,” was released in February 2020.

A month later, Williams, who grew up working at The Little Professor bookstore in Homewood and now lives in Hoover, went from book tours to “lots of sitting at home being terrified the world was going to come apart in ways we still don’t understand.”

Williams is the author of three novels, each set in a fictional universe. The first, “The Stars Now Unclaimed,” was released in August 2018, and the two sequels were published in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Being so prolific in such a short amount of time was made easier by the work leading up to the first novel, Williams said. There were about three years of “run-up” work for the second and third novels before the first book hit shelves, he said.

Writing a second novel is “interesting,” Williams said. “It’s a lot like your favorite TV show.”

With key characters established in the first novel, the later novels can dive into why they do what they do, going deeper into the universe. Williams said he was pleased with how the trilogy turned out and said the responses and reviews to his novels by him were great.

“It’s just absurdly gratifying being told that this thing you created is good,” Williams said. “That never gets old.”

Williams previously described the plot of the first novel as “space opera meets post-apocalyptic world.”

The plot centers around the main character, Jane Kamali, and her mission to save children given special powers by a catastrophe that caused some worlds to lose their technology, throwing the galactic order into chaos. Kamali sets off to save the children and reverse the disaster while being chased by villains.

Following that book, the second novel changes perspective, with a younger character from the first book taking the lead role. The third novel is split between the two character’s perspectives, Williams said.

Williams is still working on various projects, he said.

“It’s an impulse, I guess you’d say,” Williams said. “I’m constantly telling stories in my head.”

The act of writing is a “question of harnessing that,” he said.

Going on book tours and hosting signings was different for Williams, who admitted he is not inherently outgoing or gregarious.

“You have to build up your capacity to talk,” he said.

During the pandemic, Williams spent time writing and said dealing with the stressors of living in such an uneasy time impacted his writing. He said literature will have a key part to play in moving forward from the pandemic.

“I think it will be absolutely fascinating to see how the pandemic is viewed through the prism of fiction,” Williams said. “We’re all going to process it in ways that aren’t necessarily literal.”

For example, Williams said if an author feels powerless, as many felt during the pandemic, they are more likely to write a character who also feels that way. The emotions felt during the pandemic are brought to the forefront in an author’s work, he said.

Being picked up by Tor Books, one of the biggest names in science fiction, was a “big surprise,” Williams said. He was also able to find an agent very quickly, which helped.

Experiencing success as an author has been “as fantastic as you’d imagine it would be,” Williams said. “Everyone’s been lovely.”


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