Interview: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams


williams-dirtyTad Williams is one of the most versatile writers working today.

He has written in a number of genres since he began with Tailchaser’s Song in 1985. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is one of the finest examples of the epic fantasy sub-genre, the trilogy catapulting Williams into genre reading lists everywhere. He’s then turned to the science fiction / fantasy blend of Otherland, merging a virtual reality machine with some of the best sell known worlds written. Numerous short stories round out his resume and his newest creation, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, sees Williams tackling the urban fantasy staple of our times.

Urban fantasy has had an impressive run as of late. Numerous bestsellers. Writers tackling the form eagerly and often. What could Williams possibly offer in a sub-genre so well visited?

He is Tad Williams, of course, a wordsmith possessing a great imagination. And he brings both to bear in The Dirty Streets of Heaven:

Here is a bit more about the new book:

Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.

You’ve never met an angel like Bobby Dollar. And you’ve never read anything like The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Brace yourself—the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed.

I decided to spend some time with Williams and ask him a few questions about the new book. Hope you enjoy!


speakman-shawnShawn Speakman: THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN is the first book in your new fantasy series. How would you categorize it in the pantheon of your work? Why should readers give it a try?

williams-tadTad Williams: The readers who already like my work will enjoy this because it’s fast, very energetic, and funny (at least I think so) but also has all the worldbuilding they enjoy and expect from me, including weird locations and a ton of really quirky characters. It also has a very strong love story, more so than some of my work. New readers, same reasons, but emphasizing that it’s fast and not terrifyingly long, and that you can read it without having to read more stories if you don’t want to (in other words, there’s some closure in this book, at least on the main mystery.)

SS: Bobby Dollar is a piece of work. Unlike any character we’ve seen from you before. From a writing point of view, how long did you live with Bobby before you began work on the book? Or did you find him as you wordsmithed your way through the book?

TW: Bobby is a lot like me, so in one sense I’ve been living with him a VERY long time. He’s a bit less cautious than me, and a bit more of a cynic about the world (but only a bit.) His voice was there right from the start (although sometimes I notice him starting to use words that are more long and Tadlike, and then I have to go back and let him find his own voice again.) He’s actually a lot of fun, because he has the same reactions most of us would have to these bizarre situations — in other words, even though he’s an otherworldly character, he’s pretty much just an ordinary guy who’d rather watch baseball and listen to music than have to fight for his life. But he’s not going to let anyone push him around, either. He’s very satisfying to write.

SS: You are a very well read writer, someone who embraces many disciplines. How much scholarly work did you have to do concerning religion, doctrine, angels, and the like?

TW: I’ve actually done as much research for this, if not more, than any project since the Otherland books, which I think will never be topped in my own work for research done. But not only am I trying to write crime, espionage, and fantasy all in one book, based on a mythology that virtually everybody in the world has thought about, namely what happens after we die, but I’ve also invented the city in which it all takes place, located where I grew up south of San Francisco in northern California, and I’ve had to research that all, too, so that the real history of the SF Bay Area threads in and out of the imaginary history of San Judas Tadeo, otherwise known as “Jude”. (I think anything that leans -noir- should be set in a main city, because the city itself is usually a character — witness Chandler’s LA or Hammett’s San Fran.)

SS: You’ve primarily written in third person. What made you switch to first person in DIRTY STREETS? I love the shift and how invested we become in Bobby.

TW: Part of it is just because this kind of story — noir-ish, crime, gritty, urban — felt like it needed a first-person narrator. Also, I wanted to make it move quickly, and one way to do that is to have only one focal point character, unlike most of my other work, so I can only describe what Bobby sees and knows. Last, I wanted to connect directly to the readers through the voice, and I’m glad to hear it helps the reader care about what happens to him.

SS: The reviews are pouring in already and readers love THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN. How is the sequel coming? Title? Release date?

TW: I’ve been very happy with the reviews. I hope some people who normally don’t read me, or don’t read fantasy — crime readers, for instance, and thriller-lovers — will try this. The sequel is called HAPPY HOUR IN HELL, and a very substantial portion of the book takes place in that unpleasant locale. I suspect it will be coming out same time as this one next year. Then the third, SLEEPING LATE ON JUDGEMENT DAY will be out the next year.

SS: Any wise words and/or snarky ass comments for those who expect no less from you?

TW: Spoiler for the third book: When Bobby gets to the top of the heavenly ladder and meets God, He turns out to be JR Ewing, and Bobby realizes he was in the shower the whole time and it was all a dream.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams is available now from your favorite bookseller!

Learn more about Tad and his work at!

Postscript: And yes, I added my picture to show Tad and I go to the same glorious barber.