Early life and career
Robert Paul “Tad” Williams was born in San Jose, California on March 14, 1957. He grew up in Palo Alto, the town that grew up around Stanford University. He attended Palo Alto Senior High School. His family was close, and he and his brothers were always encouraged in their creativity. His mother gave him the nickname “Tad” after the young characters in Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo. The semi-autobiographical character Pogo Cashman, who appears in some of his stories, is a reference to the nickname.
Before becoming a full time fiction author Williams’s held many jobs including delivering newspapers, food service, shoe sales, branch manager of a financial institution, and drawing military manuals.
In his mid twenties, he turned to writing and submitted the manuscript of his novel Tailchaser's Song to DAW Books. To get his publishers to look at his first manuscript he spun a story about needing a replacement copy because his had been destroyed. It worked. DAW Books liked it and published it, beginning a long association that continues to this day. Williams continued working various jobs for a few more years, including three years from 1987 to 1990 as a technical writer at Apple Computer’s Knowledge Engineering Department, taking problem-solving field material from engineers and turning it into research articles (which led, in part, to the Otherland books), before making fiction writing his full-time career.
"The band was called 'Idiot' and I still regret that we fell apart just when we were all finally out of school and might have done something. There was a lot of creativity there, a lot of talent—several of the members are still professionally making music—but most of all, there was no one else like us. We were our own weird animal… We wrote songs about bowling and voles and luxury camper vans and the end of the world. We were a little ahead of our time. It was fun." Idiot’s band members—Andrew Lawrence Jackson, vocals and rhythm guitar; Rick Cuevas, lead and rhythm guitar; Tom Sanders, Bass; Patrick Coyne, drums; and Williams, vocals—held a Reunion Concert in 1997 that Williams commemorates in "IDIOT: A Brief History of a Band."
Radio and television
Williams worked for KFJC, a college radio station. As an occasional DJ and station music director, he played whatever music the community working at KFJC thought cool, weird and interesting from the late 1970s to 80s. KFJC— radio station—was a home to punk/new wave music, one of the first of its kind in California. From 1979 to 1990, Williams hosted a talk show called "One Step Beyond." His interests on the show were politics with an emphasis on the covert and clandestine.
"Valley Vision" was a TV series concept, a show about a local TV station. A pilot was shot featuring several people who would go on to become Bay Area acting alumni, including Greg Proops, Mike McShane, Joan Mankin, Marga Gomez and several members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
For ten years Williams worked in community and professional theatre in the college town of Palo Alto. He began at the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre then progressed to TheatreWorks, Palo Alto’s long-established professional theatre company. Williams acted and sang in many productions, as well as writing and working with make-up and wardrobe.
While at Apple, Williams developed an interest in interactive multi-media, and he and his colleague Andrew Harris created a company, Telemorphix, in order to produce it. The result was "M. Jack Steckel's 21st Century Vaudeville", which was broadcast on San Francisco Bay Area local TV in 1992 and 1993. People at the station and viewers were asked to provide images of themselves, which were then animated primarily at the mouth: viewers phoned in to the show and could then be these characters. The action was a mix of improvisational performance and storylines which Williams created (along with secondary, non-interactive characters.) M. Jack Steckel himself—the host—was played by Andrew Harris.