Author Spotlight: S.A. Sidor
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is S.A. Sidor!
SA Sidor writes supernatural historical adventures, including FURY FROM THE TOMB, out now from Angry Robot Books. He lives near Chicago with his family. He is also the author of four acclaimed dark crime thrillers.
Thanks for joining us today, S.A. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I really enjoyed Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian robot western set in the wasteland of the American Midwest. Humans are dead. But humanity (and inhumanity) lives on in our robot descendants. You really can tell the author is also a screenwriter (Sinister, Doctor Strange). Cargill’s pacing is excellent. Characters are clear and memorable. Blistering action. Crisp, and darkly humorous, dialogue. The narrative voice of Brittle the Caregiver bot turned hardened scavenger bot hooked me in and kept me reading. Excellent world-building. The future remains as decayed and violent as the present. Despite its lack of people, this novel has an abundance of soul. A meditation on, among many things, independence, guilt, and death. It thrilled me and made me think. Who can ask for more?
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I like to keep things simple if I can. I’d choose to be a barbarian wielding a greataxe. Rage is fine fuel, and it goes a long way when confronting monsters. Axes appeal to both the fantasy fan in me and the horror lover. Nothing feels quite like hitting something solid with an axe.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I work on a desktop facing a blank wall. I do everything I can to minimize distractions. I make it as un-stimulating as possible so I can get my imagination started to occupy my mind. I take notes in a little paper notebook or on any handy scrap when I get an idea. I edit on a laptop, loose in the world. But the heavy-lifting writing is done at a long red desk in the dark.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I write in silence or I listen to film scores if they create the right mood. I wrote Fury From the Tomb while listening to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores. They were a perfect fit. Over time just hearing them would trigger an immediate response in my brain where I would start visualizing the characters of my novel, a bit like hypnotism.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
When I start a novel I know the main characters, the general gist of the plot, and the ending. I never write an outline. I’ve tried it, but writing the outline makes me feel like I’ve written the book. The story’s told and now I’m bored with it. I prefer to sit down and improvise, building off what I wrote the day before. That keeps it fresh for me. About halfway through I write a chronology for what’s left. I do lots of rewriting, adding layers upon layers. I write at night when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep. My creative juices flow better after the sun goes down. I edit in the daytime.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
I’m inspired by pulpy genre movies and not the good kind either. If I can find a low-grade fantasy, sci-fi, or horror film, I will watch it. It calms me down. The mistakes inspire me, the failure. I like mash-ups. Fury From the Tomb started with me thinking “What if Sergio Leone directed a Hammer horror film?” I like films that are weird not because the filmmakers decided intentionally to make a weird movie but because they were actually weird.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I binge-watched Mindhunter. I’ve read John Douglas’s books. I have a passion for true crime, particularly books about BTK and the Zodiac killer. David Fincher captures the 1970s and how the culture was radically shifting. Serial killers are human monsters. I want to know what makes monsters tick. Decoding their fantasy lives is one way to understand them better. What kept me watching this series was the rapport between Holden, Tench, and Dr Carr.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
I sleep late. I remember my dreams, and they’re action-packed and surprisingly well-plotted. So when I sleep, it’s a ticket to the movies. But once I’m up I’d take a train into Chicago to visit museums and second-hand bookstores (I like ancient things, and dusty relics from the past). Brie and a baguette for lunch. Cup of Earl Grey, then city walking. Read my new (old) books on the train home. Take a sunset stroll in the woods. Grilled seafood for dinner. Then a monster movie and a martini, or two, while lounging on the couch with my wife and the cats.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Brackets. I don’t think I’ve ever used them. Feels too much like math.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
The family of a famous explorer and big game hunter offers a staggering reward for the head of a mythical beast that they claim attacked their father at a remote lodge in the Colorado Rockies. A team of investigators—an Egyptologist, a headstrong, brilliant millionairess, and a bounty-hunting sniper—accepts the challenge. Blizzards, icefalls, killer grizzly bears, mad trappers, cannibal cults, and a ghostly white buffalo await them, and so does a family who may have lost their minds and souls to the legendary Wendigo.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I would co-write a series with Tim Powers. He’s a literary hero of mine. We’ve never met or even talked. I don’t know how he does what he does. The way he weaves fantasy and history is utterly compelling. His books always feel on the edge of unravelling, yet he is in total control. They shouldn’t work, but they do. I would love the challenge. Plus, we seem to have common interests (the occult, time travel, body-swapping, legends, and history). The experience would be so much fun, I think.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful advice is to print your pages and read your work out loud. Bad prose really stands out when you hear it. So does clunky dialogue. If you can stand to hear yourself or someone else reading what you wrote, then it’s probably not half-bad. The least helpful advice is “Write what you know.” I’d change that to “Be honest.” Don’t try to fake strong emotions. Draw on your own life for reference.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I would visit Egypt in the late 1880s. Here was the beginning of modern archaeology. Of course, it was problematic, and tied to colonialism and exploitation. But it was also, for the first time, scientific. People began to think about time and connected themselves to human history in new ways. Archaeologists walked a fine line between being tomb raiders and preservationists. It’s a debate that is still going on. Who owns the past? It’s a good question.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Starting is usually the hard part. I force myself to stay in the chair and begin. If I can’t get going on my WIP then I’ll write a scene I want to write, usually from the same book, or sometimes I’ll start a short story about the same characters. Take a short break every hour. Finish the day on a high note. Quit before you lose momentum. Certain authors, like Margaret Atwood, always make we want to write. So if I’m stuck I’ll read her.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I like weird fiction in the Cthulhu Mythos more than I like reading H.P. Lovecraft. One of my favourite books in this vein is The Colour Out Of Time, a Lovecraftian pastiche by Michael Shea, written in 1984. I found a paperback copy in excellent condition at a used book store. It’s a sequel to Lovecraft’s The Colour Out Of Space. Part science fiction, part horror, set around a manmade New England lake. Shea’s prose style is high quality. The heroes are unique. The monster is truly an existential threat. I re-read this short, superb novel yearly.
Finally, would you be would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
If you’d like an ice cream cake made out of monsters and occultism with a side of wild pulp adventure and a dollop of guitar-playing ghouls, then check out SA Sidor’s work in the halls of the Institute for Singular Antiquities.
Brilliant stuff! Thanks so much for joining us, S.A!
S.A. Sidor is the author of Fury From the Tomb, out now from Angry Robot Books.