Thursday, March 24, 2011

Author interview: Steven Sidor

It is a truly rare occasion when I will finish a book and immediately rush out and grab another by the same author. It's a quirk of my personality that I love change, in almost all things. So after reading a military-style thriller by, say, Stephen Leather, I'll plump for the artistry of French author Fred Vargas, and then toughen it up with something by Don Winslow.

But you remember my camping trip? I finished up THE MIRROR'S EDGE by Steven Sidor on that trip. And then, ignoring three books waiting on my nightstand, I went out and grabbed a copy of SKIN RIVER.

Steve's going to see this post so I feel stupid gushing. Read his books.

That's all I'll say.

And, as an added bonus to that recommendation, here's the man behind the pen, Steven Sidor (here's his website, and his blog is a link on my blogroll already):

  • Did you always want to be a writer, or did you come to it as an adult?

I decided I wanted to be a writer around age seven. I read no fiction at the time. Mostly I liked books about world disasters and strange trivia. The first things I wrote were one-act plays which my teachers let the class perform on Fridays. In truth, I stole my ideas from the old Carol Burnett show, except there were a lot more gunfights in my plays. I also performed magic at school talent shows, and I told scary stories to bullies so they wouldn’t beat me up – that’s the root of it all.

  • What is your writing schedule?

I’ve written all four of my novels late at night and on the weekends. I used to drink a pot of coffee around 9pm. That committed me because I was going to be wide awake one way or the other, so I might as well be writing. I’m a big believer in writing efficiently, but I need a good chunk of time, at least a two-hour bite. I can reread/edit myself in little bursts. I’m a stay-at-home dad so I’ve learned to improvise. Recently, my schedule changed. Both my kids are in school. I write in the mornings for a few hours, and then I go to the gym and lift weights. I come home, take a shower, and rewrite. Then I read.

I work in a basement office, on a desktop. It’s quite nice down there . . . carpeted, heated, warmly lit . . . and I have a great big desk a friend built for me. I face a blank wall. No windows. Distractions will undo me, so I eliminate them. I’ve had no TV access in my home for fifteen years. Seriously, if I had TV I would have no books with my name on them – I’ll watch anything, even test patterns.

  • Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre?

I freely blend genres in my writing these days. Thriller, mystery, horror, sci-fi – I think the most exciting genre writing is no longer purely in one field but a mix. I’ve never felt boxed-in by genre; to the contrary, I think you can do things in genre fiction that you can’t in mainstream or literary fiction.

  • You have a new novel coming out, PITCH DARK, tell us about it.

PITCH DARK is a supernatural thriller about a young woman on the run from a cult. She’s stolen something from them, and they’ll do anything to get it back. During a Christmas Eve blizzard, the woman holes up at a roadside motel on Minnesota’s northern border. The family that runs the motel has encountered unspeakable evil before, and now they’ll have to protect themselves and the rest of the world from an evil called The Pitch. It’s the most action-packed book I’ve written, and I hope readers will enjoy all the twists and surprises I built in.

  • How much energy do you put into the language aspect of your novels, the “art” so to speak?

I write relatively slowly. Two keeper pages per day is good for me. Five is a great day. I pay a lot of attention to language. The telling of a story is what appeals to me as a reader, so I focus on that as a writer. I don’t like flavorless writing. I want style. The style I prefer usually is pretty stripped-down and energetic. I hate padding. I don’t want to read somebody’s research. I’m easily bored as a reader, and nothing bores me more than pages of bland extraneous writing that should have been edited out. When it comes to editing my own work, I’m a cutter – a taker-outer. Less is more. When I go too far, then less is less and I have to put more ink on the page. I’m quick to give up on any book I’m reading if the writing gets lazy or bogs down. I hope to avoid those same mistakes when I write.

  • If you could offer just one piece of advice to aspiring novelists, what would it be?

Quit. Seriously, if you can quit then you should. Go get a hobby. Writing to publish is a thankless, painful, and heartbreaking enterprise. If you can get by without it, then take the out. Now, if you can’t live without it, then my advice would be different. Never quit. No matter what. Write every day. Read more.

  • Do you outline your novels?

I can’t outline a novel. I’ve tried. If I outline, then the story dies for me. I feel like I’ve already written it. I prepare for writing a novel by writing detailed character sketches. I also storyboard the plot. I take very small sticky notes and jot a word or two about scenes I want to appear in the book, and then I arrange them on a large black poster board that I keep next to my computer. As I progress, I rip down the notes for scenes I’ve written and I add new ones. Plotting is the hardest part of novel writing. Anything you can do to help, you should. I just can’t outline.

  • Do you recommend any specific "how-to" writing books for mystery/thriller writers?

I think every writer needs to find his or her own way. “How-to” books never helped me much. Many aspiring novelists think there’s some secret to writing a book, a magic formula. Sitting down and doing it is the only thing I know that works. The best book I ever read about writing is probably pretty hard to find these days, and the information in it might be a little dated. But Dean Koontz’s “How to Write Best Selling Fiction” taught me a lot of practical tips.

  • What do you think of the e-book debate - is the trend away from paper books good for authors, readers, publishers, anyone, everyone?

I’m terrible at predicting trends. Given that, it seems obvious to me that the future is digital. Books will go the way of LPs. Some folks will love them and collect them but most won’t. The younger generations will have little or no attachment to paper. Publishers will eventually catch up to readers, who at this point are ahead of the industry on the tech side, as they were with the music business. Storytelling will always find a way to reach people. I’ll try to do the same.

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