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Interview with Sidney Williams

He writes mystery, thriller, and speculative fiction. He has developed a body of work that includes traditionally published novels and new works from Crossroad Press plus short stories for various magazines and anthologies. Sidney also teaches creative writing, specializing in horror, mystery, and suspense, plus short fiction and contemporary fiction.

Sidney’s stories have appeared in publications including Cemetery Dance, Hot Blood: Deadly After Dark, Under the Fang, Quoth the Raven and Love Among the Thorns, Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse, and the extreme horror anthology Deranged.

Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself not many people know?
It’s not a huge secret. I post occasional pics on Instagram, but I am a bird watcher to the extent that the CornellLabs Merlin bird app allows. I lived in Florida for several years, so it wasn’t unusual to have hawks, sandhill cranes, Muscovy ducks, and congregations of ibises on hand when I took morning walks. At the beach, which wasn’t too far from my home, I’d find many other species soaring. I live in Virginia now, so I’m always getting new surprises, goldfinches, bluebirds, Canada geese, ospreys robins. I keep a “birds seen” spreadsheet with GPS coordinates. I learned to do that in a continuing education class on birding once.

Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?
I’m at work on a new thriller now. I’m about 30,000 words into what will probably be a 70,000-word novel. I hope to finish it fairly soon, so sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future, the release date will be determined. It’s the follow-up to Fool’s Run, and it’s called Long Waltz and Pits my protagonist Si Reardon against a different set of powerful men. I’m also working on a novelette that features Si. It will probably stand between Fool’s Run and Long Waltz. I may just give it away free on my website to people interested in the novels.

Q.3 What made you write Fool’s Run: A Si Reardon novel?
Looking back to the absolute genesis of the book, it began when I had just started teaching in a creative writing program. I was feeling new creative energy after leaving a corporate communications job. The story began as a New Orleans-set tale featuring a comic book character of mine.

A huge twist developed as I outlined, and it soon became apparent the story wanted to be something else and wanted for a different character. Silas Reardon proved to be that character, a man deeply in need of redemption. He’s a guy who, in temperament, probably should never have been a policeman, but he was, and going along with a partner’s retaliation landed him in prison. When the story begins, he’s out and unable to find a job. The only job around is a dirty one, a terrible one, but he has to take it because he’s estranged from a daughter who needs him.

He’s soon involved in an investigation and an even more dangerous game with a mighty man, a gritty, crime-focused maze, and the minotaur situation.

Q.4 Were there any obstacles you faced while writing your books?
I think time is the biggest obstacle. That has to be balanced with determination. I worked early on as a newspaper reporter, which left me exhausted at the end of each day. I realized quickly that it would be elementary to give up on writing other than at that day job, but I found a way to make things work, rest after work, begin writing after a couple of hours, and build up the word and page count until something’s finished. I worked from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the paper, so I began writing at midnight and wrote until 2 a.m. or so. I edited before work the next morning, starting about 11 a.m. I managed to write my first novel during that time and then several more. I amended that approach when my lifestyle changed with new jobs, but I always worked to build writing time. Happily, now the balance is a little easier.

Q.5 What’s the most challenging part about writing a thriller as opposed to any other genre?
You don’t want things to lag, yet you don’t want it to be all action--that can get boring too. You have to find a character that interests you and make the story about that protagonist’s struggle and journey. That’s really how each story becomes unique. Devising exciting scenes is essential and challenging, but that’s a fun challenge.

Q.6 Why should other writers want to write a thriller?
It’s a roller coaster ride in the writer’s chair. I outline, but it can still be exciting to see how things will turn out for a character. Once you begin writing an exciting sequence, things sometimes go in their own direction. There’s a certain vicarious experience to it. It’s interesting to see how characters are going to work their way out of grim situations.

Q.7 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I think really it’s the same challenge as writing any character. You want to make the character’s experience authentic. It’s hard to know all aspects of another’s world, but I draw on my wife’s experiences, and I observe the world with her at times to understand a feminine perspective. I draw on friends.

My dad worked long days, so in many ways, I was reared by my mother and grandmother. I have a lot of that perspective as well.

With my wife, I see her challenges in the day-to-day world. She and a lot of friends helped shape Allison Rose, the protagonist of my novel Dark Hours. Speaking of seeing how things might turn out, I backed Allison into some corners and asked my wife what she’d do, facing the same situation. That really helped make Allison resourceful.

Q.8 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I used to write instinctively and by intuition. I developed a sense of a story by reading a great deal as a kid, and that went into the development of my novels. I’ve become more aware of paradigms, especially as the writing world has focused on monomyth. I can look back at books I wrote before I ever heard about the Writer’s Journey and realize I had elements from it in play, however.

I believe that’s because people told stories before they were dissected and the parts labeled in paradigms. Storytellers took note of what audiences responded to, and those helped shape narrative as we know it. I tend to avail myself of the expectations of plot structure, do a basic outline, and then strike out with that outline as the map, working my way to the destination at the end of the story.

Q.9 How do you select the name of your characters?
For a detective hero like Si, I wanted a sort of a tough name, and Reardon provided the requisite hard consonants. Si is not an iron man, though. I wanted something that softened him a bit, suggesting his introspective core.

Silas seemed like a good match with that solid last name, and Si was a natural shortening. I often delve into name meanings when hanging a moniker on a character, checking the mythic or societal origins of names. I take sounds into account as well, and I go for the unusual at times. I have a very ordinary last name with Williams, I suppose, so I delve a little deeper in crafting fictional names.

Q.10 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
That count came up recently, and I had to think for a moment. It used to be a solid eight. I wrote five novels for adults early in my writing life than three young adult novels under Michael August. I’ve written four new ones for Crossroad Press under a couple of imprints, and they issued a collection of my short stories. Since thirteen is unlucky, we can throw in a YA graphic novel I wrote and arrive at 14.

My favorite at the moment is Fool’s Run because it’s new and people seem to like it. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This thriller-cum-caper will keep readers eagerly turning the pages.” If you ask me at different times, I have different answers. My opinion changes. Blood Hunter is probably the favorite of my early books, a hard-edged horror thriller set in Louisiana. My favorite of my YAs is The Gift. It’s a subtle, building horror thriller. That comes kind of in retrospect. It wasn’t my favorite as I was writing it.

Q.11 Outside of your family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author?
Well, I’ve had teachers that were probably the most supportive folks outside of the family. My undergraduate English program had my back early on. It’s a lonely business slash craft. You really have to rely on yourself. I had great professors at my grad school and one exception, a professor who broke the internet a few years ago. The less said about him, the better.

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I believe times of writing difficulty or low creativity can occur, but I don’t think writers can afford to really call that writer’s block or sit frozen when that occurs. It’s good to have prompts to stimulate creativity on hand and be in your writing space at a designated writing time. If the words aren’t flowing, tweak an outline or polish some passages. Get some kind of writing work done. The darkness will pass.

Q.13 What were the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?
Wow, I’m always discovering new things plus filing things away as possible ideas. I guess not long ago, I learned of a lost and almost forgotten town at the heart of a national park. That was kind of fascinating.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
I try to have a Mumm-Ra figure on my desk. The character is from Thundercats, but it’s really just become a creepy figure to spur on my efforts. I like coffee when writing or maybe chai, but most writers like beverages. Doesn’t hurt to have my cat Zoë Moonshadow close. She’s a Russian Blue, and she’s very calming if demanding.

Q.15 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
If I gave up writing and other creative endeavors, even editing comic-book scripts for people on Fiverr, I think I’d do more hiking and wander a bit, looking for lost towns in forgotten places. Or what was it Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, “walk the Earth?”

Q.16 What three things should readers expect from your books?
Characters thrown into strange situations or stumbling and struggling to the right themselves among dark events and other strangeness. I strive to offer authentic characters surrounded by quirky figures, as quirky and diverse as those in the real world. I hope each book is a little different and takes the reader to a different place emotionally.

Q.17 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Focus on craft, strive to be as good as you can before you put something into the stream, and focus on always improving. Read as much as you can. That’s not original with me, but it builds your creative knowledge and intuition. Make the time to write and think of anything else as an interruption. Write and put things out there. There’s a quote attributed to H. Jackson Brown, “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose William Shakespeare. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I tend to believe Shakespeare was the Stratford Man, but there’s much about him we don’t know. It might be interesting to find out. Otherwise, maybe Judge Crater to ask, “Joe, where you’d get away to?”

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury. It’s a perfect, poetic, dark fantasy. The grim, mythic figures at the heart of Cooger And Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show are eerie and universal

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I knew I wanted to write at a very young age. I liked stories very early on, and my grandmother read a great deal to me. Family stories hold that some books were read to me so many times that I memorized them. I began writing as soon as I could formulate words on paper. I remember being struck as a child by the realization that people in old movies had passed away, and yet they were alive before me. That planted the notion of leaving something behind, so I’ve worked to do that. Today I’m fortunate enough to be able to focus on setting down some good tales and sending them out into the world.

I may have started my writing life too early. I worked as a newspaper reporter and wanted to work my way out of that. I did, but it took a while. If I did it over, I might spend more time honing my craft first, building my worldview, but who knows what the results would have been? I’ve had a very interesting and varied writing life. I have friends all over the world because of it, and I have a body of work that’s still growing. What else can you really ask for?

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  1. Really good interview. I learned a couple of new things. Something wicked this way comes is surely a masterpiece.

  2. Nice interview!