Author interview 138 – Sidney Williams


Sidney Williams

United States

Age 58

Sidney Williams is the author of numerous books, comics, short stories and more. He also teaches creative writing and works as a freelance comics editor.
Look for more at SidisAlive.com
Fool’s Run is a thriller featuring Si Reardon, an ex-cop who’s fresh out of prison and forced into a dirty job pitting him against a violent New Orleans criminal. It’s an investigation that quickly turns into a deadly caper and a battle for survival.

Romelia:   WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE AN ACTIVIST, AND WHAT KIND?

Sidney Williams:   Allison Rose, the protagonist of Dark Hours is a bit of a crusader, so I think she’d take home that “most likely” trophy easily. Allison is a journalism/new media major at her school because she’s driven and wants to highlight matters that concern her. Her inclination in the book is related to student safety, but I think Allison would be pretty quick to champion any cause that involves an injustice. She’d be relentless in her pursuits because she can’t help herself. She commits totally.

Romelia:   DO YOU PLAY MUSIC WHILE YOU WRITE – AND, IF SO, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE?

Sidney Williams:   I tend to write in silence these days. Early on I did play music, and the album Tyger by Tangerine Dream was a favorite. It’s instrumental with some spoken word and some singing. It set the right mood for what I was doing, when I was doing it. I wrote in the wee hours early on because I worked a 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift as a reporter. The album incorporates poems by William Blake and has a sometimes mournful sometimes vibrant tone.

Romelia:   HAVE PETS EVER GOTTEN IN THE WAY OF YOUR WRITING?

Sidney Williams:   Well, I have had cats that liked to slide onto my laptop, body-blocking my efforts to type. Particularly a tabby named Daisy liked to insinuate herself into my process. I’d sometimes find cryptic messages typed by her walks across keyboard. When monitors were larger, she used to lie on top of my monitor as I worked, though she didn’t really interfere by doing that. She hated it when I got a flat panel monitor. Oliver Littlechap, a very good natured ginger, would sit on my lap and force me to place my laptop above him. I have a Russian Blue now named Zoë Moonshadow. She doesn’t climb onto my lap while I’m at my desk, but she will sit on the floor and expect notice. Or she’ll pop up and grab my hand while I’m reaching for the keyboard. I think the inspiration and solace cats offer mitigate any interference, though.  

Romelia:   IF YOUR BOOK WERE MADE INTO A MOVIE, WHICH ACTORS WOULD PLAY YOUR CHARACTERS?

Sidney Williams:   If things went big, and I supposed they’d have to for Disciples of the Serpent, Charlize Theron would be great for Aileen O’Donnol, the Irish Garda officer who’s one of the leads. Amy Adams might not be bad as Aileen or Jennifer Lawrence. Aileen is tough, and she is also a bit fatalistic. That in turn makes her a little incautious. Her father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by the random path of a bullet that struck him in spite of body armor. Aileen will do what’s needed to triumph in a given situation. Any of the actresses mentioned could capture her nature and physicality, I believe. Hollywood hasn’t called about that book series, though. The called about my young adult novels once, or one producer did. He saw a potential franchise, but the financing he was hoping for didn’t come through.

Romelia:   HAVE YOU EVER KILLED OFF A CHARACTER YOUR READERS LOVED?

Sidney Williams:   I think it’s in Danse Macabre that Stephen King, in respecting Ed McBain, noted McBain would occasionally do something like kill a significant character, someone like detective Bert Kling’s bride, “just to let you know we’re playing hard ball.” I had that attitude in a novel I wrote called Gnelfs, a tale of dark creatures from a cartoon series coming to life. They were half gnome and half elf and they terrorized a young mother and her child. A character who might have been a secondary protagonist bought it somewhere around the midpoint. That shocked a lot of readers, and I heard from some about the surprise.

The book was entered into a contest after publication, and the novel category was judged by children’s author. She went kind of ballistic in her notes about the character dying and the final, final ending of the book as well. I got the impression she was not really versed in horror and dark fantasy. She didn’t understand a final horror twist, I suppose. I guess she hated it when Michael Myers vacated the spot where he landed at the end of Halloween.  

Romelia:   WHAT IS THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT WRITING?

Sidney Williams:   Think of your work in progress as “wrestling with an angel.” It can be difficult, but you’re ultimately working toward producing something positive. Stick with it.

Romelia:   WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST WAY TO IMPROVE WRITING SKILLS?

Sidney Williams:   Writing constantly and reading constantly. I think as we read, we observe and we kind of internalize narrative elements and style. Reading is fuel for writing. It energizes. I get kind of infuriated when I read manuscripts, and I see signs the writer isn’t a reader. You’ve got to put the work in.

Romelia:   WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO HELP OTHERS CREATE PLOTLINES?

Sidney Williams:   Take note of what you respond to and observe the elements of a satisfying story. If you’re reading, as I mentioned, you’re also cataloging meaningful plotting styles and the emotion woven into a plot as well. You should be so well read that when you read a writing manual that provides a label for something like “meeting with the mentor,” you know exactly what’s being talked about.

Romelia:   WHAT HAS HELPED OR HINDERED YOU MOST WHEN WRITING A BOOK?

Sidney Williams:   What’s helped is persistence and finding time to write every day regardless of everything else. Life can be a hindrance if you let it. As mentioned, I was a reporter early in my writing life, and I got a big news assignment, a murder trial, just as I was receiving notes and a deadline for revision back from the editor at Pinnacle Books.

Fortunately the assignment was far enough in the future that I took vacation time and got the work done. I didn’t get to go on a trip that year, but happily the novel came to be. Keeping the goal in mind helps when things are competing for the writer’s attention.

Romelia:   DOES WRITING ENERGIZE OR EXHAUST YOU? OR BOTH?

Sidney Williams:   I can find myself physically tired after a session at the keyboard, from sitting in the chair, but I’m energized otherwise, especially if the words flow well. Having a finished product is energizing as well. If it’s not energizing, it’s because I’m working my way through a problem, figuring out what happens next. Once things become clear, it’s energizing again.

Romelia:   WHAT IS THE BEST MONEY YOU’VE EVER SPENT WITH REGARD TO YOUR WRITING?

Sidney Williams:   Oh, subscribing to Writer’s Digest as a young person, I suppose. I got a free sample copy after reading the offer in 1001 Free Things and then subscribed and read it carefully for a number of years. Lawrence Block was writing his fiction column in those days, and I found a lot of great advice. I gained an understanding of the publishing process and found my first agent via Writer’s Market and learned a great deal about craft along the way.

Romelia:   WHAT ARE COMMON TRAPS FOR NEW AUTHORS?

Sidney Williams:   Putting off getting words on the page. Writing calls for commitment and discipline. Just write.

Romelia:   HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WRITE?

Sidney Williams:   Several hours in the morning. I’m fortunate these days. I teach some writing courses for a university. If I have a course during a term, I write in the morning for three hours or so and then tackle classwork in the afternoon. When I don’t have a class, I write more in the afternoon or write and edit if I’m tapped out. I write a bit very early as well, just after waking up and having coffee. Coffee’s part of my process. I’m smiling as I say that, but it’s true to some degree. 

Romelia:   WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BLOGS OR WEBSITES FOR WRITERS?

Sidney Williams:   Writer’s Digest offers useful articles. She Writes, shewrites.com is a great site. Joe Bunting’s The Write Practice is helpful.

Romelia:   AT WHAT TIME OF THE DAY DO YOU DO MOST OF YOUR WRITING?

Sidney Williams:   Morning. I used to be a late-night writer when I was young, but after I married my schedule shifted a bit. I learned I was much more creative at the beginning of the day and worked really hard to adjust accordingly.

Romelia:   HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH CHARACTER NAMES FOR YOUR STORIES?

Sidney Williams:   I study name meanings and look for something with a bit of weight, and I also research regional and national surnames to make sure names fit. I’m from Louisiana originally. If you look at an Anne Rice book, you recognize Louisiana surnames. I think it’s good to have that kind of authenticity.

We’re a very mobile society, but there are names that are true to time and place, and I work to have a bit of that in my work.

I choose first names with care as well. Someone in a review said my villain in my novel Fool’s Run had a female name, but Valentine was chosen carefully as a first name for Valentine Alexeeva, who’s a very bad man.

Romelia:   DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN WRITING CHALLENGES ON SOCIAL MEDIA? DO YOU RECOMMEND ANY?

Sidney Williams:   Not frequently, but then I often do things when they strike my fancy. I entered a piece of fiction in a flash competition a while back just because I had dashed it off when inspiration struck, and I saw the entry details. I usually stay busy anyway, but challenges and competitions can be a great way to help compel a writer to put words on the page. Really anything that makes that happen is good.

Romelia:   IF YOU HAD THE POWER TO CURE A DISEASE OF YOUR CHOOSING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Sidney Williams:   Wow, there are many that it would be nice to eradicate. Cancer affected my father’s life, and it’s caused a lot of misery. Asked that in this moment though, I have to say I’d get rid of COVID-19 because its impact has been so massive and immediate, and it is continuing to cause suffering around the world even with vaccines starting to show results. It’s been politicized and misunderstood. If I could make it go away completely, that’s the way I’d wave the wand.

Romelia:   WHEN YOU’RE WRITING AN EMOTIONAL OR DIFFICULT SCENE, HOW DO YOU SET THE MOOD?

Sidney Williams:   I think it’s always good to remember what a character wants and to remember who a character is at the core and then craft the scene accordingly. I was writing a scene with Si Reardon, the hero of Fool’s Run. In Long Waltz, the next novel in which he’ll appear, he comes to a critical life moment. I was working on that scene the other day, knowing it was a moment he’d be on edge and emotional, but I reminded myself of who he is and that’s he’s learned from the consequences of acting impulsively. That shaped his decisions and contributed to the scene.

Romelia:   WHOM DO YOU TRUST FOR OBJECTIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM OF YOUR WORK?

Sidney Williams:   I call on a couple of people I’ve known for some time and who have professional credits and insights. I was in a writer’s group for a while that was helpful. We were all comfortable enough to share negative thoughts while expressing appreciation for the strengths of a work as well. It was really not emotional, which was great. I found it easy to hear negatives as actionable goals. That group split up but maintained a work-swap agreement with one member who has a strong sense of narrative structure, and I have a teaching colleague I can call on for assessment of short pieces. He’s been very generous in looking at things. It’s good to know if you’re on the right track or if things are lagging or how a character’s working.

Romelia:   WHAT BOOKS DO YOU ENJOY READING?

Sidney Williams:   I love a wide range of works. I read a lot of genres. I enjoy mysteries quite a bit and contemporary thrillers in the Gone Girl realm. I’m reading one now called The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan. I also love short story collections. I like Harlan Ellison and Charles L. Grant. I really enjoy the short story form, and I read the digest magazines as much as time allows. I enjoy horror, urban fantasy, really the gamut.

Romelia:   ARE THERE ANY BOOKS OR AUTHORS THAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?

Sidney Williams:   Ray Bradbury caught my imagination early, particularly The Illustrated Man collection and later Something Wicked This Way Comes. My dad read me Edgar Rice Burroughs comics when I was a kid, and that led me to the Tarzan and Mars novels.  Poe caught my attention when my dad read stories from a Whitman collection of his tales. I wrote an updating of “A Cask of Amontillado” for a collection called Quoth the Raven a couple of years back. I loved Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald when I was a teen. There are many, many writers really.

Romelia:   NAME AN UNDERAPPRECIATED NOVEL THAT YOU LOVE.

Sidney Williams:   The Holy Terror by my friend Wayne Allen Sallee has garnered some respect over the years, but it’s not talked about as much these days. It’s a great, intelligent thriller that really has a powerful pulse.

Romelia:   TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY FROM YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Sidney Williams:   Wow, life’s a seriocomic tale in general, and we’ve already talked about Zoë Moonshadow, though I guess it is kind of funny that she wakes me by pressing her head against mine 45-minutes before the alarm clock. Once my wife and I are awake and drinking coffee, she curls up at the foot of the be and goes to sleep. I don’t know if she sees her work as done or if it’s a game. If it is a game, she wrote the rules and is winning.

Romelia:   DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN A FEW SENTENCES. TELL US SOMETHING WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND SOMETHING YOU HATE ABOUT THE WORLD.

Sidney Williams:   I’m 6’1” and don’t worry about my hair as much as I did when I was in high school. I live with my wife and cat, write, teach creative writing and edit comics from time to time for new writers. I guess I am my own niche since my work is a bit eclectic. I keep plugging and striving to craft new and worthwhile fiction. I’ve been fortunate in life, and I try to keep busy.

I suppose it’s not widely known that I participate in Zoom role playing games with friends. We’ve spent the last several months thwarting cultists in Call of Cthulhu, playing one of the ultimate CoC modules. That’s Masks of Nyarlathotep, a 1920s, globe-trotting horror adventure.

I’m weary of the divided world we live in now. It’s insane. I’m beyond weary of dealing with people who’ve accepted an alternate reality.

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