The latest author to accept my request for an interview is none other than Sam Sykes, debut author of Tome of the Undergates which I read and loved (review here). At just twenty-five, he is looking to be one of the future voices of the genre: he's funny, he sure can write action and thorough characters - let's just say he's got talent. It is an absolute joy to have had him answer some of my questions, not to mention he accepted without having me promising to worship him! Click-through or scroll down for the Q&A filled with Sam's characteristic wit. Enjoy!
Sam Sykes: I just had a chicken sandwich. It was delicious.
LBR: Its quite rare to be a published author at twenty-five. What is it like?
SS: It’s sort of like eating a very exotic dish and enjoying it quite a bit and then someone leans over, tugs your sleeve and tells you that what you’re eating was chopped off of some poor fellow who likely really misses it.
I mean, it’s good, for the most part. Mark Charan Newton once said it was a mistake to tell someone your age when going into publishing and he might have been right. I occasionally see written of me: “Sam Sykes is a twenty-five year old author,” and the way it’s phrased, one can almost see where the author deleted “and who does he think he is, pulling that?” At the same time, I can’t very well hide the fact and go around pretending I’m eighty-five. Not after what happened last time.
Some people love the fact that I’m young and that’s great. Some people hate the fact that I’m young and that’s fine, too. Of the many things in this particular business I can’t afford to care about, what people think of my age is right up there.
Except for one seventeen year old kid who, upon meeting me, told me he’s going to be published at twenty-four and that I could suck on that. That kid is my favorite person in the world right now.
LBR: What was your main goal when you began to write Tome of the Undergates? How did it evolve over time?
SS: Originally, I wanted to tell a story. That basically remained the same, it just became a matter of telling the story of different people than I originally wanted to. I had hoped, starting out, to tell a story of adventure with good, decent, god-fearing adventurers. But that didn’t quite make any sense to me. I mean, who in the business of murdering and stealing would be like that?
So it became a story about broken people living in hard times trying to do stuff that isn’t favorably looked-upon. I quite like that one.
LBR: One of your book’s strongest point, in my opinion, is its characterization. How did you go about creating such a vivid cast of characters?
SS: Characters speak. Sometimes quite loudly. From what I knew about them, their characters just sort of came out. They needed reasons to do what they did and those just sort of manifested themselves in time. With every action I had them do, it either made sense or it didn’t. If it didn’t, it was usually clear what they had to do so that it would.
Granted, that might sound like a bit of an underwhelming answer, but that’s basically how characterization works. They have their pasts, their have their relationships that shape their motives. Motive shapes everything they do.
LBR: There is much self-doubt among your characters and searching for their place in the world. What drove you to include such a theme in your book?
SS: Well, self-doubt is as natural to a person as being bipedal is. In our safe and dirty little world, we feel it all the time in our relationships, our duties and our experiences. Why should it be different for people who are routinely put in life-threatening situations? Why wouldn’t they feel it all the more keenly?
“Do they love me,” “is anyone listening,” “are they lying” and “what am I doing here” are four of the five most frequently asked questions. The most frequent being “what now?” Seem like pretty solid motives to me.
LBR: I mentioned it in my review, Tome of the Undergates is filled with humor - how easily does it come to you and/or what do you do to make it work?
SS: It works the same way any other humor works, I suppose: I don’t know. Personally, I found a lot of the stuff in there funny. That’s pretty much all I can do. From there, it’s in the hands of the reader.
Like books, not all jokes are for all people. Usually, they find it pretty funny. Sometimes, they don’t get it or don’t think it’s funny. And sometimes they get really upset that you think farting is hilarious (it is, objective fact).
LBR: You’ve been compared numerous times to other authors such as Joe Abercrombie and the like. What is that like? Do you feel the comparisons are justified?
SS: I’m about half a foot taller than Joe, so not really.
LBR: Tome of the Undergates is the first in the Aeons’ Gate series and the sequel already has a title, Black Halo. What can you tell us about the sequel? Any other projects in the works?
SS: Black Halo is basically what happens when the companions’ secrets get too big to hold onto. Fresh from retrieving the Tome of the Undergates, they find themselves shipwrecked on an ancient battlefield between the corrupted servants of the gods and the mortals they oppressed for so long.
The tensions between them have grown fiercer, threatening to collapse on top of them. As their own secrets and pasts return to haunt them, they are forced to make a decision: everything they’ve ever been told is right…or each other.
If that doesn’t titillate you, there’s also a flame-throwing Librarian, tattooed lizardmen, berserker purple-skinned females, awkward romances and a villain inspired by crossbreeding David Bowie and Charles Darwin.
Beyond that? Time to get balls-deep in book three, baby.
LBR: The US release of Tome of the Undergates is near, what are your feelings on getting your book published in your own country?
SS: It’s nice. Now I won’t be called Benedict Sykes anymore.
LBR: You post regularly on your blog, even sparking the occasional discussion. How important is it for you to keep such an outlet going?
SS: For my career? Very good.
For me? Critical. This might be just me or it might be a lot of authors, but spending too much time in my own head can be pretty deadly. It’s a dark, moist place and there’s some kind of fungus growing in the corner. More often than not, I just have to vomit the contents of my skull out on the internet or find myself going berserk.
Originally, it started as just a means of announcing stuff related to the books. I still do that, but I’m coming to find I have a lot of fun using it to stretch my brain out through various discussions or writing exercises, such as my Denise Asspuncher story (coming March 2011 courtesy of Gollancz).
LBR: Lastly, I leave this space to you for unrestrained self-promotion.
SS: In my book, self-determination and fatalism are concepts seated beside ripping off someone’s lower jaw and whacking people with a book as a form of courtship.
If that tickles your fancy, give Tome of the Undergates a shot.
LBR: Thank you for your time and your responses. Any parting words?
SS: Out of chicken. Depressing.
Sam Sykes' Website: http://www.samsykes.com/