“Words Too Big”: The Sam Sykes Story
Today we begin a new feature here at The Parking Lot Confessional: Guest Author/Interview Tuesdays!
To kick things off, we’ve interviewed the unpredictable Sam Sykes. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to Sam, you know he’s not one to mince words. Here he gives honest advice about writing, and shares from the struggles and triumphs he’s encountered in his own work.
PLC: Tell us about your path to publication.
SS: The path to publication wasn’t quite fraught with as many hardships as I understand it’s supposed to have. There’s always stories of drawers filled with rejection letters (I even talked to a guy who wallpapered his office in them). I didn’t go through that, mainly because I had a good agent who took me to publishers who were less likely to reject me and took the worst of the rejections for me. If I had any advice on that topic, I’d say just read your rejection letters (to see if they request anything else) and throw them away. It’s hard to stay motivated if you keep trophies to your setbacks.
PLC: Even though your journey wasn’t as difficult as others’ do you have any advice on getting an agent?
SS: My best advice is to go where agents go. Writer’s Conferences are fantastic (The Surrey Writer’s Conference, coming up in October, especially so) but I realize there might not be a lot of those around where you live.
Sadly, submissions to agents are about the best you can do. Just be certain to research your agents first. There are those that only do YA, those that only do mysteries, and so forth. If you start sending out your political thriller to romance agents, you’re bound to be disappointed. Just remember to be kind and courteous, as agents may refer you to someone else if they think you’re good but it’s just not for them.
PLC: What is the best writing advice you ever received?
SS: The best writing advice I ever received was something of an epiphany while I was talking to my friend, Mark Charan Newton. We were discussing what the proper response is to those people who dislike one’s work because it’s new and frightening. Mark suggested that we couldn’t let audiences dictate what we write, otherwise we’re not writing it and no one’s going to like it.
“So, basically,” I said, “we say ‘fuck you, I’ll write what I want?’”
“Of course,” he replied, “that should always be at the heart of everything we do.”
PLC: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
SS: I basically knew I was going to be an author when I first started college. I was originally in Hotel and Restaurant Management, though I can’t remember why. Alcohol was probably involved. Anyway, as part of an assignment, I wrote a fair and eloquent review of a local restaurant and received an “F” on it. In bright red letters across the top of the page: “Words too big.”
It’s not quite easy to turn off big words if you’re accustomed to them. And frankly, if I did turn them off, I feared I would be setting foot on a path that led me to a dark place where my most common statement would be “AWE YEA GURL,” so I left. Six years later, here we are.
PLC: If you could tell aspiring authors one thing, what would it be?
SS: As I’ve said before (to various groans), writing is basically like being constipated: you sit down, be happy when something comes out, force something out otherwise and hope it all turns out all right in the end. You either do or you don’t is basically the gist of it. I probably could have just told you that. But now that metaphor is out there and we both have to live with it.
PLC: Do you have a circle of friends or writers group you share your work with?
SS: I have only three gurus, who are acknowledged in my book. One serves as my guru of logic (I run my ideas past him and see if they can be followed easily), another is my guru of emotion (I check to see if the mood I’m going for is actually felt), and the final is my guru of action (thus far, his advice has been “balls-slapping sex”). I haven’t been to a writer’s group in ages, though I recommend anyone who can get to a good one to do so. My creative writing class did immense wonders for me as far as learning what works and what doesn’t.
PLC: What is one thing you struggled with in your latest project, and how did you overcome it?
SS: BLACK HALO, my last project, just had…too little happening. It was all too easy, too straightforward, with a clear path from Point A to Point B and the characters had too little to do. If it ever reaches that point, I find out what the characters want and think of a reason they can’t have it. This reason can be anything from “society would never allow it” to “she simply can’t deal with the idea of it” to “that guy says he can’t have it and that guy is a towering lizardman with a club studded with human teeth.”
PLC: What is your most embarrassing writing-related moment?
SS: I once told senior Tor Editor, Julie Crisp, that I could have easily spat in her mouth while she was talking, but I didn’t. She didn’t even thank me for that one.
Sam Sykes is the author of Tome of the Undergates, a vast and sprawling story of adventure, demons, madness and carnage. Suspected by many to be at least tangentially related to most causes of human suffering, Sam Sykes is also a force to be reckoned with beyond literature. At 25, Sykes is one of the younger authors to have arrived on the stage of literary fantasy. Tome of the Undergates will be his first book, published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland and Canada. He currently resides in the United States and is probably watching you read this right now.