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20 Writerly Questions Series: Sam Sykes

abstract:The "Writerly Questions Series" is brought to you courtesy of Random House Canada who partners with BookBuffet. Look for this feature each Monday. The idea is we ask different authors the same set of questions designed to give readers a glimpse into the lives and writing mechanics of authors. It is fascinating to compare and contrast when you check the list to date at bottom. Today's author is Samuel Sykes. At 25, Sam Sykes is one of the youngest authors to arrive on the Sci-fi scene with his novel Tome of the Undergates: The Aeons' Gate: Book One. Stop for a moment and think about what you were doing at 25. It probably wasn't conjuring up alternate worlds and characters in 450 pages to rival your chosen genre's top writers. Reviewer Alice Wybrew at gives "Tome" 9 out of 10, "With imaginative characters, a well-paced narrative and enough maiming, decapitation and evisceration to make '300' look tame, Sykes’s debut proves a bloody good read." Wow. Couldn't have said it better ourselves.

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
“I love you, I hate myself, that man is on fire, we’re all going to die.”
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
Tome of the Undergates was something I started when I was 17 and thought all books revolved around morally unassailable heroes stopping generic forms of villainy. There was a lot of talk of “dark masters” and “righteous indignation” in those days. Eventually, after two iterations, two years of doing nothing and four years of college, I finished it when I was 24 and sold it when I was 25. It took awhile, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
I suppose if I had a greater need for attention, I would write in a coffee shop or wine bar somewhere. But seeing as I’m very easily distracted, I lock myself in a small room with my laptop and hunch over a keyboard, mouth agape and tongue lolling as I strive to hold onto any creative thought before I start thinking about looking up bear attack videos.


October 18, 2010
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
FAs weird as it sounds, I think of the sounds that character might make. “Lenk” is a short, terse name for a very short, very terse young man. “Dreadaeleon” is just long and pompous enough to fit a pompous little twerp. “Kataria” is full of hard, growling sounds and “Gariath” sounds immense and imposing. It makes it easier to associate the names with the characters.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
A lot. Oh lord. Black Halo, the next in the series, has less to do, but I already mentioned that Tome of the Undergates took two tries to get right.
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Pride and Prejudice, because I, too, have a burning desire to write dry scripts about unrequited romances between uptight women and strange men.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
My sole preference thus far is that Robert Downey Jr. play Sailor Number Two.
8. What’s your favourite city in the world?
I like Vancouver, a lot. Granted, I might be saying this because Canadian people are reading it. Or I might be saying it because the overall politeness that infects the city like a plague makes it very easy for me to cut in line without anyone saying anything.
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Probably Hemingway. He seems like the kind of guy who would have some good advice. Not necessarily about writing, but in general, like if you ever needed to know the exact comeback for an elderly woman so you could put her down but not look like a jerk, he would know.
10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?
I used to. But it tends to interfere too much. I would start listening to Outkast and be chugging along until I heard a song and remember exactly where I was when it started playing and then I’d realize I did something stupid that night like make a threatening phone call to a congressman and my mood would just be ruined.
11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript?
Typically, my editors, what with them paying for the privilege.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
They all are.
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
Uh…let’s see, The Left Hand of God, The Black Prism, Wolfbreed, Sasha, a fan, a chewed rawhide bone and a mysterious puddle that I’m afraid to disturb on the off-chance it’s become toxic or sentient. 

14. What is the first book you remember reading?
Man, I remember the first book I had read to me was The Grouchy Ladybug. The first book I ever finished on my own was a Conan story, I think. There was some girl in it and Conan beat up people. That doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to tell stories, so for a long time, I always wanted to be a liar. I only really wanted to do it when I hit 15 and, after a few years in denial, I realized it was the only thing I could do without wanting to die.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
Diet Coke, mostly. I’ll break for a snack halfway through and that varies from Bagel Bites to Sweet Potato Fries to Ramen to chicken.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
I used to write with pen and paper, since it seemed more writerly. Now it’s all laptop, all the time. Those writerly writers can eat it; I’ve got deadlines.
18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
Went to my Native American Studies class and spent two hours wondering why I was still there.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
I decide who’s got the most interesting thing to say.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Understanding. I’ve broken up with four different girlfriends over my inability to forsake work time for them and their inability to cope with the fact that I’m tremendously self-absorbed.

Author links

  • Random House's "Author Feature Page" for Sam Sykes
  • Author's Webpage
  • Publisher links:

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  • Previous Authors Asked 20 Writerly Questions

  • Allegra Goodman
  • Richard Harvell
  • David Mitchell
  • Camilla Gibb
  • Alissa York
  • Justin Cronin
  • Holly LeCraw
  • Joan Thomas
  • Anosh Irani
  • Yann Martel
  • Joy Fielding
  • Andrew Kaufman
  • Beth Powning


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