David Sakmyster is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels, including Jurassic Dead and The Morpheus Initiative, a series featuring psychic archaeologists (described as “Indiana Jones meets the X-Files”). He also has an epic historical adventure, Silver and Gold, the suspense novels Crescent Lake and Blindspots, and a story collection, Escape Plans. His latest is Final Solstice, and his screenplay, Nightwatchers, has been optioned for production. Visit him at www.sakmyster.com.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been writing since before high school, and have always loved horror—since my Dad would read Edgar Allan Poe bedtime stories to me as a kid. I read everything I could growing up, and was heavily influenced by Lovecraft, King, Koontz, McCammon and Straub. I have a slew of short stories (my twenty favourites collected into one book, ESCAPE PLANS), but I quickly went on to write novels in range of genres, but most hovering close to the supernatural and suspense realms. I’ve got 14 novels published and one screenplay option in the works.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I play a lot of tennis, and watch more TV and movies than anyone should…
What’s your favourite food?
Chicken wings or a good ribeye.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Metallica at times, John Williams at others
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Dark Fiction. I like the range and connotations that offers better than the presumptive thoughts invoked by the other two.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Dan Simmons. Clive Barker. Peter Straub, Steven Millhauser.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
Shadowland and Carrion Comfort are two of my favourite horror novels, but it’s so hard to choose. For a film, Alien… or Inception, or The Incredibles depending on my mood.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Would-be victims screaming at their monster-or-other-assailants, “Why are you doing this?”
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Hannibal Lector – perfect neighbour because, heck, I like to eat and he is quite the gourmet cook (and I don’t think he’d hunt in his own neighbourhood, so I’d be safe—I think). Nightmare neighbour… Sherlock Holmes since he’s always snooping, so damn observant and I’d never get away with anything.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
I think it’s morphing and assimilating, Borg-like, and there are great things still coming out from established masters and a whole lot of new talent out there that’s really innovative, shocking and fun.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I hate to admit it since I don’t really go for mainstream, but I rather enjoyed The Girl on the Train, and thought it lived up to the hype. I am waiting for the next McCammon (The Border), and for Barker’s Scarlet Gospels, but in the meantime, I was so looking forward to the Prince Lestat novel….but I don’t know, I just couldn’t finish it.
How would you describe your writing style?
Emotional and concise, I don’t like being overly wordy or descriptive, but tend to focus on what matters—characters and their actions. Even in horror and thrillers, I believe you have to reach the readers on an emotional level and if the reader is not pumped up in places, and if their hearts are not cracking in others, I didn’t do my job right.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I skip the negative ones, finding that most are of the nature of ‘this wasn’t what I normally read so I didn’t finish it’ kind of thing. The best reviews I had were probably from editors who had taken on a story or two and showered it with praise. I still remember when my story The Red Envelope got into the winners of the Writers of the Future contest, I was thrilled that some very big-name judges praised it as one of the few exceptional horror stories they’ve seen win.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Coming up with character names, I don’t know why… it’s a pain and yes, related to another question here, I feel the right name is so important. Otherwise, I love most of the aspects—each phase has its own attraction and reward. I love outlining and creating, love switching gears and getting lost in the writing itself, then I switch again and enjoy the process of editing and seeing the work improved and polished.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Honestly I try to stay away from political controversies. No matter which way you go or if you try to stay neutral, you’ll still alienate about half the readership. The closest I came to doing it anyway is with my latest novel, FINAL SOLSTICE, where I tackle climate change (and dare to suggest that it is man-made—but caused by secret group of Druids determined to wipe the earth clean…)
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
You mean besides Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones?
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters. Ones that resonate, ones you can’t get out of your head, ones you feel for and would follow into hell to make sure they got back ok. That, and of course, a good mystery to follow and if you throw in some real-life aspects like new scientific theories or new takes on historical events (that could be plausible and yet mind-blowing), that’s what I like to write about.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I feel they’re too important, and as such I obsess about them constantly, looking up meanings and such, and of course making sure none of the characters sound too close to each other.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I think I’ve developed the ability to juggle and create multiple worlds and projects at the same time, whereas early on it was all one thing I could focus on. Now by necessity I’m working on a series, a screenplay, revising some short stories, thinking a few books ahead…
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Thick skin and patience are must-have attributes. Another important tool is the ability to know when to put down your pencil and say it’s done. I know some who just can’t do that, always trying to fine-tune instead of writing the best they can, then moving on. Other tools: delegation ability (whether it’s editing or marketing or cover art); be open to criticism, ability to say goodbye to good line, chapters, characters or whole sections if they’re not ultimately working for the novel.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Don’t write to get rich. Write because you have stories to tell and you have no other choice, and you can’t stop.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
That’s always the tricky question. Still trying to find the right key to success. But facebook, twitter and newsletters are important, as are trying to do virtual book tours and sending numerous review copies out to bloggers and other reviewers to get the word out.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
My favourite character from one of my books (submitted for review) is of course, the villain. She is blind, she commands unflinching obedience from a whole network of followers, has an incredible secret, an astonishing past, some powers you don’t want to mess with, and did I say she’s blind?
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Least appealing…I don’t know, I tend to have great respect for all of them, but maybe I’d say one of the henchmen type who does the villain’s bidding. Probably because they’re blind in a different way, blindly following orders with little other motivation other than the promised rewards for doing what they know is evil…
Fame, fortune, or respect?
All, and then some. But actually, I would take respect at this point!
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Honestly, it’s one of my novels that is probably the least successful—which really bothers me, but it will probably always be my favourite. SILVER AND GOLD, a fantasy-historical novel set in the American gold rush era, it’s partly nostalgia, partly just an amazing tale of father and son against the elements, it’s got a ridiculously awesome villain as well as a few monstrous yeti-like creatures, dog sled races and amazing history all rolled up into a love story that should make the hardest hearts weep… and to this day when I re-read it, I don’t know how I ever managed to write it.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
There are – but those are the ones I never published. There are a few sitting in print out form, that… well, had their moments but ultimately I knew they weren’t publishable material.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
THE PHAROS OBJECTIVE (book one of The Morpheus Initiative Series, featuring psychic archaeologists, global conspiracies and some of history’s greatest mysteries. Because it’s a trilogy (plus another on the way, plus two standalone short stories), I was able to cover so much ground, explore characters in so many ways, and investigate a great number of mysterious artefacts and events in history; it was a blast to write, and I hope is the same to read, and I’m not done yet..
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
FINAL SOLSTICE is out in May/June. It’s potentially book one in a series (or a standalone), about… well, I’d say it’s a cross between The Firm and an adult Harry Potter. A star meteorologist joins an environmental law firm and finds too late that the company is made up of powerful Druids who are actually controlling the world’s climate, causing massive environmental disasters and using him in ways he must understand before the human race meets its extinction. Next, as I mentioned, I’m working on book IV of the Morpheus Initiative, entitled, THE TESLA OBJECTIVE.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Why don’t you write about zombie dinosaurs? The answer… I just did! Last year, I co-authored JURASSIC DEAD (with Rick Chesler), and it’s another trilogy 2/3rds done, and I’m having great fun writing that.
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