Author Sarah L. Blair and I connected via Instagram, which is one of the few reasons I love that forum—the ease with which I can meet new authors. But Sarah is one of those persons who I’d gladly meet up with for coffee or ice cream or whatever the craving of the day is, provided we lived closer. From our discussion, it’s clear that Sarah follows her heart and has a passion for writing (and answering questions) unlike many I’ve encountered. She says that writing “is her favorite coping mechanism,” and she “writes the books she wants to read.” And her readers say, “This book has it all for lovers of urban fantasy, science fiction, romance and legends. Blair weaves all those threads together seamlessly!” and the book “[pulls] us deeper into Arthurian legend and all the scary monsters therein. Definitely read with the lights on!” Her second book in her Tides of Darkness series, Air & Darkness, released in early October, and she’s already moving on to the next one. Keep watch for this author! As you’ll find out below, Sarah is one busy person, so I am especially grateful for the time she took to answer my questions thoughtfully.
Christina: Congrats on the publication of Air & Darkness. Where did the idea for the Tides of Darkness series come from? How many books will be in the series? Did you set out to write a series right from the beginning?
Sarah: The first time I met my main character Sidney, I was alone in my house, and she simply walked into my head, held up a badge, and asked, “What have we got?”
I was so intrigued! I wanted to find out everything I could about her and what was going on. On a deeper level, though, the series definitely has a lot of elements from my life experiences and things I love.
It takes place in New York City where I lived for a few years. Many of the locations are places I went every single day. The Arthurian elements stem from my time in Wales as an exchange student. In my time living there, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to visit the city of Bath several times and get to know the area. I fell in love with it, as well as nearby Glastonbury, which is rife with Arthurian legends. I’m also a big fan of The X-Files, so the procedural mysteries and supernatural elements had an enormous impact on the style of stories I enjoy telling.
As of right now, there are four books planned for the Tides of Darkness series. I’m working on the final one right now. However, Darkness Loves Company (the prequel) was a surprise. I only meant for it to be a shorter prequel story (about 20k words) to use as a newsletter reader magnet. It turned out that my character Mitch really wanted to share more, and it wound up becoming an entire book. The ending to Air & Darkness also surprised me. I had in mind for it to be the ending to the series, a nice tidy little trilogy, but then I found a lot more within the characters and world that I needed to explore. The last sentence in the book shocked me as I was writing it and I knew before I even finished typing it there needed to be another book.
I didn’t originally intend for Darkness Shifting to be a series right off the bat. Once I got into it, I thought it had potential, but I was doing a lot of research into getting published traditionally at the time. All the advice said to write a standalone novel with “series potential” so that’s what I set out to do. Once I explored my options for traditional publishing and decided it would be a better idea for me to take the indie route, that’s when I set my mind on turning it into a series. There’s definitely a lot more story to tell in this world and with these characters. Whether it’s within this series itself, or a related series . . . we’ll have to see!
Christina: The description of the series itself reads, “TIDES OF DARKNESS is a funny, sexy, thrilling supernatural series that follows paranormal detective Sidney Lake behind the glittering facade of New York City, to the place where history and legend intersect.” How do you choose which historical events and legends to include in your work? How much research must you perform for each novel?
Sarah: My research technique is pretty organic. I usually write my scene how I have it in my head first, then go back and research for details I need to enhance the story or tie it into something from the past. I like to work specific details into scenes in smaller ways such as tidbits of conversation or off-hand remarks from my characters rather than an info dump. It makes it much easier to have something specific to look up, because that way I don’t get lost down a rabbit-hole of research.
When I need inspiration for an idea that’s more vague, that’s when I get into trouble and spend more time than I probably should on checking into things. The Arthurian world is vast and there are so many fun stories to include. The great thing about the legends is that they are their own retellings and have evolved enormously over time. Each author puts their own spin on things, which makes me feel a lot more comfortable about adding in my own ideas. My favorite thing is when I write a scene with my characters, and then go to double-check the legends and find that the tales fit perfectly with the direction I wanted my own story to go. All the pieces fit into place and it feels magical. That’s when I know I’ve got it right!
Christina: Piggybacking on that last question, do you ever get lost in the research? And what is the most fascinating fact or idea you’ve uncovered?
Sarah: I absolutely get lost. All the time! I enjoy history so much, and the times and places I get to learn about are so fascinating. The best part about having characters who have been alive for two millennia is that I can choose literally any era within that timeframe and it’s fair game. Usually, I start with a particular time and place, then take off from there.
When I was researching for Air & Darkness, I needed to expand on the magic of Dimitrius’ world and give readers a glimpse into how he operated around his little kingdom at the Police Building on 240 Centre Street in New York City. I knew he was a sculptor, and there are statues at the top of the building, so I dug into the history of the building’s architecture and discovered that each statue represented one of the five boroughs at the time they constructed the building around 1906.
While I was looking into that, I came across an article that mentioned during prohibition there was a tunnel running under the road to a speakeasy across the street, so the NYPD officers (mainly the Commissioner) could go drink without being seen by the public, which is how I got the idea for the gangster scene.
I also knew that Dimitrius would have been intentional about where the building was constructed, so I looked up the history of water in the area and read up on the origins of Collect Pond and the wetlands around what’s now Tribeca that was used for drinking water until they dug a canal to drain it in 1805 and developed the land. That ditch became Canal Street. There’s still a stream there just under the surface that floods basements on occasion, so that gave me the idea for the stream under Centre Street and the secret pond in my book that Dimitrius helps protect because the waters are sacred in the same way as the waters of Sulis back in Bath.
That’s a pretty typical example of how one thing leads into another, and I follow the path to find inspiration. Somehow all the pieces wind up coming together to create a complete picture of the world my characters live in, and I feel really lucky that I get to explore it!
Christina: When did you first begin writing your series? How long does it take to bring each novel from concept to full novel? Would you mind sharing a bit of your writing process?
Sarah: I first began writing this series in 2007. I wasn’t planning on getting published at the time, but Darkness Shifting was definitely the first idea I’d had that I felt had some potential for becoming a finished novel. Up until then, I’d mostly been writing short stories and scenes with no real direction or plot. I had a job as a preschool teacher, so I spent my time writing on the first draft in the afternoons after school. I didn’t really have a deadline in mind, I was mostly exploring the world and characters, so it took me about five years to even finish a full first draft.
After that, I revised a LOT. The novel I published is almost entirely different from that first draft. A lot of really bonkers stuff happened, and I went off on a lot of tangents. Thanks to a lot of amazing writer friends and some sound advice and help from editor friends, I got a lot of help and straightened it out. There’s no way I could have done it alone, and I’m so grateful for all of my critique partners and beta readers. It takes a village to raise a book!
With Darkness Shifting, I tried pursuing a traditional publishing route. However, I’d just had my first baby and knowing how mom life was, hard deadlines didn’t feel like a good fit for me at the time, so I decided to self-publish in order to take my time. Eventually, in 2016 I managed to get everything together and make it happen!
Next, I wrote a full first draft of Air & Darkness, intending to put it out in 2017, but I just wasn’t satisfied with it. It came out as a Paranormal Romance and didn’t fit the tone of the series at all. I decided to put it away for a little while so I could get some distance and figure out how to revise it.
That’s how Darkness Loves Company came about. I needed a reader magnet for my author newsletter. I thought it would be a quick prequel story, heavy on the romance. Instead, it wound up turning into a full length novel that I hadn’t ever intended on publishing outside of my newsletter. It took three years of bouncing back and forth between writing both books. Darkness Loves Company happened to be the one I finished first, so that got published as my second book in 2020. Finally, everything fell into place with Air & Darkness and I was able to almost completely rewrite that in the spring this year (2021) and publish it in October.
It was a really topsy-turvy way of doing things, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it but every publishing journey is different. I hope it’s not too confusing to readers, because it really doesn’t matter which order you read the first two books in. I tried to be really intentional with that once it became clear that Darkness Loves Company was going to be the second book released. I wanted to make sure that readers who had already read Darkness Shifting could enjoy learning more about the characters, and anyone who was new to the series could start with Darkness Loves Company and get a full experience as well. Air & Darkness is very much a sequel, so readers should definitely read Darkness Shifting before they get to that one.
Christina: Your work is heavily influenced by your “favorite television show of all time, The X-Files.” What is it about that show that makes it your favorite? And do you have one or two episodes that you’d sit and watch over and over? What makes them so compelling?
Sarah: Ah, yes, I’m so obsessed with The X-Files! What I love most about the show is that it incorporates everything I enjoy best in a story: paranormal/supernatural, monsters, procedural elements, a good solid mystery, and especially Mulder and Scully’s relationship that grows and evolves over time.
I also enjoy the suspense and style of how the show was filmed. So dark! So many shadows! It really made things creepy and kept me on the edge of my seat. Watching The X-Files was the first time I’d ever seen anything that so closely resembled the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. It was right around age 11 that I started to get into the idea of storytelling, and then when I saw the show for the first time a couple of years later, it all clicked into place in my brain. It was so exciting to finally realize that this was it! This is what I wanted to do, just tell these kinds of dynamic stories about super weird and creepy stuff. It gave me so much hope to know that if so many people could get excited about this show, then maybe they’d like the stories I had inside my head as well.
There are certainly a lot of episodes of the show that I watch over and over again. I’m on a podcast called The X-Cast and when we rate the episodes, that’s what scale I use: how much do I enjoy rewatching this episode? For me, there are plenty of episodes that fit that bill, but my comfort episodes, the ones I go to the most out of all are “Quagmire” and “Bad Blood.”
“Quagmire” is my all-time favorite episode. I love that so much of it was filmed outdoors in the Vancouver weather. It has a great atmosphere. The characters are all really vibrant. It’s got a legendary Mulder and Scully scene. Humor. Horror. Monsters. It hits pretty much every single check mark for a perfect episode. The one and only thing missing is Skinner.
“Bad Blood” is a favorite because I like the humor in Vince Gilligan’s style. I really enjoy the Rashomon technique he uses to tell the story from both Mulder and Scully’s POVs. Vampires have always been a monster I like a lot, and this was a fresh, fun spin for them. Scary, but mostly funny, with some great guest roles for Patrick Renna and Luke Wilson—it wins all the way around. Not to mention, it’s got one of the best lines in the entire series from Skinner. Can you tell Assistant Director Skinner is my favorite character?
Christina: I’m also a fan of The X-Files (we own the complete boxed set), so I have to ask two questions: One, what do you think about the episode “Home”? And two, do you believe in life on other planets?
Sarah: Yay for X-Philes! I always love making new X-Files friends.
I’ll never ever forget the first time I saw “Home.” It scared the pants off of me and I LOVED IT. I always consider that episode the best one for Mulder and Scully hair. Season 4 is Peak Hair time for both of them, but that episode is just perfection. There are so many great Mulder and Scully moments in that episode, lots of fun one-liners from Mulder, and it’s great to get insight into Scully’s feelings on motherhood.
I absolutely love Karin Konoval’s performance as Mrs. Peacock. She really knocked it out of the park with that one. Even though she doesn’t appear on screen for very long, she made an everlasting impression on my brain. “I’m hongry,” is probably the phrase I quote most from the entire show. I say it all the time. So, it was especially exciting when I was able to interview Karin for The X-Cast and hear her say it right into my ear.
Chills. Everywhere. A totally life changing moment.
Then, I was able to meet her at the X-Fest con in 2019 and chat with her a few times. She’s such a genuine delight and truly generous person, not to mention a deeply talented actor. I could gush about her all day. All of those experiences really make “Home” a special episode for me.
As for life on other planets? In a universe that’s so mind-bendingly vast, I absolutely cannot believe we’re the only life that exists. We’re definitely not alone.
Christina: What is your writing kryptonite?
Sarah: Pantsing, haha! I have a love/hate relationship with it. Due to my anxiety disorder, lists and outlines are extremely overwhelming for me. So I don’t like them. At all. Up to this point, I’ve just held everything about my books inside my head while I write them. I usually start with a beginning and an end, and sort of weave and gnash my way through the mushy middle trying to figure out which way to go. This . . . has not been working so great.
But, now that I’ve got a few books under my belt, and particularly after the experience of having to go back and completely rewrite Air & Darkness (98k! Gah!) I’ve learned that my current pantsing techniques need some adjusting.
Tides of Darkness Book 4 is coming out organically, but within a framework of organized ideas. Most people would call this an outline, but my brain just doesn’t like that ugly word so I’ve been calling it a blueprint. I’ve got a file where I’m literally just spitting out ideas as they come to me, and trying to assemble them in some vague sort of order that makes sense. The plan is to keep honing those ideas until I have a satisfactory plot that works.
After that, I’ll try doing a draft zero that will be nothing more than me telling myself the story. Basic details, bits of dialogue and descriptions, that sort of thing, until I have something I can flesh out into an official first draft.
My writing partner swears by this method, and knowing how much she produces and how clean her drafts are, I’m willing to let her teach me her ways. Fingers crossed!
Thanks to Sarah for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.