Hampton Sides has a famous name. The man who’s published books on the likes of Kit Carson and James Earl Ray is one of the Santa Fe celebrities the city’s denizens are proud to wave to at a gallery opening, who makes us proud when on the book jacket we read that he lives here. And he really does. Sides had just wrapped up a breakfast at Harry’s Roadhouse when SFR caught up with him for a few questions. He’s working now on a book about a major battle in the Korean War and that’s due out in the fall, tentatively titled The Reservoir. We’re elated that he agreed to serve this year as a judge for the nonfiction entries in the annual SFR Writing Contest (see cover, page 12). You can hear a little from him as he offers and introduction at 6:30 pm next Wednesday Dec. 6 at Meow Wolf (1352 Rufina Circle, 395-6369) for our Out Loud event, celebrating the contest winners.
You’ve had so much success getting published. Do you have any advice for new writers who want to do the same?
The whole paying field has changed since when I was coming up. There was no internet. I know that feels impossible to believe. There are so many more ways to get published now. It’s easier than ever to get published, but it’s harder to get paid. And that’s because the internet and self-publishing and the whole phenomenon of blogs and the whole phenomena of social media have made it endlessly possible—it’s just, getting paid for it is the trick. … Yet we have more people interested in writing than ever before. It’s like they did not get the memo that it is a hard way to make a living. You know, there will always be a need for storytellers. That honestly has been the trick for most of human history. You don’t go into this profession strictly for the money.
Is getting the work in front of readers the more important mark of success?
It is really sad when a great book is published and few people read it, but it’s not the only reason you write. You write a book because something needs to be said. … So, it’s not the only consideration, how many readers read it. But with the kind of work I do, popular history, I really want people to read my stories and keep turning pages and feel like they were having a pleasurable experience.
You went to really cold places when you were researching The Kingdom of Ice, about an early polar expedition. Do you typically travel as you write?
I think that is the fun part of doing this kind of history writing; it’s physically going to the place you are writing about. It gives you so much more confidence when you’re writing those passages. Even if it’s not a direct influence, you know what it feels like. … I like hanging out in archives. That is fun as well, but there is nothing that beats breathing the same air and walking on the same ground as the characters you are writing about.