A Body in the Basement | Feature | Chicago Reader

A Body in the Basement 

After the kids go to bed, Steven Sidor retreats to the bowels of his suburban town house and lets the darkness come.

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It was ten at night. In the basement. A sound near the top of the stair. The door opening and closing. A footfall on the steps. Had to be his daughter, seven, interrupting.

He sighed. Right in the middle of writing a scene, part of his new thriller, all about a scared woman alone in a motel. Now his concentration was shot. "Come down and say good night."

Footsteps again. Closer. Someone breathing. Louder: "Please come down and say good night."

Nothing. Totally distracted now. Time for drastic measures. Flip off the light—that usually sent her racing upstairs, terrified.

The lights out. Listening for the rush of small feet.

Nothing. Weird.

He flipped on the lights. Headed up the stair. The door, oddly, was shut. Opened it. Climbed to the second floor. Stood at the door to his children's bedroom, stupefied. The girl was fast asleep in her bed. So was his son, four.

Obviously it was Lisa, his wife. Only, she too—asleep, dead to the world.

He started to open the basement door, to descend the stair, to find—what?

"I couldn't do it," he says with a chilly laugh. "I'd totally freaked myself out. I had no idea what it was. I still don't."

There's an obvious explanation. Steven Sidor, chronicler of the creepy, has unwittingly invited the dark forces into his life. His first two books—Bone Factory and Skin River—oozed with evil. His latest, The Mirror's Edge, tops them both. It's about two kidnapped boys, likely—or perhaps not?—the victims of a spooky children's book illustrator, the son of a practitioner of the black arts.

"The borderline between what's real and what's not real interests me," concedes Sidor. "Is there an evil that's beyond the explicable? Is there some elemental force of evil? And what happens when a good character encounters it?"

Sidor himself has encountered nothing of the sort. He comes from a nice northwest suburb and has nice parents. He lives in Saint Charles, in a town house. His wife works in IT. In person he is friendly, forthcoming, and cheerful. His Web site lists fishing among his interests.

His writing, however, is intense. Tightly packed short sentences. Evocative diction. Depraved villains and heroes with baggage. Demons aplenty. His last book, Bone Factory, kind of a police procedural, featured a cop who could barely walk. The lead character in The Mirror's Edge is an unstable freelance journalist; his codependent and sexy girlfriend is blind.

Sidor works hard. Fortified with a pot of coffee, he heads down to his haunted basement each night around nine and plugs away for hours, often until two in the morning. His ideas come unsummoned—usually one book starts in the midst of writing the previous one. Often it's only a fragment, a scene or a character. "I'm like a movie director," he says. "I set things up and start the camera rolling." When a scene feels "hot" he writes it, no matter where it fits in. He wrote the end of Mirror first. One of the book's most compelling scenes, a paraplegic gangster at a New Jersey YMCA pool, came to him long before the hero had reason to go to New Jersey.

He's a big mystery reader and has writer friends, but he only shares his work with a poet he met years back, when the man was his boss at a mental health center. Near the end of a book, his agent makes suggestions. Lisa corrects punctuation.

Chicago's a major backdrop, sometimes. Sidor loves the city. But he ranges around the midwest. His next book, the motel thriller, takes place on the Minnesota-Canada border. The plot sounds like a movie, which could put him over the top, financially speaking. Right now he makes a living—"but not completely." His wife's job pays the health insurance, and Sidor minds the kids. He books his own tours.

The ideas keep coming, and so do the omens. Last year Sidor was on the phone with his editor at St. Martin's when something strange happened. He began hearing a tap-tap-tap at the basement window. Maybe his daughter was playing in the window well, or a neighborhood kid had chased a ball into it.

"I'm on the phone!"

Tap-tap-tap.

He pushed back his chair and got up. He stopped feet from the window and stared. A huge snake was banging its head against the glass.

"You're not going to believe this," he told his editor.

He went outside to catch it with a fishing net but the snake disappeared into a hole. It reappeared in one of the grisliest scenes in The Mirror's Edge.v

THE MIRROR'S EDGESteven SidorSt. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95

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