sábado, 2 de junio de 2012

Interview with a fantastic author: Michael J. Sullivan

One of the most exciting discoveries I've made this year is that of Michael J. Sullivan, author of The Riyria Revelations. His fantasy series has been out for quite a while now, but it wasn't until the start of 2012 that the first volume, The Crown Conspiracy, was released in Spain.

I read it. I loved it. From the first page to the (too soon) last one. Now I'm craving for more. In the meantime, here is an interview with The Man. Enjoy! :o)

For the translation into Spanish, go here.


 The Riyria Revelations' first installment has been extremely well received in Spain. Did you know or have you read reviews from Spanish readers?

I am pleased to hear that the books are well liked in Spain. I have Google Alerts turned on, which tells me when a post is made about my books.  There are many reviews that I come upon that I can’t read because they are in a different language (I have 11 foreign language contracts, although not all of them have the books released yet).  I do try to use the translate feature of Google to see what the reviews say, and sometime I can get the general idea, but  sometimes it is difficult to tell if they are praising the book or criticizing. I prefer to believe it is all praise.

Royce Melborn is such a mysterious guy and Hadrian Blackwater is honourable but messy in his own way. How did you come up with the idea of pairing up these characters?

I knew that I wanted there to be two main characters because of movies and television shows that I liked when growing up. You may not have heard of them in Spain, but one is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which is an old movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The other was a television series (also very old with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby called I Spy.) I just really liked the chemistry that is possible when you have two really good friends working closely together.

When I first started writing Royce and Hadrian, there really wasn’t enough differences between them, and they both behaved very similarly. This was mainly because I had not yet developed them fully in my own head. The more I wrote, the more each started developing his own personality and way of looking at life. I was probably half way through the first book before they really solidified as two very distinct people, and then I had to start at the beginning of the book and do a lot of re-writing to put in those differences.  Now I have a good  feel for what each of them are like, so it comes very naturally to me, and am very particular whenever an editor tries to modify their dialog. They “sound” a certain way in my head, and I notice changes right away.

All the characters you created are really engaging. To top it all, the story is full of clever twists, funny remarks and cool surprises. Is all that a trademark of your writing? Can we expect more of these traits in the next installments?

I hope so!  Writing twists is very difficult, but I think it helps to draw the reader into the story and makes them feel invested in what happens, so it is worth spending time to come up with these twists and turns.

As to characters, well I’ve spent so long with these people that they are very easy to write, because I know them so well. I recently finished a new book, and I do like the characters, but I don’t feel as attached to them as my characters from Riyria.  I don’t think that is because they are less engaging, but rather that I’ve only been with these new people for about a year and I spent more than a decade with Royce, Hadrian, Arista, and the rest.  Still, the fact that I’m not as attached tells me I still have more to do in order to get them to that same level.  I won’t put out the book until I achieve that, so I’ll just have to keep editing until it clicks.

I do think that I have found my “voice” and the points you bring up are definitely reflected in my style. I’m not looking to change that. It works for me, and people like it, so while the stories and characters will be new, I hope a lot of what makes the writing particularly “me” won’t change.

Did you model any of your characters after anyone in particular? Do they stand for anything important to you?

For the male characters, no I wouldn’t say so. But then again my wife can see Hadrian in me sometimes and Royce in me at others. If there is a perceived threat to my family I get very protective (but not violent).  I’ll get quieter, have less patience, and generally try to put distance between myself and whoever is causing trouble. Hadrian does share my childhood dream of wanting to be “special”… to be a hero who overcomes odds, saves the kingdom, and wins the girl, but that is the only similarity I see between the two of us.

The women are actually very influenced by how I view my wife.  Arista is probably the closest to her, but you can also see Robin in the strength of Thrace/Modina (who you have not met yet) and the giving and loving aspects of Gwen. No single woman is Robin, but I’ve seem to have divided her personality into different women in the books.

What is your favorite scene in all the series and why do you love it?

Oh drat!  I can’t tell you. The reason is because it happens in the very last book, and very near the end. If I were to say what it is, I would spoil the series for you.  What I can say is that it's something that builds throughout all the books and then it finally comes out. I do discuss this in the Afterword that is provided with the final book (Percepliquis),  but no one should read that particular piece of writing until they have finished all the books, as there are many spoilers in there. (Mmmm, I'm dying to read that!)

Books 2 and 3 are scheduled for publishing in Spain this very year. What can we expect in general terms? Are Royce, Hadrian, Prince Alric and Princess Arista going to evolve in any special way?

Absolutely! The first book only lightly touches on the backgrounds of each. Many authors front load their world building and character development so you know just about everything from the first book and then the rest of the series is just more of the same.  I actually keep quite a bit from you in the first book, and in many ways Royce and Hadrian are only lightly touched on…some even complain there is too little.  But I did it that way for a reason, as I wanted to provide details slowly and over time.  In many ways they are constructed in layers and each book gives you more details. (I love layers. Thank you, Mr. Sullivan)

In Book 2 we learn some of Royce’s history before he was teamed up with Hadrian. Back then he ran with a very rough crowd, and did some terrible things that led to his imprisonment in a very bad place. We also get some glimpses into Hadrian’s past but we learn a lot about his childhood in the third book as we visit his home town.

Also in the third book is a major transition for Arista. She has always been bright and capable but she has lived a sheltered life and finds herself spending more time with common folk and this helps her to learn an appreciation for the simple things in life. As we saw in the first book she has some minor magical capabilities but this is expanded upon much more (especially in the third book).

There is also a new female character (Thrace/Modina). She is introduced in Book 2 but goes through a major transformation in book 3.  Many people think the series is about the two thieves, Royce and Hadrian, and in many ways it is, but for me there are really four main characters two men and two women.

I like "men stories" as much as the next chap, but as a female reader I find it particularly appealing that women take an important role in fantasy books. What did you have in mind when you created Princess Arista? Will we be seeing more of her in the series?

I guess I should have read this question before responding to the previous one.
(Ups, I wasn't sure in which order I should put some of the questions, there it is, my mistake :D )

  Yes, Arista—who actually has kind of a minor role in the first book (as compared to the rest of the series) —is a very important main character. With each book her role expands and by the end of the series she is one of the most important characters there is. I can’t say too much as it would spoil things, but I can say that if there are some that don’t like her too much early in the series, just wait because she gets better. I actually gave her certain traits that aren’t too appealing to provide a contrast with what she becomes.  For instance, she is intelligent and capable, but she may not be as successful with some of her plans as she would like. As she grows as a person, and learns more about what she is capable of, she becomes quite a force to be reckoned with.

I'm a huge fan of fantasy, but it's not an easy genre. Why did you choose to write fantasy? Would you consider writing in a different field?

It’s funny because everyone thinks of me as a fantasy writer, but that is just because my fantasy work was published first.  Before starting this series I had written thirteen books in all kinds of genres: Literary fiction, mystery, thrillers, horror, science fiction, coming-of-age, man verses nature, man verses society…you name it. The only genre I haven’t written in is romance or erotica.  Some of those books have great ideas, would require rewriting before they would be ready. I’ve learned a lot over the last thirty years.

I wrote and submitted a book a year for over a decade, but none of them were accepted for publication. This was a time when I was learning to write, and with each one, I worked on a different aspect of my craft. I was concentrating on books that would sell, but I found that doing so took away a lot of my enjoyment. I was learning a great deal, but not having much fun. I eventually became so frustrated with the process, and considered it a colossal waste of time, so I quit entirely for more than a decade.

When I finally started writing again, I had decided that I would only do so if I wrote something with no intention of publishing. I wrote the books for my daughter (who was struggling with reading because she is dyslexic). I decided to write the books for her in fantasy, because that was the genre that got me reading when I was young.  When I wrote these books I concentrated on writing something that I would want to read, and I didn’t care whether it would appeal to anyone else.  Ironically, these are the books that ended up getting published.

I believe you had a hard time getting your books out there. What can you tell us about your experience with self-publishing?

I never intended to self-publish. Like most authors I considered that route to be the last resort. I had spent about a year getting an agent to represent this series and she shopped it around to publishers for about a year and a half, but she got nowhere with it. When her husband became ill, she closed her agency and suggested I try small presses as they don’t require agents.

I submitted The Crown Conspiracy to four small presses that specialized in fantasy, and at the same time my wife started investigating just how hard (or easy) self-publishing would be (in case we didn’t get accepted by any of those).  I did indeed get signed by Aspirations Media Inc. (AMI) a small press and they produced my first book.  When it came time to release the second book, they didn’t have enough money to print it, so the rights reverted to me.  The notification came in early March and the book was due in April. I had already booked signings and had appearances planned at book clubs, so I had to make the April deadline. The only way to do that was to self-publish. (I'm really interested in what you're saying about your struggles, but I have to say this: oh, how I'd love to be present in those book signings or have a book club where I could host a party for a writer XD)

Because I had written all six books before publishing the first, my intention was to put them out one every six months, so that kept me in self-publishing because if I had tried to find another agent or publisher, the whole process would have slowed down.

By the time I had five books out I was doing well (selling about 2,000 books a month) and I thought that I would try knocking on New York’s door again.  At that time I had a foreign rights agent and she gave a proposal to seventeen editors and half of them expressed an immediate interest. So it was much easier to get the publishing contract with a major publisher once I had found success in self-publishing.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 

That’s an easy one. It’s when my books started making enough money so that my wife was able to quit her job.  For most of our marriage we have lived on one income…my wife’s because her job as a software programmer made so much more than my career as a graphic artist. We wanted one of us to raise the children, and so it made sense for that to be me. Plus it would give me time to do my writing while they took their afternoon naps.

When the children had grown and gone off to school, I started my own advertising agency, which was very successful and both Robin and I worked at it for over ten years. Unfortunately, I eventually grew bored of doing basically the same thing but for different clients, so I told Robin I would like to pursue my dream of writing fulltime. She didn’t want to run our company without me, so we closed it and she went back to working in corporate America to pay the bills. Once more we lived on just her income and by this time she was making six-figures.

In November of 2010 my self-publishing sales soared to more 9,500 for the month. Then in December, I sold 10,500 and another 11,500 in January and about 10,000 for February 2012. We had signed a six-figure deal with Orbit for them to republish the books and had made several hundred thousand with our self-publishing. Also I had a number of foreign language deals, which in the end, turned out to be more about double my US advance. Once we put aside enough money so that our bills would be paid for several years, we felt comfortable enough for her to quit. It was a wonderful feeling to repay her for giving me the time to make the whole writing thing work.

Are there any books you’ve read that have inspired you or your writing in any way?

I would say every book, movie, or person I meet influences me in one way or another. The books that had the most impact are my favorites, which there are only a handful of.
In particular books like Watership Down  or Lord of the Rings  have a common theme of characters that you want to spend time with who are struggling against difficult odds.

The books that I don’t like have showed me what to avoid. For instance excessive world building that acts as a barrier between the reader and the plot. Also I don’t enjoy books that are so dire and serious that they become a chore to read. This has encouraged me to write in a light, fun way and to add humor. Also books that have huge plot holes have shown me that I need to look at things from all directions to make sure that everything makes sense and that my characters always act true to their nature.

But if I were to be completely honest, I’m not as well read as most writers, because for many years I was afraid it would influence my writing and make it hard for me to be original. Many people will write me and say things like, “It’s clear that Michael Sullivan took inspiration from…” and then they would name a book that I have never heard of, let alone read.  Many note that my books seem to be bucking the trend of being overly gritty and dark …but I didn’t even know that the genre had changed in that way. So while some may think I was trying to lighten things up to swing the market back the other way, the truth is that I was just writing what I wanted to read.

Could you tell us about your current or future project?

Since finishing the Riyria Revelations I’ve written three books. One is a standalone story set in modern times. It basically explores the idea of what would you do if you suddenly got the power to create anything that you could imagine.  The premise of the book is that there are always two people throughout history that possess this power, and they oppose one another and keep the world in balance. The power is supposed to be passed to a well-trained apprentice, but a premature death gives it to an innocent bystander who doesn’t know anything about how to use this power or what responsibility comes with receiving it.

The other two are books in a series. I had intended to write the second one first, then while that was out there, write the first one as a prequel. But as I finished the second, I realized I really needed to write the first one because I may need to adjust things in the second. So now I’ve written the first one, and will have to clean up the second one.  I’m not saying much about these two books yet, because no one, not even my wife have read them and she has a tendency to provide feedback that may end up taking them in a different direction. So while I think it will remain largely unchanged, I don’t want to discuss it until she has had a chance to weigh in.

What do you do in your free time?

I guess that depends on how you define free time.  In some respects I’m almost always working as even when I do something recreational (like biking which I do a lot of), ideas will pop into my head and when I’m done riding, I have to jot them down into a notebook for the future.  Also when I’m reading, it’s generally not for pleasure but related to my work.  So for instance I read a lot of history books.  Because I’m not up to date with current trends in the genre today, my fiction reading is trying to “catch up” so I can speak intelligently with the fantasy community. And many times when reading someone else’s works I’m always dissecting it or thinking of how I would do it differently, so it’s not really just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

In general I write from 9:00 am until lunch and then in the afternoon I’ll do something physical like bike ride or jog. After that I might write a blog post, or respond to interviews or fan mail.

(yay, that's me. Poor M.S., he must have been slaving with this interview a whole day!)

Robin and I spend meal times together, sometimes combining that with a walk to a nearby restaurant. If we eat at home, it’s usually watching something that has been recorded on the television. I’m not sure if you know about Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or the CBS Sunday Morning Show, but those are what we usually watch. In the late evening, I usually read or sometimes I’ll play a computer game. I like the game called MineCraft which allows you to shape your world the way you want it to be. So I can build houses, level mountains, damn rivers, or do just about anything I want. This is very similar to writing in that I get to be all powerful and make things to my liking in both. (terraforming power, mmm, yes, I do unterstand how you feel)

What is something people would be surprised to know about you? 

Most may think I’m strange because when I’m trying to work out a story, I usually take a walk (hopefully somewhere secluded) and talk to myself out loud. I actually hold a two person conversation where one is asking questions about the book and the other person answers.  It looks really ridiculous, and I sometimes even chastise myself, “Really…that seems kind of lame…can’t you come up with something else?” And it is this back and forth and playing devil’s advocate that really helps me to get things sorted out. There is something about it being verbal that helps me creatively.  If I try to “think” it through silently it doesn’t work nearly as well.

What's your favourite place in the (real) world?

Okay this is going to sound really corny (and I hope there is an appropriate Spanish translation for that word) but it is the truth so I’d rather tell the real answer than to make up something just to sound cooler than I am.  So the real answer is, “Anywhere that my wife is.” I could be in the most miserable of places, but as long as we are together we would somehow make the best of it and turn things around. For instance, I hate to shop...really despise it. But Robin and I go, we get playful with the sales people and make jokes and act a bit foolish. Both we and the salespeople have a lot of fun with it. (Oh, man, and you say you've never written romance O_O. A loss to the world.)

Now that being said,  if I had to pick where me and Robin would go if we had our choice. Well there is a state in the US called Maine. It is in the northern part of the country along the ocean. There is a national park there called Arcadia. It was once owned by the Rockefellers (very rich people) and is interesting because there are mountains right on the ocean and lots of little islands, and a very rocky shore where the waves break and throw up spray.  Going there is very relaxing and we’ve been known to spend hours just sitting on the rocks and watching the sea spray. There are biking routes all through it on carriage paths that were built for horses, so there are no cars and you can ride for miles without seeing other people.  Also there are some terrific hiking trails up the side of the mountains that are right on the ocean so you get spectacular views.

And if there is anything else you'd like to add...

No, I think you covered just about everything, it was a good interview with a good variation in questions, some of which I’ve never been asked before…so well done.  I hope you are able to translate it all right and my references to things like television shows and the United States isn’t too obscure. I also want to thank all those people who are reading my books, especially those that have liked it enough to tell others.  I have no idea if I’ll be able to maintain my role as a fulltime writer, but if I do, it will be because of them. So my thanks and gratitude for helping me do what I love to do.

And THANK YOU for your time, your ideas, your inspiration and your good books.

See you among words, everyone.

half lost in translation.

10 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Buena entrevista, me ha gustado mucho.

Enhorabuena por el trabajo =D

Talisman Dreams dijo...

Leída en español, que si no me entero de la misa la mitad xD

¡Una entrevista genial!

Anónimo dijo...

Me gustó mucho la entrevista, así que me anoto sus libros para leer.

Bam dijo...

Muy buena entrevista!
Gracias por traerla para nosotros n.n

Lily dijo...
Este comentario ha sido eliminado por el autor.
Lily dijo...

¡Me ha encantado la entrevista! Me ha gustado especialmente encontrar preguntas originales que normalmente no se hacen en la mayoría de las entrevistas.

Me intrigaba La conspiración de Melengar pero nunca me he animado a comprarlo/conseguirlo de intercambio.
Ahora mismo te odio mucho porque lo acabo de añadir a mi lista!!! :):)

MyuMyu dijo...

¡Me ha encantado la entrevista! Además, como ya sabes ahora me estoy leyendo el de Avempartha, así que me pilla justo en el momento :D.
Muchas gracias por compartirla guapa.
¡Un beso!

Koneko-chan dijo...

Como ya dije en su equivalente en castellano, me has dejado de piedra, me ha encantado.
Un besote!!

xulieta dijo...

PEdazo entrevista!!Me ha encantado aunque tengo que releerla porque con las prisas que llevo me he leído algunas muy por encima.

A ver si llegan ya de ya el 2º y 3º como bien nombras :). Que grande este escritor y que ganas de disfrutar más de él.

Eilonwy dijo...

Señor, que chispa que tiene este hombre! Me ha encantado la entrevista, lo sencillo y cercano que es el autor y tengo muchas ganas de leerle. Tengo un relato corto de él, y en cuanto me lo lea, me hago con la trilogía, fijo :)

No doy abasto con tanta lectura... Jajajaja