Hello Wottareaders! this is my interview with Michael J. Sullivan, New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post bestselling author. He is best known for his debut series The Riyria Revelations, which already have both a sequel and a prequel but he also has published a stand-alone SciFi novel, Hollow World. Let’s know more about him and his books shall we? let’s go!
Who is Michael J. Sullivan, not the writer, the man. What can you tell us about you?
I’m a pretty introverted person, so you won’t see me dancing on any stage. I prefer quiet times reading by a fire or typing away at my keyboard. I’m married to an absolute genius who made my career possible and improves my books through her tireless efforts as an alpha reader and managing the beta readers and copy editors. I’m probably the most unlikely of people to “make it” in this whole writing gig, considering I’m not classically educated or trained in any way for that matter.
Where are you from? Has your Country influenced your stories somehow?
I was born in Detroit, Michigan, in the United States. I think many creative pursuits start at a very young age. For me, I found boredom to be the mother of creativity. When I grew up, there wasn’t cable television, video games, or the Internet, so I used writing as a way to entertain myself.
Writers are such for different reasons, which was your thing that made you decide you wanted to become a professional writer?
It’s funny because I never “decided” anything. You see, I had two runs at “professional writing.” The first lasted for over a decade and was an utter failure, even though I was trying as hard as I could. I wrote thirteen books, received hundreds of rejections from agents, and figured I didn’t have “the right stuff,” and I quit. So that attempt resulted in me NOT wanting to write for a living because I was such a failure. At that time, I vowed never to write creatively again. Fast forward by more than a decade, and I couldn’t stay away from writing any longer. I sat back down at the keyboard for two reasons. First, to provide a novel that my dyslexic daughter might enjoy. And second to purge a story from my brain that had been building for more than a decade. This time around, I was 100% against publication. My wife read three of my books and decided they needed to be “out there,” so she submitted them to agents and took over the “business side” of my career.
Any non-book related hobbies you want to share with us?
I live what my wife calls a very “balanced life.” Writing in the morning, some physical stuff in the afternoon, followed by a bit of artistic expression (painting), especially during the winter, and reading in the evenings. So every day is broken up with at least two and sometimes three hobbies. In the last year, I’ve taken up birding, which is something I enjoy very much.
One book, one movie, one song, one food, one sport and one videogame?
- The Stand by Stephen King.
- Star Wars Episode IV.
- Seared Tuna.
- Everquest 1999.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
There is no other job as perfect as writing. If I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t work at all. But I’m an older guy and financially stable, so that makes life as a bum possible.
If you had to define yourself just using one sentence of your novels, which one would be?
“I’ll let you buy me a drink, and we can regale each other with stories of our adventures in foreign lands.”
I’d like to know about your first steps, the very first day you decided to become a professional writer, what made you do it?
Well, as I said, I never decided to become a professional writer. Or to be more precise, I “wanted” to be one, but after years of failure, I realized it wouldn’t be possible. But if we go back to the first day I wanted to “write,” I can talk about that. It was when I was 9 or 10 years old. I was playing hide-and-seek at a neighbor’s house, and I found a huge old black typewriter in a hidden corner of the basement. I inserted a piece of paper and typed, “It was a dark and stormy night” (which is what Snoopy always wrote). Later I learned that line was “the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing.” (which is the opposite of my style). From that day on, all I wanted to do was type up the stories running around in my head.
Do you have any rituals for writing? any kind of habit or goal to achieve every day?
Yes. I write every day, and I do so in the morning. I get up, drink some coffee, and read the paper. Once I’m yelling at the articles, I know I’m awake enough to write. I start each writing session by reading a few pages of whatever novel I’m currently reading, and then I begin to write. I continue until lunch, and if the writing is going well, that may be much later than it is for most people. I don’t do any further “writing” during the day, although I’ll often edit.
Do you take real people you know and put them in your stories?
No, not really. Although individual aspects of my wife, Robin, can be seen in several women, including Arista, Thrace/Modina, Gwen, and Persephone.
What are you writing right now?
Yes, of course, how else can I answer these questions? Seriously though, I’m always writing (or editing). It’s my favorite thing to do, so I do it every day.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
I recommend that aspiring authors should read often and do so critically. Try to dissect why a particular author structured their tale the way they did. When and how did they introduce each character? How do they give out a specific piece of information? When do they present questions, and where are they answered? Studying how others write will help you be better in your work, even if that means NOT doing something that you didn’t like.
Which would you say was your best and your worst moments as a writer?
Typing the last line of my Riyria Revelations was my best moment. I knew that was THE BEST ending to a series that I had spent more than a decade conceiving. My worst moments are usually fighting scenes because if I’m lazy, they can be tedious. I have to work hard to make them more than just a series of actions and counters. The fight has to tell its own story, and that can take a lot of effort to get right.
Your Riyria books (Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles and Legends of the First Empire) take place in a fictional world, Elan. What makes this world special?
Nothing really. What I mean by that is many fantasy authors spend a great deal of time building their world and trying to make it unique or interesting. For me, the world is just the stage, the backdrop, the plate upon which the meal is served. I’m much more interested in the characters and the plots, the trials and the tribulations. Of the three elements, the setting is the least important aspect of the Elan books. Now, that’s not always the case. In Hollow World (my only sci-fi work), the setting is an essential element and is almost a character onto itself.
Legends of the First Empire occurs 3.000 years in the past to the events of Riyria Revelations, as a result, the characters are different as are the cultures and technology. This series centers in Persephone, a woman who has to save mankind. A way to show how everything began, myth vs reality?
Sort of. In Riyria, I told many lies to the readers about past events, the gods, and various historical figures. Why? Well, because the victors write history, and at certain times people who might seem like heretics will later be regarded as heroes (and vice versa). I knew that there is a vast divide between “what actually happened” and “what we’re told happened.” Legends allowed me to give the reader the truth. As for Persephone, she is definitely “a” main character, and many might suspect she is “the” main character, but the reality is this is an ensemble cast. Many people step into the spotlight, play their parts, and then fade into the background as someone else moves forward. So I don’t think of this as a single person’s story, but rather the tale of many.
Meanwhile, Riyria Chronicles is a prequel to Revelations. On your website, you say people refer to Chronicles as “prequels done right.” What do you think is the key to this?
Well, I think you’d have to ask them, but if I could repeat some of what I heard, it boils down to a few items. First, the reader learns things about the characters they didn’t already know. Second, they get to see how the bonds of friendship between Royce and Hadrian grew. Another thing mentioned is the new books give them more time with characters they’ve come to think of as their best friends. And most importantly, the writing is as good (or better) than the originals. I believe some prequels have a reputation of being “phoned in,” and I’ve worked hard to make each Chronicle be a story worth telling, and not a way of milking a successful cash cow.
Regarding your standalone novel, Hollow World, it tells the story of Ellis Rogers, a man with a terminal illness who secretly builds a time machine in his garage. This time you changed fantasy for sci-fi, how did you feel about that? Was it refreshing or maybe challenging?
I’ve actually written all kinds of fiction: fantasy, mystery, thrillers, sci-fi, adventure, coming of age, and literary. I’m known for fantasy because that is what I published first. Hollow World was easy to write for two reasons. First, many concepts had been in my head for over a decade, so the story came out effortlessly. Second, I was able to use modern-day references that make it easy to connect with readers — things like M&Ms, personal virtual assistants on steroids, or the Yosemite Valley. The combination of those two things made it a joy to write, and I think I did so in record time.
Thanks for taking the time to answer all the questions, any last words for your fans worldwide? Maybe about what we can expect from you next?
Well, first and foremost, I want to thank everyone for reading, reviewing, and telling their loved ones, “Oh, you must read this!” It’s because of them that my books continue to have legs even after more than a decade since the first book was published (The Crown Conspiracy came out in the fall of 2008). As for what comes next, Age of Death releases on February 4th, but thousands of people are already reading it because they backed a Kickstarter project.
The last book in the Legends of the First Empire series (Age of Empyre) will be in retail stores on May 5th, but those who back its Kickstarter (which will launch in January), will receive the ebook in March. As for my next series, I’m two books into a trilogy that I hope to have finished by late spring or early summer. For both Revelations and Legends, I wrote the whole series before releasing the first book (so that I could tweak earlier books when a new idea pops up later on), and I’m doing the same thing with these three books. It’s tentatively titled The Rise and The Fall, and I’m anticipating that the books will release in the summer of 2021, 2022, and 2023. I’m also hoping to drop a 5th Riyria Chronicle (tentatively known as Drumindor) between two of The Rise and Fall books. I’m not sure when. It’ll depend on how long it takes me to write it. And last but not least, I want to say thanks for the interview. I had fun.
It was great to know more about Michael J. Sullivan, if you are curious about Riyria you can find the Riyria reading order here.
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