Author Spotlight: Michael J. Sullivan
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Michael J. Sullivan!
Michael J. Sullivan started his first story after finding a manual typewriter in the basement of a friend’s house when he was just ten years old. Serious writing began in his twenties, and more than a decade later, he’d penned thirteen novels—none of which found any traction in publishing. After a ten-year hiatus, Michael returned to writing with a single condition: that he wouldn’t seek publication. His wife felt differently, and ironically it was these tales (The Riyria Revelations) that launched Michael’s publishing career. Today, Michael has sold more than 1,300,000 books, twice been on the Washington Post’s best-seller list, has more than 50 titles translated into fourteen foreign languages, and his books have appeared on over 200 best-of and most-anticipated lists including those compiled by Library Journal, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Audible.
Thanks for joining us, Michael. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Fall and winter are my busy “writing times,” and I do most of my reading for pleasure during the spring and summer. Technically, spring has sprung, but it doesn’t feel like it yet (where I live). I’m trying to finish up a series before delving back into the third book of Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I greatly enjoyed the first two, and I hope it continues in the same fantastic way.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Wow, it’s been a long, long time since I played D&D, but I do regularly play a wizard on Project1999. It’s a version of Everquest frozen in time (how the game was “back in the day”). The game got “too easy” for me in recent years, and I love this old-school version. My weapon of choice would be a massive mana pool. Being a cloth wearer, I don’t want to be up close and personal during a battle; it’s best to stay in the back and do major damage from a distance.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I definitely prefer to bang on keys. When I’m writing, the ideas come pretty quickly to me, and if I were to try to write by hand, I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Dead shrimp souls tend to be a little shrill, so not my first choice to be sure. I work in silence, and my wife recently built a carriage house to separate the two of us. Now I have the whole house to myself when I write, and that works well for me!
That sounds great! And are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I’m a little of both. I do outline before I start, but I’ll usually discover something even better as the writing progresses. The important thing is to never change direction without knowing where I’m heading. I’m more than willing to take an interesting detour (or stay longer at a stop than I had planned), but I don’t set off into the unknown. I’m not sure how unusual it is, but coffee is an essential ingredient for me. Oh, that and the fact that I do a “little reading” by an author whose style I love before I start as it helps get me in the right “head space.”
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Influences are a tricky business. Sometimes they operate at a subconscious level, and I don’t even know they’ve played a part until years later. I do like “pairs” (it allows you to see the same event from two different perspectives. Some movie and television duos that are definitely an influence include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Redford and Newman), Sam and Al from Quantum Leap, and the sixties I Spy television show.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I don’t watch much television. But baseball season just started so I watched a Nats game the other night. We won! But the season seems to be off to a rocky start. I choose to watch baseball because it’s still cold here. As the season progresses, I prefer to listen to the game while outside working in the garden or sitting on the porch.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Wow, the world has become a much less stable place. First it’s warping, now it’s shifting. I should note that I do write every day because it’s my favourite thing to do. What I do will depend on the weather. If it’s cold and raining, I’m curled up with a good book by the fire. If it’s sunny and warm, I’m outside either biking, working in the garden, or going for a hike.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Not sure we have to take it to the point of being illegal! But I do get annoyed when I run across too many exclamation points! I use them sparingly! And sometimes I think new authors use them too much!
What! That’s crazy! I don’t know what you mean!
Ahem. In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s the final story in a six book series. It’s both uplifting and bittersweet. It took me on a story I didn’t even know needed telling.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I’m not trying to dodge the question, but I really don’t think I could collaborate with anyone. I don’t play well with others, and I think I would drive the other person crazy because I would constantly be adjusting “their parts.” One of the reasons I love writing is it’s an activity that I’m in complete control, and I releasing that control just wouldn’t be possible.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
What is this thing you speak of? Writing advice? What’s that? Seriously, I didn’t really know anyone in “the business” when I started out, and now that I’ve been at it awhile I don’t seek out other’s advice. I’d rather just make my own way, and so far that’s been working well for me.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d love to be one of the early settlers to America. I’d hope to be less arrogant than the people who lived at that time and listen to learn from the native people. To be able to explore places that other hadn’t tread would be quite exciting. Can you imagine arriving at the floor of the valley in Yosemite? That would be very cool.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Well, there has never been a day when I didn’t want to write. But when I get “stuck” I find that going for a walk (and talking out loud) helps me work out any problem I’m having. There is something about engaging the “verbal” portion of my brain that works well for breaking up the log jam.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Although it’s been read by a lot of people, I’ve never run into anyone (other than my bartender who introduced the book to me), who has read Shantarm by Gregory David Roberts. I love the prose, the story, the ability to find contentment in the worst possible situation imaginable. In short I love everything about it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
I write classic fantasy where unlikely heroes provide adventures and an inviting refuge—a joyful place to visit where good friends await. I wrote these books because in our jaded, embittered world that is so eager to denounce joy and happily-ever-after as a myth it is important to keep focused on tales worth telling. In short, I write about things that no shark would have any interest in.
That’s probably for the best. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Michael!
Michael J. Sullivan is the author of The Riyria Revelations, the Riyria Chronicles and the Legends of the First Empire.