Welcome to the Amazing Stories BLOG HORDE INTERVIEWS!
The ASM Blog Horde is a diverse and wonderful species. I have the privilege of talking with all of them, and I get to share those chats with you. In this long-running series, you will have the opportunity to peek inside the minds of the ASM bloggers to to see just what makes them tick.
I hope you enjoy the series as much as I have enjoyed preparing it for you. Please feel free to ask questions, or just let the Horde know you’ve stopped by for a visit.
Bloggers love comments, so let them know you’re out there!
Tonight’s Featured ASM Blogger:
“MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN writes the kinds of books he wants to read. His Riyria series (Revelations & Chronicles) have been favorably compared to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. His primary motivation is to entertain, and as such, he writes fast-paced adventures sprinkled with humor and endearing characters.”
Fran Friel: Michael, I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you. Let’s begin with how you became interested in blogging for Amazing Stories Magazine.
Michael J. Sullivan: Well, Amazing Stories had been an icon in the science fiction & fantasy community and I think much was lost in its absence. When Steve wrote me that he was resurrecting it, I was really excited by the possibility to be associated with such an iconic magazine.
What really sealed the deal for me, though, is that he wanted to have regular contributions about publishing. Many genre fans are also aspiring writers, and the publishing landscape is changing at light speed. Even aspects that were true a year ago are now obsolete, and there are so many routes to consider nowadays. Because I’ve been published in all three paths (self-publishing, small press, big-six), I have a unique perspective of seeing the pros and cons of each. I think it is really smart to include information about the “business” side of writing and I have a lot of knowledge to impart on that front.
Fran Friel: I’ve read a number of your blogs on writing, and they’re invaluable, Michael. I want to thank you personally for sharing this information so generously. I know it’s going to help a lot of writers. That kind of information is very hard to find, especially all in one place…and for FREE!
Okay, enough adoration for now. As you know, Amazing Stories Magazine has quite a variety of blogging categories. In addition to your posts on the business of writing, will you be blogging in any other categories?
Michael J. Sullivan: I mentioned my proclivity for topics on publishing, but even within that category there are so many aspects to discuss. My posts come out weekly (on Sundays), and I tend to alternate through a couple of different series:
- News: About changes in the publishing landscape such as when Amazon opened 47North to focus on science fiction and fantasy or when Harper Collins Voyager had an open submission for their new line of digital-only releases.
- Pulling Back the Publishing Veil: Where I talk about aspects of publishing that writers learn about after they sign. For instance, which editors do what and how reserves on returns work.
- Demystifying Contracts: Where I discuss various clauses and indicate things that authors should be on the lookout for.
- Epic Fantasy Analysis: These are actually in addition to, not a replacement for, my regular set of series discussed above. Every few weeks I analyze the top 100 Kindle Epic Fantasy titles and look at pricing, the division between self-published and traditional titles, and what authors are selling the most. It’s this kind of “pulse taking” that helps me navigate the changes in the industry.
Fran Friel: As you mentioned, you’ve been around the block in the world of publishing, Michael. Could you tell us a little bit more about your work in the industry?
Michael J. Sullivan: I’m a novelist, what some would call “a professional writer,” but I prefer to think of myself as a storyteller. I write the kinds of books that I want to read. If necessity is the mother of invention, then (for me) boredom is the mother of creativity. Writing is my favorite pastime and I’m grateful to get paid for doing something I would do even if I weren’t being paid.
The Riyria Revelations, contains six novels but it’s released by Orbit as a trilogy (2 books in each volume). I wrote all six before publishing any of them (not a system I would recommend for new authors), and this allowed me to weave threads across the whole work. While each book has its own conflict and resolution, there are some mysteries that unravel as the series unfolds. Also, I structured the series to start out simply and layered much of the world building and character as I went. My intention was to make each book better than the one that came before, so that I could end in a grand finale and tie up everything in a very satisfying way. From the feedback so far, it would appear I was successful on that front.
Fran Friel: Amazing Stories Magazine focuses on the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Do you have a favorite?
Michael J. Sullivan: I’m pretty much known for being a fantasy author, but that’s just because The Riyria Revelations is the first (and as of this date, the only) series that I have out there. I had a blast writing Hollow World (my science fiction title), because I was able to explore how technology affects society and individualism. But my lack of scientific acumen is a bit of a problem. In fantasy, I get to “play God” and create the world as I see fit, and no one can challenge me because I’m the source. With science fiction, it’s harder because there are so many readers that are more knowledgeable than I on prevailing scientific theories. I’m sure some will find fault in my approach to time travel, and fume about why it wouldn’t work, but I’m a “soft science” guy and relying on the strength of the story to get me through any technical faux pas. In any case, this is fiction and I’m focusing on the characters and their triumphs and challenges, not the scientific details.
Bottom line, I think a story is good because of: characters you care about, adventures you would want to experience yourself, and the emotional and intellectual connections you make along the way. Such things aren’t limited to any particular genre, and for me it’s fun to apply these techniques in different settings. I do have a great horror story in the queue, so hopefully I’ll be able to do a trifecta someday.
Fran Friel: Who are your favorite authors, Michael, and what keeps you coming back to their work? Any book recommendations for us?
Michael J. Sullivan: Well Tolkien, of course, and I don’t think there are many fantasy authors that don’t pay him homage in one way or another. His work got me reading in the first place, and put the writing bug in my head. But it’s not like we’re going to be seeing any new works coming from him.
So for “ongoing” authors I’d say that Stephen King provides me with a huge amount of inspiration. He has an incredible knack for creating interesting characters and I appreciate the way the story is revealed through their eyes. His technique is extremely well done.
Recently, I was struggling on how best to structure part of my current work in progress, and by reading some of The Dome, I was reminded of some tools I have in my arsenal, which I wasn’t utilizing to their fullest. This really helped me to find my own voice for that particular story.
As for recommendations, The Stand is an exceptional book and a must read. Many of the characters are as vivid today as when I read them thirty-five years ago. My only complaint is the deus ex machina ending, but even that couldn’t spoil all the other fabulous aspects of the book and so I can look past that transgression. I only have a handful of what I consider 5-star books and The Stand is definitely one of those.
Fran Friel: Great book recommendations. Mister King has certainly inspired many of us–myself included. Have you read any new or lesser-known authors you would like to bring to our attention?
Michael J. Sullivan: I started out by self-publishing and there are many very talented authors from that pool. It isn’t widely known, but these successful authors are earning very well. I personally know more self-published authors that have been able to quit their day jobs than traditional ones. I think one that deserves more attention is Anthony Ryan. He self-published Blood Song and, like me, was subsequently picked up by a major publisher. I’m a harsh critic, and rarely offer a ‘blurb’ because I’m so picky, but in Ryan’s case I actually volunteered one:
“Anthony Ryan is a new fantasy author destined to make his mark on the genre. His debut novel, Blood Song, certainly has it all: great coming of age tale, compelling character, and a fast-paced plot. If his first book is any indication of things to come, then all fantasy readers should rejoice, as a new master storyteller has hit the scene.”—Michael J. Sullivan, author of the Riyria Revelations series
If you want to find some new “indie authors” who are really writing some great stories (and selling them at fantastic prices), I highly recommend that people checkout the Amazon Best Selling Epic Fantasy list as I’ve found a ton of really great books from there.
Fran Friel: I haven’t read Anthony Ryan. With that glowing recommendation, I will definitely look for his work. So we’ve talked a log about writing, so let’s switch gears a bit. Do you have a favorite artist?
Michael J. Sullivan: There are so many great fantasy artists, but I must say that my favorite right Marc Simonetti.
He a French artist and some of my favorite pieces of his are the cover he did for the Mexican edition of Game of Thrones, the French editions of The Name of the Wind and also the French editions of my own works:
I really appreciate his ability with regards to perspective, light, and the drama he infuses into his paintings. I like his work so much that I’ve commissioned him to do an illustration for me for my new book Hollow World, which will have a kickstater in March and an official release in January 2014.
Fran Friel: Wow, Simonetti’s work is gorgeous. I believe a compelling cover is essential, and you certainly have found the magic touch.
So,how about video games, Michael? Do you play, and if so, what is your gaming platform of choice?
Michael J. Sullivan: In my deep, dark past, I used to be into MMORPG games, first Ever Quest and later World of Warcraft. When I decided to return to writing I quit these games as they can be very time consuming and shifted my entertainment activities to crating my own worlds. More recently I’ve enjoyed Portal and Portal II, but the game I probably play the most of these days is Minecraft.
I really love being able to transform the world and it’s like having a Lego set with unlimited number of pieces. I know it’s kind of geeky, but I recently imported the map from my current work in progress (or rather a small portion of it). I then created some of the structures so I could walk around and visual various aspects. It was really fun to go “virtually” into one of my worlds. By the way, the graphic I’ve included isn’t mine or from my world – It’s just one of the many online examples of structures people have built in the game.
I’m definitely more into PC games then the platforms such as Xbox. I think a lot of that comes from preferring a keyboard over a controller. That being said, we did get a new console over Christmas and I’m trying to get used that control.
Fran Friel: I’m impressed that you were able to quit WoW and Ever Crack. Those two games have their share of serious gaming addicts, so escaping is no small feat, but certainly essential to succeed as a writer. Bravo!
Do you have a day job, Michael?
Writing novels is my “day job.” To be honest I don’t know how other writers are able to produce anything after putting in a full day somewhere else. The sad truth about novel writing is very few earn enough to support themselves. I truly wish that wasn’t the case because so many great stories are going unwritten. I’ve never had to balance a job and writing, because I was the stay-at-home dad while my wife earned money to pay the bills. She supported the family for decades, and a few years ago I was able to return the favor when my writing income surpassed hers. I see one of my responsibilities is making enough to keep her out of a job.
Fran Friel: It’s a pleasure to hear a writing success story, Michael. It sounds like you and your wife are a great team. What personal projects are in the works that you would like to share with us?
Michael J. Sullivan: Wow, you may be sorry you asked, as I always have a lot going on. So let’s see…
- The Riyria Chronicles (my second series) is a traditional fantasy, which comes out this summer/fall. The Crown Tower is releasing Aug 6 and I’ve finished up the copy edit review, so the only thing I have left on that project is the review of the final proof, which should be here in a week or so. The Rose and the Thorn comes out Sep 17 (which coincidentally is my birthday – and I’m finishing up the copy edits for it right now.
- Hollow World is a science fiction mystery thriller which follows Ellis Rogers as he time travels to a future free from want, religion, or countries. (Basically John Lennon’s song Imagine made real). In that time, man has moved underground, carving out massive caverns and inventing “falselight” to simulate the sun. This book explores a lot of themes including that what might be a utopia for some people would be a dystopia for others. I plan on self-publishing this work, using the same professionals as my traditional works. Mark Simonetti is doing the cover. Betsy Mitchell (editor-in-chief at Del Rey for more than a decade) is doing the content editing, and my Orbit copy editors will be lending their talents. To pay for this top-notch talent I plan on doing a kick starter in March.
- The First Empire: Is my next fantasy series and I’m about 11,000 words into book one and have all three of the other books outlined. I’ve been conceptualizing this story for a few years now, and it finally got its place in my queue (I always have more to write than I have time for). It’s based in the same world as my first two series, but it takes place thousands of years in the past. Because of this, the culture, technology, and even the races are much different than in “modern day” Elan. I plan on telling “the real story” behind certain mythologies and mankind’s religion that have been distorted and manipulated over the centuries. My intention (and hope) is that I can write all three books before submitting any of them for publication. This technique worked well with my other two series as it allows me to weave plot threads and adjust earlier books as ideas occur to me later on.
Fran Friel: Do you have a favorite fan convention or writers’ convention, Michael?
Michael J. Sullivan: I’ve been to a fair number of conventions, but I always feel a bit uncomfortable. Kind of like the new kid at school, and I see all the established authors as the seasoned veterans. Last year, I went to ConFusion, which is held just outside Detroit (Dearborn, MI) and the really cool thing about it was just how many of the “big name” authors it attracts (Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks). There are a lot of authors that I only knew through twitter, and it was good to meet them face to face. I really liked the atmosphere of that con, and enjoyed “talking shop” with other authors. I think it is the biggest “little con” out there and will probably be coming back to it in the future.
Fran Friel: I suspect there are people at the cons thinking the same thing about you–the established author and seasoned veteran.
Well, you’ve certainly whetted our appetites tonight, Michael. Where else can our readers find you on the Web?
Michael J. Sullivan:
Amazon: Michael J. Sullivan
Wikipedia: Michael J. Sullivan (author)
Excellent, Michael. Thank you so much for spending this time to help us get to know you a bit better. You’ve offered our readers a bounty of great reading in both your novels and your excellent blogs. You’ll keep me busy reading for sometime, for sure!
And readers, thank you for being with us. I hope you enjoyed tonight’s interview. Please come back next week for another featured blogger from the Amazing Stories Blog Horde Interview Series.
We’ll keep the light on for you!
I’ve enjoyed Michael’s insight into the publishing industry, so it is nice to also get a little insight into Michael himself. I envy his being able to write novels as his day job. I now have a similar situation as a stay-at-home dad, but as this also includes stay-at-home school teacher, I don’t get much in the way of daytime writing hours. Someday…
I agree with Felicity’s statement about series impatience, but I also agree with Fran that, "An awesome book is worth the wait." So I’ve worked out my own solution for dealing with the conflict – I don’t start reading a series until the final book is published. There are some exceptions when I know the individual books function equally well as stand alones. And yes, I know this leaves me out of many series related discussions. For instance, I haven’t read a word of A Song of Ice and Fire. Which is worse, my itch to start reading book one, or the itch of the reader waiting for book six? Obviously series writers and publishers would prefer that most readers do not use my approach. But if more people did, it might lead to more stand-alone titles, which might not be a bad thing.
It's great to see you here, David.
I admire your fortitude to wait until a series is complete. I'm certainly not so disciplined. And I agree–I doubt if the publishers would appreciate this approach. In fact, don't say it too loudly, or you may have men in dark suits (with the obligatory book mark in their breast pocket) and sunglasses knocking on your door. 😉
As for the time to write, I hope that "someday" comes soon for you!
Hey Felicity, I'm glad you are enjoying the posts.
The reason is one of practicality. It takes a very long time to write even a single book and so to write 3, or 4, or in my case 6 is a huge amount of risk. Whether you plan on going traditional or self it is going to be the readers who ultimately give the thumbs up or down to the project and if the first book comes out and falls on its face, then all that time you spent on books 2 – n could have been better spent writing something else.
In my case, I wasn't planning on publishing, so I wasn't risking anything. For me, writing Riyria was a pastime that I enjoyed doing from an entertainment perspective, so I wasn't risking anything…I was already getting my enjoyment out of the writing itself. But for someone who writes with the goal of publication (regardless of path) that can be a gamble that will result in a lot of "wasted time" that could be better spent on something else.
My best advice for someone seeking publication is to go ahead and design (and even plot) out a series, but make sure the first book can operate well as a standalone. Actually in my series both book #1 and book #2 do this (after that they are bit more intertwined to the whole plot arc). That's not to say you can't hint at things, but until you determine if something has a following then it's best to hedge your bets a bit.
Thanks for asking.
I really like your thinking on this, Michael. Thanks for the insight (and experience).
I see your point, Michael. Definitely, from the time-is-money perspective, it makes sense to hedge one's bets by writing a first book as a standalone. I in fact plan to do that for my next project, after my 700,000-word series is out the door!
David … I am also in awe of your continence with regard to serieses. Wish I was capable of such patience! You have an incredible reading experience awaiting you when GRRM finally finishes ASOIAF in a few –or ten — or twenty … years! Despite my own frustrations with authors who take "too long" I, however, would not like to see a shift to more standalones. If a book is good I ALWAYS want a sequel.
Felicity – Thank so much for stopping by. I'm sure Michael will get back to you shortly.
And I know what you mean about having to wait for the next book in a series. I've read a few completed series on the recommendation of my husband, ones which he had to wait for. He grumbles about how lucky I am not to have to wait.
For me, in general, I'll wait however long it takes to get the next book in a great series. I guess it's an anticipation thing for me. An awesome book is worth the wait.
I've been following your epic fantasy analyses and finding them very useful, Michael, and this was a fascinating interview.
I'd love to know why you would not recommend writing an entire trilogy / quartet / series before publishing it. I am in the final stages of doing just that myself, and as you point out, it allows one to connect up all the threads to one's satisfaction.
From a reader's point of view, also, when I read Book One of a series and love it, I want the rest NOW. If I have to wait a few months to a year I may have forgotten about that author, and he will lose a sale.
So what are the arguments against?