Q and A with R. J. Sullivan
In the last of my interviews with the authors from Seventh Star Press I catch up with the latest addition to their team: R.J. Sullivan.
R. J. Sullivan resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. His first novel, Haunting Blue, is an edgy paranormal thriller about punk girl loner Fiona "Blue" Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren. R.J. is hard at work on the next chapter in Fiona’s story, Virtual Blue. R.J. is a member of the Indiana Horror Writers and here is what he had to say:
Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Writer, husband, Dad, classic movie geek, pop music fan, sci-fi addict, with an appreciation for horror. The irony of my journey so far is that I have two ghost story thrillers to my credit but I always envisioned myself writing big spaceship battles in the sci-fi genre. Maybe someday.
Who or what inspired you to be a writer?
As a child in the 70s, with Star Trek in reruns on TV, Star Wars hitting the theatre, and stacks of Spider-man comics at home, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the fantastic fiction all around me. The turbulence of the era was lost to me, as a child. I didn’t realize until later what the world was going through and why the masses needed that escape or what they were escaping to – you know, Nixon, Vietnam. All the political turmoil. I was just a kid, being a kid, and all this fantastic stuff was going on all around me.
What authors inspire you?
Isaac Asimov, for his ability to write plainly and surprise the reader; Kathy Tyers for having the courage to stick to her vision even when it meant walking away from mainstream success; Robert Sawyer, who doesn’t get enough credit for writing about "normal people" we can all relate to and putting them in a place to be the hero; Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr) for having the courage to write the truth as she saw it no matter what the reader’s reaction may be.
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
The industry is very different from when I wanted to do this. Back then, authors were nurtured by the publishers and given time to build a catalogue, and the publishers let their readership grow over several years. Now, a deal with a major publisher means you get one shot, a six month shelf life, and if you don’t hit huge success, you may be done with that publisher.
These days, a writer has so many options available. The major publishing contract is just one of many paths, and it may not be the best choice for what you want to do. Small presses are making huge strides, and I don’t poo-poo self-publishing the way some people do. My primary peer editor just landed a major contract after she self-published her romance novels through Amazon. Even a negative experience in self-publishing can be a positive; it tells you "you’re not ready yet, you need to develop your craft."
One thing that has never changed is that success is combination of talent and perseverance. It’s a process that often takes several years. So focus on learning your craft, find your peer writers, and get your stories together. You need to learn how to write, and write well. With social media, we are more of a "community" than ever before, but all the networking and connecting will not get you anywhere if the writing isn’t solid. So make the writing your first priority, and when the time is right, the path on how best to tell your story will become clear.
How many hours a day do you actually spend writing?
That’s a trick question, as I am a local business writer and journalist. So I spend Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, "writing", and probably 2-3 hours of that day on fiction-related projects, whether that be editing peer pages, composing new pages, or blogging.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
I gotta go with Peter Parker, the ultimate flawed hero who can never quite get things worked out but manages to pull it together at the last second until the next big battle. I think most of us are more like Peter Parker than Doctor Who. We’d love to be the genius with all the answers, but most of the time we run out of web fluid just when we need it most and we end up having to improvise and hope for the best.
Which character/s from your books ‘Haunting Blue’ and ‘Haunting Obsession’
do you identify with the most and why?
I identify with all my characters to some extent. I think readers (especially friends and family) like to play this game with a writer, to figure out which characters represent "them", or who is the mouthpiece for the author. The process is more complicated than that.
All of my characters are a piece of me, even the villains or the unpleasant people. They have to be, they all came from my imagination, so I drew them from somewhere in me. Blue, the punk girl from Haunting Blue, is the wild child rebel I always wanted to be in high school but never had the courage to do so. On the other hand, because she reacts from her gut, because she lacks life experience, she makes stupid mistakes. Chip, her boyfriend, is the more contemplative, thoughtful one, which is what makes their relationship so interesting. Blue’s Mom is the career minded parent taken to extremes.
Haunting Obsession offered a chance to create a character I actually disliked, while also going into the head of someone who loves him, and who has strong reasons for loving him and will do extraordinary things to prove it. Daryl accentuates the worst aspects of fandom gone out of control, and yet he’s by no means a terrible person, it’s just his priorities are out of whack. I can remember being at a convention and watching some guy flip out on his girlfriend when he realized he forgot to set the DVR to tape some movie or TV show. I mean, he just went crazy, and yet at the same time, I’ve been known for having my moments as well. It’s interesting, when our living circumstance overall is pretty good, how we define "hardship" or "problems." My internet is too slow to stream the music, I don’t have the latest cell phone. Should I buy this movie poster or get my girlfriend a piece of jewellery? I wanted to laugh at that entire mentality while embrace and acknowledge that a lot of the time, I’m right there doing the same thing.
What do you expect your readership to get out of your stories?
I hope they have a good time. I hope my characters speak to them in relatable, realistic ways, and maybe a deeper message will be picked up by a few of my readers. I want to tell entertaining stories that resonate with today, and to do so in a truthful way. Whatever else I do, I’d rather be truthful than safe. I hope I accomplish that much at least.
What can your fans expect from you in the future?
I hope they can expect to be entertained, and to expect the unexpected, I guess. I have no plans to stay still or get stuck on one idea. For example, I have no plans for another paranormal thriller book. I have a long-term plan that takes us to a lot of places and I hope they’ll find the journey as satisfying as I do.
Do you have any other hobbies outside of writing?
I used to be an avid moviegoer, though in recent years it’s more home video viewing. I am an avid pop music fan, something I struggle with as I get older to not be that out-of-touch parent trashing anything new. A few years ago that was REALLY tough but music seems to be at the beginnings of a new upswing. Actually I’m a fan of the genre, I’m a convention-goer, autograph collector. I like to pick the brains of my heroes, and I have been fortunate enough to have that opportunity on occasion. I think I’ve learned how to do that without being overly-annoying in the process.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
I hope to entertain as many people as possible, and maybe to move and speak to a few people within that bunch. It’s an interesting defence mechanism, because writers are constantly questioned and minimized for what they do, so we tend to overcompensate and behave as if we’re working on the next manuscript for the Pulitzer Prize in Literature. The truth is, if we’re any good, we’re going to entertain. If we’re entertaining well, and creating that escape, there will be deeper themes in those stories. As writers, we cling to those deeper themes as if those messages are the "point" of our work.
Here’s the reality. A writer takes two years to create something and the avid reader will take it home and digest it overnight or in a couple of days. If you did your job and they enjoyed it, they’ll tell others, they’ll watch for your name, and in the meantime they’re going to move on to their next hits. My inner writer screams: "but, my MESSAGE, my THEMES, did I not SPEAK to you?" But then I realized, that’s okay. They read it, liked it, they had that escape, they were entertained, they’ll read the next one. So I’ve learned to chill out, not take myself so seriously, enjoy the readers I’ve gained and offer them as many fun escapes as I can. Ultimately, that’s what I signed up for.
Thank you very much for your time R.J.
Learn more about R.J. at www.rjsullivanfiction.com.
Learn more about the interviewer, Daniel Cann, at www.danielcann.com.