Interview: Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan is the author of The Riyria Revelations series as well as the two related chronicles The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn. Michael has recently published the Science Fiction novel Hollow World, and is now working on a new series set in the same world as Riyria.

Just for fun:

What is your favorite fantasy novel or series?

It’s probably not very original, but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings will always have a special place in my heart. It was these works that turned me into a reader and then a writer at a very young age. Prior to them, I had no interest in books, and afterward all I wanted was to consume more adventures like the ones I had within those pages. When I couldn’t find anything else to read, I started writing my own tales.  So, not only are they great books in their own right, but they were instrumental in changing my life. For those reasons, they will forever have special significance.

If you could live in any fantasy setting (other than your own) where would you choose to live?

I thought J.K. Rowling did an amazing job with the Harry Potter series. I absolutely wanted to attend school at Hogwarts and visit nearby Hogsmeade. I especially like the way she handled holidays and food, and of course there are just so many cool places to explore within its halls that there is a seemingly endless number of possibilities for adventure and intrigue.

On Writing:

How often do you write?

Every day. Seriously, even Christmas and New Years and all the other holidays. It’s my favorite thing to do and if there is something that prevents me from writing I get twitchy.  It really is like a drug. I wake each day excited with the possibility of sitting down and writing, and I’ve never suffered from what many authors describe as “writer’s block.” Those who complain they can’t seem to put their butt in the chair are a complete mystery to me. I have the exact opposite problem.

Are you a ‘seat of your pants’ writer or do you like to know the direction of your novel/series beforehand?

Both! I never start a book without knowing where it’s going.  I always have an outline, which isn’t much more than a few bullet points of scenes or points that have to come out in each chapter.  But…then as I start writing I discover new paths and opportunities for the story and the characters. Many times the story will go in ways I never intended, and I let it take me there. The important thing, though, is I always know where I’m heading, even if it isn’t where I originally set out to.

How do you discipline yourself to get the words on the page? Any advice here for less established writers?

I guess I should have “read ahead” in the questions before 😉  Seriously I need no discipline to write. The question is much like asking a child, “How do they find the discipline to play their favorite game?” That being the case, it’s a bit hard for me to give advice to people who don’t feel the same way. I’m not wired the way they are, so I can’t really put myself in their shoes. I don’t think you have to have the type of passion I do to write, but it certainly makes it easier. I’m looking for excuses to sit down and type while other people are looking for distractions to keep them from writing.

You are one of the big success stories for an indie publisher that got a traditional contract. How has your experience been between self-publishing and traditional? Which do you prefer?

There is a lot of partisan rhetoric regarding publishing paths, and I think a lot of that has to do with people who have either become jaded because of a bad experience in one or the other.  For me, both experiences have been amazing, so I don’t have some of the bias that others do. I’m asked all the time which one is “better,” and the truth is there isn’t a “universal best.” There are certainly paths that will be a better fit one author or another, but without knowing what their goals and capabilities are, I can’t say which would be better for “them.”  I think there are huge advantages in going the hybrid route and doing a bit of both.  Of course, most won’t have this as an option. It’s difficult to do just one of these well, so doing both successfully is more than twice as hard.

As for which I prefer, it depends on the project. Sometimes self-publishing is easiest because I get the books exactly the way I want without having to fight with anyone when our visions don’t align completely. Then there are projects where I have an entire team that I don’t have to worry about managing. In these traditional projects, things move along with much less work on my side, allowing me to concentrate on writing something new.  To me it’s not that one is more or less work than the other, the tasks are just different. Time spent negotiating contracts is replaced with time evaluating editors.  It’s just trading one set of activities for another.

Your ‘Work in Progress’:

So I’ve seen a lot of people on Goodreads talk about Rhune (Book I of The First Empire), what’s your new series about? Is there a correlation to Riyria?

I’m so very excited about The First Empire series; like Riyria, it is a single tale told through self-contained episodes with their own conflict and resolution. This series is very much an ensemble cast where the strengths of a number people are necessary to accomplish great deeds rather than one or two central characters carrying the tale. Technically, The First Empire is set in the same world as the Riyria stories, but the events take place 3,000 years in the past. The technology and cultures are so different between the two that most wouldn’t necessarily think of them as connected. In addition, magic was much more common in the days of the First Empire whereas in Riyria “The Art” is looked upon with suspicion and fear.

Have we heard all there is to hear from Hadrian and Royce? Will more tales of their adventures be forthcoming?

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that there will be a third Riyria Chronicle, so that would be the ninth novel with the pair. I’ve started scripting some aspects of the plot, but until The First Empire is finished, I don’t want to think too hard about that.  Still, I can’t keep the two from invading my head so I’m jotting down notes as they come up, and that will make writing the third book go much more smoothly.  Because I write an entire series before publishing the first book, it means I have to get through all five First Empire stories before I can return to the pair.  Originally my new series was going to be three books, and then it expanded to four, and very recently to five…where I believe it will stay.  I have the first four written, and I expect to complete the fifth by mid-April.

Will there be a fourth Chronicle? I don’t know. It’s important to me that the pair doesn’t overstay their welcome, so I’m taking those books one at a time. Like I said, the feedback from The Rose and the Thorn made me realize that there is still a desire on the part of readers for more adventures, and I’m more than happy to oblige.  So, I’ll put out the third book and take the temperature again. I have more than enough stories that I “could” write, but “could” and “should” are two different things. I’d rather leave that franchise early then be “that guy” who didn’t know when to quit and ended up ruining something that was once well respected.

Do you have any closing comments?

Not that I can think of other than to say that I’m eternally grateful to the readers that make my dream of writing a reality. I write books I want to read, and the hope is always that others will enjoy them as well.  So far, this approach has worked well. In many ways, writing is its own reward, but hearing others enjoy the works elevates the whole process to a level that I can’t achieve on my own. I’ll keep writing, and hope that others will keep reading.

Thank you for your time!

Thanks for having me!


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