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Monday, September 2, 2013

Mini-Interview with Michael J. Sullivan (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Michael Sullivan Website 
Order The Crown Tower HERE 
Order The Rose And The Thorn HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Theft of Swords 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Rise Of Empire 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Crown Conspiracy 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Avempartha 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Nyphron Rising 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Emerald Storm 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Wintertide 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Percepliquis 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Viscount and the Witch
Read A Question Of Quels by Michael J. Sullivan (Guest Post)  

Michael J. Sullivan is a writer that has wowed the Indie world and then went on to wow the publishing world with his deal with Orbit books. His Riyria revelations have made him a favourite of Liviu, Cindy and me over at Fantasy Book Critic. Here Michael was gracious enough to answer a few questions in regards to the Riyria Chronicles, the prequel to his debut series...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, thank you for taking the time. With the release of the Riyria Chronicles, you’ve chosen to focus on the formative years of Royce and Hadrian, two of your most endearing characters. Do you think your readers will appreciate the direction you’ve chosen? 

MJS: After I finished the Riyria Revelations, I put a poll on my website asking readers to let me know what they wanted me to write next. A lot of people wanted the sequel to Revelations, but most asked for the origin stories. (How did Royce and Hadrian meet? How did two such different people come together and decide to team up?) This was great from my perspective because I didn't want to write a sequel because of how Revelations ends. I pulled off what, in retrospect, I see as a miracle in sewing that series up. No stone or character was left untended to. As such I prefer not to rip that bag apart. In some ways, it would be like asking Tolkien to find an excuse to have Frodo sail back to Middle Earth. Given that I was following the consensus of my readers, I think they will be happy with the direction I’m going in. 

Q] In the Crown Tower, you also focused on Gwen as a POV character. How important is her character arc in this prequel series considering her actual role in the Riyria Revelations? 

MJS: Gwen has always been as crucial to the story of Royce and Hadrian as Dumbledore or Gandalf were to Harry or Frodo. Just like them, she is always in the background, but the effect of her actions guide and determine so much. I already made a passing mention in Revelations about how Gwen had saved Royce and Hadrian’s lives, I just never said how, why, or what she went through. These were the big questions that I felt should be answered. Also, I knew that many readers liked Gwen and wanted to learn more about her. With Revelations there were so many POV characters already, and as such she didn't get as much attention as I would have liked. The Chronicles gives me the opportunity to rectify that. 

All my Riyria books follow a similar pattern. Each are about Royce and Hadrian, but each also features a guest star—a character that is spotlighted. Alric was the guest star of Crown Conspiracy, Thrace in Avempartha, Arista in Nyphron Rising, Wesley & Wyatt in Emerald Storm, Amila and Nimbus in Winteride, Modina in Percepliquis. In The Crown Tower it’s Gwen and in The Rose and The Thorn, it will be Hilfred. While Gwen does have a fair amount of screen time in The Rose and the Thorn, it doesn't necessarily mean a much expanded role if other books in that series are written. 

The Riyria Chronicles are intended to be less like Star Wars and more like Star Trek, in that each episode won’t necessarily be connected to the others. These first two books are sort of like a two hour pilot, but I see the rest as being generally standalone stories, although I’ll likely build in some reoccurring characters and maybe carry a mystery across a couple of books, just because I think that sort of thing is cool. 

Q] As I was reading The Crown Tower, I realized you wrote a fantasy version of a buddy-comedic action thriller. Was this a conscious decision or just something that happened while you wrote the story? 

MJS: Sort of. In my formative writing years I studies all sorts of genres and writing styles. I tried to be Lovecraft, and Updike, and Steinbeck. I tried flowery prose; I tried curt vibrant language like Hemingway. I tried deep introspective first person and distant omniscient narrative. I tried all these because I thought that was what good writing was. It wasn't until I give up trying to be a writer and just wrote what I wanted to read that I discovered what good writing really is—it’s what you enjoy reading the most when no one else can see. 

For me, good writing isn't hard to read. It isn't composed of sentences that are so poetic that I have to read them twice. And it isn't so simple that I wonder if a twelve year old wrote it. Good writing is instantly compelling. It is a sweating glass of beer on a blistering hot day of roofing. It sucks you in with a promise and then puts you in a rollercoaster car, yanks the belt tight and shoves you screaming over the edge. Good writing displays the fore thought and effort the writer went through to make the experience satisfying for the reader, making certain there were no boring parts, no up hills that were so steep or long that it would kill the rollercoaster ride. And it’s thoughtful ideas hidden in the background and under the seat so they never annoy or distract, but do give the story a sense of being more than just rock candy. 

When I really began thinking about what I liked in stories I found I enjoyed the thriller format the most. Thrillers are all about the reader experience. I felt that every story ought to start there. No matter what a book does it has to begin by entertaining. All the grand plans in the world amount to nothing if people aren't entertained enough to read. So yes, all the Riyria books are thrillers in style: visceral, fast-paced, emotional, easy-to-read. This was a conscious choice. I wanted to get away from the wall-of-information forms so popular in some invented-world fantasy. 

The humor in all my books comes from an attempt to be true to life. I find too much seriousness to be ridiculous and unrealistic. Everyone makes jokes and some of the funniest are made at funerals or police stations. It’s how people deal with stress, and I feel it makes the characters more real. The buddy aspect just comes from my idea of a cool story. I’m not generally attracted to the “child grows up to be,” story that I think is at the roots of a lot of fantasy. I wanted to start with mature people who had skills and a history I could hint at and slowly reveal. I liked Butch and Sundance, Kelly and Scott, Sam and Al, and I wanted to bring that dynamic to traditional fantasy. So Crown Tower is really just an extension of the rest of the other Riyria books, a mash-up of a buddy spy thriller with the adventure and humor of a good Errol Flynn movie. 

Q] With prequels being only more hated than sequels to famous series. What made you choose the harder route? Do you often try to make things more difficult for yourself? 

MJS: I gave up trying to do what other people think is smart a long time ago. I've been happier and more successful when I don’t listen to others. That being said, I honestly didn't realize that prequels were frowned upon until after I wrote and submitted the books. I was just doing what I had done before, write what I thought would be great—the sort of thing I’d like to read. 

The prequel also makes things really easy for me. With these two books I've established a means to write a standalone episodic series of novels that has no chance of not being finished, because it already is. It’s very liberating to be in a position where I can either write, or stop writing without being locked in. This way I can keep people who love Royce and Hadrian happy by writing down another of their adventures every once in a while and yet still be able to pursue other projects. 

Q] Your wife, Robin, has been instrumental to your success. It’s my assumption that she had an active role in the conception of the Riyria Chronicles, am I right? Could you tell us about her and how she has guided your career so far? 

MJS: Robin is responsible for everything. She worked at a day job so that I could stay home and learn to write books. She never complained once nor ever suggested that I should give up and get a job. 

There was a time back in the winter of 2007 when I was depressed. I had finished Emerald Storm and Wintertide and was working on finishing Percepliquis and no one read them. No one. Robin was very busy with work and didn't have time and no one else was interested. I felt that I’d spent all these years creating a six-book series that I would throw away. This wouldn't have been so bad except that I felt they were really good. Robin noticed the way I was moping around and got me to confess. She read the series and was floored. She loved them. It became her crusade after that to ensure that people would get a chance to read them. She has always been my first reader, and editor. She found me an agent, and got my work published first through AMI, then self, and now Orbit

When I finished Percepliquis I was done with Royce and Hadrian. I had never intended to be a fantasy writer. I had never intended to be any kind of writer. Fantasy was just the first thing I wrote that stuck. And I had plenty of stories, in all kind of genres that interested me. Only I hadn't counted on her falling in love with my characters. She wanted to see them again. She was the one who put the poll up on my website. “See! They want more Royce and Hadrian. You could write more, couldn't you?” Then in the dead of winter she rented the movie version of Stephen King’s Misery and left a sledge hammer near the bed. “How about some tea? I’ll make it. I have some new sugar I want you to try.” 

Okay, that last part about Misery isn't true, but who knows what would have happened if I hadn't taken her “advice.’ 

Q] While I follow your Facebook and Goodreads updates, two books I often hear about are Hollow World and Rhune. Can you tell us about them and what genres do they fall in? 

MJS: Hollow World is a science fiction novel about a man who travels into the future in much the same vein as H. G. Well’s book. And like The Time Machine, it’s light on the science aspects and instead focuses on characters, changes in society, and ideas. Like Riyria, it is designed with thriller aspects with regard to plot and tempo. I finished the last edits on the book just recently, and early reviews have been fantastic. Hollow World will be published in early 2014. 

Rhune is my work in progress—which means don’t get your hopes up, you might never see it. I've permanently shelved books I don’t feel turned out good enough. I have a plan of making Rhune the first of a three book trilogy. That’s how I have it sketched out anyway. I finished the first draft, but that doesn't mean anything when I’m writing a series. No one will see it until all three novels are done (except maybe Robin.) I don’t like releasing just a part of a series. I don’t like making a promise to readers that I’m not 100% sure I can deliver on. 

Rhune is an epic fantasy series. It is set in an earlier period than Riyria which was based on the Middle Ages (although I also borrowed from a wide range of periods of European history from the 1000s to 1700s). The new First Empire series is set way back in the Bronze Age, but using various concepts drawn from roughly about 10,000 BC to 2,000 BC focusing on the beginnings of civilization and the age of myths and heroes. 

Q] In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say about yourself or “The Riyria Chronicles”? 

MJS: As for myself, I’d just like to thank everyone who is already reading the books and are helping to make it a success by recommending and talking about it. I love that people send me emails or discuss mine and other books with me on goodreads, reddit, and forums such as sffworld. 

As for Chronicles, probably the question I get asked the most is which should they start with The Crown Tower (chronological) or Theft of Swords (publication order). I would suggest publication order for a number of reasons. By doing so you’ll be introduced to the characters and the world of Elan in the manner I had always intended. I don’t really front-load my characterization or world building, but rather spread it across the entire set of books. So by the time you are done with it, you’ll have a pretty good foundation. The other reason for choosing this order, is thee will be little winks and nods to those who have already read Revelations, that should make for some fun “inside jokes.” These aren't anything readers won’t miss an important plot point or anything like that…it’s just that those “in the know” get little bonuses. 

Lastly, I would just like to thank Fantasy Book Critic for interviewing me, and for all the wonderful support this site has had for my work. You were an early adopter (even back in my self-published days), and do a great job uniting fantasy readers and writers. So thank you for all that you do.


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