Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview with Fantasy Author Michael Sullivan

I have a wonderful treat for you today!  I have an interview with the author of the fantasy series, Riyria Revelation.  AND if you have been up to par on the series, there might be a few hints down a ways in the interview if you are curious for Percepliquis.  And if you are a follower of the series, Michael has some wonderful news to share!  So read on to check it out...

M:  Hello Michael.  It is wonderful to have you back here again.

First and foremost, I believe there is a HUGE congratulation due to you Michael. :) I believe you have a big announcement for a tremendous step for the Riyria Series. Would you like to share it again here?

MS:  Hey Melissa, thanks for having me back, and for all the support and good things you’ve said about my little series over the years.  In October 2010 my wife, Robin, had noticed that my books were cross-selling well with a lot of mainstream authors and this got her thinking that perhaps it was time to look into taking the books to the next level and seeing if one of the big-six publishers would be interested.  To be honest, I don’t think either of us expected anything to come of this but in less than a month we had several major publishers interested and agreed on an offer from Orbit Books who will be producing the Riyria Revelations. They are the fantasy imprint of the Hachette Book Group, the second largest publishing company in the world.

M:  This really is a big jump and a wonderful opportunity for you and this wonderful series!  I wish you all the best.

MS:  Thanks…we’re very excited. Of all fantasy publishers we really think that Orbit does a fantastic job and we’re really looking forward to having them promoting the series.

M:  I don't know if you know yet, if you do, can you share with us the publishing dates so we big fans can mark the calendars on when to head to the stores?

MS:  Sure, and this is one of the great things about Orbit and why we went with them. Usually a publisher will put out one book every twelve or eighteen months and the first book usually hits the street about eighteen months after the contract is signed.  For something like the Riyria Revelations (which is six-books) this would mean years and years until we get to the final installment.  This was the one thing I was most worried about.  But Orbit is so excited about the project that they fast-tracked it which means they put it into the next available release cycle (fall/winter 2011). But even better than that, they will release the books in back-to-back months so the will come out very quickly. The last thing they did was combine the books in three two-book versions so the release schedule goes like this: Theft of Swords (Crown Conspiracy & Avempartha) in November 2011, Rise of Empire (Nyphron Rising and Emerald Storm) in December 2011, Heir of Novron (Wintertide & Percepliquis) in January 2012.

One other thing I should note is that Orbit has agreed to put out a Percepliquis only version for those who have already read the other five. This was a big concern for those who have five of the six books. They will be using my cover design so this version of the book will match the rest of the series. For those that are part way through the series, and care about the covers matching I suggest you buy the rest now as they will be discontinued soon.
M:  So glad that Orbit is so flexible with the books to do the fast track and have them ready just a month apart from each other.  Can't wait to see them!

M:  What scene in all this did you enjoy the most in writing? Why?

MS:  Oh, I see what you’re doing…you’re trying to get me to give away things in Percepliquis.  Unfortunately if I told I’d ruin it for you and I’m sure you don’t want that. But I will say that of the entire series 90% of my favorite scenes are in that final book and one of the reasons it is my favorite in the series. So, since I can’t tell you those…let me pick out some favorites from already released titles.

For the Crown Conspiracy I’m especially fond of Myron and the squirrel tree. This is a scene where a monk is forced to leave the only place he has ever known as home discusses leaving behind the grave of a childhood friend. I love the emotion of that scene.

In Avempartha, I liked the tension of the chase scene when Royce, Hadrian, Theron, and Thrace are being attacked by the Gilarabrywn as they are racing back to the castle.

In Nyphron Rising I get a real cinematic impression when Arista stands up, sword in hand, and drenched in rain as she faces off against the Imperial Army.

My favorite scene in Emerald Storm involves Arista and her bodyguard Hilfred. I’d love to provide more detail about that but I feel that I’d spoil it for those who have not read the book yet. After reading the story I’m sure you’ll be able to point out what it is.

My favorite scene in Wintertide also would be a spoiler, so I’ll provide some hints…it involves Modina (the empress) and Regent Saldur, read the book and it should be obvious. My wife’s favorite scene in that book is not a spoiler so I’ll throw that out as well it is when Nimbus is teaching Hadrian the various virtue of being a knight. He makes some observations on Hadrian’s sword but is really describing the man that wields it. She says that’s why she likes that scene the most, but it could also be because Hadrian is naked in a bath in that one.
M:  Well, can't blame a girl for trying. ;D I'm really looking forward to this last book now!

What was the most challenging scene for you to write and why? 

MS:  I often hear about author’s who have writer’s block, or who struggle with one scene or another. To be honest I really have never experienced that. My writing flows pretty unabated and I’ve never really struggled with writing a single scene.  I can visualize them in my head really well and its just a matter of letting my fingers fly.

I will say that I did struggle with the ending of the series. I had come up with five different ways I could have gone with it.  They each had their own pluses and minuses but I still wanted…more.  I wanted something really special and while all of them were “good” they weren’t “good enough”.  So I pondered and thought on this for months. Then it came to me out of the blue and it was as if the pieces fell together perfectly. It required me to do some rewrites in the previous books to plant some seeds and lay some foundations but the tweaks were minimal and the end result is spectacular. I know that sounds really conceited, and writers are supposed to be humble about their work, but the ending blew even me away. There are sometimes when things are “just right” and that’s how I feel about the ultimate way in which the books are concluded so while it may be immodest, I couldn’t be happier with what the final outcome was.

M:  Do you have a favorite line from the series?

MS:  Interesting question…most of my favorite lines will make no sense when taken out of context. For instance in Percepliquis, one of my favorites is, “It is…it really is.” I know what you’re thinking…pretty unremarkable, huh? And yet, in context it means a lot to me and will to the reader. Most of my favorite lines are that way…to others they won’t mean much but to me personally they are special. 

There are obviously a lot of lines that were written for people to take note of. Places where I weave a bit of philosophy or try to say something with a degree of depth. But for me to say those are favorites of mine would seem a bit pretentious.  One of the neat things about the Kindle (although a bit 1984ish) is that when enough people highlight a particular line it shows up on the book’s page.  So I’ve seen what lines others respond to.  For instance, “One truth doesn’t refute another. Truth doesn’t lie in the object, but in how we see it,” from Nyphron Rising. I’m glad that others have found this line noteworthy and I really enjoy seeing which ones people pick out. But to be honest those lines are more for them than myself.

M:  It seems we are getting ready to come to a close with the Riyria Series.  Are you excited? Bummed?  What feeling are you going through?

MS:  I can’t wait for the final book to come out…excited doesn’t even come close to covering my emotions.  Because all six books were written before the first was released, and the fact that they are not just a series of sequels but were designed to build one upon another, it meant that everything that has come before is really just setting the stage for the final grand finale. To be honest, I think as individual books they are entertaining in their own right, but when combined they are more than the sums of their individual parts something that I’m especially proud of. 

Once you read the final book, I hope you’ll go back and read the series from the beginning. I think if you do you’ll see a lot of things in a much different light. I’ve planted little morsels throughout the books that have no real significance at the time they were revealed to you, but once the whole story is known you should see them in a much different light. To me that is the really exciting thing and until the last book is out a big part of the fun of the series is left hidden.

M:  Speaking of Percepliquis... It seems the world is going to be in big trouble, as the Heir didn't make it to the Horn for Wintertide.  We still have the 'people' from the island, and the Elves are still a question for me.  Is there any hints you could drop us about or favorite characters and what will happen to them?  Will there be a big fight/war scene?

MS:  Again, trying to get me to spill the beans, huh? Well I don’t blame you and because you’ve been so supportive of the series I’ll let you in on a few things.  First let’s set the stage. In many ways where people are now (if they have finished the fifth book) is an interesting place in the overall tale. On one hand, many of the major conflicts are resolved. People long imprisoned are free, bad guys are vanquished, wars have ended. With the exception of one major character that goes through a major change at the end of Wintertide, things are pretty well wrapped up nicely…but.

As you noted there have been hints dropped about the elves and the ending of the Uli Vermar. For three thousand years they have left mankind alone, bound by treaty to stay on their side of the Nidwalden River. With the ending of Wintertide, that time is over and now the only thing that can stop them from revenge is the Heir of Novron and only by using the Horn of Gylindora. So yes, the book is primarily separated into two parts, a team that must find the horn and the rest who must survive against the elven onslaught.

As far as characters and what to expect from them…well there is just too much good stuff there for me to even start into. If I do, I’ll spoil things for sure. But I will say one thing that many should be pleased about…and that is the return of Myron. He is often reported as a favorite and with the exception of a few cameos in Wintertide he’s been mostly absent from the series since his debut in The Crown Conspiracy. Myron is back in Percepliquis, but in a very new way. He has grown much over the years since leaving the confines of his sheltered life at the Winds Abbey. He’s had to deal with loss and guilt and has come to some interesting revelations about life over the years. It was pure joy having him back and if people get one tenth of the enjoyment in reading about him as I had writing then there should be some good times ahead.
M:  Oh man, just enough to make me starve for more.  I'm REALLY looking forward to Percepliquis.

So many times you have been called 'the little Indie that could'.  What is one big thing you have learned through this journey that you could share with us?  That might help others trying to get through too.  About publishing, writing, anything.

MS:  The biggest thing is perseverance. If you write something that YOU really enjoy and you think will resonate with others then YOU are the only one that can guarantee its failure by giving up. There are few overnight successes in this business and you will suffer many defeats...bad reviews, rejection letters, low sales, difficulty in getting the word out, the list goes on and on such that it would seem impossible. But here’s the thing.  I think success has three components: Talent, skill, and perseverance.  The good news is you control two of those three. 

When I say talent, I mean the ability to weave a good story. To think up characters and plots that are compelling. For the most part this is something that you can either do or not.  It is something you are born with and you can improve over time but in many ways storytellers are born not made. If you are one – then you’re in good shape.

Skill is easier as it can be taught and therefore learned. It’s the techniques you use to weave the story. Some is technical (grammar, sentence structure) and some of it is developed through practice (pacing, show verses tell, writing good dialog, building tension).  You obtain skill by practicing, reading, working at getting better each day and it is totally within your control.

There are many that say it takes luck to be published and in some cases that is true. Someone happens to write a particular book that times the market just perfectly that it becomes a huge success. But in most cases there are not single opportunities to “make it”. Perseverance is a way of making your own luck by ensuring you are in the right place at the right time. You may pitch an idea a hundred times and get ninety-nine no’s and if you stopped at twenty, or fifty, or eighty you never would have gotten to that one yes. Again, this is something the writer has total control over. If they have the first two ingredients: Talent and skill then it really is just a matter of time until the last piece falls into place.

M:  I've heard your wonderful wife has assisted you in this adventurous journey in a great way.  How has this worked out for you, married and living together and working together?  Sounds like it could be hard at times.

MS:  My writing is not the first project we’ve worked on together. In fact, we’re happiest when we are side by side as we both have strengths where another has weaknesses and therefore complement each other. It started nearly thirty years ago when we both worked at the same Orthotics Lab (shoe inserts for people with foot problems).  Later I was hired into a software company that she worked at (she did project management, and I did marketing).  After that, we spent ten years running our own marketing company (Spectrum Design) she was the President and I was the Creative Director. In all these cases we were joined at the hip nearly twenty four hours a day, riding to work together, sharing lunches, and so on. So as you can see, we really don’t get tired of one another.

Robin has contributed an amazing amount to the books as a whole, sometimes making me add entire chapters or restructuring the book from the ground up. She’s great at finding flaws in logic or plot holes and making sure they are addressed so you guys don’t even know they existed. Beyond the writing though her biggest contribution has been on the business side of things. She is the one that has done all the work of promotion, finding agents, and working with publishers.

The only real difficulty was in editing Wintertide. While we often disagree during the editing process, in most cases it’s been pretty easy to make changes when it was just the two of us. For Wintertide, however, we had an intern working on the project and so I felt pulled in two directions instead of just one. I think the end result was a better book but the process was painful and I was put between a rock and a hard place. When there was disagreement between the two of them I found myself between a rock and a hard place and no matter who I sided with the other would be understandably disappointed.
M:  Wonderful relationship and sounds like you both are great together. :) So glad to hear that as you don't hear it much anymore these days.
What is next on your list to do?  Any more fantasy book writing in the future?

MS:  My current work is a book entitled Antithesis. Unlike the Riyria Revelations it is set in modern times but does have a fantasy element in that the story involves magic and the timeless theme of the struggle between good and evil. I also have a few Riyria related books that I’m outlining and thinking through in a very background way.  I left a few tangents in the book that I could explore in more detail…things like: The original story of Novron and the founding the original empire; Esrahaddon’s story of a young mage learning the Art; The early years of Royce and Hadrian…how they met, some failures they had in early missions, etc.  There are also two or three other threads that I can’t get into as again it would spoil some of the fun of Percepliquis. I’m not sure if I’ll actually do anything with these stories, a lot depends on if Riyria continues to be successful and if the fans want more from this world. 

I also need to release A Burden to the Earth which is a novel I finished years ago and just never got around to putting the final touches on.  It is not fantasy (it’s mainstream literary fiction) and so some of my existing fans might not be interested, but from a pure “writing standpoint” it is probably my best work.

M:  Okay, a fun question for you which I started asking on my interviews... If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you like to visit?

MS:  I’ve always dreamed of going to Australia and New Zealand. The landscape there is just so varied and beautiful and I’m intrigued by the diversity of plants and animals.  I’ve heard there is a spider that weaves webs between trees to catch birds…come on who wouldn’t want to see that?  And a duckbilled platypus?  That’s just a writer’s dream of the interesting and unique. I’ve also always wanted to go to Ireland where my families roots are (and there are still many relatives that live there). Orbit has a very large UK and Australia presence so if anyone from there is listening…I think a few book signing tours there is essential for the launch and someone should get right on it ;-)
M:  Good luck to you Michael and I hope you get to travel to Australia and New Zealand.  Oh, if you should happen to need an assistant and Robin's not able to go just let me know. ;D They would be wonderful places to visit.
Thank you again Michael.  I always enjoy having you by.  I do wish you all the best with your new adventure and all you do, in words and pages.

MS:  No, thank you Melissa, my success is, in a large way, the result of the book blogging community so where Riyria has gone is as much due to you and your efforts as it has been mine. Feel free to have me back anytime. I love the questions and am thrilled that someone is interested in anything that I have to say.

M:  Thank you and wishing you all the best in words and pages...


Are you curious about this amazing fantasy series?

Well, you can visit Michael on his site for the Riyria Revelation series, HERE.
And you can follow his blog, HERE.

Do you want to look at the books?  You can find them on Goodreads, just click the name of the book to go to the book.
***Yet to come*** Percepliquis


Eli said...

Great interview! I need to check out his series now! I'll add them on goodreads-- thanks for the links!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

What a good interview. I am really going to have to wishlist all these books! Thanks for the post!

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Eli - Hi! Thank you for stopping by! :) Thank you. So glad you like the interview. And hope you like what you see with the books. :)

Melissa (Books&Things) - Hey! Thank you. :) So glad you enjoyed the interview. :) I have really enjoyed this series thus far and kind of bummed for it to be coming to an end. But all great things must end sometime. :) Hop you like what you see with the books.