Interview with Author Melissa D. Sullivan

Melissa D. Sullivan joined Writers Block last year and her contribution to THE JERSEY DEVIL: A COLLECTION OF UTTER SPECULATION has quickly become a fan favorite. Combining sci-fi elements with a heart of a timeless human struggle, Sullivan’s original story resonates on many levels.

When would you say that you became a writer? 

A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of THE JERSEY DEVIL’s launch, my mom presented me with a “book” I made in second grade.  It was a story about how my little brother fell out of a second story window when he was four (don’t worry – he’s fine and in med school).  The book had a construction paper cover, a hand-drawn copyright page and, I would argue, a very compelling story. It got a B- for spelling.

So, two lessons from that anecdote: one, I’ve always been a writer, and two, criticism is always subjective, except when it’s about spelling.

What sort of subjects that interest you?

I have always been most drawn to women’s stories.  For most of western literature, the subject of women’s lives and, even more so, women’s lives in the domestic space, has not been considered “serious” enough a subject for “real literature.” (Insert eyeroll emoji).  So I like to play with that idea, and, at the same time, spend some time with some kickass women characters.

What does your writing process look like?

Most of my writing is character driven – as in, “wow, that person sounds super cool. I wonder what would happen if [insert challenge to their world view here] happened?”  Then I play with it, usually writing a lot of world building stuff by hand (I know, I’m old school) and then, after letting my character think about things a while, step back and try to outline a plot. Plots are terrible for me.

For LAND OF HOPES AND DREAMS, the basic plot came pretty early on.  What came later was the dynamic between the mother and daughter and how that underscored the theme.  So, in the end, every story is different.

What are some of your non-writing pursuits? Have they influenced your writing?

Parenthood has been a great influence on me. Before I had kids, I didn’t really push myself to write on any sort of schedule.  I would write sporadically on weekends or on long trips, but not with any particular goal in mind and certainly not most days.

Now that time is at a premium, I know I need to force myself to write, even when I don’t feel like it and would rather watch the Leap Day William episode of 30 Rock for the eighth time. So I force myself to do 20 minutes a day.  I even use a timer, just like with my kids.

Most times, I can keep going. Other nights, I stop at 20 minutes and watch that episode of 30 Rock.  Seriously, it’s the best.

What are some resources that have been valuable to you?

The support of other writers.  It sucks writing. You are alone, working on something that might be the worst thing ever, and there are so many reasons to not write (see above re: 30 Rock, Season 6, Episode 9, “Leap Day”). Having the support of other writers, be they critique partners, a formal group or just social media, helps you remember why you want to do this and bolsters you when things get rough.

Also, it’s so nice to complain about writing with people who get it.

You wrote a story for Jersey Devil: A collection of utter speculation. What is something that you took away from that project?

That sci-fi is hard!  I usually write contemporary or historical fiction, but LOVE reading science-fiction, especially the Lady Astronaut series coming out now by Mary Robinette Kowal. I wanted to give it a shot in a format that would require me to finish.

Thankfully, I did, and now I will go back to my normal genre, please and thank you.

Tell me about your publications.

I’ve been lucky to publish a few things since I started submitting, but one of my favorites was a piece of historical flash fic about Jackie Kennedy that got published in a UK literary mag and then awesomely got nominated for a Pushcart. Also got the benefit of some gorgeous graphic design work.  Check it out! “Dear Jacqueline” at Sum Journal.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a historical fictional novel inspired by a real lady con artist from the 1880s. I’ve described it as a queer feminist Western adventure. So completely marketable, I know. But you have to write what you love, right?

Learn more about Melissa at www.melissadsullivan.com or follow her on Twitter @MelDSullivan for Tina Fey gifs and Taco Bell reviews.  30 Rock, “Leap Day” is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Interview with Author River Eno

River is one of the authors I’ve worked with on The Lost Colony of Roanoke and The Jersey Devil. She is a founding member of our writing collective, Writers Block and a fascinating person. Her contribution to Jersey Devil, “The Unspoiled Harmonious Wilderness” is a unique and beautiful take on the origins of our most local cryptid, and I wanted to get inside her magical brain.

When would you say that you became a writer? 

What an interesting question. I could say I have always been a writer. Not because it was something I dreamed about daily, although it was on my mind, but because that is how my mind has always worked. I think in what if’s and long, spiraling sequences. I frequently have vivid, complicated dreams and also fall into daydreaming easily as a conversation can insert itself into my brain, and I must let it run its course.

But then I’d also have to say, probably when I began writing diligently, everyday. Or maybe when I published my first book. Certainly doing a collaborative project with talented writers, as I did with the “Collection of Utter Speculation series,” gave my writer persona a boost of confidence to define myself more definitively as a writer.

When did you start writing seriously?

When I was 28, after my second kid was born. I decided then that I needed to get the voices in my head under control by putting them on paper.

What sort of subjects interest you?

I’m a studying herbalist. Plants, their constituents, and their application for medicinal use are very exciting to me. I love to wild-craft plants and I grow and then “can” my own organic food. Coinciding with my love for plants and the natural world, I’m a follower of Norse/Celtic paganism, a nature spirituality.

I love vampires! I love the melancholic and depressing aspect of the vampire, and I love the dangerous and sexual side. I like the questions vampires pose; what would it be like to live forever? What would a person do with themselves over hundreds of years of living? Would you have mental breakdowns after so long? How would you justify the things you do to survive?

I also think a love of history goes hand in hand with the vampire folklore. I love research and find it exciting to learn about other cultures and languages.

Vampires are one of your favorite subjects to write about. Why do you think you have an affinity for them?

I’m not completely sure. They have always fascinated me. I was introduced to them through Hammer Films reruns at a very early age, around 4, so that probably has something to with it.

I find the entire folklore fascinating. Beings that can stay alive for a very long time if they keep replacing their blood. And it’s difficult to dispute that there might be some truth to the legends because the stories go back so far.

What was it like working on The Lost Colony of Roanoke, a collection of utter speculation?

The Lost Colony of Roanoke was the first anthology I’d ever worked on. The first collaborative writing project, and it taught me a lot about group dynamics and working within those parameters. I have learned similar things from being a part of different activist groups. But with this anthology our writing group was small, so we worked together closely. And that can be a challenge, to come to agreement, but I think when you set your mind to accomplishing something as a group, it can be done. As it was with Roanoke.

What does your writing process look like?

I try to write a few hours every single day. That routine can be thrown off track when a project is due, and when I’m in edit mode. But I try to write or read at least three hours each day. To keep writing, is the crux of it.

What are some things/authors/ect that influenced your writing? 

A few authors that have influenced me as a writer, and in turn my writing, are Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, Piers Anthony and Anne Rice, of course. And I think everything I go through, and have gone through, in my life influences my writing. My highs and lows are all filtered into my writing, eventually.

What are some of your non-writing pursuits? Have they influenced your writing?

I think all outside influences affect a person’s writing. My climate and animal activism, veganism, and herbalism all help to broaden the scope of my thoughts which enables me to look further inward, helping to give clarity and thoughtfulness to not only my writing but my life.

What are some resources that have been valuable to you?

Honestly, Wikipedia is a handy resource. It’s about 80% accurate, not definitive by any means. But well sourced articles have citations you can follow, and a study in 2005 found Wikipedia about as accurate at the Encyclopedia Britannica. So, I find it a good starting tool for research.

I have many, trusted books on paganism, witchcraft and spellcraft, written by lifelong practitioners that have been invaluable to me.

You wrote a story for Jersey Devil: A collection of utter speculation. What is something that you took away from that project?

A number of things actually. I enjoyed the research, learning where and when the folk tale began, and how it persisted through the years.

And as with any collaboration I always marvel how people from different backgrounds can come together and work their way through a complicated process to come out the other side with a beautiful creation. But it happened again, and I’m really proud of this Speculation book and the writers I worked with.

Tell me about your publications.

I write an urban fantasy series called the Anastasia Evolution Seriesabout a half faery-half human living in a vampire world in the near future. Anastasia has a difficult life, but I think part of what you walk away from after reading is that so many times in life we are alone. We have to make decisions alone and execute those decisions alone. Especially when it’s for the greater good. But if you’re lucky, you have a few good people to stand by you. They can’t always walk into the fire with you, but they will be there when you walk out.

The story I wrote in the first Utter Speculation anthology, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, was called Nokomis. I really enjoyed the research, because it’s a true mystery. Something truly unexplained. And after learning what had happened I wondered what it was like for the Gods of each culture to interact and watch their people unravel.

Please share what you have learned by indie publishing over the years?

Wow, what have I learned from indie publishing? I’ve learned that publishing is a truly difficult, long and tedious process. And not for the faint hearted. I learned to find yourself an editor and/or publisher you click with. Someone who understands you and understands the vision you want to project. Those things are really important.

What are you working on now?

I’m always at least partially working on the Anastasia series. There is so much more about her and her family that I need to share.

I’ve also started a vampire coffee table book that I’m excited about.

To follow River Eno check her out on Facebook, or go to her website.

Or go to her author page on Amazon for her entire published works

The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation will be out next week!

I can’t believe we managed to pull this off a second time. An anthology of five fictional stories, all speculating about the origins of the famous cryptoid the Jersey Devil will be available to buy on amazon next week and it is really good.

Five authors, five genres, five different ideas of just what Mr. JD wants and where he comes from.

Visit the blog for author interviews and more in the coming week, plus, if you’re in the Philadelphia area, check out the Utter Speculation Twitter page for details of our release party on March 20!