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.