Interview With Author Rj Sullivan

I’ve been wanting to have Rj on for some time now as he and I are friends on facebook. I’ve gotten to know him at least a little and man does he have a great sense of humor. His love for his lil Mermaid mug amuses me to no end not to mention his Shagin Wagon. A van with shag carpeting has to be seen to be believed. He’s awesome fun and now that he’s a part of the Seventh Star Press world I thought all the more reason to have him on and pick his brain. Please say hi to Rj Sullivan.


Please tell us about yourself –

Kind boring, I’m afraid. I grew up in a stable, middle class family in a safe suburban neighborhood, no trauma, I was surrounded by good friends. I discovered science fiction through Star Trek TOS reruns, Spider-man comic books, plus I was of that generation of children between ages 5-10 when STAR WARS hit the movie theater, the kids who had their DNA programmed by George Lucas. It was an unavoidable geek super-virus

Frequently, our family would travel to my Dad’s Sister’s house up north. She was married to a nice guy with a habit that stood out from the rest of the extended family—he had a huge paperback collection. During a visit in my early teens, Uncle Mick glanced at my Star Trek books, shook his head, and said, “come downstairs with me” where he kept his collection of SF books. I walked away with copies of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, several classic Heinlein’s, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. E.E. “Doc” Smith, and oh, my God, Andre Norton. By the time I’d gone through that stack, I was a hopeless SF “lifer.”

I’m a fanboy, I’ll never stop being a fanboy. That’s what makes it so fun to do what I’m doing. I’m not as up on video games, but many of my friends certainly are. My best friend used to program video games for Origin. He worked on Wing Commander II and III.

I met Mrs. R.J. in science fiction literature class in college and we are raising three wonderful “nerds in the making.”

Have you always been writing or is this a recent endeavor? –

I was always telling stories. As a kid, I started off telling variations of things I saw around me. It’s part of the process. Eventually the light bulb goes off that if you can create on someone else’s platform it would be even more satisfying to build your own platform. And you also make a choice to focus on the craft of writing, so that you have the tool that lets you best tell your story.

I have two professions, both of which revolve around writing. As a business writer, I can talk up a product, report facts in a compelling way, pitch the benefits of a service, persuade people to buy my client’s widget. As a storyteller, I use the same writing skills to create the most effective novels and short stories I can.

Do you think you could write as well without your Little Mermaid mug to keep you going? –

Rj's bookmark. Little Mermaid sketch done by Mrs. Rj

THE LITTLE MERMAID came out when I was in high school. People who remember that also recall that Disney had a long dry spell. Before MERMAID, their 80s contributions were THE BLACK CAULDRON and TRON, and while those went on to be cult classics, they were still considered experiments and flops in 1986. People questioned if Disney could ever recover its old glory, and it would be hard to overstate what THE LITTLE MERMAID did for Disney at the time. They took that momentum and put out BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, and on with a new string of hits. But I think after years of success since then, people forget what a huge shot in the arm that movie was and where it put Disney at the time it came out.

Mrs. Rj's Ariel artwork

Mrs. RJ and I were dating when BEAUTY AND THE BEAST came out. She is an animation and fantasy lover like me, and not a half-bad artist. Walt Disney is her hero, so one of her first gifts she made for me was a hand-drawn sketch of Ariel. I still have that sketch—laminated against cardboard to preserve it even though it’s over 20 years old now. The sketch is my permanent bookmark. Around the same time she made an oil painting of Ariel as well, which still hangs in our home. So yes, I have much unashamed affection for THE LITTLE MERMAID.

What is your work space and routine like? –

My desk is in our bedroom, next to the home’s greatroom. My laptop and reference books sit upon it, along with my favorite autographed pictures of my hero Cyndi Lauper for inspiration. From 8 am to 5 pm, minimum, I focus on all things writing. When the kids come home and attack the TV in the greatroom, I shut the door. Once I made the decision to work from home, we knew I had to commit to those office hours. I do not have any games loaded on my laptop. I don’t even want the temptation. As a local business writer, some days I’m off interviewing people at coffee shops or at their offices, I attend community and government events and Chambers of Commerce, both to promote myself and to cover these events for the publications I write for.

So my routine is to prioritize by deadline. I have several nonfiction articles due in a month, and, more recently, long-term deadlines with my fiction that need regular attention. I start by working on the short deadline business stuff. That’s how I get paid, so they come first. Once I complete what needs to be done, I give myself permission to work on the fun stuff—that’s my reward for taking care of business. Working on this interview is today’s reward for turning in a 500-word article for the local paper.

What are you reading now? –

I’m overwhelmed with titles at the moment. I am partway through the Seventh Star Singles, two years into a complete read-through of the Sherlock Holmes original classics, and at the same time I have two huge volumes –Stephen Zimmer’s The Exodus Gate and Todd Card’s Hell Cometh. And can I just say—Hell Cometh, it scares me. Seriously, the book is intense. Todd Card is a local author and a great guy, but he’s trying to give me nightmares.

I am also kind of holding off diving into something until I get the third Jessie Shimmer book by Lucy Snyder—Switchblade Goddess. Now THAT is an awesome series.

Your favorite authors and books? –

Traditionally, Isaac Asimov—I also love Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, all the traditional SF authors, but to me, when Asimov was at the top of his game, no one touched him. I suppose these days he’s considered quaint, but I most appreciate how he wrote plain, clear, and to the point, forsaking poetic language to just set you up for 20 pages and then drop an anvil on your head in the very last sentence. And I’d fall for it almost every time.

The classic anthology Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. I think might be the greatest career-spanning short story collection ever. Nothing touches “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.

I must mention Kathy Tyers, the only author who ever moved me to write a “snailmail” fan letter. Kathy continues to offer so much encouragement in so many ways.

Authors I read regularly: Robert Sawyer, Elizabeth Moon, Tanya Huff, David Gerrold, Many, many more, but I think that’s a good sample of my taste.

Please tell us about Haunting Blue –

The blurb:
She discovered the town’s biggest secret…now there’s hell to pay!

Punk, blue-haired “Blue” Shaefer is at odds with her workaholic single mother. Raised as a city girl in a suburb of Indianapolis, Blue must abandon the life she knows when her unfeeling mother moves them to a dreadful small town. Blue befriends the only student willing to talk to her: computer nerd “Chip” Farren.

Chip knows the connection between the rickety pirate boat ride at the local amusement park and the missing money from an infamous bank heist the townspeople still talk about. When Blue helps him recover the treasure, they awaken a vengeful ghost who’ll stop at nothing–even murder–to prevent them from exposing the truth behind his evil deeds.

Haunting Blue started out being an homage to the Hardy Boys hardback book mystery stories I read growing up. I wanted something in that flavor, but for “big kids” and that turned a dark corner at the finish. Blue and Chip started out as two guys and I just couldn’t breathe any life into the idea. It was when I thought about making one of them a girl—which added sexual tension., that the idea took off. Now what if she had an attitude, and he was the quiet nice guy. At that point, Blue was born, and she took over the idea, and I had to tell her story.

When do we get to enjoy Haunting Obsession? –

We’re targeting the August 11 Paranormal Meet n Greet for the book launch. You can find details on my website at Whether it will be much sooner than that, I don’t know. But it will definitely be out by then.

Can you tell us about it? –

The blurb:
“She wants to be loved by you…alone!”
Daryl Beasley collects all things Maxine Marie, whose famous curves and fast lifestyle made her a Hollywood icon for decades after her tragic death. Daryl’s girlfriend, Loretta Stevens, knew about his geeky lifestyle when they started dating, but she loves him, quirks and all.

Then one day Daryl chooses to buy a particularly tacky piece of memorabilia instead of Loretta’s birthday present. Daryl ends up in the doghouse, not only with Loretta, but with Maxine Marie herself. The legendary blonde returns from the dead to give Daryl a piece of her mind—and a haunting obsession he’ll never forget.

I’ve been a Marilyn Monroe fan for as long as I’ve appreciated classic films. I always knew I’d do some sort of sendup to her one day, but I wanted to wait until the right project hit me. So last summer I’m goofing off on Facebook instead of working on Virtual Blue. I relay something that I had seen in real life, and asked followers to comment on it. I described how I was perusing a souvenir shop and found a slip of paper with Ms. Monroe’s autograph on it. It was a personal check! I mean, not to a charity, not a signature to a fan, the woman was paying her rent. I was appalled that something like that could be fair game for resale.

So Rodney Calstrom of Sci-Fi Guys comments “sounds like a good idea for a story.” It was one of those things where you respond “yeah right” because my plate was pretty full. But, you can’t un-see, or in this case, un-read something. So there it was, stuck in my head and messing with me for a couple of days.

So I decided to write a flash fiction just to get it out of my system, about my blonde movie star Maxine. And I found I loved writing in her voice. So I kept going…and going….and going. And I got to the punchline, when I’m writing about the fan who isn’t upset at the prospect of owning this tacky souvenir. By this point I’d fallen in love with where I could see the story going next. So I dove in for five months and a novella was born.

I’m also excited because Haunting Obsession is the first Rebecca Burton novella. She’s a paranormal investigator with a heart for helping others, and who can wield some impressive sorcery spells where needed.

And your other published works ? –

Those would be short stories.

Coming sometime in March will be my Seventh Star Single, “Backstage Pass,” which features Rebecca Burton in a small role in the story of an obsessed fan of a murdered pop star and how he implements a time travel spell to try to correct the murder.

Between Haunting Obsession and “Backstage Pass,” I examine various aspects of being a fan and the fan community, and some of those that walk that fine and drift to the unhealthy extremes. I would love to brag that it was part of a master plan. But it was dumb luck. I love both pieces, they both stand alone, but taken together, they’re kind of a one-two punch of everything I’ve observed about fandom. So I’m going nowhere near that topic for the rest of my career.

Back to my short stories—you can still see my first sale posted here:

In 2010 and 2011, I sold two stories to Strange Weird and Wonderful eZine, which will be producing two reprint volumes later this year. I will have a story reprinted in each collecton. My colleague James W. Kirk took a story for his volumes Indiana Horror 2011 and Indiana Science Fiction 2011. I have other things “out there” but it’s too soon to say much more.

How did joining Seventh Star Press come about?

I closed the deal with Damnation Books to publish Haunting Blue in July 2010. Knowing I would have my first novel out by December, I began looking at online for resources. This led to my discovery of the Indiana Horror Writers, and a discussion with IHW President Michael West when I met him at Context in Columbus, OH in August. I joined IHW. They’re an amazing group, and I could go on and on about how much they’ve boosted my career and creativity in the past year and a half.

But more to the point, in 2011, Michael was touring Cinema of Shadows, his first release with Seventh Star. I met Stephen Zimmer at a handful of events, who worked alongside Michael representing SSP. Most notably at Inconjunction in Indianapolis and the following Context in Columbus. The three of us spent a lot of time together. Michael was helping me because I was new to the book touring thing, and Stephen was helping Michael. And he was more than happy to lend me one of his banner displays when mine malfunctioned. Stephen masterminded the “Shagin Wagon” legend, making much of my reconditioned Ford van, and drew a lot of visitors to my table.

The Shagin Wagon! With Rodney, Stephen Zimmer, Michael West and Rj Sullivan

So by the time I finished Haunting Obsession in November, SSP was at the top of my to-submit list. I had just written a paranormal sex “dramedy” that turns thriller—I’d never written anything like it, I just knew I loved it, but I had no idea how they would receive it. Turned out they loved it and here we are.

What has your experience been like so far with them? 

I’ve said elsewhere that they understand how the modern market works and how to use social media to its best advantage. And that’s true. I would add, Stephen will consider any idea for the benefit of his authors, I can’t emphasize that enough. I can give you all the clichés, being part of a publishing family, and that’s all true. But the big change for me is I feel listened to, and supported. Stephen knows what works and he doesn’t hesitate to point me toward opportunities I need to take advantage of. But he also says to me, “RJ, what do you think?” And recently I put out a whacky idea—I say “whacky” because I didn’t think it could really be done, it was a wish list kind of thing. And he said “That’s a good idea, we can do that, and here’s how we’re going to get it done.”

You have a four book deal with Seventh Star.
What else do we have to look forward to other than Haunting Obsession?

Virtual Blue, the sequel to Haunting Blue, is up next, slotted for early 2013. After that, Rebecca Burton is going to step forward. Her role in Haunting Obsession is supportive, she’s in the background doing her thing, while I tell the other characters’ stories. She also plays a supporting role in Virtual Blue, but that’s still very much Blue Shaefer’s tale, as it should be. No one can overshadow Blue in her own book, she won’t allow it.

Going forward, we’ll see Rebecca step forward, you’ll learn a lot more about her, and it will all culminate into a series finale where I tell Rebecca’s story in her own novel. It’s not all together in my head yet, but don’t be surprised

  1. Awesome Interview! As someone who is definitely a Team RJ person and a HB fanatic I can say his stories ROCK and besides, he really is a nice guy ! SSP does a great job of bringing in authors whose books totally relate to a Midwest person, as well as some killer sci-fi! I am definitely a SSP lifer !!!!! Oh, and Rebecca Burton is my hero!!!!!!!!1

  2. Loved his story about his exposure to sci-fi and about The Little Mermaid mug & bookmark! He seems like a fun guy / writer. Thanks for sharing this interview with us.
    Rita J Webb recently posted..Review: The Princess Curse by Merrie HaskellMy Profile

  3. Wow! What a fascinating interview! I loved all of the personal information that the author provided. I feel like I have a much better sense of who he is and what inpsired him. I love Cyndi Lauper- so I can relate to him having a poster of her for inspiration (every now and then she used to come in to the restaurant where I was a waitress and it was such a thrill). I am curious about his books now! Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I came and followed you via your Linky and am so happy to have found you!

    Jessica Haight recently posted..Monday’s Riddle! A Playful Terror…My Profile

  4. Lou Blanchard

    Just scanned it so far, but will digest it more fully later. Surprized that I was mentioned as a contributor leading to this book. Keep ’em coming !

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