Mornin’, Creeps… it’s that time again! I’ve got another victim in the hotseat this morning and I’ve been prodding for information. That’s right, today I’m playing 20 Questions with Seventh Star Press’ own R.J. Sullivan! He probably won’t want me to tell y’all this, but he really is a great guy. He’s a lot of fun, and he’s a darn good writer to boot. So sit back, relax, and read on! Oh, and go buy his stuff because it’s worth it.
20 Questions with RJ Sullivan
R.J. Sullivan’s novel Haunting Blue is an edgy paranormal thriller and the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren. Seventh Star Press released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella in 2012 and Virtual Blue, the second book in Fiona’s tale, in 2013. Seventh Star will release a new edition of Haunting Blue in early 2014. R. J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. His newest project is the Red Lotus series of science fiction novelettes for readers of all ages.
R.J. resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana.
SHR: Tell us a bit about yourself.
RJ: Writer, husband, father. Self-employed writer. When I’m not plotting the next story, I’m composing marketing pieces for clients or articles for a local magazine.
SHR: How long have you been writing?
RJ: I’ve been telling stories all of my life. I had the dubious honor of winning a creative writing award in high school and another in college. I served as part of the staff of my college’s literary magazine and earned a BA in writing. I’ve been writing professionally in marketing and advertising for over a decade, sold my first fiction short story in 2004 and my first novel, Haunting Blue, in 2010. Virtual Blue is the direct sequel to Haunting Blue.
SHR: How many genres do you write in? Which is your favorite?
RJ: Haunting Blue and Haunting Obsession are both contemporary ghost stories. I have a couple of paranormal thriller short stories, one dark science fiction tale, one cross-genre SF horror piece (Robot Vampire in Seventh Star Press’ Vampires Don’t Sparkle) Virtual Blue breaks away from ghosts and brings in many other supernatural elements–a paranormal thriller, and then some. I am also starting to break into spaceship science fiction, telling a lighter, optimistic pulp adventure story in the style that I loved to read growing up. The first story, a novelette entitled Fate of the Red Lotus, came out as a Seventh Star Single last month. Paranormal thrillers have been very good to me but I love sci-fi.
You can find sale links to all these stories at http://www.rjsullivanfction.com
SHR: Which type of horror holds more appeal for you and why: situational or psychological?
RJ: Whether SF or horror, stories that hold my attention are about the characters and how they respond to situations out of their normal experience. It’s not about the alien invader or the ghost, but how the main character responds to it. My stories tend toward the psychological and my reading preferences slant the same way.
SHR: Are blood and guts necessary? Why or why not?
RJ: In my opinion, not in prose. See answer 4. Blood and guts by definition are visual/visceral and far more effective in a film/visual setting. In a story where words are your main form of expression, it’s difficult to recreate that visual–it’s like an extended martial arts fight or a spaceship battle written out for the page. It doesn’t play as effectively.
SHR: Are you self-published or do you use a publishing house? Which ones? Any advantages / disadvantages of either you’d like to tell us about?
RJ: My work is released through Seventh Star Press. Self-published authors and folks like me face the same challenges–we’re still essentially in the job of promoting ourselves, getting the word out, it’s up to us to hit the bookstores and the tours. You’re not just a writer, you’re a one-person small business. Seventh Star takes some of that burden from m3 in the form of handing the editing, providing the art, having many marketing and promotional options available to me like these blog tours. They’re a partner that helps make the journey a lot easier.
SHR: Plotter of Pantser? Is there an advantage to either?
RJ: I am historically a “pantser,” but through the years I have found that a basic outline upon which to hang my plot is extremely useful. For reasons too complicated to get into here, Virtual Blue was the first novel I wrote from a detailed outline. I still hit a few pitfalls and deviated from my notes, but I find I had an easier time figuring out where to take the plot when I had an outline to work from. For the past few m months, I have been using Scrivener, a program created specifically for fiction writing that (among its many options) lets you organize an entire story on a graphic corkboard display on a layout of virtual index cards. Each card is a one-sentence summary of a scene. The card then opens into its own full screen window where I write the correlating scene in full. The handy thing is you can shuffle the cards, which shuffles the scenes, insert cards between other cards…it’s a terrific combination of plotting and pantsing that I’m using for my Red Lotus stories, and I’m finding much to love while I use it.
SHR: Who is in control when you write, you or your characters?
RJ: We often engage in a back and forth tug of war. The winner is determined by what is best for the story. I try to give my characters a lot of leeway in taking the story in unexpected directions because that’s where the magic happens, but sometimes I’ve had to wrangle them back on task.
SHR: When you write, is it with or without visual/audio stimulation (tv, music, etc.)?
RJ: I will compose rough drafts to music–I have one album that has been my fallback album for decades–Til Tuesday’s Everything’s Different Now. I’m not a big fan by any means, though I like them. It simply provides the perfect magical mix of interesting sounds without being distracting, so it’s easy for me to enter the zone. If I have to concentrate on edits or listen to interview tapes, I need a quiet room. I write on a laptop in my home office but will occasionally be that guy at a McDonald’s or a Starbucks with his laptop just to get a change of background.
SHR: If you were told you could never write again, what would you do to fill your time?
RJ: Address whatever obstacle brought about that situation and get back to writing. Writing is what I do. There is no alternate occupation for me. If I had no arms, I’d type with my nose. My hobbies consist of TV and movie watching and listening to music–all spectator hobbies, but also the basic research of storytelling so I can bring the experiences back to my writing projects.
SHR: Religion in fiction: useful tool, dangerous weapon, or better left unsaid?
RJ: Religion affects millions of people and has its place in real life, so it has its place in fiction as well. Furthermore it seeks to explain the big questions, such as why are we here, and the use and misuse of it through the centuries has had a huge impact on history. As I write in a contemporary setting, I have found exploring different aspects of religion as well as the questions it seeks to answer a very useful tool.
SHR: Literary Hot Button: What are your thoughts on Writer’s Block? Does it exist? How do you overcome it?
RJ: The incentive of a paycheck is a great cure for writer’s block. Personally I think writer’s block is a problem that afflicts those who can most afford to indulge in it. As a contracted business writer whose livelihood depends on my words, I have found if I sit and keep going, I can write through the block. These days, most blocks last no longer than a day or two.
SHR: Best monster ever: vampire, werewolf, or zombie?
RJ: I love my old school vampires, but I think FROM DUSK TIL DAWN made the final statement on this when it portrayed human beings are the most fearsome creature. In the final scene, it’s not a vampire who walks away from the carnage, but a killing, deceiving, bloodthirsty kidnapper who proved the most fearsome monster in a bar full of bloodsuckers. And I think they got it right.
SHR: If you could live in any period throughout history, which would it be and why?
RJ: Being a tech geek I sometimes think 50 years in the future is going to be pretty incredible. That said, I am a huge pop-rock music fan, and I think the only era more interesting than the one I was a teenager through (the 80s) was the one I barely missed–the 60s, when the Beatles and the Doors, Zepplin, the Rolling Stones, and so much more was happening. I would have liked to see some of that and experience the cultural revolution as well as the shows.
SHR: If the apocalypse happened tomorrow, how would you react?
RJ: I would be bummed that more people did not see my work. But I did my best to do what I set out to do when I realized that I wanted to be a storyteller. I have also done all I can to give back and help those around me, and I have few regrets. I have one lingering issue that I hope I have time to address and hope time allows that to happen. Right now it’s out of my control. Mostly I would mourn that my kids did not get their shot at this thing called life because I think they’re going to do well and I look forward to seeing that.
SHR: Give us one dirty little secret about yourself.
RJ: I once wrote a short story called Dirty Little Secret. That’s not really a dirty little secret, just what came to mind when I heard the question.
SHR: Think fast: give me the silliest plot line you can think up!
RJ: A writer reveals a silly story idea to a blogger just because the blogger asks him to. A year later, someone else wins a major award after reading my interview and running with the silly idea. Facetiousness aside, I have learned that no plot elements are so silly that I can’t in some way use them as story fodder, even serious story fodder. Virtual Blue reflects some of this, as does my story Robot Vampire from the anthology Vampires Don’t Sparkle. It’s why my future short story collection will probably be called Darkness with a Chance for Whimsy.
SHR: What’s the weather like where you are today?
RJ: Darkness with a chance for Whimsy. 🙂
SHR: Favorite song?
RJ: Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, which won’t surprise anyone who follows me.
SHR: Best daydream ever?
RJ: Six months on the New York Times Bestseller List.
About Virtual Blue
Did you ever wish you could escape to a virtual world? What if you could…but then couldn’t get out?
Two years after her deadly clash with a vengeful ghost, Fiona “Blue” Shaefer still can’t shake off the trauma of that night. Moving to New York with her father didn’t help. Neither did absorbing herself in her college classes. Not even her poetry provided the solace it once did. She convinces herself that ending her relationship with Eugene “Chip” Farren, her long-distance boyfriend and final tie to the horrors of that night, might bring the closure she needs. Blue travels to Bloomington to break the news to Chip in person, but her timing couldn’t be any worse.
The Sisters of Baalina, vengeful cultists who practice a new form of “techno-magic,” have targeted Chip’s multi-player videogame as the perfect environment to cast a dangerous spell to free a demoness from the very pits of hell. In the process, their plan may trap Blue in a prison of the mind with no locks, no bars, and no escape.
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