Monday, August 26, 2013

Author Stephen Sullivan Talks Zombies and Writing

Gasp. yes, a change of pace! Every now and then we let a guy sneak into GirlZombieAuthors... so today I welcome mucho prolific author Stephen D. Sullivan.

His recent works include a fascinating giant monster serial,  DAIKAIJU ATTACK! (free online!)

 and his ode to Shark Week - Monster Shark and Zombie Shark. Really.  (Buy on Smashwords)

And he has a "secret" project coming soon, probably by fall since we're both participating in the zombie panel at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books... Here's a "teaser" -

And... he's supposedly working on a YA zombie novel and his horror novel Frost Harrow and.... I said prolific right? He's written - gasp! - 35+ novels, so of course, he has some good writing advice to share, too. Read on.

Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been working in publishing professionally since 1980, when I joined TSR Games (the Dungeons & Dragons people) as a staff editor. I’ve spent the years since working as an author, artist, and editor on fantasy, science fiction (SF), and horror projects in books, comics, and games.

 In the mid 1990s, I began writing novels, and now have more than 35 books to my credit -- even more if you count anthologies and collections.  I’ve also published a boatload of short stories. 

 I’ve won the Origins Award (gaming’s highest honor) for my fiction twice, and been nominated for numerous other honors.  Today, I run a micro-publishing company in addition to continuing to write my own books and stories.  Some of the more famous projects include: Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Speed Racer, Legend of the Five Rings, The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horrors) and Star Wars.  

How did you begin writing?
Though I began my professional writing/editing career 32 years ago, I’ve been writing and illustrating stories all my life. While I was interested in writing books as a teenager, I don’t think I ever saw that as a career path. But becoming a novelist (and short story writer) seemed a natural progression after working in comics and games. (I haven’t made it into films, yet, though I have written several SF plays.)

What is your latest project?
Currently, I’m working on some fantasy and horror books, but my most recent release is an SF/fantasy/alternate-history novella. Heart of Steam & Rust is steampunk meets James Bond set in pre-revolutionary Russia.  The main character was inspired -- in a backhanded way -- by the psychic Russian in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I didn’t think the movie handled that idea well, and set out to make a better one of my own.  My character, Lina Ivanova, first appeared as the villain in my short “Kit Chapman-Challenger & the Last Ranodon.  In Heart of Steam & Rust, she delves into a spy-based murder mystery and readers get to decide if she’s a hero or … something else.  The twist is, Lina is investigating her own murder.

But don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled much by telling you that.

Who’s publishing your latest work?
I’ve published this story with, Walkabout, my own micro-pub company.  Doing so allows me to get the work in front of the public much more quickly.  It also gives me more control over the property in the future.  It’s not exactly self-publishing, as Walkabout has an actual editorial process, which I follow even with my own work.  The process includes editorial passes by professional editors and proofreaders, and I think that’s the key to micro-publishing good work: you need more people than just you working on the project.

Any tips for publishing yourself?
I worry a bit about the number of self-published e-books and novels out there currently, and the lack of professional standards.  Coming from a publishing background, I’m proud that the work of my micro-pub company can stand toe-to-toe with the big NYC houses. 

Having your friends read and critique your work is good and useful, and rewriting your story is obviously key, but even self publishers -- if they hope to put out good books -- need input from real editors.  An editor can turn a bad book into a good  book, and a good book into a great book.  Behind every great book is a great editor.

So, my self-publishing tip is: get yourself a good editor.  Get a graphic designer/book layout person, too, for that matter.

Do you have a favorite quote from the book?
Asking an author to choose a favorite quote from a story is a lot like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.  In this case, it’s particularly hard because a lot of the things that are clever or memorable are keyed to the story, and wouldn’t mean much if you take them out of context.  The novella has plenty of clever twists and turns and dialog, so I guess it’s up to readers to find their own favorite quotes.

What’s been the hardest part of writing?
The hardest part of any writing project is always getting started and building a head of steam.  There’s so much else going on the world, that it’s often difficult to concentrate on just one thing -- and writing well demands that your butt be in a chair in front of the keyboard for a prolonged period of time.  Unfortunately, writers also have to be their own publicists nowadays (well those of us not rolling in money do), which means interacting with social media and other things that can inadvertently suck away a lot of time.  The balance is tricky, but in the end, you need to just find the time to write.  If the story doesn’t actually get done, then how can anybody read it?

Any final bits of advice?
Everybody in the world has a great idea for a story.  The difference between an author and everyone else is that the author has actually done the work.  So sit your butt down at the keyboard and write!

Great advice! Thanks, Stephen!

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