Interview with Phoenix Sullivan
In the Brave New World of e-publishing, Phoenix Sullivan is sure to become a name to conjure with. Few have more enthusiasm for its possibilities, greater knowledge of the process, or a brighter future. Phoenix recently became an indie author with the release of her first book, an Arthurian Saga titled SPOIL OF WAR. It’s my pleasure to present this interview with Phoenix, who is, not incidentally, my niece.
JB: As a start, tell us when you decided to become a writer.
I don't think I ever had to decide. I've been writing in one form or another since I could hold a crayon, so I would have to say writing decided for me.
I've been very lucky in that for most of my adult life I was able to make a living as a writer/editor in the corporate world. Now that I'm retired (early retirement - I'm only 52!), I can concentrate on writing the kinds of books I've always wanted to.
JB: Did you read as a child? If so, what were your favorite books?
I was a voracious reader as a child, reading way above my grade from the time I was four. We didn't have much in the way of discretionary dollars, so I spent a lot of time in the library. Early on, I read just about every book that had a dog or horse in it. The Black Stallion Mysteries and the Big Red books were some of my favorites. I still cry over Black Beauty.
When I was nine, my brother introduced me to science fiction via 2001: A Space Odyssey and I was hooked. Lucky for me, I didn't know girls didn't read SF.
If I couldn't get to the library soon enough after I finished my last checked-out book, I hit up my mom's romance stacks. Gone with the Wind blew me away at quite a tender age. Pretty much, if a book found its way into my hands, I'd read it. One thing I'm very grateful to my parents for is that they never censored anything I read, either reading-level-wise or content-wise.
JB: Do you read much now? What is in your To Be Read pile?
I'm very involved in critique groups for writers right now and I read a lot of writing samples across all genres, as well as everything from book blurbs and first chapters to short stories and complete novels. Reading critically, though, is a different process than reading for pleasure. It's much more time-consuming and more draining. Plus you have to stay a bit distanced from the work in order to be objective. This is what makes up the bulk of my reading these days. I look forward to the time when I can back off the critical reading some and start reading again for the pure joy of losing myself in great stories.
I do make exceptions, though, and I'm going to be first in line to read Jennifer's By His Majesty's Grace when it comes out later this month ;o).
Both of these terms are just helpful ways for readers to find the book online. Amazon.com tends to collect anything related to King Arthur under Fantasy in its browsing catalog, even if, like with Spoil of War, there really isn't a fantasy element.
Since the title itself doesn't give a strong indication of the time period, I wanted to be sure readers could immediately tell it was related to the Arthurian cycle, so I added the "An Arthurian Saga" subtitle. Calling it a saga helps readers quickly know it's a long-form novel rather than a novella or short story. It runs a little over 111,000 words or about 420 pages.
JB: What is your background for writing about the Arthurian era?
Well, I have a Masters in English with a concentration in Medieval Studies, as well as a minor in European history. I was also involved for several years with the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group dedicated to recreating the Middle Ages – if not exactly how it was, how it should have been.
Despite all the odd period trivia I have in my head, I've been complimented on my ability to add period details smoothly, without info-dumping on the reader. I work hard at that because not letting the details get in the way of the story is an ability I treasure in the authors I read!
JB: What made you decide to self-publish?
In a way, I think Spoil of War is a poster child for the right reasons to self-publish. The manuscript made the rounds among agents and traditional publishers, and the overall reaction was that the writing was great and the story engrossing ("I literally couldn't put it down," one agent told me) but, ultimately, it wasn't marketable through traditional channels. I was asked to either revise it to lose some of the emphasis on romance or to pump up the romance and incorporate the POV of a “hawt” hero to match contemporary conventions. In either case, the resulting book would not have been this one.
I think readers will read books that don't fit comfortably on a specific genre shelf if those books are well-written and well-formatted and include the themes and emotions, characters and situations that readers love. Through no fault of traditional publishing – it is a business after all – readers aren't given that range of options in the traditional publishing space.
Having industry professionals express enthusiasm for Spoil of War validated that it's a professional-quality book, so I was confident I wasn't going to be insulting any readers by putting it out myself.
I'm thrilled that my belief in readers seems to be panning out. For example, there’s this review that recently appeared in the Little Rock, Arkansas, Examiner.com.
The link is http://www.examiner.com/book-in-little-rock/book-review-spoil-of-war-by-phoenix-sullivan-review
JB: What is the best thing about self-publishing?
Seeing those lovely reviews! Realizing people I don't know are reading my stories and enjoying them. How amazing is that? Of course, that's just as true about traditional publishing, isn't it?
JB: What is the worst thing about it?
Trying to get my novel noticed without sounding like a carnival hawker. I have to give props to Amazon for helping in that arena. If I do my part right in telling Amazon what the book is about and to whom it might appeal, they're good about making it sure it's visible to someone looking for a read of its type. Barnes and Noble and the other online stores don't offer quite the same level of support and, as a result, the book is struggling a bit to be noticed outside of Amazon.
JB: Tell us what a typical writing day is like for you. What is your day like when not writing?
These aren't mutually exclusive in my case. I think my typical day always includes writing -- some days I just manage more creative writing than others.
Since I live on a small farm, every day is a balance between taking care of all the maintenance needed, such as mowing pastures, fixing leaking water pipes, and keeping outbuildings and fences repaired; feeding, cleaning, and playing with my beasties (mini horses, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, an iguana); upkeeping the house; and writing-related activities, including critiquing, promoting, and yes, actual writing.
I've certainly found that since I retired in January I haven't been bored! Not enough hours in the day. And now I wonder how I managed to do as much as I did plus work a 60-hour-per-week job before. One of life’s mysteries, I guess!
JB: Do you have a book in progress at present? What is its genre and time period?
I have a book under consideration with a traditional publisher right now. It's a near-future medical thriller with a few mammoths and sabre-tooth cats thrown in. There's also a sweet-level romance between Donna, a veterinarian, and Mike, a CDC analyst.
I'm currently working on another book derived from the Arthurian cycle that has a true element of fantasy to it. The romance angle is also amped: a beautiful fey lady magically bound to two brother knights, one an alpha, one a beta.
And later this year I'll finish an historical fantasy set in the Roman Empire during a time when pagan prophecy and Christian canon converge. That one has a m/m romance (another alpha/beta combo -- I'm a sucker for how that dynamic plays out on the page.)
JB: What would you like readers to remember about your books?
Remembering their titles would be great :o).
Beyond that, I hope readers will know that whether they pick up a Phoenix Sullivan story set in the near future or the ancient past, they're getting a well-researched story with strong settings and strong characters; a story that doesn't shy away from the hard truths or the tough questions. I can promise plenty of angst along the way -- characters won't ever have it easy; a romantic element, ranging from sweet to steamy, that grows organically from the story and isn't just shoe-horned in; and, eventually, the HEA that makes the emotional rollercoaster ride that comes before worth it.
Thank you for having me over for a visit, Jennifer. I’m soooo looking forward to your Three Graces trilogy. I’m a sucker for the Tudor period!
JB: Many thanks to you, Phoenix, for dropping by—and be sure to come back again soon!
DARE TO DREAM / BE THRILLED