Joining me to chat about the publishing process, her debut novel (Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is out today from Pen Name Publishing.), and other re-tellings she has in the works, J.M. Sullivan is my second author I’ve gotten to interview:
The Smart Cookie asks: How do you bring your characters to life?
I know a lot of authors that have these incredibly sophisticated methods of character planning and development, but I am not one of them! One trick I do have that I would recommend to any author (which is totally fun too) is completing a personality test (or two) as each character. Answering the questions the way the character would can give some incredible insight to details that you might not otherwise consider. I also find it helps me get into their mindset a lot easier. From there, when I’m writing, I just defer to the character! I let them do the talking, and I just put down the words. 😉
The Smart Cookie asks: Very cool. I’ll take that into consideration as another way to develop my own novel. Did you always want to be a writer?
I’ve always known I loved writing and thought that it would be a dream job, but I never thought it would actually happened. For me, being an author seemed the equivalent of wanting to be an international pop-star; a super cool thought, but not likely. Sometimes it still seems so surreal that my book is coming out and people are excited to read it. It’s a dream come true!
The Smart Cookie asks: Your book is a re-telling of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Why did you choose Alice or did Alice choose you?
Alice definitely chose me. I got the idea for the Wanderland Chronicles kind of out of the blue. My husband and I had been on a zombie movie kick and somehow Alice in Wonderland popped up in the chaos of my brainspace (it’s scary in there!) and I thought of the Red Queen’s iconic line: ‘Off with their heads!’ and I realized that it fit perfectly with zombie lore and that it had fantastic potential. I started writing that night.
The Smart Cookie asks: Haha I definitely saw the zombie influence while reading it. You are also working on a re-telling of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I’m super excited about this by the way because Peter Pan is my favorite story. Anything you can tease us with about the retelling?
Sure! THE NEVERLAND TRANSMISSIONS (working title) is a SciFi retell of Peter set in outer space, told in a dual POV with Peter & Wendy. It’s with my betas right now, and I have to say, I’m pretty excited with the feedback I’m getting. But no good teaser would be complete without some lines, so I’ll just leave this here…
Wendy cleared her throat, schooling her voice into the formal tone she reserved for her superiors.
“Is there more to the transmission that I need to be aware of, Admiral?”
Toussant nodded. Though her lips pressed together, she seemed pleased with Wendy’s response. Another click of a button and the transmission continued.
“So far, the strangest phenomena of the planet is how it has affected our aging process. The days run longer here; as do the nights. I don’t have an exact calculation, but I would estimate we have been here for ten earth years, yet I look the same as I did the day we left. So does the twelve year old cabin boy. It’s as if not a single day has gone by. It is this phenomena that has inspired the name our crew has assigned the planet. We call it NEVERLAND.”
The Smart Cookie : I’m so excited. Peter Pan is my favorite fairytale.
Also, speaking of Peter Pan, did you ever watch the 2003 version from Universal Pictures starring Jeremy Sumpter?
J.M Sullivan: I have! My love for fairy tales and books definitely doesn’t just stay in the realm of books. And my family is all about movies, so we watch a lot of them! I have to say my favorite Peter Pan movie of all time is (and probably will always be) Hook with Robin Williams, but the 2003 Peter Pan was pretty great!
The Smart Cookie: I’ve never seen the Robin Williams version so I will have to check that out.
. Alice and Dinah’s relationship is very endearing throughout the book. Do you have brothers or sisters and is that what you used to give authenticity to that part of the story?
J.M. Sullivan: I do! I have two younger brothers who I absolutely adore. Growing up, we were super close and we always spent a lot of time together. My mom used to always say my brother Zach and I were twins born three years apart. Though we’ve grown up and we’re all in different places now, I still think of them every day and I just want them both to know how proud I am of them. I would fight a pack of ravenous momerath for them any day, just like Alice does for Dinah.
The Smart Cookie: At what point in your writing career did you think publishing a book was realistic, as opposed to just a dream?
I didn’t think that my work could be published until after I finished writing and sent it to my friend (and writing buddy) to read. Honestly, I was just so pleased that I had finished writing a manuscript that I couldn’t wait to see what she thought. I figured she’d send it back and say it was alright, but when we met for coffee she looked at me with wide eyes and said ‘This is really good. You know, you could get this published.’ Although I thought she was still just being a good writing partner, it was the first time I ever really considered pursuing publication.
The Smart Cookie: After a manuscript is complete, what is the critical first step in the publishing process?
Research! There are SO many different publishing options nowadays, that there are literally thousands of paths to getting published. And, what’s right for you may not be right for someone else. Take the time to sit down and study your options before you decide what you really want. Once you’ve figured that out, go for it! 😀
The Smart Cookie: How much education about publishing does a debut novelist need to get started? What are the basics?
Well, I went into it knowing literally NOTHING. And while my path to publishing was definitely not the smoothest route, I am absolutely proof that even the biggest ‘noob’ can find a good fit if they are willing to put in the work. Again, the options are practically endless these days, but if you’ve got a computer and Google, you can accomplish some great things!
As a side note, if you’re looking into publication and you haven’t already, I would HIGHLY recommend you get a Twitter account! It was an absolutely INTEGRAL part to finding my publisher and one of the BEST.THINGS. I have ever done for my writing career.
Did you have any criteria in mind for agents, editors and publishing houses?
When I decided to find someone to represent Alice, I knew I wanted someone who believed in her as much as I did (and maybe even more on my low-self confidence days). To me, it wasn’t enough to find someone who would just slap a story on some paper and call it good, I wanted to find a team who would work with me to bring Alice to life and who really had a vision to make her great.
The Smart Cookie: This is your debut novel. How did your first publishing experience stack up to your vision of what it would be like?
My publishing experience has surpassed anything I could have ever dreamed. I ended up choosing a small press called Pen Name Publishing and the team there is just amazing. My editor in chief works so hard for everyone and I completely trust that she has my best interests at heart. It isn’t one of the ‘Big 5,’ but for where I am right now, it’s the perfect fit for me.
The Smart Cookie: What has been your greatest publishing lesson? Anything you would do over or skip?
My ‘do-over’ would include two different aspects. First, I would put more confidence in my own work. I think part of my convoluted road happened because I wasn’t sure enough in my work to stand on it’s own and I didn’t know ANYTHING about publishing so I started out backwards. If I had to do it all over, I would go in with more faith in myself, and then spend more time researching and setting my goals BEFORE jumping in.
What were your greatest resources for learning about publishing when you first set out to publish Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles?
This is going to sound crazy, but my number one go to response for this question or any type of writing resource question is Twitter. I can already see some people giving me the side eye as they read this, so let me explain. The writing community on Twitter is simply phenomenal. There are so many other writers out there willing to encourage and help you that it absolutely blew me away. Add in the incredible pitching parties and writing games and events, Twitter is literally a haven for writers. So go, go, go! Login and start networking (and find me @_JM_Sullivan)! You won’t regret it!
Which writers have influenced you?
I think all of my favorite authors have influenced me in some way. Their worlds and words shaped who I am and helped teach me what I know and love about literature. So while it would be really hard for me to pinpoint just one author and one particular way it affected me, I can confidently say all the books I’ve read and the authors who wrote them have impacted me in some way.
Lastly, you host #AuthorConfession on Twitter. Share something with your readers in relation to Alice.
Hmm. Well, I love Easter Eggs in movies so with Alice, I threw in a few of my own! There are several references to some of my favorite tv shows, movies, and books hidden in the pages as well as a secret message. If you look really carefully you can even find a hint towards my next book project! It was so fun working them all in, that it’s a tradition I plan to keep up with all of my future books.
Keep up with all J.M. Sullivan’s works new and forthcoming by bookmarking/following her blog
For a review of Alice please go here.