Triumph Over Tragedy Guest Post | Michael J. Sullivan

I’m a huge Michael Sullivan fan. I loved his successful fantasy series (Riyria Revelations). He’s the self-published success most authors can only aspire toward. I’m thrilled he’s taking part in Triumph Over Tragedy. When I offered the authors taking part in the anthology the option to write a guest post on my blog, Michael was one of the first to respond with an enthusiastic “yes!” I’m so glad he did. I always love to read whatever he writes and he deserves all the limelight he can get.

About the Author

After finding a manual typewriter in the basement of a friend’s house, Michael J. Sullivan inserted a blank piece of paper and typed: It was a dark and stormy night, and a shot rang out. He was just eight. Still, the desire to fill the blank page and see where the keys would take him next wouldn’t let go. For ten years Michael developed his writing craft by studying authors such as Stephen King, Ayn Rand, and John Steinbeck, to name a few. He wrote thirteen novels, and after finding no traction in publishing he quit, vowing to never write creatively again.

His hiatus from writing lasted nearly ten years. The itch returned when he decided to write books for his then thirteen-year-old daughter, who was struggling because of dyslexia. Intrigued by the idea of a series with an overarching story line told through individual, self-contained episodes, he created the Riyria Revelations. He wrote the series with no intention of publishing and presented his book in manuscript form to his daughter. An inability to read large amounts of text in that format prompted her to ask for a “real” book, bound and formatted.

So began his second adventure on the road to publication that included drafting his wife to be his business manager, signing with a small independent press, and creating his own publishing company. He sold more than sixty thousand books as a self-published author and leveraged this success to achieve mainstream publication though Orbit (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) as well as foreign translation rights for France, Germany, Spain, Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Michael presently lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with his wife and three children and continues to fill the blank pages with three projects under development: a modern fantasy novel, a literary fiction piece, and a prequel to his best-selling Riyria Revelations.

You can learn more about the author on his website.

I call it magic.

When I graduated high school I had two career desires: artist or novelist. Yes, my mother was terrified.

Since I couldn’t spell and was awful at grammar, I took the art scholarship. In art school there were two types. Those who copied from other artists, photos or the real world—I called them illusionists, and those who could sit down and create beauty out of nothing at all. I deemed this to be true magic. I was never that good at true magic.

When I retired from art at the old age of 23, and began writing, I discovered the same sort of thing existed in literature.

I wrote stories that I made up. I constructed clever plots, colorful characters, twists and turns, tension and drama, but never did it seem…real. It lacked emotion. When I read what I wrote I was pleased. It was nice, but it wasn’t powerful. I didn’t know why.

Over the years I’ve read many novels that I found interesting, clever, even entertaining, but only a handful have ever hit me emotionally. Those are the books that stick, the ones I carried with me, and still do. These are the novels that made me cringe, laugh, and cry.

This was magic—real magic.

Somehow the authors managed to reach out from another time, another place and inject me with the exact emotion they intended.  This wasn’t just communication of ideas—that’s easy—this was jacking right into my non-verbal gut and uploading sorrow, concern, terror, and laughter. I wanted to be able to do that, but I didn’t know how.

I stumbled on the means one day when I was trying to write a very simple scene. Instead of inventing something cerebral, I looked in myself and pulled out an experience. I remembered something—something painful. I was terrified to write it, to pour myself into the page. Such a thing was embarrassing. What if someone I know reads this? It felt as if I was stripping naked in public. I told myself, I was only going to write it and never show anyone. I just wanted to see how it would come out. The result was astounding. I cried in the writing. I cried in the reading.

What I never expected is that readers cried too.

I realized then, that in order to get emotion out of readers, the author had to invest part of themselves. There needs to be a sacrifice, a little bit of a person’s soul invested into the work and that dash of honesty results in a powerful recognition. Readers immediately relate. They know this isn’t faked, this isn’t illusion…this is true magic.

The more painful and embarrassing the memory, the more personal the thought, the more powerful the writing.

At first I expected the worst. I expected ridicule. Like kids in grades school, people would point at me and laugh. “Is this how you really feel? You’re such a looser!

Oddly, it never happened. I was only the author. The events happened to a fictitious person, a character in a story, not me. I was the wizard behind the curtain, the hand inside the puppet that no one saw. It was my voice, my feelings set out exposed to the harsh glare of the bright lights, but I, as the author, was safe behind the mask. Instead of foolish, I was impressive.

People are fond of saying that pain fuels art. I many ways it does. Fiction is full of tension and conflict. The best way to prepare to write such is to live it. Then reaching deep, you scrape out the honest truth, warts and all and put them on display. It isn’t easy. The process is often painful, humiliating, and depressing, but the end result is always stunning.

I think everyone—while not the same—are similar enough that we connect on the same levels, share the same feelings. When we read, or see something that registers so personally, so perfectly with something we would never share with anyone, then that becomes profound. In that understanding we see a tiny miracle. Someone else knows my pain. Someone else understands how I feel. I’m not alone, I’m like that character. This is what makes literature come to life; this is what makes Pinocchio a real boy.  It is the touch of the Blue Fairy.

I call it magic.

2 Responses

  • Thanks, Michael.

    I think that connection sometimes gets lost in genre fiction, when it is that sort of connection that fuels and creates a lifelong love of the genre.

  • LisaC

    I think I’m better suited to be a reader. I’ll be moving your books to the top of the TBR. Thanks for an insightful, enjoyable post.

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