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From your BA at Georgia State  to your MFA at Queens College to … Taipei? That's quite a leap, sir. What made you pull chocks and fly off to such a far flung, exotic destination?  

First, I want to thank TQR for taking the time to speak with me.

So, there’s actually a ten year gap between my MFA in New York, and moving to Taipei. I graduated from Queens in May 2009, and moved to South Korea to teach English in August 2009. I lived there in various locations until August 2019, exactly ten years. I moved to Taipei, Taiwan, in October 2019, three months after I left Korea

I moved East because during my MFA, I studied in Tokyo, Japan, for a winter semester (about three weeks), and loved the experience. Before I graduated from Queens, I was wondering what I would do with a MFA in Creative Writing, and I saw that Korea was hiring. So I moved there, starting off on the small island of Jeju, then, five years later, moving to the mainland of Korea.

Traveling so far to a foreign land sounds romantic as hell, but there had to be a transition period for you to get over the culture shock, no?

 There probably was a transition period to get over culture shock. My first year in Korea feels like a long time ago, and moments tend to blur together from the past.

A character trait I have is going with the flow and adapting quickly. Culture shock comes to those who most heavily define themselves. They are from such-and-such a place, and as a result they believe the world should be ordered in such-and-such a way. When it isn’t, it stuns them.

I think I’m a bit more malleable. In this short time we’re gifted with living-a gift that can end at any moment (the moment for almost all being unknown)-I simply wish to take as many experiences as I can with me into whatever comes in the afterlife.

I also bore easily, and am addicted to living life on my toes. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s preferable to being bored.

 What and/or who inspired you and why do you persevere ... writing, kendo, teaching, the whole schmear?

My inspirations are mundane. I want to have freedom to take risks in life, like picking up and moving to a new country, or even a new province or neighborhood. And I’ve found that that takes a certain amount of financial security. However, I don’t want to be so financially well-endowed that I become handicapped by a need for comfort, or that I don’t have to do something I feel, at the moment, that I’m not interested in.

I have discovered benefits in being forced to do something.

I want to maintain health, which also requires a certain level of financial security. Healthy food is usually more expensive, and medical bills can become high quickly if one doesn’t have insurance. So work is one of my inspirations, but more importantly, maintaining skills that are not easily acquired by many. I have discovered that if a lot of people can do the same job you do, you’re probably in trouble, because you’re expendable. So I’m always trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Remaining unique and having a certain level of money is my inspiration. It’s why I live the life I do (kendo, expat, etc), and why, when I feel disinterested in writing, I sit down and do it anyway.

 Do you turn off your wifi each day to write, or are you disciplined enough to not Internet surf inbetween paragraphs?

I write on Word for iPad, so if I turned off my WiFi, I wouldn’t be able to use the app to load files in the cloud.

I guess when it comes to writing, I’m more of a marathoner than a sprinter. I wake up in the morning, get coffee, take out a pencil and pad, and write one unique page a day. I start at the top of the page, get to the bottom, and stop there.

Many people are surprised when I tell them this, as they feel that it’s not a lot of writing to do in twenty-four hours. And it isn’t. The key, though, and where the discipline comes in at, is to do this every day for months. Every 30 days, you have 30 unique pages written. It really adds up in a year, and usually, every page written becomes two pages typed as I add in additional details.

To answer your question, writing a page a day makes it easy not to get distracted with the internet, or anything else for that matter. I’m usually done writing every day in about thirty minutes.

Marathon versus sprint mentality. Why/how did you become the one instead of the other?

 Funny enough, I read an interview of an author once many, many years ago in which he said he writes only one page a day. I don’t remember who it was anymore, but it stuck with me.

I don’t think I started the practice, however, until after I graduated from my MFA program in 2009 and moved to Korea. I started off teaching at a high school, and the hours were something like 8:45am to 5:45pm. But the schools I first taught at on Jeju were far away, perhaps an hour and a half to two hours, so basically I had to be on the bus with farmers and the elderly around 6:15am. I wouldn’t get home until almost 7:00pm.

Trying to write *after* a very long day like that of traveling for three to four hours, as well as dealing with teenagers, requires a level of discipline I don’t have. So I decided to start waking up at 5:00am, and writing a single page for thirty minutes, then getting ready to go to work.

Once I got in that habit, it stuck, and for the past ten years, going on eleven, I basically write when I wake up (though it’s around 6:00am now), a single page every day.

 Do you outline your novels or fly by the seat of your pants? Also, HOLLOW MEN is squarely in the fantasy/adventure category. Is that your preferred genre?

I would first like to make a distinction between novellas and novels.

The most obvious difference between novellas and novels is physical length. Novellas are usually between 20,000 and 40,000 words, and novels are usually between 70,000 and 120,000 words. Narratives that lie between 40,000 and 70,000 words are a gray area, and can be either or.

In terms of craft, novellas usually have a single plot with backstory. Novels, on the other hand, have an overarching plot with subplots that act as the plot’s pillars.

Novellas have a smaller cast of named characters. Novels have a large cast of named characters. At the same time, novellas are sparse with language, whereas novels are verbose with language.

HOLLOW MEN is a novella. It’s 30,000 words, with a single plot and backstory, has about ten named characters, and is concise, moving with a single-minded purpose from beginning to end. It is also the first in a series of fantasy novellas revolving around these quests, but it also belongs in a growing narrative universe in South Hanguk, a fantasized version of South Korea. The second in the series, THERE WILL BE ONE, is slated for released in Spring 2020. I am currently writing the third, titled DEARTH.

Before HOLLOW MEN, two novelletes that take place in the same narrative universe were released as part of anthologies in 2017. The first, SHAPE-SHIFTING PRIESTESS OF THE THOUSAND YEAR WAR (19,000 words), came out in the ‘Schlock! Horror!’ Anthology. The second, GOYANGI SOJU (15,000 words), came out in ‘Odd Tales of Wonder #10’. These stories have to do with the man-eating tigers of Gangwon-do, which are referenced in HOLLOW MEN.

To more specifically answer your question, I didn’t outline HOLLOW MEN. Because I wrote a page a day, it took about four months to complete the novella. I also belong to online critiquing groups, and generally have each chapter reviewed as it is written, while dedicated beta readers critique the entire narrative. So what I originally wrote on paper, and what readers hold in their hands as a completed book, is quite different.

HOLLOW MEN is dark fantasy. This is a relatively new genre, and it combines horror elements with fantasy. The characters also tend to be more morally ambitious. HOLLOW MEN also is more literary, in that character change is important to how the novella develops.

My preferred genre is horror, though I have written science fiction, children’s literature, and YA fiction.

 Oh yeah. I reviewed it without being aware it's part of a series. I guess I should have checked on that before hand! It sounds like you have active workshoppers and beta readers so you're not just typing away in isolation. How did you go about cultivating such a good network?

I’ve always searched for people to read my writing. In the late 90s and 2000s, I did this by taking creative writing classes at whatever university I was attending at the time. But if you look at most university English departments, you’ll see that despite the popularity of creative writing classes, they often don’t have many available, and they fill up quickly. Plus, they focus on a reading component, which means that you may complete only two short stories in an entire semester (about 10,000 words in five months). After graduating from my MFA in 2009, I made my last writing group attempt on Jeju Island with three other expats. If you’ve ever joined a writing group, you know that they start off with a lot of excitement but fizzle out quickly. This one did exactly that. A new person joined our group of four and had a novel he wanted read. The novel was long and tedious, and it was continually put off for discussion, and eventually the original four quietly disbanded.

I was 32 years old then, and I did something that simply never occurred to me before. I googled ‘critique groups’. And I’ve belonged to online writing groups ever since (I’m 42 now). The two I recommend to people are Scribophile and Critique Circle.

 Score one for the online community! You just have to have the confidence to type it into a search engine, follow up and follow through. Thanks for the recommendations, too. What are you working on/workshopping now?

Besides the fantasy novella series, I am also working on an extreme horror novella series that is published by Nightmare Press. The first, BUTCHERS, was released in November 2019. The second, THE GRAY MAN OF SMOKE AND SHADOWS, is slated to be released around the same time as THERE WILL BE ONE. The third in the extreme horror series, tentatively titled CHINGU, has yet to be started, and currently has no release date.


 It looks like you have a lot to look forward to, Mr Sullivan. You’re one page a day come hell or highwater is racking up the titles, for sure. Thank you for the interview and the window on your world.