AUTHOR THOMAS SULLIVAN - 5 QUESTIONS YOU DIDN'T EXPECT - A Deep Blue Interview
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A while back, while choosing books to review for Cemetery Dance, I ran across a novel titled “Dust of Eden,” by Thomas Sullivan. I’ll admit (ashamedly) that at the time I had no idea who this guy might be, or why I should care, but the book sounded interesting, so I chose it.
One of he things I do when reviewing is to try and get a ‘soft’ copy - .pdf or .doc file – that I can read during off moments at the computer. This in mind, I managed to find a contact e-mail for Sully, and that was the beginning. To say that hitting send that day was fateful would be like saying Tiger Woods can sorta hit a golf ball.
What followed was (at my best count) about 70,000 words of e-mail back and forth over the period of the first six months I knew the man, and I can’t say I’ve ever learned more or been more entertained by any correspondence (except for when I met Trish, but that’s an entirely different story).
Anyway, I won’t even begin to try and summarize Sully. For one thing, I know I’ve only cracked the surface as far as knowing him, and I couldn’t do it justice. In 70,000 words I feel like he sort of got a good introduction out of the way, and I look forward to many years of continued friendship. It’s one of the highlights of my life, to be honest, and there are few friends you can say that about.
Let me start by saying I recommend his last two novels highly, “Dust of Eden,” which is the story of what might happen if dust from the actual Garden of Eden, after the fall, got mixed into some paint -- and Second Soul, which steals a lot from Sully’s own love of cross-country skiing and visits life after death. I reviewed both novels, and my reviews are posted on Amazon.com along with many others…you can click the book covers before to read the reviews and/or order the books through Amazon. If you are lucky enough to find a copy of his Pulitzer nominated debut novel, “The Phases of Harry Moon,” that is one of the best ways to meet the author. After all the words that have passed between us, I think I learned the most about Sully from that book.
Click here to visit Sully’s Web Site for more information
And now, without further annoying jabber from me:
Five Questions You Didn’t Expect with Thomas Sullivan – A Deep Blue Interview
DBJ: Tell me somthing about you that people wouldn't generally know, but that has had an influence on your writing.
TS: Toughie. I could write an autobio seven days in a row and no two would be alike. Lots of venues where people know me as one thing but not another. What the hell, I present the Doubting Thomas aspect rather often, I suppose, logical fellow, objective, cynical humor, skeptic. But this hides an inner sanctum where I am elaborately romantic. Catch me on the fly, skiing in the woods some night, and you'll likely get an earful of poetry and idealism you might not have suspected. My romantic nature shakes loose when the walls drop away. Maybe one or two people have an idea how deep that goes, women for whom I've let my guard down and trusted to see something at the core. Comes out collectively in my letters. One correspondence in particular, that ran for a number of years and included letters that went over 30 pages, is the most intimate and complete in that regard. Another -- not long ago -- had the potential for something more but has foundered into silence. Mostly, I parse that romantic aspect of myself out to many correspondents, and I can feel when something remarkable is starting to happen, transcendent exchanges, deep revelations and the ether of a unique relationship. This isn't so much an influence on my writing. It is my writing. The letters themselves, I mean. But there have been magical romantic scenes in my life -- with the long-standing correspondent, for instance -- fragments of midnight escapes, journeys, improbable settings, unbelievable adventures and elaborate masques that have translated directly into things I've written in books. They are well-disguised and always fall short of what happened in total, mostly because I dare not do more than cannibalize a tone or a setting or an event. No doubt they will continue to impact my writing, and of course the rare experiences that provide the "research" continue . . . hey, someone's gotta do it.
DBJ: Which of your written works has stuck with you the longests and affected you most powerfully over the years ... and why?
TS: That would be, no question, THE PHASES OF HARRY MOON. My true debut hardcover from Dutton is, was, and probably ever shall be the closest thing to my personality. A celebration of eccentricity and life in a funhouse mirror, MOON, is a literary satire that you have to be 80 years old or sitting down to read. I still get an email or two every month, lo, these 18 years since its publication, from someone who tells me some variation of how they laughed out loud reading it (e.g., "my wife couldn't believe I stayed up all night..."). Gratifying. MOON is my most natural voice. There is still a cult following for it, NBC once considered it for a mini-series, and there are a couple of university English Lit faculties who seem to have adopted it.
DBJ: You have 24 hours to come up with a new novel concept. You are given the choice of a CD player and any music you might desire, the key to a very large library full of books, or a car with all the gas you need and a drive to take you anywhere you want to go. You must choose one of these as inpsiration - which? Why?
TS: The car, the car. I write from life. I write from motion, and when I'm in transit life propels my imagination like wind in a sail. There is nothing so nuanced and richly textured as a new setting when you are closing in from prima facie descriptions to the microcosmic level. I feel fully engaged at such moments, tuned outward, and free. All potential is on the table. How can one choose less than that if the task is to galvanize the muse? Music on the other hand, is largely retrospective for me. Associations and memories seem catalogued and indexed to certain songs. However, new music still imprints whatever is going on in my life at that moment. And I find that exciting. There are certain themes that I would invoke music to stimulate -- romance and longing being the chief ones. Often when I try to write while under the influence of song, I am disappointed when I re-read in cold silence what brought me to near tears the night before. Not surprising that this should happen, I guess. Music releases the emotions directly, and reading is largely an abstract act that triggers emotions indirectly. Sometimes the bridge just isn't there between either of the two and what I am writing. It's like trying to simulate the taste of lemon pie with a verbal description. The library as inspiration is the last place I would want to go. Surprised? It's not because I wouldn't be inspired there. I would be. Have been. But those are already vicarious experiences. I do not want to imitate or derive any more than I have to in this world where nothing is really new. Someone else's words should not be my bedrock. Granted, you don't have to look on it that way. A pure read can be merely the launch or the stepping stone toward something of your own, but it's still a borrowed beginning and apt not to travel far from the source. Why look at another imitation of nature when you can look at nature itself. I think Mortimer Adler wrote an essay on this, advising writers not to read books. A bit tongue in cheek, perhaps, but he had a point.
DBJ: Your next novel, Water Wolf, is due in October. What can you tell us about it? Inspiriation? Genre? brief synopsis? Where does it fit in the Thomas Sullivan universe?
TS: I shy away from labels. They rob one of individuality because they tend to reduce books to a handful of common plot elements. Readers in turn seem to form biases based on the most stereotyped books under those labels. As a writer wedged into a category, you end up going totally undiscovered by readers who might find in you a wealth of human statement, compelling character relationships, and universal themes, if only they didn't have a misperception about your work. Last summer, when my novel SECOND SOUL was featured across the board to all of Dearreader.com's book clubs, it brought me thousands of rave fan emails, many that began, "I usually don't read books like this, but..." So, while THE WATER WOLF contains thriller and supernatural elements, it is a fully fleshed out story of characters with failings, flaws, destinies, disappointments and triumphs. It is also a bittersweet double love story. I hope it captures general readers from everything between thriller and contemporary mainstream. If I had to boil THE WATER WOLF down to a single sentence, this might do: A global quest by a cynical adventurer, searching for links in a colossal subterranean network he has stumbled upon, lead him from the ancient fortress at Cuzco, Peru, to the Pyramids of Giza to a dangerous churchyard in Connemara, Ireland, where he falls in love with a woman of more than mortal roots and encounters the strange magic of a small village. The deeper tale lies in the backgrounds of the characters, of course. Born at the moment of his father's death, my cynic's rationalism is the mirror opposite of what his expatriate hippie parents stood for. The inamorata he falls in love with in Connemara is a child of faith and mysterious origins. So they clash, and they must learn from each other in order to reach their destinies. Here is another summary, driven more or less by development of a cover blurb: Whatever lies in the black pools of Sacsayhuaman, and the sub-plateau of Giza, and beneath the churchyard at Thiollaney Merriu, is a single will. Unraveling its shocking traces in the history of man, and in particular the enchanted village of Darrig, leads to a descent not unlike Dante's Inferno. Inexorable forces and human passion clash in a stunning resolution.
DBJ: If you had the chance to give new writers only one piece of advice, what would it be? And why? (This, of course, is that chance)
TS: Stay engaged. Write every day. Never mind that you are waiting for this market to answer or that potential agent to show an interest. Get on with the thing that matters: your development as a writer. It may turn out that the people you are waiting on will limit your development. All the more reason to find your voice, your range, while you can. In the end, the only thing that will matter is where you reached as an artist. All other things will come, or not come, and will remain peripheral to the satisfaction you derive by reaching your potential as an artist.
--- Thomas Sullivan