Folks, it is with pleasure that I welcome Henry L. Sullivan to the blog today. I quite enjoyed the first episode (Swept Away) of his audio drama series, The American Fathers. We chat about obstacle courses, creating smart, lively characters, the importance of reviews, and so much more. Don’t forget to check out the audiobook GIVEAWAY at the end of the post!
Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?
Interacting with readers and audiobook listeners is my favorite part of self-promotion. I’ve had private message (PM) exchanges with readers through LibraryThing and Goodreads. Hearing what people thought about something I’ve written is the primary thing that keeps me going. I think, on some level, all writers hope that the public will enjoy their work. I personally love it when that happens.
My least favorite part of self-promotion is having to ask people who have downloaded review copies of my work for honest reviews. I’ve used LibraryThing’s early reviewer program, and have found that only one out of twenty or thirty people who download the book through that program actually post a review. I’ve done several giveaways. If this is what LibraryThing’s early reviewer program is in reality, it would be great if it were just called that. And to be honest, I feel so bad about bugging people for the review they promised, that I usually don’t do it. The problem there though is that in reality your book lives or dies by reviews. I’ve read several articles and heard successful writers say that less than one percent of people who read a book will post a review of that book, even if they enjoyed the book. Most of the reviews I’ve gotten so far have been either five or four star reviews, but I appreciated the one star review I received from one early reviewer, simply because it was her honest opinion. I was surprised to find after receiving that one star review that it didn’t necessarily stop readers from buying the book. I was told by one woman through a PM that she tried my book because it had BOTH five star reviews and a one star review, which made her believe that the reviews were from real people and not provided through a service or by fellow writers, friends and family only.
Smart and sexy! (lol) I am so glad you see it that way.
In writing Sheila and Jasira I made mistakes at first, but things started to come together as I got two things right – Sheila’s character, and the role Sheila and Jasira’s relationship plays in the overall premise of the serial.
First let me explain how the Sheila you heard in the recording came to be. When I first started writing Sheila, the point of view character for Episode 1, I emphasized her political ideology – concern for workers’ rights and well being, opposition to the dominance corporations have in our society, similar to what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been talking about for the last couple of years. There were two problems with that Sheila: 1) she didn’t have much personality, and 2) readers could not see why Jasira was attracted to her.
It may be hard to see the transition here, but Sheila became a stronger character when I started working with Adrianne Cury, director and narrator of Episode 1 – the full cast audio book (or audio drama). It happened quite by accident. We were trying to figure out how to promote the project, but even though we had already cast Fawzia Mirza in the role of Jasira, we hadn’t cast anyone for Sheila, so we didn’t have dialogue recorded for that character. Adrianne offered to perform Sheila’s dialogue for the promotional recording. I should mention here that Adrianne spent her childhood in the south, but the character, Sheila, was originally from Ohio. Adrianne’s suggestion made me consider, for the first time, making Sheila a southerner. That background change totally transformed my perception of the character. Sheila went from being a kind, passive, lonely, and yet a passionate academic, to a feisty, opinionated, socially awkward, and not necessarily nice but well intentioned academic/advocate. Once a southerner, she literally jumped off the page, and became one of my favorite characters to write because her choices and behavior were so compelling and interesting.
Figuring out how to use each episode to lay out the overall premise of the serial was the other thing that happened around this time. Feedback I received in a developmental edit from Juliet Ulman was extremely helpful. Juliet thought Sheila’s relationship with Jasira in the original version of Episode 1 was a Rom Com (romantic comedy), while the serial’s overall premise was more akin to an action thriller or drama – in 2032, the United States of America officially becomes ruled by thirteen dynasties. Sheila and Jasira’s relationship in the original version of episode 1 didn’t have anything to do with the overall serial. I knew the premise, I just hadn’t written it into the story.
Both Juliet and Adrianne were pretty blunt with me. Juliet said I missed a great opportunity conveying the conceptual aspects of dynastic rule in 2032 America through the work and perspective of a labor economist – Dr. Sheila McKinley. Adrianne said Sheila and Jasira’s dialogue was too ditzy and silly for intelligent women – one, a successful economist, the other, a successful journalist.
They were both right. As I said earlier, making Sheila a southerner made her interesting and a lot more fun to write. I tried to make her obsession with and suspicion of the dynasties work by expressing it through her new, pushy, no-nonsense personality.
You may be wondering about Jasira. All I can say is that for some reason she has been a clear, easy character for me to write from the beginning. The combination of her ambiguous relationship with the dynasties, the fact that this matters a lot to Sheila, Sheila’s attraction to Jasira, Jasira’s unexplained and yet explicit interest in Sheila, are all juicy elements that come together like a great gumbo.
One important thing to know about my writing style is that I lay out my stories through the framework of romantic couples.
- Skepticism about this new political arrangement – dynasties ruling America – is told through Sheila’s relationship with Jasira.
- The personal toll this new arrangement has on the people in power is told through Devin Wayne’s relationship with Irene Daco (Devin is military intelligence. Irene is America’s first princess).
- The story of dynasties rising to become America’s official rulers is told through Victor Daco and Natalia Daco meeting, getting, and building the most powerful dynastic House in America (The New Rule creates thirteen houses, and Victor and Natalia are Irene parents).
- The story of how some rebels are just disgruntled elites is told through the story of Todd Giannopoulos (a Point One Percent, or POP Watcher – the POP Watchers are hacktivists) and Ever Harrington (heir to House Harrington).
As for the sex, I’ve been told Devin and Irene’s sex is generally steamier than Sheila and Jasira’s, but I guess that all depends on the personal preferences of the reader. Sex has had a big influence on my personal relationships, so I have a hard time writing these couples without sharing their sexual experiences with the reader. To me, that’s the heart of how fiction works – the author shares the personal experiences of a character with readers. Since sex has been important in my life, sharing the sexual experiences of my characters with the reader just makes sense to me.
For over ten years I worked as a manager for different national retail and restaurant chains. I hated that job. I had to work thirty two hours straight once because every one of my employees quit instead of coming to work. This happened four shifts in a row. I was the new manager of that gas station, and each employee quit without notice.
Writing is an extremely satisfying experience. The world is a better place for me when I’m writing.
Is there a book to movie/TV adaptation that you found excellent? Is there a PC game to book adaptation that worked for you?
The BBC adaptation of White Teeth by Zadie Smith is the truest book to TV adaptation I have ever seen. I don’t play video games, however.
Full-cast audio experience versus single-person narration: what made you choose one over the other?
I have a strong preference for the fullness in sound produced by full cast as compared to regular audiobooks. I’m impressed, sometimes, by an actor’s ability to perform multiple roles in a recording, but I never like the singular feel that method produces. I always know it’s the same person, even when they’re doing a great job distinguishing one character from another. I cannot remember ever liking a male actor’s portrayal of a female character. I’ve heard some that were terrible. But male to female or female to male, I always prefer hearing individual performances of each character.
American Gods, for instance, for me was a much more satisfying listen than The Fall of Hyperion, even though I enjoyed reading The Fall of Hyperion. Both novels were written very well, but for me the experience of listening to the recorded performance is better when different actors are cast for each one of the main characters.
Housework. I’ve been doing the laundry in between writing responses to this interview. I can cook, but everyone in my household has different preferences, so I usually cook what I want to eat. I probably don’t clean to most people’s satisfaction, but I try not to make more mess than I can handle myself.
You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?
I would either invite Bartimaeus (from the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud), Seraphina (from the novel by Rachel Hartman), Celia Bowen (from the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern), or Brawne Lamia (Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which was also a great full cast audiobook by the way).
Drinking with any one of these characters would be extremely interesting. Seraphina is the only one out of the four who would complain the entire time (until drunk, of course), effectively serving as a burden, until her dragon uncle flew in to help.
Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?
I recently took two road trips – one from the Chicago area to Bimidji, Minnesota, the other to Lake Norman, North Carolina. During the first trip I formulated the background story for Devin Wayne, point of view character for Episode 3: Escape From New Orleans, Episode Five: Return of the Prince, and Episode 9: Voyage to Nowhere. Maybe because we took the second trip shortly after the Bimidji trip, I began writing Voyage To Nowhere. Here’s what I have for the episode summary so far:
Devin and Irene are running from teams of assassins working for House Watson. Devin has a plan. He knows they will be safe if only they can make it to Nowhere. For the first time in Devin’s life, he hopes he will have the opportunity to introduce a woman to his parents. He is sure about his feelings for Irene, but not about the nature of their relationship. What future can they possibly have? Her father, Victor, no longer wants to kill him. But Irene is still a princess whose kingdom is at war. Even if they make it home, he doubts she will want to stay Nowhere forever.
Fresh off a break up, Sheila McKinley, the easygoing college professor, meets Jasira Said, the up and coming journalist and political columnist.
Sheila has no idea her friend Rima is acquainted with Jasira, so their arranged meeting is easily disguised as a simple dinner party. Even after she agrees to show Jasira around town, she really doesn’t suspect her real intentions. But after an accident at a night club things move quickly, until everything is crystal clear.
Places to Stalk Henry L. Sullivan
Henry Sullivan is graciously offering ten Audible.com copies of Swept Away (Episode 1 of The American Fathers series). Honest reviews, of course, would be welcome and appreciated. In order to enter the giveaway, do the Rafflecopter thing below or answer the following in the comments: 1) Do you have an Audible.com account? 2) What are some of your favorite audio dramas? 3) Leave a way for me to contact you! Giveaway ends November 5, 2015, midnight.