Michael J Sullivan is the bestselling SF author of the Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles and Hollow World. Michael first self-published his novels to great success and the Riyria books were later picked up by Orbit.
Michael is a fantastic guy and was kind enough to answer a few questions for the City of Masks blog – you can find Part 1 of the interview below with Part 2 to follow!
Ashley Capes: I’m only half way through Theft of Swords and one of the first things that strikes me is the ease with which you establish camaraderie between your leading characters. Royce and Hadrian feel like they’ve been working together for a long time, it feels like they know each other so well, right off the bat. How important is a great sense of camaraderie to your stories and where did your love of it come from?
Michael J Sullivan: Royce and Hadrian’s relationship is crucial to the book. They are the glue that holds everything together and keeps people turning the pages. In fantasy, there are a lot of “coming of age stories” where you are with the character and see how they grow up and what influences them. For these books, I wanted “fully formed adults” with histories that made them what they are now and give them regrets they are trying to overcome. I wanted Royce and Hadrian to not only feel like long-time friends but also for the pair to be fun and comfortable to be around so people would want to hang with them. Just as you don’t know everything about a person on first meeting, I expose you to Royce and Hadrian a bit at a time…across the whole series, rather than front loading. I wanted to have new facets exposed as you go deeper into the series. For some, this doesn’t work because they feel like the characters are initially “too light”, but for those who read all the books, they find there is a method to my madness.
As to where my love came from…one of the first movies I liked was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from 1969 (yes I just exposed what an old geyser I am). I also liked a show called I, Spy that ran in the 60’s although I seem to recall watching them in the 70’s. Then, of course, there was Sam and Frodo as well as Sam and Al from Quantum Leap (late 80’s and early 90’s). Having a “pair” makes it so much easier to write than just one protagonist, as I can basically play one off the other and given them both common bonds and things that differentiate them. I think it’s a great dynamic.
AC: Ah! I remember Quantum Leap – a Don Bellisario show, who also created Magnum PI. I think what attracts me to a longer series like Magnum or Riyria, is the capacity for that exploration of character over time that you mentioned. To reward a reader with more and to really give the audience a chance to feel like they know your characters. In fact, you recently announced a new Riyria book which will give readers exactly that – more Royce and Hadrian. What can you share about that story at this time?
MS: The cool thing about the Riyria Revelations is that I wrote the entire series before any of the books were published. As such, I could look at the project as one big story divided into separate episodes with their own conflict and resolution. What that meant was I could build the characters in layers, and expose backstory a bit at a time (rather than front-loading everything in book #1). In some ways, that’s a stupid way to write a book, since some people will feel the characters are “a bit light” when they get done with book #1. They don’t realize that it was done on purpose, but for those that do read the whole series they see a method to the madness.
Riyria Chronicles are a bit different than Revelations. The books are much more “stand alone.” The reason for that is I don’t really know how many there will be since I’m letting the audience tell me if and when they are tired of the characters. The first two books are interconnected and were released like Revelations – one month apart. It shows the origin story of how the two got together. In the third book, I have a lot more freedom. For those first two books, there were things that had been talked about briefly in Revelations that I had to abide by. Now that those stories are done, I’m completely untethered and can really do just about anything. It’s very exciting to have a familiar world and characters but be pretty much unrestricted about their adventure. Right now, I have three different plots that are pretty much equally appealing, but until I actually start to write I won’t know which one I’ll pick. All are great, so I’m in a really good place for this book.
AC: Your fans will be well-aware that you first released the Riyria series yourself and later released the books with Orbit. Did Royce and Hadrian’s story change much between editions?
MS: There were hardly any changes between the two versions. The biggest is in Chapter One. Originally I started the book with the scene where Archibald was blackmailing Victor…but it confused some people who thought these were the main characters. And since Archibald was written to be unlikeable, there were some who didn’t want to read the book about this pompous guy. My thought was to open the book like some dramas where you see the “crime” then later meet the real players – the detectives or thieves that are the real stars.
So, I knew it needed a new beginning and Orbit agreed. They wanted me to start with Royce and Hadrian scaling the tower – and stealing the letters…but I liked the fact that we don’t see “how” they pull this off and let the reader try to figure it out. So showing the events wasn’t what I wanted to do. As it turns out, I had a scene previously cut from book #3 (Nyphron Rising) which I later made into a short story (but few read in that format). I realized THIS was a perfect introduction to the pair, and so it became the new opening scene. There were, of course, a lot of tweaks to the writing…fixing clunky sentences and grammar issues. But “the story” is almost identical to what was self-published.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
Moss Dragon - draft 1
Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline