July 16, 2009

Slush Pile Warrior - Michael Sullivan

Welcome to another edition of Slush Pile Warrior. This feature focuses on the trials and tribulations of pursuing publication for both the novice, and experienced writer alike. This month, it is my pleasure to feature the talented, Michael Sullivan.

Please tell us a little about yourself:

I’m the father of two beautiful boys, the husband of an amazingly creative and understanding wife, and someone who has been lucky enough to find love in his work – as a writer and as a pediatric nurse. It’s not every day you find jobs that make use of so many of the seemingly useless things you’ve done in life.
I’ve been writing since elementary school, when an English teacher made the mistake of putting out a stack of writing projects for extra credit. I think I ended up with an A++++++++++++ in her class. I still have those papers. I’m thinking of submitting them for publication under a pseudonym, but I’d be really embarrassed if the third grade me did professionally better than I am doing.

How many submissions do you have out there now?

Not enough.
I had probably 7 or 8 running around, doing their thing, but they’ve slowly been coming home lately. I’m finding more and more responses like “We are no longer accepting submissions, get an agent.” It may be me but I didn’t see this information in any of my research, which leads to your next question…

How do you research where to send your manuscripts?

I use CWIM and Jacket Flap and Writer’s Market. When I remember to I also like to jot down the publishers who’ve taken some of the stories I like to read to my children. If I feel the style or humor match with mine, I’ll do some more research on them. I’ve spent most of my time looking at book publishers, but I’m coming to realize that there’s a lot of things I’d like to write and it’d be good to have a wide and varied collection of clips. My nose gets too high, though, and all of a sudden I get this attitude that nothing but publication of a picture book will do. DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?
And there’s the sound of crickets chirping because you don’t know who I am because I haven’t published very much because I’ve closed myself off from those markets because I fear that what I’ve written is really good and it may not get better and shouldn’t it therefore be in book form instead?
So maybe how I really research things is I sit at my desk and IMAGINE what it will be like when my piece is accepted. I research in my mind what it would feel like to sit in the publisher’s office with an illustrator and editor and my agent and masseuse. I research this feeling and take it out into a book signing attended by hundreds of adoring children. I slyly stand in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble, just nearby my book, waiting for someone to pick it up. I think up what all these moments would be like, and then place the stamp on the envelope and send it away.
I didn’t say this was a good method.

What was your biggest submission goof? What did you learn from it?

I tend to take on this very meek, “please publish me” persona at times. It’s really quite pitiful to look upon, I imagine. Eyes are probably drooping, shoulders slumped, a manuscript limp and torn in my hands. It makes me try even harder, which then just adds this look of intense anguish to my face. I mostly get this when I’m reaching too far beyond what’s in front of me. A very good friend – also a publisher – told me it’s all about numbers and credits. My biggest goof is forgetting that you have to start somewhere… and that’s not usually at the top!

Why do you want to be a writer?

Ha! Someone asked Stephen King something like this, I think. “Why do you write the kinds of stories you write?” His response was, “You think I have a choice?”
I am a writer would be my first response. Part of the angst of writing is forgetting that being read by others does not mean being a writer. When I’m miserable with my writing it’s usually because I’ve placed that condition on considering myself a writer. I’ll always lose that argument because there will always be rejection slips coming in. I feel like and know I am a writer when I’m sitting or laying down with a notebook in front of me and doodling. Or when I’m driving along and a thought for a story pops in my head. Or just typing away at this cool questionnaire. Words and sentences and the art of finagling them together so that you create “this” feeling, it’s addictive. And there’s just some part of me that can’t put that down, that needs to struggle to say something and say it perfectly.
Bottom line, I love it and always have. It’s who I am, not really what I am.

What is your favorite style of writing? Why?

Forward works well.
Seriously, I think that changes. I like a sense of ridiculousness or just oddness to my stories – like what would a boy do born with a leg on top of his head, for example. I don’t really know, never actually thought about it, but it’s something I’d flop around for awhile, just having fun seeing how he would interact with the world. So fantasy and fiction definitely. I also like things that are a bit scary, or, again, just odd enough that you’re not quite sure how scared to be. Whether this comes out in prose or poetry depends on what I hear. Mostly it’s been prose but occasionally a character let’s me know he thinks verse would sound better.

What is the most frustrating thing about being a writer?

Looking at my list of writing things to do, which I’ve posted right beside my computer. That’s one. Probably the worst is writing when there seems to be nothing to write about, when you sit there and start story after story, maybe only a sentence or two, and then move to the next. It’s like no one wants to talk to you anymore, or at least no one interesting.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

Huh. I feel connected to the world in a way I don’t normally feel. It’s an incredibly freeing thing. Regardless of what I’m writing I also get this sense, perhaps soon or perhaps long, after I’ve finished that I’m also doing something wonderful for myself. It could be as big as tackling something like, “Why am I here?” When I write and what I say is so alive I’m inside it, then I have part of the answer or maybe all of the answer to that question. Or it could be smaller like, “I wanted to give someone a serious case of the willies with this story and I succeeded.” Feeling like what I wrote accomplished what I wanted it to is very rewarding.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

It’s more than I ever thought it was. It heals on levels beyond what I can understand.
Also, you can’t do it alone. Or, better, that you don’t have to. I’ve learned more about writing through participation in my critique groups than I ever did from reading a book about writing. When you have a group of strong, honest writers working with you it can transform your work into something leagues better than what you imagined.

Have you been published? If so where?

I spent about 5 years as a fulltime reporter and editor in the New York area, working for several newspapers and then for a magazine. While doing this I also freelanced and had a few humor pieces picked up by Bridal Guide Magazine. I converted to the children’s market 5 years ago, while at the same time having a few kids and going to nursing school. I’m extremely happy to say I recently sold several pieces to a spooky anthology due out from Marshall Cavendish in 2010.

How can people find out more about you?

I finally got a website up and running. It’s at http://msullivantales.com/.
Besides the writing, I put some video up there of my wife and I making fools of ourselves at our son’s school. We actually did that professionally for about 10 years. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to sneak in some more gigs.
I also have a blog at http://msullivantales.wordpress.com/. The blog contains the amazing, the wonderful, the mostly pointless fun of THE BLOB CONTEST! Please come check it out.

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

This peanut butter cookie is pretty good, but my Wonkavision machine is broken. Sorry.

I would like to share a big thank you to you, Kevin! You’re an amazing, gifted and giving writer. Your dedication to the craft is admirable and I’m glad it’s paying off.

Thanks for stopping by Mike. Great interview, it's always fun to hear your humorous and unique perspective on things. Best of luck to you in your writing career.


Cynthia Reeg said...


Thanks for introducing us to Mike.
And Mike, thanks for a peek into your writing world.
Best wishes with all your stories.


Shane said...

Awesome interview! Thanks Kevin and Mike! Wanted to also toss another resource out there for you both- wordhuster.com. Free market listings and their blog has great interviews with children's writers and agents. :) Keep on keepin' on!

Charlene Haukom said...

Great answers Mike! Uplifting and funny. :)

And ditto Mike's comments to you, Kevin!!


kai said...

Great interview gentlemen. Thank you. Congrats Mike on the spooky sales! Hope the next aren't as scary.

kai said...


That url didn't work. Can you type the whole thing out, maybe? Thanks.


Michael Sullivan said...

Thanks again, Kevin. It was enjoyable doing this. Best of luck to ALL the slush pile warriors out there.

And thanks, Cynthia and Shane, Charlene and Kai. I look forward to reading more of your stuff, too.

Kevin McNamee said...

Thanks for the great interview Mike. it was great hosting you. Let's do it again sometime.