Friday, January 20, 2012

January Author Spotlight: J.B. Sullivan

Later than originally scheduled, but good things comes to those who wait, right?
Anyway, this month we kick of author spotlight with the one and only horror writer and self-professed goth, J.B. Sullivan.                             

Hi J.B, and welcome.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello there and thank you! My name is Jamie Sullivan and I am an author of several fictional genres from horror to space opera, and fantasy. I am unsure what to really state about myself so I am a twenty something starving writer living on my own in a small rural village in the middle of beautiful England. My spare hours I fill up with reading, writing and other activities; I am a bit of a spur-of-the-moment person and very impulsive.

Can you tell us about your latest project/work in progress?
Certainly! The truth is, I have many projects on the go at the moment, some are near completion while are others are far from being finished. The two main projects that I am currently focusing on are Hate & Heartbreak- my novel- and a series of short stories that I am going to be submitting to various anthologies and magazines in the coming year.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have never really thought about it, but to give an answer, not until recently. I have been writing my entire life, since I was able to write, but before this last year it was more of a hobby. More so, it was an escape from the tribulations of my unjustly life and as I said, it’s not until recently that I considered writing professionally. It was only through encouragement from some of my writer friends that I considered going pro.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
The novel, Hate & Heartbreak came about from a series of inspirations and elements within the media realm. I have often seen movies and read various books that are horror based but lack that oopmf! when dealing with depth in the creep-factor. That is the primary element I had wanted to catch for years, but I just did not know how or where to start.

Through a prompt offered to me as a challenge by my best friend while I was suffering from nasty writers block, a story begun that was originally only supposed to be a five hundred word exercise. But, once I had started writing I knew I had something that offered the darkness and thorough creepiness that I had always found lacking in other stories by other authors. This element which I had always wanted to see/read was a very vivid factor in the few opening paragraphs, so I knew I had to carry it on. Progress has been slow, but it’s getting there.

How did you come up with the title for your book(s)?
My titles are often influenced by other people’s titles; I look at what sounds good and sells, and more importantly what makes the reader insatiably curious as to want to actually pick the book up and read it. I do this simply because I am an avid reader myself and I try to think along the lines of what I would find appealing. 

The title Hate & heartbreak was actually inspired by one of my tattoos that I had done when I was eighteen. I stood looking at it, and those few words not only summed up the body art but the concept of the book. It was apt for the book, and thought provoking to boot.

Can you tell us how much of your work is realistic?
Most of my work is realistic; it is just set in alternative times and places for the most part. For example, I have just finished a philosophical short story based on a man’s experience with death. However, this story is set in 2177 in the Pandora Cluster where he serves on board a space freighter. It is my first space opera piece, but even within that genre, I try and fuse reality with surrealism; I like to blend, it makes it much more fun!

Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
For the moment I am solely concentrating on improving certain areas of my writing that I feel are lacking certain qualities, even though I have been assured they are not. I am my own worst critic. While I am doing this, I will be progressing with my novel and short stories, and hopefully next year will see me published again for people to enjoy my work.

I know from experience that writing can be challenging to a certain extent. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
There is plenty that I find challenging within writing, but that’s the fun thing about it! You can face that challenge and each time you finish writing that something, you always come out with something different each time.

On a more sinister note, I struggle to complete certain stories as my head is a hyperactive volcano that is constantly spewing out hot new ideas and because of that I either get easily distracted or lose interest with my current piece.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
Unlike most writers, I have no set formula, and it is only very rarely that I storyboard. My tendency is to use the ideas my eccentric mind generates, begin to write and let it develop itself however it likes. As for the characters, that is different. As I write, I build my characters so they have opposite personalities to their co-stars, that way it makes the story more revolving.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Depending on what I am writing and how much focus I have on that one project really depends on how much time it takes to get done. So far, I have the first three chapters of Hate & Heartbreak completed and that was started in November 2011. I am not sure when it will be completed; I can never tell with myself as I am very sporadic and impulsive, as previously mentioned.

When I'm writing, I tend to have a 7-8 hour day solely committed to a certain project. What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
Honestly, it differs, but usually its shit. I have a very low attention span due to a medical illness and through it, my working days, even when planned, can go sailing up the muddy creak. I do try to settle into writing for a few hours every day, but it does not always happen. My lack of ability to focus is my worst trait, and not just as a writer!

The only time I tend to settle on a piece is when I am thoroughly into it and want to see it through, or until it no longer interests me. When that happens I can spend anything from two hours to a week writing that one thing.

Can you take us through the steps for one of your books getting published?
Being as it may that I have only been published twice so far, and those were short stories, I am not too sure. However, I have been propositioned by two publishers who have read and love my work, so things may happen with that, they also may not. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I will say this much, though: I have learnt to be careful and take it into deep consideration of whom to publish with. The last company I submitted to, made a complete muck up of my work that I had sent them as entry for an anthology. The published story had so many errors in the finished book that I could not believe anyone would buy it. The best thing is, the completed piece I sent in had none of those errors. I was left feeling very angry and disappointed.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
Yes and no. While some of my short stories may be lacking in some areas, I know that not every writer is perfect and that I tried my best. So long as I tell a good, original story that people enjoy, that it came out of my head and was not based on somebody else’s work, then I am satisfied.

How do you feel about the horror boom of the 80’s and early 90’s?
Oh, that is an easy one! The best era was undoubtedly the 80’s /90’s. The worst was the new millennium. The new millennium saw works like Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes and Saw, which were all by far over the top. Horror producers –whether they be writers or film producers- have gone too far. I will use The Hills Have Eyes and Saw as examples. The Hills Have Eyes remake was okay in the beginning minutes, but I must stress that watching a woman being raped on screen is far beyond acceptable. It’s bad enough it happens in real life let alone it being glorified and on screen – the film is basically saying it’s okay to glorify and do, which it is not. It is a hideous crime by which the offender should be strictly punished. I refuse to read or watch, and boycott such works that involve rape, domestic abuse, etc. And what’s more, I despise publishers who think it is acceptable to publish content of this kind!

Now, Saw the first was not too bad. It focused on the story and the psychological horror rather than the gore, but after Saw III, that is when things got a little OTT. The reason I say this is after the third film the story slipped away from its usual quality and the viewer soon found that the film was more about watching people being tortured rather than the evolution of the on-going plot.

So to that effect, the 80’s and 90’s were the best eras for horror as they had clean horror like Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Amityville Horror. All the classics that influenced today’s trash. I’m not saying there has not been some good horror movies release since the Calendars turned to the new era, because there has, but that count compared to the previous two eras is very low in the quality score.

What about the horror genre interests you?
I have been asked this question so many times, and each time my response has surprised people. Other people would say the ghosts, demons, and blah, blah, blah scare them. No, that is not my answer. My interest is in people’s reactions. I will openly admit to not liking the have-a-go-hero horror where said individual triumphs over evil with a pistol and a bible. It’s unrealistic; things just don’t happen like that.

Ideal horror is where a character openly acts out of fear and finds themselves running down the dark corridor in the middle of the night, just to reach the bedroom where there is a light on. The punch-line is, they do not know why they did that action. There is the fear and that is the element I try to capture in my horror. Fear causes people to do irrational and downright odd things. By going by people’s reactions to a horrific event, or situation, the more realistic it is, the more you get to play with the character and the plot, thus it allows you to draw the reader’s attention away from your tactical build up to a shocking finale.

The best example of this would be Paranormal Activity. What makes the film believable to some is the way the characters retaliate to their environment when inundated with fear, and in my opinion, that is why the Paranormal Activity films have been so successful.

Not an awful lot scares me. What scares you?
You would think that as a horror writer that I do not scare easily. Well, the truth of it is, I get scared by my own shadow, and certainly cannot watch any Paranormal Activity. Suffice to say that I have a VERY wild and overactive imagination. Hell, I even scare myself sometimes when writing my own horror. The funny thing is, however, that not many horror books scare me. In truth, I think the only horror novel that has sent shivers down my spine was The Pariah by Graham Masterton.

What was your first introduction to horror literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
Nothing or rather nobody really influenced me to write horror. I am a dark person by nature and with those dark thoughts come my best ideas that automatically fall under the horror category. I like the dark and the deep when it comes to horror.

Do you look to your own phobias to find subject matter? Are your stories the products of nightmares, childhood experiences, fantasies?
Oh, yes, I do! As before mentioned, I am easily scared and that helps me strike up an appropriate reaction for my character in a horror story by their situation. Even the bravest of people get scared sometimes, and it doesn't have to be something that goes bump in the night that causes that fear.

The first novel I attempted to write –but am on the verge of scrapping- came from my nightmares. I just tried to make sense of it all.

Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work? 
Hands up, I am guilty. However, the piece I did write based on a news article was not horror but fantasy. The concept came from an article I read in the local Nostalgia paper about the worst deaths in the Victorian era within the UK. One such death happened to be an unfortunate fellow who tumbled down an old fashioned wooden toilet, and drowned in the faeces in the sewer below the streets of London. I swear, it’s absolutely true! The title of the story I aptly named The King of Faeces, but it is in a bad need of rewriting. Who knows!? It might make a special appearance at some point in the early weeks of 2012.

What draws people to horror novels? Why do we, as readers, like to be scared?
That is a good question, and I think you could ask twenty plus people that and come out with a different response every time. My answer is that I don’t necessarily think people like to be scared. I think it is more a case of adrenaline induced curiosity that attracts them to certain events in life that they know will give them that rush. It is very addictive to some and negatively overwhelming to others.

Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
Hmm, this will be a bit difficult for me to explain, but I shall try. Take Richard Laymon for a prime example (God bless his soul!). In his novels he constantly narrates on the female body, literally every other line is about breasts or bums, and in honesty, it disrupts the story. Now, I am no prude but I think that sex, unless absolutely necessary should be kept out of books, or at least to a minimum. If I wanted to read about sex, I would have bought an erotica, not a horror novel.

But, in a more direct way of answering, refer to my answer about the best and worst era for horror movies.
Why should fans of horror movies read horror books?
My answer here is a bit biased, but not to a blinded extent. Books will always be far better than their rival, television, as they allow people to use their own imaginations and not become a vegetable. Plus, you can do so much more with a story than what you can do in a hundred and twenty minute film. Books can go more in-depth, more personal and more moving than what any film can.  

What in your opinion are crucial elements in creating a marketable horror novel?
Originality, keep the story fresh and different from previous works. For example, there had been a neck and neck battle between Stephan King and Richard Laymon. The reason Richard will never win that race is because when he was alive his stories always had the same hero-saves-damsel-in-distress theme. Also, his work always started and ended the same just like his other works, whereas King always had something that started fresh and ended different. You cannot compare The Mist to Firestarter, or IT to The Eyes of the Dragon whereas you can compare After Midnight to Midnights Lair.

Another thing to watch out for in writing horror is not to take one of your favourite horror movie scenes, or literary scenes, and put your own twist on them to try and make it feasibly your own work. People will notice it, and even though it will be that writers work, those readers will know where the idea has come from as it will be too familiar to them and that discredits the whole story to a disappointing anti-climax.

The perception of the horror writer is that he/she is just a little bit weirder than most. Do you find yourself — and other horror writers — to be more idiosyncratic than the average person?
Oh, hell yes! I mumble to myself, walk into inanimate objects and then curse them for not moving out the way sooner - yes, you read that right! But seriously, no, you don’t. What is on the outside is the great deceiver of what is on the inside. Just be yourself and write whatever you want to write whether you’re a Goth that writes romance or a vicious loner that writes heart-warming comedy.

Some random facts: 

Favourite time of Day?
My favourite time of the day is actually the night. I am a nocturnal person, preferring to spend my waking hours in darkness and quiet, rather than the light of day and its annoying environmental pandemonium.

Favourite food?
Sushi, Chinese, and a Sunday roast.

Pet peeves?
Writers who treat creative writing as a competition and not the fantastic world of creation that it is! Those writers should be ashamed of themselves.

Guilty pleasure?

Angel or sinner?
I can be equally good and evil.

Below is a sample of J.B's current work in progress. Enjoy:
This is the unedited first draft of the prologue to Hate & Heartbreak.


The echo of the train disappearing down the track left me dizzy and disorientated. I had no memory of how I had arrived here, no sense of time and a lingering scent of musty sweat hung in the air. The carriage was in near darkness apart from the one dull light above me. I could feel a tight knot clenching at my stomach and a tense throb in the front of my head. I groaned at the nausea washing over me.
Shifting in my seat, I turned to look up and down the aisle. All the red nylon seats were empty; I was alone. My head was unbelievably hazy, my thoughts jumbling over one another, hardly making any sense at all. I looked down at myself and saw a blood stain on my powder blue shirt, turning the fabric into a sickly purple. My body and mind were trying to panic but I remained non-chalant. I felt too exhausted to care.
I struggled to stand up, my body protesting with aches and pains. My head swarmed with dizziness as I scrambled out of my seat. Something rattled as it collided with my foot and went skittering further down the aisle. I had to rub my eyes to get them to focus, and saw the dented iron pole caught in the nook of a seat where I had kicked it. Shuffling towards it, I looked out of the curtained carriage windows. I could see nothing past the deep blackness.
Stooping to pick up the pole, I could see dark splotches mixed in with the rust. The cold of the pole sent tingling sensations running through my hand. Bringing it closer to my face, I examined it through slatted eyes. The dark patches were congealed blood. The knot in my stomach tightened.  Shocked, I dropped the pole where it clattered to the floor. My breath became laboured and my mind whirled.  My knees grew weak and I had to grab a hold of the seat tops on either side of the aisle to prevent myself from falling down.
I scanned the empty seats once more but could see no one. “Hello?” My voice came out as a tired croak. Something in my gut told me not to expect a reply. Seconds went by and holding my breath, no answer came. Using the seats as support I moved to the front of the carriage and came to a stop before a metal door. A small brass plaque told me that this was the driver’s cabin. A weak blood smear stained the indented writing. What the hell had happened here?
Pressing the cold metal handle down, I pushed the door open. A bright light sent me staggering backwards and losing my balance, nearly fell. Shielding my burning eyes with my arm, I stepped into the cabin.  It was pristine white and carried the distinct smell of sulphur and the metallic tang of blood. I sat down in the empty driver’s seat and looked ahead. The headlights of the train illuminated old tracks rushing beneath it and a black bricked tunnel at the sides. The green flashing light on the dashboard indicated the train was on independent mode.
Where was the driver? My mind quizzed. Hell if I knew, came my reply. Standing back up, I moved to the steel security locker in the corner of the cabin and pulled it open. The door rattled on its hinges. There was a navy blue anorak with hi-vis markings on the upper arms and chest. Driver was stencilled across the back in the same luminous material. On the shelf above the coat there was a lunchbox and a radio. Taking them both out, I ripped the lid off the lunchbox and instantly regretted it. An untouched sandwich had about a week’s worth of fur growing on it. Putting the lid back on, I tossed it back into the locker in a hurry.
Cradling the set in my hands, I sat back down in the drivers chair and fiddled with the black dials on the radio. I was anticipating hearing another human voice. The rumbling of the tracks and the silence of the carriage was all but unnerving. The radio speaker crackled with ominous white-noise as I twisted the tuner dial slowly from left to right, but no voice broke through the airwaves. I was about to turn the radio off when through the speaker I heard a weird sound. I could only think of it as something heavy being dragged along the floor, something like a wet dog. I strained to hear over the white-noise but I was almost certain I could hear something or someone moaning in the background. The red power light on the side of the set faded and with it, so did the sound. For several seconds I just sat and stared at the set, dumbfounded.
Not understanding what I had just heard, I slouched back in the seat and puffed out my cheeks. Running my hand through my hair, I could feel the groggy ache in my head starting to recede but it was still too noticeable. Pushing myself to my feet, I left the radio on the dashboard and re-entered the passenger carriage. Moving along the aisle I paused to look at every seat on either side of the train. I was not expecting to find much, nor did I, but something other than nothing would have been nice. Or maybe not so nice on second thoughts, considering the blood crusted pole and my ruined shirt.
I paused by the compartment door at the back of the carriage and tried to look through the thin glass window. I could see soft light through the edges but nothing else because of the dirt and grime that the pane was caked in. Calmly inhaling and exhaling, I twisted the handle and the door swung inwards. I found myself staring at a woman’s back. She was stood in the aisle looking at something I could not see. Her attention was disrupted by the clamour of the hinges as they turned in on themselves.

Thanks J.B, that was an insightful interview into you and how you work as a writer. The sample of Hate & Heartbreak is thoroughly brilliant!

To find out more about J.B and her work, following these links:

That's it for this week guys, next we will be introduced to the fine work of the delectable author, Joseph Beekman. See you all soon :)

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