Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down and putting together an interview with JM Sullivan, an independent author of The Wanderland Chronicles and the Neverland Transmissions, her own twisted takes on the worlds of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan respectively. JM and I became familiar with each other through Twitter, and I jumped at the chance to do this interview.
When did you start writing and why?
I have always been a writer (not always a good writer, but a writer nonetheless). I’ve always loved the power of words and how I could put them together to create my own stories. As a child my family fostered a love of reading and stories and I grew up immersed in different worlds and loving every minute of it. So when I finally reached the age in school where I learned that I could be the one telling my stories, I jumped down the rabbit hole and never looked back!
When did you get the initial spark to write about Alice, and how did it turn into the Wanderland series?
You might be surprised, but the inspiration for Alice didn’t come so much from Wonderland as the ‘fit’ of the twist. I LOVE horror movies, so I watch all of them: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, demons, and of course, zombies. One night after watching a new zombie movie with my husband, I was headed to bed and thinking about the movie and, as any self-respecting horror movie fan does, considering the best methods of survival. Now, any zombie buff worth their salt will tell you the only way to get rid of the undead is ‘off with its head!’, and as I was thinking about it, I made the connection to the Red Queen. As soon as the idea hit, the fit was just too perfect. I thought about how the other characters might act when faced with a zombie apocalypse, and just like that, a story was born.
What is your regular writing routine? Is there a specific place you like to write or a certain ritual that needs to take place before you put pen to paper?
I always cringe when someone asks me this question because I feel like I should have some sort of adult, responsible sort of answer, and the truth is, I don’t! I don’t have a regular writing routine or any sort of wisdom to impart about the importance and life-changing impact that a routine has on my writing, aside from this: write. Write at night, in the morning, on your lunch break–whenever you can. As a writer who is also a mom with a full-time career, my schedule is often unpredictable, but no matter what, I do my best to fit in at least one writing session a day. Even if its 500 words, with consistency those 500 words add up! It may not sound as impressive as the full-time writer who knocks out four novels a year, but regardless of what time you write, if you are diligent about adding to your work every day, you will by default eventually have a book! (Also coffee. I highly recommend coffee to assist with the putting of the words on the paper 😉 )
What authors inspired you to become one yourself?
Oh so many! I could list for hours the authors that I admire and respect and the reasons why, but in the interest of not fangirling TOO HARD, I’ll give you my favorite, and that is Gail Carson Levine. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with her work, but I firmly believe that everyone should be! Her book Ella Enchanted is the first book that I picked out to buy all on my own, and it is one that I have read more times than I can count. It tells the story of Ella of Frell and the adventure she has as she tries to break a fairy curse that was ‘gifted’ to her at birth. The story itself is so creative and magical, that I absolutely fell in love with it and I knew that I wanted one day to be able to create something that made somebody else feel the same way.
You seemed to find a particular niche. How long did it take you to find it, and how personal does it feel for you?
Finding my niche came when writing Alice and realizing how much I loved twisting up my favorite fairy tales. Consequently, I have ALWAYS loved retellings (remember Ella Enchanted and Gail Carson Levine–yep, you guessed it– Cinderella retelling!) and reading different takes on the stories that I grew up enchanted with. When I started Alice, I thought it would be fun to try the same thing and I was super excited at the opportunity, but as I was writing, I completely fell in love and knew that these were the stories I wanted to write, and I started trying to think of all the twists I could to be able to continue doing so. It definitely feels personal to me because I have spent so much of my life reading and studying and fangirling over fairy tales, now that I get to spend my time doing the same thing while working feels like an absolute dream.
Were you ever overwhelmed when you became a writer and began putting out books bearing your name?
I don’t think that I was ever overwhelmed, but I was definitely blown away. Through the whole process of publication, it almost felt so surreal. I was still wrapping my mind around the fact that I had even FINISHED a book, then finding out that someone wanted to help me tell my story, and then that it actually had become a real live-honest to goodness book with a cover and pages and everything! It was all so exciting and the prospect of people reading and maybe loving or even hating my book was so huge, but the dream of being a writer has always been so much a part of me, I couldn’t be anything but hugely excited.
Do you ever listen to fad advice on social media, or do you ignore it and listen to your own voice?
I don’t generally seek out fad advice on social media. Mostly I just stick to using the things that have worked for me in the past and following the golden rule, which has created my standard plan: just be nice to people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a connection with someone or grown a great relationship simply by reaching out and being positive. Consequently, it makes the people that I am surrounded by some of the most AMAZING people out there, which makes my social media spheres places that I truly enjoy being.
Do you outline or character map, or do you just dive in and see where the story takes you?
I do a little bit of both. I wouldn’t say that I am an extensive planner by any means, but I do like to set aside time up front to explore my characters and form a road map for where I want my story to go. It isn’t super detailed, but it gives me enough structure to get me from point A to point B while still having the freedom to be impulsive and follow my characters where they decide to lead.
Which of your own works is your personal favorite and why?
This is such a hard question because so much goes into writing each piece that I feel like each one holds its own special place in my heart. But, if you’re forcing me to choose one, I would say that Alice has to be the winner. If it wasn’t for her, I might never have known that I could finish a book, let alone get it published! Alice has opened so many doors for me and I have learned so much since her release that I will always be grateful for everything she means to me.
There are a lot of Alice-inspired works out there; books, video games, Disney’s two-movie reboot, the sci-fi miniseries, etcetera. What makes your version stand out of the crowd?
I think every retelling writer adds their own special touch to their story simply by means of who they are–their writing style, their tone of voice, their relationship to each character and the story itself, which is what makes retellings so fascinating. But aside from that, each story has its own special features which set it apart. For my Alice, I would have to say that the biggest difference is the relationship between Alice and her sister. In Wonderland, we know Alice has a sister, but there isn’t really much else to their relationship. In Wanderland, Alice is ready to face unspeakable horror in order to save her. My Alice is still curious and inquisitive, but she has a much greater purpose for venturing into Wanderland and for persevering through all of the madness (and there is madness), and it makes her stronger and braver and the kind of person I would like to be.
What’s next for you after this release? Will you continue this series, or will you work on something new?
Writing. Always writing! Like most other authors you ask, I have plot bunnies all over the place that I am constantly trying to wrangle, but in my attempts to be a responsible adult, I have tried to schedule and organize my projects as best as I can. Things are always subject to change, but I can tell you that after ALICE is re-released, her sequel, BROKEN GLASS will be following soon after, AND at the beginning of 2019 I am releasing the first book in my new series, SECOND STAR, which is another twisted fairy tale and a super fun adventure with Peter Pan in space!
Finally, what advice or words of wisdom would you give to writers who are on the start of the literary journey?
Be nice to yourself! We writers bet up on ourselves far too often. An inner critic can help keep you on your toes, but don’t give it so much free reign that it derails your work. Remember, someone needs your words. No one can tell your stories. To get them out there you have to write them!
Teacher by day, award-winning author by night, J.M. Sullivan is a fairy tale fanatic who loves taking classic stories and turning them on their head. She has a passion for the writing community and loves empowering and encouraging other authors on social media with #AuthorConfession. When she’s not buried in her laptop, you can find her watching scary movies with her husband, playing with her kids, or serving homage to her cats. Although known to dabble in adulting, J.M. is a big kid at heart who still believes in true love, magic, and most of all, the power of coffee. If you would like to connect with J.M., you can find her on her website www.jmsullivanbooks.com, on social media at @jmsullivanbooks, or by joining the fun at #AuthorConfession–she’d love to hear from you.
Second Star (coming in 2019)
Wendy Darling worked her entire life to rise through the ranks of the prestigious Londonierre Brigade. Now as a Captain, she has everything she’s always wanted, including a ship and crew of her own. But when the Brigade receives a strange transmission from the legendary James Hooke, lost a hundred years earlier in uncharted space and presumed dead, Wendy is willing to risk it all to rescue her hero. She races to the planet known only as Neverland; her mission to find the long-lost crew and bring them home.
But there is more to Neverland than meets the eye, and more to Hooke than what was written in history books. When Wendy crash lands on the ominous planet, she quickly discovers Neverland’s dark secret; a malevolent being known as The Shadow that’s looking for a host body to escape its eternal prison. To fulfill her mission, Wendy must decide whether to trust the dashing Hooke or the mysterious Fleet mechanic who goes by the name of Pan–and she has to decide quickly…
Before the darkness consumes them all.