Saturday, July 16, 2011

Michael Sullivan answers a question

This week it was made known to me that Michael Sullivan, the author of Riyria Revelations, was doing a question-answer session on Goodreads (from July 15-17). I decided that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to ask him a question, and then share with the world (via my blog) his answer and maybe help him get some attention for his series.

Sullivan has already gained a lot of attention for his Riyria Revelations series. Riyria Revelations is a series of six, fairly stand alone (yet interlocking) books which are highly entertaining, adventurous and ambitious. Riyria, in my mind, proves that books don’t need to be a thousand pages long to have the epic feel to them that so many of us love. More recently Sullivan has gained even more attention because he was signed on with Orbit. Orbit will release the Riyria books in an omnibus set of three in November, December (2011) and January (2012).

I usually don’t do author interviews, mostly because I’m self-conscious about my interviewing skills. However, if I see an author question-answer session, like the one I saw this week, I try to pay attention to them and participate. This was no different. While I haven’t read all of Sullivan’s series, I admire him as an author, pay attention to his work, and couldn’t let the opportunity to harangue him with a question pass me by. Even though it’s just one question, and just one answer, I enjoy the background it gave me as to the world building of this series, and I figured that you, dear reader, might too. 

Without further ado, here’s my question:

I love reading fantasy and science fiction for a number of reasons, but one of the primary ones is because I always find myself fascinated by everything the author has to create in these genres. Usually in speculative fiction the author needs to create a world and fill it with unique cultures and natural laws and everything else that those come with. It's quite a mind-boggling task, in my eyes. Not only that, but from book to book it all has to remain fluid and cohesive.

It seems like every author has a different way to go about creating on this massive scale. How did you go about creating your world? Were you one of the lucky ones where it just happened, or did you have to spend months and months with a pen and paper making sure it all fit together nicely? Did you use "real world" influences to help you when you were creating the world for your series? 

And here’s his answer:

When I was in 6th grade my favorite assignment was when my homeroom teacher gave us a blank paper and asked us to draw the map of an island, then create a history for it and the people living there. 

When I graduated high school I didn't have money for college. I had a small scholarship to an art school which ran out in a year, so instead I went to used bookstores and began reading the classics and would buy history text books. It was while reading the history of western civilization that I created Elan. 

I would stumble upon surprising things that happened like Star Chambers and the Inquisition and think, these would be great in a fantasy story. I sort of cherry picked all the things I liked even if they were from different times or regions, which is why you have knights jousting, but also sailing ships and powdered wigs.

So just for fun, not to write a book, just like I did in grade school, I created a map and populated it with peoples and created 8000 years of history. I never used it. Then two decades later when I was starting to write Riyria, I dug that world out of my files and it became the basis of Elan. I had to change a lot, but quite a bit remained the same.

Generally speaking however, Elan is loosely based on Europe a thousand years after the fall of the great empire (Rome) and Glenmorgan was based on Charlemagne. There's a lot of other things in there, too. 

It's funny because I wrote in the Invented World Fantasy genre in order to make things easy on myself thinking I wouldn't have to do any research, or fact check. But I'm finding that now, with the Internet, writing contemporary real world based fiction is so much easier. All the work is done for you, and you don't have to explain the simplest of things. 

For those of you on Goodreads (link in the first paragraph), I recommend going over there and chatting Sullivan up. He's answering a ton of different questions about his books, his adventures with publishing, his background and much more. It's worth taking a gander at his answers, and asking a few questions of your own. 


  1. Good question! Thanks for sharing this :)

  2. Thanks for this :) Good question and great answer. I'll have to look up Sullivan soon :)

  3. Thanks for participating in the Q & A and for sending more attention my way. This was very nice of you.

    Are you ready for the next book yet?