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T R I C I A    S U L L I V A N :
Facing the Music

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, July 1998)
Tricia Sullivan


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Tricia Sullivan has written SF novels Lethe (1995), Someone to Watch Over Me (1997), and Dreaming in Smoke (1998). Her husband is fellow writer (and former agent) Todd Wiggins.

''I started writing the early versions of Lethe in college. I had this idea: what would it be like if, essentially at puberty, everybody went crazy? What kind of world would that be? So I thought, that's a science fiction novel. That's where the first seeds of Lethe happened, although it turned into something completely different.

''I've always done martial arts. I used to do Okinawan karate. When I was a teenager, I was very intensely into it. When I was 16, I went with my dojo to Okinawa to study there, and had a fantastic experience. But there was all kinds of political crap going on, and eventually I got kicked out of the association for 'insufficient karate attitude' that sums it up. I was not very obedient. But I do have this martial arts background, so I didn't mind dragging kids around. It was kind of fun! Still, nothing could prepare me for the reality of just dealing with the New York City public schools.

"My now-husband, then live-in whatever, Todd Wiggins, was working as Al Zuckerman's assistant at Writers House, and he got me my first book deal. I walked in one night, about two weeks after he had sent this off, and he said, 'I got a call from Bantam Spectra. They want to buy your book.' So that was it. Janna Silverstein was the editor who bought it. Todd had, in the interests of enticing them, told them I could finish the book by January. I had written 7,000 words. I had told him it would be about 80,000, but they wanted 100,000! So then we got divorced! (No, not really.) I ended up turning it in, I think at the end of February 1994.

''I wrote the book because I had an idea for it, and somebody gave me a deadline. It was exactly the right way for me then, because essentially I had rewritten the first chapter about 20 times, and had just found it insufficient, no good. But the fact that some professional person was telling me, do this by such-and-such time this was my one chance! I thought, 'I can't blow it. I've got to do it.' So I just sat down with my calendar, and I made out a little schedule of how many words I had to write every week 8,000, or something ridiculous like that and I just did it. I didn't have time to think about it, so of course I made every mistake in the book, but it was the best way for me to work, because it took away my sense of control and responsibility for what I was doing. I couldn't be too critical, because I always had a sense of having to crank out more stuff. It ended up being really the best way to write a first book, for me. I'd still be writing the first chapter right now, if it weren't for this!

''I listen to music constantly when I write. In fact, I always feel like I should publish a list at the back of every book of the things I was listening to when I was writing it, so each book has a playlist. I just have this stack of CDs, and I go through them. I've got this great recording of Shostakovich's piano preludes and fugues by Keith Jarrett, and when I was writing Dreaming in Smoke, I listened to that sucker over and over again! Music is intensely terrifying, and the only reason I find it easier to deal with is because the level at which it has logic is less accessible to most people, so you feel that you're operating on a very intuitive, physical/emotional kind of level, whereas with writing, my rational mind is always getting in the way.

"My plans to do a fantasy novel began as an experiment in money-grubbing. What happened was, there was a period with Someone to Watch Over Me where I had some contact with Betsy Wollheim at DAW, and I thought I'd really like to write something for her. I was noodling around with this fantasy thing, and I thought, 'Hey, here's an opportunity for cash. I'll write it under a pseudonym, and it will be like R&R from my other work, which is always a nightmare and has me in emotional contortions. This will be fun.' So I started working on a novel, and somehow, it turned into a trilogy.

''With science fiction, you've really got to have a good grasp of logic in order to violate it. In order to subvert something, you have to be able to locate it, know your way around it. That is intellect. For me, it just gets me into trouble. So you have to trust the unconscious mind. If you allow the subconscious to take care of it, the story will produce itself from out of the material of your life, out of whatever is preoccupying you. It will naturally turn into a story. Maybe it's hard-wired in the Western mind, culturally.''

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.