Evan S. Sullivan lives in Ontario, Canada, with his fiancé, their very good dog, and their very just fine cat. Evan teaches university writing courses; in his free time he enjoys travelling, playing the piano, replaying his favorite video games, and continuing his 10-year wait for the next installment in his favorite book series to come out. You can find him at evanssullivan.com.
Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, the novella Starless, was written as part of your thesis project in grad school. Why were you interested in exploring heroes, villains, and violence in fantasy fiction for your thesis?
The answer to this question is very long. The short-ish version is that good and evil and violence are traditionally very un-complicated in fantasy fiction, in a way that I thought would be interesting to write about. Consider in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker blows up a moon-sized space station full of faceless soldiers, and never thereafter grapples with the ramifications of that act. Consider how our most famous fantasy heroes always bootstrap their ways out of oppression by finding wealth or magic or very important swords, in narratives about hardship that might be overly simplistic. There’s a lot to say about all of this, once you start looking at emerging patterns. I’m not the first person to notice or to write about these kinds of patterns within the genre, and fantasy does have its own sub-genre of subversive fiction. But I wanted to tell my own story that reacted to all of these traditions…and so I wrote Starless.
Did you always intend to publish Starless as a novella?
I had no plans to publish Starless when I started to write it…mostly because I had other projects in the works that I was planning to publish first. I’m glad I did though, because Deathless, which followed as an indirect sequel, is my favorite project I have completed.
What was the inspiration for the world in which your books take place?
The world of Deathless is a very grounded one, inspired by my own travels across Canada and abroad. I took a lot of inspiration from other gritty and political fantasy worlds (like the world in A Song of Ice and Fire) … but the tone and mechanics of the world were all born out of the question “how would the people and the power struggles in these fantasy settings adapt to a catastrophe?” I had never read a post-apocalyptic fantasy story, and I thought a world like that would be interesting to explore.
It definitely brings something new to both genres! Deathless, your second book, is a novel. What were the challenges of working on a novel over a novella?
Novels are harder to work on because there’s so much more content to create and perfect, but I prefer that challenge over the struggle of fitting an entire compelling story into a smaller space. There is an art to writing compelling novellas that I was only able to pull off because my Masters Degree depended on it. I have a lot of respect for people who can tell good stories in so little space, but I’ll put my efforts towards a longer project any day…even if it does mean that I’ll be completing projects much less frequently. More pages means more time for characters to grow, more opportunity for themes to be delivered, and more space for all the cool stuff we want out of the books we read.
Thinking of more space, Deathless is written from the point of view of different characters. Which point of view was your favourite to write from?
I absolutely loved writing Tarlien’s point of view. She has the fewest hidden motivations of all the main characters, and I went into the story not knowing exactly how her arc would end… so she was able to act impulsively and speak her mind and make mistakes. Her story is the most emotional, and her voice is the sharpest. I had no connection to this character when the story began, but she ended up being my favorite I have ever written.
I also had a lot of fun writing Romerus, because he’s a likeable guy but there’s a subtlety to his arc that you might see very differently if you read the story a second time.
So what are you working on now?
I have had writer’s block for over a year, which I am trying to slowly chip away at. I’m a few chapters into my next project—Godless.
I also have a very long manuscript in my files that’s forever in need of updating, for another story set in this same world, called The Black Crown.
Good luck with overcoming your writer’s block! Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
The Lord of the Rings made me want to tell fantasy stories, and A Song of Ice and Fire made me want to tell stories that subverted the genre.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
But I would also recommend Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind: three books which I think are representative of what artwork can be achieved through different approaches to storytelling, and which all forced me to reconsider how I thought about storytelling in general when I read them.
And what are you currently reading?
I recently read The Lies of Locke Lamora, and I have The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams sitting on my shelf, but I struggle to find the time or motivation to read. This is for a lot of reasons; some to do with modern-day life and some to do with the fact that majoring in English really kills one’s love of reading.