By Todd Sullivan
I end every Zoom interview the same way. “Before we go, do you have any final questions?” I’ve interviewed some 90 publishing writers across several countries. One of the most commonly asked questions posed to me before I sign off is, “Why did you start doing this?” I’ve come to the realization that there is no simple answer. The starting point of a creative endeavour is difficult to ascertain. I’ve been writing my current novel for two years, but the idea behind it began when I was still in high school. The four decades of my life goes into the fictional narratives I write today.
The web interviewing series I’m currently conducting is no different. However, I have tried to derive a starting point to the project from two significant events in my past. When I was 19 years old, I was accepted into the now defunct National Book Foundation Summer Writing Camps. Meg Kearney, who worked at the NBF at the time, was the Director. Back in the 1990s, three dozen people in their late teens to early twenties were accepted from a competitive pool of applicants from around the United States. We met outside of the NBF head office in Manhattan the morning of the first day, and take a bus ride to a remote campus in upstate New York. Over the course of two weeks, we would listen to established authors discuss writing and publishing, all the while penning our own fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, which we would workshop together in small groups. The NBF Summer Writing Camps had an indelible effect upon me. Listening to guests who were dedicated to the written word, being inspired by their inspirations, never truly left me. Perhaps the writing interviewing series began then, 24 years ago, at my first camp experience in Silver Bay, New York. When I moved to Taipei, Taiwan, in 2019, I was approached by a Nigerian expat in the summer of 2020. He had always been interested in acting, but his attempts to get parts in drama productions in Taipei had been met with rejection. An unfortunate reality of living in Asia is that casting calls for westerners to act in films and plays often specify that they must be Caucasian. Even when this isn’t explicitly stated, black actors are seldom given parts in plays and film. My friend had decided that he wanted to create his own drama platform here in Taipei, and asked if I would collaborate with him in writing an African inspired web series. I agreed, and we produced six episodes. The process felt like I was coming home. I loved combining the written word with visual media and music. I think I’ve always had the inclination to do so. Reviewers of my book series have stated that the narratives have a cinematic quality to them. Well Read Beard, in his review of my vampire novella BUTCHERS, wrote, “It read like film, there was a gorgeous filmography aspect to the way these scenes were written.” The web series I did with the Nigerian expat was filmed over three months. After we finished, I wanted to continue doing something similar, combining the written word with visual media and music. Around the time that the web series was wrapping up, my horror publisher, Nightmare Press, was set to publish a vampire anthology that I had compiled and edited. I decided that I would interview the contributors to help promote the anthology. This was in December 2020. By the beginning of January 2021, I had interviewed the 13 contributors of the anthology, but still wanted to do more. I then decided to interview authors of short stories that I had read over the years, and had stuck with me past the initial reading. I reached out to these writers, and completed this second interviewing playlist on YouTube in the beginning of February 2021. Still seeking more, I decided to interview writers across the publishing spectrum: poets, essayists, screenplay writers, playwrights, columnists, bloggers, etc. The questions I ask are general. My target audience are people who are at the beginning of their writing journey, just as 24 years ago in Silver Bay, New York, I was at the beginning of my writing career. The interviews are appetizers meant to inspire perspective writers to walk down that long, literary road, a road that is often lonesome, and always difficult. At the end of an interview when I am asked, “So why did you start doing this?”, I think of the NBF Summer Writing Camps; I think of the African web series; I think of my parents who love reading and storytelling, and how they passed that passion on to me; I think of the many podcasts I was a guest on after my own fantasy and horror series were published; I think of the interviewing channels I enjoy watching on YouTube; I think of COVID, which has had the world’s population stuck in their homes, thereby making the interviewees more available for Zoom chats. Perhaps they, too, are seeking writerly connections. I believe I was always coming to this point, and perhaps the truest answer to the question of why am I doing this is, “Because being part of a writer community, and passing on the information and advice given on this YouTube channel, is a worthwhile, creative endeavour.”
Todd Sullivan currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan, where he teaches English as a Second Language. He hosts a YouTube Channel that interviews writers across the publishing spectrum.