Talk about yourself—Who are you? Where are you located?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m J.A. Sullivan, a Canadian horror author and general weirdo who lives in Brantford, Ontario, with my non-weird, but unbelievably supportive husband. In my quest to experience strange phenomena, I spent a few years as a paranormal investigator and have travelled to some of the most haunted places in North America.
When I’m not writing or chasing ghosts, I enjoy cooking vegetarian/vegan recipes, watching horror movies and true crime documentaries, running, reading horror books, and listening to horror themed podcasts while working on jigsaw puzzles of cute animals. Besides posting book reviews to my blog Writing Scared, I also contribute reviews and weekly podcast recommendations on Kendall Reviews (http://kendallreviews.com/)
What are you currently writing and what inspired it?
Currently I’m in the editing stages of my second novel titled “Don’t Save Me”. The story follows a woman in her twenties struggling with mental health who becomes entangled with a literal demon. At it’s core, I was inspired by the stigma attached to suicide and the controversy surrounding people suffering with severe mental health conditions and their access to medical assistance in dying (euthanasia) as legislated in Canada. The relationship between the main character and her sister was inspired by the bond my sister and I share. We’ve pulled each other through some very dark times, and it was cathartic to explore these experiences through writing.
Because that story is super heavy, I’ve also been writing a few lighter short stories inspired by killer whales, an apple orchard, and a local train derailment, to name a few.
What genre do you write?
Almost everything I write is in the horror genre, usually with a supernatural element. However, I also dabble in literary short fiction and poetry. I’ve tried writing just about every genre, but my black heart always seems to come back to horror.
Have you been published/are you working towards being published?
I’ve had a few short stories published, such as “The Forest” in Indie Writer’s Review Issue 4 (which you can read on my blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/short-story-the-forest/), “Heart of Stone” in Don’t Open the Door (which you can read on Kendall Reviews http://kendallreviews.com/feature-exclusive-fiction-dare-you-open-the-door-read-j-a-sullivans-superb-heart-of-stone-a-short-that-features-in-an-exciting-new-charity-anthology/), and my latest story “Wolf Pit” will come out in September 2021 as part of the anthology “A Silent Dystopia: Stories from A Quiet Apocalypse”.
On the novel writing front, I’ve been searching for a publisher since 2019. There’s been a few encouraging personalised rejections along the way, but my book hasn’t found its forever home yet. I still believe in the story, so I’ll just keep on trying.
What author inspires you the most?
This will probably sound cheesy, but every author I’ve ever read inspires me, from those who are well-known to indie writers just starting their journey. The very act of creating people and events out of pure imagination is utterly amazing.
What books are your favorite and what would you recommend for others?
I could talk about books until my jaw drops off, so I’ll limit myself to a few. Ray Bradbury is one of my favourite authors and his short stories are incredible, so I highly recommend “Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales”. Another writer I frequently reread is Richard Matheson and his novel “Hell House” is my top haunted house book of all time. Lastly, the book that has had the biggest impact on me as a person and as a writer would be “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My biggest piece of advice is to let your imagination go wild. So many times, writers have great ideas, but abandon them because they think the story is too weird or it won’t be marketable. Stop self-rejecting and write the story only you can tell. Each creation is a chance to improve your style and build your unique voice.
Also, read as many books as you can on the craft of storytelling, take workshops when you are able, and don’t be afraid to talk to other authors. The more you learn about writing the better your own work will become.
What is your perfect setting for writing?
I’m a writer that needs to be consumed by the fictional world I’m creating, so I eliminate every distraction I can. Even if the house is empty, I close the door to my home office, light a stick of incense, put my phone out of reach, and grab my noise-cancelling headphones. Then, with a large mug of black coffee on hand, I slip into an alternate reality and type until my brain goes numb.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I take the best of both approaches as a solid plantser. Too much plotting sucks the life out of my imagination, and without any plan at all I just drift around aimlessly. So, I normally write down a few plot points on cue cards to get a general sense of direction, then see where the muse takes me.
What is your favorite written piece and if it’s published, where can one find it?
My favourite piece would probably be a short story called “The Crows” which is available on the Sci-Fi & Scary website (https://www.scifiandscary.com/the-crows-by-j-a-sullivan-fiction/). It’s a tale about gods, making offerings, and a murderer.
Another tale I’m quite fond of involves the strain of a bad marriage, a candle lit Valentine’s dinner, and a portal to Hell in “Shackles” which is available on Kendall Reviews (http://kendallreviews.com/valentines-horror-shackles-j-a-sullivan/).
As an author of horror, I need to know, why do you write horror?
I’ve never really fit in anywhere, so I suppose horror always captured my attention because it usually deals with stories about outsiders and underdogs. Horror characters typically aren’t the popular kids, which I can relate to, and telling their stories feels natural. It’s a genre where I can freely vent my frustrations against society, be as weird as I want, and include paranormal experiences to my heart’s content. Horror has always felt like home.
What was your first experience with horror growing up? Something had to spark your interest. (My favorite stories are about the day someone got exposed to a scary movie.)
Honestly, I don’t remember a time in my life without horror. When my sister was born and I was nearly 3, my parents got me a picture book called “Lamont, the Lonely Monster” by Dean Walley. Not only was it filled with fantastic images of ghosts and scary creatures, but my last name was Lamont, so I thought that was pretty cool.
My dad was a huge horror fan and had a collection of paperback novels with awesome covers that I loved looking at. They were never off limits and as soon as I was able to read well enough, I started devouring all of them. I never got scared or had nightmares, so my parents were just glad I found something I enjoyed. Movies were sort of the same. Dad would say he was going to watch something scary, and I’d rush over to see what it was. I think he was happy to have a “mini-me” lol.
However, I do recall the first slasher I ever saw. My cousin was babysitting me and my sister for the summer, and we convinced my dad to let us rent “Sleepaway Camp”. Normally our horror movie selections were focused on the supernatural, so to see “real” murders by a real person just about blew my mind!
What is the scariest thing you’ve read or seen?
Maybe because I’ve been around horror so long there’s not much that really gets under my skin. But the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen was “Martyrs” (original 2008 version). If you have a taste for extreme horror, it’s a fantastically sick gem.
Have you written about a personal experience and turned it into a horror story?
Almost everything I write comes from some sort of personal experience. Scary things like real paranormal encounters, emotionally devastating events like the deaths of my parents, and even life changing horrors of infertility and a hysterectomy have all impacted my life, and it only feels natural to let them bleed into my fiction.
Favorite horror movies (books too if you haven’t stated those yet or have more horror specific)
Some of my favourite horror movies are based on books, so here’s a list that I love reading and watching: “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris, “Psycho” by Robert Bloch, “Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin. A book that’s a thousand times better than the movie is “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber. And a book that doesn’t live up to the film is “Jaws” by Peter Benchley.