I love a good origin story as part of my love for retellings, and today we’re chatting with author J.M. Sullivan about her origin story of the sea witch from The Little Mermaid.
To kick off the interview, J.M. tells us a little bit about what we can expect from The Rise of Ersyla:
“The Rise of Ersyla is a twisty origin tale that chronicles the story of a poor, unfortunate girl gifted with magick and the events that led to her becoming the most powerful villain in all the seas. Read it, britches!”
1. As a retellings author, what is it that you look for in a classic story to decide if it’s one that you want to twist up?
This may sound strange but I don’t pick my retellings based on the story alone. Don’t get me wrong, the story is important, but I don’t sit at my desk, and choose a story, then spend hours searching for a twist. More often then not it’s actually the other way around– I start with the twist. I think about what I want to write about, whether it be a monster story, a futuristic space opera, or WHATEVER, and then I think about which fairy tale would fit that twist the best. I love Alice in Wonderland, but if I was to write to the story, there’s no way that would have been my first retelling. But the TWIST that I wanted begged for Alice, so I had to listen!
2. The Rise of Ersyla is an origin story (the story BEFORE the main story takes place.) Do you typically find yourself leaning toward origin stories, or is this something exclusive to this tale the you’re doing?
Ersyla is actually my very first origin story. So I don’t know that I lean towards them, but at the same time, I can’t really say that it is an exclusive event either. After I wrote Ersyla, I realized how much I enjoyed exploring her origin, and now actually have plans to create origins for all of my baddies, with my next project being none other than the Red Queen herself.
3. Of all of the characters inside of The Rise of Ersyla, which ones do you find yourself identifying with, and which ones do you see yourself pushing against?
Oh gosh. I guess there are parts of all the characters and their relationships that I can identify with, but I definitely identify with Ersyla, which I think made writing the origin possible. Although she does have quite a few qualities I’m not crazy about, I can understand her. I get growing up and feeling out of place in your world, but still wanting desperately to make your family feel proud of you. She’s got a tough break- she’s growing up in a world where who she is essentially is wrong, and still trying to figure out what that even means to her. Sure, she lets her emotions get the best of her, but honestly, what teenage girl doesn’t (if you ask my mother she’ll absolutely tell you that I did). What I would say makes me most relate to Ersyla though, is where I find myself ultimately pushing against Bryony (who for the most part, I also understand, except this one huge difference): when it comes to family and friends, Ersyla is loyal and is willing to risk whatever she needs to do to help them, and ultimately, she does. For me, you protect your family. Whether it’s blood, or people who you have claimed as your family, you stand up for them no matter what. Even with all of the awful things that are thrown Ersyla’s way, with her temper, her jealousy, and everything else, she fights for those she loves, and for me, that is the most important thing about her.
4. You tend to be a sparkly person, but your books have a lot of darkness in them….does the darkness have more fun or does your exorbitant amount of glitter cancel that out in real life?
Hahaha oh gosh. I wouldn’t say the darkness has more fun, it’s just that light shines brighest in the dark. I think every person has good in them (ahem, Ersyla), but sometimes it can be really hard to see. Dark is scary- it’s where the monsters and nightmares hide, but light will always come through. My stories may not always be traditional ‘happily ever afters’ but I like to believe there’s a good enough balance of sparkle and dark to show that even in the worst of situations, there is always hope.
5. You have a sea witch retelling, an Alice in Wonderland retelling, and a Peter Pan retelling out currently/coming out soon….if you closed your eyes and jumped in the air, which of those three worlds would you be most likely to land in?
Well, I don’t jump very high, so Neverland is probably out, lol. In all seriousness though, I’d probably have to say Alice for a couple of reasons. ALICE: THE WANDERLAND CHRONICLES was my first published book, and also the setting for Wanderland is based in Phoenix, Arizona where I grew up. Even though it’s an apocalyptic wasteland, I know all of the areas Alice visits, because I went to all of them! (Fun fact: Chess’ home downtown is at my aunt and uncle’s house!) So when I close my eyes, I see it. I know it, because it’s a part of my history, which is a part of me.
6. In The Rise of Ersyla, Ersyla likes to scare her best friend, Bryony, by jumping out and frightening her. Are you the scarer or the scared rabbit?
Erm, no comment? LOL. I think for this one, I’d have to go with scarer. Growing up my brothers and I were pretty into pranks and things like that, so I have more than my share of experiences with jump-scaring and things like that. While I have to admit, there were definitely sometimes where I was indeed the rabbit, Bryony spends too much of her time afraid. I don’t want to be like that. I would rather live.
7. When writing, do you work better super early in the morning or super late at night?
I’m not opposed to either, but I woud have to say if forced to pick, I am probably more productive in the morning. It takes me a bit to get going, but once I have a good flow, then I am able to work for longer amounts of time and get more quality writing in. I find that when I try to work late at night, I end up fighting against both my brain and my eyes, and I don’t always win. There has been more than one occassion where I’ve woken up with my laptop keys imprinted in my cheek–which coincidentally is not a good look, just in case you were wondering. 😉
8. If your characters were to write your eulogy, what would they say about you, keeping in mind all you’ve put them through in your books?
Here lies our author. Good riddance.
Hahaha. Gosh, no, I hope that’s not what they’d say! My characters are all so different, I think getting one elegant, cohesive answer would be difficult, but they might be able to contribute a line to cobble something together.
Ersyla: Here lies our author, whose magick built and destroyed worlds . . .
Alice: . . . whose words created monsters and madness . . .
Nate: . . . and grew families and friends . . .
Johns: . . . Though her time with us has been short . . .
Michael: . . . We say goodbye fondly . . .
Chess: . . . and like a leaf on the wind . . .
Wendy: . . . we will watch her soar.
9. Let’s say you’re painting your nails to match your book cover…which color are you choosing?
Oooh. I would definitely go with something dark to match the darker tones on each of my books. Although none of them are super matchy, they are all connected with darker hues–dark greys and deep reds for Alice, dark blues and purples for Ersyla, and black and purple for Second Star. So, in the interest of my manicure being interchangeable with each book, maybe a solid black or gunmetal gray polish with a glittery topcoat for some extra sparkle 😉
10. If you could give Ersyla one piece of advice at the very beginning of the story, what would it be and would she listen to you?
Oh gosh. One piece of advice? Find better friends. lol. Would she listen? Not a chance. Which is tragic, but, every villain needs an origin!