This month, Brave Wings had the great pleasure of interviewing Michael John Sullivan, the mastermind behind the delightfully imaginative SockKids series. Michael John Sullivan is also the author of five novels that include a fun, fascinating time-travel series. In this interview, he shares videos, photos, wisdom, and more. Enjoy!
Tell us about the books you’ve written. What are the titles?
The SockKids Meet Lincoln, The SockKids Go Dancing, The SockKids Help Ben Franklin, The SockKids Say NO to Bullying, and Nick Knitley and The SockKids, An Angel Comes Home, Necessary Heartbreak, Everybody’s Daughter, The Greatest Gift, and The Girl in the Second World.
How did you come up with the concept for the Sockkids?
It was while I was being teased by my daughters about my mismatched socks. So I wondered where my other socks had gone and thought perhaps they time traveled and had fun adventures. Nick Knitley was developed later as a paranormal mystery by myself, my daughter Jackie, Shelley Larkin and some initial help by Michael Maurer.
What were the challenges in bringing The SockKids to life?
I think we have taken this project to the point where someone in the business needs to pitch it to the networks as an animation project. I’ve put thousands and thousands of dollars into this project. Now it’s time to take the Bible and the illustrations and videos and showcase them to networks.
What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novels set in the past?
As far as writing my novels, also time travel adventures, it’s the research involved since I have my characters in First Century Jerusalem.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or all purely imagination?
There’s definitely an element of real-life experiences in Necessary Heartbreak, Everybody’s Daughter, and The Greatest Gift, my time travel novels. I draw upon my challenges in life and the relationships I’ve had.
Did you learn anything from writing your books and what was it?
I learned I need to read more. I also need to write more consistently as I become too easily distracted. I don’t have the writing discipline I should have.
Why do you feel people should read these books?
I think there are deep elements of inspiration and love and redemption in all of my stories.
Is there a message that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. We are human. We make mistakes. We fail in life and in our relationships but keep living life. Every day is a gift.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I did with the SockKids series because we went to some shows featuring libraries and also spent time pitching our products at a few licensing conferences.
Are you working on another book right now? What is it about?
It’s the fourth book in the time travel series featuring Michael and Elizabeth Stewart. I am forbidden under contract to speak about it.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I am right now with Michael and Elizabeth Stewart. Leah, a one-time Michael love interest, will also return in book Four.
Are there any occupational hazards in being a novelist?
Yes. Stress. Sleep. There’s much stress and very little sleep. Then there’s self-doubt and fear of rejection.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My homeless experience motivated me to write and tell it in Necessary Heartbreak.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Since I never had written fiction, what I thought was good, sucked. Then as I rewrote the book for Simon & Schuster, I liked it more. Everybody’s Daughter is my favorite and I had a terrific editor in Selena Robins. She pushed and pushed me to keep producing plot twists. And whether a reviewer or reader likes it or not, I know I have written a great story.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Just getting inspired to write. It’s a challenge mentally.
Do you admire your own work?
After it’s written I will take a few moments to admire just the idea that I wrote a wonderful story.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Oh, sure. I hated the first version of Necessary Heartbreak. It should have been better.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
I was told, “You need to read and write more.”
What has been the best compliment?
My stories were unique and fun to read. One reviewer compared Everybody’s Daughter to the book, The Help.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Anything by Hemingway and Dickens. I find myself fascinated in how any author goes through the labor of writing. I do love The Help and The Girl on the Train was riveting. Silver Linings Playbook was terrific. I’m interested in all genres too. I think there’s so much talent out there and that includes many of my writer friends. When they share their stories with me, I’m anxious to see what they have.
Who has impacted you most in your career and how?
It’s not anyone in particular but the experiences I’ve gone through and continue to face today.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Be gentle to your heart. Take time to enjoy life. Don’t spend every waking moment reading or behind a computer without enjoying real life.
What are your views on social media for marketing?
I try to keep up with it. It’s challenging to me. But the constant negativity and hate makes me sick. I’m tired of the constant bullying and toxic responses. So I avoid this type of atmosphere whenever I can.
Which social network worked best for you?
Facebook has worked the best for me because I’m reaching long time friends and new relatives and connecting with people who enjoy my stories and products.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Treat each reader as special. They are taking time out of their day to read your story.
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
I’m not sure. I thought it worked about a decade ago but now I’m skeptical.
Besides writing, what are your interests?
I enjoy watching crime shows, taking walks, exercising, finding time to spend at the beach.
What is your greatest fear?
That I will continue to be distracted by material that is nonsense and it will interfere with my writing.
Your proudest achievement?
Having two wonderful daughters. They are my two great gifts.
What are your lifelong dreams?
I’m living it. I write. I have a great family. I’m lucky. I’ve done quite a bit with my writing in various places.
If your friends or family members were asked to pick three character traits that describe you, what would they say?
Moody, energetic toward projects, not afraid of risk.
What are three positive character traits you don’t have?
Patience. Patience. Patience.
What is your biggest regret and why?
I don’t have regrets because such experiences have taught me life lessons.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
On a beach, away from the noise and hate of this world.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Pay my bills, help my family and friends with their situations.
What is your favorite memory from childhood?
Playing baseball. I loved the feel of the bat hitting the ball. And the fun I had with childhood friends.
What were you like at school?
Shy, scared in elementary school and high school. In college, I opened up but still shy.
What is your favorite film and why?
Field of Dreams. It’s a story for dads and sons. Inspirational. Redemption. Unconditional love. The ending has me in tears every time.
What’s the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
My daughters being born. Two miracles.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t hate yourself. You’re human. You make mistakes. You’re not perfect.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read. Read. Write. Write. Explore this world beyond the computer.
Thank you very much for taking part in this interview!
You can purchase SockKids books here.
Michael John Sullivan is the creator of the SockKids. Constantly searching for his socks, he wondered whether the missing foot comforters had found another pair of feet to warm. So he searched and searched, until he discovered these elusive socks likely time traveled.
Before his interest in socks, Michael started writing his first novel while homeless, riding a NYC subway train at night. After being rescued off the train, he spent much of the past two decades helping raise two daughters while working at home in New York.
Michael eventually returned to his subway notes in 2007 and began writing Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness (Simon & Schuster, Gallery Books imprint). Library Journal named Necessary Heartbreak one of the year’s best in Christian fiction for 2010.
His second novel, Everybody’s Daughter (Fiction Studio Books, 2012) was named one of the best books of 2012 by TheExaminer.com. He completed the trilogy by having The Greatest Gift published by The Story Plant in 2015.
Michael has written articles about the plight of homelessness for CNN.com, The Washington Post.com, Beliefnet.com, the Huffington Post, and America Online’s Patch.com service. He is a former board member of the Long Island Coalition For the Homeless.