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Thomas Sullivan: CROSS ALL BORDERS

March 15th, 2013

Please note: Apparently there is no way to delete media images from the WordPress library without losing my Permalinks and I’ve maxed the limit.  May I suggest Sullygrams if you’d like to see a dozen photos in my monthly newsletter.   Here’s a sample:  http://thomassullivanauthor.com/newsletters/02162013.html  Email me at mn333mn@earthlink.net to be added free to the list.

Writing compelling fiction is like trying to take a picture of the world with the camera pointed backward and the lens cap on.  It’s like straining to hear an exquisite singer lip-synching the memory of a melody.  Like trying to inhale the scent of an orchid trapped inside a glass globe.  Or tasting key lime pie without taking it out of the oven.  Or caressing silk and velvet locked away in a brass-bound chest.  You have only the abstractions of your senses.  Words.  Just words.  Your own words.

The Bee Gees and Boyzone offered up that sentiment in a song of the same name.  “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away…” Writing is like that.  You have to steal hearts with only words.  Journey to the stars verbally.  Slay villains or save victims with syllables.  You must bring out every mote and measure, every nuance, every throbbing passion, aching resolve, burning revenge, resolute quest, inspiration, fear and desire of the human heart, the human mind, the human soul with words alone.

It’s not fair.  Singers have Sound.  Painters have Palettes.  Actors have Audiences up close and personal.  But writers must work with abstractions – cold sterile symbols – scribbles, in fact, that stand for words that stand for thoughts that stand for all the universe in a grain of sand.

Them’s the rules.  That’s the choice some of you as authors and I have made.  And all of us, by the act of merely reading those funny marks printed on a screen or acid-free paper, connect with it.  We deal in words.  There are advantages.  Words leap across chasms of time and space – anywhere, everywhere.  All things & events, all people, all ideas – words can get you there without even snapping your fingers.  So writers are freedom whores.  Their passports read: CROSS ALL BORDERS.  Readers get smuggled in with the luggage.

But as I’ve happily learned in the last year, if the writer is lucky enough to team with an audiobook narrator who can reverse engineer the creative process so that the abstract symbol becomes the thing that inspired it again, he can have his cake and eat it too.  That’s because the human voice can impart some of the sensory quality and underlying nuance that gets stripped away from the abstract symbol.

This is what happened to me with audio releases of two of my novels, DUST OF EDEN and THE MARTYRING.  The narrator turned out to be a remarkable individual whose credentials span both coasts and a lot of art forms.  Yes, he has a world-class reader’s voice, but that really doesn’t explain it.  It goes to something else: a grasp of the idiom of words, of people, of life.  At that level you have to have the eyes, the ears, and something superb between them to process what you experience over the years.  You have to do this with accuracy and insight.  And you have to add to that an almost anal-retentive fussiness over detail and a craftsman’s ethic to get it right.  Because it isn’t fussiness at all if you see deeply enough, and if to you everything that appears to be minutia to everyone else is actually significant.  It may not consciously enter the mind of the reader thereafter; but as an artist you know it has impact.  This is so in theater, in film, in painting, and music; and it is all the more true with the abstract creation required for writing.  The name of this happy confluence of characteristics turned out to be Bob Walter.

From the moment I heard his audition demo I knew he got it.  All the nuance and subtlety I thought I put into the book was there in his voice.  I heard it in his pace, his emphasis, the rhythm, the changes, the tone – countless meticulous ways – and especially in what I call pause patterns.  The pause patterns in particular were quite simply me.  The pictures from my imagination, the eccentricities of character and voice, were things I couldn’t insert into abstract symbols.  Not easily, anyway.  I guess they were there to some degree, else how could Bob hear them.  But he did.  Not just in my writing.  But in my voice – my eccentric voice – the way I talk, think, imagine, feel.  This is not easy.  Jangly, half poetry, half coinage of obscure metaphors – well, you’re reading me now, so I guess you get a hint.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends try to tell others, “No, that’s really how Sully talks.”

Bob Walter got most of it instinctively, intuitively, and he ferreted out the rest.  Apologetically at first, he emailed or phoned, trying to nail down the least aspect of interpretation.  And, boy, he got them all.  Found myself having to explain character background that wasn’t even in the books.  I loved it.  All meaningful to me…and meaningful to the Wizard of Eartown – Bob’s West Coast studio.

So, with all these provisos, I guess my point is that audiobooks can be a tremendous enhancement to the art of writing and the enjoyment of reading.  That wasn’t my mind-set prior to those two novels coming out.  I thought audiobooks were something for the car dash if you were too busy to sit down and read.  What a delight to find a hybrid art form with its own wings.

Take a look, if you will, at this short film clip of Bob reading from DUST OF EDEN.  Scary dude.  But that’s a fit with the task at hand.  He has acted and directed in many venues, and it shows.  Another thing that is rare is that he does not try to usurp the material – he doesn’t point at his own acting.  The film clip simply emphasizes what I hear in the audiotapes: that he is reading with every atom of his considerable talents for insight and delivery.  Watch his expressions.  He talks with his eyebrows.  His eyes go from great, gluey innocence to wry cynicism with each character voice.  This is a man who gets the material, gets life, and puts it all back out there in a way that connects with some of those missing sensory elements that the written word forgoes.  The video clip:


Cheap self-serving pitch to close out here.  There are free samplers from both novels at these links:



Thanks for reading…and listening!  Have a great March 17th and beyond!

Thomas “Sully” Sullivan

You can see all my books in any format here on my webpage or follow me on Facebook:



  1. Robert Jones
    March 15th, 2013 at 18:51 | #1

    Words! Reading your words has always been a special treat for me. You always manage to so smoothly express the most beautiful and meaningful sentiments in the most beautiful manner using just the right words. You write that words are all you have to take our hearts away. In your hands, words have no trouble at all doing that. Your words create a view having no less a perspective than those immortal words, “Once upon a time.”

    Having sampled Bob Walter’s audio rendition of a few of your words, I can second your opinion of his talents. His hybrid art form does indeed have wings. My only suggestion is that the audio book should be accompanied by a DVD revealing the emotions that surface when Bob is reading your words. Thank you for giving us a glimpse.

  2. March 15th, 2013 at 20:06 | #2

    Sully, of course, your way with words is legendary. But to hear them being not just read but acted out by so talented a conveyor of every nuance is really quite breathtaking. How could you ever be satisfied with any other narrator!

  3. March 15th, 2013 at 21:02 | #3

    The Man of 1000 Voices could well be another Man of 1000 Faces, Amalgam. Bob Walter DVD books for sure! … And thanks for the rewarding comments. “Once upon a time” is tough to beat, and “happily ever after,” is taken; so I’m delighted with a tie! :-) Now if I could just sell the same number of books as the number of tales that begin with those immortal words…

  4. March 15th, 2013 at 21:02 | #4

    Well, if my words live up to Bob’s performance that will be quite rewarding enough, Jeani. The man is a rarity. We no longer live in an age of patrons for the arts, but we still have to make a living. That makes creativity speculative; and sometimes it’s hard to put craftsmanship ahead of the marketplace. Not that they can’t both be served at the same time, but even when the market doesn’t demand it, the consummate artist stays true to his muse.

  5. Jan Fredrik
    March 17th, 2013 at 16:49 | #5

    CROSS ALL BORDERS. Great way of stating the author’s mission, fortune or destiny – if that’s what you meant. Cross.All.Borders. The artist’s journey through the ages. Catching words, notes or colours floating around in cosmos. Border.Less. Like Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. My take on this is BRIDGING CULTURES. That’s my lead star; the idea of my humble initiatives. Very much borderless. And I believe an important way of dealing with art – interdisciplinary as it often is. Most impressed by Bob Walters. It’s a gift to have many of your books in all formats; paper books, ebooks and audio books. I know it takes a lot of work and efforts to make this happen – the publishing industry. Makes me even more impressed. Bring it on, Sully!

  6. March 17th, 2013 at 19:17 | #6

    Spot on, Jan. That is what I meant by CROSS ALL BORDERS, and you flesh out the implications nicely. Creativity, initiative, imagination – anything that requires freedom in order to deliver has as its premise the dropping of barriers and the crossing of borders. Cultures are containments, and as you indicate it is exciting and fundamental to see something like art connect the dots and show that what they express uniquely stems from what they have in common.

  7. March 20th, 2013 at 07:21 | #7

    Really appreciate the insight into the production side of audio books. This article (along with another I read written by a nutgall named Sully) really made me stop to consider the importance of finding the right soul to give voice to your words. I’m fairly certain this is one aspect of audio books that gets over-looked by some authors, yet what could be more important?! I also enjoyed the magical photos of snow and spiritual adventure, the blast from the past pics of you as a tot (still looking very much like your wide-eyed self) and partying with Glen Fry and Tom Hanks, and the little glimpse into your “home thing”. Always a special treat!

  8. March 20th, 2013 at 09:40 | #8

    I do think that writers generally do not weigh the value of the right reader for audiobooks, Carole. But then, by contract they may not have a voice in it. David Niall Wilson established Crossroad Press with a specific goal of promoting writer’s rights and rewards. The fact that it has grown and succeeded so well as a publisher is a testament to fair-mindedness and the value of a true joint effort. Part of that is that David not only worked to acquire top talents among the narrators, but he sent me each audition for right of approval. And, as you say, what could be more important than getting someone whose voice represents yours? … Glad you mentioned the nature photos, which I thought were quite reflective of the magic I’m blessed to encounter every day. Those photos are from the Sullygram (monthly newsletter), which is available free by emailing me (mn333mn@earthlink.net) and also link to my Facebook page. My one regret is that increasingly people see those photos on smaller devices, whereas you really need a full screen to enjoy things like the “pixie dust” effects. Glenn Frey’s party was truly memorable with people flying in from all over…and then flying for three more days! Thanks, Carole!

  9. April 8th, 2013 at 22:34 | #9

    Nice read. I only listen to audiobooks as a source of entertainment while driving, but I do agree that they offer a lot more to the reading experience

  10. April 8th, 2013 at 23:30 | #10

    Thanks, Tony, for weighing in with that endorsement. Bringing another of one of our five senses online can only enhance the “reader” experience.

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