I’m very excited to announce my new review series, Review-Interview, a combination of a book review and short interview with the book’s author. It is in part a continuation of my blog’s original “Is that an Old Book?” review series. Adding a dialogue with the author brings in an exciting new element. The first featured book is Haunting Obsession, and the interview is with its author R.J. Sullivan. Without further ado, please enjoy the first installment of Review-Interview, brought to you by Carl R. Moore and Seventh Star Press:
A gifted young computer programmer has a passion for collecting movies and memorabilia featuring his hallowed idol—the elegant and alluring Maxine Marie. His colleague and girlfriend, Loretta, tolerates his obsession, but only to a point. When Daryl pays a high price for an old rent check signed by the famous actress, not only does he push his hobby and his girlfriend too far, he also summons an entity that is beautiful and dangerous, electric and evil, arousing and voracious—the ghost made flesh of Maxine Marie herself.
In Haunting Obsession, author R.J. Sullivan crafts a novella about a supernatural love triangle that draws its power primarily from its well-wrought characters. Flawed, somewhat geeky heroes likeable for their brains and sense of humor, protagonists Daryl and Loretta come across as a couple you might know and root for. You can see the attraction between them, Loretta’s affinity for the “mind behind the Star Trek posters”, as it were, and Daryl’s understanding that the woman he loves has the right combination of brains and easy-going tolerant spirit to be long-term material.
As for the villainess who intercedes, the voluptuous Maxine Marie, while certainly drawing on imagery of 1960’s icon Marilyn Monroe, she also flickers, sparkles, and burns like the most intense of cyberpunk beauties. She echoes the uncanny fabrication-meets-flesh attributes of William Gibson’s idoru and even P.K. Dick’s replicants. Sullivan delivers a monster drawn in a prose style that contains a unique and somewhat wistful rendering of technological imagery. In Maxine Marie, the reader discovers an intoxicating mix of the futuristic and the vintage. He offers an electrifying spin on all things supernatural where scares and erotic thrills mingle in a dangerously inviting combination.
Though the novella is set in 2012, Infotech, the company where the protagonists work, comes across as palpably cutting edge for its time, lending a certain energy to the setting. Daryl’s conflicting personality elements—his talent for programming combined with his capacity for retro eros make one wonder whether talent and “tastefulness” are too often used as excuses for age-old greed, lust, and gluttony.
The stakes of such questions turn white-hot as Daryl’s relationship with the ghost moves from fun fling to something tormented, alien, and sadistic. Daryl and Loretta must rise to the challenge to save both their relationship and their very lives. Without spoiling the blow-by-blow of the novella’s climax, we can applaud how Sullivan demonstrates how one’s talents can become one’s flaws, and how they can turn around and redeem themselves yet again. Daryl’s and Loretta’s relationship with technology proves instrumental in understanding the laws that govern the entity’s existence. It also prove useful in locating and bringing in an intriguing ally from a shadowy government agency and concocting a plan that just might overcome the power of their dazzlingly horrific tormentor. Without revealing the outcome of the plan, the result is a high-voltage horror novella well worth the price of admission. In Haunting Obsession, R. J. Sullivan delivers the best elements of a traditional ghost story, populates it with smart yet flawed characters, and renders it in a unique and tastefully tech-savvy style.
One might think of Maxine Marie as a femme fatale, and thereby a villain. And yet there’s certainly some mischief and beauty in her, as well as stated necessity for her to prey upon the living in order to maintain her existence. Any allegory here for fame and stardom in general? Was this a theme you were thinking of as you wrote?
It is certainly fair to read Maxine’s power as an analogy to fame and its addicting quality for both the fan and the object of affection. Maxine awakens in a world with more admirers than she ever likely saw in life. If fame could be quantified and turned into a magical power, then spirits such as Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, and so many others would find themselves “supercharged” by the decades of adoration. Maxine awakens into a world where she can access that energy, and perhaps not surprising, becoming overwhelmed by it. Being caught in these forces, I think, makes Maxine a tragic character.
The idea that objects can be special and have a “soul” if you will, such as a movie star’s rent-check, plays an important role in Haunting Obsession. Where did you derive inspiration for this concept? Are you a collector?
I am a collector, to a point. However, when it comes to the rent check, I side with Loretta. The real-life inspiration came from my seeing exactly that sort of personal check-as-autograph at a souvenir shop. Yes, it was Marilyn’s and it was written to pay a utility of some sort. I suppose I was a bit naïve at the time but the whole thing creeped me out. It was clearly after she had become famous. I remember the address and phone number, still legible, and the account number. I thought it an incredible invasion of privacy. On the other hand she was, after all, long dead. So where was the harm?
But the more appalling idea to me is that this wasn’t a photo signed to a fan. It wasn’t from a public appearance. It was a necessary component to do what we all do as good citizens: pay your bills. And when she signed it, she not only had money TAKEN from her account, but someone else decades later would make money off that check. Also, that check was out there for everyone to see exactly what she paid for that particular utility on that particular date. I mean, what if it wasn’t a utility but written to her psychiatrist, or a credit card bill after a shopping spree? If I were a ghost, I’d die of embarrassment. 😊 So while I found that it crossed a line, I wanted to write about someone who had no problem with it, and how this act raised the ghost to object to being treated that way.
Several years later I was coaxed by Rodney Carlstrom (a friend of SSP) to draft a flash fiction about it. The original idea was, Daryl buys the picture, ghost appears. The end. That grew into a short story that grew into the novella that became MY obsession for four months and became Haunting Obsession.
Did you consciously weave science-fiction style elements into this supernatural tale? Is this something your writing often features?
It wasn’t intentional, but I’m not surprised when people say this, as I do love SF.
If this novella had a soundtrack, what would it be?
Well, I would have to include “I Want to be Loved By You” in that. If you have not had a chance to see the book trailer, keyboardist and friend Jan Pulsford did a great arrangement of that and her own composition Rezonatta for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cj93xKP2H8
As I recall, I mention Katy Perry’s ET as Loretta’s ring tone, which says a lot about her. Since the book came out, I was struck by how much Taylor Swift’s Blank Space seems to echo what being under Maxine’s spell might be like. While it was not an intentional choice, the fact that Loretta Lynn performed Stand by Your Man has been pointed out to me. They say never deny an interpretation, lol😊
Any chance for a sequel, or will your fiction feature any of these characters in the future? Will Maxine Marie rise again?
This story introduced readers to Rebecca Burton, she is an ongoing character in several short stories (some of which are now in Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy) and in Virtual Blue. Since the book was released, Maxine frequently appears in my blogs as a sort of mascot. She’s my cryptkeeper, my foil, we’ve made some great comedy together. As a marketing tool, Maxine is an endless fount of inspiration. But as far as an official sequel, or ever appearing in another book I have no such plans.
I would be remiss if I did not mention reader Nikki Howard, who helped launch the book in spectacular fashion by cos-playing Maxine at a haunted house event and doing this after we found out if was the emcee’s birthday: https://www.facebook.com/nikki.howard.1042/videos/t.100000008181402/10152041467775424/?type=2&theater My Maxine Model Lily Monstermeat was part of my author photo, has done a “photo shoot” as Maxine, helped me create an infamous risqué cardboard standee, and did a fun send-up here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd8uTw24nFo
Here are a couple of fun blogs featuring Maxine: http://www.ismellsheep.com/2012/09/guest-post-rj-sullivan-haunting.html
When I received the 40th Amazon book review: https://rjsullivanfiction.com/2014/08/29/elegant-ghost-maxine-marie-responds-to-hitting-40/
You get the idea.
Haunting Obsession is part of a loose trilogy of paranormal thrillers. R.J. Sullivan has also released a short story collection (Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy) and the first book of a new SF spaceship adventure series, Commanding the Red Lotus—all released through Seventh Star Press. Learn more at http://www.rjsullivanfiction.com/