2005_01_sullivan_large.jpgFelicia Sullivan is a literary Renaissance woman. In addition to a full-time day job, she books the KGB Non-Fiction Reading Series, writes reviews for Publisher's Weekly, runs the literary magazine Small Spiral Notebook, which features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, interviews and book reviews, and contributes to numerous other lit mags including The Adirondack Review, Drunken Road and 3AM Magazine. Felicia holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia, and while she's writing a memoir, her first love is fiction. A lifelong New Yorker and dedicated world traveler, the city lives within her stories and is clearly vital to her work. Moreover, Felicia exhibits a continuous curiosity about other writers and supports the New York literary community in countless ways, while absorbing as much of the city as it has to offer.

What is the mission of Small Spiral Notebook and what do you look for from submissions? What immediately grabs you in a submission and what immediately turns you off?
My vision is fairly simple: to publish the very best emerging and established writers that comes our way. New voices have always been a focus of the publication.

Editors are always subjective; however, I’m immediately attracted to a strong voice and an innovative play on language. Humor (of the wry and sarcastic variety) always strikes my fancy. Turnoffs? Dense language, paragraphs of description for description sake without any meaning or movement in story or voice. Characters that lack any depth or dimension. I’ve been nit-picky about explicit language in literary fiction (and this is purely my personal pet peeve) – if it’s earned by the character or the situation, I’m fine with it, however, if the character cusses for no reason other than to shock, I don’t see the need for it – there are more inventive ways to express anger, rage, etc without yelling FUCK every other line.

You started Small Spiral Notebook in November 2001 and now have launched it as a print edition. Why enter into the print foray after establishing yourself online? Do you think there is a different class or type of readers for each type of publication?
The foray into print was merely a celebration of the online publication. I proudly consider Small Spiral Notebook as an online literary journal; however, I was intrigued by the immense challenge that came with publishing a print publication and that curiosity lead me to the print issue.

You’ve written essays and fiction, write book reviews for Publisher’s Weekly, and are working on a memoir. Is there a certain form that you prefer?
My first love is fiction.

Can you tell me more about your memoir? How’s the writing process going, and what’s the most difficult thing about it?
With Eyes Shut Tight is about growing up with an emotionally crippled, narcissistic mother who suffered from multiple substance abuse addictions and inhabited our life with abusive men. The memoir primarily focuses on the years 1985-1988, the darkest years when her addiction flourished and our lives were in constant upheaval and her mysterious disappearance in 1997, a few months before my college graduation. I guess that’s the fluffed up way of saying that things were not good; in fact those years were downright horrifying.

There are so many trying things about writing this book – having to revisit those years which I tried so desperately to repress and hide – for years, I lied to my closest friends about my mother, saying she passed away, that my upbringing was normal (whatever that means) – words that served as a wall between myself and other people rather than bringing them closer with the truth. The shame and anger was that great. Having to admit that I don’t love my mother and that I’m the better for it – that I never regretted choosing me over her, however, a part of me will always long for that mother I knew when I was five, the one who was my best friend. The mother who held me close to her.

And I think the most harrowing part about writing this book is admitting my own problems with substance abuse – a decade of dangerous binge drinking and a two-year cocaine addiction, dozens of dear college friends lost because I’d either frightened them away or excised them from my life. Until last year, I’ve lead two lives, the “together” Felicia for my friends while dealing with my mother’s abandonment and how that crept into all subsequent relationships in private. Even now when I reveal to folks who know me well about my addiction, they are continuously shocked as they’ve never known.

You’re also the curator of the KGB Non Fiction Reading Series. How long have you been running the series, and what do you aim to do with it? Do audiences react to non fiction differently than to fiction?
Ashley Shelby and I started the series over two years ago and for the past year, I’ve been the sole literary director. I was enticed to the role (as a fiction writer who didn’t know very much about non fiction) just for the sake of giving emerging writers a platform to promote their great work and also educating myself about the breadth and depth of great non fiction. The audience is a bit different than the Sunday Night series, but a growing and intriguing one.

Can you tell me about an especially memorable reading you’ve had there?
I was especially moved by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s reading (Random Family) as the subject of her book, Coco, attended the reading and fielded audience questions about enduring (and I think this is an apt word) life in the South Bronx in the 1980’s, replete with addictions, incest, prostitution, poverty and the desperate need for love.

Or maybe the time the bartender and an audience member got into a fight during the Colson Whitehead/Dylan Raskin reading – that was certainly memorable.

You grew up in Brooklyn and have lived in New York your whole life. You recently wrote in your online journal that “for the past six months, I’ve been restless....desperate to leave New York because it has lost its luster to me, I’m growing less in love with the grand buildings and sweet trees with the passing of each day.” Do you think that ambivalence or unease with the city is natural? Does it tend to pass for you with time, or do you want to truly move out of the city?
I go back and forth on this – my affection for the city and my distaste of it. There’s something incredibly magical about a new place, meeting New York for the very first time, and I often wish I would have attended college or graduate school out of state so I can have that feeling of homesickness. I was always a city kid, even when I lived in Long Island (I didn’t fit in well in the suburbs) and at this point in my life, I feel trapped by New York and its chaos and goings-on. Nothing feels new to me and I think I feel this way because with the exception of traveling, I haven’t known anything else but New York which for me, feels rather unfortunate. Ultimately, I know New York will always be my home, the place where I will eventually settle; however, I think I need to move somewhere else for a few years so I can experience really missing home.

Is New York conducive to your writing style? Does the rush of the city distract or aid your creativity?
It’s funny you should ask that, because this is something I’ve been obsessing about for the past few months. Everything I’ve ever written has been written in New York, whether it is in a Manhattan apartment, on my father’s farm in Long Island or the Fordham University dorm rooms in the Bronx. Up until now, the fiction has been easy to form here, however, as I’ve delved deep into my memoir, a story about growing up in 1980’s Brooklyn with a drug-addicted parent, I’ve felt the city closing in around me, and I’ve quickly realized that I need space from New York in order to write about it so intimately, so frankly – if that makes any sort of sense.

When you told me you’re a born again Christian, I was pretty surprised, because my general idea of a born again Christian is someone who is extremely morally conservative, not pro-choice, homophobic, etc., and you write about topics like your interest in porn and so I’m curious how you came to be born again and if that’s ever a conflict for you.
My relationship with God has always been difficult. As a child (I was raised Roman Catholic although my mother never much cared for the Church and only relied on Sunday service as a comforting ritual rather than a relationship with, celebration of God), witnessing my aunt overdose on heroin, us having to uproot ourselves from apartment to apartment in order to escape creditors, abusive men, court marshals, and always negotiating poverty, it was hard to conceive that a god could exist. How could he? So for many years, I doubted God’s existence.

I came to Christianity, specifically the Baptist faith, by means of my college roommate and best friend who is Christian. In 1997, I dealt with my mother’s cocaine addiction and then mysterious disappearance head-on while trying to balance a senior thesis, an internship, all the normal strains that come with your senior year in college. And at that time, I felt I needed something more (I know that sounds vague, but that’s the best way I can explain it) than just logic, the world that I know, that could be explained. And so I decided to re-examine my faith in God. What I found compelling (and still) is my personal dialogue with God and as an adult, I realized that the Church can be perceived as another sort of “schooling” and I found a Church at the time that really celebrated family and community (things I was lacking) and applied scripture to real life, what was really going on in my world, not something so far removed from me.

I am a vociferous proponent of a woman’s right to choose, of gay marriage, of stem-cell research – all things frowned upon in my faith. I never believed that man could decide another man’s salvation since man is inheritably fallible (who the hell am I to tell you that you’re going to hell because you haven’t accepted Christ as your savior???), so I don’t tend to side with the Church’s morally conservative beliefs. What I take away from Christianity is the ongoing conversation with a forgiving, understanding God, trying incredibly hard to lead a mindful, good life, and being as honest I can with myself and the ones I love.

I haven’t yet broached the subject of my desire to write a John Holmes biography to my agent, I fear the heart attack that may ensue.

You’ve said that your favorite and most hated word is home, and I’d like you to elaborate on that.
Home for me has been tricky. I’ve been a nomad most of my life, changing apartments every year and the apartments I inhabited as a child were places where I sought escape. Home meant the shades pulled down, a dull film on the walls, dishes left for days, my mother’s rages. So as an adult, I’m looking for ways to define home beyond just a place. Finding and working at relationships that feel like family. My best friend is home to me although she’s 3000 miles away. The man who over the past decade I’ve come to call my father is home to me.

You’re an editor, writer, reading series curator, and book reviewer, so I’m curious if you have any advice for writers, any secrets of your success.
Choose to involve yourself in only things that you love. Love what you do and do what you love. Be as genuine and as giving as you can as a person as I’m a firm believer in good karma. And be a damn good project manager.

You were interviewed in a New York Times article about grieving, focusing on how you’ve dealt with your mother’s disappearance. Is opening up about highly personal details like that cathartic for you?
At first it was incredibly frightening. I remember the day the article came out I hid under my covers watching cable TV. I had no idea how people would respond – if they’d judge me, look at me differently for some reason. I was afraid of people knowing.

You’re an extensive traveler, and have been all over the world. What do you look for in a place to visit, and what fuels your travel lust?
Discovering a culture and navigating a new language other than my own is invigorating to me. I prefer to travel alone, learning about a new city, wandering through it for hours – there is something profoundly compelling about being somewhere that is old, having a rich, sorted history.

You’ve lived in various neighborhoods of the city, and now live in Chelsea. What’s your favorite? If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
Honestly, I cannot wait to move to Brooklyn. After dealing with tenants who believe it’s right and normal to play jazz music or Britney Spears until 3AM on a weeknight or listening to late night orgies and thumping through the walls, I’m looking forward to SPACE and QUIET. And it feels like a serendipitous homecoming moving back to Brooklyn, although the Park Slope I knew as a child is radically different than the Park Slope of today.

Find out more about Felicia Sullivan at her website. The launch party for issue two of Small Spiral Notebook will be held February 17th - email editor@smallspiralnotebook.com for details. Felicia will read from her memoir-in-progress for the first time at Junno's Reading Series (64 Downing Street) on March 1st at 7:30 pm.