Spotlight: Copywriter Michelle Sullivan

Mar 11, 2016

1) Tell us a memorable story from when you were a kid.

I’ve only done one really terrible thing in my life. When I was eight, I stole a pumpkin. My friend—we’ll call her Julie—and I took it right off someone’s front porch. This wasn’t a crime of passion, either. It was calculated. We even tied our coats together to help us transport the thing. It was too heavy for our feeble arms to carry. We got it back to the safety of Julie’s backyard, just a few blocks away. There we kept it for one joyful afternoon. It was our trophy.

We thought we were untouchable. But here’s the thing. As we were lugging this oversized pumpkin down the street, a car passed us. The driver slowed down as he rolled by, rubbernecking to take in the scene. And I, a pigtailed Catholic girl, emboldened by my newfound power, flicked him off. One skinny little finger held out in contempt.

Turns out, he was the pumpkin’s rightful owner. And he knew my grandparents. So he knew me. Word got around.

The next day, my parents—shocked, livid, ashamed—drove me to Julie’s to retrieve the contraband and then dropped me off at the scene of the crime. They watched from the car as I rolled my stolen prize up the walkway and onto the porch. I rang the doorbell, tears streaming down my flushed face. I confessed and apologized and hung my head as I retreated. I was silent during the ride home, but I felt relieved.

Needless to say, I learned my lesson. It’s one I remember very vividly.


2) You wrote for a magazine similar to Cincinnati Magazine when you were living in Columbus. What was the best story you wrote while you were there?

That’s easy. I spent nine months reporting a behemoth of a story about Tommy Thompson, a brilliant engineer-cum-treasure-hunter from Columbus. Back in the ’80s, he invented unprecedented robotic technology that he claimed could aid him in retrieving gold from a sunken steamship buried deep in the Atlantic. He also convinced some very wealthy people to invest a total of $22 million in his endeavor. Amazingly, he was successful and hauled up 3 tons of gold. Then, he absconded with the loot.

U.S. Marshals found him in a hotel room in Boca Raton, Florida, as my story went to press in 2014. The entire experience was more fantastical and entertaining than I could have imagined. I was even interviewed on NPR and featured in this FiveThirtyEight documentary as a result. Here’s my story, if you have an hour to kill.


3) Tell us about what attracted you to journalism during undergrad.

I’ve always been insatiably curious and loved telling stories. It was a natural fit.


4.) Explain as much as you can what it is you love most about storytelling.

It’s always amazed me how vivid a picture one can paint using words alone. When you read a really good story, you forget you aren’t actually seeing what’s on page unfold in front of you. At least I do. And all it is, really, is a bunch of regular old words strung together. I think it’s really powerful.


5.) What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I stood in line to see Snakes on a Plane when it premiered in theaters—and then I bought it on DVD.

PSA: I own Snakes on a Plane if we ever want to host a viewing party.


6.) You leased luxury apartments in Columbus to make ends meet while you were freelancing for magazines and met a lot of interesting people in the process. Tell us a story about one of those people.

I often worked with people who were moving to Columbus from Asia. One man in particular was relocating with his family from South Korea and relied on me to set up his utilities, furnish his apartment and schedule his movers before he arrived. We communicated mostly via email. On the day he moved in, he brought me a gift as a thank you. It’s a simple bookmark, carved from a thin gold medallion and handpainted. I still use and cherish it today.


7.) You’ve run several marathons. What keeps you coming back to them?

Marathons are as grueling as they are exhilarating. I’m addicted to the rush that comes with pushing my body past its limit. There’s nothing quite like a runner’s high.


8.) Best concert you’ve ever been to. Why? Worst concert, why?

Best concert = O-TOWN reunion tour, April 2015. Why? My adolescence incarnate. Worst concert = O-TOWN reunion tour, April 2015. Why? Washed up boy band stars pop-and-locking it onstage at 40+. It was weirder than words.