Author Spotlight on Anna Burke

 

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The forces behind the GCLS Writing Academy sat down with author Anna Burke the other day to talk about writing, reading, and the pursuit of carrot cake. Anna beguiled us with her wit and wisdom over a cup of coffee, though sadly, she did not offer us any cake.

 

WA: We’re excited to get a chance to talk with you and learn from your wise words.

Anna: Wise? Have you confused me with Ann McMan?

WA: She is brilliant—but so are you. In fact, we’re super in love with the intelligent writing in Compass Rose and from the buzz we’re hearing, we aren’t the only ones. How is new-found fame changing your life? compass rose_1

Anna: I spend more time on social media than I ever used to, which I have mixed feelings about. The biggest change is that now I get to say, “I am an author” when people ask me what I do. I won’t lie—that doesn’t get old.

WA: Along those lines, are you still authoring? You have a new book out, don’t you?

Anna: Thank you for asking! My new book is Thorn, which is a wintry fairy tale set in a very different world from Compass Rose, although there are a few similarities. Strong women, complicated relationships, etc. I also just signed another book with Bywater called Nottingham, which is a lesbified (Ed. Note. Lesbified—ha ha ha.) retelling of one of my favorite stories: Robin Hood. thorn_burke

WA: That’s exciting! Pirates, fairy tales, and Robin Hood. Is Nottingham a work in progress or is that pretty much finished now?

Anna: Nottingham is like a sore tooth. I can’t leave it alone. It was actually the first full-length project I’d ever written. The first draft came to something like 250k before I realized it needed to be rewritten in its entirety, and I’ve gone through more drafts than I care to count since. I’ve been working on it off and on for years, so in some ways it is finished, but in a concrete, send-to-the-publisher way, I have several months of hard work ahead of me!

WA: Sometimes it seems like a never-ending process, I’m sure. Speaking of that, do you have a writing process? Is there a certain time of day or a certain place where the magic happens?

Anna: The magic happens wherever I can squeeze it in. In addition to writing novels, I also do quite a bit of freelance writing (if you’ve ever googled ‘can my dog eat__’ you’ve probably read my work) and I’m in an MFA program, so I write all the time. Making time for working on fiction means some creative scheduling. In an ideal world, I write first thing in the morning and last thing at night. That tends to get my brain working, and then I can wrap things up at the end of the day and work in any thoughts that may have popped up in between. In reality, I write whenever I can. I try to work on my novels at least 4 days a week. Sometimes I can do every day, but setting myself realistic expectations helps keep me sane!

WA: You are crazy busy! And you still managed to fit in a year with the Writing Academy. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with that?

Anna: I discovered the Writing Academy at the perfect time. I was living in the Caribbean and had just been rejected from a low-residency MFA program (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise). I was looking for a way to improve my writing while abroad, and the WA allowed me to keep honing my writing skills while also introducing me to an incredibly supportive community of writers and readers. Not only did it make me a better writer, but it also connected me with amazing mentors like Ann McMan and Karelia Stetz-Waters, who I now get to call friends. The other point I want to stress is that writing can be lonely, even for introverts. Having a support network is essential, and the WA helped me get through some difficult times in my own life. Plus, at the end of the academy, I had a publishing contract, which is, of course, the goal for most of us writers.

WA: That’s an amazing feeling—the publishing contract and the new community of friends and mentors. Mentors are great for giving writing advice. What is the best and worst writing advice you have ever gotten?

Anna: The best writing advice? That’s tricky… I think we’ve all heard that the best way to become a better writer is to write (and read), but the best advice I have received came from Ann McMan. I was struggling with plotting, because while I am a bit of a pantster I am not comfortable with pantsing and always try to outline, only to discard said outlines almost immediately. She told me that I don’t have to know exactly what is going to happen on a micro level, but I do have to at least know “the tall poles in the tent that give my story structure.” I love that advice. It leaves room for creative license, but knowing at least a few main points helps keep me on track.

 

Now for the worst…

 

I think the worst piece of writing advice I’ve ever received is that writers must write every day. While writing every day is amazing, for most of us it is unrealistic. I have written every day for months on end and I have written sporadically when my schedule got hectic, and I think what new writers actually need to hear is that it is the writing itself that is important. Look at your schedule, decide when you can realistically write, and stick to it. Setting unrealistic writing goals is a sure way to feel like you’re failing. I now look at my planner and decide which days are fiction days, and I write on those days and don’t feel guilty when I can’t write on the other days. 35650558_10212795450905428_7396931030952706048_o

WA: That is excellent advice—both Ann’s advice to you and your advice to new writers. It can be overwhelming when people are telling you that good writers write every day and you’re just trying to get your life in order on some days. See? You do have wise words of wisdom. Now we’ve talked about writing. Let’s talk about reading. What books are currently on your nightstand?

Anna: I am currently reading Circe by Madeline Miller, which I am loving, and am getting a jumpstart on some reading from next semester. Recently I’ve rediscovered Ursula K. Leguin and I just reread some N. K. Jemison, which I highly recommend for fans of speculative fiction. There actually isn’t any lesfic on my nightstand right now, which I am suddenly embarrassed about! Probably because I devour those novels so quickly that they don’t stay on my nightstand for long.

WA: Those are some incredible books, though. N.K Jemison is one of our new favorites over here and we’ve added her to the reading list for next year’s Academy students. If you could have magically written any book in existence, what would it be and why?

Anna: I’m going to have to say the Harry Potter series because I am a huge Harry Potter fan and also because it would mean my brain would be MUCH more organized than it really is. The money wouldn’t hurt, either. Or maybe A Game of Thrones, because then my publisher wouldn’t tell me to lower the body count… readers can thank Bywater for the survival of my characters.  I do love a good tragedy, although not in the #buryyourgays sense of the word. I don’t kill love interests as a rule. On a side note, my wife is taking this opportunity to purge our closet. I can only imagine what she’s throwing away while I’m distracted.

WA: It’s nice to know someone is looking out for those who can’t stand losing characters they love. I mean, come on, George RR Martin? Do you have to kill everyone? I love that your wife is purging your closet while we’re talking. Are you afraid she’s going to get rid of your favorite old t-shirt?

Anna: She did make me get rid of a plaid jacket and a plaid flannel backpack. They’ll be coming for my lesbian card, next.

WA: You can never have too much plaid. One more question and we’ll let you get back to wrestling your favorite plaid things from your wife. What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Anna: I think I wish people knew less about me, but again, introvert here. I do try and share the things that are important to me, because I think that talking about things even when they are hard is important. I am especially open about my stomach–I am always hungry, and I love talking about books, writing, and dogs. But as far as something more serious, I guess I wish people knew… ummm…. This is a hard question.

WA: I know. I’m still getting even with you for eating my carrot cake at the GCLS conference two years ago.

Anna: (Laughing) I do love a good carrot cake.

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Photo by Olga Protasevich on Pexels.com

WA: It is a super hard question, though. Would you rather have a softball like, “What book is next after Nottingham?”

Anna: I had a terrible stutter as a child, which shaped me as a person and a writer. I’ve always had this terrible pull between wanting to speak my mind and feeling trapped by my tongue, which is probably why I identify as an introvert instead of an extrovert, honestly. I got over the stutter by the time I went to college and I owe most of my confidence to my experiences at Smith College, but I’ve noticed that my stutter returns when I read my own work out loud. I’ve had a few sticky readings where I’ve opened my mouth and no words have come out, which is also, coincidentally, a recurring nightmare of mine. I work really hard to prepare for readings, and so I want people to know how much I appreciate their patience, kindness, and support when even, despite hours of practice, I stutter and stumble my way through and butcher my own words.

WA: That’s a wonderful answer. You always seem so poised during your readings. I think people who have anxiety around readings will get a lot out of that answer. Thank you.

Anna: Thank you. And to answer your softball question, I am working on a sequel to Compass Rose, but I have no idea when it will be done.

WA: We cannot wait!

 

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About the Golden Crown Literary Society

The Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS), a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2004 is the leading lesbian-themed literary organization bringing authors, readers, and publishers together while creating a diverse and inclusive community. The organization’s mission is to increase the visibility and integrity of lesbian-themed literature, through its writing academy and educational programs, its annual conference, and its national and internationally recognized Goldie Awards. The GCLS embraces all who write literature of women loving women.  www.goldencrown.org

Kimberly Cooper Griffin

The Writing Academy staff was pretty excited to have a face-to-face with Kimberly Cooper Griffin this week. On the one hand, we had a little trouble keeping up. (We think she might have accidentally dipped into the fully-caffeinated pot of coffee this morning.) On the other hand, we absolutely love her, even when she’s bouncing off the walls. Hicks_K_020_46-300

When Kimberly was in the WA, we could always count on her to be the one who would speak if the instructor asked for questions or comments. We always hope for at least one extrovert in every class. Do you know how awkward it is to ask for questions and hear nothing but heavy-breathing?

Luckily, we didn’t run out of things to say. Keep reading for the excellent interview.

 

 

What inspired you to sign up for the GCLS Writing Academy?

The first time I heard about the GCLS Writing Academy was at the Chicago Conference. I think it was in the opening presentation when the members of that year’s class were presented with their diplomas by the engaging, gorgeous, and charismatic director, Beth Burnett. (Ed. Note. We didn’t pay her to say that.) I saw their glowing faces and knew I wanted to be part of it.

Do you have any writing rituals? Anything you must have with you to have a good writing session? A ceramic frog planter, maybe?

Oh yeah! Absolutely. To be a good writer, one must have a ritual. First, I brew a cup of coffee in one of my favorite Been There Series Starbucks mugs. I know it will be a good writing day when the location printed on the mug matches the location I’m writing about in my WIP. Today, I’m drinking from a Boston mug and my scene is in New York, so I know it’s only going to be a moderately good writing day. Don’t ask me why I don’t just go get the New York mug. Suffice it to say, you just can’t force this kind of thing. I drink the first cup of coffee while hanging out with my dogs and thinking about the story I’m writing. Once the boys are sufficiently loved upon, I brew another cup, and while that’s going, I check Twitter and try to avoid political stuff while checking on some of my favorite writers. This always gives me inspiration. An hour or so later, I remember my coffee, which is now cold, and go heat it up. Then, I go to my office and get cracking on the writing. I open the doc and read a bit of the previous day’s work to get my juices flowing. More often than not, the juices are too judgey, so I take a break and go on Facebook to lift my spirits. An hour of that generally gets me going again, so I brew another cup of coffee and, avoiding the previous day’s work, I throw down some more words. My goal is at least two thousand words a day. That’s approximately three to four cups of coffee worth of work. Once I hit my goal, I reward myself with another cup of coffee and re-read what I wrote, editing a bit as I go. That’s pretty much my ritual. The rest of the day is spent peeing. Good thing I drink decaf!

If you could have written any book in existence, what would it be and why?

Definitely The Hours by Michael Cunningham. It was beautifully and smartly written. I couldn’t believe a man was able to evoke the beauty and texture of Virginia Wolff in a contemporary novel like that. He captured the angst she was so wonderful at and took a story I just love, Mrs. Dalloway, and mirrored it in a clever way without making it into a weird parody. I could go on and on about the relationships he portrayed, interweaving the harsh realities with the beauty of deep human connections. It’s just a beautiful book with so many layers.

Do you have any exciting writing news?

OMG! Yes! I just signed on with Bold Strokes Books and they will be publishing the book I wrote for the GCLS Writing Academy, No Experience Required. I am so excited about this opportunity, I can’t even stand it! (Ed. Note. We will provide a purchase link when the time comes.) No Experience Required_Wallpaper

Is there anything about you that you think most people don’t know?

Anything that happened before February 2004. Everything else is chronicled on Facebook. Haha! I usually don’t like to talk about myself, unless I’ve been drinking, and since it’s only nine a.m. I haven’t cracked open the whiskey bottle yet. I know, boring! So, I’ll just throw it out there that I used to fly satellites in the Air Force. And yes, they can pick up license plates, but it’s a pain in the ass to orient them for any old thing, so don’t feel like you have to cover the skylight over your bed—unless your neighbors are sketchy.

Are you naturally charming or do you have to work at it?

If by “charming” you mean “dorky”, the answer is, “yes”.

What book(s) is currently on your nightstand?

nightstand(Ed. Note. Don’t think we didn’t notice the frog.)

We’re super excited to hear your news about Bold Strokes. You actually have a couple of books in the nearing publication status. Want to tell us about those?

I have two books coming out in 2019. The first one is coming out in June 2019 for my former publisher, (who I still adore!) Night River Press. The book is Without a Net and the story is about two women who think they have life figured out when everything seems to throw their certainty into chaos—and them into each other’s paths. The story has pregnancy, friendship, abandoned kittens, and lots of coffee. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you had a kitten to cuddle.

 

No Experience Required, which I mentioned earlier, is coming out in the Fall with Bold Strokes Books. It started as a project for NaNoWriMo 2017 and became a novel during my stint in the GCLS Writing Academy. The story is very dear to me, as it is about a woman with bipolar disorder who gave up on love in college when a broken heart landed her in the hospital. Flash forward, she’s forty-seven years old, writing a book about love, of all things, and she finds herself falling in love again. As a mother with a daughter who has bipolar disorder, finding connection with others when you think you’re broken is a topic that cuts deep. I want everyone to know that people aren’t broken, some just have more nuanced experiences than others.

What is the best or worst piece of writing advice you have ever received?

Let’s just start with the worst advice. Something I’ve heard in different variations, from multiple people throughout my life—   “Writing is hard and a waste of time since it won’t pay off unless you know someone or somehow produce a universal bestseller.” What a crock! I spent a huge part of my life either not writing out of fear, or trying to write something that would prove them wrong by being what everyone will love. It paralyzed me and I wasted a good chunk of time that I could have used for writing.

Now, the best advice. “Don’t try to write what you think others want. Write what’s in your heart and dying to come out.” You really can’t please everyone, so why not start with pleasing yourself? Your own passion will be the magic dust that brings whatever you write to life.

What were your main takeaways from the GCLS Writing Academy?

I can honestly say that everything I learned in the GCLS Writing Academy was valuable and I use it every day—from basic foundational concepts like grammar and sentence structure, to the concepts of scene layering and how to write compelling dialogue. The instructors were experienced writers with phenomenal teaching skills.

However, the one takeaway I will forever cherish is the sense of community it ignited in me. To many people, the writing experience is a solitary activity. It’s just the writer, their writing implement, and their imagination. There is so much more to it than that! And having a community brings it to life. When you are around others who live, breathe, and produce writing, it’s hard not to get inspired. And when you’re around other writers, you’re bound to pick up knowledge, which will make you a better writer.

Is there anything you want us to know that we haven’t asked?

To be honest, I am pretty disappointed I wasn’t asked what I like in my coffee. I like it with a little bit of half and half, the dearest little bit of agave, and in the company of wonderful friends. I hope everyone reading this it cradling their favorite beverage in their hand with a smile, because I am.

 

Thank you so much, Kimberly, for giving us some of your time and awesome energy today. We’re going to drink more coffee and try to keep up with you.

In the meantime, dear reader, if you are anxious to get your hands on KCG’s work and just can’t wait for the new releases (we can’t blame you) check out her other books on her webpage.

 

 

GCLS Annual Conference: Why Pittsburgh?

Carleen Spry’s excellent blog on why GCLS is going to Pittsburgh this year.

Frivolous Views

The Golden Crown Literary Society’s Annual Conference is held in a different city each year – except for that 3 year period when we were in Orlando. (That whole “let’s go to the same city in consecutive years” thing won’t be repeated.) Since I’ve been a member, we’ve been to Orlando, Minneapolis, Dallas, Portland, New Orleans, Washington DC, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Prior to that, the conference was held in Atlanta, Phoenix, and New Orleans (the first year – we returned for our 10th anniversary). 

In 2019, we’ll be travelling to Pittsburgh, PA for our conference!

Now, I’m excited about this location. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but I’ve heard so many great things about the city. So, I’m pretty psyched about going. But I know there are people out there saying, “Oof! Pittsburgh? Why?”

Well, as a member of the Board, I have a little insight I can share…

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Author Spotlight – Tammy Bird

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The Writing Academy staff wanted to do a “Ten Questions with Awesome Authors” spotlight. We sat down with WA graduate Doctor Tammy Bird to find out a little bit about her life.

Turns out we adored her too much to let her go, so we slipped a couple more questions in.

 

 

  • When you signed up for the GCLS writing academy, what were you expecting?

I was looking for community. I had an idea and a dream, but I had no idea what to do with either. One night I put “writing classes” in a search engine. The rest is history.

  • What is your current writing process?

I used to think I was a pantser, but after writing my first novel, I realize the value of plotting. Now I guess I am a bit of both. I have a stack of story ideas. When I pick one to turn into a short story or novel, I now do a rough outline, arc, and character freewrite. For my current WIP, I actually have a pretty extensive (for me) outline and multiple character sketches.

  • Do you prefer ice cream or potato chips?

How can this even be a question? Both. Duh. What is sweet without salty, anyway? (Ed. note -the Writing Academy takes no responsibility for the views expressed by this author. Go chips!)

  • BirdSquareForBBWriting-wise, what are you working on now?

I am about 30000 words into a YA coming out meets domestic thriller novel. I was really trying to write something romancy and fun, but my characters had other ideas and now I have a hot mess of hormones and hatred happening. It is great fun!

  • Tell us something surprising about you.

Hm. Well, I am a high school dropout with a terminal degree. That usually makes for a great conversation starter.

  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Honestly, I am not a big travel bug. An Alaskan cruise, maybe. Seeing icebergs as tall as mountains would be breathtaking.

  • What book(s) is currently on your nightstand?

There are four: From bottom to top: Eating Life, Beth Burnett; Wicked River, Jenny Milchman; Boy, 9, Missing, Nic Joseph; and Dunne With Editing: A Last Look At Your Manuscript, Nann Dunne.

  • You have an upcoming book. Tell us a little bit about it.

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It is titled, Sandman. It is a psychological thriller set on Buxton Beach in North Carolina. The idea for the book came from a visit to the OBX a few years ago with my wife. It was October. The beach was quiet. We went into a little ice cream shop. The man behind the counter was super friendly. As we chatted, I said, “It sure is quiet around here in the off season.” To which he replied, “Sure ‘nough. Could bury a body in the dunes and no one would notice.” In my novel, guess where the serial killer is stashing the bodies? Yep. In the dunes. (Ed. note –  Buy this awesome book here.)

  • What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?

If you do not have time to write one thousand words, write one hundred and fifty. One hundred and fifty words per day for one year will produce the rough draft for a novel. I remind myself of this all of the time.

  • What were your main takeaways from the GCLS Writing Academy?

Friendships. Connections. And Sandman.

  • Is there anything you want us to know that we haven’t asked?

I don’t know of anything in particular other than to say how thankful I am to have stumbled across the writing academy that evening as I looked for opportunities to follow a dream. I didn’t realize how very much I needed GCLS and my writing friends until I had them. Now I cannot imagine my life any other way.

Thank you so much for joining us, Tammy! We look forward to seeing this book in paperback so we can hold it in our hot little hands. In the meantime, we’ve already pre-ordered the Kindle Edition.

If you are interested in pre-ordering Tammy’s book, Sandman, check it out here.

 

 

 

The Writing Academy Author Spotlight

Writing academy

The Writing Academy blog will feature spotlights on the talented writers to come out of this program. Next week, we are featuring the brilliantly talented Tammy Bird.

Tammy stunned us with a live reading from her upcoming novel during the in-class readings, and she continued to impress us with her dedication and commitment to writing throughout the program.

Join us next week to learn more about Tammy and her excellent novel. And stay tuned next month for another author spotlight from the GCLS Writing Academy.

 

The GCLS Writing Academy

 

The GCLS Writing Academy is a year long intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.

 

Check us out here.

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