Author Interview – K. S. R. Burns

It’s my pleasure to welcome writer, K. S. R. Burns to The Writing Life.

K.S. R. Burns is the author of the new novel Rules for the Perpetual Diet (Booktrope 2015), as well as a non-fiction book, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use (Running Press 2009). She has written for newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and abroad, and currently writes a weekly career advice column for The Seattle Times. She has never run away from home, like her character Amy, but she has lived in 22 cities—one of which was Paris, where she stayed three years. No longer a wanderer, Burns now happily resides in Seattle with her husband and cat.

Welcome, Karen!

What is your book’s genre/category?

I call it “book group fiction,” but a publisher would probably class it as “women’s fiction,” a term I am not crazy about, but there it is.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Amy is 29, grieving the recent loss of her best friend, ticked off at her uptight husband, and sick and tired of her boring hometown of Phoenix. She’s also perpetually hungry, because she’s on a “perpetual diet.” Something’s gotta give so one day she picks up and runs away to Paris, her dream destination (though maybe not the best place to avoid carbs). Once in France, she not only finds that her numerous issues have come right along with her, she discovers a Paris few casual tourists see as she is robbed, stalked, arrested, and—almost—kidnapped.

Rules_for_the_Perpetual_Diet_ksrburns (1)

How did you come up with the title?

Throughout the book, actual “rules for the perpetual diet” keep popping into Amy’s head. There are 33 rules in all. Some are fairly sensible; some are kind of odd. For example, rule number thirty is “only eat when you’re hungry” but rule number five is “put on something a little tight in the morning, when you are at your thinnest, and you will be less likely to overeat during the day.”

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wrote it for my book group. I’ve been in the same group for nearly 20 years and in our meetings we often talk about what makes a good book group novel (e.g., characters that are not black and white, a surprise ending, an exotic location, and some humor). I thought about these discussions as I worked on my novel, and tried to write the kind of story a book group would enjoy.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Rewriting! First drafts are excruciating. But once I have some words down on the page? Let the games begin.

 

Karen Burns

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

That painful first draft, of course. Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” We have computers now but otherwise this is still absolutely true.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

E. B. White has always been one of my idols, in terms of the purity and elegance of his prose. Also Nabokov—he was an amazing writer, whatever you may think of his actual books. I also enjoy curling up with a cup of tea and a good Barbara Pym, or even Anthony Trollope.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

Well, E. B. White. I’ve read all of his essays and letters. He seems to me to have been the kind of quintessential writer’s writer who cares deeply about each word, and I admire him immensely.

Favorite place to write? Once I’m actually writing I am not conscious of my surroundings, so the ambiance is not that important. Any place where I can be alone and uninterrupted is fine. I did, however, get to go to Paris to do some “research” for the book, and hugely enjoyed being able to write my novel about Paris while in Paris. That was very cool.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

Well, I have had 59 jobs. Not that I get fired all the time; I’ve just moved around a lot. The 59 jobs, actually, are the subject of my non-fiction book, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, so I guess this isn’t exactly a big secret….

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I was surprised at the number of readers who write me. I myself have never written an author. But apparently a lot of people do, and I love hearing from all readers, whatever they have to say.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I sought a lot of input and was willing to write and revise until I got it as good as it was going to get.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Grow a thick skin! Seriously, you will need to get used to rejection. A lot of rejection. Rejection in the morning, rejection in the evening, rejection at suppertime. That’s not very original advice, of course, but the amount of “no” that all writers hear (even well-published ones) is stunning.

Website?

My site is at www.ksrburns.com. On Facebook, my author page is KSR Burns.

Where can we find your book?

Oh, you can get it in digital or paper form from all the online vendors, or you can order it from any bookstore. If you come to my house, I will sell you a copy.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on the sequel to Rules for the Perpetual Diet. After I finished I realized I wasn’t, um, finished. Amy is not through with me yet, and I’m not through with her.

Thanks for a great interview, K.S.R. Burns! Best of luck with Rules for the Perpetual Diet.

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

A Creative Journey: Nature, Nurture, or Genes?

Reblogged from Tiffani Burnett-Velez’ blog, THIS WRITER’S LIFE blog https://tiffaniburnettvelez.wordpress.com

“Creativity is a DNA imperative. It is impossible for us to not be creative. We make things by nature.” – James Navé

I love reading and writing stories about intrepid souls with unshakable confidence; those characters who pursue their dreams, passions, and adventures despite crazy odds, challenges, and inner demons. Many writers learn and perfect the craft of writing with little regard to the critics, naysayers, and the dreaded, interior censor, which sounds a lot like me.

A writer continues the creative journey for years, amidst myriad rejections from literary agents, a few disappointed readers, and publishers they never hear back from. She digs deep into emotional, mental, and spiritual wells, while perfecting the craft of writing, discovering her voice, and finally accessing the dark place where a golden vein hid from her until three in the morning. And at that exact moment, she ran out of coffee. That really happened. I drove to Sheetz in my pajamas, bought supplies, and wrote furiously until the sun came up. A writer, despite all the odds, challenges ahead, obstacles in front, and yes, lurking inner demons, toils night and day for years, and finally hits the perfect vein—the one they believe and pray will bleed gold for their story.

So which vein did I pierce when I wrote A Decent Woman, my historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico? The veins I unconsciously tapped into were my life as a Puerto Rican-born woman, blessed with two rich heritages, Puerto Rican and Polish-Russian, and my maternal grandmother’s veins, which flowed with rich, colorful stories about growing up in Puerto Rico—the same blood that flows in me.

I knew my grandmother’s stories by heart, and the character who stood out the most was her midwife, Ana, an Afro-Caribbean woman who smoked a cigar and enjoyed a shot of rum after every birth. This formidable woman caught my mother, two aunts, and my uncle, and through the stories the women in my family told me, Ana seemed larger than life. But there wasn’t a lot of information about Ana, so in my story, Ana Belén became a tall, gritty but kind, Afro-Cuban midwife, born into slavery. But who did I think I was writing and inhabiting the body, mind, and soul of a black woman in colonial Puerto Rico? Would readers believe this story written by a white, five foot tall woman with green eyes, who’d only ever been a ‘slave’ to her children during soccer and football season? I’m fluent in Spanish and I still travel to Puerto Rico to visit my family, but could I tell Ana’s story?

As a budding writer, I had two things going for me—inexperience and naivety—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t write this story. Ana was a great character and I knew dozens of colorful family stories. In addition to my grandmother’s life blood and stories flowing through my veins, I’d worked as a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker, a counselor, and one of the staff members of a residential treatment center/school for children. I knew what pain and struggle looked like and I felt the pain of my clients on a daily basis. I also had a love of the mystical and magical world we live in, and a damn good imagination, so I forged ahead, finished the novel, and four years later, it went to layout.

Then something and unexpected happened. One of the early readers of A Decent Woman, an African-American woman, called me. She loved the book and during our first phone conversation, she shared her surprising discovery with a hearty laugh—I wasn’t black. I laughed with her because I’d thought that might eventually come up. We laughed a good bit, and I asked my new friend what she thought of Ana.

She replied, “You wrote a beautiful character.  I love the story.”

What a beautiful gift my friend gave me that day. I was relieved and encouraged by what I’d heard—A Decent Woman was a believable story and I’d reached a reader on a deep, emotional level. That is what we want for ourselves as writers and as readers—we want to reach others and we want to be moved. Yes, I researched the history of Puerto Rico for years, but a ton of historical information isn’t an historical novel. I had to become Ana with all the information I’d gleaned from research. Her blood had to flow with mine, and it did. It still does. She is a character I will never forget.

I encourage you to tap into your life experiences as you write. Take risks. Think of your cultural background, learn about and understand other cultures if travel is not possible, and reach deep to find empathy and compassion for others. Pain is pain no matter where we look or what era we decide to write about, but the story and characters must be believable, or the reader will sense something is off, and possibly close the book. And Lord knows, we don’t want that.

I offer my deepest thanks, Tiffani Burnett-Velez for this wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is Eleanor’s debut historical novel. She is the mother of two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

Sometimes a visit to crazy town is necessary.

Earlier this week, nearly twenty days after my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman was published, I set about creating a to-do list that included, answering emails, writing articles for ezines, replying to author interview questions, and trying to keep up on social media sites I’m part of. The list of what I needed to accomplish post-publication seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t expect to feel new, strange emotions–I was a bit disoriented, and felt flustered and overwhelmed. The book I’d worked on for five years was no longer in my hands–it was in readers’ hands. All I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch my protagonists, Ana and Serafina, take over–it’s their story. At this point, my book, the story, must stand alone. I just happened to write it. But, of course, I got in my own way.

When A Decent Woman first came out, I was overwhelmed with feelings of pride and joy, much like a parent when their firstborn goes off to school. I was grateful to Booktrope Publishing for taking a chance on a historical novel about an Afro-Cuban midwife, who lives and works in Puerto Rico and thankful to my publishing team, who were a dream to work with on this project. I was thrilled and grateful when readers left wonderful comments and reviews. I was humbled and felt dizzy. Much like my experiences when my adult kids left the nest, who are doing wonderful things in the world, by the way, I knew post-publication that it was time to get a life.

I realized I had to write another book, but how? I couldn’t concentrate, and in the first ten days, I obsessively checked Amazon, looking for new reviews so I could thank the kind reader (if I knew them). Checking my rankings on Amazon was a daily ritual, which I didn’t know how to do until my marketing guru, Anne told me where to look. Then, I realized being a best selling author is an hourly thing, and I soon gave that up. I now look weekly and hope that stops. During the first ten days, I found it difficult to have ‘normal’ conversations, and discovered it was extremely difficult not to mention my debut novel to the mailman, the guy at the post office as I mailed out copies of my book, and to the guy behind the deli counter, who loves historical fiction. I went a bit nutty reminding my very kind and tolerant family members and friends not to forget to post an honest review for A Decent Woman on Amazon. Sheesh.

I was sick of me, and this isn’t me. Although I know how important social media is, and how very important reviews are to an author, I lived alone for five years, writing and rewriting a story that loved. In the pre-publication days when I was writing, I wouldn’t speak to a soul for days on end, save for a quick phone call, emails and texts to family and friends to catch up and let them know I was alive. I did talk with my cat and my Chihuahua, Sophie, who as it turns out, is an extremely good listener if you don’t mind her licking your face. I knew how to do all that. I just didn’t know how to be humble and a social animal, when all I wanted to do was write more books. Life is all about balance, and I wasn’t feeling particularly balanced right after publication.

So, I wrote an email to my friend and writing mentor to many writers, including myself, the master storyteller, Jack Remick. Sensing that I was experiencing, as he calls it, “Firstitis”, he kindly wrote back with a diagnosis that was spot on. He gave me the definition of this curable illness and the cure–get back to writing. Immediately. He was absolutely right. It was sage and timely advice from an incredibly talented writer and a composed, generous man to a discombobulated, but well-meaning, new author.

Thank you, Jack. The craziness has diminished. I’m getting down to the business at hand-writing on my second book–and I’m at peace. I should have written sooner, but I learned valuable lessons, and I’ve always learned the hard way.

Ana Belén, you are on your own, my love. I’m onto The Island of Goats, my second historical novel set in 1920 Puerto Rico and Spain. I’m getting to know my characters, Alta Gracia and India Meath, and accessing my experiences on the medieval route of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, The Way of St. James, in Spain, which I walked with my then-teenage children.

But, I’ll see Ana and Serafina again when I get to writing the sequel to A Decent Woman called Mistress of Coffee.

Sometimes, you must visit crazy town to find peace and sanity again.

About Eleanor

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, an alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children, and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon 

Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.

amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

 

Fifty-seven Shades of Amazing

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On the eve of my fifty-seventh birthday, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, and incredibly blessed. Last night as I looked at old family photographs, I was reminded of the incredibly rich life I’ve enjoyed on this amazing planet of ours.

The tattoo on my back sums up how I’ve lived my life–it reads, ‘regrette rien‘, French for regret nothing. Even the darkest days afforded lessons and opportunities for personal growth necessary to forge ahead. I realize the older I get, the more feisty, fearless, and grateful I am for my life, and everyone in it.

The minute I signed the publishing contract with Booktrope for my novel, A DECENT WOMAN,  my life changed, and my world opened up. The quiet, solitary life of a writer was soon to change. My friend says my life blew open and she’s right! From writing alone for four years, and not speaking to a soul for days on end, I began working with an incredibly talented publishing team at Booktrope of editors, book managers, project managers, a cover designer, and a proofreader, many of whom are talented writers themselves. My experience with Booktrope has been rewarding and very enriching which is saying a lot as the road to publication is a tough, confusing road for many.

My writing brain cells were already perky and feeling the urgency when I signed my writing contract, and soon, my dormant business brain cells were woken up, challenged, and tested. Every day I’m a working sponge, absorbing large amounts of information, and putting what I learned in practice. Earlier this week, I tweaked and published a book trailer on Animoto for my debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, coming out this Fall. When I posted the trailer on my Facebook author page, a fellow author and new friend, suggested I upload it to YouTube for a wider audience. My eyebrows rose and I thought, why not? I certainly love watching YouTube videos, specifically book trailers, so why not put it way out there? Well, for one…I didn’t have a clue how to do it. Good reason.

So today, I took a lunch break from writing, and signed up for a YouTube page/channel. I clicked upload, crossing my fingers the book trailer would upload with no issues, and the time I spent wouldn’t be a total waste. Well, it couldn’t have been easier. In 20 minutes, my YouTube was up and running. When I went back to check my channel just now, I had seven views (four are my own!). Thanks for the tip, Alina Garcia-Lapuerta! Trust me, I’m not a computer savvy woman, this was a big deal for me!

Please enjoy the official book trailer for the debut novel, A DECENT WOMAN, coming out Fall 2014. Please leave comments, I love hearing from you!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EuTnfrMcEM

My Writing Process/#WeNeedDiverseBooks Blog Relay 2014

Welcome y bienvenidos!

My special thanks to Claudia Long for tagging me in this blog relay! You can connect with Claudia and her amazing books at http://www.claudiahlong.com 

I’ve enjoyed reading the blog relay posts by the authors before me, so make sure you check them out! If you’re looking for something different than what you usually read, then this blog relay is for you.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Currently, I’m waiting for the edits of the last ten chapters of my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman and trying hard to resist the temptation to touch Chapter One yet again! My book will be published Summer 2014 with Booktrope and I’m excited!

While waiting for the edits, I’m writing my second novel, Finding Gracia, set in Spain onthe medieval pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago. This book will be women’s fiction…if my characters don’t change their minds and take a detour.

WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I love introducing readers to Latina(o) and Hispanic characters because it’s in my blood. I was born in Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish before I spoke English. My beautiful mother and my maternal grandparents, now deceased, were all born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the setting of A Decent Woman. As an Army brat, I grew up in Europe and the United States, and spent summer vacations with my family in Ponce and San Juan.  By the age of 18, I had lived in four countries.

My jobs as a Spanish language Family Support Worker for immigrant families in Northern Virginia and a Spanish language case worker at a refugee center in Brussels, Belgium have influenced my writing.  Favorite books are those set in exotic places, especially stories about people who are often overlooked or ignored by our society which is how the protagonist of A Decent Woman, the Afro-Cuban midwife, Ana Belen, came about. I am passionate about women’s issues and I believe my life experiences have influenced my writing in a unique way.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

For A Decent Woman, I worked with an outline, did the bulk of the research and then, wrote the novel in six months, editing as I went along.  I still manage to find sentences that can and should be tweaked, so it’s a tough phase. For this book, I interviewed Caribbean friends and a Professor of Latin American Studies. The second version of the manuscript turned out richer and far more interesting as I delved deeper into the complex lives of women in turn of the century Puerto Rico. What surprised me about the writing process was how my secondary character, the midwife Ana Belen, pushed her way to first chair. I soon realized that my tribute to my Puerto Rican family was in fact, Ana’s story to tell. I followed where she led, remained open and I believe the book is richer for the experience.

With my second novel, Finding Gracia, I’ve followed the same path–outline, research, write like crazy and write some more, editing as I go along. I walked El Camino with my children in 2006 and kept a journal of my walk, so I don’t need as much research as the historical novel. What I love most about writing is allowing my story and characters to lead me to places I might not have considered at the beginning. Although I have an idea of how this story ends, I remain open to surprises, twists and new challenges for my characters.

Thank you! You can find me at: http://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com

Thanks again, Claudia and the best of luck with The Duel for Consuelo!

Next week, be sure to visit the next two bloggers I’ve tagged for the blog relay, Mayra Calvani and Lorraine Ladish. You will enjoy reading about these talented women!

Mayra Calvani, bilingual award-winning author, has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. Her latest book, YA fantasy, The Luthier’s Apprentice, has just been released! http://www.mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com/

Lorraine Ladish, bilingual author of 17 books, writer, editor, speaker & social media maven. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Viva Fifty! a bilingual community that celebrates being 50+. http://www.lorrainecladish.com