Author Interview with H.L. Burke
Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.
An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.
Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Generally I approach writing feeling tired, like I'll never be able to get through it. I have a daily goal of a 1000 words (unless I'm focused on editing or some other stage other than writing the first draft), but generally I don't get to sit down and write until my kids are in bed for the night. Then I may drag my feet a bit but eventually I buckle down to “Just do it.” … I have a method where I set a timer for ten minutes, write until it goes off, then check my word count, until I've added at least 1000 words onto whatever I'm writing. After a couple of ten minute “sprints,” I'm usually warmed up and start to get into it. After that, sometimes I'll write until I'm too tired to compose a comprehensible sentence, which I guess would be exhaustion.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
With fantasy this is definitely not an either/or thing. I think most fantasy readers latch onto the genre because they want something out of the norm, something different, something that makes them look at the world or stories in a new way. I guess every so often you'll come across a few who just want to read the Lord of the Rings with a renamed cast over and over again (or write that … and don't get me wrong, I love the Lord of the Rings, but it's already been written. I don't want to write something that has already been written), but for the most part, I've found readers appreciate things they haven't seen before.
That said, there are certain things they do want (satisfying endings, characters who they like and don't want to see die in a fire, a little bit of romance/action), but those things are often things I want, too. So it works out.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. Emotions are only one aspect of stories. There's also the logical and the practical, the presentation of a puzzle. I think a lot of new authors make the mistake of thinking all the emotion has to be turned up to eleven when real life is so much more subtle than that. Fiction can be subtle, too. I love subtle fiction. I also think it's more about understanding than feeling. I don't have to feel what someone feels to write about it. I just have to understand it, to know where it is coming from and how it presents.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I have a little bit of both. While I do have series, I also love a good standalone story. My Nyssa Glass series, I actually get a little tense when I find out someone has read it out of order. It's like, no no no, you're ruining all the surprises in book one if you read book two first and … gosh, you need to see the relationship grow, not start at the end … but other books I wrote as one time things and I'm stubbornly refusing to go back and open up the worlds for a sequel because done is done.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Torn between a cat and a dragon. I have a cat and a dragon. They both hang out with me. They're both awesome.
The cat is named Bruce Wayne. He's big and orange and just showed up on our doorstep one day and decided to stay.
The dragon's name is Theodore, and he's a minor instagram celebrity (at least that's what he thinks).
If I were to be an animal, it would probably be a big lazy dragon-kitty.
What’s the best way to market your books?
1. Write good books. You probably won't make it with just one, probably not two, either, maybe three, if you're lucky. Keep writing until you have a portfolio of good books so every reader isn't just one book sold, they're multiple books sold as they get hooked on your stories.
2. Set up a professional looking platform (get a good cover, write a decent blurb, make sure your book isn't full of basic errors).
3. Be interesting on the interwebs. Don't hang out to promote. Hang out to chat, share jokes, share pictures of your cat, snippets from your work in progress … things people are interested in.
4. Also putting a book for free and advertising it on reliable sites can be a great way to find new readers who will be hooked on your writing once they get a taste.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I keep telling myself to stop. After all, there's nothing that anyone could say in a negative review that would stop me and I don't really need the “back pats” of the positive ones, but I guess I'm curious.
Good reviews are nice. I'll sometimes pull a quote from one to use in marketing.
Negative ones, you can either learn from and laugh at, and after a while, it is unlikely that a random review person will actually teach you anything. You're better off learning things before you put your books up, if possible.
First few books, I definitely paid attention to my reviews. I figured out what readers wanted that I wasn't giving them or wasn't giving them enough of. It helped me figure out how to write more to my market, where to focus … after a bit, though, I found what my core readers liked, and now the negative reviews are generally people who just aren't my target audience.
I still sometimes snark at reviewers in my head You do not want to do this for real. It looks bad, but in my brain, I'm often, “Yeah, you totally missed the point there, dude.”
Especially because you do get some random reviews where the reader got hung up on really weird little things that are just, “Really? That was the hill you died on?”
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
First draft, depending on the length of the book, about two months. My daily goal is 1000 words, but I'd say my average is at least double that so two months is an easy 60k words (and I write a lot of novellas which are done much faster). I have a pretty quick editing process, too, and I usually start writing my next book while I'm still editing the last one … I figure I've got the energy to do it now, no point wasting it. Two months to write, two to edit is probably about average.