H.L. Burke is one of my new favorite writers. I’ve read over half a dozen of her books, and I’m constantly amazed at her skill and wit. I’ve also had the delight of working with her in Clean Indie Reads where she was given the CIR Strong Award for exceptional service to her fellow indie authors. She has one of the few Facebook author pages that I truly enjoy following, and she has been a big help to me with my own writing. Allow me to present, H.L. Burke (aka Heidi) for the first in a series of interviews I’ll be doing of independent authors I truly admire.
LIA: A goodly number of your books feature either dragons or a steampunk heroine Nyssa Glass. What is it about those niche genres that you enjoy most?
HEIDI: With Steampunk it is the whimsy and the optimism. It’s a call back to Jules Verne and the many possibilities of technology within a very “civilized” culture which gives me a lot to play with.
Similarly dragons, while familiar to most people, allow for a lot of imagination. There are so many ways to write dragons, with none being particularly “wrong.”
I like possibilities and “what ifs.” I also tend to write what I want and then find a genre it fits into rather than the other way around.
LIA: You’ve written a library’s worth of book and don’t seem to be slowing down. How do you publish so many quality books so quickly?
HEIDI: My greatest strength as a writer is my buoyant over-confidence. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about things before I do them, and tend to jump right in without a lot of market research. Like I see a lot of fellow authors who post, “Hey guys, is this idea marketable? Would anyone read this?” before they even write a word, and me, “I’m like, meh, don’t care. I do what I want.”
One of my personal rules is to never ask permission to create art. I think, also, though, there’s the 10+ years you don’t see where I was writing but not publishing, just practicing … That stuff you’ll never see. Now, my first drafts are very clean. They go through relatively few revisions, but I’ve been actively writing and getting input on my writing in some form or another for about twenty years now (I’m going to be 32 next month, but yeah, I’ve been writing for small audiences and getting critiques from peer groups since I was 11 or 12.). I’ve only actively been self-publishing for about three years.
That’s not the only way to do it. If a person decides as an adult they want to be a writer, they don’t necessarily need to go through twenty years of practice writing to get to a publishable point … but the fact that I was actively trying to please various audiences (not paying ones, but kids in my homeschool group and online friends when I was a teen) means that I learned to get it right the first time and can produce writing fairly quickly, almost on demand. But yeah, that didn’t happen overnight at all.
LIA: On your author fan page, two regularly featured fellows are your cat and a plastic dragon. Would you like to tell us about them?
HEIDI: About a year ago, on my last birthday (we were back in Oregon at the time), my mom took Coryn (my older daughter) shopping for a present for me. She went to Klindt’s Bookstore (which is, I think, the oldest book store in Oregon), probably assuming that Coryn would get me a nice book, but Coryn insisted she needed to get me a plastic dragon from their “gift and novelty” section. She was so excited to get me a dragon. Smart girl.
I named him Theodore, and he quickly developed a personality … I now photograph his antics and adventures for my social media, but he’s kind of a family member. He stands guard next to my younger daughter’s bed when she sleeps. If we leave him behind when we go somewhere, Claire (younger daughter) announces, “Oh no, we forgot Theodore!” I’m constantly finding him places he shouldn’t be, and sometimes Claire will do something and when called on it tell me, “No, it was Theodore.”
My ginger gentleman, Bruce, has been with just over a year. Our previous cat had decided he would rather live with the neighbors and literally abandoned us (didn’t help that the neighbors fed him, but he never got on well with the girls or the dog anyway), so we were in between cats. Then one day the girls run in saying there’s a strange cat in the yard … and that was Bruce. I have no idea where he came from. Skinny as a rail but incredibly friendly, so I don’t think he was born a stray or had been a stray for that long, but no one claimed him. We took him in and named him Bruce Wayne (after Batman … the runner up name was Steve Rogers).
I have a captioned picture of me creepily lurking behind Bruce with a crazy grin on my face that says, “Number One Marketing Tip: Get a Cat.” Cats own the internet, and well they should because cats are awesome. Bruce is probably the best cat I have ever had in terms of personality … plus he’s huge. I weighed him a couple of days ago, and he’s like 17lbs … and yeah, he might be a little overweight, but not that much. He’s just a big boy. It’s like having my own personal tiger.
LIA: You’re originally from my home state (yay, Oregon!). Is there anything from your childhood time there that has shown up in your stories? The terrain, perhaps? The bizarre dressing patterns of the residents?
HEIDI: I’m specifically from rural Oregon, so I love forests and rolling hills and tramping about in the woods. Specifically, I’ve used Little Crater Lake (the much smaller cousin of Crater Lake) as a location … and Mt. St. Helens (because volcanoes). I also have a thing for basalt.
LIA: Two of your most popular series are Nyssa Glass, the steampunk series, and the Dragon and the Scholar series featuring a snarky dragon named Gnaw. What would likely happen if Nyssa and Gnaw met?
HEIDI: Nyssa would assume Gnaw is mechanical because she’s never seen a dragon before. Gnaw would be surprised, then annoyed, then amused, then they’d have a snark off. Now, Ellis, Ellis would really want to go flying. Nyssa’s afraid of heights, so that’s out.
LIA: How long have you been writing for other people’s eyes (whether published or not), and how long do you see yourself continuing the career?
HEIDI: About two decades. Writing, for me, was always the most fun when I knew I had readers. I started writing actively when I was ten or eleven. I used to write fictionalized versions of the daily activities I did with my friends, tramping about the wilderness pretending to be runaway orphans or whatnot. My best friend continued to read my work, sometimes as I’d write it. We’d be sitting across the library table from each other, me filling up pages from a three ringed binder with my metallic gel pens, her reading as I finished each page. I also did humorous short stories for which I had an email list.
I also started the “homeschool newsletter” for my area and entered a few contests, but to me, writing needs to be read.
Even when I didn’t have that built in audience any more, I tried my hand at blogging, then eventually self-publishing.
LIA: You run a Facebook group and page for Fantasy readers and writers. Can you tell us about that?
HEIDI: That venture has two sides: a fan page, Fellowship of Fantasy, and an author discussion group where we plan various promotional activities. The fan page mostly is designed to provide quality, fantasy related content to interested parties, sharing cool pictures of dragons and fairies as well as occasional giveaways and interactive posts.
We also have a website with author listings, fan art, and a blog (www.fellowshipoffantasy.com). The idea is to create a hub where fantasy readers can entertain themselves and discover new-to-them authors.
LIA: What’s the single most important things new young authors should consider as they work on their writing skills?
HEIDI: Just keep writing and reading. Young writers go through stages. There’s the “imitation stage” when they try to write like writers and use things they’ve seen before … then the “learning the rules” stage, where most of them “over correct” and try to write all the rules all the time, but I think this stage really separates the writers who are willing to learn and improve from the hobbyists who don’t want to grow, but just stay stagnant. Then if you can make it past the “learn the rules” stage and start to realize that the “rules” are more what you’d call guidelines, to quote a pirate, you can develop your voice and go from there.
Don’t expect it to happen overnight, and don’t expect other people to tell you how to get there. You need to take ownership which means eventually learning when to listen and when to stand your ground, but even that takes a lot of practice.
LIA: If a person to read only one of your books, which one should it be?
HEIDI: Well, if they are really only going to read one, I suppose that should rule out any of the series books … unless we can do the Lord of the Rings thing and argue that all of Nyssa Glass or the Dragon and the Scholar count as one. It’s hard because my latest book is always the best in my head. Even now I’m thinking, “Well, the themes in the last book I finished, Coiled, which isn’t even available yet, are much deeper …” but before that it was “The Nyssa Glass series is so tightly plotted and exciting …” and then “Cora and the Nurse Dragon hits all the emotional buttons …” I think of all my books, though, Cora and the Nurse Dragon has the most to offer.