I met H. (Heidi) L. Burke a few years ago in a writing group. I’ve always loved her stories, and I’m very happy for her success. Back when we first met, she was an epic fantasy fan, and she’s moved into writing some great young adult novels. She loves to crochet while spinning new story ideas around in her head. May I present, H. L. Burke, the writer of fantasy, young adult, middle grade, and steampunk.
Hi, Heidi. It’s a pleasure to have you. I would like to start by asking:
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in fantasy writing as far as content?
Heidi: The world building aspect generally. You plan out how everything works and you double check it for holes and contradictions, but that doesn’t really matter if you can’t find a way to incorporate it into the story that makes sense and doesn’t bore readers to tears. You do too much, it gets info-dumpy and starts to read like a textbook. You do too little, people are confused. My general “fix” is to put in only minimal explanation for anything … then run it by a bunch of beta readers and critique partners to see which parts confuse them and slowly add in things that clarify those points of confusion. Even then I sometimes get caught up in a bit of backstory or magical “flourish” that really isn’t story important. It’s a hard balance.
I agree that finding a balance is the key. Without good world building, the story can fall flat. When you finish a story, do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it, or do you start the edits as soon as you type “The End”?
Heidi: I’ve never been patient enough for the “wait a month” technique. What I generally do is go through a day or two after “The End” and read it front to back, fixing anything obvious, then once that’s done I immediately seek more input. I usually think my first drafts are mostly perfect. I suffer from over-confidence, for one thing, and for another, if I thought something was bad I wouldn’t have written it that way, so I do usually need someone else to tell me where the weaknesses lie, at least at first. I absolutely hate the “waiting for my beta readers to get back to me” stage, though. I need to know!
I know how you feel. Waiting for feedback is hard. I read new stories while I wait. For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hardback books?
Heidi: Up until about a year ago, I’d have said traditional paper/hardback without hesitation. Now, I’m not so sure. I was a late adopter. I didn’t get a smartphone until fairly recently, and I still don’t own an ereader (my husband has a kindle. My kids have a kindle fire.), but I do most of my reading on my phone now. I’ve read a few “physical” books in the last few months, and I didn’t honestly notice any difference in the enjoyment of them compared to the ebooks I had been reading. There was also the inconvenience of ending up somewhere and wanting to read but having forgotten the book, having to lug them everywhere, things like that. I still like having the books. I own a lot of books, but I think of the 30 books I’ve read so far this year (according to Goodreads, and not counting picture books I read my kids) only three or four were the good old fashioned kind.
Reading on your phone is a good idea. I forget the books at home too. A smartphone makes it easier to read book reviews. Do you read your own reviews?
Heidi: I do. I’m very resilient about criticism and undeniably stubborn, so if you leave me a bad review, know that I won’t reply. I won’t mock you publicly, but in my head, I’m giving you sass. Mucho sass. That said, sometimes reviewers have a point, and they often help me figure out what my “target audience” responds to.
Not everyone can be as flippant about it as me, though. I know several authors I would very much suggest stop reading reviews. I also see a disturbing trend, whenever someone gets a less than flattering review, for other authors to immediately proclaim the bad reviewer is a troll, or stupid, or lacks a life, and there’s an “us against them” (readers against writers) attitude that is weirdly fostered in a lot of writer communities. I think I’m somewhat unpopular in a lot of writers groups because I do believe reviews are really for the readers, not the writers, and reviewers have a perfect right not to like whatever they want to and to say that in a review.
I do also admit I sometimes get a “huh?” response when a reviewer rates down a book for something completely random, or when someone is using the review feature in an odd way. I once got a three-star review that suggested one of my books should be required reading in most schools (you’d think that would merit at least a four-star rating) and a five star that said, “It was okay … I guess.” (sounds more like a three star.). Some reviews are confusing.
Good thing you’re able to put your reviews into perspective. A lot of writers cannot do that. When you are not working on a story, what is your guilty pleasure?
Heidi: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).
I’ve been ASMR sensitive since I was a child, but didn’t know it was a “thing.” I just knew I zoned out when I was watching other kids color or when someone styled my hair. Either you get it or you don’t, but that odd buzzing sensation on your scalp, neck, face … sort of like a pleasant energy. Weirdest thing.
But anyway, I found out it was a “thing” when I was 28 and pregnant with my second child. My husband worked a lot of nights, and I wasn’t sleeping well, so I started looking up relaxation videos on Youtube and eventually came across ASMR. I still watch a lot of it, but now for different reasons. A lot of the content creators are crazy creative and are using the medium to tell stories or create experiences which I really admire. There are “alien abduction” role plays and “visiting a fairy kingdom” guided meditations. It’s awesome.
Very interesting. I’m going to have to watch some of those videos. Thanks so much for the interview. I enjoyed having you!
Heidi: Thanks for having me! If you ever need a dragon, I’ve got you covered.
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.
She is the author of a four-part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Scholar and the Dragon,” YA/Fantasy “Beggar Magic,” and MG/Fantasy “Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon,” among others. Her current projects are a young adult Steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.
Click the covers below for links.