Happy Sunday everyone! Author Elaine Burnes dropped in to answer a few questions and give away a copy of her new book, Wishbone!
If you live in the US, you have a choice of paperback or ebook. Due to the craziness that is international shipping, Ebook only for the rest of the world.
Leave a comment to get in on the awesome. I’ll draw a winner on Friday, October 30, 2015.
Introduce yourself to the rest of the class. Who are you and what makes you tick?
Hi. I’m Elaine, and I’m a writer.
For the most part, I’m a middle-aged, white, middle-class lesbian, living in Massachusetts. Boring. I always say I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve worked in retail (so not my thing), been a secretary (back when executives still had them), a marketing writer, a grant writer (dismal failure), a photographer, an editor. In my current job I manage to put most of those to use, which makes me very lucky—though I’d rather be retired and writing full time.
What makes me tick? Four things:
Nature. Without the natural world, I’d be lost. I like sitting in the woods, preferably out around the Quabbin Reservoir, so quietly that animals move around me like I’m not there, because, frankly, the planet would be a whole lot better off if humans weren’t here.
Music. Driving along Route 2 in the Berkshires at peak fall colors with my favorite music blasting is a kind of heaven.
Laughter. It has kept me sane. I love laughing so hard that I cry, can’t breathe, and fall over. At one of my lowest points, coming out, Kate Clinton made me laugh and I realized I didn’t have to lose that. Trust me, the 1980s were not a laugh-a-lot time overall.
Love. I have the good fortune to have found my soul mate, better half, whatever works for you, in my wife. I don’t know whether it’s age or circumstance, but I never take her for granted. There are moments when we are together, maybe doing nothing more than reading on the couch or talking about something we read or heard on the radio, and I’m suddenly filled with a happiness I get from nothing else (even that drive through the Berkshires).
What does it mean to you to be an author? What makes a writer a writer?
I’m often struck by the sheer accomplishment of having written a book, or even a short story. I worked a long time on my book, and to see it finished, in print, here for the ages, is very satisfying.
What makes a writer a writer is writing. What that means varies.
For me, writing is a way to make sense of the world. Whenever something bugs me or thrills me, I want to write about it. I keep a journal, so it’s where I process my life. At one point I thought I might become an essayist. Then something happened that I couldn’t write about as nonfiction, so I turned to fiction.
Fiction is a strange beast. You have to make it all up. Not that it doesn’t come from my own life, my own experiences or wonderings, but the nitty details. It can be overwhelming. The day could be cloudy or sunny—you have to choose. Ugh.
Of course, you also get to make it all up. You get to change how things turn out. That’s nice.
Are you promoting a specific book? Tell us about it. Include the book blurb if you’d like.
My first novel, Wishbone, came out in May, published by Bedazzled Ink. It’s about an animal control officer, Meg Myers, who doesn’t get along with people all that well. She grew up in foster care, bounced between foster homes and her alcoholic mother. Meg’s got some pretty complicated issues. Now in her thirties, she’s finally able to start dealing with them, hence the story.
One thing I particularly like about my cast of characters is that she’s got a couple of really good friends. Sometimes what makes the difference in a person’s life, whether they make it or fail utterly, comes down to one or two key people. Meg’s friend Chaz is a sort of older sister she never had. The good kind, where you’ve skipped over the sibling rivalries growing up and can be supportive and best friends as adults. I don’t have a sister, so exploring that dynamic was fun. I’m not an only child, either, like Meg is, so that was another aspect I found intriguing.
The cover is by the wonderful Ann McMan and is up for a Rainbow award—go vote for it! The book is up for two GCLS awards: debut author and general fiction.
Tell us about your biggest guilty pleasure. For example, do you sit naked in your pantry in the middle of the night and eat Nutella with your fingers?
Dark chocolate. Anytime. Anywhere.
Tell us one thing that you’re passionate about. For example, would you strap yourself to an oil rigging a la Lucy Lawless with a Greenpeace sign in your hands?
I would totally strap myself to an oil rig if Lucy Lawless was there.
There isn’t one thing. Animal welfare, child welfare, the environment are probably the big three.
There’s a lot of me in my character Meg, though I could never do her job (or have her <ahem> sexual appetite.) But what she says about our responsibility to domestic animals, that covenant we made, that when we break it, when we abuse animals—for that I have no rational response. My respect for those who work to protect animals is endless.
It’s weird that I was even able to write Wishbone because for so long I haven’t been able to watch news stories about animal abuse. They haunt me. I tried to write Meg’s work in a way that I (and hopefully readers) could handle (there was a lot I had to imagine that never made the page) and maybe it helped that it was fiction. Every time I thought to myself, you’ve gone too far, this is too much you are piling on (whether about children or animals), I’d hear about something so much worse.
I’m passionate about revealing things we as a society would rather not acknowledge. I often think, when pondering some shiny new toy to buy, is this worth a person’s life? Because everything we first-worlders buy—clothes, cosmetics, technology—means someone somewhere died. A farm worker, a sweatshop seamstress, animals being tested and experimented on. Ask yourself, Is it worth a life?
Now that I’ve depressed everyone…
What keeps me going is my passion for joy. I can take great delight in the smallest, most mundane things. I love anything that makes me laugh. I think those who are musical have a gift from god—or whatever hands out those talents. I love what music does to me. I love being in love. It does not grow old, and I feel so blessed to have found such a kindred soul. It blows me away.
Feel better now?
What’s your writing process? That is, do you have a particular place you write and/or time of day? Do you have any particular things you do before you write? (e.g. do you listen to music, drink coffee, take dance breaks…)
In an ideal situation, an altered universe, I get up early (5:30), have breakfast and sit down with my coffee and laptop, write till I have to pee, write some more, have more coffee and a snack, write more, then break for lunch and maybe do other things. Unfortunately that doesn’t often happen. I wrote Wishbone an hour a day before going to work and more hours on weekends. My wife forgot what I looked like.
The only music I can listen to can’t have words, or words I can understand (foreign languages can work well). I will sometimes blast music with headphones to block out all the other noise (literal and figurative). I once had a job where I wrote under deadline. I’d do all the reporting, but would delay the actual writing till about the day before it was due (not on purpose). Then I’d enter a screaming panic mode, put on the headphones, and tell myself it’s write or die. It worked, but it’s not a process I recommend.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you (unless you’d have to kill us, in which case tell us something that some people don’t know).
There’s more people don’t know about me than know about me, so I’m not sure I can shock anyone. I’m not sure there’s anything about me readers need to know other than what’s in my stories.
Is there a book by another author that you wish you had written?
I don’t know that there’s another book that I would like to have written, since I’m pretty pragmatic about where stories come from. Could I have written an iconic story about civil rights injustices set in the South during the Depression in the POV of a small child? Hardly.
There are writers I envy: Barbara Kingsolver, Tana French, Dorothy Allison, Kelley Eskridge, and Nicola Griffith. A good envy. I want to be better. I reread almost all of Tana French’s The Likeness while writing Wishbone—the way she uses gesture, moves characters through a scene, evokes emotion through detail. Incredible stuff. I can dream.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is a book I’ve gone back to numerous times. Feels practically perfect.
If time and money were no problem, where would you most like to go in the world?
I’d go pretty much everywhere (well, aside from places where I’d be killed for being who I am). I’d love to visit New Zealand, Australia, Africa, Austria, England, Antarctica, Costa Rica, Fiji (if only because of the name).
I could fill the rest of my life visiting the places in the U.S. I want to see, or revisit: the Pacific Northwest (before it all burns away), back to the Southwest, back to Maine, the Badlands. This county boggles me with its diversity and beauty.
And finally, what sorts of writing projects are next for you?
I have two novels in the “shitty first draft” stage. One I seriously started to sit down and work on when I finished Wishbone, even got the free 30-day trial of Scrivener (which six months later still has 23 days left). I’m very much ADD and not a multitasker, so I keep saying, once things calm down (promoting this book, big changes at work, house repairs, etc.), I’ll be able to settle down and get back into it. Hasn’t happened and I’ve given up worrying about it.
Writing Wishbone took a lot out of me. It’s not just that the story itself was difficult (and it was), but the actual writing, the bad writing, the trying to fix the bad writing, the depression of not being able to do what I want to do with my writing.
If I had known when I started what that whole process would be like, I might not have done it. I’m still a little traumatized by it. The sheer depths to which I go as a writer and the sheer terror of not being good enough for the story I want to tell is paralyzing.
I’m hoping to get back some of that bright, shiny joy that I felt when I first started writing. My characters used to shake me awake at night and demand I tell their story. Right now, there’s too much other noise in my head for them to get through. I’m not panicking, because I think I’ll get it back. It’ll just take time. I’ll never be one of those writers who can bang out two books a year.
I also want to get back to writing short stories. They are nice gap-fillers. I learn better with stories I can complete in six months, rather than five years. I have one finished and looking for a home. And I’m trying to come up with ideas for some of the calls for submission I’ve seen lately. But anthologies these days are so specific: ghost stories, horror, erotica, lesbian mad scientists (I wanted to write for that, but ran out of time before an idea hit me). Gone are the days when themes were broader (think Khimairal Ink or Read These Lips), though I got my start with a pirate story, so I can’t really complain.
It’s 2004, the year same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts, the year the Red Sox break the curse, the year everything changes for Meg Myers.
Meg is an animal control officer who doesn’t much like people and doesn’t believe wishes come true. She grew up in state care, bouncing between foster homes and her alcoholic mother. Left physically and emotionally scarred, she is guarded about her past and pessimistic about her future. So she focuses on her job and her dream of opening an animal shelter.
For Meg, it’s not about coming out. It’s about fitting in. No matter how smooth the coming out process, we still have to find our tribe, where we belong, whether friends, lovers, or a family. And we almost never find the love of our life on the first try. Neither does Meg.
Three women will rock Meg’s world. Pam and her foster daughter Violet. Gina, twin to Meg’s best friend Jeff. Samantha, the vet who shares an uncomfortable past with Meg.
Exploring mother-daughter bonds, loss and grief, and what defines friendship and gender, Wishbone is about finding security and love when you have been raised with neither.
Elaine Burnes grew up and lives in Massachusetts. She writes fiction in her spare time, publishing her first story, “A Perfect Life,” in Skulls and Crossbones (Mindancer Press) in 2010. Since then, she has had several more stories published: “A Certain Moon,” in Wicked Things (Ylva, 2014), “The Stranger” in Read These Lips Take 5, “The Gift,” “Forget-Me-Not,” and “Tracy Arm” in Khimairal Ink, and “The Game” in Best Lesbian Romance 2011 (Cleis Press). “Auto Repair” earned an honorable mention in the 2015 Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest.
Wishbone is her first novel.
Wishbone is available at:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wishbone-elaine-burnes/1122000644?ean=2940151245128