This week is an interview with a friend
This week my friend, Michael Burnham, has his book release (2/22/22!) and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me. You might want to check out my ARC review of his book, If Flames Could Talk, I highly recommend it! This is Mr. Burnham’s first book and watching him move through this process has been fun.
How did you know you had this book in you?
I’m not sure I ever really felt that way! There was some serious doubt along this journey that had me questioning whether or not I was wasting my time trying to pull off such a massive undertaking without having a degree in creative writing. However, the initial idea nagged me day after day, and once the thoughts surpassed my ability to mentally review them in my hour-long commute I decided it was time to give it the college try! I was an avid fantasy reader in my youth as well, which likely served a dual purpose of sparking my creative side and reminding me that with infinite possibilities there lived one where the story in my head would be a success on the page.
I think most authors, at some point in the process, either think that they do not have the skills or that the story is a complete waste. Thank goodness so many authors work through this. I’m glad you kept writing this AND shared it!
Can you describe your writing process?
My writing process is 50% coffee, and 50% staring off into the distance mumbling to myself. I read something years ago that said many authors had a specific time of day when they wrote, something about the routine was supposed to make getting back into your creative mind easier. I tried this, and it was true! I typically got up and got some coffee going, setup my notes and laptop, and opened the manuscript around 8 AM. Then, I would read through my work from the last session and decide what I was trying to accomplish for the day and get started. I NEVER wrote out a full plot for this story, being a newbie of sorts I decided that letting the story lead itself and making logical leaps on a daily basis would help me avoid creating giant plot holes of which I did not possess the skills to correct. So, mumbling my characters lines out loud and impersonating the reader to gauge the hurdles became my normal.
How do you know your piece is ready to be shared/complete?
I know it’s ready now because I’ve had a great sampling of avid readers and professional editors who have given me positive feedback. When selecting freelance editors to work on the book I was mindful to select those who were outside the area I’m from to ensure the story was appealing to a wider audience. The manuscript bounced around from New York to California and back again so I know it’s got a little bit for everyone within its New England roots!
That’s a good point I’m not sure I would have thought to make sure my editors and beta-readers weren’t all local.
Who is your target audience?
The book is listed under adult general fiction, but I think the people who will want to read this most are the same people who devour serial killer content on Netflix and have a soft-spot for dark humor. Adults between the ages of 18-65 will hopefully pick up this book not only to read the story, but to be inspired by what you can accomplish when the world is standing still.
I think you do have a wide audience available. I think there are plenty of 14-16 year olds who might be interested, too.
Did you tell your students about the book? What did your coworkers think of you writing a thriller that included “hiding” bodies.
My students DO know about the book, just none of the details because they have their own set of flames to extinguish! I moved to a new dorm a few months ago so I’ve been fortunate enough to use the process in general as a rapport building tool with some of the older students who have greater aspirations than the population I worked with before. I haven’t gotten any creeped-out vibes from my coworkers on the subject matter, everyone has been extremely supportive!
That’s cool. It sounds like a great way to build rapport with students. I can imagine some of your coworkers were quite intrigued, too. There are a few who enjoy horror and documentary genres, so this realistic fiction is a natural mix of those two interests.
Who has been your strongest supporter?
Without question my strongest supporter has been my partner Haley. When I first wrote the manuscript way back in 2020 she read through every single word I wrote on a daily basis to offer feedback on what I accomplished, through the messenger app! It takes a real trooper to read all that without the support of neatly formatted lines and contextual italics. She gave me the time and space I needed to do the countless hours of research needed to tell the story as well as the time it took to learn the ins and outs of the self publishing process. She keeps me excited about what’s going to happen next, and has been a crucial component in my ability to persevere through the mountain of doubts I had when I started!
Haley is awesome!
What is your greatest challenge in writing?
Probably my lack of formal education in writing! But there’s something beautiful in that as well, because I’ve learned that those don’t matter nearly as much as the story you have to tell. There are thousands of editors out there who can help you with your pacing and punctuation, so what matters most is making sure you have a story people will want to read. It’s liberating in a way, and after going through this process I really understood that there are probably hundreds of would-be authors out there who may be stuck on the blank page because their brain tricks them into believing they somehow need to be a professional author to become a first time author! I do think that having the tools of the trade would equate to easier writing, less mumbling out loud perhaps, but they shouldn’t stop someone from telling the story in their heart.
I have a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I assure you there is still plenty of mumblings. I also have several files of 1/2 completed scenes or things that I wrote and then took out but don’t have the heart to delete. Any of us can tell a story, and we can always find editors, but you’re right, not everyone is brave enough.
What surprised you in the writing process?
I was extremely surprised at how gratifying the research process was. When I did my research on the topic of book research (I was trying to be prepared), It was a bit of a shock to conclude that hours of reading on a topic may only equate to a passing detail or two! For example, in my book there is a scene where the use of a vehicles paint color code is used to move the plot along. That little section was actually hours of looking up paint color codes and figuring out how to use them in the story in a plausible manner! I thought it was going to feel like wasted time, but the micro details and nuances actually made writing those sections really easy and enhance the readers experience a great deal!
You’re right, it absolutely makes scenes come alive when there are minute (correct) details like that. Having read that scene, I know exactly what you mean, and I can fully imagine how much research went into that “simple” dialog.
Is there something in particular, (a tool, a song, a planner,) that you found particularly helpful?
I used the song “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac in the book and would listen to it every night on my way home from work. It spoke to a certain vibe I was trying to hold on to for the entire three month writing process and helped me stay in that mindset for the duration. Using that song wasn’t necessarily unintentional, my own mother used to listen to music like that when I was a kid so I was drawing from experience. My mother also used to play music for us in the car and ask us to listen to words because they were important. The two that stick out the most to me are “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan, and on a ride home from the grocery store after us three boys likely tried extorting some candy, “You can’t always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones.
LOL, I should have used the Rolling Stones with MY kids. I love seeing what music different authors use to inspire or hold the mood while they write. It’s fun how one can be perfect for a duel, and another for a seduction, another for an air of subterfuge…
I know we tend to write what we know, but did you need to do research for this book? What was the coolest or most surprising thing you learned?
I had to do a TON of research for this book since I have never worked in a crematorium before! I found that there exists two general pools of knowledge on a subject you want to write about which are the actual real-world facts, and agreed-upon concepts and ideas that are delivered in media. What I mean by that is I had a general idea of the imagery I was shooting for in this book from watching shows like Six Feet Under and Dexter, but no idea what sort of leaps they had made to get to that point so writing from that alone would have resulted in a leap from a leap! There were quite a few mornings where my morning coffee was accompanied by pictures and articles about receiving vaults, cremation incinerators, and general funeral parlor information. I think the most surprising thing I learned was that there exists a machine with the sole purpose of pulverizing bones that didn’t fall apart in the cremation chamber!
It really makes you realize some of the liberties that “Hollywood” takes. There is a lot that happens with funeral homes that most people just never even consider.
If you could have any author (alive, dead, or fictional) read your book, who would you like to read it?
Definitely Stephen King. I read a lot of fantasy and adventure when I was younger and still think “The Hobbit” is my favorite book, but King really grabbed me in my late teen years and opened my eyes to how fantastic a story based in the real world can be!
Yes, he and Koontz both showed me that. Amazing authors!
What author, or book, or series most influenced you?
I mentioned the show Dexter before and I think the imagery and dark humor I enjoyed from that series along with the technical pieces I discovered while reading Stephen King’s work really developed a set of goal posts in my mind. They beg the audience to destroy the notion that things can’t be simultaneously dire and amusing!
Where do we find Mr. Burnham
What else is important to share about your book? 2/22, I know, but what other links, what else?
The book is actually been labeled “Street Smart” by ingram spark which means that any bookstore across the country will see it in a list of titles that have potential to sell well! I will be taking up a guest spot on The Full Vermonty podcast which will air sometime in March and plan on getting on as many of those as I can along with setting up book signings at whichever bookstores will have me. Of course I have my author website too which I will continue to update with any future projects as well as future songs I write and astrophotography shots I take with my telescope! I DO have an idea for another book that is starting to nag me, but this one involves aliens so it will likely take an out of this world amount of research to start!
When can we expect more from you?
I’m going to ride this wave for a few months and see how the book is received, but I definitely feel that with all the tips and tools of the trade I’ve acquired in the past couple years in completing this project I will be able to take the next idea from my brain to the shelf in half the time!
Where can we find you?
I’m usually somewhere on a mountain camping with the kids I work with, but you can reach me through my website or my Facebook author page @BunrhamBooks where I’ll post any future signings or events!