As a departure from the usual jazz interview, today is Thanksgiving in the US so I’m dedicating this post to being thankful for old friends and new friends.
I was setting up my author profile in Goodreads two years ago and saw my name pop up with a book called “Instrument of the Devil.” Something was very wrong; this wasn’t about jazz! Turns out there’s another author of the same name. We live over 2500 miles from each other (from chilly Montana to coastal Virginia) and we write different genres (she pens crime thrillers). I reached out to her recently, and we’ve been getting acquainted through email. We decided it would be fun to collaborate on a mutual interview (my interview will be posted on her blog in December).
Is writing your full-time job?
Yes, seven days a week. I’m afraid to calculate how many cents per hour I earn! Fortunately, that’s not why I write.
Where does the seed for an idea for a book originally come from for you?
Generally from news or real-life events. In 2015, while researching power grid vulnerabilities, I learned smartphones could disrupt computers that control electric generating plants (hope those security holes have since been plugged!). At the same time, I got a new smartphone that behaved as if possessed by the devil. My brain clicked: what if a terrorist rigged a smartphone, belonging to a technophobic woman, to destroy the grid, thereby setting her up to take the blame? The first book in my thriller series, Instrument of the Devil, was born. Stalking Midas deals with con artists preying on seniors. Eyes in the Sky features covert drone surveillance. Dead Man’s Bluff is set during Hurricane Irma.
Do you work things out in your book as you sleep?
My subconscious is my best plotting tool. I often wake up with solutions and twists for my novels.
Without giving away specifics, did you create Tawny Lindholm to be a reflection of you? How do you flesh her out as a protagonist so that she has her own personality and flaws?
Although her struggles with the smartphone in Instrument of the Devil are purely autobiographical, she has many characteristics that I don’t share. She’s dyslexic and intimidated by people with an education. She thinks well under pressure. She takes chances I never would and is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She’s courageous in situations where I’d be cowering under the bed.
How did you design the books with Tawny to be read – serially? If not, can the reader pick up any of them and get up to speed with her?
There are continuing character and relationship arcs that develop with Tawny and Tillman Rosenbaum over the series. But each book is self-contained and can stand on its own. With every book, I seek out a new beta reader who has not read previous books and ask specific questions to be sure the story is understandable to them without the context of the other books.
Are you a pantser [a writer who does not use an outline]?
Unapologetic pantser. As mentioned earlier, I rely heavily on my subconscious. But it took many years of studying under masters like James Scott Bell and Larry Brooks before I finally “got” story structure. Once that clicked, my subconscious went to work.
How would you compare your storytelling from your first book to today? What have you learned and how have you developed as a writer?
That’s a tough question. The biggest change is I’ve become much more conscious of the reader and how s/he reacts. In early (unpublished) mysteries, I was more self-absorbed, writing to entertain myself. Now, I’m constantly aware of how this scene or that character comes across, not to me, but to the reader. Part of that awareness occurred after I started meeting with book clubs, listening to their thoughts and reactions.
Blogging for TKZ [The Kill Zone] also heightened my awareness of what readers want. I’m always on the lookout for subjects that will educate and entertain TKZ readers and I love their immediate feedback.
Without revealing any spoilers, what was one of the most fun scenes to write?
Far and away the most fun scenes are with Tillman Rosenbaum. He’s brilliant, arrogant, brash, and cynical. But underneath the bluster, he’s a mensch and quite sweet, although he’d be mortified if anyone ever found out.
What do you do in your spare time – do you have hobbies?
Being out in nature. Zumba, walking, and hiking undo the kinks from sitting in front of the computer too much. I’m fortunate to have many great friends I enjoy spending time with.
Do you know the ending of your books before you set down to write them?
Hahahaha. I just finished the sixth book and, until the last ten percent, didn’t have any idea how it would end. Characters I planned to kill off lived. Characters I thought would live died. Like spoiled, unruly children, they do what they want, no matter how much I yell at them to behave. They pay no attention to me and write their own destinies.
What’s coming up and what will you work on in 2021?
Goals are to put my books on Kobo and other platforms besides the Big Z. Book club appearances by Zoom outside my geographical area. And that dreaded marketing I keep trying to avoid (big sigh).
What do you think of there being another Debbie Burke who is an author on Amazon?
It’s a hoot! We’ve had fun getting to know each other. We’re dreaming up co-promotion ideas.
To paraphrase P.T. Barnum: “Say anything about us as long as you spell our name right.”
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Debbie Burke/writer.
(c) 2020 Debbie Burke/author