Interview With Author Coreena McBurnie

Today, I’m delighted to present to you a recent interview I did with mythological fantasy author Coreena McBurnie.  She interviewed me on her blog a few days ago, so today, I get to return the favor.  Coreena is also interested in appearing on the weekly podcast, so watch for those details soon.   But without further ado, read on below for further details on how she successfully turned a Greek myth with controversial content into a young adult novel, what she wished she’d have known before starting her author’s journey, and where she’d go if she could time travel for one day. 

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How did your book come to be?

I have always had a great love of ancient Greek mythology and studied Classics in university. While there I read the Oedipus plays by Sophocles. I was immediately taken with Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter — she’s strong, stands up for herself, and does what she thinks is right even in the face of death. When I was looking for a novel idea several years ago (because I was participating in National Novel Writing Month — a challenge to write a novel in November), I thought it would be fun to write about Antigone. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, especially as a young adult novel because some of the subject matter is delicate (i.e., she’s the child of an incestuous relationship), but finally decided just to tackle the story head on and not to make any apologies for what is the in the myth. Once I did that, Antigone found her voice very quickly.

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What’s it like to tell other people you’ve written a book?

It’s an interesting thing, this sharing of a story that is a part of you, but then it’s out there for the world to see and critique. I’m quite an introverted person, so I actually don’t bring it up much. I get really nervous when I tell people, but so far, everyone is very supportive and happy for me.

If you could share a meal with any of your characters, who’d it be and why?

Antigone. I think she’s fun and amazing. And how great would it be to participate in an ancient Greek feast?

What are your influences?

I love the ancient Greek and Roman stories and they inspire a lot of my writing. My favourite book is probably Homer’s Odyssey. Growing up I loved CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe series, along with anything by Agatha Christie or Douglas Adams. Recently, I’ve read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan, Eoin Colfer… One of the things I’ve really been enjoying is reading so many new and innovative indie authors.

Your hobbies?

Hobbies… Well, I love to read and I’m trying to learn to paint a bit, though this is more of a creative exploration than a mastery thing. I enjoy being outside around trees or water. I also have three kids, so is taxi driver considered a hobby? And recently I’ve become addicted to Supernatural on Netflix.

How do you find readers for your books (i.e. your audience)?  Friends?  Family?  Social media contacts?  Local library?  …?

This is my first published book, so I am still working on that. Family and friends are definitely my first readers. I’m having a book launch party in a couple of weeks, which hopefully will attract some attention where I live, and I’ve donated a copy to my local library. I’m also working on social media by reaching out to book bloggers who might be interested in reading my book and offering them review copies. So far, all of this is slow, but building (I hope).

What’s one (doesn’t have to be just one) thing you wish you could have told your pre-published author self?

Get beta readers sooner. I spent a lot of time editing and perfecting things, just to have the beta readers point out changes that needed to be made, and then I had to change everything again.

Your spirit animal is _____ and why.

A black jaguar — I dream about them a lot and love the protective, shadow qualities of a jaguar, especially a mother. When I am stressed out, I imagine a black jaguar looking out for me. I know it’s strange, but there you are.

How do you feel about clowns?

Really not my thing, they’re kind of creepy.

You see your book being sold on ebay.  You are ______ (fill in the blank).

Happy. Someone read my book and thinks it has enough value to resell it. Now maybe someone new will read it, someone who might not have otherwise found my book.

Your superpower of choice is:

Flying. I would love to see the world from high up, like birds. There is also a certain freedom to flying that is enticing, being able to go anywhere, any time.

Now imagine you’re a time traveler for a day.  Where and when would you go? 

To Alexandria right before they burned the library and find a way to stop that somehow. Can you imagine what was lost there?

Thanks for having me here today, it was fun! I love to connect with other authors and readers, so feel free to email me: coreenamcburnie@gmail.com

Other ways to connect with me:

Website & Blog: Coreena McBurnie

Facebook: Coreena McBurnie, Author

Twitter: @CoreenaMcBurnie

Goodreads: Coreena McBurnie

Amazon: Coreena McBurnie

Tumblr: Coreena McBurnie

Newsletter: Coreena McBurnie

Thanks, Coreena, for joining us today!  Congratulations on your debut book and wish it the world of success.  Looking forward to having you on the podcast!

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Influences Behind the Thirteenth Hour Part 1: Books

There are no new ideas, really.  But we do take things in our experience and make them our own by changing or tweaking a little here or there.

In the process of editing The Thirteenth Hour, I tried to reverse engineer where the various ideas making up the book came from (or contributed in some way, served as inspiration, or broadened my horizons).  This first in a series of several posts will look at what I came up with so far.  I’ve included links to goodreads and other sites where appropriate:

Books:

I read a lot as a kid, and while I always wanted to like fantasy books became they had cool covers, I always had trouble getting into them – the obscure name with a zillion consonants, the fact they they often just plopped you in the middle with little to no explanation of the backstory, the fact that it was usually impossible to find the first book in the series, leading you to have to to figure it out on your own, etc).  Some of those gripes are a thing of the past given you can find pretty much anything on the internet, but at the time, it was frustrating.  So I found myself gravitating to the ones that weren’t necessarily pure fantasy, were a little more user-friendly, and ideally, didn’t necessarily take themselves too seriously.  I’ve also listed some picture books, non-fantasy novels, and comics that I grew up reading that influenced the art and writing style in The Thirteenth Hour.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende – probably the first fantasy style novel that I was able to successfully read.  The hardcover edition I read was printed in red and green text depending on which character’s story it was, which influenced me to do something similar with the text of The Thirteenth Hour.  I was about nine when I read it, and remember feeling very proud after finishing it – not only was it over 400 pages long, it was housed in the adult part of the library.  But it was also a book for grown ups that had pictures (the beginning of each chapter was adorned with a montage-style picture of the chapter’s contents), which blew my mind at the time, and has forever biased me to novels that also have illustrations.  It was also one of the many stories of the time that used the guise of a young protagonist getting sucked into the world of a story to advance the plot).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – my mother started reading this story to my brother and I when I was about twelve or so.  I ended up finishing the rest of the series on my own and always enjoyed the irreverent, dry humor of the book, which probably influenced the narrative of The Thirteenth Hour in some underlying ways).

Lost in Place by Mark Salzman – a memoir, actually, of author Mark Salzman’s childhood.  Probably one of my favorite books of all time because of the irreverent, honest writing style.  I read it as a teenager and particularly delighted at his descriptions of his martial arts training and his youthful obsessions to be an astronaut and kung fu monk, all of which I could relate to.  The writing style probably influenced me giving Logan from The Thirteenth Hour a similar voice).

The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier – I think I had to read this book in the sixth? grade.  I remember it being hilarious, and although it’s a product of the times (written in the 60s with lots of period slang throughout), that didn’t really seem to matter.  It’s a funny story, and the part I recall most fondly is the narrator, who’s a twelve year old but has the perspective of an adult.  Like the proceeding books on this list, the style influenced the first-person narrated sections of The Thirteenth Hour.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien – I think this was another one we had to read for school, but like The Teddy Bear Habit, it was a good choice.  This book also used the premise of a parallel world operating right under our noses (in this case, one of animals), which was (apparently) a common theme of a lot of stuff I liked then.  Like all those works, that idea probably influenced the creation of the world of dreams in The Thirteenth Hour.

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman – a wonderfully illustrated and written version of the St. George tale.  We had a bunch of books illustrated by Ms. Hyman (see below for another example) when I was growing up, and the artwork probably influenced how I drew some of the scenes in The Thirteenth Hour.

Swan Lake by Margot Fonteyn/Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman – see above.

Bone comics by Jeff Smith – my brother had a few magazines when he was a kid (I think they were called Disney Adventures) that had a serialized version of the first few parts of this comic.  I later checked out a few volumes from the local library but never actually got around to finishing the rest of the story (it’s on my to do list).  But I really enjoyed the inked black and white art, probably one of the influencing factors behind the stylized, semi-cartoony look I gave the characters in The Thirteenth Hour.  Plus, this was the probably first time I’d seem a fantasy comic done in a graphic novel form.  I flirted with the idea of making The Thirteenth Hour into a comic, and even had some comic-esque scenes that I drew, but in the end shelved those for another day.  I think the only one that made it into the book was a frame where Logan is telling Aurora to run (and you can see the word bubble).

Logan with beardWM

Archie comics – my brother also had a ton of Archie comics which I’d occasionally read.  I don’t recall the stories being terribly engaging (except for one where Archie meets the Punisher – see the link!), but I did like the stylized way the characters were drawn.  I even tried tracing, then copying, a few to get the hang of drawing cartoons.  (I remember having a lot of trouble with eyes and noses and found it easier to make them look acceptable the way they were drawn in these comics rather than in a more photo-realistic way).  So, like Bone above, it influenced the art in The Thirteenth Hour.

Logan pushupsWM

Speaking of art, it took years, but I finally figured out that although fantasy novels were always a kind of plus minus experience for me, with a few key exceptions, what I really liked were the covers.  In other words – fantasy art.  There, it was all spelled out, so to speak – the entire story in one picture.  If you, too, enjoy pictures of surreal landscapes, dragons, and the like, check out the great fantasy art on deviantart.  The Thirteenth Hour has its own page there.

In the next post, I’ll transition entirely to visual media with movies and television programs that influenced The Thirteenth Hour.

 

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-Website: 13thhr.wordpress.com

-Art: 13thhr.deviantart.com/gallery

-Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpcIUpwTiFY

-Free itunes podcast of the book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-thirteenth-hour-audio/id955932074

-Read free excerpts at https://medium.com/@13thhr/in-the-army-now-852af0d0afc0 and the book’s amazon site.

Writing the Main Characters

My brother once asked me if the characters in The Thirteenth Hour were based on myself. I don’t think so, at least not on purpose. I suppose every writer injects some of himself in the characters that he creates, but I didn’t set out to do this consciously, although I no doubt suspect that there were plenty of unconscious contributions.

The character of Logan was somebody I envisioned as being unassuming and initially kind of naive, not yet possessing the confidence that comes from having more experience in life. Despite losing his parents at a young age, I want to portray the rest of his childhood in as secure a way as possible. I think there’s sometimes a stereotype to portray institutions like orphanages as evil, bureaucratic places that are understaffed, underfunded, and poorly run. And while there are no doubt some places like that, I wanted to paint a better picture for Logan’s childhood environment in order to give him the kind of consistent, safe, caring support that I thought he’d need to equip him for the challenges that he would face in the story. I also wanted him to be someone that spoke to the reader in an honest, sometimes irreverent way, kind of like an adult who’s looking back on his life but has a good idea what it still is like to be a kid (although I didn’t specifically think of it at the time, the narrators from The Wonder Years, Stand By Me, and The Christmas Story do this quite well). I thought it important that he not take himself too seriously, because let’s face it, there are a lot of lousy, humiliating things that happen to everyone when they’re kids that seem a lot funnier years later.

If you’ve read the book, you know that the Logan narrates the majority of the story interspersed by sections told by Aurora. She was not based on anyone in particular, but rather a compilation of characteristics that I thought would make her an interesting independent character yet a good friend and partner to Logan. The creation of young adult female characters has always seemed a bit more loaded than the creation of their male counterparts. I’ve often gotten the impression that some authors write their female characters with some kind of agenda in mind; instead of it just being a story about a human that happens to be female, it’s a story about a woman who is strong, or a woman who is not strong, or a woman who is not strong and becomes strong, or … whatever! While I wanted her to be able to stand on her own two feet, I didn’t want it to be for some kind of feminist or politically correct agenda; I just thought that would be the most realistic way of depicting her given what she has to go through in the story.

Like Logan, Aurora spends much of the book trying to figure out the world around her while navigating the challenges of young adulthood – namely figuring oneself out and finding love. This is, of course, something that all teenagers go through. It was this awkward mix of yearning, anticipation, and reckless abandon that I hoped to capture. Unfortunately, it took me about sixteen years to finally get it to where I was satisfied with it, but that, to me, was more important than any of the adventure parts of the story.

There are a few writers out there I’m aware of that have captured the world of the adolescent well – novelist Cynthia Voigt (Homecoming, A Solitary Blue, Jackaroo) and screenwriter John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful) come to mind – and it strikes me now that one of the most critical things you can do for a teenager is let him or her know that – hey, you know what, there’s someone out there who gets you, who remembers how lousy it can be, and despite all the eye rolling and grunts you might give, is going to hold you to a higher standard and isn’t going to talk to you like you’re a three year old while doing it. Of course, I didn’t understand or care about any of that then; I wrote the first draft of The Thirteenth Hour when I was a teenager. But the nice thing about having written the story when I did was that it gave both me and the characters time and space to grow. It often seemed that as got older, I got to know them better and better. I might even go so far as to say that we all kind of grew up together. So in many ways, The Thirteenth Hour is less about the physical journey that the characters take and more about the journey they take from children to adults.

 

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-Website: 13thhr.wordpress.com

-Art: 13thhr.deviantart.com/gallery

-Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpcIUpwTiFY

-Free itunes podcast of the book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-thirteenth-hour-audio/id955932074

-Read free excerpts at https://medium.com/@13thhr/in-the-army-now-852af0d0afc0 and the book’s amazon site.