Tuesday, August 5, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Anna Celeste Burke


1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?

I was a student in graduate school when it dawned on me that the career I had chosen involved a lot of writing. Once I took a job as a professor I discovered the truth of that old adage: “Publish or perish!” If I wanted to stay employed past the 7 year probationary period I needed to write and publish.
That was a very different kind of writing than I’m doing now. My foray into fiction started as a way to work out the kinks induced by all that stuffy behavioral science writing. What a blessing it has become since then, by the way—a joy!

2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?

As a child, I read all the time, nonfiction and fiction. That included books about science and history. I enjoyed biographies, especially those about adventurous women like Amelia Earhart. I loved Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allan Poe and read women’s fiction too. The Brontë Sisters, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen and so many other classics for young people—The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince, Alice in Wonderland. I binged on SciFi and horror fiction too—HP Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Stephen King, of course, when I was older and he had started to write.
I still read a wide variety of books. It’s probably no surprise that my favorite genre is mystery—cozy and not so cozy. I enjoy finding a series and reading my way through it. There are so many that it’s hard to keep up! Sara Paretsky, Lilian Braun, Dorothy Gilman, Janet Evanovich, Jonnie Jacobs, Rebecca Forster...I could go on and on!
I especially enjoy series with women sleuths in the lead, but some with male sleuths too. I love Hercule Poirot, the Father Brown and Brother Caedfel mystery series, for example. Thrillers, like those written by David Baldacci & James Rollins, are also favorites. They both write series that I follow.

3. What was the inspiration behind your mystery novel A Dead Husband?

The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series was inspired, in part, by the Great Recession, of all things, followed by a series of personal setbacks in my own life. Like a lot of folks out there, I wondered why bad things happen to good people—or as my heroine, Jessica, put it in A DEAD SISTER, “to ordinary people trying to get by as best they can?”
Even a member of the 1%, like Jessica Huntington, isn’t immune to life’s challenges. I wanted to take a woman like that and put her into some pretty bad situations and see what she would do. She’s got some ‘issues’ like self-pity and a shopping jones, and she’s surprisingly naïve in many ways because of the privileged life she’s led. But, as it turns out, she’s tougher than she thinks she is, resilient and resourceful even when she’s way in over her head.
What helps get her through some unthinkable situations are the things that we can all use when it gets tough out there. I’m talking about more than money and professional expertise, although those things do matter. Grit and determination, quick thinking, friendship, and a good sense of humor are resources we can all rely on to pull us through challenging situations.

4. You've written a sequel to Jessica's initial story, A DEAD SISTER. Do you have any idea how many more you'll pen?

I’m writing book 3, A DEAD DAUGHTER, at the moment. I hope to have it out by the end of the year. I have a pretty clear idea for book 4 and a hazy idea about book 5, so I can envision that many books in the series. I like to plant the seeds of the next book in the previous one, so I imagine as I’m writing books 4 and 5 the plot for another book will emerge. A lot depends on where all this takes Jessica as a character. It’s important to me that she develops as a character over time.  

5. Did you originally envision more than one book about Jessica's adventures or was it supposed to be a one-shot thing?

I love the idea of a series and wrote A DEAD HUSBAND with that in mind. Jessica is a compulsive seeker—that’s how she gets drawn into solving crime. She just has to know what happened and why, she really wants to make sense of life. That’s a pretty tall order. There are so many aspects of her character and relationships with her friends and family—and the new men in her life. I want to explore them and a single book won’t allow for that.
As Jessica works her way through murder and mayhem she’s also working through the issues in her own life. That includes her preoccupation with superficial things, personal insecurities, love and friendship, unresolved family matters, as well as coping better with circumstances that are beyond her control. That’s a lot to deal with in one book. A series provides an opportunity for her to grow and change—and take out some bad guys in the process!

6. Do you enjoy retail therapy as much as Jessica does? Why do you think so many women find that it works so well for them?

I used to love shopping—more for household goods than clothes, and for books, of course! I never had that black AMEX card so I’ve never been able to do the kind of damage Jessica can do. Turn me loose in a book store with a credit card and cha-ching! Of course, I could always make a case that it was kind of virtuous since I was buying books.  Over the years, my husband and I bought 3 new houses while they were being built. I have a love for design and really enjoyed shopping for my home—‘nesting’ I suppose. A comfy place to return to, at the end of a long work day, was important to me, as well as preparing a home for retirement. Shopping was a way to feather the nest!
There’s also a sensual aspect to buying beautiful things. That comes through in Jessica’s love of the color and cut, the feel of the fabric in the clothes she buys. Also, in her rapturous appreciation for the buttery softness of the leather in the handbags, and for the look and feel of the shoes she purchases. She enjoys that almost as much as Bernadette’s French toast.  
Retail therapy is a quick and easy diversion, too. It’s like watching a sporting match—only the ‘sport’ is in finding a great bargain. Many women find it hard to do things for themselves, so shopping can be a socially acceptable form of indulgence, wrapped neatly around a kernel of duty. “Hey, I have to have clothes for work,” or, “shoes are essential so why not have gorgeous, sexy ones?”  
For Jessica, it’s also a way of exerting control: “Here, I get to choose what I want”—this I can do, this I can control. I mean she’s lost her job, her husband is a dirt bag, she tried for several years to have a baby, strike out! A cinnamon colored duvet in a silky imported Italian fabric, “Yes!”

7. Would you like to see The Desert Cities Mystery series made into movies or a TV show? If yes, what actors do you want to see as your characters?

Yes, it would make a great ‘blue skies’ mystery series like those the USA network has developed so successfully. I try to create a tone in the books that similar to the pacing and rhythm in Rizzoli & Isles—lighthearted at times even though the subject matter is serious. The focus on relationships among characters is similar in that show too.
There are so many great, 30-something actresses out there right now it’s hard to choose. Maybe, Erica Christensen, who plays a lawyer on Parenthood could portray Jessica Huntington. Zooey Deschanel has a kind of comic flare that would be interesting to bring to the role, given the humorous situations in which Jessica finds herself in the books. Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games would be good, although she’s a bit younger than Jessica. There’s something about Piper Perabo, from Covert Affairs, that I think would make her an interesting choice for Jessica or for Jessica’s friend Laura Stone. Angelica Aragon would be amazing to play Bernadette. She’s an icon from the world of telenovela in Mexico with such an emotional range.
Mad Men’s John Hamm would have made a perfect Jerry Reynolds, when he was 30 like Jerry. Maybe Matt Bomer from White Collar or Jensen Ackles [Supernatural] would do, although both are shorter than Jerry who is 6’4”!
I think Aaron Paul, from Breaking Bad, could play Tommy Fontana or Brien Williams, the surfer dude. But I also like the idea of Vincent Kartheiser portraying Tommy Fontana—there’s something sort of quirky about him like my Tommy.

8. Were any of your characters inspired by real people?

There are snippets of real people in all of the characters—like my image of Jerry Reynolds as Rock Hudson. On occasion, a bit of dialogue will come out of a character’s mouth and I’ll giggle because I’ve heard it before, in real life!
For example, in book two, A DEAD SISTER, Brien the surfer dude, stranded in the desert, comments on Bernadette’s super powers. He claims she has “Extrasensitory Precipitation—ESP.” One of my brothers actually came up with those words when he was about six or so. I was so impressed by my brother’s effort to use such big words it stuck with me all these years. I’ve never known anyone like Bernadette, but I wish I did.

9. Would you like to help solve crimes (or do you)?

Well I enjoy problem-solving. The mystery of human behavior was at the heart of work I did for decades as a researcher in the behavioral health field. I spent a good deal of my time trying to understand why people do the things they do, sometimes that included criminal behavior. Why do they act out, sometimes violently, and why do some ruin their lives with alcohol and drugs?  Why do people steal, lie, cheat or deceive others—even those they profess to love? The unanswered question remains: is it sickness or evil?

10. Can you tell the readers what you're working on next?

As soon as I finish A DEAD DAUGHTER, hopefully by the end of 2014 I have a choice to make. I have the fourth book in the Jessica Huntington series to work on, but I’m also interested in writing a new series. That series will be set in the same location, the desert cities, but the protagonist will be very different. I imagine Betsy Stark as almost the opposite of Jessica Huntington.  She’s definitely from the other side of the tracks—grew up without a nickel to her name. You’ll meet Betsy Stark in Book 3, and I actually have a book in mind, The Cleansing, with Betsy Stark as the lead character.

11. Would you ever consider dabbling in a new genre? If yes, which one?

When I started writing fiction I wrote in the horror genre. I have an unpublished novel in that genre and a script that involves a scifi plot. There are elements of fantasy and magical realism that might be interesting to pursue.

12. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?

I hope to have an established writer with at least a dozen books in one or more series. Right now that would include the Jessica Huntington and the Betsy Starke series. I’d like to keep writing at a pace the produces 2 books per year.

13. What author (dead or alive) would you love to collaborate with?

Janet Evanovich would be high on the list—I think she would be great fun as a coauthor. Many of the women authors I enjoy reading, like Sara Paretsky or Rebecca Forster would also be interesting coauthors as well as David Baldacci or Stephen King.

14. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?

Well, reading of course. I enjoy hiking and travel. I’ve given up both right now to write A DEAD DAUGHTER. I’ll pick up the hiking again in the fall when the weather cools down, but travel is harder to work in to my writing schedule these days. I enjoy spending time with my husband, of course. He’s my best friend and a wonderful companion who enjoys reading and hiking as much as I do.

15. Thank you for participating in the interview! Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?

I say this in my bio, but I left home at 17 to marry my husband. He was a rock musician and high school dropout at the time. We were married by a lawyer and a taxi cab driver in a tiny office in Tijuana. Because I was underage, the police picked me up as a runaway at the LA airport on my way to meet up with my husband in Oahu. It took several months before I was reunited with my husband. More than 40 years later we’re still together.
I was trained as a chef by the Walt Disney World University and worked for the Mouse Factory for several years before returning to college and earning a degree.
I once attended an all-male Dewaniya in Kuwait. That’s sort of men’s social club—kind of a Kiwanis club, but held in one of the members’ own homes.  I was the first woman ever to attend that gathering—allowed a one-time only visit because of my social science background and curiosity about the importance of those meetings in their culture. At one point during the visit, the host took me up to the roof of his house where his falcons were kept and showed me his prize falcons.

Find Ms. Burke online via:


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