We have for you a very sapphic treat today! We talked with Anna Burke and if you’re still somehow not familiar with her name, you should know she only ever writes F/F books and they’re magical. And her next book, Nottingham, is out on 21st January, so look out for that!
You can also follow Anna on twitter.
Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us! We’re both very excited about this.
Thank YOU for having me! I love your blog, although my wallet cannot afford the number of books I’ve added to my TBR list.
That’s why we do what we though, haha!
Well keep it up–and I can’t get over how many amazing queer books have come out in the last year or two. It makes me actually giggly with joy.
Over 560 this year alone! It’s incredible how far we’ve come already! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get into writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! I think my first real stories (written on the kind of paper with three lines for teaching kids how to form letters) were a series about cats in space which, in retrospect, was definitely Ursula K. Leguin’s Catwings fanfic. My parents still have a closetful of binders and notebooks containing the stories I wrote growing up. There was even a period where I wrote exclusively with a quill because I have always been very, very, very cool.
You were just living the ultimate writer fantasy huh. Who wouldn’t want that?
My parents–I spilled ink everywhere.
It’s a good thing parents are supposed to love us unconditionally… Okay, so given your first literature tries were sci-fi, what are your favourite genres to read and write?
Definitely science fiction and fantasy, but honestly I read just about anything. As for writing, speculative fiction is where my heart lies for sure, but I did just finish a draft of a contemporary romance and it was a blast to write. So now I’m torn!
Trying out new things, that’s the whole point of this game, right?
Absolutely! Although it can make for some terrifying Google search histories.
I feel like a good portion of writers is already on some red alert lists because of their work related google searches…
Most definitely. I’m honestly surprised I’m allowed out of the country.
And are there any genres or tropes you wouldn’t write?
I am not clever enough to write mystery. I have so much respect for writers who can plan things like that and tie everything back together. As for tropes, I think we’re all over “bury your gays,” but I think most tropes are fun to subvert as long as they aren’t too problematic.
Oh yes, if I never have to read a book with the bury your gays, it will be too soon. Definitely super happy I never have to worry about that from you. How do you get inspiration for your books?
Lol I wish I knew. Usually I’m just sitting here, minding my own business, trying to get work done, and they ambush me and then I have to write them down before I can get back to whatever I am supposed to be doing.
Stories just begging to be told, I love that.
If I feel like I need to find an idea, though, I’ll go for a hike. Sometimes it’s a character, but often it’s a world or a “hey, what if…” which is the question writers are always asking themselves, right?
I feel like it is, yes. So you wouldn’t say there’s a rule? Like it’s always the characters first or the world first or the seed of the story first?
Not really, though it would be convenient if things followed a pattern! Often I’ll get characters and worlds popping up independently of each other and it takes me a little while to figure out “oh, so and so would fit here with this weird science fact I just heard about,” or the world will create the characters. With Compass Rose, the seed came first because I was obsessed with the idea of self-sustaining ships, and then Miranda strolled in and effed things up.
Your brain just wants you to keep working on it, doesn’t make it easy. Speaking of inspirations, do you have a writing playlist? And if you do, does it focus more on the lyrics or melodies, vibe of the songs?
Oh this is a little embarrassing. I should preface this by saying I’m a huge nerd. I can’t listen to music with words while I’m writing, unfortunately, so I mostly listen to instrumental music. I love classical music but because i love it, sometimes it gets too distracting too. Which means I have some odd playlists–currently I’m stuck on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. And have been for months. It’s driving my poor wife nuts.
Okay I’m gonna make this easier for you by admiting I used to go to sleep while listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and it was my favourite lullaby as a kid.
Phew, thank you.
LOTR has the best soundtrack, though, so that’s a great choice of writing music! Do you think it impacts how grand your stories become?
Um are they grand?
I think that’s a fair statement, yeah.
That is an interesting question–and the answer is probably? I haven’t thought about that before but I will pay closer attention and put on particularly dramatic music when I need to build suspense. I definitely believe that what we read, watch, and listen to influences what we create.
I know music puts me in different moods, so it’s interesting how that plays out in relation to writing.
It’s a really good question, and I bet you’ve gotten some great answers from other writers!
Thanks! It doesn’t always come up, since surprisingly a lot of people can’t listen to music at all when they’re writing. So what is your writing process? At what point do you let other people read your drafts and who are they?
That makes perfect sense. First, I spew out the first draft, and if it gets to 30-40k words I know there’s enough there to turn into something. Some stories don’t have enough momentum to make it that far, and those go into a file and I steal things from them for other work. Once I finish the first draft I usually rewrite most of it in its entirely. Then I’ll take a break from it, work on something else, come back to it, rewrite more, and once I feel like I’ve gotten something with a halfway decent structure I’ll send it to my writing buddies, which includes good friends as well as writers from my publishing house. Only my wife gets to see my first drafts. Then I absorb the feedback, figure out what I need to do to fix things, and once I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own it goes to my editor for another demolition. Eventually my publisher tells me I have to leave it alone and it gets plucked out of my hands.
I love that even the smaller abandoned ideas get used! Like a writing recycle program!
A writer I know uses a great compost metaphor that I’m considering stealing.
That’s perfect, yeah. Sometimes ideas just have to grow on its own. Okay. Summarise your upcoming book in up to 5 words and a meme.
Lesbian Robin Hood. Hmm the meme isn’t cooperating.
I feel like that description alone is enough to hook readers! You can’t just say that to a lesbian.
Oh but I can. It’s my current favorite thing to write.
Definitely the best thing I heard all week. Back to basics (and I’m already wondering if you’re gonna name Le Guin…). Which three authors would you say influenced your writing the most?
Well now that you mention it…
It’s okay, you can just name three others.
Definitely LeGuin, as I have already confessed to writing Catwings fanfic, and I adore the haunting way she writes and her worldbuilding. Also Robin McKinley. I have a soft spot for retold fairy tales and could talk for ages about what they reveal about our collective consciousness, etc. More recently N. K. Jemisin has become someone I admire. Her worldbuilding is incredible and I love how beautifully flawed her characters are.
I adore McKinley and the way she rewrites fairy tales to focus on women and the love between them. It’s a little bit magical.
Absolutely. My favorite of hers is Deerskin. It’s by far her darkest, but, speaking of tropes I don’t like reading or writing, she’s one of the authors I’ve read who handled those issues in a way that I really respect. She also responded to a fan email I wrote her when I was twelve, which was probably the highlight of my middle school years (although admittedly the bar was low)
Wow this immediately made me like her even more. Love authors who acknowledge how their simple interaction with a fan can have a huge impact.
Right? And it was a lovely email. I still have it.
That’s amazing. If (when!) your books were to be made into movies, who would you like to direct them?
No one better to trust to tell our stories, right?
Exactly. Representation, #ownvoices–so important.
Which brings me straight (ha!) to my next question, which is something that is also very important to us & what we put a lot of emphasis on when blogging. What does ownvoices LGBT representation mean to you?
Everything? It isn’t that I don’t want straight writers telling queer stories, but recognizing that queer voices should be leading that representation and getting a voice in publishing, especially mainstream publishing, is essential. It’s how we create change and determine our own narratives, and break away from harmful tropes like Bury Your Gays.
We had a whole discussion on the blog recently where we talked about how straight creators tend to turn happy gay stories into tragic ones when they adapt them for the screen and it’s a very telling trend.
Related: Stop Turning Us Into Tragedies
Exactly. And if we’re only allowed to exist in the media on those terms, how do we expect our community, especially younger members, to thrive? I feel the same way about coming out stories sometimes, too. I think they are very important, but I also am so glad we have come to a point in time where that isn’t the only thing about us that is interesting. I want to see queer people in every trope, in every role, in every adventure.
We deserve to have as many stories to choose from as cishet audience! So in that spirit, rec us some great LGBT books you’ve read recently!
There are almost too many! First, I can’t stop talking about This is How You Lose the Time War and Gideon the Ninth. Both wrecked me in different ways and I’m obsessed. I also loved The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, Crier’s War by Nina Varela, and I am in the middle of Girls of Paper and Fire and my heart is so full. I could go on.
I love how those are all just sapphic.
Hahaha I mean I have a type?
It’s a good one!
I’m also in grad school, so my reading time is limited. I will expand eventually! (maybe)
What’s one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self?
More writing, less angsty, and write the stories you want to read instead of the ones other people want you to write.
Just be yourself, huh?
Shocking, I know. And so hard for kids to do–granted, it’s hard to know who we are at that age, anyway.
It is hard! It sounds like an obvious advice, but god, is it hard.
I know. Little me mostly just needed a hug, you know?
I feel that, yeah. Last question. If you could have dinner with one member of the LGBT community, dead or alive, who would it be?
This is such a hard question and a part of me wants to refuse to answer! Right now, I think Carmen Maria Machado. The way she explores abuse in same sex relationships in In the Dream House is… incredible. Although maybe that’s a bad idea because I might just cry? I also love that there are so many choices now! And I’ve gotten to meet so many of my role models and idols, which I feel so lucky about. What if the dinner was a potluck? And can Kristen Stewart and Kate McKinnon come?
It’s your dinner!
Well then. I’ll start drafting the guest list.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raised in Upstate New York, Anna Burke graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a B. A. in English Literature and Studio Art. She was the inaugural recipient of the Sandra Moran Scholarship for the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Writing Academy.
Anna has lived all along the Eastern seaboard, but wrote her debut novel, the high seas adventure Compass Rose (2018), while living on a small island in the West Indies. She suspects this explains her sudden interest in dystopian lesbian pirates.
When she is not writing fiction, Anna is an overly ambitious gardener and freelance writer. She and her wife live with their two dogs and the occasional four-legged guest.