S. R. Burns is the author of The Paris Effect (Booktrope 2015), a new novel about food, friendship, love, and Paris. It partly draws on her experiences living and working in Paris for three years, as does her first book, The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use (Running Press 2009). Now she is settled down in Seattle with husband and cat, and gets to France only occasionally. But she’s not complaining.
1.What got you into writing / what made you sit down and actually start something?I have been writing my entire life! When I am not writing, I am thinking about writing. Or wishing I were writing.
2.What is a usual writing day like for you, how is it structured? Sadly, “structure” is not a word I’d use to describe my days. For me, writing can occur at any old time. However, I have noticed that early morning, while I am still lying in bed, is a particularly creative time for me.
3.Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it? Since I’ve supported myself my entire adult life by writing, I never could afford to have “writers’ block.” Sure I get lazy, distracted, and tired, and sometimes lack the data I need to continue, but I wouldn’t call these “blocks.” Best way to handle writers’ block? Pretend it doesn’t exist. (Denial can be a wonderful thing.)
4.Are you a plotter or panster when it comes to writing a story? For “The Paris Effect,” I was a total panster, which was a lot of fun but involved massive rewriting. So for my work-in-progress, a sequel to “The Paris Effect,” I am trying to be more of plotter. I think a little of both is the way to go. All one way or the other is probably not a good idea.
5.Are you traditionally or self-published, and what was the publishing process like for you? Any advice to aspiring authors? My first book was non-fiction (“The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use”) and was published traditionally, though Running Press, an imprint of Perseus Books. My current book, a novel (“The Paris Effect”), was published through Booktrope, a new kind of publisher that combines the best of traditional and self-publishing. As for advice? The “publishing process” is a lot of effort no matter which way you go! Aspiring authors should expect everything to be a lot more work and require a lot more time than anticipated.
6.What has been your highlight since becoming a published author? Hearing from readers. Since I myself have never written an author, it didn’t occur to me that readers would write me. But they have, and do—for both books. It’s an amazing experience.
7.Can you share a little of your most recent book with us? And any other books of yours, if you wish. Sure. The main plot of “The Paris Effect” is that Amy sneaks away to Paris without telling anyone, including her husband. While there, she agrees to go on an expedition into the illegal catacombs, which comprise hundreds of miles underneath Paris (seriously, look it up). However, as you can see in this excerpt, she definitely had second thoughts. Note: Balzac is the leader of the expedition; Kat is Amy’s best friend, whom she misses a lot.
“Madame,” Balzac repeats, sighing.
I consider my options. Or rather, lack thereof. Walking back to my hotel is impossible, because we are miles out somewhere in the suburbs. Calling a cab is impossible, because I don’t have a frigging phone. Waiting here alone is impossible, too, because this street is creepy and deserted.
I said I wanted to come. I said I wanted to do something different, out of the ordinary. And the new Amy, Amy 2.0, would go on just such a lunatic expedition as this.
So all righty then. I flash Balzac a toothy American grin, just to be annoying. Then I turn, kneel, locate the first rung of the ladder with the pointy toe of my boot, and start down. On the fifth rung, my eyes even with the level of the street, I pause to glance down. Nothing. I can’t even see my feet. The molasses blackness is swallowing me—calves, knees, thighs—like a ravening beast. This is truly insane.
“Dépêche-toi,” Balzac barks, his mud-caked boots inches from my face. Hurry up. That’s what that means—hurry up. Huh. If I stayed in France long enough I might finally become fluent in French.
I hurry down a dozen rungs, and then cannot help pausing to again look up. A perfect circle of ultramarine sky looks back down at me. It’s not too late. All I have to do is climb up instead of down, up into the open air, up into the still beautiful world. Not even Kat, much less the new and improved Amy, would do such a crazy thing, venture into catacombs, illegal ones at that, with a ragtag collection of bozos she’s known for five minutes. I rapidly move up seven rungs. This is better, go toward the light, not away from from it—but just at that moment the smooth ultramarine circle of sky is obliterated by the wrinkled brown lump of Balzac, who leaps into the hole like a mountain goat and slides the lid shut with an eardrum-piercing clang. Darkness rushes it on me from all sides.
Balzac has stepped on my thumb.
8. What audience is your book targeted for, and what genre does it come under? “The Paris Effect” can be called “women’s fiction” (or even “chick lit,” depending on your definition). I wrote it thinking of the woman reader (though men have read it too & said they enjoyed it), and specifically for reading groups. My experience with my own book club—we’ve been together 20 years—inspired me to write a novel that groups would enjoy discussing.
9.Apart from writing, what do you do in your spare time? I also paint (watercolor) and travel. Also we are just finishing up a kitchen remodel. Argh.
10.What tip would you give to new authors when trying to build a fan-base / get followers and market their books? (What to do and what not to do.) The best way I’ve found to market books is to go meet people where they are (as opposed to trying to get them to come to you). Thus, if your reader is on Facebook, then spend time on Facebook. If your reader is a job hunter, then promote on job sites and go to job fairs. In all promotion, be a real person. Show interest in others and try to think of ways to help them. Relax, and try to have fun.
11.How much research do you do when starting a story?I do quite a bit of research. Maybe too much! But I love research and I like a lot of “content” in things I read (and write) so I enjoy hunting down interesting tidbits to include, assuming that if I like learning new things, my reader will too. The catacomb scene in “The Paris Effect” was written from research (because I would never ever go down into those tunnels myself!).